Instead of focusing on a topic this time round, I thought I would rather zone in on a verse that has been on my mind all week. This is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
I really think that sometimes, we think we have the answers to the predicaments that life throws our way. I think this because this had been my mind set for so long. Anyone who knows me well enough knows that one of my habits was to worry myself sick and something I still wrestle not to do sometimes. Any difficult situation that life threw my way, my first instinct was to worry and then try and fix the situation through my own efforts, forgetting to even ask God what I should do in that situation! But I learned that to worry and try and fix a situation myself was practically a way of telling God, “I don’t trust you, so let me fix this problem” But we will see how important this verse is in the way we conduct our lives.
It’s interesting how much we tend to rely on ourselves. It happens subconsciously in our schoolwork, job searches, in our relationships and even ministry. We get good ideas and we think “right let’s run with that” because that’s how the world works right? But we’re going to see that Proverbs 3:5-6 says the exact opposite. We should trust God more than ourselves but what does that mean and how can we do that when we are constantly surrounded by ambitious and intellectual peers and a society that tells us success is the main goal? Education and learning have become idols to which people increasingly bow. We live in a time of exceeding pride in human knowledge and accomplishment. We are also surrounded by a culture where the desires and rights of the individual are considered the greatest good – where I can have whatever I want or be whatever I want as long as it doesn’t harm others or keep them from their own desires. So, it’s in these instances that it’s imperative that Christians have constant reminders of what it really means to trust only in God and not in what we think is best all the time.
To trust in the Lord means more than believing in who he is and what he says; the word here for trust can also mean ‘to have confidence in.’ Having confidence in something means having an assurance that leads to action. Trusting in the Lord is a faith that lets us boldly serve and his confidence should infuse our whole being!
To trust God is to acknowledge him in everything! Acknowledging God means including God wherever we are and in whatever we are doing. So that means trusting God isn’t just an afterthought – when the going gets tough; “oh yeah, now it’s time to trust God!” – no! It means cultivating an act of perceiving his character and will in every moment of life. But then if we dedicate ourselves to trusting and seeking God in all circumstances, are we then to believe that life will be easy and that no trouble will come our way? Well of course not because I think we have all experienced enough of life to know that so isn’t the case. But it’s rather, as we trust more in God and have the confidence to act on his will, we may have to turn down opportunities that seem greater because God has called us elsewhere or even accept callings that scare us. Acknowledging God in everything means that we remember that no circumstance comes to us outside of the Father’s will. I believe knowing this, will give us strength even through difficulties, pain, and fears because we know God will never leave our side.
However, to trust God is also to fear him. Proverbs 3:7 (NIV) says “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” Putting trust in the wisdom of people and looking to ourselves – both individually and corporately – is futile almost to the point of hilarity! The wisdom of this world is actual foolishness to God and should be to us! 1 Corinthians 3:19-21 (NIV) says: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘he catches the wise in their craftiness and again, the Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.’ So then, no more boasting about human leaders…….”
You see, whatever we think we know, God knows more. He is more than capable of both shaming our own supposed wisdom and using it for his greater purpose. So, what’s the next step? The solution to “being wise in [our] own eyes” is to stand in complete awe of God, to live in respectful fear of him. Fearing God is an idea uncomfortable for some; they want God to be loving and welcoming. But to truly understand the scope of God’s love we must also understand that he is also terrifying which in turn, makes us appreciate his unconditional love more! His holiness, size, power, beauty, understanding, knowledge and whole being are incomprehensible. To not be enslaved on our own knowledge is to understand how sublime and fearsome our God is.
Leaning on our own understanding
When the bible tells us in this verse not to ‘lean on our own understanding’ we mustn’t think it is encouraging us to be irrational in our thinking. The Bible certainly doesn’t put up a wall of separation between our intellect and faith. In fact, the book of Proverbs speaks very highly of understanding e.g. Proverbs 2:11 and Proverbs 14:33. So then you must be thinking, so if we’re supposed to get understanding, why are we not supposed to lean on it? Well, we’re specifically told not to lean on our own understanding meaning, conclusions we make based primarily on our own perceptions. We need to realise that our own understanding simply will not bear the full weight of reality because it just never was intended to!
The joyful sanity of trusting the Lord.
I believe the things that have caused me the most difficulty and heartache in life so far, the source of my anxieties, fear, doubt and anger, is the result of learning on my own understanding! God does not want us to be miserable, even in this fallen, futility-infected age. He wants to relieve our anxiety! (Philippians 4:6-7). In exercising faith – trusting fully in the Lord and not leaning on our own understanding – we’re not setting aside our intellect but rather resting our intellect upon the intellect of God. Nothing is wiser or saner! To do so is to allow him to direct our paths, which not only lead to ultimate joy but also makes the journey itself, even when drowned in sorrow for some, joyful.
Addressing a misconception.
Sometimes verses can be taken out of context and this is one verse that is totally at risk of having that done to. One time, I encountered Proverbs 3:5-8 being used to elevate ideology over practicality; to keep people clinging to a certain ‘conviction’ about how the Christian life is best lived, even if life itself is increasingly showing that the ideological system just doesn’t work! I’ve even had some people say to me “verses like this teaches us to distrust our feelings, surrendering our control! It sets us up to dismiss our fears as irrational or the devil sowing seeds of distrust!” This interpretation of this scripture completely divorces the meaning from its context both biblically and historically! The problem is this. When “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” comes to actually mean “Trust in what you think the Bible is saying without considering any other interpretation,” or “Trust in the doctrines taught by the leaders of your particular movement without question” — this is the exact opposite of the Proverb’s intention. If we really stop believing we have all the answers, this should make us more willing to question what we think or have been taught to believe. It should make us more open to the evidence and realities around us. It should increase our sensitivity to God’s voice within our everyday lives!
Also, the Proverb says, “with all your heart.” What we mean by “heart” and what it meant in Bible times are two different things. We think “heart” is only about feelings and instincts; we use the word “mind” when we mean our thoughts and reasoning processes. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” thus is easily misinterpreted as advice to focus on our feelings towards God and to leave our reasoning out of it. But the word translated “heart” is the Hebrew word leb, which refers to the whole inmost self: feelings, thoughts, conscience, memories, inclinations, decisions. If our whole innermost selves are relying on God rather than on our own understanding– whether it’s our own grasp of knowledge or that of a church leader or an ideological group– then we can listen to new input and our own reactions, learn facts and knowledge we may not have been aware of, and lean on the Holy Spirit to help us sift through it all.
I believe Paul was expressing the essential meaning of Proverbs 3:5-6 when he said, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.” (1 Corinthians 8:1-2 NIV) This part of Paul’s letter is about how “knowledge” about food sacrificed to idols can be destructive to others– as any form of knowledge can when it becomes elevated into an ideology that supersedes actual human needs!
“Lean not on your own understanding” was never meant to support any such ideology. It was never meant to support trusting in our own grasp of knowledge– even our knowledge of the Bible– over trusting in the Lord Himself.
Our faith isn’t supposed to be in formulas, or in how if we push the right buttons according to our ideologies, everything will be rosy. It’s when we treat faith like that, we’re actually leaning on our own understanding. So, we should try not to think we have all the answers. Let’s, in fact, appreciate that we don’t have all the answers! Take the burden off and give it to God! That way we can grow in our understanding rather than lean on it.
Trusting in the Lord is the only path to life, and nowhere is this seen more fully than in the life and work of Christ. In his life, he trusted the Father totally, even to his death; through his work on the cross, his resurrection, and his ascension he offers us new life, pouring his Spirit into our hearts.
In a culture of misplaced trusts, broken promises, and damaged lives, only Jesus is unshakable, unchangeable, unbreakable, and worthy of all our trust. Only he trusted the Father perfectly with all his heart, making straight the path for our salvation so we too would trust him. Through him, God offers healing, wisdom, and love to the world, if we only we acknowledge him in all our ways.