Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lean Not on Your Own Understanding

This post appears also as a chapter in The Ways of Wisdom, in the 2012 Lads to Leaders / Leaderettes Pearls Study series.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5, 6)

On July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy, Jr., was piloting his Piper Saratoga light aircraft along the U.S. coast toward Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.  Flying a new plane at night, with nothing but water below, he had no visual landmarks with which he could reorient his brain. He became confused. His inner ear tricked him into thinking that he was level when in fact he was beginning a steep dive. He sped downward at a speed of 4,700 feet per minute, or 1,100 feet in just 14 seconds. By the time Kennedy knew he was in trouble, it was too late for him to reverse his course. Adding to the tragedy was the fact that his wife and sister-in-law were flying with him. All three perished. 

How sad it is to realize that, from the time he began his flight, there was an instrument called an altimeter on board that could have guided him and preserved these lives. An altimeter is an instrument that determines a plane’s elevation, its height above sea level. It senses pressure changes that accompany changes in altitude.

Kennedy had never been trained to read his aircraft’s altimeter. If he had been, he probably would not have crashed. Instead he leaned on his own understanding, relying on his own instincts. When his inner ear whispered, “You’re level,” the altimeter read, “You’re going down.” It was the instrument that was correct. Because he acted according to what he thought and perceived, rather than trusting the objective truth provided by a reliable source, he lost his life and the lives of those who depended on him. That fatal night illustrates the danger we face if we fail to trust God, the most reliable source of all, to direct our paths in every area of life.

The Meaning of Trust
The word “trust” means to attach oneself to, confide in, feel safe, be confident, be secure or rely on. Imagine a person seeing a sturdy chair, agreeing that it is strong and steady, but refusing to sit in it. Does that person really trust that chair? It is only when one rests his or her full weight upon the chair that genuine trust has been shown. To trust in is to lean on.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart” is equivalent to “in all your ways acknowledge Him.” One who trusts God recognizes Him, credits Him and depends upon Him in every aspect of life. “All your ways” would certainly include your worship, but also your studies, your family life, your friendships, your language, your entertainment choices and so forth. You are to glorify God in thought, word and deed, whether on the Internet, on a ball field, on a school assignment, on a church pew or on a job. Only then does He promise to direct or make straight your paths.

Adam Clarke wrote, “Begin, continue and end every work, purpose and device, with God. Earnestly pray for His direction at the commencement; look for His continual support in the progress; and so begin and continue that all may terminate in His glory: and then it will certainly be to thy good; for we never honor God without serving ourselves. Self-sufficiency and self-dependence have been the ruin of mankind ever since the fall of Adam. The grand sin of the human race is their continual endeavor to live independently of God. True religion consists in considering God as the fountain of all good, and expecting all good from Him.”

The Opposite of Trust
One who does not lean on the Lord must lean on someone or something else. One who leans on his own understanding makes himself the final authority, the last word. This was the issue at stake in the first temptation.  The serpent asked Eve in Genesis 3:1, “Has God indeed said …?” He then offered her the opportunity to gain wisdom equal to God and to lean on her own understanding. She took the bait.

Every sin, without exception, results from a person’s choice not to trust the instruments (God’s objective standards) but to depend on his own preferences and wishes instead. The Bible says in James 1:14-15, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

The Lord warns us often of the dangers of following our own desires.  We read in Jeremiah 10:23, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” Proverbs 14:12 notes, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Because the world in its wisdom could not find true wisdom, God provided His revelation, the message of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In what areas must we deliberately choose to trust and acknowledge the Lord, rather than lean on our own understanding? Several crucial ones quickly come to mind, in which we must adhere to God’s biblical navigation system, even when—and especially when—it contradicts our own instincts or inclinations. Let us consider some of these vital matters.

Pilate asked Jesus in John 18:38, “What is truth?” People are likewise confused today. Some think that truth is relative, depending on a person’s preferences or circumstances. They will say, “This is true for me because it makes sense, because it works, because I like it, or because it feels good.”  People even speak of “my truth” as distinct from “your truth.” Many claim that truth is fluid, determined by the culture, or the majority, or elected officials. Having bought the lie of Darwinian evolution, they insist that truth has also evolved and is still evolving. Surveys indicate that as many as 75 percent of Americans, including many who claim to follow Christ, do not believe in absolute truth. They are leaning on their own understanding, not God’s instruments. The child of God agrees with Jesus, who said, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). The Christian knows that truth is fixed, immovable and unchanging, because it reflects the perfect character of God.

In the beginning God made one man and one woman, and in marriage they became one flesh. Only at that point did they begin to have sexual relations, as God designed (Genesis 2:21-25). Jesus reinforced that original plan and added in Matthew 19:6 (NASB), “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate.” No matter how many U.S. states or authorities attempt to redefine marriage in any other terms, they cannot, at least not in any ultimate sense. 

No matter how many movies glamorize sexual immorality, it is still evil in the sight of God, as are the other deeds of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). No matter how many voices declare the homosexual lifestyle to be just an equal alternative, God has declared it sinful (Romans 1:26-27). Human life is sacred and precious in God’s sight, even when that human life is still in the mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16). Abortion is the shedding of innocent blood, something that God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19). No matter how many unborn babies are put to death, God will never declare abortion to be right.  We must not allow opinions and feelings to distort the one objective instrument God has given: the Scriptures. Lying, cheating, impure desires, theft, pornography and adultery are just as wrong as they ever were.

People who lean on their own understanding may say, “As long as we love each other, and plan to marry, and don’t hurt anyone else, sexual activity is good. A baby isn’t in my plan at this time.” They ask, “As long as immodest clothing or behavior get me more attention from the opposite sex, what could be wrong with it?” “If it’s in the movies, if celebrities are doing it, and if it makes me happy, why shouldn’t I do it?” “How could it be wrong, when it feels so right?” One’s instincts may say, “You’re flying level,” but if God’s altimeter says, “You’re going down fast and hard,” it’s the instrument that is right.

Human instinct tells young people that love is a feeling, a thrill or a sensation. Love is said to be something you “fall into,” “fall out of,” or experience “at first sight.” Love is thought to be based on chemistry, not a mutual commitment to serve the Lord. Some say, “Love is for me, to see what I can get from you, not the other way around. When the feeling is gone, I can leave you and look for someone else whom I find more interesting.” That’s the deceptive, dangerous human perception of love.

God’s objective instrument defines love as a decision to think and act on behalf of another person, to serve and to give, rather than to demand and take. When we trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding, we acknowledge Him by demonstrating these qualities noted in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

We recognize that other people truly love us, or do not love us, in the same way. A person who is possessive, quick-tempered, envious, selfish, arrogant, touchy or rude does not truly love another person. That is true, even if that first person is cute, smart, athletic, popular, or rich. Even if the chemistry is right, the relationship may be wrong. Even if the romance soars, the relationship may sink. The answer to one basic question must precede all the choices that we make. It is this: Will we lean on our own instincts, or will we take directions from God’s objective instrument that cannot fail?

How do we measure a life well lived? Our culture urges us to seek fortune and fame, beauty and brains. Success is a six-figure income or a six-garage mansion. Our instincts may tell us to do as did the rich farmer, whom Jesus described in Luke 12:13-21. When his land yielded plentifully, he was concerned that his small barns were insufficient to store his crops. He decided to pull down those barns and build greater, and there he could store all his crops and his goods. Verses 19-20 let us see his thinking, “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But then God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” The farmer had laid up treasure for himself, but he was not rich toward God. Therefore he was not, in the final analysis, a successful man.

God’s instrument defines true success in quite different terms. His Word says that success is found in service and in sacrifice, in giving and in yielding.  Jesus defined success in this way in Mark 8:34-38, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Ironically, the One who lived the most successful life in history, Jesus Christ, had no place to lay His head (Luke 9:58). He came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). As prophesied in Isaiah 53:2-3, He had “no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”

One author has said that we spend our lives climbing the ladder of success, only to realize, when we reach the top, that we placed it against the wrong wall. If you would be successful in the only sense that matters— the sight of God—aim that ladder toward all that pleases Him. When you reach your destination, you will have no regrets.

“It is appointed for men to die once, but after this comes the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31). Sinful man, while quite willing to judge those around him, refuses to believe that he himself will be judged. Leaning on his own understanding, he dismisses the wrath of God and the need for repentance and obedience. He may accept the fact that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) but not the fact that “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). 

Man’s instincts may say that there is no hell, or that it’s here on earth.  However, Jesus spoke in Matthew 25:41 of “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” He called it “outer darkness,” with “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 25:30). He described it as “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46).

Man may think, “If there is a heaven, then I and all the people I know are going to be there after we die.” However, God’s altimeter says in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The truth is that, though everyone is invited to follow the Lord and enjoy His blessings, most people will not. They prefer to lean on their own understanding instead.

Because of God’s amazing grace, the Bible says, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6, NASB).  Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, sinners can be forgiven. Enemies of God can be reconciled to Him. Every wrong thought, word or deed can be pardoned. Those headed for hell can be spared, redeemed and delivered. We who have leaned on our own understanding in the past can decide to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and acknowledge Him in all our ways. As a result, He will direct our paths. We cannot save ourselves, but the blood of Christ can save us when we turn to Him as He has directed.

Our salvation from sin cannot be based on our feelings, which are unstable and unreliable. We may be excited and confident about many things, but the only solid ground of Christian assurance is the Word of God. We may feel saved and yet be lost. Our instincts, our preferences, our perspectives and our conscience may mislead us. Therefore, God has given us an altimeter, an objective analysis of our position and clear directions to follow.

In order to receive God’s free gift of eternal life, you must believe that Jesus is both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). You must be pricked, convicted of the sin in your life (Acts 2:37). You must confess His name (1 Timothy 6:12) and repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38). You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and He will add you to His church, in which you will work and serve. Then, as you continue to live by faith and walk in the light, He will direct your paths. You will not crash but land, right where you want to be, at home on the other side with Him.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Cory Collins

Image source:,r:1,s:0,i:145

No comments: