Trust in the LORD with all your heart – Proverbs 3:5-6

Some sermons have three points. Some have four points. Some occasionally even have five points. I’ve heard some sermons which have had no point at all! Usually from me you get a three point sermon. Sometimes you get a ten point list. On day soon you’ll get what’s called in the trade a “starburst” sermon, which takes you rushing up to heaven and then gently glides back down to earth again. This morning was probably a hammer sermon, where you get the same point repeated again and again and again like hammering home a nail until eventually hopefully it sticks.

The one thing they teach you in sermon classes is that although all sermons should have a structure, that structure should be imperceptible to the hearers. The structure of a sermon is like the skeleton of a body. Every body needs a skeleton but nobody like to see bones sticking out all over the place. But tonight I am going to break all the rules of preaching and tell you the structure of this sermon before I begin. Because tonight without the aid of a safety net I am going to attempt something very difficult I have never attempted before. This is going to be a circular sermon. That is to say, where we end up is going to be exactly where we started. And hopefully by the end you will see why that is very important as we look at tonight’s text.

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.
This are perhaps the most well known verses in the book of Proverbs. If you have ever committed Bible verses to memory it is probably one of the first texts you learned off by heart.
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.
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. 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. Abraham packing up everything and leaving his home land when he was 80 years old, because God told him too. The apostle Peter stepping out of the boat to walk towards Jesus who was walking on the water, because Jesus told him too. Ordinary Christians declaring “Jesus is Lord” in a Roman Empire which only recognized one Lord his name was Caesar.

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:

Commit your way to the Lord – trust in him and he will act! The proof that we are trusting in God to act is that, if He 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?

In fact most of the time we don’t need to rely on God for what we do. We 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 always there to fall back on if things don’t go as well as we planned.

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 trusting God with all our hearts when the only thing we have to boast about is not our wisdom or our strength or our riches, but simply 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.

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 reach different kinds of people, how can we care for 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. In the Alpha Talk about Guidance, Nicky Gumbel gives us five ways God guides, in a double acrostic each beginning with the letters C and S.

1. Commanding Scripture – Objective Standard
Psa 119:105. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

2. Controlling Spirit – Subjective Witness
“My sheep know my voice” God speaks to us as we pray, in an inner voice and in spiritual gifts of prophecy, dreams and visions, words of knowledge and wisdom and discernment.

3. Common Sense
BUT God’s heavenly plan doesn’t always make earthly sense. Charles R. Swindoll

4. Counsel of the Saints
“The wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12: 15) “Plans fail for lack of counsel but with many advisors they succeed” (Proverbs 15: 22) “Make plans by seeking advice” (Proverbs 20: 18)
“Men give advice; God gives guidance.” Leonard Ravenhill (1867–1942)

5. Circumstantial Signs – Divine Providence
In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16: 9)
Sometimes God closes doors (Acts 16: 7) Sometimes God opens doors (1 Cor 16: 9)

There are so many ways that God guides us. So when did you last do something which was totally contrary to what you would have naturally thought to do anyway, because God guided you to do it? For so much of our lives we don’t expect God to guide us. In practice we just lean on our own understanding. When was the last time you did something which would prove me wrong in that? Something which came out of trusting in God and went against human wisdom? God wants to guide us in every step of our lives – but 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, Todays 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.”

We need to ask God to guide us – not just go on doing what seems best in our own eyes!

The words of David to Solomon, who God had chosen to build a Temple to the Lord..
1 Chronicles 28:8 “So now I charge you in the sight of all Israel and of the assembly of the LORD, and in the hearing of our God: Be careful to follow all the commands of the LORD your God, that you may possess this good land and pass it on as an inheritance to your descendants for ever.
9 “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you for ever.

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 publicly by speaking up for him! By letting people know we are Christians and letting people know how important God is in our lives.
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 privately by praying. Prayer is at the heart of our relationship with God. And prayer is the ultimate expression 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.
Praying As individuals
Praying 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 acknowledge God by praying to Him!
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 the world around, people judge the rightness or wrongness of their actions by criteria of 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.
It may appear that some verses of Proverbs teach this very thing. Here in chapter 3:
3 My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart,
2 for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.

16:3 Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.
But other verses and the Bible in general make it clear that it usually not the righteous but rather the wicked who are successful and popular in human terms, and believers have no guarantee of success!
Proverbs 23: 17 Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord.

24:19 Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of the wicked,
20 for the evil man has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.

Great King David makes the same point in Psalm 37
1 Do not fret because of evil menor be envious of those who do wrong;
2 for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

I like the story of the Atheist farmer who often ridiculed people who believed in God and 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.

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. We have seen in our sermons on 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter that the true marks of ministry and faithful Christian witness are not success but suffering.
We chatted about this at a Minister’s meeting a while ago. How do we judge whether as ministers or as churches we are doing the right thing, in the right place? Then I found myself discussing the same thing with a missionary. How do missionaries know they are in the right place, doing what God wants us to be doing? What we were talking about applies to every Christian in every walk of life, in our ordinary day jobs as well as our church activities. It is so important that we don’t go fall into the trap of measuring the rightness of what we are doing by the level of success we seem to be experiencing.
The truth is that even when a minister or a missionary or a church, or any Christian does make all the right choices and does do all the right things, there is no guarantee that “success” however you seeks to define it will follow. Sometimes things do go wrong because we mess up, and sometimes things do succeed when we do the right thing. But we must never assume that when things do not turn out right it is because we have done something wrong. That is “the fallacy of the excluded middle.” 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!

So how do we know that the Lord is making our paths straight? This is where this circular sermon 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 grace. We have done our best to acknowledge God in everything we have said and done. And then all we can do is trust that God has made our paths straight. We just have to have faith that the situation we are in is the place that God has brought us to and wants us to be in. And whether things seem to be going well or badly, we just have to trust that Jesus is Lord of all, and that God is in control of his world and of our lives. We just 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. — Hudson Taylor
How do we know that the Lord has made our paths straight. Through faith! Just faith.
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.

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.

CONCLUSION – let’s use these verses in reflection right now!

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
What specific things do I need to do tomorrow to express the fact that I am trusting in God?
and lean not on your own understanding;
What will I do differently tomorrow if I am relying on God and not on my own understanding?
6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
What will I do tomorrow to inwardly and publicly acknowledge God and His Lordship over my life?
and he will make your paths straight.
In what ways will I expect God to make my paths straight tomorrow?

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