“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answers of the tongue is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:1). Here the author offers us God’s perspective as a basis for our own point of view. That is, of course, a key insight for faith as we enter a new year. Let me carry it forward just a bit and include a personal note.
If we fail to see God’s frame of reference we can develop spiritual myopia. We have a faulty sense of control: that we can shape events around us. We drive cars, fix meals, use the Internet, set schedules, build things, and so on. The result is that we gain a sense of relative autonomy—a belief that we’re largely in charge of our lives.
Is this the life of faith? No, not if it leaves God as a reference of last resort. He wants our whole heart and refuses to be treated like a life-raft canister on a ship.
In the Proverbs text we find him to be the ultimate and unseen director of all our circumstances—even what we say! Later in the same chapter the thought is restated lest we miss it or dismiss it: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (verse 33). God insists that he, alone, is in charge.
My ambition here is not to try to explain how two motivating initiatives—call it dual moral agencies if you like—can be present in a single activity. Instead I invite you to engage by faith what is implicit here: that God loves us. The underlying “what is” is that God rules all things; but he also holds us responsible for our heart-based motives in all we do. The answer to “why this” is that God loves us and wants what is best for us. Not “best” as measured by our myopic sense of building our own security and stability, but in the overall purposes for good that God promises to all who love him.
Two classic Bible texts must be added here. In the Genesis narrative Joseph reassured his nervous brothers—who had once discarded him as if he were trash but now faced him as their ruler—that their actions had been providentially directed: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . .” (Genesis 50:20). Paul, too, in Romans 8:28 famously offered the premise of God’s providential care for all believers: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for all those who are called according to his purpose.”
Let me offer my personal note here. I was given the Proverbs 16 text to preach this past weekend but I had to beg off. Why? Because my beloved stepfather, Russ, who has been caring for my seriously ill mother had a fracture of his femur on Tuesday. Then, while in surgery, his heart stopped and he received CPR for more than 30 minutes before his heart restarted. We were shattered as a surgeon came out and reported the tragic news during the CPR phase. Then to the amazement of all he recovered in dramatic terms. As the same surgeon who gave us the first report told us a day later, “This isn’t what they taught us to expect in medical school—it was the work of some much higher authority!” I, of course, know that authority as one who loves us.
My point in sharing this personal story is not to focus on Russ’s recovery but to comment on how all this made me ponder the Proverbs 16:1 text.
My parents’ lives only have a certain number of days—as we all do—and God in his goodness will bring those of us who love him to his eternal place of care and communion in due course. Maybe even in a week or so. So in all this I haven’t prayed as much for the physical rescue of Russ and my mother as for spiritual benefits to come to our family and to others through the events. Yet now we’ve been given the gift of extended life for a time. I’m humbled and awed by God’s care.
What, then, is God’s perspective in all this? He wants me and us to trust him—that he cares for us even more than we care for ourselves. Everything is under control, even as we might scramble between, home, hospital, and (in my case) with preaching or not preaching about God’s providence. “I love you,” he tells us, and “I invite your response.”
Let me end with a reading assignment. Turn in your Bible to James 4:13-17 and hear another voice about the proper perspective for our plans this year. And may you then have a rich and godly new year—no matter what comes along!