TRUSTING AND LEANING
T. Pierce Brown
The longer I live the more convinced I am that one of the reasons for the greatness of the Bible is its wonderful balance. This balance is so remarkable in many cases as to be paradoxical. Jesus’ teaching is filled with such examples. The way up is down. The way to save life is to lose it. The poor are rich. Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, but the Lamb of God. By grace we are saved (Ephesians 2:8), but we shall be judged according to the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians5:10). We are to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), yet each man must bear his own burden (Galatians 6:5). The fact that the words for burden are different does not negate the fact that there are two facets of truth, and balance must be achieved if one is to understand and practice the truths of God.
We must “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3), yet not be contentious (Romans 2:8). Those who sin are to be rebuked before all (1 Timothy5:20), yet we may hide a multitude of sins (James5:20), and love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). The failure to properly appreciate and practice the balance taught in such verses has caused untold damage to the cause of Christ and resulted in a perverted and emasculated form of Christianity.
Solomon expressed many such apparently contradictory truths. “Answer not a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:4), but “Answer a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:5). An exegesis of each example previously mentioned would be profitable, but now I want to consider a verse that needs similar balance, yet the need is not quite as apparent as some we have mentioned.
Solomon said in Proverbs 3:5,6, “Trust in Jehovah with all thy heart, and lean not upon thine own understanding: in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and he will direct thy paths.” Total dependence on God and absolute trust in Him are virtues commended and commanded throughout the Bible. Even that needs to be balanced. I knew a woman who said she decided to quit working in her garden, for she had prayed to God to give her daily bread, so she was trusting in Him to do it. There are many denominational preachers who say, “I do not plan what I am going to say. I just trust in God to give me the right words.” They are unbalanced, to say the least.
There is no doubt in my mind that the source of some of our greatest failures is the lack of trust in and dependence on God. Many times I have been in business meetings where the elders and/or deacons would say something like, “I know that is God’s will for us, but we are not able to do it.”
I have spoken on several occasions on behalf of the “One Nation Under God” program to get the gospel message into 100,000,000 homes in the USA, or into the countries in Europe that are now wide open for the gospel. On more than one occasion, the response has been something like, “How in the world do you expect to raise 15 to 20 million dollars to get that done?” I expect it to be done like we usually get such jobs done — by a few devoted and enthusiastic people giving a great deal, and the majority doing relatively very little. But it could be done with practically no effort at all if everyone who pretends to be a Christian and believe in the importance of the Great Commission would simply give one day’s income to this effort. In fact, not only would the total amount be available for this task, it is probable that money for most of the other worthy works being carried on would be available immediately.
The great problem with the two preceding sentences is that the expression “practically no effort” is the one that has become most important to most of us. “If a man would come after me, he must deny himself some things, put his cross on wheels so it can be “carried” more easily, and follow (as far off as he feels is safe and convenient)” is the way we appear to “interpret” Jesus. How many times have you heard at the invitation song, “The water is warm; the clothing is ready, all things are prepared. Why not come now?” If the water is ice cold, there were no clothes except the ones you have on, and you have to face the possibility of a den of lions, then perhaps you should wait until you can obey the Lord with practically no effort!
But trust in the Lord involves not only dependence on the promises in His word. It involves the actual practice of His commands. When a person trusts in the doctor, he not only believes the doctor is able to do what he is supposed to do, he takes the medicine the doctor prescribes.
As there should be balance in understanding what is involved in trusting in the Lord, so there must be balance in the lack of dependence on one’s own understanding. That is, if a person does not depend on his own understanding in some respects, he has no rational basis for action.
There are those who ridicule the idea of the use of logic or reasoning. Of course they contradict their own thesis in so doing, by reasoning that it is unreasonable to use reason. When such persons say, “Religion is a matter of faith,” they usually seem to mean, “I do not claim to act in terms of facts and God’s revelation. I have my own strong opinions, and call it faith.”
When you ask such a person, “How do you know there is a God, or that the Bible is His word?” he often replies, “I just take it on faith.” But the Bible says, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians5:21). When Paul says, “We walk by faith; not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), he in no sense implies that faith is a blind credulous acceptance of some proposition. He means, “When God speaks, take Him at His word, whether or not it seems wise or proper to you.”
The same wise man who said, “Lean not on thine own understanding” said, “With all thy getting, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7). What is the sense in getting it, if you can not depend on it?
Again, the principle of balance is important. One should depend on understanding for the purpose God gave it, but not as a substitute for obedient faith. A chain saw may be very dependable, but you should not depend on it to cut butter. I knew a man who cut a ham with a chain saw, but we will not now dwell on that. It is one thing to use your understanding to grasp what God has said, and to ascertain the meaning and application of it. It is another thing to “lean on your own understanding” by trying to figure out some way to get around a plain command of God, or to substitute your own way for God’s way.
When Naaman was told to dip seven times in the riverJordanto cure his leprosy (2 Kings5:10), he was supposed to use his own understanding to realize that theJordanwas a specific river and seven was a specific number. But he was “leaning on his own understanding” in the sense in which it is forbidden when he said, “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers ofDamascus, better than all the waters ofIsrael? May I not wash in them and be clean?”
When God said, “Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing–” (Colossians 3:16), we are to use our understanding to find out if “singing” means “playing,” and if one can “teach and admonish” by plucking on a string or playing on keys. But we are not to “lean on our own understanding” by substituting our reasoning for what God plainly said to do, and coming up with something like this: “God gave me a talent to play some musical instrument. So I understand that I am to use it, no matter what God commanded.”
Even the expression, “In all thy ways acknowledge Him and he will direct thy paths” needs balance. There are millions of persons, some of whom are connected in some fashion with the Lord’s church, who assume that they are being directed by the Lord by some feeling, impression, dream, still small voice, or inward leading.
There are two ways God may direct your path. The first is certain and sure. The second is not. First, when you acknowledge God as the final and absolute authority and live in submission to that authority, they you are acknowledging Him in all your ways and your path is being directed by Him. The other way is by His providential leading. The Bible is too full of examples of the providence of God and His overruling power for us to deny its reality. But the plain truth is that even those who were providentially led of God to certain positions, and had their paths directed by God to certain ends did not at that time know it.
Who among those who believe the Bible can doubt that Moses’ mother and Pharaoh’s daughter were under God’s overruling providence? But although we would not attempt to deny that God was directing the path of Jochebed as she put Moses in the ark, she did not know it at the time. Joseph was able to say in Genesis 50:20, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive,” so God had been directing his path indirectly or providentially. But there is no indication that he knew that at the time of the events in Genesis 37.
To believe that “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans8:28), and that God is therefore directing your path as you obediently follow Him is proper. But to assume that every feeling, emotion and action you have is by the direction of God is not proper.