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When we instinctively think about a time for new beginnings (lose weight, get healthy, read the Bible more, get out of debt, etc.), one of the verses that is often quoted by well-meaning Christians is Proverbs 3:5-6. In this verse we find the elusive promise that we all crave: How to know what is the will of God for our lives or, more precisely, how to get God to show us what we need to do in a particular situation that we are clueless about, such as, should I marry this person? Or, where should I work? Or, what college should I attend? Or, should I do this or that or go here or there? I think you probably get the point.
The promise we want to claim is found in the latter part of Proverbs 3:6 and says: “And He (God) shall direct your (me and you) paths.” Yes, this is what we want. This promise is what we so desperately need. We want and need God to direct our paths, to show us what to do, to let us know what’s the right decision He wants us to make— to literally bring us out of the darkness of doubt, indecision and fear and into His light of perfect peace (Isa. 26:3).
And, if you are completely honest with yourself, you’d probably have to admit this promise usually, almost always, goes unanswered. Did you ever wonder why?
Is God somehow not in the promise keeping business these days? Or, were these words meant for someone other than you? You know, someone God loves more than you, or someone who is a better person than you, or someone more likeable than you? In other words, is God selfish in keeping His Word and does He only hand out His blessings to His children like the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge in the Dicken’s classic? Is that how you view your God?
Or could there be some conditions to the promise that we’ve failed to meet? Maybe we didn’t even know those conditions existed.
Let’s take a closer look at these two verses and see exactly what they say.
Building on What Came Before
In Proverbs 3 we see the Lord, through the pen of Solomon, building upon a base already established in the two previous chapters. For example, Proverbs 1:7 tells us “the fear (awe, profound respect, terror) of the Lord is the beginning (starting point, genesis, first, best) of knowledge (discernment, insight, understanding, notion).” Then, moving to the next chapter, Proverbs 2:5 reveals how we can “understand (to perceive, discern, become aware of) the fear of the Lord and find (attain) the knowledge of God.” How? How can we find the knowledge of God? By reading the conditions in the previous verses.
Proverbs 2:1-5 – My son, if (conditional clause) you receive my words, and (if) treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then (promise) you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.
This is a classic if / then conditional promise. it states that If you do this, then I will do this. It’s basic, first year, Contract Law 101.
But there’s also a condition, actually three conditions, that must be met to receive the desired promise found in Proverbs 3:6. And those conditions are also found by reading the previous verses. Let’s take a look together and discover the if / then conditional promise in Proverbs 3:5-6.
What It Says
Proverbs 3:5-6 reads:
Condition One (the Do): Trust in the Lord with all your heart
Trust (to be confident, secure, bold, safe) in (who or what) the Lord (how much) with all (with each, every, the entire, the whole, complete, inclusive, holding nothing back) your (personal responsibility, something you can and are expected to do) heart (or, your inner self, your mind, will, emotions, personality, the “you”).
Condition One states we are to trust and have confidence and security in the Lord, in the Sovereign One, the Creator God, the Personal God; and we are to trust Him with all our heart, with all that we are, with our entire being, our complete person; with our mind, our will, our emotions, our personality and our volition. We are to trust Him completely and personally and this is something we have the responsibility to do. It’s one of the ifs in the if / then conditional promise.
Question: But how do we do this? How do we trust in the Lord with all our heart?
Answer: See Condition Two.
Condition Two (the Don’t): And lean not on your own understanding
And lean (rely, trust in, support) not (no, not, never) on (what) your own understanding (comprehension, discernment, perception).
Why are we not to trust or rely on our own understanding, on our own personal take on things? After all, didn’t God give us a mind and expect us to use it? And am I not to “follow my heart” and do the things that seem right to me, things that give me peace and make me happy? Isn’t that what the Disney movies have taught me from Bambi on? Can’t I trust my own heart and my own feelings? Who knows me better than me? And who knows what is best for me better than me?
This is why Condition Two is so hard to meet and why we seldom are blessed with the then part of the if / then promise. Consider the following:
Jeremiah 17:5 – Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord.”
Jeremiah 17:7 – “Blessed in the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord.”
And the grand finale regarding the heart and our own feelings and understanding of things:
Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart (your inner self, your mind, will, emotions, personality, the “you”) is deceitful (sly, insidious, slippery) above (what) all things, and desperately wicked (sick, ill, diseased, incurable, in a weakened condition that leads to death); who can know (to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) it?”
In other words, the heart, our heart, our self, our mind, our will, our emotions, and our personality is deceitful and insidious, sly above all things, above anything, with no limit. It is desperately wicked, sick, incurable, wracked with disease, weakened to the point of death, to the point of who can know it, or who can be intimate with it, approve of it, or have a relationship with it? Answer: No one. Zip.
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One of the most troubling questions I get asked as a pastor is this: “Why do Christians suffer trials and tribulations?” Or, to put it another way, “Why is all this bad stuff happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?”
The easy answer is found in James 1:2-4 where it says:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
But realizing that someday, somehow, in the sweet bye-and-bye, when all this pain and suffering and misery is over, you will become “perfect and complete” in Him often rings shallow while you are in the midst of the flames of your fiery trial. When people are suffering they need more than simple platitudes or mini-sermons or one verse, knee-jerk theology— they need truth. They need something to help them make sense of their impossible situation. They need something more than Romans 8:28. They need the long, detailed, answer to their question.
So, for those of you in the midst of trials you don’t understand and didn’t deserve, let me give you the long answer to your question.
Why Do Christians (You and Me) Suffer Trials and Tribulations?
1. To Bring God Glory
As strange as it may seen, sometimes we go through trials and hard times for no other reason than to bring God glory. Just think about what Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had to endure for the glory of God. It was only through their trials, their fiery trials, that King Nebuchadnezzar and his subjects caught a glimpse of the Lord Jesus. And it may have been this very event that led to the king’s salvation and faith declaration:
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34-35).
And one verse later the King said:
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Daniel 4:37).
Remember, none of the glory given to God by Nebuchadnezzar would have happened unless Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego faced deadly trails for no fault of their own.
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