Category Archives: Wisdom literature

Leaning on Your Own Understanding

Last night during our family devotions, we opened up to those famous verses in Proverbs 3. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths,” (vv. 5-6, ESV). As we discussed this, I told my family that for years I completely misunderstood these verses. Taking them out of context, I saw them as verses telling me to trust God. He knows what he is doing even if I don’t. While that sentiment is true (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9), that’s not what these verses mean. I explained to them that in this context, we are talking about God’s wisdom versus our own wisdom, or our own thoughts.

We are to trust God’s wisdom–God’s revealed wisdom in his Word–and distrust our own understanding of our lives. It is God’s Word that is truth and our own hearts that lie to us. This thought took us to Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it,” (ESV)? The heart lies to us more than anything else! It is deceitful above all things! If a friend were to lie to us once, we would probably give them a break. We have all lied; maybe he/she thought he/she was in a bind. But what would happen if the lies continued? Would we ever trust anything that friend said?

I know someone personally who is a habitual liar. I’m not even sure if he knows he is. It seems so engrained into his nature to lie. He lies about little things and big things. My family has simply learned not to ever plan on anything he says to come to fruition. We love him dearly, but we don’t believe his words. Yet, think for a moment what Jeremiah told us: the heart is deceitful above all things. That means my heart is even more deceitful and more of a habitual liar than that person I know. That’s saying something there! No wonder Solomon told us not to lean on our own understandings, but to trust God with all our hearts (ironic I know).

That being said. . . This morning I got up to do my morning Bible reading and meditation. As I was reading Deuteronomy 1 for the third time this week, I thought about what Israel had done. Preaching through 1 Corinthians 10 these past few weeks reminded me that Israel and their history was written to serve as an example to the church. In Deuteronomy 1, Moses recounts how Israel had neared the Promised Land forty years prior. They sent out 12 spies, only to have 10 come back and tell them they couldn’t win the land. Only Joshua and Caleb said they could. The people recoiled in fear. They believed man’s wisdom instead of God’s. They believed their own fearful hearts rather than trust God completely. What was the outcome? God would not allow them to enter into the Promised Land. They missed out on the blessings–the land which flowed with milk and honey. Only those who trusted in God, Joshua and Caleb, were allowed to enter forty years later.

How often do we miss the blessings of God because we do not trust in his wisdom, but lean on our own understandings of this life and world we live in. God reveals his truth in his Word and yet we will not believe it because our hearts tell us a different story. Those deceptive, sick, depraved hearts shout against God’s still, small voice. They foolishly rebel against God’s all-powerful, all-knowing wisdom. If it were a person, we’d be living our lives completely oblivious to the heart’s promises, foolishness, and rebel words. But it isn’t a person. It’s our own inner-thoughts, inner-testimony, our own inner-fears, and so we lean upon our own understandings.

The result is the same as Israel’s. Israel missed out on the milk and honey. They missed out on the fruits and vegetables and fattened flocks. Instead, they continued to wander the wilderness with manna and water from the rock. God continued to provide. He did not abandon them, yet the missed out on the straight paths, the blessings and wisdom that were theirs if only they had trusted.

When Solomon brought up that God would make straight our paths, he didn’t necessarily mean that everything would be easy in life. Instead, that which was difficult would be eased because we don’t live by our wisdom, but God’s. When pain came, we could handle it because we would not believe our thoughts on the matter, but God’s. When hardships came, we would focus on God’s wisdom rather than our own. When we faced a cross-roads and needed to know which way to go, God’s wisdom would see us through. How blessed is that!?

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being read to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete,” (10:4-6, ESV; italics mine). Spurgeon wrote about these verses:

[The believer’s] powers of meditation and consideration keep within the circle of truth and holiness, finding green pastures there. Even when thinking about common things, matters that have to do with affairs of this world, he seeks to serve the Lord, for he knows that “every thought,” not some thoughts, is to be humbled into the obedience of Christ. (Spurgeon Study Bible)

One must remember that Spurgeon suffered severely with depression his entire life, and it worsened after people were trampled (seven killed and 28 severely injured) by a wicked calling of “fire!” during his preaching at Surrey Gardens Music Hall. I believe Spurgeon would say that this his words about the matter are the ideal thought-life of the believer, though not the way it always is. If the believer was always living by this standard, he’d be perfect. It is when we live by our own understandings that we sin against God. But the truth is this: the believer, because he/she has Christ, can bring his/her thoughts captive to him. That however means leaning not on our own understandings, but trusting Him.

May we seek to take our thoughts captive to Christ, trust God with all our hearts and lean not on our own understandings. Those bumps and twists and turns will be made straight and smooth as we grow in his wisdom and follow his navigating of our lives.

A Tale of Two Roosevelts

Three famous Roosevelts entered into American history in the early 20th century: Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor. The Roosevelts were a wealthy and religious family, but were not keen on politics. They believed in serving the public and helping one’s neighbor, but until Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. (Teddy’s father), they had tried to stay out of the political scene. However, it was TR, Sr. who served President Lincoln, and though he never encouraged Teddy to go into politics, he was inspirational to him.

That being said. . .Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. and Martha (Mittie) Bullock Roosevelt, had not one but two sons: Theodore, Jr. and Elliot (Eleanor Roosevelt’s father). Both Roosevelts had the same education. Both went on the same vacations through the Middle East and Europe. Both had the same opportunities. Both had their ailments; Theodore had horrible asthma while Elliot had seizures from time to time. Teddy however took to defeating his ailments through rigorous exercise and determination while Elliot, as Edmund Morris wrote, “when still adolescent discovered that alcohol was an effective depressant,” (The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, New York: Balantine Books, 1979; pp 429-430.).

Theodore Roosevelt grew up to become an author, a New York Assemblyman, a New York city Police Commissioner, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a colonel in the army and a war hero with the Rough Riders, the Governor of New York, Vice-President of the United States, and President as well, along with seemingly endless accomplishments. Elliot literally drank himself to death, leaving behind a wife and a lonely daughter, a mistress, and a black mark upon his name. Now, if we were honest, no mere human would ever be able to live up to Theodore Roosevelt’s accomplishments. He is definitely one of a kind. But here is the point: two men reared by the same parents with the same opportunities went in completely different directions in life.

This is most difficult upon parents who see their children straying from what they were reared to be. It is painful to watch children abandon their upbringing for that which will be destructive. Parents hang on to Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it,” (ESV). They beat themselves up wondering if they failed to train them somewhere. Was there a moment in time that they missed an opportunity to say something or do something. Yet, in reality, no one can say for certain one way or the other. No one has an omniscient mind but God Himself.

I love what Bruce Waltke wrote about this verse.

The saying must be nuanced by others. It indicates that early, moral training has an effect on a person for good and conveys the truth that those directed or steered down the path of wisdom will be influenced by it through their life. But it does not assure that the child will embrace wisdom, because children make their own choices; they are not programmed robots. If it were otherwise, the parents’ and Lady Wisdom’s exhortation to accept wisdom would be pointless, (The NIV Zondervan Study Bible).

Over and over again, the one who reads the Proverbs will see a call for the authors’ children to heed warnings, advice, and encouragement. There are two options, personified as women: wisdom (Lady Wisdom) and foolishness (Lady Folly). Both of these women beckon for the life of every human being. Every human being has to decide which lady he shall follow. In the case of the Roosevelts, Theodore followed Wisdom while Elliot followed Folly.

Does this make watching a child wander from the truth any easier. No. That isn’t my objective. My objective is only to say that parents must consider that they may have done everything right, but the sin nature within a child led them to Folly’s door. You must consider that there was nothing more you could do. Yes, mistakes were made and perhaps opportunities missed, but we cannot change the past and we cannot control their thoughts, desires, or future. What we can do is pray, pray to the one who makes no mistakes and misses no opportunities. Pray to the one who is in control, and can change a stony heart to flesh, changing one’s desires for this wicked kingdom for the glorious kingdom of His Son. We can never presume upon God to know His thoughts or His doings.

Prayer seems like so little a thing, but it was through prayer that Israelites were saved from Pharaoh’s army. It was through prayer that the Israelites did not perish in the desert. It was through prayer that barren Hannah had a son. It was through prayer that the Apostles turned the world upside down with the gospel. Prayer does not guarantee the answer we want, but for the believer in Christ, it does guarantee that God will hear our sorrows and fears, our worries and our desperate cries. As Paul would say, “Pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, ESV).