Trust the LORD – Proverbs 3:1-12

Heading image for the book of Proverbs

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge [or submit] him and he will make straight [or direct] your paths.” You might have recognised this really well-known verse in the reading: Proverbs 3:5-6 is a classic memory verse, fridge magnet, household plaque – even children’s chorus. That’s great but can feel a bit remote when life bites:

  • “I’ve been made redundant. My paths are a mess.”
  • “I’ve got cancer. Why has he let this happen?”
  • “My family have cut me off. I trusted God – and now this?”

Proverbs can do this to you. If we read it carelessly we end up with false expectations. So we need to read it well to be blessed. These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube.

Last time we thought about how to be wise and chapter 3 drills that down with more specifics.

Remember God’s teaching (1-4)

The first 12 verses here fall into 5 smaller units, helpfully divided by the NLT with a small space between. Each little unit has a similar pattern: Do “this” and the result will be “that”. Read v1.

The theme of v1-4 is that of remembering God’s teaching. Remember, Proverbs is written from a father to a son, and he’s passing on wise commands – actually commands based on God’s law and godly wisdom.

So read v2. That sounds great! We’ve just found the secret of a long life! Store God’s commands in your heart to live a long life full of peace – full of Shalom – rich, satisfying, contented well-being.

Proverbial patterns, not promises.

Verse 2 reads like a promise, but it’s not. You know it can’t be. The book of Proverbs has many, many statements like this. They are not laws, they’re proverbs. They’re not promises, they’re patterns.

To be like God!

Read v3. Loyalty is “covenant faithfulness” (חֶ֥סֶד) – a binding loyalty, such as God shows his people. Kindness is linked (אֱמֶ֗ת) – faithfulness to someone else that is worked out in kind actions. These are rich Old Testament words very often connected to how God relates to his people. Here in v3 you’re commanded to have them ever before you – so that you’ll related to people with the covenant loyalty and kindness God shows you.

Read v4. Is that a promise? No, it’s a pattern. As God has blessed you, so you are to bless others: With loyalty, kindness, forgiveness, love. So what’s is like being on the receiving end of you? If you met you, would you like you? Would you feel loved? Would you feel heard? Or would you feel ignored (“all this person wants to talk about is themselves”)?

Clearly, the teaching here is more than “do these laws.” Rather, it’s about knowing God’s laws and embodying them.

Trust the LORD (5-6)

Read v5. “All your heart” means more than your emotions: It’s your mind, your will, your affections – the whole “inner you”. Trust the LORD with all your inner you. Easy to say. We trust at different levels. You can trust a hairdresser not to ruin your hair(!). In hospital you trust your life to a surgeon.

“It’s one thing to glory in the might of God, another to venture forth in it.”

Derek Kidner

The question you need to answer from v5 is just to what extent you do trust the LORD? Derek Kidner once said, “It’s one thing to glory in the might of God, another to venture forth in it.” Do you sing his praises here one day, but then actually not trust him on another? Do you play it safe.

Read v6. Literally, 6a is “in all your ways know him” Know him personally. Know his ways, his commands, his loves. As you know him, you’ll “seek his will in all you do”. He will (lit.) “make straight your paths”. That means make your paths upright and true. Not necessarily easy or smooth; but they will be right.

Decisions, decisions

What paths? Any point at which you need to make a decision:

  • A course of treatment. A job. How to spend your money.
  • Where to live. When to leave home.
  • When and how to witness to someone. What to pray for.
  • Any decision point: The right path is the godly one.

As you know God himself better, you trust him more. Trusting him more, you’ll more often know which path is right and have the trust to take it – even if the path costs you. As you do that, you will know him better. If you feel this isn’t where you are, notice that you step into the loop by following the instruction: Trust him.

Fear the LORD (7-8)

Sometimes in life, you put your own experience, knowledge and wisdom above others and do things your own way. Verse 7 says don’t you dare do anything like that with God! Read v7.

God has perfect knowledge and wisdom – you don’t.

He has perfect knowledge and wisdom – you don’t. If you disagree with him, you’re wrong. You need to adjust. More, if he says something is bad, it’s bad. You don’t get to call it good.

If you disagree, it’s because you have a “take it with a pinch of salt” view of God’s wisdom. You don’t hold him in high regard. You don’t fear him, in the sense of holding him in the highest regard, of showing him awe, acknowledging who he is. And that always ends up in compromise and sin.

But if you do “fear the LORD and turn away from evil” what then? Read v8.

Is that a promise? No, it’s a pattern. You’re more likely to work than be lazy. Maybe you’ll drink a little, but you won’t get drunk. You won’t do drugs. As a law-abiding citizen, you’ll drive safely and within speed limits. You’ll enjoy God’s gifts without being indulgent or greedy.

In these ways, a life lived in fear of God is generally, probably, likely to be healthier on average than some who don’t. A pattern, not a promise.

Honour the LORD (9-10)

Verse 9 is easy to understand, but many find it hard in practice. Read v9. When you do your household finances, with all your bills to pay, who starts at “This much for the Lord”? Usually we sort everything else out – including nice things for ourselves – and see how much is left over. If you’re the kind of person who pops a £1 in the collection plate you’re far from the giver God calls us all to be.

Read v10. Is that a promise? No, it’s a pattern. Someone who gives to the LORD is likely to do well in other areas of life. How so? Because such a person is probably satisfied with enough; generous to others; has treasured in heaven, not here.

In Haggai 1 God condemns his people for making nice houses for themselves while they neglect the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem (after the exile). In fact, he caused their crops to fail despite their best efforts. He caused failure to come to those who failed to honour him. It was a covenant measure in Israel.

But in all the things we’ve read so far, you might be having a nagging feeling: “In good conscience, I feel like I have remembered God’s teaching, I have trusted the LORD many times, I do fear him, and I try to honour him – so why is my life not better? Why the pain?”

Be trained by the LORD (11-12)

Verses 11 and 12 give us a really helpful perspective – especially seen through Christian eyes. Read v11-12.

Those verses are quoted in Hebrews 12 – and as we see how they’re applied there we grow in our understanding of Proverbs 3 – so that we don’t read it as glib promises that don’t stand up.

Remember Hebrews is written to Christians thinking of going back to the Jewish system of worship. The letter reminds them that Christ is a better sacrifice, a better high priest, mediator of a better covenant, the very Son of God etc.

But why were they thinking of going back? What had gone wrong? It seems they were under persecution as Christians – life had got hard. But no! They’re encouraged to press on! Hebrews 11 is a “hall of faith” – a hall of fame of Old Testament men and women who had persevered through all sorts of trouble because their eyes and hopes were fixed on a future prize – God himself. And we can do the same as them! Read Hebrews 12:1. And the pinnacle is Christ himself. Read Hebrews 12:2-4.

Suffering within God’s purpose

Christ didn’t have a simple hassle-free life, even though he clearly remembered God’s commands, trusted the LORD, feared the LORD and honoured the LORD (as in Proverbs 3). He suffered greatly, and with great purpose. He suffered wholly within the purpose of God – to save you. Not a random victim; he chose to lay down his life.

As you trust Christ’s sacrificial death in your place, he takes the punishment your sins deserve. You cry out for forgiveness, and God willingly forgives knowing that his justice is also satisfied. And here’s the important bit: If you’re a Christian who sins, God won’t punish you. He can’t. Jesus has been punished for all your sin. When you sin, you confess and go to him – knowing that he is faithful and just to forgive because you’re cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus.

Jesus went through terrible things for you. When you, a Christian, go through terrible things, it is never God punishing you. It can’t be. Hebrews encourages you not to go backwards, but forwards to Jesus. Your troubles are not punishment, nor are they unusual.  It’s not necessarily failure to “trust / fear / honour” the Lord. 

So what is it? Read Hebrews 12:5-6. Our verses from Proverbs 3:11-12. Applied to suffering.

Discipline is Training

If you read “discipline” as “punishment” you’re reading it wrong.

If you read “discipline” as “punishment” you’re reading it wrong. The word “discipline” here is about “training”:

  • A musician requires discipline to learn an instrument.
  • An athlete applies discipline to her body to win.
  • In 2 Timothy 3:16, we’re told Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and [disciplining] in righteousness.

To God’s people, suffering is training – “disciplining” in the sense of learning as a disciple. To what end? Read Hebrews 12:10-11. God has predestined you to be conformed to the likeness of his son – is holy, perfect son. You’re to be holy, because he is holy. He became like us so that we might become like him. To someone who trusts in the Lord with all their heart, the difficulties of life are to be discerned wisely: They aren’t punitive, but they are times where the loving hand of God is training you in right character.

Proverbs for life

So we take in the words of Proverbs 3 more richly than before:

  • In your suffering, remember God’s teaching. Remember how Jesus suffered for you and keep your eyes on him.
  • When the way ahead seems hard, trust in the Lord with all your heart. When the way seems unclear, go his way. Then you will know him better, and do it again next time.
    Straight paths aren’t easy paths, just right ones.
  • In your troubles in life, fear the Lord and turn from evil. Don’t let pain be an excuse for ungodliness. It’s God’s intention that you share his holiness.
  • In your present difficulty, honour the Lord with your money, your time, your everything. Even make your pain work for the kingdom of God – a display of grace for others to see.

In these ways, you will grow in wisdom. You will know your God.

But more, you will know him as your loving Father who only seeks the best for you. And the best is for you to become like Christ.