Why We Should "Lean Not on Our Own Understanding"
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
If you were to boil life down to its simplest elements, life is about choices. Everyday of your life is spent making choices. Granted some are more important and have greater impact on your life but nevertheless they are choices. Within the context of choosing, we find this verse in Proverbs tells us to not lean on our own understanding.
This verse speaks to the dilemma that everyone who chooses to follow God faces, how to trust and how to choose. We all have decisions to make, and yet this Proverb is clearly stating that you should not trust your own thinking or reasoning. The way my mind works, it causes me to ask why should we lean not on our own understanding? What is it about our mind or heart that cannot be trusted? Let’s pull back the layers of this verse, and our hearts, to fully understand this better.
What Is the Purpose of Proverbs 3?
Before we get to the meaning, let’s understand some context around this chapter. Within these first few chapters of Proverbs, a common refrain is mentioned: my son. In fact, this refrain of “my son” or even “my sons” is seen throughout the first nine chapters of Proverbs. It could be possible that Solomon is addressing his own son or sons but what is more likely is that he is addressing the young men of Israel. One commentator Peter Krol said this:
“I propose that Proverbs as a whole is not intended for young children primarily, but rather for young people among Israel’s nobility who are transitioning to adulthood and preparing to become leaders in society.”
What Does "Lean Not On Your Own Understanding" Mean and How Do We Do It?
Here is what Proverbs 3:5 simply means. When it comes to making choices in life you should trust God’s way of thinking and choosing over your own decision-making ability. To give this conversation full context we need to understand the why behind it. Why does it make sense to trust God? Why should we not lean on our own understanding? Here are 5 reasons to show why we should not lean on our own understanding.
1. His ways are perfect. Our ways are flawed.
God’s ways – “As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).
Man’s ways – “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
2. His heart is pure and righteous. Our heart can be deceptive.
God’s heart – “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does” (Psalm 145:17).
Man’s heart – “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
3. His ways do not change. Our hearts can change.
“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).
4. He sees from an eternal perspective. We see from day to day.
God’s vision – “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).
Man’s vision – “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
5. We make plans, but they only come to pass if God wills it.
“We may make our plans, but God has the last word” (Proverbs 16:1, GNT).
“A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], But the Lord directs his steps and establishes them” (Proverbs 16:9, AMP).
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15).
Within these 5 reasons you will see why you can trust God with everything and why it makes sense not to lean on your own understanding. Let’s sum up the 5 reasons.
- His ways are better.
- His motives are pure.
- His decisions are more decisive and final.
- He knows the end from the beginning and sees from an eternal perspective.
- He is the only one that can bring it all to pass.
I think this is good ground to trust God completely with everything and not lean on your own understanding.
Do We Have to Give Up Logic or Reason?
Sometimes what gets confused is that complete faith or trust in God means that you give up logic and reasoning. These can appear to be polar opposites, but nothing is further from the truth.
While it is true that faith is not dictated by what you see, you can still have faith and believe God in spite of what you do see. There may be moments in your life where what you see and what you believe appear to be in contradiction to each other. However in those moments you can still trust God to do what he has said in spite of the situation. It’s important to realize that God never expected you to leave your mind at the door when you believed in him. In fact, in loving him he says that one of the ways we should love him is with all of our mind.
“He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’” (Luke 10:27).
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Does Proverbs 3:5 Teach That We Should Blindly Trust God?
I want to address the idea for a moment of blind trust. In reality we don’t really trust God blindly. One of the reasons is because God has given us a track record in his word. We have historical evidence we can rely upon from his word. There is evidence from the testimony of others trusting God, and he has proven himself to be faithful.
Chances are you also have personal evidence you have seen in your own life. When you combine these things, you can be confident in trusting God because you have a history of his faithfulness. This history does not have to be your own, which is why you have the word and the testimony of others. You can trust God because he has proven to be trustworthy. Each of these moments of God proving himself to be faithful become the building blocks with which you move to a higher level of trust. Not blindly, but with plenty of evidence.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
Everyday of your life will be filled with decisions. It should be comforting and reassuring that you can depend on God for your decision making. What is also comforting and probably even more important is that God wants you to lean on him. Think of it like this. You can trust in the one who is all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal, who holds all wisdom, or you can depend on your own thinking.
When those are the two options I will gladly put aside my own understanding and trust in the Lord. I pray you would do the same.
A Prayer to Lean Not On Your Own Understanding
Lord, help me trust you. I confess that I don’t always believe that I can. I think I know better than you how my life should go. It feels like you make mistakes. It’s too easy to doubt that you have my best in mind. Sometimes I even feel like you’ve abandoned me. Despite these doubts, somehow still, I always, ultimately trust you.
Help me to see this situation I face in light of the truth that You can be trusted. That what I have been feeling is untrue. Remind me that I can count on you all the time, in every way. Help me to know I can trust you, even when I have a hard time believing it. Help me give my heart more fully over to you. Forgive me for holding parts back from You, or for giving it too easily to other things. I believe that giving you my heart is the very best thing I can do.
Lord, forgive me for leaning on my own understanding. I hold on so hard to the comfortable feeling of control. My grip on my plans, my work, and my family is far too tight. I’m white-knuckling life and leaving no space for Your guidance. I assume my ways are better than yours. Forgive me for keeping my eyes on myself. You see the wider picture, the connectedness of events, and the purpose in all aspects of my life.
Lord, show me how to lean on You and Your ways. Help me release my grip and defer to You. Teach me to pause and pray. Though I feel fully defeated in this situation, I am going to lean into You. I’m going to stop trying to understand and start trying to follow you. I want to lean toward you rather than away from you.
You’ll make the path before me clear. I can count on that because You are dependable. What I need is for you to help me not to miss it. Help me to see where you’d have me go. Let me hear Your voice, so I’ll handle this as you want me to. Please refocus my mind, heart, eyes, and ears. Show me the next step because I can't see it right now. Amen. (by Rebecca Radicchi)
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.
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