Psalm 81:6-16
I heard an unknown voice say:
6 “I removed the burden from their shoulders;
their hands were set free from the basket.
7 In your distress you called and I rescued you,
I answered you out of a thundercloud;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.[c]
8 Hear me, my people, and I will warn you—
if you would only listen to me, Israel!
9 You shall have no foreign god among you;
you shall not worship any god other than me.
10 I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.
11 “But my people would not listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
to follow their own devices.

How much does God have to do for us before we will completely follow Him? I think most of us are a lot like the nation of Israel. Look back at those verses from Psalm 81. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt with burdens more than you can imagine, and God rescued them from their captors. Time after time this nation was in extreme distress, and every single time God heard their cry and answered them. Unfortunately, they never learned from their past and fell into distress, turmoil and finally slavery over and over again.

If we would pay attention to our own lives, we’d discover we follow much the same pattern. We feel as though we are slaves, or we are in such turmoil we think we’ll never make it, so we cry out to God, and He rescues us. He answers our prayer. For a short time after our prayer is answered we begin to pay attention to God, but it doesn’t take long before we follow in the footsteps of Israel. We have good intentions; we mean well; but those “foreign gods” pull us back every time. We want God to defeat our enemies and feed us the finest wheat, but we still haven’t reached the conclusion that “Father Knows Best.” So, just like Israel, God “gives us over to our stubborn hearts” and leaves us to “follow our own devices.”

It reminds me a little of Romans 8:28 “Everything works together for good for those who love the Lord.” A lot of people just thought, “Wait! I love the Lord, and everything is NOT working together for my good.”

Well, if it’s true; if you really do love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and you are listening and obeying every single thing that God has ever spoken out of love and devotion, then let me reassure you that it really is all working for good. God really is subduing your enemies and preparing meals of the finest wheat for you. Unfortunately, when we read scripture, we’re reminded that occasionally it takes some time. Joseph had to wait 20 years after his brothers sold him into slavery to discover “what his brothers meant for evil God meant for good.” It took Joshua 40 years to get into the Promised Land because everyone else around him didn’t trust God. And David spent years running away from King Saul before he was crowned King just like God promised when he was a young man. Yes, if you really are completely dedicated to following God’s will, if you already completely submit to Christ’s plan, just hold on because “good” is on the way.

Unfortunately, most of us reading this will fall into a second category. And every single person needs to truly examine his or her life to be sure our love for God is evident. For example:
• Have you opened, read and truly appreciated every single word in His Book? After all, isn’t that what you do when someone sends you a love letter?
• Do you answer Him every time He calls you, or do you sometimes check the caller ID and realize you’re too busy to talk to Him right now?
• Do you treat Him like someone you love more than life, or as though He’s a bother or an afterthought?

The people of Israel’s biggest problem was that they didn’t act like they loved God. They worshipped other gods, and they wouldn’t listen to the One who had rescued them. We may not have statues and wood carvings that we bow down to, but anything in our lives that we make more important than worshipping our Creator is a “foreign God.” And if we choose to ignore God’s roadmap for our lives, He has warned us that He will leave us to our own devices. Plus if that’s not enough, God gave us plenty of examples of people in the Bible who were “left to their own devices.”

Consider Cain, Adam and Eve’s first son. God told him what kind of offering to bring, but he preferred to do it his way. Then when his Heavenly Father called him out on it, he killed his brother. That’s what happens when we’re left to our own devices.

What about the entire world when Noah lived. Many of them had actually talked to Adam (because people lived that long back then), they’d heard about creation first hand, but they didn’t think it necessary to live a life to honor that Creator. They became so evil, so corrupt, the only thing left to do was destroy them with a massive flood. That’s what happens when we think we know more than God.

There’s Samson. Everyone has heard about his great strength. No one could defeat him as long as he didn’t cut his hair, but when you read the story of his life you wonder why God ever chose Him to be a judge of Israel. He lived a life disrespecting his parents and running around with women. Left to his own devices he allowed one of those women to cut his hair, and he ended up blind and died a tragic death. God did still use him to accomplish his purpose, but I often wonder how it might have been different if he’d lived his life God’s way.

Now, perhaps you’re thinking, “But those are all people who were pretty bad from the beginning. No wonder their stories ended up so terrible.” Well, let me share just a couple tales of those who did love and follow God for most of their life.

We have Joshua. Most of the time Joshua’s life was exemplary. He always did what God asked. But there was one time that some strangers came to request their help. Joshua was sure it was a no-brainer. Of course we’ll help these guys! He didn’t need to pray about it, this was an easy one, why bother God? MISTAKE!!! Yep, later Joshua would find out that left to his own devices, he had just helped out God’s enemy and made a promise that God would expect him to keep that would haunt Israel for centuries.

Perhaps you’d prefer to think about King David, the man after God’s own heart. 2 Samuel 11 begins, “In the spring, at the time when Kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the King’s men . . . But David remained in Jerusalem.” David was supposed to go out and lead his men. That was the plan, but David decided to use his own ideas, his own devices. You see, 2 Samuel 11 is where we read about David’s biggest downfall. This is the story of David sleeping with Bathsheeba and then having her husband killed in battle to cover his mistake.

Naaman left to his own devices would have died with leprosy. After all, dunking yourself seven times in the Jordan River didn’t seem to be much of a cure, but fortunately he had some pretty intelligent servants, and he listened to them. Paul left to his own devices was killing off all the Christians he could find, however, he finally listened to Jesus and became the greatest apostle of all time. And I, when left to my own devices, started gaining back all the weight I’d lost because I wouldn’t listen to what God had told me years ago.

Oh yes, nearly everything I write has it’s beginning in my own life. Most of what I share God has spoken to me because I needed to hear it not because He wanted the world to learn a lesson. You see, seven years ago I switched up my lifestyle a bit in the way I was eating because I’d had a stroke. I lost thirty pounds, and I’d kept it off for about five years. But since the beginning of 2013 I’d gradually begun to put it back on, and I couldn’t figure out what had happened.

If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s to pray about everything, even things that seem small in the grand scheme. I began to see that my late night living (I’d never been a morning person) was finally causing me to eat poorly after 9 p.m. I was tired. To combat the tired I would eat, but because I was tired, I had no strength to make wise decisions, and I ate whatever was handy, and that’s the perfect recipe for weight gain.

About 15 years ago I’d sensed God telling me I needed to get up earlier every day. In fact, He’d even given me a specific time: 5:30 a.m. Now, for those who know me well at all, you understand that in my world 5:30 a.m. is really the middle of the night. I had tried over and over again to get out of bed and be productive that early, but it had never worked. However, for some reason in the year before I started gaining weight I’d felt God really pushing me to meet this goal. Almost as if He’d told me years ago because He knew I’d need some time for such a reality to really sink in.

For months I attempted to become morning person, but as much as I tried to get up early, I couldn’t. So, I told God, “I can’t.” I have this theory though, “If God asks us to do something, we can.” He wouldn’t ask us if He knew for sure we couldn’t (and God knows!). I prayed and prayed about getting up. I knew God had a purpose for my early mornings, but it just wasn’t happening . . . until God sent me to Psalm 81.

When I read Psalm 81 at the end of August, those words cut me like a knife, “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own devices.” I knew that was me. I was being stubborn. I’d been a night owl most of my adult life, so I figured God created me that way, I didn’t really need to change. I was also correct in my thinking that I couldn’t get out of bed earlier; however, I could GO to bed earlier. So, in September my late nights ended. I’ve only seen “The Tonight Show” twice in the last several months. And while I’m not yet up EVERY morning at 5:30, my Heavenly Father awakens me every morning quite early. In fact, this very story you’re reading was started at 6:30 a.m.

Left to my own devices, I eat to stay awake late instead of going to bed so I can get up early like God asked. I know it’s a pretty small issue compared with much of what’s going on in the world today, but it’s a picture of how “our own devices” is working in lives all over the world. We refuse to do what God asks us to do, and we wonder why things aren’t going as smoothly as they should. As Christians, we want God’s blessings without following God’s plan. Psalm 81 helps us understand it doesn’t work that way.

Perhaps you’re like me. You know God is calling you to something, but you can’t quite do it. I encourage you to do what I did. Ask God to show you what you CAN do. I couldn’t get up early, but I could go to bed early. Perhaps you’re trying to quit smoking or drinking, and you can’t. You’re probably correct; you can’t. That’s hard to do! But what you can do is refuse to buy the stuff and find a sponsor and a meeting.

There’s all kinds of stuff in our lives God is calling us to that we can’t do. But if we listen God will tell us what we can do. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that we’ll never be tempted beyond what we can bear because God will always “provide a way out.” We just have to listen to Him so we can find the way out. My way out of gaining weight and living according to my own devices was going to bed earlier. It might not always seem that easy, but there will always be a way out.

In Exodus, Moses said, “I can’t talk.” God said, “You can take Aaron to be your mouthpiece.” God won’t ask you to do something you truthfully can’t do. What if Joseph had said, “I can’t go from being a slave to running the country”? God may have still made a way for Egypt and Israel to survive the famine, but Joseph would have still been a slave and may have never seen his family again.

If Joshua had said, “I can’t lead these people into the Promised Land,” he would have probably died in the desert with all of the other Israelites instead of living in a land flowing with milk and honey. If Samson had followed God and been a holy judge instead of a lady’s man, he may have ended his life in peace with both of his eyes intact and STILL defeated the Philistines single handedly.

Every day I encounter people who wonder why life won’t go their way. Perhaps you’re one of them. If you really are loving God with all of your heart and following the plan He has for you, then it’s probably just not time yet. Like Joshua there might be people around you holding you back, or, like Joseph, the solution might be slower than we like. Hold on! The blessings are coming!

More likely, from what I’ve seen in human nature, if life seems to be throwing you curve balls, there’s a better chance God has left you to your own devices. Just like Israel, that doesn’t mean you aren’t His people, and it doesn’t mean He loves you any less. Salvation comes through accepting Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for yourself. You can be a blood bought, born again, child of God and still be left to your own devices.

What it does mean is that you are missing out on all the blessings God wants to pour out all over you. It means that if you won’t ask for and take His perfect advice, He’ll allow you to follow your own or your friends’ not so great advice. It means if you won’t go where He asks (which may be as simple as worship every week or as big as Zimbabwe), you might find yourself falling for temptation more easily.

Salvation comes by believing and accepting, but blessings are the by-product of listening and obeying. If you aren’t living in all the blessings that you believe God wants to pour out on you, pray David’s prayer today, “Search my heart, O God.” Ask Him to show you the places where you are following your own devices, going your own way. It’s time to say, “Enough of what I can’t do. I will do what I can, and what I can do is honor God with everything I do and give up on my own devices.” It’s time to live in all of God’s blessings!

13 “If my people would only listen to me,
if Israel would only follow my ways,
14 how quickly I would subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes!
15 Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him,
and their punishment would last forever.
16 But you would be fed with the finest of wheat;
with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” ~ Psalm 81:13-16

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