Why Shouldn’t We Lean on Our Own Understanding?

The Proverbs of Solomon contains some of the most practical wisdom in all of Scripture. And yet, while many of Solomon’s spiritual aphorisms include easy-to-read, easy-to-memorize pieces of advice and instruction, applying the Proverbs of Solomon can take a lifetime.

Spiritual disciplines, like the ones championed in the Proverbs, take time, energy, and effort to develop. We are always a work in progress.

As it is written, “We all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 3:18).

Solomon understood, however, the secret to spiritual growth as Paul and the apostles of Jesus Christ would later discover.

His own triumphs and failures had provided inspiration, which he was quick to share, but by his own admission, Solomon’s wisdom was insufficient compared to the wisdom of God, who he had learned to rely on.

After all, Solomon tried things his way enough in life to realize the futility of any endeavor removed from God’s guidance or wisdom.

Trust in the Lord with All Your Heart

In fact, in one of his most iconic proverbs, Solomon writes, “trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

There’s obviously a lot to unpack in Solomon’s famous verse, but how can believers actually apply the principles of Proverbs 3:5 to their own lives and learn to let go and trust in the wisdom of God?

In the NIV translation, Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

It’s one thing to acknowledge God. Many people admit there is a God and even believe that God is good. It’s another thing to submit to God’s authority, obey His commands, and make God the Lord of one’s life.

Note that Solomon uses the word “all” twice to emphasize complete devotion and surrender. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” he writes, and “in all your ways submit/acknowledge Him.”

Trust, submission, and surrender involve putting one’s complete confidence in the Lord, not oneself, not one’s finances, experience, health, authority, or wisdom, and certainly not other leaders or other gods.

Trust means turning to God as the most reliable, capable, and authentic authority and source of personal strength, doing things God’s way instead of our own and placing God on the throne as king and ruler of our life. Even as king over all of Israel, David wrote,

Ours, Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and on the earth; Yours is the dominion, Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone(1 Chronicles 29:11-12).

He also wrote,

Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it (Psalms 37:5).

Those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, Lord, have not abandoned those who seek You (Psalms 9:10).

Do not trust in noblemen, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation (Psalms 146:3).

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but remains forever (Psalms 125:1).

It seems David passed some of this wisdom onto his son.

Now it’s one thing to say that we have faith in God. It’s another to actually believe in His power and promises enough that we’re willing to step forward and act upon them.

Lean Not on Your Own Understanding

It’s also no coincidence that those who trust in the Lord are often the ones who are empowered to be more confident and courageous, not easily worried, discouraged, distracted, or overwhelmed by the struggles of life.

Why? Because their hope, their strength, their peace, and their joy don’t come from themselves but from the Lord, and in the end, they worry about nothing because they know that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). In the words of Paul, they see themselves truly as “conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

The ability to trust in the Lord, however, is also guided by one’s refusal to rely upon earthly wealth, wisdom, and experience, which are incomplete and unreliable compared to the eternal power and wisdom of the God who created the universe.

This is why, throughout Scripture, writers like Jeremiah, David, Saul, and Solomon used rocks, mountains, shields, and towers as metaphors for God’s unshakeable, unlimited wisdom and strength.

As Isaiah writes, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:3-4).

Furthermore, the Message translation says to “trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Note that God didn’t promise to make our paths smooth or painless. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 18:33); and “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Jeremiah also writes, “Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own it is not for them to direct their steps” (Jeremiah 10:33).

This theme is repeated in Proverbs, where Solomon confesses, “the mind of a person plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

In All Your Ways Submit to Him and He Will Make Your Paths Straight

In all things, Solomon learned to put his trust in God, not in himself, not in others, and not in his experience, wisdom, strength, authority, or wealth, which could easily be shaken or taken away (Job 1:21).

For in everything, Solomon leaned on the rock of his salvation, and that of his father. In doing so, he was never disappointed.

As Solomon concluded in life, “Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe” (Proverbs 28:26). Therefore, “do not be wise in your own eyes fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones” (Proverbs 3:7-8).

It may take a lifetime to develop this kind of trust, but as Solomon discovered, it’s well worth the effort.

For further reading:

How Can I Trust the Lord with All My Heart?

What Does it Mean to Trust in Jesus?

What Is the Wisdom of Solomon and Is it in the Bible?

What Is the Peace That Surpasses All Understanding?

What Is the Spiritual Gift of Wisdom?

What Did Jesus Mean That We Will Have Trouble in This World?

What If My Plans Don’t Match God’s?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Wavebreakmedia


Joel Ryan is an LA-based children’s author, artist, professor, and speaker who is passionate about helping young writers unleash their creativity and discover the wonders of their Creator through storytelling and art. In his blog, Perspectives off the Page, he discusses all things story and the creative process.

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