The Designer’s Handbook
from sermon series
“Learning from Isaiah”
by Pastor Dave Strem
Used by permission
Social surroundings are important. The Bible is filled with passages that teach us to build wholesome and decent environments. People thrive when the righteous are in positions of authority. And they wither and suffer when the wicked rule. Certain environments allow humanity to thrive, while others are deadening to the soul and discourage human creativity. This is true precisely because humans have a specific structure. God formed us a certain way, with wide variation within the specific form, and we have not changed. If we really believe that God created humankind then we must acknowledge that He knows all about us. And if He knows all about us, then He can be trusted when He guides and directs us.
“And God said, ‘Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life—the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the livestock, wild animals, and small animals.’ So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27).” What does it mean to be created in God’s image? Whatever it means specifically, it implies that humans have a certain general structure, an internal pattern that is distinctively human. Humans are not born as empty shells waiting to be molded by political and socials forces, only. Wherever you go you will see that humans, despite social and political differences, are basically the same. Contrary to the teachings of communism, humans are born with distinctive characteristics that cannot be altered.
In Isaiah 55:1-13, God speaks directly to this issue. His words are powerful and direct. After we read them together you will see that there is little doubt about what God is saying, about what He is claiming. “Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine and milk—it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen, and I will tell you where to get food that is good for your soul!
“Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, for the life of your soul is at stake. I am ready to make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the mercies and unfailing love that I promised to David. He displayed my power by being my witness and a leader among the nations. You also will command the nations, and they will come running to obey, because I, the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious….”
“My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it. You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where briers grew, myrtles will sprout up. This miracle will bring great honor to the Lord’s name; it will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”
How is your soul today? Is your soul battered and bruised by the things that are going around you every day? God wants to nurture your soul. Is your soul delighted with the abundance of what He has to offer? That’s God’s desire for you. But you have to cooperate, you have to do your part. He assures us if we will do our part, He will do His. The text uses two terms three different ways. The terms are “ways” and “thoughts.” He shows the contrast between the world’s ways and thoughts and His ways and thoughts.
Look at verse 7, it says, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.” For many those are old-fashioned words. When thinking about the word “wicked” we often think of Cinderella and her stepsisters. The word “evil” leads us to think of the Wizard of Oz and the wicked witch, the evil witch. Synonyms will help us understand. In Proverbs 2:12, its says, “Wisdom will save you from the ways of the wicked man. From those whose words are perverse.” Perverted, twisted, and distorted are synonyms for wicked. It means taking something that is good, something that God has designed, and twisting it, turning it, adding a nasty twist to it. As Paul described in Acts 13, “…you are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you ever stop perverting the right ways of God?” Perverting, twisting, trying to get the results that God wants you to have, but taking a shortcut. Living together without marriage is a perversion of God’s plan. Pornography is a perversion of sexual satisfaction. Materialism is thinking that stuff will satisfy you. Instead of the heart possessing God, and being possessed by Him, we strive to possess things. The heart moves away from God and becomes twisted as it attaches itself to objects in the world that cannot ultimately satisfy.
Evil is also a general word with a relevant Scriptural synonym. Romans 1:28 talks about the depraved human mind that is filled with every kind of wickedness and evil. Depraved mind, like evil, means contaminated, corrupted, decaying. The use of the word “mind” here signifies that it is an attitude that schemes to do that which is against God’s ways.
“Wicked” and “evil” characterize the ways and thoughts of those who give no consideration to God’s guidance and ways. You can see it every day. Perversion is everywhere. It seeks to mold us, influence us. But we have been called to resist. We are to identify the perverse actions and depraved attitudes and replace them with godly attitudes and actions. Simply removing evil from our lives is not enough. We must attach ourselves to what is good or else we will be drawn, lured, back to old sins and dispositions.
Current trends will not satisfy. Everyday programs on TV, such as “Friends” and “Will and Grace,” are preaching amorality from morning until night. They preach amoral ways camouflaged as cute comedy. Reality shows promote greed, outright lying, and sexual temptation. If you ask a child about spiritual warfare, they will probably tell you about “Buffy” or “Charmed.” These shows pervert our view of true spiritual warfare. The heroes are cute little witches or sexy vampire slayers. They battle physically to save the world from ugly looking monsters. But true spiritual warfare is a battle for your personal character and eternal soul.
No wonder there is so much drug and alcohol use in our country. Perversion promises satisfaction but leads to pain. Great success, fame, and wealth will not ultimately satisfy our hearts. More toys, more lovers, even having a baby will not fill the void in life that only God can fill. That is why God gives us instructions. I am not trying to make you feel guilty about watching such programs. I am trying to warn you about believing the message that they carry. They are preaching values and modeling lifestyles that are becoming the accepted norm, and they will break your heart. They will devastate your child’s spiritual life.
Look at Isaiah 55:8 for a contrast. God’s ways and thoughts are different. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” God’s ways and thoughts are described both times as higher. Higher! What does that mean? It means beyond us, to a level that we do not quite grasp. It means that His ways are trustworthy, even if we do not completely understand them. We can walk by faith, knowing that if we follow God’s instructions good fruit will grow. “As the rain and the snow come down from the earth and do not return without watering the earth, and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes from my mouth. It will not return empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I have sent it.”
“Listen, listen to me and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest fare.” Our souls will thrive if we give them to God. “The mountains and hills will burst into song before you and the trees of the field will clap their hands.” When you live life the way it is intended, God will do His part and bring harmony, peace, and joy to your life. That does not mean conflict free. But it does mean our souls will prosper and experience inner peace in the midst of turmoil and persecution. When I was in Guatemala, I saw so many people that had absolutely nothing but still had God’s peace and joy. God has a way of doing that, even without microwaves, televisions, DVD players, or radios. In-and-of-themselves these things are not wrong. But they can distract us. Often these things push God out of our lives.
Does it sound reasonable that God would create the whole world for us and not give us guidance for living our lives? God’s Word is that guidance and it is relevant for our lives. We are important and significant to God. He cares about us. Our lives make a difference to Him. He did not create us and then leave us alone to find our way.
How about your ways? What are you using, what are you influenced by, what is the dominating influence in your ways and thoughts? Are you longing for ways and thoughts that are godly, or are you consumed and frustrated by perversion, yours and those around you. Look back at verse 1. God says, “Come, all you who are thirsty.” He expects you to look upon the world and say, “It is missing here. The things I am trying to find to satisfy my heart and soul in the world are missing.” But too often we do not listen to our inner spirit’s longing. Instead we say, “Maybe, if I get more I will be satisfied. Maybe, if I get somebody else I will be satisfied. Maybe, if I have something or go someplace else, I will be satisfied.” God expects you to be thirsty until you’re in that personal, life-giving, continual relationship with Him. And when you are seeking Him, He says, “I will satisfy your soul.” Verse 3, “Give ear and come to me and hear me that your soul may live.” He asks in verse 2, “Why do you spend money on things that do not satisfy? Listen.” Note that it says “listen” twice. When God says it twice, you better know He means it. “Eat what is good that your soul may delight in abundance.” Does your soul delight in abundance? If not, check your spiritual diet. What are you feeding it? What you sow in your life, you will reap.
God directs you in verse 6, “Seek the Lord while He may be found and call on Him while He is near.” And verse 7 warns, “Let the wicked forsake His way and the evil man his thoughts and let him turn to the Lord and He will have mercy on him for He will freely pardon.” To “forsake” means to let loose of the world’s opinions, to let loose of what is contrary to God’s Word and ways. It is your choice. We can have victory in Christ. He has given us everything we need for life and holiness. But we have to choose. To forsake and to turn means to let go of world opinion and grab hold of God’s instruction; God’s instruction for marriage, children, business, success, significance, and satisfaction. Read and study God’s directions for life. Life will never outgrow His handbook for life.
To forsake and seek is to repent. To confess, to call, to express your waywardness and express your thirst for His ways is to repent. First John 1:9 says it well, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all iniquity.” Call, seek, open God’s Word, and look to it and see what He has for you.
Philippians 2 gives us a New Testament parallel. Philippians 2:12: “Therefore my dear friends, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but as much more in my absence, continue to work. Continue to work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” Note it doesn’t say, “Earn your salvation with fear and trembling,” but to “work it out.” To work out your salvation is to let it flow out of your life, to let your life be characterized by what God is pouring into your life. You cannot work out what you do not have! Are you an influence for God or are you showing how fruitless a Christian can be? How hypocritical a Christian can be? Are you letting Him saturate your life? Are you making a spiritual difference to anyone? “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God that works in you.” God is at work in you, if you let Him. “My Word will accomplish my desires. I have purposed to make you holy. I have purposed to make you a testimony to the nations, to the people around you.”
Philippians 2:14 says, “Do everything without complaining and arguing.” Now it gets hard. Can I tell you? I think you can complain to God, but don’t complain to other people. When you feel like complaining, complain to Him and listen to His answer and He’ll say, “I know the struggles, but I am with you.” Converse with Him. Complain and argue with God and listen to His answers. He will carry you through it. You are going to go through it, either with Him or without Him. His instruction for our soul is this: “Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked, perverted, and depraved generation in which you will shine like the stars of the universe as you hold onto the word of life.” He made us and He knows that strife, greed, and contention are bad for our souls.
The Bible tells you to seek after Him and trust Him, to lean not on your own understanding. It requires patience to walk by faith. God sees down the road and knows which path will be best. You will learn many things throughout your life. But if you will allow God’s Word to be the central core of all that you think and do, then any knowledge you gain will help you to live a better life. But if something else becomes your core then you will suffer, you will cease to work properly. God designed us. His Word is His handbook for life. Follow His instructions and your soul will prosper!