What is faith? Proverbs 3:5-6

There is an American weekly news magazine called “Time”. For many years there also used to be a Christian magazine called “Eternity”. A famous journalist once became a Christian and changed jobs between the two magazines. She announced to all her friends, “I’m not working for Time any more. I’m working for Eternity.”

In 1 Corinthians 13:13 Paul wrote this. Now these three remain: faith, hope and love.

Other things in this world will pass away, Paul says: prophecy, speaking in tongues, knowledge. Most of the things we do in this life will not last into eternity. But one day when we reach maturity, we will see God face to face and we will know God as God knows us. And on that day when imperfection has disappeared in the perfection of heaven, these things will endure – faith, hope and love. The New Living Translation puts it this way. Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love.

As Christians we should be basing our lives on these things which will last forever – not working for time but working for eternity. So we will take three weeks to consider what that means – starting this week with faith. What does it mean to live by faith? How do we know when we are building our lives on faith?

Proverbs 3 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

These are perhaps the best known verses in the book of Proverbs. You may well have learned them off by heart. And they explain what it means to live by faith.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart

Scripture is not short of examples of what it means to trust in the Lord with all your heart. Think about Noah building a great big boat in the middle of dry land when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, despite all the ridicule of his neighbours, just because God said so. You may have seen pictures this week of the new Noah’s Ark theme park in Kentucky. It has a full size Ark to tell the Bible story of Noah and the Flood. That Ark is BIG!! That’s how much faith Noah had!
Remember the story of Abraham packing up everything and leaving his home land when he was 80 years old, because God told him too. Or think about the apostle Peter stepping out of the boat to walk towards Jesus who was walking on the water, because Jesus told him too. That is real faith! Somebody has said, “Faith is spelled R-I-S-K”. Trusting in the Lord with all our hearts will sometimes mean going out on a limb for God.

Psalm 37:3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will act:

Faith simply means trusting in God. Commit your way to the Lord – trust in him and he will act! We know when we are trusting in God to act is because, if God doesn’t act, we will fall flat on our faces! What have you done in the last week, or last month, or last year, which has depended for success or failure on the intervention of Almighty God? What have you done where the outcome would have been different depending on whether God actually existed or not? What have you done where you will never be able to see the true outcome in this life at all, but only in heaven? Christians are not working for time any more – we are working for eternity.

It takes courage to step out in faith for God. But we should be brave. As the missionary and martyr Jim Elliott put it, “That man is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

The truth is that most of the time we are not actually relying on God for what we do. We don’t need to rely on God. We do rely on our human understanding. We rely on our natural abilities and our skills and all our experience. We rely on our bank accounts which are there for us to fall back on if things don’t go as well as we planned. So we aren’t trusting in God with all our hearts.

Jeremiah 9: 23 This is what the LORD says:
“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”

We are not trusting God when we are relying on our own wisdom or our own strength or our own riches. We are only trusting in God with all of our hearts when the only thing we have to boast about and the only thing we can rely on is that we know God and He knows us! When we are delighting ourselves in the Lord and we receive the desires of our hearts because receiving his blessing and approval is absolutely the only thing in the world that matters to us. When we remember that we are not working for time any more, we are working for eternity.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart –
and lean not on your own understanding;

We can spend lots and lots of time and energy and thinking trying to work out what we should be doing in life – in our own lives and in the life of the church too. In relationships, or careers, or hobbies, or family life, we think about what we want and how we should get it. In church, what are our aims, what should our worship be like, what activities should we be running, how can we care for people, how can we reach different kinds of people? In all these areas of life we need to learn how to let God guide us, and how not to lean on our own understanding.

God guides us in many different ways. We have the Bible to guide us. Psalm 119:105. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

We also have the inner voice of the Holy Spirit saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”

God guides us in many ways. So when did you last do something just because God guided you to do it, even though it was totally contrary to what you would naturally have thought to do? But you did it anyway because God told you to? When was the last time you did something which came out of trusting in God even though it went against human wisdom? In practice, for so much of our lives we don’t expect God to guide us. Most of the time we just lean on our own understanding. God wants to guide us in every step of our lives – often we just don’t ask Him to.

“He does not lead me year by year, Not even day by day
But step by step my path unfolds; My Lord directs my way.
Tomorrows plans I do not know, I only know this minute;
But He will say, “This is the way; By faith now go walk in it.”
And I am glad that it is so, Today’s enough to bear;
And when tomorrow comes, His grace _ shall far exceed its care.
What need to worry then or fret? The God who gave His Son
Holds all my moments in His Hand And gives them one by one.”

If we are living by faith we need to ask God to guide us. We should not just keep on leaning on our own understanding and doing what seems best in our own eyes. Christians are not working for time any more – we are working for eternity.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways acknowledge him

We acknowledge God in public by speaking up for him. Simply by talking about Jesus. By letting people know we are Christians and letting people know how important God is in our lives. By refusing to be ashamed of being Christians. By resisting all the pressure from the world around which wants us to keep quiet about Jesus.
Luke 9:23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
We acknowledge God in public by talking about Jesus. And at the same time,
We acknowledge God privately by praying. Prayer is at the heart of our relationship with God. And prayer is the ultimate expression of our faith and of our dependence on God. If we think we can do things by ourselves, in our own strength, we don’t need to pray. But if we acknowledge that without God we can do nothing, then we will show that acknowledgment and dependence by praying. By praying privately as individuals and by praying together as a church
George Washington wrote about the “due sense of the dependence we ought to place in that all wise and powerful being on whom alone our success depends.”

We were reminded of this in our Bible Study at Draw Near To God last Tuesday. In John 15:4-5 Jesus said this.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

In anything we do our success depends on God alone. Without Jesus we cannot do anything! If we are living by faith we will acknowledge God in everything we do! We are not working for time any more – we are working for eternity.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

How do we know if God is making our paths straight? How will we be sure that God is directing our lives and that we are really doing what He wants us to do?
In today’s world, people judge whether their actions are right or wrong according to their success. If what we are doing is successful, or popular, or goes well, then it must have been the right thing to do. If things are unsuccessful, if things go wrong, then we must have made the wrong choices. The false gospel of health, wealth and prosperity teaches this wrong idea. It gives the impression that as long as we are obeying God we will always be successful. But that is not what the Bible says. The truth is that God does not guarantee success to believers in this life. In the Bible it is not usually righteous people who are successful and popular in human terms. Instead it is often wicked people who are successful in this life.
I like the story of the farmer who was an atheist and often made fun of people who believed in God. He wrote a letter to the local newspaper: “I plowed on Sunday, planted on Sunday, cultivated on Sunday, and hauled in my crops on Sunday; but I never went to church on Sunday. Yet I harvested more bushels per acre than anyone else, even those who are God-fearing and never miss a service.” The editor printed the man’s letter and then added this simple comment: “God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”

As believers we should be looking beyond this world and this life to the world to come and the age to come. We should not be looking for treasures on earth, but for treasures in heaven. We are not working for time – we are working for eternity.

So how do we know that the Lord is making our paths straight? It is very important as Christians that we do not get sucked into wrong ways of looking at life. Because following Christ is not a recipe for success in worldly terms at all. It is instead the pathway to suffering and opposition. We follow the servant King, the suffering servant, whose greatest triumph only came through his ultimate sacrifice. Faithful Christian witness will not usually bring success but usually suffering. This applies to every Christian, whatever we are doing, in our ordinary day jobs as well as in our church activities. We should not fall into the trap of trying to evaluate the rightness of what we are doing by the level of success we seem to be experiencing.
The truth is that even when we make all the right choices and do all the right things, there is no guarantee that “success” however you seek to define it will follow. And we should never assume that when things do not turn out right it is because we have done something wrong. The reality is that things can and do go less than perfectly even when we do everything right, sometimes because of satanic opposition, sometimes because we live in a fallen world, sometimes because the church is made up of fallible human beings, but mostly because we follow the Servant King whose victory and glory came through submission and suffering and sacrifice and powerlessness. For Christians, relying on levels of success as a measure of whether we are doing the right thing or not is inevitably a recipe for discouragement, depression and disaster! The Kingdom of God is the seed growing secretly and unseen underground and the fruit will only be seen in the age to come.

So how can we know that the Lord is making our paths straight? This brings us right back to where we started. By faith. Simply by faith. Only by faith. We have done our best, relying on God’s grace, to trust in God with all our hearts. We have done our best not to rely on our own understanding but to rely on God and on his guidance. We have done our best to acknowledge God in everything we have said and done. Then all we can do is trust that God has made our paths straight. All we can do and all that God expects us to do is to have faith that the situation we are in is the place that God has brought us to and wants us to be in. Whether things seem to be going well or badly, we just have to trust that Jesus is Lord of all, and trust that God is in control of his world and of our lives. We will not know until we get to heaven what the true outcomes of our actions or our words have been. Christians are not working for time any more – we are working for eternity. We just have to trust God. We have to have faith.
The great missionary Hudson Taylor put it this way. “Let us give up our work, our plans, ourselves, our lives, our loved ones, our influence, our all, right into God’s hand; and then, when we have given all to Him, there will be nothing left for us to be troubled about.”
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Here are two of the most familiar and also the most important verses in the book of Proverbs. You may like to learn them off by heart. Maybe you might like to try using them in a particular way in the week ahead. Try using these verses for a couple of minutes every day as a framework for reflection. At the end of each day think back to the events of the day and consider what Proverbs 3:5-6 has to say about your day. Then use the verses to think about what tomorrow holds.

This entry was posted in Faith.

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