Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
These two verses always seemed straight forward to me. If we seek God’s direction in all our decisions, he will make our paths straight. This seemed simple enough and I moved on to the next verse.
I never thought about what it meant to have “straight paths” because I assumed I knew. In my mind, straight paths meant walking on God’s enchanted path and having the ability to make hard moral choices. You know, staying on the “straight and narrow.” If I was faced with a decision whether something was right or wrong, I reached into my bag of answers and pulled one out. Life was simple that way. I didn’t realize that I was developing a moral condition known as “hardening of the categories.” I stopped asking what God had to say about moral decisions and started taking the easier approach of leaning on my own understanding.
A few years ago, I was working with a group of people to understand God’s direction in a moral decision we were addressing. Instead of reaching into my bag of answers, I decided to start fresh and trust in the Lord by digging into the Bible and reading what other people had to say. In the end, I found my “canned” answer was mostly right. But, I was left with an uneasy feeling that the world wasn’t as simple as my bag of answers made it.
My guess is that you have a bag of answers like mine. When you look inside, you may find categories, like: Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Protestant, Catholic, New Earth, Old Earth, Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, etc. Some of the categories are very personal and reflect our upbringing and life experiences. Some come from our political or religious affiliations.
I came to see that I made many decisions according to my categories. And now, It seemed God was calling me to leave behind my categories and adopt his. That was the source of my uneasiness. I had developed what I believed were good, solid Christian categories and I didn’t want to go back and re-examine them. I risked finding out that my categories were built on the different ideologies I described above and not on what God has said in his word. I didn’t know what people would think if I changed my long-held opinions about things.
The light began to go on as I looked again at Jesus’ teaching. He said again and again, “You all have the wrong categories. God doesn’t look at the world the way you look at it. You won’t get into the kingdom of God relying on your own understanding.” When asked to choose between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and he chose neither. When asked to choose between the Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles, and he chose all three. When asked to choose between God and civil responsibilities, like paying taxes, he chose both. The people he chose as his closest friends were rejected by mainstream society. People in positions of power found that Jesus made them uncomfortable.
If we are going to follow Jesus, trust God and lean not on our own understanding, we too will reject our culture’s categories when they don’t line up with God’s categories. We will be unable to choose between the options our culture is offering. They will be uncomfortable when we reject their options and give God’s answer instead. Here’s a way to try this as you go through your week. As you are reading Facebook today, listening to the news, or talking to your friends, ask yourself what choices you are being asked to make. In choosing, are you relying on God’s word or on your own understanding? Endure the discomfort and see how God will change your heart.
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