Another Way to Understand Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
in all your ways know him,
and he will make your paths straight (Prov. 3:5-6).

I love these verses. They are simple and straightforward. Just think for a moment about the core truths we find in just a few words:

We see some truth about us. That we, in our finitude, have a very limited capacity in understanding. We don’t know the future; we barely know even a portion of the past. We cannot see the divine tapestry being woven that intertwines us all together, and therefore we cannot begin to assume the pathway the Lord has laid out before us.

And we see some truth about God. That just as we have our limits, God Himself is limitless. Inasmuch as we should not rely on our own understanding, we can put our faith in Him who understands, knows, and directs all. 

And we see some truth about our relationship with God. That, as the writer of Hebrews will later tell us, without faith, it is impossible to please God. Faith is what our relationship is built on – faith in God’s goodness proven for us through the cross of Jesus Christ. And because His advocacy is not in doubt, we can place our whole faith in Him, holding nothing back.

We see all these things, and it suddenly makes simple work of life. In these days of seeming complexity, we can come back to this: Trust in God. Trust in His word and definition of reality. Follow Him, and He will take care of us. That’s it.

And we can breathe again. The weight of pressure of the multitude of daily decisions, opinions, and potential forks in the road before us suddenly lightens. Trust God. Follow Him. The path will be straight.

That’s is a good and right way to read and understand Proverbs 3:5-6. But at the same time, what if there is another layer to how we might understand it? Not “another layer” in the sense that there is some kind of coded message here, but some additional meaning that comes from dwelling deeply on these words? 

Specifically, the line about not relying on our own understanding. We tend, once again, to think about that in terms of our limitations. That because we have a limited ability to understand, we should put our trust in the One who has no limits on His understanding. That is certainly true, as the prophet Isaiah tells us:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not my ways.”
This is the Lord’s declaration.
“For as heaven is higher than earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

But as we think more about it, surely we come to the conclusion that there are additional reasons we should not trust in our own understanding. It’s not just that we have a limited ability to understand; it’s that we have a tainted ability to understand. It’s not just that there are some things beyond our grasp; it’s that even when we think we grasp something we are likely to understand it wrongly.

In other words, we should not trust in our own understanding because our understanding cannot be trusted. That’s because we ourselves cannot be trusted.

And here we find just how counter cultural these two verses really are, for if we can’t trust our own hearts, then the entire culture of “follow your own heart” and “do what makes you happy” is a lie. Surely if we are honest with ourselves we know it to be true.

How many times have our feelings told us to do something only to find the end in ruins?

How many times have we trusted our gut only to find ourselves in the midst of anger or bitterness or sin?

How many times have we pursued our own happiness instead of dying to ourselves to find that we have hurt those around us?

No, our hearts cannot be trusted. And consequently, we need something better than ourselves to trust in. Which, of course, leads us back to the proverb. The culture around us would say,

“Trust in yourself with all your heart, for you have all the understanding you need. In all your ways, be true to yourself, and your path will always be straight.”

But Jesus loves us enough to tell us the truth:

Take up your cross and follow me. If you try and save your life, you will lose it. But if you lose your life, you will find it in me.

Subscribe to

Never miss a new post. Subscribe to receive these posts in your inbox and to receive information about new discipleship resources.

You have successfully subscribed. Click here to download your bonus.


Comments are closed.