As promised, here’s today’s 10-minute SOAP devotional for our Leadership Development Team, based on my study of Proverbs 3.
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. — Proverbs 3:5-6
This verse always struck me as a sort of anti-proverb. Much of the book of Proverbs is built around the idea of acquiring wisdom, but here it is made clear we should never think we’ve [completely] succeeded in that important task!
One useful way to look at this is what I once heard called the “inverse indirect implication principle.” That is, when the Bible commands us to do something, that is because we’re usually doing the exact opposite (whether we realize it or not). In this case, it might mean that we are:
- trusting the Lord with a partial heart
- trusting ourselves with our whole heart
- trusting the Lord with our whole mind, not our heart
- leaning on our own understanding
- acknowledging God in some of our ways
Sound like anyone you know?
Again, this isn’t in any way meant to despise the value of understanding. Rather, it is to point out that trusting God is even more important than that, and that we always need to submit to God’s leading even when it conflicts with our own (naive) understanding. And that if we humble ourselves enough to submit to that, we can walk in the center of His will — which is always the shortest distance to what we really want and need.
This also gets back to the common refrain in Proverbs that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The opposite of fear could well be “contempt.” When I think I completely understand a situation, I have no fear — because I am in control. In fact, I am the fearless master of that little corner of the universe, and others should fear me. If I’m right — which I’m not. And since I’m not, I should tread gingerly in the house of the one who truly is Master of the Universe, and knows all the subtle nooks and crannies of truth that my myopic eyes will never see.
This is a hard lesson for me, as I have more-or-less built my life around developing my “own understanding.” That’s why I wanted to talk about it today, and also why I chose this topic for my “accountability goal”, as expressed in:
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
Lamentations 3:25-26 (NIV)
This leads to a number of applications:
- Anxiety. My doctor recently put me on anti-anxiety medications because I had some breathing difficulties which didn’t seem to have any physiological cause — and they worked! This implies that I’m more anxious than I consciously realize, which in turn probably stems from my need to understand/control the world around me — rather than trust in God’s sovereign care.
- Submission. I have an ugly tendency to rebel when things don’t make sense. I am usually pretty good at figuring things out, but this easily becomes an idol. When what God [or other authority figures] ask me to do something that doesn’t make sense to me, I become enraged, defiant and/or act out in unhealthy ways. If I truly trusted God with all my heart — more than I trust myself! — submission would feel safe.
- Emotions. One of the follies of self-understanding is that it focuses almost exclusively on the “head” — what we think with our minds. While that is important, it can easily become an addiction for intellectuals like me. To obey the command to “trust in the Lord with all your heart” requires expending effort in cultivating our emotional allegiance to God. I suspect this is primarily done through praise and prayer, but is also shaped by entertainment and our experience of beauty.
- Humility. As we go through our Doctrine 101 classes, I always wrestle with whether the things we learn are helping us become more dependent on God, or are merely abstracting Him into manageable boxes. I suspect the problem is not so much the content, but the attitude we bring to (or take from) the text.
God, as the song says, I am still a stranger to your holiness. I have such a poor understanding of, well, everything: the world, my sin, your love. Father, teach me to rest in your love for me, and trust in your wisdom and power. Free me from the need to exert control and assert my independence, that I may nestle securely like a weaned child with its mother. Help me to feed my heart and my soul with things that nurture my reliance upon you, based on awe and wonder at your beauty and your goodness. Cleanse my mind, that I may receive everything I learn in the context of your glory — and not my own. I ask all this in Jesus name, Amen.