Anton Beetge - 17 May 2020
It Will Be Okay (Proverbs 28:26)
In recent weeks, as I have had opportunity to speak to church members over the phone, at my dental surgery, or via WhatsApp, I have been encouraged to hear the repeated refrain, that though things are tough and the future is uncertain, “We are trusting in God.”
It is in times of trial and difficulty that we are forced to actually exercise real faith. Times of trial can be like putting on a new pair of glasses: It’s not that the world just got clearer and crisper but that you are better able to see it for what it is.
We are no less dependent on God in times of ease and prosperity, but we are so much more aware of having to entrust ourselves to our heavenly Father in times of hardship. We feel our own weakness more keenly. We are more aware of our lack of control. We are more aware of our lostness, our impotence, our lack of certainty regarding the future. There is so much unknown. So many what-if scenarios. What if this continues for another six months? What if the virus mutates? What if my husband gets sick?
No muscle builds itself. No matter how much you desire Batman’s abs, or Superman’s six-pack, you aren’t going to get them without some suffering. Probably a lot of it. If you’re particularly scrawny, you might even be tempted to pray for some gains in a moment of weakness. But the fact remains: Without pumping those irons and suffering, your muscles won’t grow.
We know very well that God works through means. That is, God uses ordinary things, people, and circumstances to accomplish his will. He could have done it another way, of course, but he hasn’t. And the same is true of trusting in God. It is learned. There is no shortcut. There is no anxiety vaccine that will boost your trust immunity. And so we can and should actually be thankful for times of trial, because it is in times like these that we can grow in our ability to trust God.
I think it’s accurate to say that all true believers would love to trust God more completely. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59), we recall the martyr Stephen crying from the ground where he was being stoned. We wish that we could show the same sort of confidence in God. But most of the time we find ourselves identifying more naturally with the father of the young boy: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
So it is my hope that, together, we will be challenged to grow in our ability to trust God as we spend some time fleshing out another proverb.
As we have made our way through the book of Proverbs thus far, we have done so systematically. There has been a flow of thought through each of the proverbs, which has lent itself to being considered as a unit. But after chapter 9, we will be changing gears somewhat in our studies, looking rather at themes that Proverbs addresses. In this study, as you may have already gathered, we are going to be considering what Proverbs says about trusting in God.
Toward that end, let me direct your attention to Proverbs 28:26: “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” I have broken this verse down into three basic components.
A Treacherous Mind
First, notice that whoever trusts in his own mind is said to be a fool.
In recent studies, we have heard much about Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly. We understand quite well that folly leads to destruction. Tommie helpfully showed us recently that folly makes many promises, which all ultimately prove to be empty. Folly cannot deliver on her boasting.
It should therefore be no surprise to us that the wisdom of the world would tell you that, when faced with a trial, you need to make a plan. Believe in yourself and the power of your brain to solve your problems.
Other translations of the English Bible translate the word for “mind” here as “heart.” I think this is a helpful alternative. The fact is, trust is not a matter of stacking one set of facts up against another set of facts and choosing the side with the bigger pile of facts. Trust is far more complex than that. Trust involves both the mind and the heart. But our hearts need to be informed by our minds. Most of the time, we allow our minds to be the slaves of our hearts as we feel the cold sense of panic—the worry and anxiety that tells us we need to do something. We need to fix this mess. We need to escape. But the writer of Proverbs here calls the one who listens to the whisperings of his heart a fool.
Seeing is believing, right? This is actually a kind of arrogance. We presume that all that we can see, whether with our physical senses or with our mind’s eye, must be true. We can see how this whole thing is going to pan out. We are very good at that sort of modelling. We see a lot of at the moment.
The recipe is simple: Take a very limited set of facts, trace a trajectory, and call for all hands to man the panic stations because the sky is falling. For example: My allergy-prone child is going to contract the virus, and then get sick, and then require a ventilator, and then surely die. Or: I’m never going to leave this house or see my grandchildren again! Or: We’re going to lose our jobs, and then our house, and then we’ll be out on the streets! You know these narratives well. You’ve likely built many a model in your own mind.
I am always greatly encouraged, and at the same time rebuked, by the story of Elisha and the army of Syria.
Elisha was able, by the power of God, to inform the king of Israel of the hostile movements of the king of Syria. The Syrian king naturally concluded that there must be a spy in his ranks. He called together his servants and demanded to know who was snitching to the king of Israel. But his servants told him that nobody was being treacherous. The reason for his every move being anticipated was the prophet Elisha. The king decided that, instead of going after the king of Israel, he must first take out the prophet so that he could retain the element of surprise when he attacked the armies of Israel. He sent his army to Dothan
So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city.
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
(2 Kings 6:14–17)
Can you hear the panic in the fool’s voice? He was trusting his own mind and listening to his own heart. The truth is, things we can see and conceive of are not all that there is. For us to trust ourselves completely is foolish and arrogant. Our hearts and minds are not ultimately trustworthy. In fact, the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick, said Jeremiah (17:9). Our hearts are not only ignorant, but they are also treacherous, and the man who trusts in his own mind is a fool.
Worldly wisdom would dictate that what we can see, touch, taste, and hear are the most real things there are. And yet Elisha’s servant could not see the Lord’s army encamped around the city. To him, they were not real. If he could have seen them earlier, it would have seemed irrational, even foolish, to be so desperately anxious.
Now, nowhere are we promised that God will always bring a miraculous delivery to us like that, but the fact is, there is more to life than meets the eye. To ignore this reality is foolish. To ignore the fact that God, the great mover, is working out his plans in this world behind the scenes is foolish.
The Trustworthy Word
Proverbs 28:26 goes on to show us what we should trust: the way of wisdom. “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”
I’m fairly sure that, if we ran a poll on the what wisdom is, I would get at least ten different answers. We’ve just seen that reality consists of more than our five senses can detect. But simply knowing that leaves us no better off than we were before. We need to know what else is real. What else is there that can not only stack the facts in our favour but convince our fluttering hearts to rest easy again? Thankfully, Proverbs also helps us to answer that question.
“The LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (2:6). “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (9:10). “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens” (3:19). So it is the word of the Lord which is said to be wisdom. And we know from John 1 that the word of the Lord is God the Son.
If we want to walk in wisdom, we need to know the word of the Lord. Once again, this knowing is more than a familiarity with the truth, but it is certainly not less than that. We need to be familiar with the inspired word of God. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
Do you really believe that? Do you really believe Scripture is sufficient for all of life and godliness? Sometimes we can wish that God would have written the Scriptures more like a systematic theology: easy to reference. Sometimes we feel like the answers are nowhere to be found. But the Bible is perfect the way it is. The way it is can be translated into hundreds of languages and span across time, cultures, and circumstances. As a result of this incredible breadth of influence, along with the fact that spiritual things are spiritually discerned, understanding the Scriptures will take some sanctified hard work. This work might mean making a reading plan and having the self-discipline to get up early, before other distractions wake up, and read. Don’t allow yourself to see this as optional. It is essential.
Trusting God can and must start here. Unless you are absolutely convinced of the value and sufficiency of Scripture, you will continue to flounder in uncertainty and anxiety. Sufficiency of Scripture is the bedrock of all other confidence. If the Bible cannot be trusted, if the Bible cannot be understood, if the Bible is not completely without error or fault, the foundation of our confidence crumbles. If we need something, some other knowledge, found outside the Scriptures for our life and godliness, we have no confidence.
If you want to be confident in these uncertain days, to experience what it means to trust in God, you must believe 2 Timothy 3:16–17. Believe it enough to do something about it.
But having been convinced of the value of this book—the Bible—you need to grow familiar with it. You need to know its contents. There is a man in our congregation who, when we had this conversation about ten years ago, had read through the Bible over forty times! We need more of this kind of familiarity. We need to know the words of Scripture, such that we are able at a moment’s notice to call the truth to mind. No, we might not be able to recite it all verbatim, but we should know and own the Scriptures. We need to know truths such as the following: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). “In this world you will have tribulation. Take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). “I have been young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread” (Psalm 37:25). “Every word of God proves true” (Proverbs 30:5). “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined, he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28–30). “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). “If God so clothes the grass which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things and your Father knows that you need them. Instead seek his kingdom and all these things will be added to you” (Luke 12:28–31).
Beyond simple head knowledge, we need to pray that God would open the eyes of our hearts to truly see the truth of his word—to see it and know it—both intellectually and emotionally. Since our hearts are so treacherous, we really do need something outside of us—something above and beyond us, to help us to live by wisdom, by faith, and not by sight.
As I said earlier, trust is not simply a stacking of the facts. We need God to move our hearts. Sometimes we can read these promises and receive no comfort whatsoever. We need to pray for grace to see, to know, and to apprehend.
We need to know Scripture—the word, the wisdom of God. But in order for that knowledge to have any relevance, or to gain any traction in our hearts, we need to know—to be intimately connected with—the Word, the Lord Jesus himself.
It Will Be Okay
“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” Jesus also spoke of this deliverance: “All that the Father gives me will come to me and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Have you come to Christ? Do you know him and the power of his resurrection? Have you confessed your sins and experienced forgiveness? This is essential on two counts.
First, the promises given in Scripture of hope and blessing are not for all and sundry, but only for the people of God. If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, then you have no right to claim the promises of God, and they will be of no value to you in life or death.
Second, in order to have confidence in the promises of God, you need to know that God is able to deal with whatever problems the world throws at you. The only way you can have such a confidence is to see how God dealt with the world’s biggest problem—with your biggest problem—namely, sin. Jesus came to earth, and lived a perfect life, and then gave his own life as a sacrifice, which was accepted by the Father. God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, proving that he was victorious. If Jesus could conquer sin and death, there is nothing that life can throw at you that he will not be able to handle with ease. Furthermore, you will understand that it is not the world that throws circumstances at you, but rather your loving heavenly Father who providentially arranges life’s circumstances for your own good!
“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” Trusting God does not mean putting your head in the sand and ignoring reality. Trusting God does not mean that you walk around denying reality with a glib, “It’ll all be okay.” The truth is that, in the coming days, you may lose your job, your business, your house, and your car. You might not be able to send the kids to that school anymore. You might even lose loved ones, or your very own life. By worldly standards, and according to worldly wisdom, it might not be okay.
Trusting God is not about denying reality. Trusting God means you have a strong underlying confidence in God’s control over affairs. It requires a strong underlying confidence that God is able and willing to cause all things to work together for your good and his own glory. And this confidence arises out of a faith in the finished work of Christ, which has reconciled you to your heavenly Father. Trusting God is to know that it will all be okay because God is your Father and he holds you in his hand. He knows what he is doing.
I’ll be honest: I’ve had moments of real despondency over the past month. I am a realist. Often everyone else is gung-ho and I’m sitting there thinking it’s a lost cause because I can see all the problems. You might call me a pessimist. I don’t have a bright hope that things will all go back to the way they were before this crisis. I’ve had to preach this message to myself recently.
But trusting God does not mean denying all that. Trusting God is a confidence that, even if I’m right and the future is bleak, it will not mean desolation for me. Trusting God is knowing that, one way or another, there will be deliverance. Perhaps it will be a miraculous delivery like the one Elisha’s servant experienced. Perhaps, like the widow’s oil, God will keep things going in a way that defies my ability to explain it. I have experienced such deliverance many times myself. Perhaps it will be miraculous, or perhaps it will be a completely different life, or even my own death. Either way, I will be delivered because Jesus is alive. God delivered Christ from the grave. He delivered my soul from sin. He will deliver me from this present darkness. It will all be okay.
We need to be convinced of this, brothers and sisters! We need to believe that God knows better than we do what we need. Sometimes, my children just want to eat cake and watch TV. Well, not sometimes—all the time! Me denying them their wish is not unloving. It’s the very opposite. To them, it may look like they’re getting a hard bargain. But I know that all that cake and TV will not leave them happy and fulfilled. I know that sometimes, veggies, flu shots, and a good old nap is really what they need. We are not trusting God to give us what we think we need. If that’s your idea of trusting God, you are going to be disillusioned and disappointed.
We are trusting that, in spite of what we think, even if it looks like things are crumbling around us, even then we will not trust in our own minds like a fool. Rather, we will rest in God’s love for us. It will all be okay.
After Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days. During this entire time, he ate nothing. After forty days, Matthew tells us, rather nonchalantly, that Jesus was hungry. The devil tempted Jesus to use his divine powers to provide himself with food in a way which would not have been appropriate for one who was fully man and trusting the Father.
Instead of giving in to the temptation, which must have been severe, Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, responded, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Here we see our saviour modelling what trusting God in spite of rather impossible circumstances looks like.
Here we see our Saviour, intensely hungry and in real physical need of sustenance, refusing to disobey God, refusing to give way to sin, anxiety, or panic. Instead, we see him taking truth and applying it concretely.
What did he mean, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”? Ultimately, is it bread that keeps us alive? How was bread created? Was it not by the very words of God?
In the same way, is it really our job, our salary, our healthcare system, or the number of ventilators available that is going to keep us alive? No, just as man does not live by bread alone, so man does not live by rands and cents—or by medication and hospitals—alone! Ultimately, we live in dependence on God himself, down to our very next breath.
In these days of trial, let’s not get too focused on the means—the instruments we are used to seeing God employ. They’re just gifts! Let’s look beyond the means to the God who ultimately provides for our needs and who is able to do so in an infinite number of ways. He is not limited to what we are used to seeing. Let’s take him at his word. Let’s believe his love for us. Let’s trust him. Let’s forsake trusting our own hearts and minds. Let’s forsake foolishness and walk in wisdom, confident of God’s ultimate deliverance. It will be okay!