We usually think of the Proverbs as a collection of sayings about how to live wisely in the world, how to be shrewd and successful in business, the high value of hard work, the practical benefits of honesty. If a business operates according to the proverbs, it will no doubt have many happy customers, not to mention happy shareholders. But where does the practical wisdom of the proverbs come from?
The proverbs are wise precisely because they view the world as God’s world, created and directed by him. God is the Maker, the Creator. The world in which we live and act belongs to him, and the rules by which the world operates flow from him. So to live well in his world a person has to constantly acknowledge God as Creator and then submit to him; this is what it means to fear the Lord.
But even as a person works diligently in God’s world, still the outcome of all work rests with the Lord. This is how the proverbs view the sovereignty of God, his absolute right to rule in every aspect of his world. So that even though a person is expected to make plans and work hard to accomplish them, the outcome is always from God. “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (19:21).
First Implication: Work Hard
God’s work matters more than my work, but this doesn’t diminish the meaningfulness of my work. God expects us to plan, strategize, and work hard. In fact, he accomplishes his purposes through our diligence, not apart from it. Therefore, do not lessen your ambitions, but heighten them. Rather than being slothful or idle, we should work all the harder knowing that God intends to integrate our efforts into his purposes. Work for him and not for yourself. Labor so that he might be exalted, not you.
Second Implication: Commit Your Work to God
“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (16:3). The most appropriate response to the primacy of God’s purposes is the daily recommitment of myself and my work to God. I am his, I am living in his world, my energy and my opportunities are from him, and the eventual result of all my labors today is completely in his hands.
All our daily work, both the mundane and the monumental, must be committed to the Lord. I may prepare a business plan, yet the success of the business is completely dependent on God. The same is true with parenting, developing ministry strategy, resolving conflict, working at a good marriage, or anything else. Pause at the beginning of each day, and throughout the day, to give your work to God. “Father, these efforts are enabled by you, and I ask that you might use them for your purposes.”
Third Implication: Leave the Outcome to God
“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (21:31). Do you ever finish some project or presentation and then immediately begin to guess at how it will be received by others? Will they be impressed? Will it have an enduring impact? The anxiety of self-interest. Or have you ever despaired over the meaningless of your work? Perhaps at the end of a long day you wonder, was it worth it? The proverbs remind us that as we work diligently, giving our work to God, that our work is meaningful and God will accomplish his purposes through it.
A prayer of daily commitment might look like this. Father, you are the maker of me and all things. I am yours and I want to be useful for your purposes today. Please give me the energy that I need to do the good works that you have prepared for me. Please help me to steward with wisdom the opportunities you have given me, for I have nothing but what I have received from you. Please make my plans and efforts successful in the economy of your kingdom. I am yours and my work is yours so please use me to make your glory visible in the world today.
God’s sovereignty over our work in the book of Proverbs, a non-exhaustive sampling:
- In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Prv 3:6)
- The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens (3:19)
- The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked (10:3)
- The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord (16:1)
- Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established (16:3)
- The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps (16:9)
- The lot is cast into the lap, but its decision is from the Lord (Prv 16:33)
- Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand (19:21)
- The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (21:1)
- The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord (21:31)