“The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.“
— Proverbs 19:23
In every trial, in every decision, in every situation, there is a “right path”, what the Bible calls the “path of the Lord’s commands”. Our ability to walk on that path depends on the attitude of our hearts toward God. Knowing and remembering this truth can be profoundly helpful in navigating the challenges that God, as a loving Father, brings to promote our growth and maturity.
However, when I speak of the “path of the Lord’s commands” I am not simply talking about choosing the right option. Our life path decisions are not based on simple human knowledge like a math problem or an instruction manual. Rather, the ability to see and take the right path depends on the attitude of our hearts toward God. So much so that we would not be unjustified in saying that the “path of the Lord’s commands” is not primarily about the actual decisions you make or paths you take. Instead, the path of the Lord’s commands is first and foremost about cultivating a right attitude of heart toward God.
Remember that the Bible speaks of the “fear of the Lord” as the beginning of wisdom and understanding. A good working definition of the “fear of the Lord” is “believing that God is who He says He is and the world is the way God says that it is”. That entails believing that God is holy and good and that he blesses obedience and chastens disobedience. That faith can be strong or weak. It is rooted in the attitude of our hearts.
Thus, if we would make wise decisions and walk in good paths we must begin with the attitude of our hearts toward God. Our decisions, our responses, our perspectives about any situation — each of these is rooted in the attitude of our hearts toward God in such a way that how we respond in the moment is influenced and guided in large measure by who we are in the attitude of our hearts toward God.
The good news is that God has made provision for us to walk in the paths of His commands. He exhorts and counsels us to devote our lives and hearts to Him; to seek Him; to read His word; to worship Him; to fellowship with other believers; to bring our sins to Him in confession to be cleansed — in each of these things we can be changed in the attitude of our hearts; we can grow in the fear of the Lord.
But I want to share with you something in particular about the devotion of our lives to God that has been very helpful to me and to my family. In my personal devotion time with God, I begin my thinking about the devotion of my life to God in a certain place each day and the rest of my devotional thinking traces out from there. That “place” is that God made me and that I belong to Him. Consider this prayer:
“Father, as much as I am able this day, I devote my heart, mind and life to you. You made me. I belong to you. Everything that I am, everything that I have, everything that I do belongs to you.”
As I pray that prayer, I focus on actively engaging my will. Proverbs calls this “applying your heart”. The prayer is simple words, but they are words that reach deeply into every aspect of who I am and what I do.
As part of this prayer, I often will narrate what in my life belongs to God: my body, my time, my wife, my family, my business, my money, my possessions, my free time, my thoughts about the past, my thoughts about the future, my education, my mind, my emotions, my habits, my friendships, and so on.
I often pause as I go to consider ways that I can disobey God in those various areas by forgetting that they belong to Him. Likewise, I may reflect on how I might be more faithful. These are both fruitful meditations that kindle my imagination toward greater obedience, that train my heart in a right attitude toward God.
Each aspect of my life is a gift from God, a trust, that He has placed with me to be tended, stewarded and cultivated to bear good fruit for His glory. Training my heart and my thinking about each area of life in the “fear of the Lord” cultivates a foundation for dealing wisely with challenges and decisions in each of those areas of life. It opens my eyes to see God’s wise paths; it trains my heart to desire to take them; it helps me to see and walk in the “paths of His commands”.
Note that God’s paths are a theme throughout the Bible. That theme is especially prominent in Psalms and Proverbs. These two books are intensely personal in terms of devotion and training of the heart. Consider just a small sampling of what Psalms and Proverbs says about the “paths” of the Lord:
- Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. (Psalm 25:4)
- Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. (Psalm 119:35)
- You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way. (Psalm 18:36)
- He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3)
- I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding. (Psalm 119:32)
- My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not stumbled. (Psalm 17:5)
- Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. (Proverbs 2:9)
- Thus you will walk in the ways of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous. (Proverbs 2:20)
- ..in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:6)
The list could go on. But the key point I want to make is that while God’s “paths” include obedience to His commands, His paths are most fundamentally about an obedient attitude of heart toward Him. His paths are most fundamentally about our faith. And an attitude of obedience can be trained and cultivated in our hearts in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Then as we encounter life’s decisions and challenges we can remember that “there is a right path”. It’s not about the actual path itself. It is about the attitude of my heart toward God. With this perspective, the actual path is not the focus. Instead, we pray for guidance and trust our decision to the Lord. But we are most focused on an obedient attitude of heart knowing that God looks on the heart and that He blesses obedience there first and foremost. That is what it means in Proverbs when it says, “Trust the Lord with all your heart…and He will make straight your paths.” (Prov. 3:23).
In this way, “the fear of the Lord leads to life” (Prov. 19:23). It leads to the abundant life that Jesus promised when He said, “I came that they might have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10). In this way, God is our refuge and strength, and the stronghold of our life. The goodness of our decisions and the abundance of our lives consist not in this or that decision or obtaining this or that result; we can’t trace out our steps. Instead, the abundance of our lives consists in something that no man can touch or take away from us — an obedient heart which is pleasing to God and which He blesses by making our paths straight.