Proverbs 8:32-9:6 – Listen to Lady Wisdom

Sophia (Divine Wisdom) by Mary Plaster

Pay attention, my children!
    Follow my advice,
    and you will be happy.
Listen carefully
to my instructions,
    and you will be wise.

Come to my home each day
and listen to me.
    You will find happiness.
By finding me, you find life,
    and the Lord will be pleased
    with you.
But if you don’t find me,
    you hurt only yourself,
    and if you hate me,
    you are in love with death.

Wisdom has built her house
    with its seven columns.
She has prepared the meat
and set out the wine.
    Her feast is ready.

She has sent her servant women
    to announce her invitation
    from the highest hills:
“Everyone who is ignorant
    or foolish is invited!
    All of you are welcome
    to my meat and wine.
If you want to live,
    give up your foolishness
    and let understanding
    guide your steps.” (Contemporary English Version)

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Socrates

Know-it-all’s don’t pursue wisdom. They ignorantly believe they already know what’s best about just about everything. Yet their prideful stance betrays only foolishness.

The truth is that wisdom is a skill to be developed. It takes time, patience, humility, grace, trial-and-error, action, reflection, and, most of all, a teachable spirit.

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

Albert Einstein

To be blessed is to carefully graft wisdom into one’s daily life. To go about life with meaning, humility, and confidence are the unmistakable evidence of wisdom’s work within a person. It would be difficult to overstate the great importance of wisdom. Indeed, there is no such thing as too much of it.

The wisdom literature of the Old Testament Proverbs contrasts two approaches to life, personified in the book as Lady Folly and Lady Wisdom. Lady Folly relies on clandestine encounters, secrets, and seduction in promising satisfaction and a happy life. Yet, in the end, imbibing her drink poisons the soul and kills the spirit.

Conversely, Lady Wisdom operates openly and in the daylight. She gives a clarion invitation to a genuinely good life and persuades others, without manipulation, to feast at her banquet. Eating from Lady Wisdom’s table is open to all, both the simple and the sage. She offers a perspective which brings insight and clarity to confusing situations and bewildering circumstances. Lady Wisdom sets up a person for a blessed life.

“A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.”

D. Elton Trueblood

Perhaps an illustration may assist. The COVID-19 vaccination is available. It has proven to work. The clarion call has gone out. Listen carefully, get vaccinated, practice basic human kindness through masking and proper social distancing – and there will be life. Lady Wisdom is open about the process and the procedure for health.

However, another calls goes out, as well. The vaccine is not safe. It is an attempt to control. We are mere pawns in a politician’s game. The statistics on those infected are skewed. Come, drink deeply of freedom and exercise your right to refuse medical treatment. After all, if it was so safe, why is there so much talk about its safety, to convince people of its efficacy? Lady Folly has set her trap.

Foolishness relies on manipulating emotions, making false comparisons, and promising happiness without a pathway to get there. It sets up the logical fallacy of the Strawman, misrepresenting wisdom’s argument to make it easier to attack. Lady Folly is a simpleton who makes judgments without reasoning.

Lady Wisdom invites people to consult, collaborate, converse, and cooperate with well-worn bodies of teaching passed down through the ages – to drink deeply and eat heartily of truth so as to apply cogent applications to life’s most vexing issues.

“Discipline is wisdom and vice versa.”

M. Scott Peck

You see, it is eating and drinking at wisdom’s table which brings enduring patience, proper perspective, needed perseverance, and satisfying provision for life. Impatience, narrow-mindedness, lack of action because of petty squabbling, and ignorance, are the sad results of folly’s empty promises. They only lead to death.

Wisdom can only be acquired through making daily routine decisions of faith and patience, of putting one foot in front of the other in a slow process over time. In contrast, foolishness is just so because it circumvents time and process and speaks of deliverance and happiness now, right now, without all the fuss and hardship.

So, then, in our current social and economic climate; in our world dominated with the effects of pandemic; in our own personal lives; just what is Lady Folly barking at us about? And Lady Wisdom inviting us to?…

Your answer and your response just might be the difference between life and death.

Thank you, Wise God, for being present, available, and inviting me to approach you in my times of need. Thank you for bending your gracious ear to listen and to care. There are times I feel weak, helpless, even afraid. Yet, I cling to the knowledge that God is with me. I know that you are Lord, and I am not. I know that you hold all situations in your good strong hands. Therefore, I trust you and I trust the process you have me undergoing to become wise and just. I ask for strength and wisdom so that I might endure and handle everything in a way that will bless both you and the world; through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit I pray. Amen.

Psalm 24 – It All Belongs to God

The earth and everything on it
    belong to the Lord.
    The world and its people
    belong to him.
The Lord placed it all
    on the oceans and rivers.

Who may climb the Lord’s hill
    or stand in his holy temple?
Only those who do right
    for the right reasons,
    and don’t worship idols
    or tell lies under oath.
The Lord God, who saves them,
    will bless and reward them,
    because they worship and serve
    the God of Jacob.
Open the ancient gates,
    so that the glorious king
    may come in.

Who is this glorious king?
    He is our Lord, a strong
    and mighty warrior.

Open the ancient gates,
    so that the glorious king
    may come in.

Who is this glorious king?
    He is our Lord,
    the All-Powerful!
(Contemporary English Version)

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was born in the Netherlands. He was a church minister, university professor, and politician – having established a Christian university, as well as served in the Dutch parliament and as Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

Kuyper labored throughout his life to flesh-out the theological implications of a sovereign God. He consistently insisted all we do as humans is to be integrated and brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ. He believed firmly that all things belong to God in Christ and all the fragments of our lives are to be oriented and integrated around our Creator’s great claim upon us as creatures. Whether a pastor, teacher, or politician, every vocation, each activity, and all thoughts and intents rightly belong to God.

In other words, religion and spirituality cannot be kept within superimposed limits. There is no separation of any one domain of human thought from the rest, no isolation of any one domain of human life from another or from Christ.

The spiritual life is not limited to merely the ethereal. It is both celestial and terrestrial – heavenly and earthly – concerned for the immaterial and the material. God cares about it all because it all belongs to God.

God owns the world. So, the implications of this for us is huge. It means we don’t really own anything. We are simply stewarding all that God has given us – including our very lives. The chaos of this world, from a biblical perspective, comes from creatures attempting to assert their own sovereignty and control things. Since we were not created to be little gods roaming about doing our own thing, the inevitable result is a topsy-turvy world.

God’s divine claim and ownership of the world means that absolute authority does not rest with nations, states, or leaders. Everything we see, as well as what we don’t see, belongs to the Lord. Part of the task of believers is to confess and bear witness to God’s rightful and benevolent rule in this world. In fact, Christians everywhere pray toward this end every week: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.

The circle of life, within Holy Scripture, is the Creator God bestowing life and relationship to created humans, who then respond by practicing just and righteous living – thereby receiving renewal from the Lord and life anew. Theoretically, this movement can go unbroken. It is a regular celebration, for the believer, in consistent rhythms of worship and adoration of God.

When we are able to get in the intended divine groove of faith, life, and worship, we will discover our meaning and purpose in the world. By rightly ordering our lives, centering and grounding them in the gracious and loving relationship of Creator and creature, then we find true blessing because it enjoys an intuited stamp of approval by the God who makes life possible.

In the Christian tradition, Jesus is the Victor, the King of Glory. All the promises and hopes of people are found and focused, in Christ. We enter through Jesus, the door of life, to deliverance from death and all that separates us from God, others, and self.

Jesus comes to bring blessing, justice, righteousness, mercy, purity, and peace. For this is how the world was meant to operate from the beginning. We are to open the ancient door of faith, especially when the Lord comes knocking:

Listen! I am standing and knocking at your door. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and we will eat together. Everyone who wins the victory will sit with me on my throne, just as I won the victory and sat with my Father on his throne. If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:20-22, CEV)

Old Abraham Kuyper might be long dead, yet he got it right, if we are able to hear him:

“Whatever people may do, to whatever they may apply their hands – in agriculture, in commerce, and in industry, or in mind, in the world of art, and science – they are, in whatsoever it may be, constantly standing before the face of God. They are employed in the service of God. They have strictly to obey God. And above all, they must aim at the glory of his God.”

Abraham Kuyper

Blessed Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, though I am quite capable of fretting, complaining, and lamenting about how out of control things seem, the truth is that nothing is outside your grip. I may not always see your hand, discern your heart, or like your ways, but you are God and there is no other. So, continue to renew my thinking, gentle my heart, and deepen my worship. I humbly and gladly affirm that you are God, and I am not, through Jesus Christ, my Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign sovereign as one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 29 – The Power of Words

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
    worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
    and strips the forest bare;
    and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!
(New Revised Standard Version)

I have always felt comforted during thunderstorms. Having grown up in the Midwest of America, strong thunderstorms are a given every summer. When my daughters were small children and frightened by the loud clap of thunder, I said to them, “That’s just God letting us know he is powerful and watching over us.”

God spoke and stirred up a storm… So, they cried out to the Lord in their distress, and God brought them out safe from their desperate circumstances. God quieted the storm to a whisper; the sea’s waves were hushed. (Psalm 107:25, 29-30, CEB)

Yet, there is even more going on in today’s psalm than a reminder of God’s glory and power over all creation. God’s very voice is the source of all the power. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth – with words. The Lord Almighty spoke the entire world into existence. God’s words are generative, that is, the speech of God creates and gives life. When God’s voice goes forth, things happen.

God said, “Let the waters under the sky come together into one place so that the dry land can appear.” And that’s what happened. (Genesis 1:9, CEB)

The way God gives is through speech. Yes, the mechanism of God’s provision for us is words. This means language is vitally important. The Lord creates, gives, sustains, and blesses us creatures through language. Out of all creation, humans are the only creatures formed in the image and likeness of God.

God said, “Now we will make humans, and they will be like us. (Genesis 1:26, CEV)

People, then, are capable of speech. Even more, we as people with the ability of language have the capacity to form our own generative words. We have the God-given means to give life with our speech.

“Life and death lie in the power of language.”

Helen Keller

I believe we all intuitively know this is true. As we reminisce the history of our lives, we can observe events where another’s words impacted us so significantly that it was as if they gave us the gift of life. We never forget those words. We also have had times when another’s words cut us emotionally and it felt as if a part of us died. We tend to remember those as well, and they hold us back in our own life-giving speech to ourselves and others.

“The godless destroy their neighbors by their words, but the righteous are saved by their knowledge.” (Proverbs 11:9, CEB)

It is necessary for us to listen to the voice of the Lord. God’s speech does not disappoint or destroy. God’s Word is eternal life. The better we listen to God, the better we can have the generative power of words to provide life for others.

It only takes a cursory look at Holy Scripture to realize that words are powerful and are to be used with great care. We are all to continually develop the craft of wordsmithing so that we might ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name as well as bless the world.

“As a tree gives fruit, healing words give life, but dishonest words crush the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4, NCV)

The language we use—spoken and written words, sign language, facial expressions, bodily gestures, singing—helps us understand ourselves and lets us create relationships with others. Our words give us the power to describe our past, define our present, and dream of our future. 

“Words from wise people are like water bubbling up from a deep well—the well of wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:4, ERV)

We adults may balk at the notion that words are anything more than a creative expression. Yet, as I believe is typical with most things, children are closer to the kingdom of God than us bigger people. Kids effortlessly make connections between words and reality whereas us older folks barely have an idea this even occurs. My grandson once remarked when I was talking to him about being cautious at the playground, “How am I supposed to meet new people if I can’t talk to strangers?”

“When I asked my son (5 years old) how his day was, he said it was awesome. I asked him what made it so awesome – his response was ‘because I wanted it to be.’”

Tanya Niedzwiecki (Huffington Post, November 2015)

The voice of Lord exhibits a mighty God who has the power to create and recreate with but a word. As people in God’s likeness, our words are powerful tools to be used with wisdom and care. Our speech allows us to praise God and encourage one another. Even more, the use of language enables us to speak into existence new realities for ourselves and others. May those words bring forth hope and blessing to a world in need of healing.

Mighty God, King all powerful, I am overwhelmed before such awesome majesty, and my response to your voice is reverent worship through Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Romans 8:1-8 – The Privilege of Life in the Spirit

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (New International Version)

It is a great privilege to be a Christian and possess God’s own Spirit in our lives. There are four privileges of the Christian to take note of so that believers can truly live in the Spirit and not in the flesh (sinful nature).

First Privilege: There is now no condemnation.   

No condemnation means “without judgment.” God pronounced a verdict, and the decision is final. We are united to Christ by means of God’s Spirit. Since God does not condemn us, there is no need whatsoever to condemn ourselves or other people.

Since we do not sit under judgment, believe the sin issue has been taken care of once for all through the life and death of Christ. If you do not feel forgiven, then put yourself in a position to believe. Allow the Holy Spirit of God to take the redemption of Christ and apply it to your life in a real and practical way.

It would be silly to go into the bathroom, turn on the shower, then just stand in the middle of the bathroom without getting under the showerhead. Because you did not put yourself in a position to become clean! You may passionately believe a shower, soap, and shampoo will make you clean. Yet, if you do not actually avail yourself of the privilege of taking the shower but just stand there and look at it, you will not become clean. 

We must put ourselves in a position to experience the privilege of God’s grace, our wonderful state of cleanliness, and the lack of condemnation through reading the Word of God on a regular basis; praying in the Spirit on all occasions; and practicing the silence and solitude necessary to receive the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.

An illustration of marriage might help us understand both our reality and our responsibility. Two people are declared “married” in a formal wedding ceremony. The couple then works out their shared union together over a lifetime. The Minister does not pronounce condemnation at the ceremony but declares a blessing.

From that point forward the two persons must work on their marriage. They must believe their relationship is important enough to warrant putting themselves in a position to grow together by intentionally doing things like creating date nights and conversations on the couch; learning, appreciating, and participating in the other’s interests and life. 

God is not opposed to effort – but to the notion that we save ourselves. Just as we do not marry ourselves and pronounce ourselves a married couple, so we do not save ourselves. Having a marriage license in hand does not mean there is no effort to be done in the relationship. A marriage is both a legal reality, and a kind of mystical union between the spouses.

Second Privilege: Freedom from sin and death.

In Holy Scripture, sin is not only personal struggle but an ever-present reality in the world. Unfortunately, the power and presence of sin is everywhere within people, institutions, and systems. Because sin is everywhere, death is everywhere. Biblically, death refers not only to the body, yet also to the spirit. Death is a relational term. It’s to be separated from God, apart from a relationship. Conversely, life is connection, to be in union with God. 

God sent the Son. God’s Son became incarnate, a sin-offering, an atoning sacrifice for our sins. God condemned sin in sinful humanity. God met the righteous requirements of the law. God effects holiness in us by means of the Spirit. 

Rather than saving us from sin then simply telling us to live a holy upright life, God the Father and Son sent God the Holy Spirit to indwell us so that we can live like Jesus. Therefore, we must put ourselves in a position to experience this saving work through dwelling in the Scriptures and letting the Spirit and the Word effect practical change in our lives. 

I often quote Scripture from memory. I don’t really set out to memorize Scripture so much as I set out to dwell in it to the degree that it ends-up becoming a part of me. The goal is to become awash by the Spirit and the Word so that in every decision, in everything said, and in each action, we are moved by the Holy Spirit.

Third Privilege: We possess the mind of Christ.

The rub of the problem all Christians face, living in a sinful world, has to do with our mindset. What occupies our minds is what determines whether we will have life and peace, or not. 

If the object of our thoughts is continually away from Christ and the Spirit, we will have loose thinking.  If we put ourselves in a position to indulge the sinful nature, it will affect our mindset. Our mental choices can lead to life or death.

For example, alcoholics know they have two choices: the way of life or the way of death. The first step of the twelve steps is to admit powerlessness over alcohol and that my life has become unmanageable. The second step is to believe a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. The third step is to turn life and will to that Power. 

We are powerless over sin, which will, if left unchecked, lead to death. Yet, in the Spirit, we have the possibility of life. Sin, like alcohol, is a daily possibility, even after giving my life and will to God. However, there is also the possibility of life. And that hope of life is what we possess when we have the mind of Christ and the Spirit. We hope through the power of the Spirit to overcome death, embracing choices which lead to life.

The Spirit is not some vitamin supplement to the Christian life, or a protein shake that helps us become healthy.  The Spirit is life and peace, a person, not simply a force. The Spirit brings us the practical benefits of new life in Christ. So, what we put into our minds is vitally important. It’s not about willpower but about putting oneself in a position to receive spiritual power to mold, make, and change us.

Relying solely on willpower is setting yourself up for a crash. Evidence-based studies repeatedly demonstrate that we as people tend to overestimate how much self-control we will have against temptation when we are not in the “heat of the moment.” We too easily believe we can handle more temptation than we can.

Those who are most confident about their self-control are the most likely to succumb to temptation. The key avoiding situations where vices thrive and, most importantly, for individuals to maintain a humble view of their willpower.

Fourth Privilege: The Holy Spirit indwells us.

The Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the Christian life. The Spirit opposes the sinful nature and expects us to do the same. We need not live the Christian life on our own power because of the Holy Spirit. 

There is an internal struggle within us that desires to do right but has a compulsion to do otherwise. It’s the indwelling Spirit that gives us victory. Christ’s life, as much as his death, achieved salvation from sin for us. The very same Spirit that helped Jesus in life and raised him from death belongs to us!

When I was a kid, I remember my grandmother canning grape preserves. I sat on a stool in the kitchen and watched her, looking forward to yummy grape goodness on my next piece of toast. I once asked Grandma, “Why are you always melting that wax over the fruit?” I didn’t understand how wax could make my toast taste any better. She answered, “The wax seals the jar tightly so the fruit can’t be contaminated. If I didn’t seal it, the fruit would eventually rot.” 

You and I are God’s preserves. God not only chooses, redeems, and calls us; the Lord also has a plan for preserving us – to give us the indwelling Spirit so that we can live free from sin and do the will of God.

So, may Christians everywhere appreciate the privileges of no condemnation, freedom from sin, possessing the mind of Christ, and the power of the indwelling Spirit. May you avail yourselves of the Spirit and experience life and peace so that you will love God, love one another, and love the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Almighty God, fill us with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Help us to live worthy of the Lord Jesus and to please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power according to your glorious might so that we may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to you. For you, Lord, have rescued us from the dominion of darkness and have brought us into the kingdom of the Son you love, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Amen.