Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow; but, if we are wise, We know that there’s always tomorrow.” These are words from the hit single written by Bill Withers in 1972—the song “Lean On Me”.
The rest of the song says:
Lean on me, when you’re not strong,
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long, ’til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on.
Just call on me, brother, when you need a hand,
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem, that you’d understand
We all need somebody to lean on
If there is a load you have to bear,
That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road,
I’ll share your load,
If you just call me.
They’re great words of help, because there are times when we need someone to rely on—someone to stand by us in difficult times, giving support and strength we don’t have. Life is full of uncertainties. We are faced with decision after decision, day after day. Wouldn’t it be nice to know every detail of what lies ahead? The reality is that we don’t always know what’s coming up, and we may say to God: God, are you sure you know what you’re doing? Do you really have everything under control?
Proverbs 3:5-7 says: “With all your heart you must trust the Lord and not your own judgement. Always let him lead you, and he will clear the road for you to follow. Don’t ever think you are wise enough, but respect the Lord and stay away from evil”. An older translation says, “Lean not on your own understanding”. Even though we have a natural tendency to try to understand and make sense of circumstances and situations, it’s great to know we don’t have to understand everything—nor can we.
God’s ways are higher than ours. Isaiah 55:8-9 says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”. Scripture says we are, “not to lean or depend on our own understanding.” Tragedies have occurred when people have done that.
When we lean on our own understanding
On 16 July 1999, John F. Kennedy Jr—39-year-old son of late President Kennedy—was piloting his light aircraft along the USA coast toward Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Flying a new plane at night, with nothing but water below, he had no visual landmarks with which he could reorient his brain. He became confused. His inner ear tricked him into thinking that he was level when in fact he was beginning a steep dive. He sped downward at a speed of 4,700 feet-per-minute, or 1,100 feet in just 14 seconds. By the time Kennedy knew he was in trouble, it was too late for him to reverse his course. Adding to the tragedy was the fact that his wife and sister-in-law were flying with him. All three perished.
How sad it is to realise that, from the time he began his flight, there was an instrument called an altimeter on board that could have guided him and preserved these lives. An altimeter is an instrument that determines a plane’s elevation, its height above sea level. It senses pressure changes that accompany changes in altitude. Kennedy had never been trained to read his aircraft’s altimeter. If he had been, he probably would not have crashed. Instead he leaned on his own understanding, relying on his own instincts. When his inner ear whispered, You’re level, the altimeter read, You’re going down. It was the instrument that was correct. Because he acted according to what he thought and perceived, rather than trusting the objective truth provided by a reliable source, he lost his life and the lives of those who depended on him.
The Bible tells us we can rely on God. Psalm 37:5 says, “Let the Lord lead you and trust him to help”. In fact Proverbs 28:26 is more to the point: “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool”. God our Heavenly Father is always there to lean on. He is not asleep—that’s why we say we can trust him. The word ‘trust’ means to attach oneself to, confide in, feel safe, be confident, be secure or rely on. Imagine a person seeing a sturdy chair, agreeing that it is strong and steady, but refusing to sit on it. Does that person really trust that chair? It is only when one rests his or her full weight upon the chair that genuine trust has been shown. To trust in is to lean on.
My Father, you welcome me into your presence—and that’s a wonder in itself. More than I can imagine. Then you invite me to lean against you—and a bolt of self-reliance in me resists. But I want to trust you. To relax the weight of my fears and anxieties against you. To rest, to know how fully trustworthy you are. Help me, Father. Amen.