The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from Yahweh.
The heart of man plans his way,
but Yahweh establishes his steps.
(Proverbs 16:1, 9, English Standard Version)
It may be that one of the greatest illusions humans are under is that we often believe we ultimately control our lives and circumstances. The poet William Ernest Henley boldly declared this strongly held belief, on behalf of mankind, in his poem, Invictus, first published in 1888. Here’s a portion:
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Ah, there it is.
I am master!
I am captain!
I rise this morning with a plan. With my modern day crystal ball (my iCal calendar) and tea leaves (my Todoist task app) I have peered into the future and declared what shall be, hour by hour, moment by moment. And isn’t it stunning how quickly my hubris is revealed when the slightest change to those plans occurs. The shock, the horror, the frustration! How dare this happen! I had a plan!
Yes, I did. And if you are as compulsive about planning as I am, you have one for the day as well.
But Solomon is providing wisdom for how to live a good, non-frustrated life. You will have your plans for today, and for tomorrow, and maybe even the day after that (you should see my iCal!). But even the next word that is going to fall off of your tongue has been pre-ordained by Yahweh before time began (Ephesians 1:1-14). Your heart will design the path you will follow, but even the next single, smallest step has been chosen and planted by Yahweh before you were even born (Ephesians 2:10)
The new testament version of Proverbs gently but firmly reminds us,
Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If Yahweh wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”
Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.
(James 4:13-16, English Standard Version)
In other words—
It is hard, but I need to confess to you this morning how much I long for control of my circumstances and my life. I so often believe that I have the wisdom and knowledge required to be the master of my fate, and the captain of my soul. I think I know what the best plan is for me, and often, for those around me. But all such thinking is arrogance. I am decidedly not the master, nor the captain.
So thank you for your word today, which shatters the illusion that I can see and control the future. Only you can do that. You are GOD, and I am not. So today I humbly submit to and ask for the leading of your Holy Spirit. Give me the words to say, and show me the steps to take. I will trust you, my master. I will follow you, O captain, my captain.
Yes, and very amen, in Jesus’ name.
P.S. If you’d like to study some of the wisdom literature further, I highly recommend the Wisdom Series from The Bible Project, and their resources on the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs Thirty-One Day Reading Plan
August 14: Proverbs ch. 1
Aug. 15: ch. 2
Aug. 16: ch. 3
Aug. 17: ch. 4
Aug. 18: ch. 5
Aug. 19: Grace Day
Aug. 20: ch. 6
Aug. 21: ch. 7
Aug. 22: ch. 8
Aug. 23: ch. 9
Aug. 24: ch. 10
Aug. 25: ch. 11
Aug. 26: Grace Day
Aug. 27: ch. 12
Aug. 28: ch. 13
Aug. 29: ch. 14
Aug. 30: ch. 15
Aug. 31: ch. 16
Sept. 1: ch. 17
Sept. 2: Grace Day
Sept. 3: ch. 18
Sept. 4: ch. 19
Sept. 5: ch. 20
Sept. 6: ch. 21
Sept. 7: ch. 22
Sept. 8: ch. 23
Sept. 9: Grace Day
Sept. 10: ch. 24
Sept. 11: ch. 25
Sept. 12: ch. 26
Sept. 13: ch. 27
Sept. 14: ch. 28
Sept. 15: ch. 29
Sept. 16: Grace Day
Sept. 17: ch. 30
Sept. 18: ch. 31
Day Twenty-Six: A Morning Conversation With King Solomon
A conversation that happened this morning as I came upon a visitor in our fireplace room….
Day Nineteen: God Chose Her, Not You
The doctrine of God’s rule and reign in and over all things comes crashing into the human conception of the self-made man. We are tempted to think we have so much to do with our happinesses. But the wisdom found from James speaks a wakefulness into the pondering of our circumstances—the good gifts we have come not from our own hands, but by the grace and providence of our heavenly Father. And the wisdom of Solomon makes clear—one of man’s greatest gifts is something only God can give, an understanding wife.
Day Seventeen: The Great Gain Of Godly Contentment
We live in a world where the temptation is constant to believe the amount of our wealth and possessions directly translates to our joy and happiness. The Bible, once again, confronts our culture and holds out another possibility. Namely, “better” does not imply “more,” “bigger,” or “expensive.” It suggests that the reason you still haven’t found what you are looking for is because you’ve been searching in all the wrong places. Wisdom opens our eyes and hearts to deeper wells of contentment.
Day Fifteen: I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me
I always feel like somebody's watching me. And I have no privacy. Woh, I always feel like somebody's watching me. Tell me is it just a dream? So sang Rockwell in the dawning of my high school years back in 1984. All the cool kids were singing it at the time, and its the tune that sprang to mind when I read this similar sentiment this morning: Yahweh is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3, New Living Translation)
Day Fourteen: Death By Living
For those of us desirous to live a good life, we’ve known since the very beginning of this book that it begins with a healthy awe, reverence, and trembling before the God of the universe whose name is Yahweh (Proverbs 1:7). And here we are again reminded that this humble posture before the Holy One is a fountain overflowing with life.
Day Thirteen: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
One of the key assumptions we’ve been working with as we make our way through the wisdom literature is that God has hardwired wisdom into the way creation (and the creatures within it…us) operates. It was there at the beginning. It’s the inner logic of everything, and the secret code for how it works. (see Proverbs 8:22-31)
Day Eleven: A Pig Is Still A Pig
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion. (Proverbs 11:22, English Standard Version) “Well…I never!” she replied to the King. Reading this proverb, it seems highly probable to me, given the stories of King Solomon and all the women in his life (1 Kings 11:3), that this was probably a proverb born from experience. He comes along a beautiful woman, of high social standing, of influence and power; but in his interactions with her, he begins to see her true self shining through all her external adornments. She has no discretion—she is a woman of loose and dissolute conversation, her mind and conscience are defiled. There’s a beauty for the eye, but the corruption of her character slowly transforms how Solomon sees her, and no amount of jewelry will cover that up.
Day Twenty-Nine: Please—Quietly Hold Your Tongue
Anger. noun. “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) As I entered day twenty-nine of Proverbs this morning, and came to 29:11, it struck me that this book has quite a bit to say about anger, strife, wrath, quarreling, fights, and rage. It is a theme that Solomon keeps coming back to, probably because he knows that it is a theme woven through humanity and history. Sometimes the best way to see a theme is to pull on that string so all the wisdom he has offered comes together for our observation. The accumulation helps us feel the weight of it.