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Many are familiar with this often-quoted passage from Proverbs: “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. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones” (Proverbs 3:5-8, NIV).
Acknowledging Him in all our ways means keeping Him always in mind and heart, being conscious of His ever-Presence. Such keeping is cultivated through contemplative practices and “praying without ceasing.” In the original language, “straight paths” is not about direction, for our spiritual journey is best described as a labyrinth, a circuitous path that alternately approaches and moves away from the center while ultimately reaching it. Throughout Scripture, “straight” connotes a freedom from journey-stopping obstacles, allowing us to reach our goals that are acknowledged by God.
Not “be[ing] wise in your own eyes, fear[ing] the Lord and shun[ing] evil” does have wonderful psychosomatic powers for the health of the soul directly impacts the body. “Nourishment to your bones” indicates a transcending of the body into the core of the person. We feel this nourishment as a consequence of humble repentance.
But “trust[ing] in the Lord with all your heart” can be a challenging endeavor, which is why it is a prevailing theme throughout Scripture. When it comes to love, trust, commitment, surrender and following, Scripture is clear that “all” of our heart is to be involved, not a portion dedicated to God and prayer, often as a “last resort” and the rest devoted to acting on our own behalf, often fearfully and desperately, without the full acknowledgement of God.
The involvement of all of our heart bestows (not earns) the virtue of “righteousness” which is the “right way.” So “[A righteous man] will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes” (Psalm 112:6b-8, NIV). Foes include the invisible as well as the visible, adversaries of the spirit as well as the body.
How many of us can claim that uninterrupted experience of a steadfast, all-trusting, secure and fearless heart? God speaks through Isaiah, His prophet, in eloquent detail regarding this quest:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust
is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’ Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!
O people of Zion...you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon has he hears he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:15-16, 18-21).
Psalm 147:10-11 echoes Isaiah: "His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the [strength] of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love."
Repentance, trust, rest, quietness, strength and salvation are intimately interwoven. They are depicted as a package, not a series of events. When repentance, trust, rest or quietness is absent, strength and salvation are compromised. What a sad indictment it is that God would observe, “you would have none of it.” What is holding us back? Not acknowledging God in all our ways and relying on our own horses. Even fast, strong horses (personal resources) will not generate in us the spirit of repentance, trust, quietness, strength, fearlessness and assurance of being saved from our foes.
Yet our God incredibly and inexplicably “longs to be gracious...rises to show you compassion.” Our response can be to cry for help with all of our hearts and our eyes will see our teachers and our ears will hear that Voice of Wisdom behind us.
“If clouds are full of water, they pour rain upon the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie. Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things” (Ecclesiastes 11:3-6, NIV). The reference to clouds raining and trees resting where they fall echoes a pervading theme in this poetic wisdom book: Things are the way they are and it isn’t productive to ruminate over what could have been given our limited knowledge or tiny role in the scheme of things. What matters is that we take stock of the situation and move on, which is the point of the next verse. Scattering seed in the wind or harvesting while it’s raining isn’t smart. But constantly delaying the planting or harvesting out of fear the wind will kick up or the clouds will start raining results in being too late to do either. Windows of opportunity are lost when we think better ones will come along.
The last verse quoted above increases the intensity of these points, particularly in the original Hebrew. In John 3:8, Jesus talks of how we don't know “from where the wind blows or where it’s going.” That “wind” and the “wind” in verse 5 in Ecclesiastes are the same word in the original languages: Spirit. The Hebrew better renders that verse as: “As you do not know the path of the spirit, or how the spirit (life, breath) enters the body being formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God...”
The same point is even more forcefully made in the Book of Job: “Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: ‘Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!...’” (Job 38:1-5a, NIV). God goes on like that for the next four chapters. “Lean not on your own understanding” indeed!
While rest and quiet are merged with this trust and humility, idleness is not. In addition to not being wind and cloud watchers, the author of Ecclesiastes advises, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well” (v. 6). When Christ offers, “Come to Me and I shall give you rest” He is not promising 24 hours a day of napping, reading and watching television. His peace “is not as the world gives.” His rest is from burdens of distress, affliction and the human angst that emerges from sin and relying on our own horses for deliverance.
Ecclesiastes again: “Remember him [your Creator] – before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it cam from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (vv. 6-7) Or, “In all your ways acknowledge him...” This requires surrender, “losing your life so that you will find it.” This full-hearted trust is married to faith, and Christ is “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
So many will have “none of it” and so many others will stumble at the full sacrifice of one’s full heart. Here is one way God intervenes for us: “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.’ ...God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:4-6, 10b-11, NIV). Eventually, we learn to trust Him with all our heart.
One of the ways God helps us to learn to trust is through the prophetic call. Prophecies to nations have a counterpart, I believe, to individuals. This is evident but overlooked in the many out-of-context quotes of prophetic scripture on cards, plaques and posters. Here’s a familiar one to many, offered to comfort individuals: “’I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV). But to whom was God talking? That this was addressed to the exiles of Israel in Babylon, during Jeremiah’s ministry that began in 626 B.C., is indisputable by studying the context.
So that does mean that verse does not apply to us as individuals today? God continues speaking: “‘then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity’” (vv. 12-14a). God is addressing the exiled nation of Israel and the captivity of which He speaks is certainly a physical one.
Similar words have been given as promises to individuals and groups throughout Scripture. The principles of deliverance and salvation are the same whether applied to nations or individuals. In contemplation in the spirit, we realize that, while the captivity of the exiles was physical, it was also spiritual, as with individuals...
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps, for our captors asked us for songs,
Our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill,
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
If I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy” (Psalm 137:1-6, NIV).
The passion of this psalm is not about the walled city of Jerusalem,
but rather Zion, the spiritual realm of Yahweh, the Almighty. It is the
mournful lamentation of people feeling disconnected from God, their highest
joy. At times, during the dark night of the soul, it can certainly be our
Another notion many hold is that these prophecies and declarations were made to Israel, a physical nation. Yet we cannot discount how the Scriptures speak of a heavenly Jerusalem and a spiritual Israel. "For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel...it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring...What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: ‘I will call them my people who are not my people; and I will call her my loved one who is not my loved one,’ and, ‘It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God’...For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 9:6b, 8, 23-26, 10:12-13, NIV).
When we make this shift over to the New Testament, many of us forget they are Hebrew Scriptures as well, that Christ was a Jew by lineage. When He declared, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13), He was definitively addressing His one hundred percent Jewish disciples (vv. 1b-2). Christ has not yet died and resurrected and the Holy Spirit had not yet been bestowed. Contextually and historically, because there weren’t any at the time, He was not calling Christians “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” Yet, as Christians do with many of the prophecies to the nation of Israel, we understand Christ to be speaking to us, today. And rightfully so, as it is holy wisdom to transcend history, time and geographical contexts when entering into the realm of the spiritual.
Taking all this in, we must be awe struck by the incredible view God has of us! “Light of the world” isn’t as difficult to understand as “salt of the earth.” Naturally, metaphors must be historically based for the people of the time to understand. If you don’t know much about the ways and care of sheep, for example, you won’t be impressed with all the sheep and shepherd metaphors in Scripture. It helps to know about the importance and nature of salt in Jesus’ time on earth.
When our electrical power fails for a long time, the millions of tons of food in refrigerated storage in our warehouses, supermarkets and homes are doomed to rot. In the arid region of Christ’s ministry two thousand years ago, rubbing salt into meats, fish and vegetables helped preserve them. Salt was also vital as a sanitizer and disinfectant as well as a soil nutrient in the form it was gathered then. Of course, it helped to enhance the flavor of many foods. Today, Jesus might say, “You are the electric power of the earth.”
But how does a very stable substance like salt, sodium chloride, lose its saltiness, as Jesus warned against? Much of the salt of Israel at that time was gathered from the Dead Sea marshes and tidal pools. (The Dead Sea got its name from the sterilizing effect of an extremely high salt content, so it was a great source.) Unlike the pure, crystalline salt with which we are familiar, that salt was a conglomerate of minerals and organic substances. If these impurities became damp or otherwise activated, they would ruin the potency and usefulness of the embedded salt, “no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled” (v. 13b).
Christ’s point is not lost on us 2000 years later...We are a conglomerate of spirit, soul and matter, permeated with impurities, affliction, inclination to sin and disorders, right down to every single strand of DNA in every single one of the nuclei of every single of the billions of cells in our bodies and brains. Ongoing purification and sanctification by the Holy Spirit is vital if we are to live up to Christ’s declaration of what we are.
“Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem!”
“The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love;
He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:14-15a, 17).
Why? What have we done to deserve such divine delight and rejoicing, forgiveness and singing? To merit a title like “the salt of the earth, the light of the world”? Nothing, for just as an hour is utterly inconsequential from the viewpoint of eternity (to say the least), any doing of ours is utterly negligible from the viewpoint of an Infinite Being. Yet “he will quiet [us] with his love.”
I scarcely comprehend this love or this view God has of us. How many of us view one another like that? Yet Christ said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Not an encouragement or suggestion, but a command. I feel utterly helpless in all this. My will, my volition, is too puny and weak for such a task.
So I am heartfully grateful for Christ’s prayer to the Father, but also awestruck at His sublime and sacrificially loving nature: “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one...I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them" (John 17:19-21, 26, NIV).
The Christ sanctifying Himself so we can be the salt of the earth?
So that He and the Father’s love might be in us? I must learn to totally
and utterly depend on and trust in that prayer and Christ’s love. There
is no other way to fulfill God’s view of who we truly are and what we are
becomming in Him.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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