"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths!" Proverbs 3:5-6
We are frequently the losers through failure to observe the order in which divine truth is set before us. For example, how obvious is the progression to be observed in, and how necessary it is that we should lay to heart, the fourfold injunction of Psalm 37:3-7.
First, "Trust in the LORD, and do good" (verse 3);
second, "Delight yourself also in the LORD" (verse 4);
third, "Commit your way unto the LORD" (verse 5);
fourth, "Rest in the LORD" (verse 7).
So it is in the book from which our text is taken. These "proverbs" are not so many maxims strung together at random, but instead, they are presented according to a divine plan. And the more they are prayerfully pondered, the more will the wisdom and love which lie behind their arrangement be perceived by the anointed eye. Proverbs 3:5-6 is a case in point.
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart" (verse 5). This comes first because it is the primary duty. With this, everything else is vain.
"Trust" in His loving-kindness. Can He who is love, withhold anything which is really for your good?
"Trust" in His wondrous power. Is anything too hard for the Almighty? No matter how critical your situation, "Trust in the LORD."
"Trust" in His unchanging faithfulness. Has He not promised? Then will He not perform? Has He not said? Then will He not also do it?
"And do not lean on your own understanding" (verse 5). This comes next to put us on our guard concerning the principal enemy of faith. Just as we cannot serve two masters — so we cannot trust in the Lord and lean unto our own understanding. It is a word of warning against the inveterate tendency of our evil hearts. To rely upon our own wisdom, to follow the dictates of common sense — is the chief obstacle in our way against wholehearted trust in the Lord.
Then comes the word, "In all your ways acknowledge him" (verse 6). This goes much farther than trusting in the Lord with all the heart, though, of necessity, it must be preceded by that. Unless our hearts are completely occupied with God, the acknowledgment of Him in our outward ways will be nothing more than a perfunctory performance, which is of no value in His sight. That which the Lord requires and desires is the obedience of love. Confidence in the Lord, is now to be translated into conformity to His will. Our "ways," that is, all the details of our walk, are to make manifest our unreserved trust in the Lord.
To "acknowledge" the Lord in all our ways signifies:
1. To seek His permission for everything you do. Dare we be so presumptuous as to act without His permission? We are but creatures — He is God. We are but servants — He is our Lord and Master. We are but purchased property — He is our Redeemer, "You are not your own" (1 Corinthians 6:19). Therefore, we are not free to please ourselves, but under deepest obligation to be in subjection to the divine will.
God's permission should be asked even when a thing is lawful and right. A striking illustration of this is furnished in the prayer which Christ taught His disciples, and that so many have been puzzled by it only reveals the wicked independence of our hearts. We refer to the clause, "Give us this day our daily bread." Numbers of times has the inquiry been put to us, "How can I sincerely ask this, when bread for the day is already at hand?"
Let us draw a homely analogy. Here are cakes and tarts in the pantry. Shall a child enter and help itself? Not if it has been properly brought up. Though the food is there, it should first ask mother's permission before taking any. In like manner, God requires that we first ask of Him, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Mat 6:11), lest like thieves we take without His permission.
2. To seek His guidance in every undertaking. Not to do so is to act in a spirit of independence, which is as the worldling does. "The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God. God is not in all his thoughts" (Psalm 10:4). The clear implication of this is that God ought to be in all his thoughts, and that it is through pride that He is not. No matter how great or how small the undertaking may be, divine guidance should be definitely sought. "In everything by prayer and supplication" (Phi 4:6). It is only as we so act, that God's lordship is owned by us in a practical way and He is really honored.
We are not only to "Trust in the Lord," count upon Him, but also to "acknowledge Him," seek His direction and help. Has not Christ, here as everywhere, left us an example? "I have set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8) was His confession. Ah, fellow Christians, is there any wonder that so many of our "ways" have turned out so disastrously? Let us daily seek grace to heed this word, "In all your ways acknowledge him."
3. To seek His glory in everything. That this also must be regarded as being included within the scope of the word "acknowledge" is clear from 1 Corinthians 10:31, "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do — do all to the glory of God!" Ah, if only we did so, how very different many of our "ways" would be! If we more frequently paused and inquired, "Will this be to God's glory?" we would be withheld from much sinning and saved from much foolishness, with all the painful consequences.
Yet, right here, we need to give diligent heed to the clause preceding our text, "Do not lean on your own understanding" has a close connection with what follows, as well as with that which goes before. God has not left us to decide and determine what will be to His "glory." No, in His loving-kindness He has supplied us with an unerring standard by which everything may be tested, namely His Word.
4. To seek His blessing upon everything. Surely this is what the Christian desires above everything else. Without it, temporal prosperity, the approval and applause of our fellows, or the fleeting pleasure anything may bring you, is worse than worthless. But what right have we to expect God's blessing, if we have not prayerfully sought it?
Note how in Deuteronomy 14:29; 15:10, 18, the Lord's blessing is promised to those who have acknowledged Him in their ways by carrying out His revealed will. What business worries, domestic heartaches, social disappointments, and spiritual failures had been spared us had we but sought God's permission, God's guidance, God's glory, God's blessing on everything! The past is beyond recall. For the present, "Consider your ways" (Haggai 1:5).
Let us now observe that the Scriptures record examples of how men of God "acknowledged" Him in the manner indicated above.
First, behold how David, on two occasions, sought the Lord's permission concerning his actions, "And David inquired at the LORD, saying, Shall I pursue after this troop?" (1 Samuel 30:8). "And it came to pass after this, that David inquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah? And the LORD said unto him, Go up" (2 Samuel 2:1).
Second, in the case of Abraham's servant, we have a blessed illustration of one who sought divine guidance on his undertaking, "Then he prayed: O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a girl, 'Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,' and she says, 'Drink, and I'll water your camels too' — let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master." Genesis 24:12-14
Third, the outstanding case of one who sought God's glory was His incarnate Son, "Glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify you" (John 17:1) — this ever actuated Him.
Fourth, in Romans 1:10, we find the apostle Paul seeking God's blessing on his journey.
On the other hand, Scripture mentions not a few instances where the Lord's people failed to "acknowledge" Him in all their ways, and records the disastrous consequences which attended their self-will. After Abraham had entered Canaan, "There was a famine in the land," sent, no doubt, to chasten and to test him. But, alas, as is so often the case with us, he failed. Instead of seeking guidance from the Lord, he "went down into Egypt to sojourn there" (Gen 12:10). Ultimately, he was delivered, but for many years after he reaped an unpleasant harvest through Hagar, whom he acquired in Egypt.
Concerning the Gideonites who deceived Israel, it is written, "And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD. And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them" (Jos 9:14-15). The sequel shows that they became a thorn in Israel's side. These things are written for our learning.
"In all your ways acknowledge him" (verse 6). This precept applies to the arrangements of the home, our business affairs, our social life, our church relations, our service for Christ. And our obedience thereto determines the measure in which our lives are pleasing to God, glorifying to Him, and really blessed by Him. Then, let us, more earnestly, daily seek grace to conform to it in everything.