From “Strength for Tough Times” by Maria M. Kneas
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding.”
Proverbs 3:5-8 gives some keys to having a right relationship with God. It also shows us how God will bless us if we do things His way.
Frank Sinatra used to sing a song called “My Way.” Its theme is, “I did it my way.” This is a good example of leaning on your own understanding and being wise in your own eyes — which is a recipe for disaster.
Here is what God tells us in Proverbs 3:5‑8. (I give each verse separately so that we can look at them individually.)
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (verse 5)
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
(verse 6)“Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.”
(verse 7)“It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.”
Verse 5 gives a contrast between two opposing things. Trusting in the Lord with all your heart is comparable to a child who is walking with his father, and they have their arms around each other. That child is not going to go in the wrong direction, or the wrong way. And he is not going to fall. He is safe and secure. If the ground is uneven or unstable, the father will support the child, and he will guide him onto safe paths.
According to Strong’s Concordance, the word translated “lean” means to lean on or rely on. Leaning on our own understanding means to rely on our own intellect, training, and experience more than we rely on God. We need to use those things (which are gifts from God), but our primary reliance should be on God Himself. Our human understanding is so limited. Our human experience is so inadequate, compared to that of the Creator of the universe. We only see “in a mirror, dimly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) Our vision is clouded. Our perspective is too narrow. God tells us,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8‑9)
Even if things happen that we don’t understand, we can trust God’s nature, character, power, and love. The Apostle Paul said,
“For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)
Notice that Paul said whom (a person) rather than what (a thing). Paul’s confidence was in God, rather than in his own understanding.
Leaning on our own understanding is comparable to walking with a cane, and putting most of our weight on it. If the cane lands on uneven ground (such as a rocky place) or it lands at an awkward angle (as it could in a hole, or in a crack between some rocks), then we can stumble. If it lands on unstable ground (such as stones that move, or a slippery surface), then we can fall. The cane doesn’t know which way is safe and which way is dangerous. It just goes where we put it. And it can only provide stability to the degree that we have chosen solid footing for it.
According to Strong’s Concordance, the word “acknowledge” in Proverbs 3:6 includes comprehending, considering, being diligent, instruction, being aware, having respect, understanding, being acquainted with, and being related to (as a kinsman). It involves the kind of understanding that comes from personal relationship, in addition to the kind of understanding that comes from diligently paying attention to (and comprehending) instruction. When we have a close personal relationship with the Lord, and pay close attention to what He tells us and shows us, then He will direct our paths.
Our primary means of “hearing” from God is reading the Bible. Another way is having Biblical principles come to mind when we need them, or remembering Scripture verses that are appropriate for our situation.
Proverbs 3:7 gives a contrast between two things. The first is being wise in our own eyes. The second is fearing the Lord and departing from evil. If we are wise in our own eyes, then it is difficult to have a Biblical fear of the Lord.
In addition, being wise in our own eyes can lead to sins such as presumption, doubt, unbelief, and hardness of heart. Examples of such sins are given in the following Scripture passages:
“Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.” (Psalm 19:13)
“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12)
“Afterward he [Jesus] appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.” (Mark 16:14)
Following the guidelines of Proverbs 3:5-7 will bring blessings in our lives. Verse 8 says, “It will be health to your flesh, And strength to your bones.” The King James Version says, “It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.”
When we lean on our own understanding instead of fully trusting the Lord, then we can become stressed or anxious. According to medical research, sustained stress can cause arthritis and anemia, which are diseases of the bones and bone marrow. (The bone marrow makes the blood.) Stress can also cause, or aggravate, other health problems.
Verse 8 mentions health for our “flesh” or “navel.” According to Strong’s Concordance, the Hebrew word used here literally means the umbilical cord. How do babies in the womb get everything that they need for life? Through the umbilical cord. If it doesn’t function properly, then the baby won’t get adequate food and oxygen.
Babies in the womb are totally dependent upon their mothers for everything that they need for life. They are connected to their mothers by their umbilical cords, and they receive what they need through those cords. Similarly, Christians are totally dependent upon God for everything. Receiving what God wants to give us depends on having us be rightly connected to Him.
Whatever we need, in order to receive it, we have to be rightly related to God. Do we need strength or comfort or courage or healing or wisdom or protection or provision? Proverbs 3:5‑8 gives us some keys for receiving such things from God.
How can we develop the child-like faith of trusting in the Lord with all of our heart instead of leaning on our own understanding? There are some practical things that we can do to help strengthen our trust in God.
Strengthen Our Relationship
When you know a good person intimately — when you really know their heart — then you have more trust in them. So how do we get to know God better? By reading the Bible (and asking God to help us understand it). The Bible shows us God’s character and His ways.
We can also get to know God better by spending time in prayer and worship. The Bible says,
“Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Notice that the peace comes when we give things to God in prayer. It does not wait for how He answers our prayers. It does not depend on the outcome. The peace comes when we put the situation into God’s hands. The Bible says that we should cast all our cares (concerns) on God because he cares (loves and takes care of) us. (1 Peter 5:7)
We need to develop the habit of being grateful for who God is and what He has already done for us. It is easy to take things for granted. For example, you are reading this essay. Have you thanked God for the fact that you are able to see, and you know how to read?
If we look for things to thank God for, we will find more and more reasons to be grateful. And if we look for things to complain about, we will find more and more reasons to complain.
When the Israelites came out of Egypt and went to the Promised Land, they kept complaining. They got bored with eating manna every day, and wanted to eat something more flavorful (with garlic and leeks). So they complained about the miraculous food that God provided. They complained when they had no water. God miraculously supplied water for them, but we have no record that they were grateful for it.
And what was the end of the matter? That generation died in the wilderness because they refused to enter the Promised Land when God told them to. They didn’t trust God to deal with the giants there.
This is an example of how lack of gratitude can result in lack of trusting God. And that can lead to a lack of obedience (i.e., rebellion against God).
Compare this with the attitude of King Jehoshaphat. When he and his people were threatened by a huge army, Jehoshaphat prayed,
“O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee.” (2 Chronicles 20:12, emphasis added)
And God came through for them. He miraculously delivered them from their enemies.
We can choose to develop the habit of thanking God. We can look for things to thank Him for. We can thank God and praise Him even when we don’t feel like it.
We can deliberately choose to be grateful, and we can ask God to give us a grateful heart. The Apostle Paul exhorted us to have that kind of attitude when he said,
“Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, emphasis added)
Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy were sent to a Nazi concentration camp because her family hid Jews during World War II. Betsy died in that camp, but Corrie was released.1 After the war, she traveled the world, telling people about God’s love. Corrie knew first-hand how difficult life can be. But she said,
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”2
- Corrie ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place tells about how they hid Jews, were sent to a concentration camp, and led a Bible study and prayer meeting there. Some of the prisoners in that camp became Christians through their ministry. You can also watch a DVD that is based on the book. (It has the same title.) Corrie was present for the filming.
Corrie ten Boom, Clippings from My Notebook (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982), p. 27.
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