During the early 1980s a gentleman in a church I attended suffered a financial reversal in his business. Times got tough for his entire family. Happily, they eventually did recover. One day he mentioned that a certain Bible passage had carried him through, and had been his guiding light. The powerful passage that helped this family is one of the most important in the Bible, and is as close to a ‘formula’ for Christian living as one could find in its pages. This is a passage that could be printed on a poster, framed, and hung on a wall. A passage worth memorizing, a passage many of us might have already learned, and one that could be engraved on a bracelet or necklace – or even tattooed somewhere on our body (if we were so inclined). The passage consists of two verses, and has four lines.
It is found in the Old Testament book of Proverbs. It was written about 1000BC by Israel’s King Solomon, who was then an older man (with lots of kids no doubt, having dozens of wives and concubines, as was the practice of kings in those days). In these words Solomon is giving advice and counsel to his younger sons. This passage reads like a conclusion, drawn from a lot of previous wisdom, summarized and reduced. There are three “action items” followed by the best of all possible conclusions.
Proverbs 3: 5-6 (King James Version)
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart
And lean not unto thine own understanding
In all thy ways acknowledge him
And he shall direct thy paths
1) Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
Basic and obvious, right? – but….it’s not always easy to trust the Lord. If life is good, then it would seem to be easy. Too easy perhaps. Easy to ignore. But sometimes life gets hard (job loss, financial loss, home loss, a relationship that sours, etc.), sometimes tragedy strikes (like 9/11, or the big tsunamis, or Katrina or Sandy), sometimes friends or family members die, sometimes we get sick or find ourselves in need of medical care. Sometimes we see other people, especially children and the elderly with advanced medical conditions and disabilities, and our hearts go out to them. It’s human nature to ask ‘why, God’. We usually don’t get a direct answer. Like the patriarch Job, we are expected to trust the Maker of all Things, whose knowledge of the ‘big picture’ is vastly superior to ours. And yet, despite our desire for reasons, trust is precisely what God demands of us. So at those critical life moments, we are commanded to keep praying and give God our faith and trust. We must keep asking God for wisdom and guidance, and we must not lose hope – but trust is the operative word. And he is worthy of our trust, because he is perfectly righteous, perfectly loving, and loves us with an agape love (Greek for pure love, given without demand for return), and was willing to redeem us with his own amazing sacrifice. As per Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
2) And lean not unto thine own understanding.
The Christian faith is very simple at its surface level. Basically, it’s just this: redemption – in one word. As per Romans 3, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God – there is none righteous, no not one”. But God, through Jesus and his death and resurrection, has provided forgiveness for our sins and reconciliation with himself. God loves us, one and all, and his Spirit tugs on us, calling us to come to him for forgiveness and new spiritual life, to be ‘born again’. All one need do is ask. Love and redemption is waiting. As one very big time theologian phrased it when asked by a student to sum up the Christian faith, his answer was, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
And yet, the Christian faith is so deep that no one can fathom it all. There are those who spend their entire lives combing through the Bible, studying doctrine, history, and the precise meaning of each and every passage. Some doctrine is difficult, such as predestination, the sovereignty of God in combination with the free will of man, the incarnation, apologetics, the detailed study of the Old Testament, and the study of Bible prophecy as it relates to the end times. Some doctrine is technical, like the science of creation, or the ancient languages. Other doctrines, particularly the Trinity, can be confusing, especially to the non-Christian. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? That’s three gods, isn’t it? Jewish and Muslim folk often say so. But the Bible clearly states that there is only one God. A paradox? A logical absurdity? Only to our limited finite minds. Can we small creatures be expected to fathom the complex transcendental nature of eternal God? Not really. Here is where humility is called for. Our verse tells us not to ‘lean’ (or to put too much dependency) on our understanding. In other words, ‘don’t try to figure it all out’. You won’t be able to do it. As one famous old preacher is reported to have said, “If you try to figure it all out, you’ll go crazy.” We are commanded to study the scriptures, yes, and to equip ourselves to be good stewards and witnesses of our faith, but the purpose of acquiring knowledge is to bolster, strengthen, and build the foundations of our basic faith and trust.
The fact that the Christian faith is, at the same time, both simple and profound makes it a perfect foundation for people of all intellectual levels, the simplest folk, the most brilliant, and all those in between.
3) In all thy ways acknowledge him.
This means that we must involve the Lord in all aspects of our life. Our relationships, our finances, our recreations, our politics, our pleasures, our physical issues, and our doubts and pains also. This is probably the area of life where most of us fall short. There must be no part of our life that we try to cordon off, rope off, or fence off, from God. It’s not really possible anyway. As per Hebrews 4:13: Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
We must not create little playpens in our mind, or secret closets, or be involved in activities that cause us guilt, or activities that we would be embarrassed to show the Lord if he walked into the room at this very moment. The true Christian has the amazing privilege of taking all thoughts and concerns before the Lord in prayer, and as per Psalms 139 the Lord is aware of all we do or think. We can take comfort in the knowledge that it is quite impossible to keep secrets from the Lord, because he sees directly into our heart of hearts, past all the rationalizations, the bargaining, the excuses, our complaints, our procrastinations, and our attempts to manipulate him. So the wise and prudent Christian tries to acknowledge the Lord in all facets, phases, and compartments of his or her life. Our prayer must be, “Lord, examine my heart and instruct me in how to become a better Christian, how better can I honor the covenant relationship that we have”, and finally “Lord, what you want for me is what I want for me.”
Conclusion: And he shall direct thy paths.
Many of us can testify to this already. Many of us can look in the rear-view mirror of our lives and see how God has guided our footsteps. Examples would be where we have lived, the employment we have had, the person we have married, the children we have had, the church home we have found, etc. How many improbable ‘coincidences’ have enabled us to make the right decision at just the right time? How many times has the Lord actually saved our very lives? How many times has the Lord provided for us, in ways we can hardly understand? How many amazing people have showed up at just the right time in our lives to help us make a ‘defining moment’ decision? How many unanticipated ways has the Lord used us to bless someone else? How many times has the Lord disciplined us with a father’s firm loving “NO”? How many times has the Lord cautioned us not to do a certain thing – a kind of moth/flame warning, a literal command to ‘flee’ from a certain situation or from a certain person? In the book of Revelation we learn the principle that ‘God opens doors that no one can close and closes doors that no one can open.’ Rev 3:8 reads, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. To help guide our walk, God uses those open and closed doors, and even helps us recognize them.
In summary, our verses tell us that God promises that if we trust him, and not depend too much on our own understanding, and be willing to open our lives to his scrutiny and examination, he will help us follow the straight and narrow path that leads to life everlasting. And we have his word, always at hand, from which to draw sustenance. As per Psalms 119:105, his word will always be “a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path”. Along the way he will give us assignments, warnings, and instructions. He will show us the open doors and the closed doors. And he will help us get through the tunnels of hardships and anxieties, and never let us lose hope.
So what’s the golden nugget in this discussion? This: the Bible gives us these two marvelous verses, Proverbs 3: 5&6 – a formula for the Christian life. Memorize them and repeat them over and over. Write them on your heart – and follow them. There is simply no better way to live. There is simply no better way to live.