You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor [or: to glory]. (
Martin Luther once said that he was attracted to pictorial Scriptures, especially the Psalms, because they awakened emotions within his soul. Luther often recited psalms to himself aloud, wanting to imprint them firmly in his consciousness. He afterward contemplated them, intent to act upon what they offered.1
Our text is from a psalm; it is a pictorial verse whose message will steady and reassure you as you deal with the sometimes painful process of recollecting the past, and the always problematic business of anticipating the future. The text offers a word of assurance for the living of our days, a steadying word about why we can affirm the future.
I. We can affirm the future because timely counsel from God is always available to guide us.
The theme of divine counsel is highlighted throughout the Bible, but that theme saturates the psalms. Like us, this psalmist knew that we humans are chronic mistake-makers when left to ourselves, so he anticipated receiving counsel from God to grant him the wisdom and courage needed for life at its best. All humans need God’s counsel, and we can all have it, but only those who rightly value life receive that counsel with joy and follow it in trusting obedience.
Roger Hazelton, one of my beloved professors at Oberlin Seminary, used to remind his students that God has a “controlling interest in the course of our living from day to day, an interest on which we can rely and with which we may in some real measure cooperate.”2 Divine counsel is readily available to us in Scripture and by God’s Spirit, and to follow it is to invest our conditioned freedom wisely in God’s will. The counsel helps us to anticipate life and meet it with wisdom.
II. We can affirm the future because God’s counsel grants a clear perspective by which to view and deal with it.
Perspective is a calculated angle of vision that grants the viewer a sense of the wholeness of what is being viewed. As in art, so in life, a right place to stand and view things is a key factor for meaning and value. Given the brokenness of this world, the logic of life is not immediately apparent; we are more apt to appreciate and value life when we have found the right place at which to stand and view it. Let me illustrate what I mean.
Early in this century, Paul Laurence Dunbar composed his poem about “Life.” The poem is short but its message is pungent. It begins:
A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in,
A minute to smile and an hour to weep in,
A pint of joy to a peck of trouble,
And never a laugh but the moans come double;
And that is life!
Dunbar was lamenting his hard and sometimes tragic existence as the black son of former slaves. But notice the next section of the poem:
A crust and a corner that love makes precious,
With a smile to warm and the tears to refresh us;
And joy seems sweeter when cares come after,
And a moan is the finest of foils for laughter;
And that is life!3
The emotional difference reflected between these two views is explained by the spiritual place where Dunbar was standing as he looked at his life. The Christian faith helped him to see life through eyes of love, faith and hope.
But what he had observed in life while growing up made him question whether that ancient article of faith should be trusted. He saw some glaring injustices that disquieted his spirit. He had seen the wicked prosper while the godly seemed forsaken, beset by trials and mired in poverty. The psalmist was tempted to believe that there was no fairness at the heart of things, that it seemed more relevant to live by trickery than by trust. Throughout
The psalmist left no word about how long this questioning lasted, but he does tell us that on a certain day and in a certain place insight was given, perspective was gained, and relief came. As he explained it: “But when I thought how to understand this [problem], it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived …” (
Please note that clear perspective came to the psalmist in the place where religious meanings were known, valued, and voiced, the place where burdened souls and questioning minds should expect to find help, in “the sanctuary of God.” It was there that he found that place of faith from which to view life here in the light of eternity. Then the ancient song of experience became his own fresh song of faith. So he could now sing, “Truly God is good to the upright.” He soon added an affirmation of his own, framed in the words of our text.
The best future does not happen for those who are selfishly bent on achieving their own ends but rather for those who are spiritually aligned to follow the divine counsel for life. This perspective on life grants a steadiness that personal struggles cannot defeat and changing circumstances cannot easily undermine. A standing-place in faith will not answer all the questions raised in our minds by the pressing details and disheartening disappointments of life, but it will grant us that perspective by which to trust the Almighty with a right handling of the world. Perspective is God’s gift to our inward sight, and with it we have a surefootedness to move ahead confidently as we live, learn, and labor.
III. We can also affirm the future because God’s Presence companions us.
Notice how personal, direct, and intimate the psalmist is in addressing God. “You are guiding me with your counsel,” he said, “and afterward you will receive me to glory” (
I speak about the companioning presence of God, but let me quickly add that God is not always “present” in the ways we all so much desire. There are those times in our pilgrimage when a sense of aloneness presses us so heavily that we wish we could see and touch God in literal fashion, but, alas, we cannot. Yet despite the heaviest sense of being alone in the world, and despite the most painful circumstances we experience, God is always “at hand,” on the path with us. Thus that line from the psalmist: “Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand,” as he readied himself to affirm his future: “You are guiding me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor.”
There is an assurance to bless our pilgrimage and help us to affirm the future. Poet William Cullen Bryant voiced it well in many of his works. In 1815, Bryant was 21-years-old, just recovering from an illness, and not yet fully into the work of his life. He felt forlorn, depressed, and lost. While walking one evening near a village where he was to spend the night, young Bryant noticed in the rosy splendor of the darkening sky a solitary waterfowl winging its way along the now-shadowy horizon. He watched until the bird was lost to his view in the distance. Bryant did not know where the bird was headed, nor from whence it had come, but there seemed a surety of direction in the bird’s flight. As Bryant contemplated this, perspective happened, and out of the experience of insight came his poem “To A Waterfowl.”4 You will recall the affirmation Bryant stated as he thought about the bird’s directed flight:
There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast.
The desert and illimitable air —
Lone wandering, but not lost.
But there is that other affirmation Bryant added, and in perhaps the most passionate utterance in poetry about personal faith in divine guidance:
He who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone
Will lead my steps aright.
Affirm your future! There is timely counsel from God to guide you. There is a clear perspective on life that comes when you trust and follow that counsel. There is also the Companioning Presence of God for your pilgrimage. Give God time to guide, but first give yourself to God to be guided, and your future is assured in his will.
1 See Karl Holl, “Martin Luther on Luther,” in Interpreters of Luther: Essays in Honor of Wilhelm Pauck, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968), esp. pp. 12-13.
2 See Roger Hazelton, God’s Way With Man: Variations on the Theme of Providence (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956), p. 59.
3 The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1968), pp. 9-10.
4 William Aspenwall Bradley, William Cullen Bryant (New York: Macmillan Co.), p. 49.