“Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God.”— Psalm cxliii. 10.
THIS is a prayer about doing, but it is perfectly free from legal taint. The man who offered it had no idea of being saved by his doings, for in the second verse of the psalm he had said, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” This is not the prayer of a sinner seeking salvation, for salvation is not by doing the will of God but by believing in Christ. It is the prayer of the man who is already saved, and who being saved devotes himself to the service of God, and wishes to be taught in the fear of the Lord. “Teach me to do thy will, O God.”
The connection leads us to make the remark that David looked upon the doing of God’s will as his best escape from his enemies. He speaks of his cruel persecutors. He declares that though he looked all around he could find none who would help him. Then he prays, “Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God.” And depend upon it, the surest way to escape from harm is to do no ill. If you are surrounded by those who would slander you, your best defence is a blameless life; and if many are watching for your halting and maliciously desiring your fall, your safety lies in holiness. The very best prayer you can pray for your own protection is, “Teach me to do thy will.” If you do right none can harm you.
This prayer was suggested by the perplexity of the psalmist’s mind. He was overwhelmed, and did not know what to do, and therefore he cried, “Teach me to do thy will, O God,” He had come to a place where many roads met, and he did not know which path to take; and so he prayed God to guide him in the way appointed. I commend this prayer to all who may be sorely puzzled and anxious. You have exercised your own judgment, and you have, perhaps, too much consulted with friends, and yet your way seems entirely blocked up: then resort to God with this as your heart’s prayer, “Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God.”
May the Spirit of God now bless us while we open up this short prayer that we may be helped to understand it, and use it. First, we will speak upon the prayer; and then, secondly, upon its answer.
I. And, first, THE PRAYER ITSELF — let us notice its character. It is a holy prayer. “Teach me to do thy will.” The man who utters this language desires to be free from sin, for sin can never be God's will. Under no circumstances whatever may I do wrong and fancy that I am doing God’s will therein. I have read of an extremely poor man who wanted fuel for the fire for his children, and the text came to his mind, “All things are yours.” Armed with this text, he thought he would take a little wood from his neighbour’s wood-pile; but very happily there came to his mind another text, “Thou shalt not steal.” He was quite clear about its meaning, and so he let the wood alone; but he recollected afterwards how that text had saved him from a great transgression. Depend upon it, whatever circumstances or impressions may seem to say, it is never God’s will that you should do wrong. There are devil’s providences as well as God’s providences. When Jonah wanted to go to Tarshish, he found a ship going thither; and I dare say he said “How providential!” Yes, but no providence can ever be an excuse for sinning against God. We are to do right, and therefore we pray, “Teach me to do thy will.”
It is a humble prayer— the prayer of a man of deep experience, and yet, for all that, and perhaps because of that, a man who felt that he needed teaching as to every step he should take. When you do not want teaching, brother, it is because you are too stupid to learn: you may depend upon that. It is only a very young lady fresh from a boarding-school, who has “finished her education,” and it is only a great fool of a man who thinks that he can learn no more. Those who know themselves best, and know the world best, and know God best, always have the lowest thoughts of themselves. They have no wisdom of their own except this, that they are wise enough to flee from their own wisdom, and say to the Lord, “Teach me to do thy will.” This is a holy prayer and a humble prayer, and commends itself to every holy and humble heart.
It is, dear friends, a docile prayer— the prayer of a teachable man. “Teach me to do thy will.” It is not merely, you see, “Teach me thy will,” but “Teach me to do it.” The person is so ignorant that he needs to be taught how to do anything and everything. You may tell a child how to walk, but it will not walk for all that. You must teach it to walk. You must take it by the arms as God did Ephraim. He says, “I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms,” just as a nurse teaches her little ones. “Teach me to do.” Lord, it is not enough that thou teach my head and teach my heart, but teach my hands and my feet. “Teach me to do thy will.” Such a suppliant is docile, and ready to learn.
It is an acquiescent prayer also, which is a great thing in its favour. “Teach me to do thy will— not mine. I will put my will on one side.” He does not say, “Lord, teach me to do part of thy will, that part which pleases me,” but all thy will. If there be any part of thy will which I am not pleased with, for that very reason teach it to me, until my whole soul shall be conformed to thy mind, and I shall love thy will, not because it happens to be pleasing, but because it is thy will. It is a prayer of resignation and self-abnegation, and is, perhaps, one of the highest that the Christian can pray, though it may well befit the learner who stands for the first time at wisdom’s door.
And then notice that it is a believing prayer— “Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God.” There is faith in God in this claim. “Thou art my God;” and there is faith in God’s condescension that he will act as a Teacher. Brethren, we have two faults. We do not think God to be so great as he is, and we do not think God can be so little as he can be. We err on both sides, and neither know his height of glory nor his depth of grace. We practically say, “This trial is too mean; I will bear it without him.” We forget that the same God who rules the stars condescends to be a Teacher, and teaches us to do his will. We heard once of a president of a great nation who nevertheless taught in a Sunday-school: it was thought to be great condescension, but what shall I say of him who, while he sits amid the choirs of angels and accepts their praises, comes down to his little children and teaches them to do his will! The prayer before us is very precious, for it is holy, humble, docile, acquiescent, and believing.
Let us now notice what the actual request is. In so many words it says, “Teach me to do thy will.” So, brethren and sisters, it is a practical prayer. He does not say merely, “Teach me to know thy will”— a very excellent prayer that; but there are a great many who stick fast in the knowing, and do not go on to the doing; these are forgetful hearers, deceiving themselves. An ounce of doing is worth a ton of knowing. The most orthodox faith in the world, if it be accompanied by an unholy life, will only increase a man’s damnation. There must be the yielding up of the members and of the mind unto God in obedience, or else the more we know the greater will be our condemnation.
The psalmist does not say, “Lord, help me to talk about thy will,” though it is a very proper thing to talk about, and a very profitable thing to hear about. But still doing is better than talking. If t’s were w’s there would be more saints in the world than there are; that is to say, if those who folk uprightly would also walk uprightly it would be well; but with many the talk is better than the walk. Better a silent tongue than an unclean life. Practical godliness is preferable to the sweetest eloquence.
The prayer is, “Teach me to do thy will.” There are some who long to be taught in all mysteries; and truly to understand a mystery aright is a great privilege, but their main thought seems to be to know the deep doctrines, the mysterious points. Many go into prophecy, and a nice muddle they make when they get there. We have had I do not know how many theories of prophecy, each one of them more absurd than the rest, and so it will be, I fear, to the world’s end. Truly, it would be a good thing to understand the prophecies, and all knowledge, “and yet show I unto you a more excellent way”; and that excellent way is to live a life of humble, godly dependence and faith, and to show forth in your life the love that was in Christ Jesus. Lord, I chiefly long to know thy will: teach me that, and I am content.
I have already said that this prayer asks that we may do God’s will, not our own. Oh! how naturally our heart prays, “Lord, let me have my own way.” That is the first prayer of human nature when it is let alone; “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice? Let me have my own way.” That desire will sometimes enter the Christian’s heart, though I hope it will not long remain there. We may be praying, “Lord, not my will, but thine be done,” and yet the wicked, rebellious heart may be saying inside, “But do let it be my will, Lord: do let it be my will.” Still do we cling to self. May the Lord deliver us from Lord Will-be-will, who is a terrible tyrant wherever he rules; and may this be our prayer, “Teach me to do thy will.”
We are not to ask to do other people’s will, though some persons are always slaves to the wills of others. Whatever their company is that are they. In Rome they do as Rome does: they try to accommodate themselves to their family; they cannot take a stand, or be decided, but they are ruled and governed, poor slaves that they are, by their connections. They fear the frown of man. Oh that they would rise to something nobler, and pray, “Lord, teach me to do thy will, whether it is the will of the great ones of the earth, or the will of my influential friends, or the will of my loud talking neighbours or not. Help me to do thy will, to take my stand, and say, ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’” It is a blessed prayer. The more we look at it the more we see in it.
What does he mean by doing God’s will? Does he not mean, “Help me to do as thy word bids me”? For the will of God is put before us very plainly in his law, and, especially, in that law as viewed in the hand of Christ. “This is the will of God, even our sanctification.” To serve him devoutly, and to love our neighbour as ourselves— this is the will of God. May his Spirit help us. “Teach me to do thy will, O God.”
That will also takes the form of providence. Out of two courses equally right we sometimes have to ask the question, “Lord, what is thy will here?” There is nothing immoral in either the one or the other, and hence our difficulty, and then we come to the Lord and say, “Here is a case in which thy law does not guide me, otherwise I should decide at once, but wilt thou now show me what thou wilt have me to do?” In another case the will of God may be suggested by opportunity. Dear friend, the will of God is that you should speak to that friend sitting near you about soul-matters. The will of God is that your unconverted servant should have your prayers and your instruction. God puts men in our way on purpose that we may do them good. I have no doubt whatever that many a Christian is made to go where he would not choose to go, and to associate with persons that he would not wish to associate with, on purpose that he may be the means of taking light into dark places, and of carrying life from God to dead 'souls. So that if you pray this prayer, “Teach me to do thy will,” and carry it out, you will watch for opportunities of serving the Lord.
The prayer seems to me to have all that compass, and much more.
But I would answer another enquiry. What is the intention of the prayer as to manner? It does not say, “Lord, enable me to do thy will,” but, “Teach me to do thy will,” as if there were some peculiar way of doing it that had to be taught, as when a young man goes apprentice to acquire a trade. Lord, I would put myself under indentures to thy grace that thou mayest teach me the art and mystery of doing thy will.
How then ought God’s will to be done?
It should be done thoughtfully. A great many Christians are not half as considerate as they should be. We should go through life, not flippantly like the butterfly that flits from flower to flower, but like the bee that stays and sucks honey, and gathers sweet store for the hive. We should be seriously in earnest; and one point of earnestness should be
“With holy trembling, holy fear,
To make my calling sure,
Thine utmost counsel to fulfil,
And suffer all thy righteous will,
And to the end endure.”
Lord, help me to do thy will, seriously bending all my soul to the doing of it; not trifling in thy courts, nor making life a play, but loving thee with my understanding.
The Lord’s will should be done immediately. As soon as a command is known it should be obeyed. Lord, suffer me not to consult with flesh and blood. Make me prompt and quick of understanding in the fear of God. Teach me to do thy will as angels do, who no sooner hear thy word than they fly like flames of fire to fulfil thy behests.
His will should by done cheerfully. Jehovah seeks not slaves to grace his throne. He would have us delight to do his will: yea, his law should be in our heart. Oh! brothers and sisters, you need to pray this: “Teach me to do thy will,” or else you will miss the mark.
Teach me to do it constantly. Let me not sometimes be thy servant, and then run away from thee. Keep me to it. Let me never weary. When the morning wakes me may it find me ready, and when the evening bids me rest may I be serving thee until I fall asleep.
Teach me to do it also, Lord, universally, not some part of it, but all of it, not one of thy commands being neglected, nor one single part of my daily task being left undone. I am thy servant; make me to be what a good servant is to her mistress, neglecting none of the cares of the household. May I be watchful in all points.
Teach me to do thy will spiritually, not making the outside of cups and platters clean, but obeying thee within my soul. May what I do be done with all my heart. If I pray, help me to pray in the spirit. If I sing, let my heart make music unto thee. When I am talking to others about thy name, and trying to spread the savour of Jesus, let me not do it in my own strength, or in a wrong spirit, but may the Holy Ghost be upon me.
Teach me to do thy will intensely. Let the zeal of thy house eat me up. Oh that I might throw my whole self into it. This little prayer grows, does it not? Pray it, brothers and sisters, and may the Lord answer you.
Once again, there are necessary qualities which we must seek if we would sincerely pray this prayer, “Teach me to do thy will.” Then, you must have decision of character, for some never do God’s will, though they wish they did, and they regret, they say, that they cannot: they resolve that they will, and there it ends. O you spongy souls! Some of you are sadly squeezable. Whatever hand grips you can shape you. Decision is needed, for you cannot do God’s will unless you know how to say, “No,” and to put your foot down, and declare that whatever may happen you will not turn aside from the service of your God.
If the Lord shall teach you to do his will, you will also need courage. The prayer virtually says, “When my enemies ridicule me, teach me to do thy will. When they threaten me, teach me to do thy will. When they tempt me, teach me to do thy will. When they slander me, teach me to do thy will, to be brave with the bravery which resolves to do the right, and leaves the issues with God.”
“Teach me to do thy will.” It means— Give me resignation, kill in me my self-hood, put down, I pray thee, my pride, make me willing to be anything or to do anything thou wilt.
It is a prayer that necessitates humility. No man can pray it unless he is willing to stoop and wash the saints’ feet. “Teach me to do thy will.” Let me be a scullion in thy kitchen if so I may glorify thee. I have no choice but that thou be all in all.
It is a prayer, too, for spiritual life, and much of it, for a dead man cannot do God’s will. Shall the dead praise him? Shall they that go down to the pit give him thanks? Oh, no, brothers and sisters; you must be full of life if you are to do God’s will. Some professors are not quickened one-third of the way up yet. I hope they have a measure of quickening, but it does not seem to have reached the extremities. There may be a little quickening in the heart, but it has not quickened the tongue to confess Christ, nor quickened the hand to give to Christ, or to work for Christ. They seem to be half-dead. O Lord, fill me with life from the sole of my foot to the crown of my head, for how can I do thy will unless thy Spirit saturates me through and through, till every pulse is consecrated? I would be wholly thine. “Teach me to do thy will.”
II. I will not detain you many minutes over the second part of our sermon, in which we are to say a little upon ITS ANSWER. There is the prayer, “Teach me to do thy will.” Will it get an answer? Yes, brethren, it will assuredly obtain an answer of peace.
For, first, there is a reason for expecting it. “Thou art my God.” Oh, yes, if we were asking this of some one else we might fear, but “thou art my God” is blessed argument, because the greater supposes the less. If God has given us himself, he will give us teaching. It is also God's way to teach:— “Good and upright is the Lord, therefore will he teach transgressors in the way.” It is a quality of a good man to wish to make others good; it is supremely the quality of the good God to make others good. When I think of what the Lord is, I am certain that he will be willing to teach me to do his will. Moreover, he has promised to do it. “I will instruct thee, and teach thee in the way that thou shalt go. I will guide thee with mine eye.” And, again, he is glorified by so doing, for it brings glory to God when his people do his will; therefore may I expect for all these reasons that he will teach me to do his will.
Again, dear friends, it needs to be answered. “Teach me to do thy will. Lord, there is nobody who can ever teach me thy will except thou do it. I shall never learn it of myself. This scholarship I shall never pick up by chance. Lord, unless thou hold me fast, and teach me with thy supremest art, I shall never learn to do thy will as I desire to learn it.” You see, he turns away from every other teacher to his God, he puts himself to school to God alone. And there is the prayer, “Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God.” Brother, you must have this teaching, or else you will never do God’s will. No strength of nature, no wit of nature, can ever suffice to serve the Lord aright; you must be taught from above.
There are many ways in which God gives his answer to this prayer “Teach me to do thy will.” We have received one wonderful answer to it already. He has given Jesus Christ to he our Example. There is no teaching like actual example. If you want to know the will of God study the life of Christ.
The Lord is pleased to give us fainter copies of that same will of his in his saints. Read the sacred biographies of the Scriptures. Watch the holy lives of those who are among you, who live near to God, and follow them so far as they follow Christ. They are not complete copies; there are blots and blunders: still, the Lord does teach young people by the godly lives of their parents, and he instructs all of us by the biographies of devoted men and women.
Again, the Lord teaches us by every line of his word, and oftentimes when that word is heard, or carefully read, it comes home with great power to the soul, and guides us in the way of life.
Moreover the Lord has a way of teaching us by his own Spirit. The Holy Spirit speaks in secret whispers, to those who are able to hear him. It is not every professing Christian that has the visitations of the Spirit of God in personal monitions, but there are saints who hear a voice behind them saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” God guides us with his eye as well as by his word. Opened eyes can see in a moment what the Lord means. He has gentle means. His daily dealings in loving tenderness are guides to us. Every mercy is a star to pilot us to heaven. When we are not willing to be guided so easily, he will teach us by rough means. The Lord has a bit and a whip for those who need them. He will restrain us by affliction and infirmity, and sometimes chasten us very sore with losses, bereavements, depression of spirit, and the like: but in some way or other he will hear the prayer for teaching, for it is a covenant promise, “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord.” Blessed are they to whom the teaching comes sweetly and softly. It can be so if we are willing to have it so; but surely if we will not be tenderly guided, God will make us to do his will as men compel the bullock to do their will when it is rebellious under the yoke, and must be broken in. The Lord will hear our prayer for instruction; but it may not be quite in the way we should have chosen.
One thing more. I trust we have, all of us who know the Lord, prayed the prayer, “Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God.” Now mind, my dear friend, mind that you do it sincerely, and know what you are at, because after offering such a petition as this, you dare not go into sin. You cannot say, “Teach me to do thy will,” and then go off to frivolous amusements, or spend your evenings in vain and giddy society, because that would be an insolent mockery of God. “Teach me to do thy will,” you say, and then get up and do what you know to be clean contrary to his mind and will: what defiant profanity is this!
Again, do not offer this prayer with a reserve. Do not say, or mean, “Teach me to do thy will in all points but one. That is a point in which I pray thee have me excused.” I am afraid that certain believers do not want to learn too much. I have known them not like to read special passages of Scripture. Perhaps they trouble them doctrinally, or as to the ordinances of the Christian faith, or as to matters of church discipline; if they do not paste those pages together to hide the obnoxious passage yet they do not like them opened too much. They would rather read a verse which looks more to their mind. But, brother, if thou and a text have a quarrel, make it up directly. Thou must not alter the text; alter thy creed, alter thy life, alter thy thought, God the Holy Spirit helping thee; for the text is right, and thou art in the wrong. “Teach me to do thy will,” means, if we pray it honestly, “I will search God’s book to know what his mind is.” Why, there are numbers of you who join with the church you were brought up to, whatever it is. You do not take the trouble to examine as to whether your church is Scriptural or not. This is a blind way of acting. This is not obeying the will of God. Know what God’s book teaches. Search the Scriptures. Many Christians believe what their minister preaches because he preaches it. Do not believe a word of what I preach unless you can find it in the Word of God. “To the law and to the testimony. If we speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in us.” We are all fallible, and though we teach as best we can, and hope that God teaches you much by us, yet we are not inspired, and do not pretend to be. Search you the book of God on your own account, and abide by what you find there, and by nothing else. Where the Bible leads you are bound to follow, and following its guidance you shall not walk in darkness. Seek to know the will of God; and when you know it, carry it out, and pray the Holy Ghost to take away the dearest idol you have known— the thought that pleases you best— out of your mind, if it is contrary to the supreme will of the eternal God. The Lord grant we may thus pray, and thus be heard.
Alas, unconverted people cannot pray after the fashion of my text. They have, first of all, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ before they can do the will of the Lord. May you all be led to believe in the Saviour, and when you have so done then may the Holy Ghost lead you to pray, “Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God.”
The Lord bless you, for Christ’s sake. Amen.