Lean Not

 “Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.” – St. Augustine

Can you finish the verse?

“Trust in the Lord…”

Did Proverbs 3:5-6 just roll off your tongue? We are surrounded by these verses. They come on plaques, pillows, greeting cards, well wishes, and wall art. When I worked at a Christian bookstore, this was one of the references people wanted engraved on gifts or Bibles.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

Recently one part stuck out to me – “… do not depend on your own understanding.” Most of us have memorized it as, “… lean not on your own understanding.” What does this phrase mean? How do we live out this phrase? Have we not taken this phrase far enough?

The meaning taught

Do not depend on your own understanding…

It is such an important phrase and concept in our relationship with God. We have to deny our own ways and follow God; trusting him with each step. Doing so, the promise of Proverbs 3:5-6 is that God will show us which path to take.

What comes to mind when we think about “not depending on our own understanding”? Most of us immediately will think of not doing what we want, but instead following the will of God. Yes, that is extremely biblical. This is what I thought too. But, do you realize that concept is not in this passage?

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to not depending on our understanding. It is not a passage about what we should do or not do in reference to specific actions. Instead, it is referring to how we think through things. It is through our thoughts that our actions manifest. Yes, there is an implicit nod to our actions. But, this passage is telling us to not rely on our thinking and understanding when it comes to trusting God.

taking it further than we thought

However, have we taken the Proverbs 3:5-6 command far enough? We will say a hearty “Amen!” when we tell others to not let their minds be swayed by the world into sin. We will congratulate ourselves when we do not give into tempting thoughts as we trust God that his way is better.

But, is that far enough?

How are we at not leaning on our own “theological understanding?”

We would all agree that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). No one would ever claim to fully understand God in all his ways. That is why we need to trust God.

But, are there times where our learned theology keeps us from fully trusting God?

We know one thing about God through Scripture, but aren’t there times in our life where something creates a contradiction with reality and God’s Word? Will our understanding of God’s Word and our learned theology keep us sane? Or will we fizzle out, because it does not fit in to our neat boxes?

Mission impossible

There is a famous story in the Bible where God asks a man to do something that is clearly against Scripture…

Genesis 22:1-18

Abraham is known as someone who lived in the presence of God (Genesis 24:40). He followed God out of his family, out of his city, and into the wilderness to a Promised Land (Genesis 12:1-3). God promised Abraham a son; even though he and his wife could not have children (Genesis 18:10-14). The promise child is born and named Isaac. But, God isn’t done with Abraham and Isaac.

God tells Abraham to offer Isaac as a human sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-2).

So many times we look at this passage as a “foreshadowing of God providing Christ as our sacrifice.”

Think for a moment…

God literally told Abraham to murder Isaac on an altar as a human sacrifice. Does this go against God’s command in Genesis 9:5-6 stating that anyone who murders another human being is to be put to death? Think about the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-10). Before the Mosaic law was written, God despised murder and the taking of another human’s life.

Yet, what does God ask Abraham to do?

Do you think Abraham felt shaken a bit? Do you think he might have thought about how God hates murder, and now he is asked to murder his own son? (We rarely stop and think about that, since we are so used to knowing the end of the story and our theological trainings.)

This was Abraham’s mission impossible. Obey God’s calling and disobey another command or disobey God’s calling and obey God’s other command.

By faith

Hebrews 11:17 tells us Abraham’s decision.

Despite the contradiction, Abraham obeys. He has faith that God will work everything out. He even tells Isaac that God will provide a sacrifice (Genesis 22:8). Abraham believes God will not contradict his word or his promises even when a catch-22 is all that Abraham sees as he ascends Mount Moriah.

Do we have that kind of faith?

Many times we want our spiritual lives to fit into our neatly labeled boxes. We want the black and white when it comes to God. Confusion leads us to too much instability in our spiritual health. So, we rely on “learned theology” to navigate uncertain waters.

I remember a part of my life where I stubbornly held onto my seminary degree and thought, “This is not how God works!” I was attending a church that announced its annual Prophetic Presbytery. I did not know what that was. From what they described, it sounded like an ordination service. But, I was wrong. It was a prophecy service. Everything in me said that this was wrong. Speaking in tongues and words of prophecy have ceased! Yet, reality presented me with a conflict. Could God work even when my learned theology said something different?

It takes faith to realize that his ways are not our ways. It takes faith to trust God and lean not on our own understanding – even our own understanding of God.

How many relationships have we cut off, because their “way of faith in God” was different than ours? How many people have we given the “Hellfire and brimstone speech”, because we believed they were going against God’s Word when they could use the same Bible to show us differently?

We have hurt people, the ones made in God’s image, over not being like us. We would rather keep our black and white, neat boxes labeled than hear a differing position or expand our view of God and his ways. We become like the Pharisees. We know God. We know Jesus. Yet, when the Kingdom of God seems to expand in ways uncomfortable to us, we shut the door and bar people from entering since it goes against our “learned theology” (Matthew 23:13).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

To trust in the Lord means we need to give up all of our depending on our own understanding. Life will never be black and white. It is when we allow the beauty of God to color our world will we see the mosaic Messiah bringing compassion and light to the world.

By faith, we lean not on our own understanding.
By faith, we realize we do not fully and completely understand the ways of God.
By faith, we accept the spectrum of God’s working.
By faith, we can hold any contradiction or paradox knowing God is higher than our own understanding.

By faith, we march up the mountain God is leading us on to see a beautiful picture of redemption working in our lives.

Author: Stephen Field

Living with a disability while pursuing the truth of God's Word and proclaiming it. I have a BA in Youth Ministry (minor in French), a MA in Cross-Cultural Studies (Ministry Studies). I have worked as an interim youth pastor, substitute taught in public schools, speech instructor, book retail worker, and restaurant host. My passion is to see Christians be able to use their Bible and interact with the world around them based on the foundation of God's Truth.

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