Proverbs 20:24 poses an important question concerning discovering God’s will. It asks, “A man’s steps are of the Lord; how then can a man understand his own way?” On the surface, one could say this is a rhetorical question, saying that following your own way is a sure way to go astray.
But the question is framed against the reality that the way is planned by a man’s heart. In light of this truth, I think the question is rather deep, and exploring it could unlock some deeper truths.
It seems like a contradiction to have Proverbs 16:9 set beside Proverbs 20:24. Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
If a man’s heart plans his way, I would think the man would want to “understand his own way” so that the plan will be good. Proverbs 14:8 says, “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way.”
So, first, planning your own way is not a bad thing. It is what God says a person does with the heart. The challenge of understanding it, though, still remains. To understand this concept, some terms need to be defined. What is the way? What is the destination? What are steps in the way? What is understanding?
The way is the road I travel to get to the destination. Planning my way would be like highlighting the roads on a map to get from point A to point B. Of course, there is no map of life. Life is lived and is in time, not something that can be unfolded, touched, and plotted. The correct road, or way, is identified in Proverbs 16:17, which states:
“The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; He who keeps his way preserves his soul.”
It’s a hard metaphor to grasp because the highway of the upright is not a tangible road I can actually walk down. My highway may be different from your highway; though, it is clear they are the same in that the right one is the one that departs from evil.
The correct road is long. Proverbs 16:31 says:
“A silver-haired head is a crown of glory, If it is found in the way of righteousness.”
What is at the end of this long road? Proverbs 18:10 describes the destination: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe.” Our destination is the refuge of our Lord.
So the Lord guides our steps. We are presented with life. We walk in it every day. Things that happen around us and to us, and we act and react to our environment, making decisions along the way.
So what does it mean to understand? How can a man understand his own way?
Proverbs 9:10 defines understanding as “knowledge of the Holy One.”
This is the key to understanding the way planned by the heart and walked in God-guided steps. The more one knows about God, the more one understands his own way. It seems obvious, but without acknowledging that, getting to know God took a back seat to striving to learn His will for me. His will for me was there the whole time.
What an awesome message about God it is to know that His will for me is to know Him! And doing His will, or knowing God, is what guides my steps in life.