We tend to seek the Lord’s deliverance when we get into personal trouble. But there is a deliverance that keeps us out of the trouble in the first place. Which would you like – to fall into trouble and try to get out of it, or to avoid it in the first place?
For instance, the word tells us about deliverance from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence (Psalms 91:3). Our first impression of this deliverance is that we’ve fallen into a trap or are experiencing a spiritual plague and the Lord promises to rescue us from it. But that’s not the best way the Lord delivers us. For instance, Proverbs identifies the promiscuous woman and tells us to avoid her (Proverbs 5). Avoiding her, we avoid a terrible fate. Thus, by heeding the warnings of Scripture we identify and avoid the traps beforehand while the more simple-minded don’t pay attention – and fall right in (Proverbs 22:3).
But that’s how we are to avoid many of this world’s real, physical dangers anyway, isn’t it? If we are warned that cigarette smoking is dangerous to our health, shall we smoke? If we know that overeating leads to diabetes and other complications, shall we not eat sensibly? So it is with sex apart from a committed marriage, joining gangs, shooting drugs, and many other risky behaviors. The dangers are communicated and we either listen and learn, or we continue on and are trapped.
So the way we are to gain spiritual wisdom and are rescued from spiritual dangers is the same way we avoid worldly dangers: heed instruction and follow wisdom; fear the Lord and be serious about His warnings.
It’s His word that is a light to our feet, so we are not to plead that the Lord would grab our physical feet to keep them from walking into evil, but we learn self-discipline and avoid it by heeding the word. The Lord tells us what the fruitless life is, warning us against a heart without understanding, warning us against riches and the cares of this life (Matthew 13:19, 22). So when we continue to misunderstand the word due to lack of study or desire for it, when we choose to pursue this world’s wealth and let the cares of this life overwhelm us, then we have neglected the Lord’s deliverance. His very warnings are our deliverance, if we believe them and let them guide our feet.
We may ask the Lord to deliver us from being lazy and unfaithful, but His way of training is to warn of its perils to turn us away from untrustworthiness (Matthew 24:45-51), and show us the rewards of righteous living. If we will not heed His warnings, then we won’t be prepared when the time comes, and will suffer the fate of the unwise and foolish (Matthew 25:1-13).
Paul feared that his flesh may disqualify him from the Lord’s blessings, so he brought it under self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). There was a conditional promise of winning the race and gaining a crown and Paul did not want to miss it. The terrible fate of the Israelites who were delivered from Egypt, but did not discipline their fleshly appetites (1 Corinthians 10:1-15), was heavy on his mind. He learned from their bad example and delivered himself from their fate.
His word tells us not to commit adultery (Exodus 20:14), yet people still think, “but we really love each other,” then surely that is permission enough. Surely there can be no harm – and so the plague of STDs continues. The world, the flesh, and feelings of the heart steer us wrong again and again, but the truth of His word turns us to light, righteousness, and safety. “Deliver me according to your word” (Psalms 119:170).
I fear some of us are reading the word and waiting for a feeling or sign that the Lord is speaking to us rather than taking His promises and warnings at face value. If you are driving and someone tells you to make a detour because the road is out, do you have to wait for an inner, felt impression before deciding to follow it? Of course not. In these cases, we are prisoners of our feelings and lack the freedom to choose.
His word tells us to avoid the counsel of the ungodly, the seat of the scornful, and the path of sinners (Psalms 1:1). We are being taught to discern between the wise and unwise courses so we can make wise decisions. So we meditate on His word morning and evening, act upon what we’ve read, and get the promise of fruitfulness. We then become like a tree that is continually watered and refreshed (Psalms 1:2-3).
Many of the warnings and blessings in the word touch on moral matters, on how we are to relate to other human beings. In essence, they tell us how to love God and love our neighbor. The word gives us wisdom about good and evil from God’s perspective so that we will take it to heart and see the snare for what it is and give it a wide berth when we encounter it. In this way His word is a light to our path, telling us which way we should walk.
God will not always answer our prayers and tell us what steps to take; rather, He gives us general moral values to take to heart and He is pleased to let them guide our steps. We may pray for the Lord to tell us where we should go, but the Lord is generally satisfied that His word gives us enough light to guide us. He is satisfied to tell us how to walk so we will make wise decisions on our own about where to walk. This is the freedom He wants His mature sons to enjoy – the freedom to choose based on a heart of wisdom.
God told Joshua to study His laws carefully and then he shall have good success (Joshua 1:7-8). The word is enough. God has communicated enough. The word points us to the knowledge of Jesus, and is everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). God is not silent or ignoring us when He doesn’t answer our prayers for deliverance or for light; His word is sufficient for everything. We do not need to know every detail about our lives and exactly what steps to take. We don’t have to worry about taking a wrong step if both ways seem right.
People say that God answers our prayers with a yes, no, or wait. I suggest He also answers with, “I’ve told you how to make wise decisions. Now I give you the gift of freedom. Decide for yourself.”
It’s unwise to knowingly make unhealthy choices that go against His word, and then demand that He deliver us from our consequences as though it were His fault. It’s unwise for us to know the written will of God, ignore it, fall into a trap, then blame God for not helping us enough! The word is in your language – read it.
The Jews had all their steps carefully detailed by the Lord in over 600-plus commandments in the Old Testament. But we have one: a faith that works in love. We are children if we want every single aspect of our lives detailed by God. When it comes to teaching our children to cross the street, for instance, we hold their hands as we cross the street with them; when they can walk on their own we warn them not to go into the street on their own; then later to look both ways before crossing the street; then later we trust that they have the wisdom to go on from there (Galatians 4:1-7). We are set free from the law to live by faith, have developed wisdom to choose wisely through the word and thus escape the snare of the fowler and the perilous pestilence. What are we doing with the freedom of wisdom?
While a perilous pestilence decimated 100,000 souls in London during the Great Plague of 1665, the Jews were delivered. How? By following the dietary laws in the Old Testament. By refusing to eat certain foods, to wash the foods they were told to eat, to wash themselves and their utensils, and so on, they experienced deliverance through the word. They were “wise for salvation” from the plague.
God wants us to grow into mature sons of God, and that means to read His word and act upon it in faith. We are to understand life’s situations from His perspective and respond accordingly. Re-read Psalm 119 from the perspective of someone who has found the word of God more than enough to teach him whatever he needed for life.
The Lord was tempted by the Devil in the wilderness for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-11). How was He delivered? By the word. He met every temptation by appealing to instruction in the scriptures on how to live and meet life’s challenges. He did not wait for God to appear and deliver Him, or give Him secret messages, or get an inner impression or feeling. Because He had faithfully prepared, He could side-step every trap at the time of temptation. His sword of the Spirit, the word of God, is given to us to use as well (Ephesians 6:17). Treat it reverently, for it will deliver you even from Satan and his army of fallen angels (Ephesians 6:11-12), as it did the Lord.
God’s goal in the end is that we should be without blame before Him in love at the judgment (Ephesians 1:4). That happens to those who know His word and follow its moral rules, which communicate a faith that works in love (Galatians 5:6). If we choose to follow the path of disobedience, then we cannot appear before Him blameless, can we? When we choose the way of sinners and the seat of the scornful, how can God declare us righteous in conduct? In the same way, how can we say we are in love with Him when we disrespect His word (John 14:21)? Thus our preparation for the future lies in how we follow the word. His word thoroughly prepares the one who studies and applies it (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
We are treading on dangerous ground if we think we can do well apart from the study of God’s word, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). Therefore we cannot, by human reasoning alone, arrive at God’s ways. A sinful and deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9) will bar that every time; a heart that puts itself first cannot know the God who became a man that He might die for sinners. Who thinks that way naturally?
“Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalms 119:11). Indeed, when we take His word seriously, and endeavor to pursue Him who spoke those words, then I believe it is during those times that He puts His word in our hearts and writes them on our minds, as He promised in Hebrews 10:16. When we follow the outward part, God does the inward part. When we do the outward part, we are telling God we really do want this righteousness, and He does the inner part and conforms us to the image of His Son.
The scriptures give us many instances of divine communications through angels, visions, and God speaking in the language of the hearer. It is a blessing if God chooses to lead us in these ways, and we may pray for such means. If God does not speak through those means, He still is not silent. His word still speaks and guides those who simply believe and enjoy the freedom to decide and act.
We have turned to Jesus because we know we need a Savior. Let’s not neglect the printed means of deliverance He came to offer, which is found by heeding the instructions, promises, and warnings in the word of God.