What do you do when life isn’t working?

Have you ever come to a place in your life where everything you try seems to fail?  Where the things that used to work for you aren’t producing the results you desire?

Those who know my husband know he is an avid golfer.  He loves to play golf, talk about golf, think about golf.  He enjoys shopping for golf clubs (both in a store and online) and buying and selling them.  And he’s pretty good at all of it.  After all, he’s been around golf since he was old enough to hold a club.

But lately, he’s shared that he can’t do what he used to do on the golf course.  The way he’s always played just doesn’t seem to be working as well for him, and he’s been a little frustrated.

My husband’s dissatisfaction with his golf game is a good illustration of how our lives often take a frustrating turn.  The things we used to do that worked out great for us aren’t doing so well anymore.  Like a golf ball that heads for the woods instead of staying in the fairway, our efforts to do life in our own strength and knowledge have landed us in some tricky spots.  We’re not sure how we’re going to get out of them.  And no matter how hard we try, we just can’t pull our life together anymore.

Isaiah 55 offers some good advice when we find ourselves in the “rough” patches of life.

Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat.  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why do you spend your money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?  Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance.  Incline your ear, and come to Me.  Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David. (Verses 1-3)

Isaiah is speaking to the children of Israel who are being threatened by the Assyrians.  Life has gone along quite well for them, as they worship their false gods and indulge their desires, but the future does not look bright.  God has called them to account, and they are going to be judged for their disobedience.  But God offers them mercy if they will listen.  He offers them hope.

What does God tell them they need to do, to return to a life of abundance and blessing?

Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.  “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Verses 6-9)

Two key words help us understand the path back to the favor of God:  ways and thoughts.

God tells us to forsake our ways and our thoughts. 

“Our ways” are those things we do in our own strength, by our own initiative.  It is “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps” and “trying harder.”  It may be compromising in one area to gain an advantage in another or giving in to what the world says is okay, even when God’s word says it’s sin.  Or, it may be doing something that appears good on the surface but is rooted in our own strength and initiative, rather than seeking what God’s plan may be.

“Our thoughts” are those schemes and plans that come from our own mind and heart.  It is seeing things from our perspective.  It is following our feelings instead of the truth.  It is relying on our own understanding of a situation and using our human logic and reasoning to find a solution.

Why should we abandon our ways and our thoughts?   Because God’s ways are not our ways.  And God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.

He is higher.
He is smarter.
He is more powerful.
He sees all and knows all.
He created the world we live in, and then He created us.
He is transcendent, outside of our ability to even comprehend.
He has knowledge that we have no inkling even exists.
He has creativity far beyond our imagination.
He knows the beginning and the end.

Just recognizing that God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours ought to be enough motivation to abandon our own weak selves and throw ourselves on His mercy.  But through Isaiah’s words, God gives us a promise of what will come if we take Him at His word, and listen.  He gives us a glimpse of the outcome we can expect if we trust His thoughts and His ways.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.  For you will go out with joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.  Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up, and instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up, and it will be a memorial to the Lord, for an everlasting sign which will not be cut off. (Verses 10-13)

What a promise!  What anticipation!  Forsaking our ways and our thoughts to seek God’s thoughts and His ways will produce abundant fruit in our life.  And not just food for today, but the seed for tomorrow!  It’s as if God is saying, “Your ‘today’ will change, and all your ‘tomorrows’ have the promise of fruitfulness as well!”

Let’s speak practically.  Perhaps you are in a relationship and there are some things going on that you know are not pleasing God.  It could be as simple as the way two married people are treating one another in the mundane things of life.  You’re irritated with one another, resentful, short-tempered.  Or maybe you’re living with your girlfriend or boyfriend, knowing that this is not what God wants for you.  To borrow a phrase that’s gone out of style, you’re “living in sin.”  In both cases, you are choosing your ways and your thoughts.  You try harder each day to get along.  You claim your rights to be happy.  You point out your partner’s failures to justify your attitude.  You reason that your compromising situation is acceptable due to financial challenges, or fear of making a long-term mistake.  Maybe it’s not an open sin, but something less obvious but equally driven by self, such as choosing to live your life on your own terms as you strive to be successful in this life without any thought of God’s ownership and direction for how you spend the time, or money, or abilities that He’s blessed you with.  And no matter how many good decisions you feel you have made, or good things you’ve done, life still doesn’t work.

How do we abandon our own ways and thoughts, and seek God’s? 

We simply do what Isaiah tells us in verses 6-7.  We confess our sin, knowing that He will have compassion on the repentant heart and abundantly pardon us.  Then we seek His ways through His word and obey it – that powerful word that promises fruitfulness, joy, and peace.  We lay down our rights in our marriage and start to love and serve one another.  We let go of resentment.  We change our living situation and covenant with God to live in purity, honoring our girlfriend or boyfriend and treating them as God would have us treat them.  We stop planning out our own life and ask God what He wants us to do, or be, or where He wants us to go.  We make simple, practical changes according to God’s Word, and then rely on His indwelling Spirit to help us carry them through.  We learn from Him, do what He says, and trust the outcome.

Did you catch the magnitude of what obedience to God’s word does for us?

God’s Word will not return void.
God’s Word will accomplish what He desires.
God’s Word will succeed in the matter for which He sends it.
God’s Word brings peace, joy, and fruitfulness to our lives.

Back to my illustration of the golf game gone awry.  My husband could have remained frustrated and kept on doing what he had always done, just trying harder, swinging harder, and willing that ball to go where he intended it to go.  And nothing would have changed.  What he decided to do was go to someone who knew more about the game than he did, who had the knowledge to impart, and could look at his swing and tell him what he was doing wrong, and how to correct it.  And not only did he have to seek out this knowledge and listen to it, he had to adjust his game to follow what he was told.  He had to lay down his thoughts and his ways, and trust that the master of the game knew best.

In the same way, we must go to the One who not only has the knowledge, experience, and compassion to show us the better way, but gives us the power to make the change.

How’s life working for you?  Maybe you need to consider your ways and thoughts!

Now therefore, says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways!  You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”  Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways!”  (Haggai 1:5-7)

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