Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to God, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5,6
The first sentence is straightforward: when we lean on our understanding we play God. We assert we know better than God. Finite beings are doomed to fail at playing the infinite.
The second part needs some teasing out.
What does it mean to submit all your ways to God? Submit can be translated to acknowledge, which means to know. What should we know? God and his ways, precepts and laws. But submit goes further. Not only are we to know his ways, but we are to consider whether our ways align with his. And if they don’t, we yield to his ways.
In the way you work, talk, drive, hangout with friends, write, run, spend time with the family, prepare a meal, contemplate a new house. It’s not just what you do or say, but also what you think. All your ways are to be under the supervision and influence of God.
Why the instruction? An action that is not under the submission and influence of God can lead to painful or difficult circumstances. It is not the way God intended. It is not God’s best.
Lying, for example, on a test. If caught, the consequences could derail any future goal. That would be a crooked path. Even if not caught, the conscience, irritated by the Holy Spirit, would get inflamed, not able to rest until confession is made. You tell the teacher you cheated, and if allowed, subject to try again, but you take whatever punishment is meted out. That is a crooked path, though painful, straightened.
Perhaps lying does not bother your conscience. It then grows into two lies. And these sprout other offenses against God and man, encouraged by your belief that you are getting one over on the man. That somehow you are superior to all men. Even God, if you dare.
This leads to further abuses that continue to complicate your path as you increase in boldness in your deviant ways. A life that is not submitted to God is one of ruin, full of betrayal. Crooked.
He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants. Psalm 107:33,34
But when all ways are submitted to God, as intended, the consequence is one of calm conscience. Say you resisted the urge to rage at a driver who cut you off. This will keep you from entering into some kind of altercation with the driver, which, depending upon the outcome, could complicate your day. More importantly, you would remain at peace with God.
However, a straight path does not mean you will not encounter trials. Jesus is our example here. He submitted all his ways to God. Yet he endured abuse and ridicule. His closest companion betrayed him, the others abandoned him in his hour of need. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified. How could his path appear the least bit straight?
The truth of the matter is that God removed all the obstacles to Jesus’ appointed goal: the cross. That truth remains the same for us as well. Our appointed goal is to worship God and love him forever. Our appointed goal is to know Christ crucified. God will make that path straight. Trials be damned.
We see this in Psalm 23: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” We have abundance in the face of adversity when we submit all our ways to God.
But now we run into a problem here. Do you see it?
Christ, the God man, was sinless. In all his ways. He was sinless under the enormous strain of the desert temptations after 40 days fasting. He was sinless in the face of the anticipation of enduring the entire weight of the wrath of an infinite God for all mankind’s sins–past, present and future. He submitted all his ways in perfect obedience to God to the point of death, even death on a cross.
We, on the other hand, crack at the slightest discomfort. Or we are fooled by one of Satan’s lies. Or we simply love a sin, a secret sin. The truth of the matter is we will never be able to submit all our ways to God–at least not in the flesh.
What are we to do? We are in good company, mind you.
Before the great and holy God, Isaiah said, ““Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips.” Paul said, “O wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?”
It is Christ’s perfectly obedient life and work on the cross that saves us. His death pays the penalty for all our sins. In exchange, his life becomes our life. His righteousness our righteousness so that before God we are sinless. God sees Christ in us, and in Christ all our our ways are submitted to God.
Thus, God makes our paths straight and leads us to our appointed goal: life everlasting. This does not mean we can abuse this condition to sin freely. In response to the rhetorical question, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Paul says, “We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”
In other words, we continue to submit our ways to God, but knowing that when we fail God does not raise an eyebrow nor does he flinch. Why? Instead of our sin he sees Christ. And the only response to that sort of forgiveness is submission.