Each new day we embark on a journey of the unknown. We make our plans, arrange our schedules and mark things in our diaries. But rarely do things go exactly the way we would like. Plans go askew, schedules get messed up, and events change in ways we least expected. If you live in New Zealand, that’s what you faced at 4pm last Tuesday when our Prime Minister announced the whole country was going into lockdown. There was one last dash to the store to get what you needed before midnight. Whatever plans any of us had for the next few days, they went out the window.
But even in normal circumstances, life has a way of throwing us a curveball. The routine trip to the dentist shows up a problem with a molar. Your car fails the WOF because they found rust in the door. Your doctor tells you the scan results reveal you have a growth in your lung. A million questions start going through your mind – can it be treated? What if it’s cancerous? What do I tell my wife and kids?
It’s in these very times we need to be reminded that God calls us to trust him and trust him wholeheartedly. There are so many places we could look to in the Bible for help in this, but perhaps the most obvious is Proverbs chapter 3 verses 5-6:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
These would have to be two of the most well-known and deeply loved verses in the Bible. They provide for us in summary form the sum and substance of the Christian life. The Christian life primarily is not about knowing certain doctrines (though there are important doctrines every Christian must know) or performing certain duties. It’s about trusting, relying on, and hoping in God.
I. The Command
The command, in one sense, couldn’t be much simpler: trust in the Lord. Following this through however is anything but simple. You know it isn’t. You’re standing there on the other side of the counter at the dentist and the receptionist informs you to repair that tooth is going to set you back $1000. What’s your gut response?
“Well here’s another wonderful opportunity for me to put my trust in God. I have no idea how I’m going to pay for this or where the money is going to come from, but God does. He says if I acknowledge him in all my ways, he will make my paths straight. So I can be confident that God has an answer for this and therefore I’ll leave it in his good hands.”
We don’t respond that way, do we? No, we hear the words ‘one thousand’ and we start experiencing blurred vision. The blood pressure goes up, the stomach churns and we start developing nervous twitches. Up until this point all things were nicely in your control, you were calling the shots and now suddenly your head is in a spin, and you are brought face to face with the harsh reality that you have no control over the events in your life at all.
How then are we to trust in God?
First, we are to trust him entirely – with all of our heart. “Heart” in the Hebrew language refers to our inner person – our intellect, our emotion, and our will. It’s our mission control centre, where all of our thoughts and desires and plans and hopes and dreams and beliefs and convictions originate. It is here, the very core of our being, that God wants the surrendering and yielding to take place.
Second, we are to trust him exclusively. It’s not like, “I’ll trust God and my own wisdom.” That’s going to be your natural tendency. By nature, we are inclined to look within for the answers, not up. It only seems to make sense to take such-and-such a path, so I’ll take it. It seems sensible to follow this person’s advice, so I’ll follow it. I sense that within me this is the right thing to do so I’ll do it – without even stopping to pray, without ever consulting the Lord, and without waiting on the Lord for an answer. Proverbs 14:12 warns us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
A man may feel that he would be happier if he left his wife. A mother may feel that grounding her daughter for lying is too harsh. An employee may feel that it’s OK to call in sick to work, even though there’s nothing wrong with him. How easy it is to rationalize our disobedience when our hearts are saying one thing and God’s Word is saying another.
We are to trust God entirely; we are to trust him exclusively, and thirdly we are to trust him in every area of life – “in all your ways acknowledge him.”
In all our planning.
In all of our thinking.
In all of our spending.
In all of our decisions.
The small as well as the great.
Abraham Kyper once said, “In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, “That is mine!”.
No matter is too small for God’s attention. To paraphrase one commentator, it is self-idolatry to think we can carry on even the most ordinary matters without his counsel. In all your ways acknowledge Him.
Scripture is not short of examples of what this looks like. Noah building a great big boat in the middle of dry land when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, despite all the ridicule of his neighbours, just because God said so. Abraham packing up everything and leaving his homeland when he was 80 years old, leaving behind his homeland and all his friends – because God told him to. Peter stepping out of the boat to walk towards Jesus who was walking on the water, because Jesus told him to. Ordinary Christians declaring “Jesus is Lord” in a Roman Empire which only recognized one Lord his name was Caesar. They all did it. They all chose to go against the tide of human wisdom and put their trust in God.
I think of Asa, king of Judah. Asa had just under 600,000 fighting men at his disposal. A formidable force unless your opponent happens to be the King of Ethiopia, who has an army of one million as well as 300 chariots. b1 million v. 600,000. Do the math. What was the King to do? In Second Chronicles chapter 14 we read,
“And Asa cried to the Lord his God, “O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.” (2 Chron 14:11)
At a time when most military generals would be drawing up their battle plans, we find Asa doing what? Falling on his face before the Lord in prayer. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7) What a courageous thing it was for Asa, as the leader of an entire nation, to put his head on the block (so to speak) throw himself at the mercy of God.
II. The Promise
Trust God in everything, submit to his leading, yield to his will in your life and what is the promise? He will make your paths. The Hebrew word here has the meaning of removing obstacles so that a path becomes clear. It’s also found in Isaiah 45:2 where the Lord says to Israel,
“I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron,” (Isaiah 45:2)
What a marvellous promise. Note the promise is not that the path will appear smooth and straight to us. Often if feels very bumpy. God never promises a smooth ride, but he does guarantee, if we faithfully follow him, a straight path. He promises that every bump in the road, every turn, and every difficulty is there for our good and is part of the process of completing his work in us. From God’s perspective, the path to Christlikeness is perfectly straight. But from our perspective, it seems anything but. As one Portuguese proverb says, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”
As I look back on the past 35 years as a Christian, there are a lot of paths the Lord took me down that look anything but straight. There were hills and valleys to climb, rivers to cross, and dangerous cliffs to scale. Sometimes it looked as though I was going backwards before I went forwards. I’m sure many of you have felt the same way. But this is the path he calls us to tread. We are pilgrims journeying in a foreign land. We experience many difficulties and hardships. But we know, that if we keep on eyes on our celestial city and trust in Jesus to guide us, he will bring us safely home.
William Carey, the father of modern missions, faced a ministry disappointment of overwhelming proportions. Carey began his missionary career in India in 1793. He laboured in that country for 40 years, never once returning to his native home.
Carey was a brilliant linguist, translating portions of Scripture into over a dozen Indian languages. One afternoon after twenty years of plodding labour in that country, all his work went up in smoke. A fire raged through his printing plant and warehouse. All his printing equipment was destroyed, but most tragically, many of his precious manuscripts were completely consumed by the fire. Of course, Carey had no computer backup files. Twenty years of non-stop labour were gone within a few hours.
How would he respond to this crushing devastation? How would you respond in similar circumstances? Listen to the words which Carey wrote to his pastor-friend, Andrew Fuller, in England:
“The ground must be laboured over again, but we are not discouraged…We have all been supported under the affliction and preserved from discouragement. o me the consideration of the divine sovereignty and wisdom has been very supporting…I endeavored to improve this our affliction last Lord’s Day, from Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” I principally dwelt upon two ideas, that is: 1. God has a sovereign right to dispose of us as he pleases, and 2. We ought to acquiesce in all that God does with us and to us.”
Trusting God requires a surrendering of our own plans and agenda, a relinquishing of our deep and determined desire to be in control and casting ourselves before an all-wise and all-knowing God to do things as He sees fit. When we do this, we are assured of this promise: God will make straight our paths. He will clear the obstacles. There will be – if not in the short term certainly in the long, ultimate success.