Proverbs 3:5 & 6 must contain one of the most recited treasures of the Bible’s Wisdom Literature: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart / and lean not on your own understanding; / in all your ways acknowledge him / and he will make your paths straight.”
I have many times pressed this good word upon young people who stood at the threshold of their adult lives. It seems especially tailored for that period of life, but in fact it applies to life’s every stage.
Recently I read the above passage as Eugene Peterson has paraphrased it in The Message: “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; / don’t try to figure out everything on your own. / Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go. / He’s the one who will keep you on track.”
The counsel, “Lean not on your own understanding” or “don’t try to figure out everything on your own,” may seem to suggest that we can be passive about the many decisions we have to make along life’s pathway. Just lie back and let God work everything out.
More likely, it is telling us to prayerfully trust the Lord to guide us as we exercise our God-given judgment. In other words, while we use the best human judgment and resources available, at the same time we keep our ears attuned to his “still small voice” of guidance, whether given by direct prompting or through the unfolding of circumstances.
King Asa of Judah illustrates within a single life what it looks like first to lean on God’s understanding ardently and then to switch and trust only our own wisdom. In the fifteenth year of his reign, he cleansed the nation of Judah from its false gods. He “removed the detestable idols” and “repaired the altar of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 15:8).
Under him the people “entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul” (2 Chronicles 15:12). This led to a great burst of rejoicing as “They sought God eagerly” (2 Chronicles 15:15).
Obviously, at that period of his reign he was not leaning on his own understanding, and God was directing his path!
Nevertheless, in the 39th year of his reign, 29 years later, and two years before his death, the Scriptures tells us: “Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the Lord, but only from the physicians” (2 Chronicles 16:12).
Seeking help from the physicians was not a wrong thing to do. They too are God’s servants. Their skills are entrusted to them by God. But for some reason his earlier deep trust in God had disappeared. His affliction was by then simply a human problem. Asa’s sin was evident — he left God out of the healing equation.
It all seems to boil down to this: God’s love is everlasting, whether or not we feel it during times of testing. But our trust in that love is voluntary, while at the same time enabled by grace. We appear to have our trust in God mounted on something like a rheostat. That is, we can regulate its intensity.
Therefore, the proverb calls us to increase the depth of our trust — to trust God “from the bottom of our hearts.” As we do, “He’s the one who will keep us on track.” He’ll open before us paths that are straight and cleared of crippling potholes.