When I was a child, my mother tasked me with memorizing what is likely the most famous sentence in the book of Proverbs. From the New International Version Bible translation, I learned
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.
I have always taken these verses to mean that I should (obviously) trust God’s direction more than my own desires. I also assumed that the second half of the sentence meant something like
When I talk about what’s happened in my past, if I give God “the glory” or the credit for whatever good has happened to me, then He’ll make my life go easier.
However, my assumed meaning was not correct.
The Hebrew word for acknowledge is much deeper than a mere ‘hat tip’ in God’s direction. The word means to know well, and the context of its usage can indicate a deep, intimate level of knowing. Perhaps a better rendering of Solomon’s advice to his son is found in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.
Notice now how the directions that Solomon is giving his son are all in the present tense? Trust…do not rely…think about…with God’s portion being future: He will guide. So the main point of Solomon’s fatherly advice is clear – we are to include God in all areas of our day-to-day lives. By thinking about Him in all our ways, we naturally bring Him in on what we are thinking, feeling, and doing. By considering Him and trusting Him, we will surely have guidance for us to find the right paths.
One other observation to consider – in all your ways really does mean in ALL your ways.
Not just on the days when the sun is shining.
Not just the times when life is steady and good.
Not only when our relationships are ok.
I don’t think it was an accident that a few lines later, as he was fleshing out what he said in verses 5 and 6, that Solomon talked about how his son should react to punishment:
Do not despise the Lord’s instruction, my son,
and do not loathe His discipline;
for the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
just as a father, the son he delights in.
God disciplines out of love, the same as our parents did for us. If they didn’t care at all, we would not have been reprimanded, corrected, or punished. Even when we’re being disciplined or punished by God – and there are times we need it – the promise of verses 5 and 6 still hold true.
[If we] Trust in the Lord with all our heart,
and do not rely on our own understanding;
[If we] think about Him in ALL our ways,
[then] He will guide us on the right paths.