Tangled Up In God

Decisions, decisions

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

Would you say the effectiveness of our walking in the former part of this statement (trusting in the Lord with all our heart) has to do with how closely we follow the latter? Rarely, if ever, do you find the fifth verse of Proverbs chapter three without the next one. Greeting cards, journals, bookmarks, stationery of all types quote the two verses with abandon. And rightfully so because the two together are a dynamite prescription for living out one’s life before God. But it’s verse five I’d like to emphasize.

“Teach me Thy way, O Lord; I will walk in Thy truth: unite my heart to fear Thy name. I will praise Thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify Thy name for evermore.” (Psalm 86:11) It’s interesting how you can switch two letters in the word “unite” and get “untie”. It’s so easy to get tangled up and tied to things that we have no way of knowing or remembering how we got there. Then again, being “tangled up in God” may not be such a bad idea.

Singleness of heart is essential. Everytime God chided and disciplined and punished His children throughout the Old Testament, it most likely had something to do with getting distracted by the pantheistic panoply affecting the spiritual atmosphere of wherever the children of Israel happened to find themselves. They’d get their hearts tangled and tied up with other (false) spiritual promises and rather than “trust[ing] in the Lord with all [their] heart”, they got distracted. We may not heed the call of Baal nowadays. But as Baal promised crops and sustenance in abundance, anything akin to that for our life is essentially the same thing. Are we going to trust God with all our heart? Or do we still rely on something other than God to meet our needs?

That word “lean” (Hebrew: sha’an) means “to support one’s self” (Strong’s). To “rest yourselves” (Genesis 18:4). Is it too loose a definition to say (in a negative sense) to “become complacent”? Because if we do that very thing–“lean…unto our own understanding”–we will become complacent. America has long been blessed with an abundance of goods and services and provender. And this isn’t a call for a knee-jerk asceticism or an irrational rejection of God’s goodness and bounty. What it should serve as, if our eyes are open, is inspiration to thank God for what He allows us to enjoy–and then give from that standpoint, should we feel so inclined. This attitude is what kills complacency. And turn it around. While the word translated “trust”–a fuller and more wide-reaching one–is different than the one for “lean”, that same thing (leaning) should apply to God. Leaning on Him. Trusting in Him. The simplest explanation of “Trust[ing] in the Lord with all [our] heart”, I remember my dad taught me when I was a kid, is that of a chair. You’re at rest and reassured. So much so that you don’t even think about the fact that the four legs of the chair are supporting your entire weight.

Deciding factor

“And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11, emphasis mine)

The Hebrew word translated “understanding” is “biynah”. From the word “biyn”. This is where it gets simple. I’m not talking about allaying the complexity of our life. I’m talking about binary. I’m talking about one, or the other. What Solomon is essentially saying is, “don’t rely on your own ability to distinguish between what’s truth and what’s a lie”. Seen in this light, I think the prevailing airy veneer given to this verse and its brother don’t do the seriousness of the content justice. It’s so, so easy to accept any number of thoughts about life and situations, about God and others, that are absolutely wrong. This is why Solomon says to not “lean” on our own “understanding”. Or “rely” on our own “insight” as the New King James words it. Because while we may mean well, only God has the right read on a situation or a person.

And if you find yourself tied up in things and you see no way out. I suppose I can bring in the other verse (Proverbs 3:6): “In all Thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”

God can lead you out of any tangle you find yourself in.

Walking In the Spirit (Proverbs 3:5-6 part 4)

“…and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6b)

And we’re off!

Psalms (37:23) says that “the steps of a good man (or woman) are ordered by the Lord”

I used to wonder (worry) about this. Knowing that God was real and wanting to walk in His plan for my life, I fretted over the minutiae of my life, because I knew that “he that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much” and vice-versa (Luke 16:10). But divorced from love and grace—the two things that God uses to enable us to live as Jesus did—life can be a drag. Boring and dry and loveless. We think that, in order to get God to give us stuff (material or immaterial), there needs to be a transaction (an economic arrangement, as it were). Tit for tat. I do this, You do that. This thinking, because of what Jesus already did and does for us (life, death, resurrection, intercession), is now obsolete. But this doesn’t mean that the Old Testament is outmoded. Jesus came and “fulfilled” the law (Matthew 5:17-18). Everything is now in Him. Going back to the verse from Psalm 37, the definition for “good”-ness is now defined as commitment to a person: Jesus . And not just a set of beliefs or ideals. As in actively knowing Him in the here and now.

“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1)

As Christians, our walk, “our conversation” (Philippians 3:20), is still defined by the principles laid out by Solomon in Proverbs 3:5-6—as followed in love. The difference is that we now have the indwelling Holy Spirit who performs the promise of Proverbs 3:6: “He shall direct thy paths”. This promise, of being “led of His Spirit” (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:16-18), silences any worry and wonder (the negative kind) and frees us to live in the liberty, grace and love that Jesus paid for with His life.

Looking back, I guess it does cost something after all: our attention. Our inward sight and adoration fixed on God. There is a sacrifice but it’s so worth it.

As we live out Proverbs 3:5-6, in the long run, we fulfill God’s call for our life—all while our attention’s on Him. One moment, one acknowledgement at a time.

In closing, a story.

My dad accepted the Lord in the Winter of 1968. He was home from college on Christmas break–miserable. One of the last things that happened in his dorm prior to leaving for home was a conversation with a couple guys about Jesus. The only reason, he says, that he even deigned talk to them was because he didn’t feel like working on an overdue biology assignment. The door to his dorm was open and while there was still work to be done, he couldn’t help but hear in the halls the carousing and commotion brought about by the impending vacation. He heard a knock on the open door and let in the two men (they had purposed only to speak to those whose doors were open) and talked with them for a few minutes. They even used his Bible (from his Methodist ubringing, which he had on a bookshelf but never read) to point out truths regarding God and Jesus. He thanked them and they left him with a pamphlet and a phone number. At home (he lived in Virginia), he wrestled with the issues that were presented to him a few days before. After a brief chat with a next-door neighbor (who happened to be a pastor) that still didn’t silence the conviction of the Holy Spirit, he made his way back to his old room on the second floor of his house. The Bible from which the men introduced the promise of something new lay at the foot of his bed. He knelt down by the side of the bed and prayed the prayer of salvation as found at the end of the pamphlet. He made it halfway and then made a mistake in the recitation. So he started over—and again failed to get it right. The third time he prayed to God, thinking that he had to say things just so, God answered him with a flood of peace and the knowledge that he’d been born again. After he got up off his knees, with newfound confidence (and also something as-yet undefinable), he asked quite the pointed question of His (now, new) Heavenly Father. “You got anything in this book I can use?” He walked around to the end of his bed, picked up the Bible and opened it up to the book of Proverbs, third chapter. He put his finger, very inconspicuously, on verses five and six.

And the rest is history.

The Center of Gravity (Proverbs 3:5-6 part 1)

Our world revolves around Jesus. He’s the one that we’re living towards—the one “with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 5:14)—and He’s really the only one who cares about the minutest detail of our life. Moreso than do we.

How does this look when lived out? Surely you’ve heard of the way the sunflower lives? They track the sun with their heads, following its course as it crosses the sky. Consequently, they hang their heads at night. This is cool, sure. But I’m a human being. A living spirit in a body with thoughts, perceptions and impulses. And each one is a gift to experience. Any one of these, when not brought into subjection—dealt with God’s way—will lead me astray. That might sound blunt but it’s true. A little more complex than a sunflower.

Isn’t it strange that when you look at the stars in the night sky, there are galaxies that seem brighter in your peripheral vision than when you look at them directly? Whole galaxies vying for your attention. Don’t let yourself get distracted. Keep your face to the sun.

One of my favorite passages—a hand-me-down from my dad—is the fifth and sixth verse of the third Proverb. Let’s look at the first part of verse 5 today:

“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart.”

What is trust? Who is God? What is my heart and how do I bring it in its entirety to God? The answer: one moment, one thought at a time.

Relax. Each moment we live is a gift from God. If you need to slow down to realize this, by all means do so. God’s not going anywhere (at least nowhere that He’s not taking you), so ask Him to help you slow down and realize this. Any instance of interaction with God creates trust. You talk to God—and you trust that He’ll respond. You pray—and trust that He’ll answer. This is mountain shattering, world changing faith—lived out moment by moment, ladies and gentlemen. The more we do this from a motive of love and gratitude, the more of our heart (read: life) will be brought to trust God.

National Resurrection

“Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

Whether you believe in God or not, the fact that you have the freedom to believe or the freedom to doubt is integral to the fabric of this nation. Ten years ago that fabric hung, tattered and knotted as we struggled in disbelief at the attacks on the East Coast. I watched from my TV, having just come back home from delivering a missed customer on my paper route. It took a long time to process what I saw and still some of the details are hazy. Like the New York skyline for weeks following.

Did God cause it to happen? Absolutely not. But I believe He was powerless to prevent it.

As it says in Proverbs (16:7), “if our ways please the Lord, He’ll cause our enemies to be at peace with us”. The pundits, preachers, poets, priests and politicians (thank you, Sting) pointed at this sin and that “sin” and blamed each other. Conspiracy theories littered the landscape like detritus from the war of ideologies. And yet, following this tack, it was indeed an inside job. Inside our hearts and minds we shut God out. All of the apathy and hate and ingratitude rising to heaven, we sacrificed compassion and conscience for hate and hedonism and as such the door was left open for the enemy. We paid the price. And as Ed Roland (of Collective Soul, in an unrelated song;10 Years Later) sings: “it’s 10 years later and still I haven’t a clue”. I see today, the same apathetic attitude we were infected with a decade ago.

God’s forgiveness is still extant and extravagant. Love, as Peter says (1 Peter 4:8), covers a multitude of sins. Any outward, behavioral sin, “a reproach to any people” (again, Proverbs 14:34), begins—towards God (Psalms 51:4)—in the heart and mind. So, too, do the virtues. A lukewarm heart, veneered over with rudimentary morality isn’t going to last. Let us turn to God again and let Him heal our nation (2 Chronicles 7:14). We need to “put aside the alienation” as Rush sang in Limelight. Only when we renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) to the truths in God’s word will we experience real healing and prosperity. And freedom. From sin, violence and apathy. His love, mercy and grace will help us if we ask.

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)