Lean not to your own understanding. Prov. 3:5
When the Lord first called him to obedience, Moses’ immediate instinct was to look to himself and say, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:10). Isaiah too, when called by God to be a prophet to Israel, immediately became conscious of his own sinfulness as a disqualifying truth (Isa. 6:5). Jeremiah, Jonah and Timothy, as well, all felt, in their own estimation, inadequate to the task that God was calling them to, and they each hesitated in their response.
Mary, on the other hand, when called to submit to God’s will, never took her eye off the One who was calling her. Her faith did not rest on whether she felt up to the task or not, but on the sufficiency of the One who was calling her to obedience. Confident that the Lord would accomplish whatever He asked of her, Mary answered in all humility, “May it be done to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38).
The 17th cent. spiritual director Jeanne Guyon recognizes, as well, the propensity we have for leaning mostly on our own understanding when it comes to assessing our capacities to respond to the spiritual life. In a letter to one of her directees, she speaks of the bad habit we all have of being distracted by our own self-appraisal when considering God’s call on our lives. She chastises her directee about this saying,
You act as a person who, being called before a king, instead of regarding the king and his benefits, is occupied only with his own dress and appearance.
Our preoccupation with our selves, though seemingly a profitable exercise in truth, needs to be unmasked for what it actually is—a disguised form of self-love that usurps God’s prerogative to define us. As Guyon says elsewhere, “Self-love has many hiding-places. God alone can search them out.” She therefore counsels her directees to be careful about what they add to God’s word saying,
Let the view of yourself that God gives you be accepted, even if it relates to your fallen condition in general, or to particular faults. Add nothing to this view by your own reflections.
The apostle Paul too, at one time, felt the inadequacy of a particular thorn in his life. Though it took fasting and much prayer to teach him otherwise, he eventually understood the radical sufficiency of God’s grace to overcome whatever, in his own estimation, he felt was impeding his service.
Guyon describes the state of soul of one who is free from the awareness of even their own sins saying, “Now the soul seeks no longer to combat the obstacles, which hindered its return within, but lets God combat and act in the soul.” She describes this state as one of passive love. The soul has now matured beyond all need for self-reference, especially when in the presence of God. Speaking of the progress that such souls make she writes,
It advances very much more by this way, in little time, than by all the self-scrutiny of many years. It is not without faults and imperfections, but divine love does not permit the soul to become disturbed by them, lest it become discouraged and its love hindered.
The proverb is wise that cautions us to not overly “lean to our own understanding.” Who are we, after all, to doubt the sufficiency of God’s grace to accomplish whatever He said He would do, and to equip us to be whoever He has called us to be? As Paul assures us, our confidence should fully rest in the fact that “it is God who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).