What does it mean to trust the Lord with all of our heart? How does the Lord direct our paths? When is our understanding and perception of life and how to solve our problems actually misleading and dangerous?
One of the verses in the Bible that may Christians can probably semi-quote is taken from the third chapter of Proverbs. But if we are to fully drink from the well of this verse, we should take the time to consider its context and to meditate on the implications of its truth.
In a book where a father was trying to pass on wisdom to his son so that his son’s life would be blessed by length of days and peace (see Proverbs 3.1), we read the following words.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. (Proverbs 3.5-7 ESV)
Before we break apart the wisdom of these verses, let’s take a broad scope of the entire chapter.
Solomon wrote about the value of not forsaking steadfast love and faithfulness so that his son might find good favor and success (3.3). In this chapter we learn that we are to honor the Lord with our wealth (3.9) and to joyfully accept the Lord’s discipline (3.11). Wisdom is more valuable than riches (3.15), and those who find it will sleep in peace (3.24). We are to help those in need when we are able (3.28), and we are not to contend with a man for no reason (3.30). We are not to envy the success of a wicked man (3.31) because the Lord’s curses rest on the house of the wicked (3.33).
So, in light of this larger context, we read the words of Proverbs 3.5-7 once again.
Trust In The Lord With All Your Heart
Why did Solomon tell his son to trust in the Lord with all of his “heart” and not just with his mind? The Hebrew word translated as “heart” means the inner soul of a person. It describes the heart, the passions, the understanding, the reflection, the conscience, and the will of a person. It is more than just our thoughts, but it encompasses what we do with our thoughts. Our “heart” is what we feel about what we believe to be true. Our “heart” moves us to action.
And in the depth of our human soul, we are to trust the Lord. The Hebrew word for trust mean “to feel secure, to have confidence” in something or someone. Solomon was encouraging his son to feel secure and to have confidence in the Lord with all of his heart, passions, feelings, emotions, passions, and convictions. In other words, place your confidence in the Lord and who He is and what He does.
Do Not Lean On Your Own Understanding
The opposite of trusting the Lord with all of our heart is to lean on our own understanding. Our own understanding is how we look at life, how it makes sense to us, how we feel about it, and what we think we should do about it.
It makes more sense in our understanding to make good plans with 100% of our wealth instead of honoring the Lord with 10%, leaving us with only 90% of our hard earned income.
It makes more sense to despise the disciplining hand of the Lord who works to make us holy instead of trying to use God to make us happy. Our understanding is that God is on His throne to use His power to make us happy and comfortable.
It makes more sense to us to envy the wealth of the wicked and to wonder why do the wicked prosper. Our understanding gives us a worldly scorecard where the good are rewarded with the riches of this world (nice jobs, nice homes, etc) and the wicked are punished in this life.
But our understanding of reality is not worthy of our trust. It is not a good support or crutch, and it certainly is not able to hold us up as we “lean” against it.
There is a spiritual battle that rages in our soul as to whether or not we will trust or lean on the ways of the Lord or whether or not we will lean on our own understanding. Can I trust God to do what He says He will do even though there is no scientific proof that He will do it? Can I honor the Lord with my wealth, trusting Him to fill my barns with plenty even if that requires that I give a portion of my wealth away to Kingdom causes?
In effect, the battle for wisdom is won or lost at this very moment. Can I trust the Lord with my heart? Can I trust the Lord with all that concerns me when the stakes are very high?
In All Your Ways Acknowledge Him
Which is why Solomon encouraged his son to acknowledge the Lord in all of his ways. The word translated “acknowledge” is the Hebrew word “to know,” and can mean anything from “to perceive” to “experience” to “discern.” In other words, in all of our ways, see the Lord and His ways.
The parallelism so often used by Hebrew poets pairs thoughts together to give further meaning. The second line often repeats the meaning of the first line but with a fuller shade of meaning to help the reader understand. “In all our ways acknowledge Him” is the fuller meaning of “trust in the Lord with all our heart.”
And the context of chapter three demonstrates that “all our ways” include everything from how we handle our wealth (3.9), how we accept discipline (3.11), how we value wisdom (3.15), whether or not we help others (3.27), and whether or not we envy the gain of the wicked (3.31). In all of these ways, the foolish world around us only perceives their understanding. Solomon was calling his son to something higher, to acknowledge the ways of the Lord in all of his son’s ways.
He Will Make Your Paths Straight
The value of trusting the Lord with our heart and acknowledging Him in all our ways is that He will make our paths straight. The word translated “make straight” by the ESV is the Hebrew word for “to direct, to lead, to make straight, to guide.”
There is a blessing to trusting in the ways of the Lord. If we honor the Lord with our wealth, He blessed our barns with plenty (3.10). If we delight in the Lord’s discipline, we gain the peaceful fruit of righteousness (see Hebrews 12.11). Seek wisdom, and we get to lay down in peace at night (3.24). Humble ourselves, and the Lord grants us His favor (3.34).
This is not an iron clad promise that those who acknowledge the Lord will never experience the hardships of a world held in bondage to decay or will not be called to suffer for the gospel. In fact, the New Testament is clear that all those who desire to live godly will be persecuted (see 2 Timothy 3.12) and that we are to rejoice when we suffer (see James 1.2-4).
But to set our feet on the pathway of wisdom is to rest under the promise and hope of the Lord that we will be spared the self-inflicted wounds of foolishness. Walking on the paths He guides us toward may lead us through decay and suffering, but it will be under His watchful and sovereign care, working all things towards His plan (see Romans 8.28).
Fear the Lord
In classic Hebrew parallelism, verse 7 sums it all up. “Be not wise in our own eyes” is to say again, “Do no lean on your own understanding.” And “Turn away from evil” is to repeat what he already said, “In all your ways acknowledge Him.”
But the new element in his closing refrain is to “fear the Lord.” To “fear the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom (see Proverbs 1.7), so it is important to understand Solomon’s admonition to his son.
Our current self-esteem, feel good culture does not like the biblical admonition to “fear the Lord.” We would rather cast the King of Kings as a Santa Claus figure who is devoted to loving us and giving us good gifts regardless of our faith or submission to His kingship. But trying to use God as a tool to gain our happiness has wrecked our personal lives and our national futures. God will not be mocked, and He will not be used by us to get what we really want, the treasures of this world.
To “fear the Lord” means just that, to see Who He is and who we are in light of His kingship. To fear the Lord means to stand at attention before the Most High God who dwells in unapproachable holy light. To fear the Lord means to recognize that sin is not a laughing matter before His holy throne. To fear the Lord means to see ourselves in light of who He is.
When we no longer fear the Lord, when we no longer recognize that He alone is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, when we no longer respect and recognize His authority over our moral lives, when we no longer admit that He alone sustains all of creation, when we no longer trust in the Lord, and when we no longer acknowledge His ways in all that we do, then we are on the path to foolishness which is the pathway to disgrace (see Proverbs 3.35).
So as I meditate on the wisdom of these verses today, I ask myself these questions.