How Wise Prayers Shape Our Lives

Shout out to every woman in seminary right now. It’s been a week for us and our sisters serving on the front lines, regardless of ministry role or theological conviction. I’m not going to rehash the “women in ministry” debates, especially the ones that seem like misogyny cloaked in religious posturing, but let me say two things:

First, I am thankful for classmates like these as well as professors, pastors, families, and friends who cheer us on to become better equipped so that we can better equip God’s people.

Second, I believe there is room for thoughtfully considered theological differences as long as we are willing to wrestle with ALL the relevant passages of Scripture and humbly seek the Lord for wisdom. Wrestling each other in arrogant, disrespectful ways is not God-honoring.

That brings me to this week’s passage from Proverbs 3. Last post we studied a wise, loving explanation for why God’s wisdom is of prime importance. This week, we home in on 3:5-8 with how to apply wisdom, including how we apply it as we walk in our callings.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding.
6 Acknowledge him in all your ways,
and he will make your paths straight.
7 Do not be wise in your own estimation;
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
8 This will bring healing to your body,
and refreshment to your inner self.

I love that the “do this” phrases outnumber the “do not do this” phrases and that the pay-off is spelled out: God works to make good paths for us so we can live whole-hearted, vibrant lives. However, I am also thankful God highlights those “do nots.” Yes, we are to trust, acknowledge, reverence (go here for more on the “fear of the Lord”), and turn away from evil.

But we won’t be able to take those actions if we don’t watch out for two missteps: depending solely on our own knowledge and abilities or arrogantly applauding ourselves for our own so-called wisdom.

Wise people take refuge in a trustworthy God and do not entrust themselves wholly to their own smarts and skills. Does that mean we never have confidence in our plans or decision-making ability? Are we meant to become paralyzed with indecision? No—after all, Proverbs 3 is an appeal from an older, wiser mentor to submit to godly instruction so we can make sound decisions.

However, humans cannot always tell the difference between the two kinds of “wisdom” operating in the world: God’s wisdom, by which he “laid the foundation of the earth…[and] established the heavens” (Prov 3:19), and a counterfeit, self-serving “wisdom” that starts with arrogance and selfishness and ends in death and destruction. Furthermore, because of sin, we’re prone to run after the counterfeit even when we can tell right from wrong. So instead of being brash know-it-alls, wise people seek God and take steps of faith to acknowledge Him in all their ways.

The Hebrew word translated “acknowledge” means far more than a head-nod toward God when things go well but rather, implies knowing Him in a relational way. It’s not just knowing about God but getting to know Him as a close friend. With humility we invite God to be Immanuel, God with us, in the midst of our thoughts, dreams, plans, and desires, allowing Him to shape the path that leads to joy and fulfillment.

So how do we apply the “do this” directives and avoid the “don’t do this” missteps? I suggest getting out a journal and spending time praying over the answers to these three questions based on the Proverbs passage:

1. What am I relying on for stability? We can ask the Holy Spirit to show us whether it’s God and His words to us or something else like our own efforts and agendas. Recently, God brought to mind some relationships in which I had returned to an old tendency to placate people, and thus control their opinions of me. I was “relying on my own understanding” and causing unnecessary stress rather than trusting God and applying truth He’s taught me in this area: “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (see Galatians 1:10). I needed a reminder that God cares about my relationships and I can entrust them to Him, but my job is to focus on how He’s called me to follow Him.

2. Who am I allowing to weigh in on my plans? Whose voice has prominence: God’s, mine, or someone else’s? When we determine that we will acknowledge God in ALL our ways, we are choosing to listen to His words first and filter all else through those words. I journaled in prayer over this during a chaotic week where my plans seemed frustrated at every turn. The answer was that I was putting more weight on my own plan for getting things done than on seeking Him first. He reminded me I cannot even control how many hairs will fall from my head, but He knows me well and can guide me (see Matthew 10:29-30). That was a sweet and humbling moment.

3. What course corrections will lead to peace? Forward progress cannot happen without reverent repentance from actions and attitudes contrary to God’s wisdom. As a student, I’d be a fool to ignore feedback from my professors that will keep me from failing the class. In the same way, when we embrace “turning away from evil” as a practical, daily exercise of course correction rather than something we do only when we’ve hit rock bottom, we spare ourselves a lot of heartache. Also, by praying honestly for God to show us where we need to change (and then doing it), we’re better able to weather hard times and opposition that may come. Because we are not at war with God’s plans, our souls remain at rest in a place of healing and refreshment.

This month I’m memorizing this portion of Proverbs 3 and would love for you to join me. Check out this video from my Facebook page for tips on understanding the book of Proverbs and adding wisdom to your memory bank.

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