Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On a Smooth Path - Isaiah 26 part 2

"The way of the righteous is smooth;
O Upright One, make the path
of the righteous level.
Indeed, while following the way
of Your judgments, O LORD,
we have waited for You eagerly;
Your name, even Your memory,
is the desire of our souls.
At night my soul longs for You,
Indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently;
For when the earth experiences Your judgments
the inhabitants of the world
learn righteousness." (vs 7-11)

The final words of the song of Isaiah chapter 25 speak of God's humbling of the proud who would not enter into covenant with Him. "For He has brought low those who dwell on high, the unassailable city; He lays it low, He lays it low to the ground, He casts it to the dust." How many times already in Isaiah have the high and mighty been made the low and humiliated. The song ends with a reminder that there will be a righteous judgment of God. The only "unassailable city" is the city of Zion - God's city - the city where He has "set up walls and ramparts for security" (vs 1).

Having closed the gospel song with a reminder that God is the Judge of all the earth and that every road leading away from Him leads only and always to certain disaster, Isaiah shows the great contrast of the path of the wicked to the path of the righteous. These two paths could not be more antithetical.

"The way of the righteous is smooth; O Upright One, make the path of the righteous level."

Now, I must readily admit that the road of my life has had MANY bumps. For many years I was on a road running from God and His Kingly decrees. There was a way that seemed right to me but in the end it led to death (Pr 16:25). During that period nothing was truly smooth for "the way of the transgressor is hard" (Pr 13:15). The counsel of the wicked, the path of sinners, and the seat of scoffers (Ps 1) led me to a place where my life was as chaff driven by the wind. It was a worthless, meaningless path - despite the outward successes I may have seemed to be achieving.

I've been a Christian now for 21 years and the road of my life has still appeared to have quite a few bumps on it. (I'll spare you the many details but suffice it to say I've lived a lot of life in a little time!) To those on the outside looking in it may seem that my road, since Christ, has been anything but smooth. At first glance I might tend to agree. However, as I meditate on this passage this morning I must admit that "the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places" (Ps 16).

The Good Shepherd has made me lie down in green pastures. He has led me beside quiet waters. He has guided me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even when I have walked in the valley of the shadow of death, I have not needed to fear evil, for He has been with me. His rod and staff have comforted me! My ways, though not always easy, have truly been smooth for there has ALWAYS been grace sufficient to carry me through whatever stumbling blocks sin, Satan and self have cast in my path. "The way of the righteous is smooth."

By walking with Christ I have set my life upon the narrow path (Mt 7). I am "following the way of [His] judgments" and on those days when my heart and my flesh begin to fail (because of my sinful doubts) I will "wait eagerly" for my God because "those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary" (Is 40:31). Walking in Christ's way and waiting on the Christ of the way certainly make the path smooth.

The smooth way begins by our being made "righteous" in Christ - there is no truly smooth path apart from Him. It continues as we follow the "judgments" (directions) He has given us. We find rest for our weary souls along its course as we "wait for [Him] eagerly." Finally, we find smooth sailing on this path when the desire of our hearts is not the smooth path itself but the God of the path.

If I look at the path I will lose heart. If I look at the God of the path who has planned this path long ago in perfect faithfulness (Is 25:1) I will be strengthed and my way will be smooth.

Isaiah says that God's name and memory should be the "desire of our souls" (vs 8). He declares that at night our souls should "long for" our God (vs 9). He says that our souls should "seek Him diligently" (vs 9). He reminds us that even when the earth is experiencing judgments that even those things are an opportunity for us to "learn righteousness" (vs 9).

Oh how little we understand as a nation, as the church, and as individuals of the truths of the last part of verse 9. We seem to not have a category for suffering and want to remove it whatever the cost. Please look at that verse again. "For when the earth experiences Your judgments, the inhabitants of the earth learn righteousness."

Judgment, hardship, and suffering are a catalyst for "learning righteousness." David declares in Psalm 119 that "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Thy statutes." James points out that we should "consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let the endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (Ja 1:2-4). I don't need a bail out - I need to "learn righteousness" through my afflictions. Sometimes the apparent rough road is ultimately the surest way to the smooth road!

How is my path this morning? Is it smooth? Not, is it without rocks and stumbling blocks, but is it smoothed by the gracious presence and promise of my King the Great Road Builder! Am I walking in His ways? Am I waiting on His time? Am I delighting in His name? Am I longing for His presence?

If I am then my way is smooth. By His grace, I have much to rejoice in regarding this wonderful way.

Sailing smoothly on the mercy of Christ,


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