There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. (Proverbs 14:12Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct[a] your paths.)
Aside from all the various temptations and fiery darts aimed at our different weaknesses, one of the most prevalent conflicts we face as believers is that between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world. It’s a powerful battle that rages constantly, because we’ve been blessed with a strong ability for reason, logic, problem-solving, and effective thought. Every faculty we possess is a gift from God, a reflection of His nature in us. If surrendered to Him – if taken captive to the obedience of Christ – our minds can work with our spirits rather than against them. If not, we find ourselves torn between the often seemingly crazy logic that defines the things of God – His wisdom – and the excessive logic of the world which stuffs us into prescribed parameters. As believers, one of the most critical needs we face is for clear direction from God – which path to walk, how, and when, and even, sometimes, who with.
Clear direction from God does not necessarily put us on the straightest path.
The Hebrew word for ‘right’ in todays verse is ‘yashar,’ which can also be translated as a straight line, and this is the reason why we so often misunderstand the clear direction from God. If we render the verse more literally, the full meaning becomes clear: “there is a way straight before a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” In other words, the way that seems the most obvious, the most logical, the most sensible, the way that is right there in our face, quite often is the way that leads to spiritual death. The ways of the world are not the ways of God. He will use foolish things to confound the wise. The moment we come to a place where we fall back on our own intuitive and experiential logic, that is the moment to put the handbrake on and look back to God.
The biggest problem is that we take only one literal meaning of ‘straight’ and apply that to our spiritual walk. In our minds, ‘straight’ essentially means ‘in a straight line,’ which implies no curves, rough patches, detours, or difficulties. Psalms is filled with verses which speak of God making our paths straight, and each of these is trued. In a spiritual context, however, ‘straight’ refers not to ease of passage but to the fact that God’s road is the only road that lies before us which will get us to the right destination. Clear direction from God may put us in rough places, but it will always put us in His will.
Our assumption is often, when we encounter difficulties, that we’ve taken the wrong path. This may well be the case. All too often, we apply the world’s wisdom rather than God’s and make the ‘most obvious’ choice. Clear direction from God is seldom loud or demanding. It manifests in quiet peace and certainty. We may question the logic of it in intellectual terms, we may evidence emotional reluctance, but our spirits know that they know that they know that His path is the right path.
We fall so easily into wanting things comfortable and smooth. Yet nowhere in the Bible does it say that we will have things easy. Jesus told us clearly that the way was narrow and hard, the entrance difficult, that we would need to die to live and to lay down in order to receive. He told us, too, that we will face persecution, the rejection of loved ones, and suffering in His name. Just because we encounter these along the way doesn’t mean that we haven’t received clear direction from God. On the contrary, many of these may be absolute proof that we have – self, the world and the devil will seldom bother with us if we’re trundling aimlessly along the road to destruction.
But how do we know? It’s easy to talk of ‘inner peace’ and the ‘conviction of faith,’ but how does this work in practical terms when we’re faced with so many options, and logic, reason, and experience all shout loudly for attention? Proverbs 3:5-6 provides us with a beautifully simple way to receive clear direction from God: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. There are four parts to this.
First, we must trust with all our hearts. We must believe absolutely that if we seek it, we will receive clear direction from God. Over and over in the Bible, He promises us this, and we receive only through faith. Trust is of the heart and spirit. It is the thing that stands against the noise of the world and simply says, ‘God said.’ It is the thing that gives thanks, knowing that God’s Word cannot be shaken. It is the thing which steps out boldly, holding on to truths that live in eternity rather than in the daily dudgeon of our difficulties. Trust is absolute. We are either for Christ or against Him, and if we lack faith, all we need to do is ask and receive.
Second, we must leave our own understanding out of the equation. This is often the greatest difficulty in receiving clear direction from God. I know this from personal experience. All too often, I have to battle the voice of reason and clear it out of the way before I hear what God is saying. When the way we’re given seems illogical – out of the conventional wisdom of the world – this voice raises itself up again to dispute it. If we don’t understand it, we assume we’ve got it wrong. If it doesn’t make sense on an intellectual level, we automatically want to reject it in favour of something that does. Perhaps the most difficult thing is dealing with our own understanding. The only way – one which comes by only by doing it over and over again – is to take those thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ.
Third, we are to acknowledge God in all our ways. This isn’t simply a matter of declaring our faith or declaring that He is God. It means living in surrender to the absolute sovereign will of God. It means accepting that God knows best, that His ways are perfect, that His purposes are all that matters. It means laying down self and living in obedience, even when nothing seems to makes sense. It means accepting that only He has the right to choose our path, and that self is utterly irrelevant. Acknowledging God’s sovereignty in everything is often the greatest difficulty, the strongest blockage to hearing clear direction from God. When self is still rampant, God’s still, small voice cannot be heard. Self needs to be trained to step back and acknowledge that God is sovereign in every aspect of our lives.
The fourth part is God’s part. As we rely on Him to help us and empower us to live the first three, so we will find we begin to hear His voice more clearly. The way may not always make sense, but we will know that we have heard clear direction from God. The greatest blessing of God’s direction is that it is perfect and complete. This doesn’t mean that we will always know at the outset every single detail of the journey ahead of us. I believe that God, in his mercy, seldom releases a complete picture – because His things are so much greater than ours, we would most likely never find the courage to move if He showed us all.
Perfect and complete direction means being in absolute control over something in order to ensure that it happens as it should. Receiving clear direction from God is an ongoing thing. In every aspect of the journey, He is there, directing things for our good and His sovereign purposes. He knows what we need and directs the supply. He knows the destination, and directs us towards it. He knows the difficulties we will face and He directs the battle. Clear direction from God means direction in every single detail along the way. If we continue to trust Him, if we continue to set aside our own understanding, and if we continue to acknowledge Him in everything, He will direct our path. This is the assurance and the promise, for we know that He will never leave us nor forsake us.
Thank You, gracious Lord, for Your divine direction in our lives. Strengthen our faith Lord so that we learn to trust You totally and completely. Help us to surrender our own understanding to Your perfect wisdom, and to live in obedience to Your sovereign power and purposes.