In this article we are going to be looking at the Wisdom of Proverbs, specifically about the topic of guidance.
Everyone is looking for guidance at the moment. In our area, a number of local venues host occasional ‘psychic nights’ where people try to contact a dead relative or obtain guidance from the spiritual world. Mediums, horoscopes, and palm readings are all making a come back. Even among my own friends and acquaintances, I’ve been surprised to discover how many people seem to buy into these things.
The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about guidance, and we’re going to look at a few verses from Proverbs which help us. But first – if you’re not familiar with Proverbs, the most important thing to remember is what Proverbs calls wisdom:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,Proverbs 1:7
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
If you want to be wise, according to Proverbs, what you need first and foremost is “the fear of the Lord”: fear not in the sense of being scared, but rather an appropriate respect, reverence and awe. In other words, we need to listen to what God says first and foremost – this is God’s world, and we’ll do best when we live in his ways.
So, with that in mind, let’s dive in to what the Wisdom of Proverbs has to say about guidance.
1: Our plans must be right
There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him: …
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil
Do not those who plot evil go astray?Proverbs 6:16, 18; 14:22
But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.
The first thing Proverbs has to say is – are we planning what is right – that is, what is moral and righteous? We must always seek to do what is good rather than what is evil. This may seem so basic as to hardly need saying – yet it’s something we need to hear.
Now, clearly, this is bad news if you’re planning a robbery! But I expect most people are not planning a robbery, or anything like that. So what does this mean for the rest of us?
This goes back to what we saw at the start – how the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. If we want to know what is right and wrong, we need first and foremost to listen to him. We need to listen to what God tells us is right and wrong. What society says is right and wrong is different to what God says is right and wrong. He’s given us the Ten Commandments, he’s given us the rest of the Bible to learn – we can know generally whether a particular course of action will be right or wrong by asking some simple questions.
Questions such as: Is it loving to God and to neighbour? Does it help our neighbour? Does it lead to God being glorified? These kind of questions will help us to determine whether a plan is good and right.
2: Listen to good advice
The plans of the righteous are just,Proverbs 12:5
but the advice of the wicked is deceitful.
The proverb here speaks about bad advice: deceitful. According to Proverbs, the people we choose to listen to is very important. One such case study in the Bible of someone who listened to bad advice is Jeroboam, which you can read about in 1 Kings 12:1-11. Jeroboam was the son of Solomon, and took over from him as king when Solomon died. Jeroboam rejected the advice of the elders who had served his father and instead went for the advice of the young men he’d grown up with. What happened? The kingdom was torn in half.
What’s interesting here is that Jeroboam made the decision of who to listen to – he was culpable. He knew what he was doing, it wasn’t just that he happened to have bad advisers.
Plans fail for lack of counsel,Proverbs 15:22
but with many advisors they succeed.
Here we see the opposite: good advice, which leads to plans succeeding. It’s often (if not always) a bad idea to go into something without taking any advice – God speaks to us through each other. Have you ever seen someone doing something which they’ve been completely unqualified / unskilled for, and wondering why they didn’t take advice at the start where it could have been nipped in the bud? We need people who will be kind enough to tell us the truth, and genuinely help us to make better plans.
1 Peter 4:10-11 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” Speaking – however you interpret that particular passage – can be used by God ‘as one who speaks the very words of God’.
We should be careful who we listen to – do we choose people who think and speak carefully, who listen to God’s word, who seek to speak according to him? Or do we choose people who won’t ever contradict us and who will just affirm us in whatever plan we wanted to do anyway?
While you’re here, do check out the Teaching Programme – there’s lots of Christian content you might benefit from!
3: God alone grants our plans success
There is no wisdom, no insight, no planProverbs 21:30
that can succeed against the Lord.
I find this verse a great comfort: at the end of the day, whatever we may plan, it ain’t gonna happen unless it’s God’s plan as well. There’s an old joke: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
But that is good news for us:
To humans belong the plans of the heart,
but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.
Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans.
In their hearts humans plan their course,Proverbs 16:1, 3, 9
but the Lord establishes their steps.
The point of Proverbs, and indeed the whole Bible, is that the wise life is a life lived with God. We aren’t supposed to be autonomous units who simply exist independently of God: we depend on him moment by moment, our lives should be lives which are lived with him and for him. But – here’s the thing: when we do that, he can establish our plans. He is the one who can make our plans succeed, because he is God. In fact, more than that, he wants our plans to succeed – when we make our plans his plans!
With God there is no random chance: with him, things have a way of working out. Without him, things will never work out.
Let’s finish by looking at the wisdom book of the New Testament – the book of James (many people think James is a New Testament counterpart to Proverbs). This is James 4:13-17
Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
What lessons can we learn about guidance as we wrap this up?
Firstly, we must submit ourselves to God. At the end of the day, our plans are meaningless without God – we do not have the power to carry them out, unless God gives it to us. Something as simple as a punctured tyre can completely change our plans – completely out of our control, and yet not out of God’s control!
Secondly, remember God has the power to change plans. I never wanted to go into church ministry, I never wanted to be ordained – but God had other plans for me. We need to be open to listening to the signs, seeing what God might be saying to us. If God wants us to be going down another road, he will make it clear.
Finally, God has the power to use our plans. A few years ago (in 2017) we celebrated 500 years since the start of the Reformation. One of the amazing things about that whole period of time was how God worked through people like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer and a whole host of other reformers. God has the power to do amazing things through us, if we are willing and attentive to listen to him.
As the Lord’s Prayer says: your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. May it be so for us.
If you enjoyed this blog, you might also like my sermon about Guidance, also from Proverbs, available here on YouTube.