5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
This is one of those texts that is both comforting and if we’ll admit to it—challenging. The fact of the matter is disciples are all for trusting in the Lord in the abstract, it’s just those real-life moments that prove to be difficult. We’ll come back to this in a bit, but first let’s think about the command to trust in the Lord.
It’s “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” so that’s there’s no wiggle room there. God wants us to learn to trust in Him and His purposes in a complete, unqualified way. As I said, this isn’t tough to do in the abstract. When you’re sitting in a comfortable church building among fellow believers, thinking about this over a cup of coffee in your favorite room of the house, or talking about it in a small group. Everyone is unreservedly for it.
The difficulty comes in the second part of verse 5—“and lean not on your own understanding.” That’s what makes this passage challenging to translate into life. That’s because the truth is, we’re used to leaning on our understanding quite a bit! And, we’re encouraged in a book like Proverbs to pursue understanding (1:2, 6, 2:2, 3, 6, 11, etc.)—so it’s easy to feel conflicted by this text!
Part of this tension can be resolved by noting that the “understanding” we’re not to lean upon is our limited, fallible human understanding—while the “understanding” we’re to pursue is God’s understanding. In 9:10 we’re told that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Just as there’s a difference between worldly wisdom and God’s wisdom (James 3:13-18), there is a difference between worldly understanding and the understanding of God. We’re to grow out of one and into the other.
And returning to our passage, that’s helpful to a degree. Still, it’s our default setting to lean on our own human understanding and that isn’t easily overcome—it’s one of those lifetime achievement kind of things. I’m guessing no one understood this better than Abraham.
You know, the man who packed everything up and hit the road because the Lord told him to —even though he didn’t have a clue where he was going. I’m sure that made for some interesting conversation with Sarah. But this is also the same man who not once, but twice, played fast and loose with a pharaoh and a king about Sarah being his sister (Genesis 12, 20). And then in one crowning moment of glory, he took his son Isaac on a three-day trip to Mt. Moriah to sacrifice him to God. A three-day trip—he had l-o-t-s of time to think about it. (If I was him, I would have been thinking God was going to send us back home at any second—but He didn’t do that, did He? So much for leaning on your own understanding!).
What God told Abraham to do went against love, law, and logic. Abraham had to suspend his understanding in all those areas. A father putting his son to death. A person killing another. Taking the life of his promised son through whom his descendants would be named and numbered.
When the Christ stooped down and wrote something in the sand, John tells us that all of the woman’s accusers dropped their stones and headed home. Whatever it was Jesus wrote, they knew they were overmatched so off they marched. When I read about what Abraham almost did on Mt. Moriah and what God did on Mt Calvary, I just have to drop my stones and head on home because I too am overmatched.
I want to understand a God like that. I want to trust a God like that.
I think that’s a good place to start.