As I’ve mentioned before, I’m mystified by things both mechanical and technological. I don’t know why or how my car starts when I insert key into the ignition and give it a turn, but I’m glad it does. And how my computer works, handling words and numbers and images and videos and sounds seamlessly exceeds my comprehension. But I use it just the same, thankful for all the tech wizards who’ve toiled so diligently to make computers work with increasing speed and efficiency.
When was the last time you dedicated time to absorbing your car’s owner’s manual, or the operator’s manual that came with your computer? If you’re a mechanic or techie, you might have. Most of us, however, are content with just the basics. If things get more complicated, like the computer suddenly and inexplicably freezing up, or the car failing to run properly, we turn to the experts.
The funny thing is, we typically don’t do that with everyday life. We think we’re the experts, assuming we know exactly how to achieve our goals – whether it’s success, or wealth, or health, or happiness – without consulting anyone else. Then, when our “best laid plans go astray,” to borrow a phrase from poet Robert Burns, we scream bloody murder. “Why me?! Why does life always pick on me?”
If the passage of years has taught me anything, it’s that I really need to read the manual – and consult with the Expert – if I’m to expect life to turn out anywhere near what I hope it can be.
That seemed to be the message of a chapter I read in Proverbs recently. The first two verses declare, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity” (Proverbs 3:1-2). Who doesn’t wish for prolonged years and prosperity? But then there’s the catch – remembering what God has taught, and keeping His commands. There’s got to be another way, right?
Next I came across the passage I adopted as my life verses more than 35 years ago: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Of course, typically our preference is not to acknowledge God and His presence in our lives. We hope He’s not paying attention, so we can be free to do whatever we want to do without interference.
The following verses, however, offer a stern rebuke for that kind of thinking: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones” (Proverbs 3:7-8). There’s the promise again – health and well-being – with the caveat not to rely on our own wisdom but rather, approach life in reverent fear and obedience to God. This again flies against our tendency to insist, “It’s my life, and I’ll live as I want to!” Doesn’t society teach this?
Finally, speaking of wisdom – God’s eternal, unchanging wisdom – another passage tells us, “long life is in her right hand; in her right hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed” (Proverbs 3:16-18).
Returning to the mechanical metaphor, long ago I learned if I periodically get the oil changed in my car, check the tire pressure, and follow the owner’s manual’s guidelines for routine maintenance, it will last much longer and I won’t have to start each trip worrying about whether it’s going to conk out along the highway. I don’t have to understand how a combustion engine works, especially with its electronic complexities. I just need to consult the manual, do what it says for properly maintaining my car, and reasonably expect to keep a well-running car for a long time.
Similarly, even though it seems mankind for thousands of years has always “(done) what seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6), that’s not the way to go if we’re desiring to live long and prosperous lives. We need to resolve, even if reluctantly at first, to follow the Manual – the Word of God, which we commonly call the Bible – and the guidelines given to us by our Creator, the Master Designer. If we do that, we might discover things aren’t as complicated as we think they are.