I'm sure that everybody here has heard about Blondin before, but it is such a good illustration of trust that it bears repeating again.
Blondin was a 19th century acrobat, famous for his tightrope act 160 feet above Niagra Falls on a rope which was over a thousand feet long.
In 1860 a Royal party from Britain saw Blondin cross the tightrope on stilts, and again blindfolded. After that he stopped halfway and cooked and ate an omelette. Next he wheeled a wheelbarrow from one side to the other, and returned with a sack of potatoes in it.
Then Blondin approached the Royal party. He asked the Duke of Newcastle, "do you believe I could take a man across the tightrope in this wheelbarrow?"
"Yes, I do" , said the Duke.
"Hop in, then" , replied Blondin.
Well, the Duke declined Blondin's challenge. He might have believed Blondin could do it, but he wasn't about to trust him with his life.
When it comes to God, this kind of belief is not much good to him. God is looking for followers who will trust him with their lives.
That's the theme of the verses I want to look at with you today, Proverbs 3 verses 5 and 6. I'm just going to go through the verses clause by clause, so there are four headings: trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him; and he will make your paths straight. It would be helpful if you have a Bible to hand to have these verses open to refer to as I speak.
Simply believing in God is no good to us. We are to have faith, and trust is the practical outworking of faith.
Faith in God sometimes seems like a nebulous, airy-fairy concept, doesn't it? It's hard to pin down exactly what it means; it's hard to know whether we really have "faith".
We can understand trust, though, can't we? After all we find ourselves having to trust people everyday. We trust whoever built our house that it's not going to fall in on our heads. We trust the bank with our money. We trust whoever designed our video recorder that when we set the timer it will record the programme we wanted. Next week I shall be getting on a plane to Japan and investing a tremendous amount of trust in the pilot, the maintenance crews and the air-traffic control people. We exercise trust all the time, quite unthinkingly. We know what it means.
Trust is the practical outworking of faith: it is when we trust God that we show that our faith in Him is real.
The call here is not to a piecemeal trust in God. No, it's to a complete trust in God: trusting him with our whole lives. We are not to pick and choose—OK, Lord, I will trust you with my marriage, but not with my career—, we are to trust him with our whole hearts and put our whole lives in his hands.
The Christian, who has put his or her faith in God has to get into that wheelbarrow when God challenges us. We are to trust in the Lord with all our hearts.
How can we make sure that we are trusting in God with all our hearts? The following verses show us.
We think we know better than God, but the reality is that, like Adam and Eve in the beginning, our wisdom and understanding is weak, crooked and unreliable. Like a worm-riddled walking-stick, if we lean on it we're going to fall over.
Nonetheless, we persist in trying to do things our own way, believing somehow that our ways are better than God's ways. That we know better than him.
In terms of our Blondin illustration trusting in our own understanding is like getting half-way accross the tightrope and then shouting "Oi! Blondin! You don't want to do it like that" . Then we leap out of the wheelbarrow and starting trying to push it ourselves. A hundred and sixty feet above Niagra Falls on a tightrope this is unlikely to be a good idea, is it.
No, it's madness. But that's what we try to do all the time. We believe we know better how to run our lives than God; we try to lean on our own understanding.
We would do well let Solomon who wrote these very words we're looking at be an example to us of the dangers of leaning on our own understanding. He started off brilliantly as king, didn't he, by asking God for wisdom and then building the temple for him. At first Solomon pleased God and was obedient to him, but then he began to think he knew better than God. He acquired an army for himself and imported horses from Egypt; he accumulated vast amounts of silver and gold and built himself a palace even more opulent than the temple he'd just built. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He began to opress the people.
All of this was in direct contravention of the laws for kings laid down in Deuteronomy 17 of which Solomon was well aware. He simply thought he knew better than God. He leant on his own understanding and the eventual result was the split in the kingdom of Isreal and effectively the end of God's people as a whole nation.
In the same way, if we persist in leaning on our own understanding rather than trusting in God with all our hearts then our lives will also end in ruin.
What is the alternative to leaning on our own understanding? It is to lean instead on God's truth. God's ways are not our ways, so we need to learn them from somewhere. Just look back a little to Proverbs chapter 2 verse 6 where it says,the Lord gives wisdom and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.ref This is solid, reliable understanding that we can lean on, that we can build our lives upon. It is the understanding written for us in this book, the Bible: words from God's mouth.
Lean not on your own understanding. Lean instead on the wisdom of God's word. As we daily read and understand his word we will be learning to think His thoughts after Him. And that will help us as we seek to trust in him with all our hearts.
The emphasis in this clause is not so much on acknowledging God, which is pretty much taken for granted, but on theall your ways part. In all your ways acknowledge him.
Running right through the lives of many, many people in churches today is a dividing wall between what they see as their Christian lives and what they see as their non-Christian lives. This is the so-called sacred–secular divide.
The sacred–secular divide is the assumption that God cares about what I do on Sunday morning in church but not on Monday morning in the office. It is the assumption that God cares about whom I give my money to but not how I earn that money in the first place. It is the assumption that God cares which church I go to but not which house I live in. It is the assumption that God cares about my Bible reading but not about my television viewing. It is the assumption that God cares about my sin but not about my toothache.
We all make these kind of assumptions all of the time: our lives are divided up into the secular and the sacred and the Berlin wall keeps them apart. Often this suits us, doesn't it? There are parts of our lives we just don't want God interfering in, aren't there?
But God passionately wants to break down that dividing wall and to be God of our whole lives: for us to trust in him with all our hearts. And in this verse he tells us how to do that: in all your ways acknowledge himref.
The call is to take every part of our lives, every minute of every day and to acknowledge that all of it is part of our journey with God. Not one part of the Christian's life should be secular: God is there with us in the office; he is there with us as we drive our cars; he is there with us as we pick the kids up from school. He is watching television with us; he is with us down the pub. All of this is sacred, not just the church, homegroup and quiet-time bits. Let's acknowledge him in all our ways.
We can get a indication of how well we are acknowledging God in all our ways by looking at what we pray for, what we are thankful for and what we worry about.
Once when I was moaning to a wise friend about my work he asked a simple question: "do you pray for your work?" I didn't—ooops—sacred–secular divide! I started praying for it, and guess what: it was transformed.
Thanking God is another way of acknowledging him in all our ways. So we make a point as a family of saying grace before all our meals, not just as a ritual, and not just thinking him for our food, but for all our blessings that day whatever they might be. It helps us to acknowledge God in all our ways.
Another indicator: are the things you worry about different from those you pray about? They often are for me: it's more clear evidence of the sacred–secular divide. I worry about money, but I rarely pray about it. How strange is that? The apostle Paul was keen to break down this sacred–secular divide in his readers when he wrote these words in Philippians chapter 4 which you will know well,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.ref
In all your ways acknowledge him.
The danger of persisting in the sacred–secular divide is that we will be half in the wheelbarrow, half out. Frankly that's not going to be very comfortable, is it? And there is always the possibility that we might fall out completely.
On the face of it this looks like an encouraging promise, and it is. It's a promise that with God's help as we trust in him we will eventually reach the destination that he has in mind for us. An eternity of joy in his presence.
But it is also a little bit of a warning. It reminds us that our path in life is God's path, and his way may not be the way we would have chosen for ourselves. As Jesus said,
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.ref
God's path is not the path we would naturally take, and God's idea of a straight path is not necessarily our idea of a straight path.
So the final element of learning to trust in God with all our hearts is being prepared to go wherever he is taking us. It may not seem like the path of least resistance at the time, but looking back we will always see that it was the straight path after all.
Sometimes there will seem to be insurmountable obstacles in our way, and we will begin to doubt that this is the straight path that God is leading us on.
But this is all part of learning to trust in the Lord with all our hearts. Removing the obstacles is his job! He will make your paths straight.
We often read about these things in the biographies of great Christians of times past, don't we? They try to follow where they believe God is leading but huge obstacles loom up in their way. Humanly speaking the situation is impossible, but this is God's way of teaching us to trust him with all our hearts. We need to trust his promise to clear the path before us.
I in no way resemble the Christians you read about in books, but I did have my own small experience of learning to trust in God to clear the path about a year ago.
I believed that God was leading me to study theology and Bible teaching more deeply, but to do this I needed to go part-time at work. Humanly speaking this seemed impossible. I work for a Japanese company where 60 hour weeks are more normal than 22 hour weeks, and I needed to get the Japanese management to approve this. Frankly, I thought it was a non-starter.
Nonetheless I was pretty sure God was calling me to this, so I applied for the course anyway, and tried to trust in God for the rest, bringing it to him in prayer. Well, to cut a long story short, through what I believe was God's work, I not only got approval to work part-time, but did so with the full support of the management. God made the path straight.
And he will make your paths straight too if you trust in him with all your heart. So be prepared to go where God is taking you to, and be prepared to trust in him to make the path straight. When we get into the wheelbarrow, we go where God wants to take us.
I just want to recap as we finish.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart: in other words, get into the wheelbarrow!
Lean not on your own understanding: in other words, don't get out and try to push yourself.
In all your ways acknowledge him: in other words make sure you are fully in, and not about to fall out.
He will make your paths straight: in other words, be prepared to go where God wants to take you. And trust him to make the way clear.
One of my two-and-a-half year old daughter's favourite activities is jumping into the wheelbarrow and getting me to give her a spin around the garden in it. It's quite touching really the complete trust she has in her old Dad. Let's be a bit more like that with God: trust in the Lord with all your heart. He is completely trustworthy.
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