Uncertainty: When You’re Not Sure of Your Next Move
I want you to try something with me this morning. If you’re an adult, whether you’ve been an adult for one year or five years or fifty, I want you to think back to when you were 22 years old. Go ahead and close your eyes if you need to. Don’t worry, no one will spit in your coffee. Picture 22 year old you. Now I want you to remember the plans 22 year old you had for your life. Who you were going to be, what you were going to do, where you were going to live, who you would be living with … those kinds of things. Let’s call that “Plan A.” Now, coming back to the present, with a show of hands, how many of us are still living our “Plan A” today? Most of us are on a “Plan B,” aren’t we? Maybe even a Plan C or Plan D.
A special report on This American Life follows the lives of several people currently living what they unequivocally call “Plan B.” Host Ira Glass expounds his thoughts on an informal poll and a seemingly universal human reality. He asked a room of hundred people to think back to the beginning of adulthood when they were first formulating a plan for their lives. He called it “Plan A,” “the fate you were sure fate had in store.” He then asked those who were still following this plan to raise their hands. Only one person confessed she was still living “Plan A”; she was 23 years old.[i]
Uncertainty is something we as human beings face in every phase of life. Who should I hang out with? What college should I choose? What kinds of jobs should I consider? Where should I live right now? Who will I spend my life loving? Will I even find love, or will I be able to find love again? Should we have kids now, or wait? Well, we’ve brought the baby home safely. Now what? Where will I find purpose and meaning and how will I stay busy, now that I am retired? Uncertainty can be debilitating, can’t it? And we’ve all felt it. That twinge … “What if I make the wrong decision?”
Psalm 19, which C.S. Lewis called “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world,”[ii] brings us face to face with a God who speaks to us, and speaks clearly, in all of the times of our lives … the certain times, and the uncertain times. God has, and is, revealing himself in the cosmos he has made, in his word, and in our hearts. God is a God who speaks freely to us. Turn to Psalm 19:1-4.
Look at how the Psalm begins. In his letter to the Romans in the New Testament, Paul said that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). In other words, as the original and ultimate artist, the magnificent Creator, God has left evidence of himself in all that he has made. Day to day and night to night refers to the orderliness and regularity that we find in creation – the predictability that science so desperately depends on as it delves more and more deeply into the mysteries of the universe. This regularity and dependability, the detail and care that was taken, that conditions are exactly perfect for the development and sustenance of life on this tiny little planet, that if one of those conditions deviated even a little bit life wouldn’t exist here, the very vastness of the universe itself seen in the sky by day and by night point us to the incomparable majesty of our Creator.
- 3. Without ever speaking a word, the heavens declare the glory of God. They shout his existence, they shout his power, they shout his immensity, they shout his majesty. But that isn’t the point of this Psalm. From the vastness of the heavens the Psalmist narrows his gaze down to just one star: our sun.
Vv. 4c-6. Two characteristics in particular of the sun stand out to him: its unwavering constancy and its pervasive and persistent heat. Whether the sky is obscured by clouds or not, the sun appears in the sky every day, providing warmth and light to our tiny corner of the solar system. And as we’ve been all too aware this summer, when the sun shines there is no escaping its heat, even in the shade.
No, the Psalmist uses two metaphors to describe the sun. One is of a bridegroom leaving his chamber. In the ancient world, a wedding involved everyone in the village or town. Virtually everyone gathered outside the bridegroom’s chamber ad he emerged and followed him as he made his way to the site of the wedding and his bride. The other metaphor is of a warrior champion running into battle as his fellow warriors follow him. The point here is that you couldn’t miss either one. Neither can the impact of the sun on our world be missed. God’s voice in creation cannot be missed.
Our sun is a relatively small star so far as stars go, but it provides the light and heat that makes life possible day after day after day. If we were even a few degrees closer, or farther away, life could not exist here. The sun rises at one end of the sky, and runs through it to the other end each and every day, and during this course, nothing can escape its heat. And it is in thinking about our sun, feeling its heat, experiencing its light, that the Psalmist comes to the point of his song: The Word of God, God revealing himself to us through his Word, has the same impact on our lives as the sun does on our planet. Look at Vv. 7-11.
Now, remember where the Psalmist is writing. He isn’t considering the impact of the sun here in our more northern, temperate climate. He is thinking about the impact of the sun on desert sands. And even here, the sun has had a significant impact on our comfort and for many of us, our livelihoods, this summer, hasn’t it? Two weeks ago I was driving near Ellsworth and saw the stunted, pathetic looking corn the farmers will try to turn into feed for their cattle. And on Monday I was near Falmouth and saw a farmer just plowing his corn under. It wasn’t even worth it to him to try to harvest it. But in Ohio, where I’m from, the corn plants are tall, well taller than I am, and robust. They’re preparing for one of the best corn harvests they’ve had in a long time. Just as the sun is comprehensive in creating the conditions for life and in its impact on our world, so the Word of God is comprehensive in its impact on life.
Notice that the name the Psalmist uses to describe God has changed. In the first part of the Psalm, God is our creator God. The Hebrew word is “El,” and the word is simply translated “God.” It refers to our Creator God, God’s power and might. But starting in V. 7, He is identified as “the LORD,” Yahweh, the personal name God chose to use to identify himself to his people. It signifies the only God who is, who exists. And to be is to be present. It points us to a God who is not distant. He is present with his people, calling out, reaching out to save. God is, and is personally present with his people to save us from our sin. He has revealed himself through his creation as the mighty creator of all that is. And he has revealed himself more clearly through his Word as the loving savior of all who will heed his call.
And then in beautiful language, the Psalmist lays before us the beauty of the Word of God as a beauty that surpasses that of the most beautiful vistas in all of creation, no matter where they may be found. Creation speaks without words and in general terms. The Word of God speak in clear language about the beauty of a God of power and might and majesty, a God who creates atoms, cells, organs, bodies, nations, planets, and stars, who is also a God who sees, through the vastness of the universe, you and I on this little planet, and loves us, and reaches out to save us, calling us his special possession. The Psalmist uses several different words to describe the Word of God: the law, statutes, precepts, commands, and ordinances. “Law” in the Bible doesn’t mean what we think of as law today. God’s law is his instruction, and it is perfect, lacking nothing. In the Bible, something that is perfect is whole or complete, not lacking anything it needs to do what it is supposed to do. God’s statutes are trustworthy road signs to help us get our bearings. God’s precepts are a map to help us navigate through life and its difficult decisions. God’s commands are a moral compass that gives us a sense of absolutes. God’s ordinances are his legal opinion of how each person’s life should be determined.[iii]
The New Testament writer of Hebrews tells us that the Word of God is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). That’s a summary of this Psalm, and the Psalmist lists four ways in which the beautiful Word of God is active in our lives. First, it revives. It restores us. There is a refreshing nature to it. It brings healing and hope. Creation speaks, but without words. Through his Word God speaks with words we can understand, communicating on our level the incomprehensible beauty of his love. God speaks to us through his Word, reviving and restoring us.
Second, it is a source of wisdom. The writer of Proverbs tells us that the beginning of all wisdom is not intelligence, a high IQ, or talent and special abilities, it isn’t youth or even age, it isn’t experience. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, reverence for God. Those who build their lives on the foundation of reverence for God want to please God and seek his will in every part of their lives. That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus: to live a different kind of life patterned after the life of Christ, because he is alive in us and living through us. If that’s true, shouldn’t it impact the way we do … everything?
Third, the Word of God brings joy. Those of you who have been a part of Christ Church have heard me say time and time again, “joy isn’t the same as happiness.” Happiness depends on happenings, circumstances. Happiness and sadness have nothing to do with joy. I can be deeply saddened by something and still filled with joy. Why? Because joy is the quiet confidence that God is in control. It’s an inner peace, a tranquility that is much closer to the Jewish concept of shalom, persistent and pervasive peace both within and between people, than to happiness. If you think about it, happiness is kind of, in a way, inherently selfish, because something that makes me happy might make you sad. I get a job, which means you don’t. I’m happy, you’re sad. Shalom, peace, the joy that the Word of God brings, surpasses all of that. It is deeper, growing out of a sense of resting securely in the hands of God regardless of what happens. It enables a soon-to-be martyr to face death for the sake of Christ with fear and trembling, eyes and heart filled with tears and dread, and yet courageously, knowing that their last breath in this life precedes your first breath in the next.
Fourth, it brings light. We tend to view light as a really good thing, don’t we. It helps us to see. And light, whether from a bulb or from the sun, is always accompanied by heat. Light illuminates and warms. But there is a searching nature to the light of the Word of God that should make us uncomfortable. Most of us do our best most of the time to keep a clean house all winter long. We vacuum and dust, but the lack of natural light makes it hard to really do a good job, doesn’t it? That’s why we have spring cleaning. The light and fresh air of open windows stirs up dust and dirt that we didn’t know was there, in corners and behind the television and under the couch. The first time the light really shines in the spring, I mean really coming directly through the windows, I’m always kind of depressed at the dirt and dust and grime, and the fingerprints on windows that were hidden by winter’s darkness and cloudy days. Light illuminates indiscriminately. It helps us to see clearly, keeping us from stumbling in the darkness, but it also reveals things we would rather not see and things we would rather keep hidden.
God has revealed himself in creation, speaking in images but not words, and God speaks to us in his Word. But there’s a third place that God speaks to us, and that is in our hearts. Look at Vv. 12-14. He begins with a question: “Who can discern his errors?” It’s a rhetorical question. The answer is “no one.” Only God can do that, through his conviction, often through his word, in our hearts. Why? Because no one is perfectly self-aware. We all have spiritual and emotional blind spots, areas of darkness and weakness that we aren’t aware of, but that impact our behavior nonetheless. That’s why he prays “Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” Things I’m not even aware of that are offensive to God, sinful. Sometimes through his word and our growth in Christ we become aware of some of those blind spots, and it usually doesn’t feel good when we do, and then we begin to work on them consciously with God’s help. But we’ll never uncover them all, even if we live 200 years. That’s why the Psalmist seeks forgiveness for the sin in his heart that he isn’t even aware of. And then he seeks forgiveness for “presumptuous sins.” Those are the areas we are aware of, things we know we do that are offensive to God, or things we willingly leave undone that God wants done. And then he simply asks that no sin, known or unknown, will have control of him. Now, there’s a difference between sinning and being controlled by sin. In Christ we are set free from sin’s control, and it is that freedom that the Psalmist seeks.
And then he closes with these beautiful words, his goal as a child of God: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord (Yahweh, my loving, saving, mighty God), my rock (that’s El) and my redeemer (Yahweh).” The words of my mouth. Visible behavior, actions, words. The things everyone can see. And the mediation of my heart. My hidden, inner world. The things only God and maybe I am aware of. The secret part of my lift. May it all be pleasing to you God. And Lord, when Plan A is a distant memory and Plan B is in my rear view mirror, speak to me Lord. Speak to me through the world you have made. Speak to me through your Word. Speak to my heart.
In his book Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton wrote fifteen lines that have become known as “the Merton Prayer”: My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.[iv]
[i] Jill Carattini, “Redirection,” A Slice of Infinity (7-5-17)
[ii] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms
[iii] Timothy Peck, Psalms: Managing Our Emotions
[iv] Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999), p. 79;