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
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