The Promise of Guidance
July 5, 2014 | Brian Bill
A woman was driving through the mountains west of Denver when she ran into a snowstorm. She was completely lost until she looked ahead and saw a snowplow. She decided to follow it, keeping as close to it as she could while it removed snow from the road. At times the blowing snow almost cut off her view, but her faithful guide kept on leading the way. After some time, the plow stopped, and the driver got out and walked over to her car. “Lady, where are you going?” he asked. “I’m on my way to Denver,” she replied. “Well, you’ll never get there following me! I’m plowing a parking lot!”
In order to get to our destinations, we must make sure we’re on the right road. And, we need to follow the One who longs to give direction to our life.
I’d like to recommend a book by Ray Pritchard called, “The Road Best Traveled.” Some of what I’m going to say is gleaned from his treatment of the topic. One of the things that Ray argues is this: “God wants you to know His will more than you want to know it and He takes personal responsibility to see that you discover it” (Page 18). God is not playing a cosmic game of hide and seek with us. He delights in revealing His purpose and plans if we’re serious about finding His will for our life.
Today we’re going to tackle a very well-known passage. Here are some others that come to mind:
- John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…”
- Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want…”
- Philippians 1:6: “…He who began a good work in you will complete it…”
- Romans 8:28: “…in all things God works for the good…”
As we continue in our Summer of Promise series, we’ll be pondering the promise found in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will shall direct your paths.”
Let’s admit something. Sometimes when we know a passage so well, we almost know it too well. When some of us hear these verses, we simply check out. We’ve heard them so many times that they’ve lost their impact. As soon as someone gives the reference or the first phrase, many of us say something like this in our minds: “Oh yeah, I know all about that verse.” We then disengage and shut down. God’s truths are terrific, but over time, if we don’t keep our hearts tender, they can denigrate into little more than trite sayings.
Familiarity can breed contempt, or at least boredom. Recognizing the risk involved in preaching through a popular proverb, I urge you to sit forward, engage your mind, and prepare your heart for what God wants to say through His Word to you today.
In a nationwide poll of 5,000 churchgoers, people were asked the following question: “What topic would you most like to hear your pastor preach on?” The number one subject matter was Bible prophecy (we’ll let Pastor Brown handle that next weekend!). The second most asked about topic was how to understand God’s will for life (as quoted by Megginson, “The Promise of Guidance” on SermonCentral.com). That’s where we’re headed today.
Myths About Guidance
Let’s list some common myths that we need to identify and dispel before we dive in.
Myth #1: God’s will is hard to find.
While sometimes its difficult to know what God has for us, here’s the truth – God wants to guide us. Referring to God’s words of wisdom, Proverbs 6:22 puts it this way, “When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you.” In other words, the Bible has already revealed God’s will in most of the situations in life.
Myth #2: God wants us to know everything about the future.
God does not reveal what’s coming next week or next month or next year, but instead urges us to take the next step. Proverbs 6:23: “For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light…” The picture here is not of a spotlight that fills the entire room but of a man who is out in the dark, walking along a dangerous trail. The only light he has is an old oil lamp that glows just enough to reveal the terrain right in front of him. When he takes a step, then the light provides guidance for the next step. One reason that God doesn’t reveal our entire future is because He wants us to trust Him moment by moment as we take one step at a time.
Myth #3: We need to be 100% sure before we make a decision.
In our search for certainty about God’s will, we can end up being paralyzed by reservations and uncertainty. Trusting God means that we put our faith in Him even when we have some nagging doubts or fears. Don’t wait and wait and wait until you are 100% certain. You may be waiting a long time. God wants us to step out in faith. When we do, He will accomplish His purposes according to Proverbs 16:9: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
Myth #4: God’s greatest goal is my happiness.
As Americans, many of us have bought into the fable that we deserve to be successful. Some of us believe that God must want us to be happy as well. This is a myth. God is committed to our holiness, not our happiness. And, in order for that to happen, sometimes He allows us to go through some pretty tough times. The last part of Proverbs 6:23 makes this clear: “…and the corrections of discipline are the way to life.”
instead of only focusing on your vocation or location, commit yourself to personal transformation
Some of us spend way too much time trying to figure out what God wants us to do and where He wants us to live. While God cares about these things, He is much more interested in the kind of person we are. In other words, instead of only focusing on your vocation or location, commit yourself to personal transformation. This is God’s resolve for our lives according to 1 Thessalonians 4:3: “It is God’s will that you should be holy.”
John Ortberg says that there’s a simple reason that God put Proverbs in the Bible – it’s because we’re all prone to make some pretty dumb decisions! This book can help us become wiser in many ways. Before we jump into our text today, let’s set the context. Specifically, in this section of Proverbs, Solomon is giving some wisdom to his son. We see this in Proverbs 3:1: “My son, do not forget my teaching…”
This passage gives us two key responsibilities. We need to lean on the Lord and learn to love Him with everything we’ve got. When we do, He promises to lead us. Our task is to lean and learn. It’s God’s job to lead us. Here’s the main idea: God will lead us when we lean on Him.
Lean on the Lord
Trusting involves putting your full weight on something
The word “trust” in Hebrew literally means, “to lean with the whole body” or “to rest one’s full weight” upon something. We think of trust as putting our assurance in someone but it’s really more than that. The word picture carries the idea of stretching yourself out upon a bed or on a hard surface with full confidence that you will not be let down. Trusting involves putting your full weight on something.
When our daughters were young and we stayed in a motel (which wasn’t very often), I would tell them that the first thing we were going to do when we’d get to the room is to flop on the beds and then jump on them. I’m pretty sure our names are now on a “Don’t fly” list at the Motel 6.
We didn’t worry about whether the bed could hold us but threw our whole weight upon it. To trust in the Lord is to rest your full weight, everything you’ve got upon Him. The title “Lord” is the name “Yahweh” or “Jehovah,” and focuses on God’s covenant-making and promise-keeping character. We’re called to trust the Unchanging One who can be counted on. Proverbs 29:25: “…whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”
Notice that we’re called to total trust and complete commitment: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” This same word “all” is used in Leviticus 6:22 to refer to an offering that was to be burned in its entirety. God doesn’t want half-baked sacrifices or half-hearted devotion. He wants us to be like offerings on the altar where we give ourselves without reservation to Him. Coming to church was never meant to be a hobby or a pastime. A committed Christian should not be out of the ordinary. In fact, the norm should be for each and every one of us to be fully devoted.
A chicken and a pig were walking down the road together when they came to a sign in front of a building that said, “Annual Fundraiser. Ham and egg breakfast.” The chicken said to the pig, “Hey, that’s right up our alley. Why don’t we go in and help out?” To which the pig replied, “That’s easy for you to say. For you that’s just a contribution. For me we’re talking total commitment.”
Are you just making a “contribution” or are you ready to make a total commitment to Christ? God is not looking for contributors. He’s calling for committers. What’s holding you back from full surrender?
The word “heart” refers to more than just the place where feelings come from. In the Old Testament, the heart was considered the center of the mind, the will, and the emotions. We’re to trust God with all that we are – with all our feelings, our thoughts, and our decisions. Knowing God’s will is not a matter of learning a tricky technique or following a fancy formula.
Verse 5 continues: “and lean not on your own understanding.” To “lean” means to rest upon something for partial support. It’s what you do when you feel a bit unsteady. The word is used for leaning against a tree or to use a cane when you’re walking.
We’re given a positive admonition: To lean fully on the Lord.
Now we come to the rebuke: don’t trust your own understanding.
“Understanding” refers to the mental process we use to analyze a problem, break it down into smaller parts, and then make a decision about what we’re going to do. Some of us pray, not to find God’s will, but to get His approval of what we want to do.
Let’s admit it. Most of us think we can figure things out on our own. We can do just fine by ourselves, thank you. But, if we’re serious about making wise decisions, we must fight against that internal inclination to trust what we think is best.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use common sense or the wisdom that God gives us, but it does mean that we shouldn’t “lean” on our understanding for total support. If we try to figure out our life and handle every decision that comes our way, we will be in trouble. Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Proverbs 28:26 brings us up short: “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered.”
Learn From God
Here’s what we have so far. First, Lean on the Lord. Give yourself totally to Him. Lay yourself out for the Almighty and don’t automatically trust what you think you should do. God will lead us when we lean on Him.
Let’s look now at the first part of verse 6 where we’re urged to do a second thing: learn from God. This is stated in the imperative and should be understood as a command: “In all your ways acknowledge Him…” In “all your ways” means, “in everything you do, in every detail of your life.” It refers to a journey, or the distance between two points. Not just on the day we come to church but every day, in every way, all the time.
The word “acknowledge” carries with it the idea of intimate communion and is used to describe the marriage relationship. We could translate it this way: “In everything you do, make sure you know the Lord.” It’s the kind of knowing that only comes by personal experience. When we know God’s heart, we will never question His will because knowing God’s will is really all about knowing God.
Max Lucado, in his book, “Just Like Jesus,” has written about a man named Frank Lauback who decided to live with a distinct awareness of God every day. He wrote down some thoughts in his diary. Here’s part of what he wrote: “Can we have that contact with God all the time? Can we attain that? Can we do His will all the time? Can we think His thoughts all the time? Can I bring the Lord back into my mind-flow every few seconds so that God shall always be on my mind?” I love what he wrote next: “I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering that question.”
Are you willing to conduct that same kind of experiment? To acknowledge God is to invite Him into every area of life and to focus on knowing Him intimately. Are there any areas of your life where you have not allowed God access? I wonder what would happen in this church if each of us would plunge ourselves into a pursuit of God. If we would get lost in His immensity and get caught up in His beauty, our lives would change radically. And in the process, we would know more about His will.
He Will Lead Us
Our responsibility is to lean and to learn. The last part of verse 6 tells us that God will then lead us: “…and He shall direct your paths.” The word “direct” denotes intensity. God promises to pull out all the stops and go to work when we lean on Him and learn to love Him. Notice that God doesn’t promise to make us wealthy, healthy, popular or comfortable. He promises something much deeper. He will make our paths straight, which means that He will make it clear what direction we should go and will help us navigate through whatever life throws at us.
When the Interstate highway system began construction in the 1950’s, the planners looked for the least hilly areas to construct the roads. When they decided on the route, they then went to work to knock down the smaller hills and fill in the valleys to make the roads as flat as possible.
In ancient Israel, people generally traveled to their destination by foot. Hilly and rocky terrain made the going difficult. Paths and roads zigzagged between hills, making the journey even longer. Actually, the QCA is a lot like that with all the ravines.
Solomon is telling us that life is like a journey that goes up into the mountains one day and swerves into the swamp the next. Sometimes the road is washed out (like River Drive) or filled with perilous potholes. When we decide to give God first place and trust Him totally, He will straighten out our paths and even remove obstacles. The straight path is not always easy but it does lead away from sin and destruction and points us to deeper fellowship with Christ.
God calls us to lean and learn and then He will lead us. God will lead us when we lean on Him. Recognizing that you may be facing a difficult decision right now, or soon will be, let’s go over some “guidance guidelines” from Proverbs that will help us make wise choices.
- Surrender to the Lordship of Christ. Is Jesus occupying first place in your life? Are you willing to do His will, whatever it will be? Let’s look at the very next verse, Proverbs 3:7: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil.” Someone has said that there are too many “cafeteria Christians” that want to pick and choose what they want, instead of letting God plan the whole meal. Warren Wiersbe writes: “The will of God isn’t a curiosity for us to study, it’s a command for us to obey; God isn’t obligated to reveal His will unless we’re willing to do it.”
- Obey the Word of God. What principles, commands, or prohibitions from the Bible apply to the decision you need to make? Has God given any promises or motivating verses on the subject? Most of the situations we’re faced with are already dealt with in the Word of God. Proverbs 13:13: “He who despises the word will be destroyed, but he who fears the commandment will be rewarded.”
If you want to know what God’s will is for sex outside of biblical marriage, you don’t need to pray about it because 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality.” If you want to know if God wants you to forgive, you don’t need to wonder because Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” If you’re looking for guidance about whether God wants you to live on mission by loving your neighbors, you don’t need to look any further than Colossians 4:5: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.”
Here’s a principle that is helpful. If you want to know God’s will then do the will of God that you already know. Many times we ask God to tell us what to do and I imagine Him saying, “I’ve already told you in my Word but you’re not doing what you already know.” The old adage is true: “God doesn’t steer parked cars.” If you want the Almighty to guide you, then start moving on those things you already know He wants you to do.
- Take the time to pray. Have I prayed about the decision? Am I seeking the Lord daily and allowing Him time to give me His direction? Most of the bad decisions I make are the result of not taking the necessary time to lay things out before the Lord. Here’s a principle: When possible, choose to pray and ponder for at least 24 hours before making a decision. I like Proverbs 21:5 in the ESV: “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.”
- Seek godly counsel. While we must avoid leaning on ourselves, Proverbs encourages us to get the council of others and to lean on them for some wisdom when we need to make a decision. Proverbs 12:15: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.”
Proverbs 19:20: “Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days.” When faced with a decision, find a faithful friend or two and ask for their input.
Proverbs 19:21 provides us with a good reminder: “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel – that will stand.” God is sovereign. He’s in control. Even when we make bad choices and decisions, His purposes will prevail.
Here are a couple action steps:
- Read a chapter from Proverbs every day. In order to stay on track, since there are 31 chapters, read the chapter that corresponds with the day of the month.
- Memorize Proverbs 3:5-6.
On Wednesday Pastor Dan and I had the privilege of taking George and Ellen King out for lunch. George and Ellen are missionaries in Japan and Edgewood has supported them for 54 years! I asked them how God has used Proverbs 3:5-6 in their lives over the years. This is what they said, “We’ve chosen to trust God even when things look like a mess. We’ve simply leaned on Him and He has been faithful to lead us. When we trust, He always provides.”
I was struck by their full surrender to Christ and their willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom. They told me that they live on 2/3 of their salary and direct the other third to ministry. Do you know how many churches they’ve been involved in starting over the course of 54 years? In a nation of few Christians, God has used them to launch 60 churches!
What’s their secret? Simply this: As they have leaned on God and learned from Him, He has led them. God promises to do the same for us.
Friends, it’s time to stop going in circles when it comes to God’s guidance. He promises to lead us when we lean on Him and when we learn from Him.
What can we say? What can we do? We can offer our hearts completely to Him. Let’s stand and sing together.