By: Andy Woodall
When our kids were little, one of them, the one that loved dogs, viewed all of life through the lens of dogs… So much so that she watched a commercial on TV for a store and replaced the actual words with her own, and wholeheartedly believed that the jingle went “Big, Big, Puppies at Bernards” (Yes, as in Saint Bernards). This child knew every breed of dog by the time she was six years old. Long story short, when we told her the words (which she did not believe us and was 100% sure of being right, so much so she was ready to lay down her life), turned up the commercial (and got her to not sing her version loudly and proudly), and she listened to the actual words (“Save Big Money at Menards”), it shattered her little mental utopian puppy commercial world. Actually, it took a couple of days for her mind to grapple with and process the whole situation. Humorously, she decided she liked her version of the marketing jingle better and continued to stay committed to her version. I just have to smile. And thankfully, her life was not required of her (obviously). Yes, our family has had many laughs over the years about this story!
Pretty crazy, huh? Our child’s thinking was so into dogs that her understanding of the words and intent of a commercial jingle was changed to fit what worked according to her desires. A jingle that promoted saving money at a certain store was misunderstood and repurposed with totally different words and meanings to fit her liking, her thoughts, her mental capacity, her agenda. Get this! She even made it logically make sense in her world. She justified it being “Big, Big, Puppies at Bernards” because, according to her thinking, Saint Bernards are “big”…so they would definitely have “big” “big” puppies. In a six-year-old’s knowledge of the world, dogs, puppies, puppy breeds,etc. - It all made sense. Let’s face it, it was pretty clever, and cute; but wrong.
So, what’s the point? In life, especially life struggles, we many times misunderstand and wrongly interpret life-based on our capacity, our desires, and current focus. We repurpose our own understanding of the facts into our own “jingle”(script/self-talk) that we market and sell to ourselves. We buy! It becomes our new reality, truth to us. We justify it. We defend it…sometimes to the death. Even worse, when we are confronted with the truth and our understanding is proven to be flawed…We often like our own version better and stick with our own understanding. It may be clever. It’s usually not pretty. And, it’s wrong. Unlike our child’s fun-hearted version of a commercial, “our understandings” of life and situations are harmful, costly, and stand in opposition to trusting the LORD.
We need to ask and answer this very important question: “What’s the relationship between my understanding of something and me trusting God?”
Below are a few things we need to remember about mankind and our own understanding: It’s flawed on every level!
Even in man’s perfect state in the garden (Genesis 1-2) prior to the fall (Genesis 3) Adam and Eve had limits…To their knowledge, capacity to understand, presence, wisdom. God had and has no limits.
When the fall occurred, man became sinners by nature (Jer 17:9; Matt 7:11; Rom 7:18-21; Eph 2:1-3) and by choice (1 Ki 8:46; Prov 20:9; Ecc 7:20; Isa 53:6; Rom 3:10-12; 1 John 1:10).
Man was separated from God by sin and his ability to think (comprehend, remember, process facts, analyze information, develop strategies) broke on every level.
Man was/is born foolish and has to be trained and disciplined to become wise (Proverbs)
Man’s thinking, without God, is futile and leads to destruction (Ecclesiastes & Romans 1).
Those who have not been redeemed are bent toward “old man” (without Christ and enemies of the cross) thinking, attitudes and desires and allegiances (Philippians 3:17-21; Colossians 3:1-11; Ephesians 4:31)
All of creation is cursed and groaning due to the fall (Romans 8).
Keeping all of this in mind, the second half of Proverbs 3:5 says, “Lean not on your own understanding” stands in contrast with the first part, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart.” You are not to put your weight on or give priority to your own understanding over God’s. That sounds like a no brainer, yet that is part of the point. It’s all too easy for us to think and reason apart from God’s word and His Holy Spirit and the work of Christ in our lives. That is our default unless we pay close attention and heed the warning we hear repeated in the first nine chapters of Proverbs.
The son’s hearing of the father’s warning and instruction found in the first nine chapters to heed his words and follow his instruction should be heard by the New Testament reader as if the LORD himself is speaking to us as His very own child. This person is The LORD’s child (John 1:12) through receiving Christ…His death, burial, and resurrection.
It’s as if Solomon, talking to his son, says, “Son, the greatest enemy to you trusting God is you…your own comprehension, thinking, analysis, processing, reasoning, decision making…Your understanding of what, how, why, when, and where are going to be limited and flawed, and will compete with trusting God. Not every time in every way, but at the core there will be a struggle. Choose to know the LORD, fear the LORD, and trust the LORD.”
So what are examples of people’s own understanding? Here are a few large categories that demonstrate the problem:
When not all the facts are known
When pride and concern for self-rule - resulting in extreme self-pity and harm to self or self-righteousness that brings intentional harm to others
When emotion and perceptions are made to be fact and control the narrative
The central issue this Proverb is addressing is “Do you have a personal relationship with and a growing surrendered heart posture to the LORD - the only one who can guide you when your capacity to comprehend and make sense of it all falls short? The Proverb would argue that even when you think you understand, if it does not involve fearing and trusting God, you are pride-fully lacking and deceiving yourself. You lean on your own understanding and you will fall at some point.
The relationship between my understanding and trusting God is complex. The two are in conflict by nature, but a believer is transformed through the shed blood of Jesus Christ and experiences new life in Christ - Transformed thinking, conduct, desires, words…everything changes from the inside out! We are given new life with all the “equipment” but between now and heaven we have to learn, and choose to keep learning, how to live in the newness of life every day, pursuing our relationship with Jesus. Trusting God is a choice. The relationship between the two is - The more my own understanding is submitted to trusting the LORD, the more I joyfully submit to His will and ways. The more I do this, the more I trust Him…even when things don’t make sense! The more this happens the more a believer grows in wisdom and understanding.
Special reminder to all who have been following Jesus for a long time - God continues this refining fire at new levels in our whole being until we meet Him face to face. Our understanding, though we are becoming more like Christ we hope, still has limits, flaws, drops and tablespoons, buckets full at times, of selfish pursuits, people pleasing, and all the things we’d like to think are no longer struggles. God gives grace to the humble (It does not say “God gives grace to the aging follower of Jesus”).
An applicational exercise - the “T Chart” (Very sophisticated, I know)
Best case scenario, do this in a journal or a spiral-bound notebook because it will be more of an ongoing journey rather than a one-time thing, however you can do this on a napkin in a coffee shop or on a simple piece of paper wherever. Save a couple lines worth of space at the very top of the page. Make a capital “T” on the whole page. On the top (of the T) left side write “My own understanding”. On the top (of the T) right side write “Trust in the LORD”. Follow the instructions below to complete the exercise.
Here are a few questions for you to work through (write down in a journal or notebook or digital file) on your own and share it with a trusted godly person in your life:
What is a relationship or situation in your life that: Consumes your thinking? You continue to bump up against? You struggle to figure it out and feel stuck? You have a hard time talking to God about or you are always talking to God about?
Pray!!! Pray for God to help you be honest with yourself. Pray He will guide you in this process. Pray He will help you not get discouraged, overwhelmed, frustrated…Pray He will give you endurance and motivation to do this exercise.
Write out your own understanding of this situation (Write on the left side of your page under the phrase “My own understanding” your thoughts about and surrounding the situation or relationship. Your feelings and emotions (Yes, guys you too.) Your self-talk - the things you repeat to yourself in your head or say out loud (when no one is around). Your responses to the situation or person. Your habits. The impact of your habits surrounding this situation or relationship. It’s important that you are detailed and brutally honest in what you write here.
Write out the scripture you search and find to address each (yes, it’s work) of your thoughts, emotions, habits, reactions, motives, words, self-talk phrases. What does God’s word say about? It can be a very convicting, but necessary, experience to see what the LORD has to say about your and my understanding. This is where the potential for biblical change happens.
Highlight or circle the places where your understanding and God’s word and ways do not match up. It is at these places that you have a decision to make based on Proverbs 3:5. You can either trust in the LORD with all your heart by submitting your words, ways, emotions, will, everything to Him, or you can continue to live according to your own understanding. But, it won’t be without a price (Galatians 6:7–8).
Pray and make the conscious decision to trust God and ask for His help to meditate, study, apply living according to the truths you wrote on the right side of your paper instead of the left. The left side becomes what you put off and get rid. The items written on the right side become the “put on” items you are replacing the items on the left side with. This happens starting at the heart (inner man, control center) level and works outward into every area of your life.
LORD, please help us to trust you with all our hearts and not lean on our own understanding.