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.
Our heart cannot be trusted, ever. It must be redeemed.
Question: How can we learn not to lean and rely on our own understanding when that’s all we’ve ever been taught since kindergarten? What can we do to meet the requirement of Condition Two?
Answer: See Condition Three.
Condition Three (the Do): In all your ways acknowledge Him
In all (with each, every, the entire, the whole, complete, inclusive, holding nothing back) your (personal responsibility, something you can and are expected to do) ways (your paths, journeys, walk, the road traveled) acknowledge (to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) Him (God).
Think for a moment. In all your, or our, ways, in everything that we do, secular or sacred, in church or out of church, seen and public or hidden and private, in everything we do, in every place we walk, wherever the Lord sends us, whomever we encounter, whatever the circumstances or conditions, either good or bad, in all situations, success or failures, pain or joy, life or death, in each and every thing and without exception— we are to acknowledge Him.
Let’s stop for a moment and look closer at what it means to acknowledge someone or something. In our language the term acknowledge means to “accept or admit the existence of something.” For example, “I acknowledge my mistake.” Or, “I acknowledge your authority.” Or again, “I acknowledge that you believe what you are saying is true, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.” It also means to “show or express recognition or the realization of something or someone.” An example would be when one man slightly nods his head in acknowledgment or recognition of another man. “I see you big guy. I acknowledge your presence.” We see this all the time in life.
But that’s not what the Hebrew word means in this Proverb. Condition Three doesn’t say “in all our ways we are to nod our head or tip our hat in simple recognition that God exists.” No, the word is much deeper.
The Hebrew word for acknowledge in this verse is yada and is the same word defined above as know in Jeremiah 17:9. The word, yada, means “to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship.”
Or, simply this: Condition Three means we are, in all our ways and in everything we do or say throughout our lives, we are to know and live intimately with God in such a way that He would approve of, and show His pleasure and favor on, the way we live our lives. It means we would trust Him for everything (Isa. 41:10), strive to have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), to “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), to “walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16), and to “find out what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph. 5:10) and live our lives accordingly.
This is the meaning of Condition Three. We are to “walk just as He (Jesus) walked” (1 John 2:6).
Question: And what about the promise?
The promise in Proverbs 3:5-6 is: And He shall direct your paths
And He (God) shall direct (make right, straight, smooth, level, to lead, to be pleasing, to approve, esteem) your paths (way, journey, course of life and lifestyle).
In other words, God will take our fallen lives and our fractured past and smooth out the way before us. He will lead us as He did His children in the times past (Isa. 52:12) and His glory will be our rear guard (Isa. 58:8). He will “instruct us and teach us in the way we should go and will guide us with His eye” (Ps. 32:8). As the Good Shepherd, He will freely “give His life for His sheep”— for you and me, for those He loves (John 10:11). He will “strengthen and protect us from the evil one” (2 Thes. 3:3), and “present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24).
This, beloved, is the promise of the Father given to you. It’s a gift, it’s the abundant life Jesus promised just waiting to be opened by you (John 10:10).
Are you living in the reality of that promise? Has God taken your broken paths and made them smooth before you? Has he redeemed the years you’ve lost to sin and selfishness and turned them into a testimony of His grace freely given to you? Has He “numbered your wanderings and collected your tears in His bottle and written them in His book”? (Ps. 56:8). Are you currently in the center of His will and is He directing “your steps by His Word”? (Ps. 119:133).
He can, you know. And He will. He wants to. All you have to do is claim His promise by meeting the conditions of one of the most glorious if / then promises in all of Scripture.
If – Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
If – And lean not on your own understanding;
If – In all your ways acknowledge Him,
Then – And He shall direct your paths (Prov. 3:5-6).
Begin this wondrous walk of faith today. Don’t wait. Why?
Because we’re all running out of time.