A fool will believe anything, but a sensible person considers his steps. — Proverbs 14:15
My mother wrote a little book about God’s guidance and answered prayer which she titled Directed Paths. She took that title from Proverbs 3:5-6. I’ve observed over the years, however, that we sometimes have a problem combining the advice of that proverb with the one quoted at the beginning of our devotion. What often happens is that we believe absolutely anything, and take it as God directing our paths.
But both texts are equally a part of scripture, and they each have something to teach us. I know that my mother spent much time in prayer seeking God’s guidance and wisdom. There were many paths she was invited to take by people who claimed to know God’s will, but only certain paths were the ones God was directing her to take. Sometimes we have a choice between different good paths, and we need to choose the best path to take.
There are a number of ways we can get led astray.
- Taking the path that everybody else in our circle is taking. Often our choice of path is determined by our friends, relatives, our class in school, or our church congregation. You can probably think about many other possibilities. Just because everybody (that you know) is doing it doesn’t make it a good idea.
- Rejecting something because it goes against tradition. Tradition can be a good thing. It’s the experience of our community. But traditions can outlive their usefulness, and can even result in applying the wrong principle because the situation has changed, yet we continue to follow the old path.
- Listening to an anointed preacher. Now you may have a negative reaction to this one. Why shouldn’t you listen to an anointed preacher? But many anointed preachers have gone astray. You should always listen, but you should test everything for yourself.
- Accepting it because it is in a Christian book. As publishers of Christian books, Jody and I are well aware of the increased weight given to words that manage to get into print. But you must treat those words in the same way as any others. Test them. Accept what is right. Reject what is wrong (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).
- Accepting something because someone says it is a word from the Lord. Making a claim is easy. Being right is harder. Backing up what you say and being right is even harder yet. Just because someone says that God said it doesn’t mean you have to believe. Test, then accept or reject.
- Accepting something because a person has academic degrees. Some people are intimidated by people with academic degrees. I’ve encountered folks who think I’m right because I have a degree in Biblical languages, even when I’m talking about a subject not related to my degrees. People with degrees have generally studied a topic, and they deserve to be heard, but possessing a degree doesn’t make a person right. Test everything!
You are the person who is going to have to live with what you do. Make sure to spend time with God and pray for divine wisdom (James 1:5). Don’t be afraid to look things up. Don’t be afraid to study. Don’t be afraid to wait until you have clarity and knowledge.
God will direct your paths, but he also asks you not to play the part of the fool, and just accept anything that looks good. Test and choose!