Bible Readings: Proverbs 3:1-12 & John 8:21-30

All your ways

I wonder who you trust. I wonder how much you trust them, and with what. Let’s explore this a little bit. You’re all sat down now on chairs or pews. How much thought did you give to sitting on the thing you’re sat on? Many of you have been here before – you know that in general the pews here don’t collapse, that pranksters don’t make a habit of cutting through the legs of the chairs to make them collapse when they’re sat on. How much trust did you need to summon up to sit down this morning? Not very much I suspect. Now, what if you’d arrived here this morning and you hadn’t been able to see any chairs or pews. You’d walked around and hadn’t bumped into anything. Then one of the sides people had told you that we’d had a new seating system installed, and that you just had to choose somewhere to sit, and that as you sat down the system would detect it, and you’d find yourself supported by an invisible force field. Now how much trust would it have taken for you to try and sit down? Who would you trust enough, that if they told you it was true, you’d take the risk and sit? Would it make any difference if you were the first one who was going to try it, or if there were already other people sat in mid-air on the new seating system?

It seems to me that trust isn’t a static, fixed thing. It is related strongly to the situation, to the person involved, to what you’re being asked to risk. If you feel safe, and the thing at stake is not very important, then the level of trust you need is low. If you feel at risk, and the thing at stake is really important to you, then the amount of trust you need to act is high.

So, how do you decide whether or not you trust somebody? It seems to me that there are two basic things that we’re looking for when we are deciding whether or not to trust a person. Those two things are expertise and character. Do they know what they are talking about and are they honest? If I’m looking for someone to repair my car, I want someone who knows a lot about fixing cars, and who will tell me the truth about the work that needs doing and what a fair price for that work is. I want expertise and character.

Nick Brooke was telling me the other day about a time he was in a guitar shop and somebody bought a guitar in to sell. In the conversation with the shopkeeper it became quite evident that the seller did not know that what they had was a mint condition, rare, sought after guitar worth many hundreds of dollars. The shopkeeper could have offered way less than that, bought it and made a fortune. But he didn’t. He told the seller what he had, and advised him to get it valued by a high end guitar specialist auctioneer. Expertise and character.

If we know a person well, then we can make a judgement about these things on our experience of them. Have I seen them fixing lots of cars? Have they fixed my car before? Have I found them to be honest and reliable in the past? Do they have a consistent and trustworthy character? We have a bit more trouble when we don’t know the person very well. Perhaps we look for evidence of their expertise – maybe in the form of qualifications or membership of professional bodies. But what about character? Maybe we try and find out a bit about their reputation, we ask around our friends and colleagues for recommendations. In the virtual world we can look at Trustpilot, Ebay ratings, and Tripadvisor reviews.

So, I’d like to suggest that our trust in someone is based on our assessment of their expertise and character, on the basis of our experience and their reputation.

With all that in mind, let’s turn to our reading from Proverbs, and particularly verses 5 and 6.

“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.”

In all your ways submit to him. In your decisions about your career, who to marry, where to live, how many children to have, how to spend your money, where to go to university, what subjects to study, what church to be part of, what to do in retirement. In all your ways submit to him.

Sometimes you might hear it said that God has a plan for your life. Usually this is said to encourage someone who is struggling, or who is facing a decision. It’s intended as a reassurance that there is a God who is trustworthy who is looking out for you. And there is truth in this although I’m not sure God is quite as much of a micro manager as we sometimes seem to think. There is no doubt that God loves us and is interested in every part of our lives, but I believe God’s plans for us are more likely to be “here’s a field to explore, let’s go and see what we can find” than “walk this tightrope and make sure you don’t fall off.” Either way, it seems to me that we like God to have a plan for our life as a comfort when things are hard, but are much less open to the idea when it means submitting our plans to God’s. We might not want to explore this field, we quite fancied the look of the field over there.

And why should we, anyway? Why should we submit to God in all our ways?

I’d like to suggest that, apart from anything else, it makes sense because God is more trustworthy than we are.

What are we looking for when we’re measuring trustworthiness? We’re looking for expertise and character.

Who has higher knowledge, wider perspective, deeper wisdom – me or God?
Who has the more honest, loving, reliable character – me or God?

These aren’t trick questions. If we’re Christians then we know the answer we’re meant to give. We’re meant to say that God has the greater expertise and the better character. We know the right answer in our heads. But my experience is that we’re not always great at putting that theoretical knowledge into actual practice. I believe that there are two reasons for this.

Firstly, we don’t pay enough attention to the evidence of God’s expertise and character. Secondly, we have an inflated opinion of our own expertise and character.

So let’s take a moment to reflect on the evidence we have for God’s expertise and character. The clearest view we have of this is in the records of the time that God came to earth to live among us, when God became human. This morning we read from John’s eye witness account of Jesus’ life on earth. We hear Jesus speaking to people who thought they had it all sorted, who were religious experts, leaning on their own understanding. Jesus tells us where his expertise comes from, he is from above, he only speaks what he hears from the Father, the creator of all, the one whose will sustains all that has ever been, all that is, all that is to come. The one who sees the whole of space time and is aware of every atomic level interaction, and everything in between. The one who knows the end from the beginning. So much for expertise, but what about character?

Jesus is fully submitted to the Father, he always does what pleases the Father. How far would he take this submission? He took it all the way until he was lifted up – on the cross to die a traitor’s death, abandoned, betrayed, alone. That is the character of God – loving, obedient, self-sacrificial, faithful.

And what is the response to the expertise and character shown by Jesus? “Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him”

That is the positive side, but there is also the flip side. We do have to learn to look at ourselves with a right level of humility and be real about our own lack of expertise and character. This can be a fine balance – it’s not about beating ourselves up or running ourselves down, it is about being real. Sometimes we can see this for ourselves, and sometimes we need trusted friends to let us know.

And again, this is not about completely doing away with our own understanding – but don’t lean on it. Don’t make it your primary support. Our understanding is limited, God’s is limitless. Your character is flawed, God’s is perfect. Trust in the Lord.

I want my trust in God to deepen, I want to submit more of my ways to my Lord. To do this I need to hear more of the evidence that builds God’s reputation, by reading and studying the Bible, by hearing stories of God at work in other people’s lives. Which also means that they have to tell them – we can help each other out here. I also want to deepen my own experience of God’s trustworthiness, and this means that I have to do things that are uncomfortable, that risk things for God – not to put God to the test, but the truth is that in order to walk on water I’ve got to get out of the boat. Will you join me in this adventure: to grow in trust and to depend more and more profoundly on God’s expertise and character to shape our hearts and lives?

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