The Preparations of the Heart Belong to Man... - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Biblical Wisdom
December 1, 2016

The Preparations of the Heart Belong to Man...

Proverbs 16:1 -- “The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.”

To make plans, God gave us eyes, ears, and minds, and He wants us to use them. “Much counsel produces good plans (Proverbs 11:14),” and “Learn from the ant how to plan for winter (Proverbs 6:6-8).” “Let go and let God” is a stupid and harmful directive for living a godly life. If it sounds spiritual to you, think again. 

One variety of planning involves thinking ahead how to say something well, the “preparations of the heart” in the proverb. By “heart,” the Bible usually means our thoughts: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7).” God made us able to think in words, like God Himself who spoke and the world came to be (Psalm 33:9). So a man planning to ask a woman to marry him, will think when, where, and exactly what to say. An employee will do the same, as she gets ready to ask for a raise. And surely if there is anything over which we have full control, it is a speech that we ourselves plan to give.

Yet, even here, Solomon warns that the answer of the tongue is from the LORD, as we all discover. The man asking, “Will you marry me?” may trip over his words so badly that all he gets is laughter, or he may sound as romantic as Romeo or Cyrano. The worker asking for a raise may hit just the right note of firmness and respect, or she may convince her boss that she should be replaced. The prophet Balaam came at the request of the King of Moab to curse Israel, but God gave him only words of blessing (Numbers 22-24). Only in one instance does the Bible tell us not to fret about what to say: when civil rulers make us answer for our faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say (Matthew 10:19).

If even words we plan are subject to the LORD’s final say, how much more all other plans. So the point of the proverb is to plan, but do it humbly. James wrote, “Here is the answer to those who talk like this: ‘Today or tomorrow we are off to this or that town; we are going to spend a year there, trading, and make some money.’ You never know what will happen tomorrow: you are no more than a mist that is here for a little while and then disappears. The most you should ever say is this: ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we shall be alive to do this or that’ (James 4: 13-15 Jerusalem Bible).” “Man proposes, but God disposes,” is the short English version of this proverb. The wise remember that we can’t even be sure how our planned speeches will turn out. God always has the last word.

- Dr. Bill Edgar, Geneva College Board of Trustee Member and former President