Proverbs 4:1-9 – Pay Attention to Wisdom

Listen, children, to a father’s instruction,
and pay attention so that you may gain discernment.
Because I hereby give you good instruction,
do not forsake my teaching.

When I was a son to my father,
a tender, only child before my mother,
he taught me, and he said to me:
“Let your heart lay hold of my words;
keep my commands so that you will live.
Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding;
do not forget and do not turn aside from the words I speak.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
love her, and she will guard you.
Wisdom is supreme—so acquire wisdom,
and whatever you acquire, acquire understanding!
Esteem her highly and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place a fair garland on your head;
she will bestow a beautiful crown on you.” (New English Translation)

Pay Attention to Instruction

Once, when I was a kid growing up on the farm, I was playing hide-and-seek with my brother and got lost in a cornfield. The stalks were taller than me, and I couldn’t jump up and try to see over them. I started to panic.

Then, I got my wits about me and looked straight up into the sky. Even though I was only seven or eight years old, I had looked up at the sky a bajillion times in my short lifetime. My dad had taught me how to read the sky and the weather above us. Fortunately, I had listened well and paid attention to all those times we looked up together.

I knew that the position of the sun in the bright blue sky would give me a fixed point of direction. Once I did that, I walked in the direction I was certain would take me out of the cornfield, trying not to let fear take hold of me. In no time at all, I was out. I lost the game of hide-and-seek. But I didn’t care.

Wisdom is personified in the book of Proverbs as a sage woman and a discerning counselor for whom we must hear and heed her advice. 

In the Old Testament, wisdom is the practical daily application of knowledge and understanding. It’s the ability to take the knowledge of God and use it in everyday life in a way that leads to human peace, contentment, and flourishing. There are two important aspects to wisdom. 

Pay Attention to Knowledge

First, the individual must possess some body of knowledge. If we are ignorant (without knowledge) then we have no ability to exercise wisdom. More than once, I rescued cousins and friends from the cornfield while playing hide-and-seek, because they didn’t have the same understanding of the sky that I did.

So, it’s absolutely imperative for us to actively seek understanding. It’s not going to simply drop into our lap. We must purposely strive to look up and see the Son, to view life from God’s perspective, and to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. 

To gain wisdom, we must become readers, listeners, and devoted learners. Why? Because without books to read, without spiritual directors to consult and listen to, and without adopting the humble posture of learning from others, we will never realize wisdom.

The telltale sign of one who fails to read, listen, and learn, is that they continually opine on everything with no evidence to back up their opinions, no insight into the human condition, and no grace in their language. In the book of Proverbs, such as a person is labeled the “fool.”

Pay Attention to Behavior

The second aspect to wisdom is that the individual must use the acquired knowledge to have good behavior and to live well. 

Knowledge by itself, apart from actual practical use, only produces puffed-up pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). The reason for accumulating understanding is to use it for the welfare of others, for the benefit of the common good. 

We have quite enough preening peacocks in this world who have answers for every earthly problem under the sun. This world needs much less of them, and more of those who seek the humility that comes from biblical wisdom. As the Apostle James in the New Testament once put it, we must be doers of the Word and not hearers only (James 1:22).

Wisdom is realized whenever there is learning that has come through both the head and the hands. Proverbs is a very good place to begin constructing a life of wisdom. Reading one chapter a day, for one month, will get you through the entire book. 

Make a wise plan to carefully go through Proverbs sometime this spring or summer. You’ll be glad you did. And so will those around you.

Pay Attention to Prayer

God of all wisdom, save me from pride and arrogance, and take me to the place where Christ’s humility is center stage, where I’m lifting up clean hands and a pure heart to you.

Spirit of discernment, take me to the place where I’m no longer looking with panic or anxiety at the cornfields and situations I face, but look up to you, where I can see clearly, and my decisions are flooded with your bright light, truth, and justice.

Jesus, teacher of all that is right and good, I submit to your instruction and humbly seek to live into your words and ways. I keep my ears open to receive your counsel, my heart open to receive your eternal wisdom, and my eyes open to see your risen and ascended glory.

Just, right, and wise God – Father, Son, and Spirit, the God whom I serve – know that I love wisdom. I desire it more than money, fame, or power. Help me to use biblical common sense, spiritual savvy, and Scriptural discernment so that I might learn the good and the beautiful. Amen.

Proverbs 2:1-5 – Have Common Sense

My child, you must follow
and treasure my teachings
    and my instructions.
Keep in tune with wisdom
and think what it means
    to have common sense.
Beg as loud as you can
    for good common sense.
Search for wisdom
as you would search for silver
    or hidden treasure.
Then you will understand
what it means to respect
    and to know the Lord God. (Contemporary English Version)

“Common sense is not so common.”

Voltaire

Sometimes it seems as if common-sense has taken a vacation or gone into quarantine.

We may even be in some sort of common-sense crisis or pandemic.

Perhaps we are emoting when we should be thinking. Maybe we’re thinking when we ought to be feeling. It could be we’re doing both or neither. Whatever the heck is going on, it’s a bunch of gobbledygook that isn’t getting us anywhere.

Much to my sadness, many Christians brazenly splash their ignorance across large swaths of social media. It’s not surprising that more and more people want nothing to do with the Church nor Christianity. 

Common sense does not necessarily imply any great quality of mind or intelligence; it’s common, not extraordinary.

We need some sound practical discernment for common everyday matters.

What shall we do?

I propose we liberally inhale the biblical proverbs – because suspicion, gullibility, extreme vitriol, and downright stupidity now characterize vast sections of our world, especially in the so-called intellectual West. In the wise sayings of the Proverbs, we shall find that:

Humility and reverence are the beginning of wisdom.

A teachable spirit is of more value than any amount of money or physical resources.

Developing the life of the mind is of critical importance.

Every good thing in life comes through blood, sweat, and tears – and doesn’t just fall into your lap.

Prayer matters.

Ultimate control belongs to God.

There is peace in being comfortable with mystery.

Knowing God helps us pursue the right questions, rather than always trying to have the right answers.

Becoming more self-aware creates greater awareness of God and others.

Smart choices come from both mental learning and practical action.

The mind can be clouded and untrustworthy, and the heart can be desperately wicked; the gut, however, is always right.

Mentally overthinking and researching things to death can disconnect us from a good old fashioned sage response.

Our own personal view is just that; it isn’t necessarily the best or right perspective.

Feedback, advice, consultation, and collaboration are necessary, not optional.

Perfection isn’t the goal.

Proverbs aren’t ironclad promises; they’re short pithy statements of experiential truth.

Observation and listening are valued by God as the primary means of gaining understanding.

Most things in life are both/and, not either/or.

We all have two ears and one mouth. There needs to be twice as much listening as talking.

We must go hard after wisdom.

“Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Having experience makes all the difference.

Action and reflection go hand-in-hand.

It’s okay to be afraid. It’s not okay to let fear stop us from action.

Simplicity and complexity are not necessarily antithetical.

Complete control is the glory of God. Self-control is the glory of humans.

“Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are and doing things as they ought to be done.”

C. E. Stowe

If we are going to raise our voices about something, then let us shout loudly in prayer for some basic wisdom and common sense from God. Any common fool can be won over by a podcast rant or get sucked into some blogger who vehemently damns everyone opposing his views. 

The wise believer, however, will humbly cry out to God for the wisdom to live well and make good decisions with both mind and mouth.

May it be so to the glory of God.

All-wise and everlasting God:

You know the number our of hairs and determine our days.

You hang the stars and feed the sparrows.

You open doors no one can shut and shut doors no one can open.

Surely, we can trust you when the time comes for making big decisions, or for that matter, any decision. We need your sagacity and discernment for all things. We will trust you for generous wisdom, straight paths, and peaceful hearts.

Blessed God:

We plan, seeking you to order our steps.

We pray, asking you to bend our prayers toward your benevolent purposes.

We seek counsel, counting on you to direct our words and actions more than trying to please someone else.

We search the Scriptures, looking to know Christ better.

It’s not our decisions, but yours that make all the difference. 

Gracious God:

Free us from the paralysis of analysis. We confess we are often more concerned with the perfect decision that impresses everybody, rather than being a righteous person.

Free us from idolatry. We confess we are often more concerned for our reputation than saying and doing what is right, just, and fair.

Free us from living in fear of disapproval. We confess we are often people-pleasers, rather than God-pleasers.

Free us from cheap and easy solutions to complex problems. We confess we often want speedy outcomes to our difficulties, rather than seeking to learn everything we can from the circumstances you give us.

Free us from continually second guessing ourselves and not trusting our gut. We confess that we often ignore the still small voice of wisdom within.

Sovereign God:

No matter the situation or the relationship, we affirm that your will and way for us is supreme.

Give us the desire and means of acquiring your will for all things.

Make us more and more like Jesus, even as we trust you for the opening and closing of doors that are in front of us.

May we live to your glory – Father, Son, and Spirit – the Holy Trinity we serve. Amen.

Proverbs 30:1-10 – Live Wisely and without Envy

These are the solemn words of Agur son of Jakeh:

    “God is not with me, God is not with me,
    and I am helpless.
I am more like an animal than a human being;
    I do not have the sense we humans should have.
I have never learned any wisdom,
    and I know nothing at all about God.
Have any ever mastered heavenly knowledge?
    Have any ever caught the wind in their hands?
    Or wrapped up water in a piece of cloth?
    Or fixed the boundaries of the earth?
Who are they, if you know? Who are their children?

“God keeps every promise he makes. He is like a shield for all who seek his protection. If you claim that he said something that he never said, he will reprimand you and show that you are a liar.”

I ask you, God, to let me have two things before I die: keep me from lying and let me be neither rich nor poor. So, give me only as much food as I need. If I have more, I might say that I do not need you. But if I am poor, I might steal and bring disgrace on my God.

Never criticize servants to their master. You will be cursed and suffer for it. (Good News Translation)

These are the raw expressions of a man who has awareness of his own envious nature. He realizes his profound lack of wisdom. The man, Agur, discerns how helpless and pathetic he really is, apart from wise living.

The wise person knows that a heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. Possessing too much or too little tends to awaken the eye of envy within us. Agur wants to avoid thinking that people, even God, owes him. He is concerned he might slip into the disposition of what the Lord and others can do for him, rather than vice versa.

“The secret of success is that it is not the absence of failure, but the absence of envy.”

Herodotus

Today, envy manifests itself in moving-on to another church, or friendship, or marriage, or job when perceived needs and wants are not met. Certainly, ties need to be severed in the case of abusive treatment. Yet, when we simply do not like something, and aspire to more and more hoarding of emotional and spiritual resources, there is little to no awareness of the shadowy places in our hearts.

Perhaps, through the difficulty, the Lord was attempting to reveal something important to us or working to bring about positive transformation. However, we bailed from the situation too quickly, not wanting to deal with the pain or inconvenience of it all. And, all the while, our real motivations remain hidden and unaddressed.

It is necessary to see envy for what it is – not just a common predilection everyone has – but a malady of believing I deserve things no one is giving me. It’s the age old endemic problem, much like Adam and Eve’s original sin, of grabbing a forbidden fruit in the belief G-d is not providing everything I need. And we then cannot, or will not, see all the vast resources and blessings already possessed.

Gratitude is a spiritual practice, when engrafted into a daily spiritual walk, provides a strong antidote to keeping envy at bay. Instead of wondering why G-d is not blessing my life and work in ways I think it should happen, perhaps we ought to identify and count the blessings we already possess and enjoy. 

Some of the greatest joys around us are the simple pleasures of everyday life – holding and sipping a hot cup of coffee; a quick kiss good-bye to my spouse on the way out the door; the opportunity to curl up with a good book on a rainy day; these and many more are blessings given to us by a heavenly Father who cares for us deeply.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

Aesop

It might be a good thing to spend some intentional time saying and/or writing out many of the blessings currently existing in your life. 

For example, rather than wishing a loved one would not have to endure disease or surgery and envying healthy people, rejoice that he/she is with you, that you enjoy one another’s love and companionship, whether it is in times of health or in seasons of illness.

And instead of envying the rich or worrying about becoming poor, give thanks for this current place in your life. Simple thanksgiving to G-d for every meal, each possession obtained, and even all things lost forever, fortifies the spirit for resilience over the long haul of life.

Much of our life on this earth comes down to mystery. We simply do not know, and are not privy, to the myriad ways G-d is working in the world. We may never know why we must face and deal with our particular and personal pains, disappointments, and sorrows.

So, when we pray, much like Agur, it might be wise to ask for continual help with never-ending problems, rather than constantly praying for deliverance from unwanted situations. It is best we pray as Jesus taught us saying, “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

“I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”

The Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:11-13, MSG)

Wise persons know the frailty of their own hearts. Prayer, for them, is an organic practice arising from vulnerable and forthright discussions with G-d about doubt and disbelief. Indeed, people come to know the Lord not through speculating or imposing their own personality on G-d but by daily calling upon the Divine Being for practical help at the neediest points of life.

Blessed Lord, take me to the place where I am saved from my pride and arrogance and humility takes center stage, where I’m lifting up clean hands and a pure heart to you. Take me to the place where I’m no longer looking at the mountains I face but looking down upon them, where I can clearly see, and my decisions are flooded with your light, truth and justice. I bend my knee and receive your truth. I open my ears to receive your counsel. I open my heart to receive your eternal wisdom. Amen.

Proverbs 29:1-27 – Discipline Yourself

Some people refuse to bend when someone corrects them. Eventually they will break, and there will be no one to repair the damage.

When the rulers are good, the people are happy. When the rulers are evil, the people complain.

A son who loves wisdom makes his father happy. One who wastes his money on prostitutes will lose his wealth.

A nation will be strong when it has a fair and just king. A nation will be weak when it has a king who is selfish and demands gifts.

If you give false praise to others in order to get what you want, you are only setting a trap for yourself.

Evil people are defeated by their sin, but good people will sing and be happy.

Good people want to do what is right for the poor, but the wicked don’t care.

Proud people who laugh at what is right cause problems that divide whole cities, but people who are wise are able to calm those who are angry.

If someone who is wise tries to settle a problem with a fool, the fool will argue and say stupid things, and they will never agree.

If you always try to be honest, murderers will hate you, but those who do what is right will want you to be their friend.

Fools are quick to express their anger, but wise people are patient and control themselves.

If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials will be evil.

In one way the poor and those who steal from them are the same—the Lord made them both.

If a king judges the poor fairly, he will rule for a long time.

Punishment and discipline can make children wise, but children who are never corrected will bring shame to their mother.

If the wicked are ruling the nation, sin will be everywhere, but those who live right will win in the end.

Correct your children whenever they are wrong. Then you will always be proud of them. They will never make you ashamed.

If a nation is not guided by God, the people will lose self-control, but the nation that obeys God’s law will be happy.

Servants will not learn a lesson if you only talk to them. They might understand you, but they will not obey.

There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.

Give your servants everything they want, and they will learn to be wasteful.

An angry person causes arguments, and someone who is quick-tempered is guilty of many sins.

Your pride can bring you down. Humility will bring you honor.

You are your own worst enemy if you take part in a crime. You will not be able to tell the truth even when people threaten you.

Fear can be a trap, but if you trust in the Lord, you will be safe.

Many people want the friendship of a ruler, but the Lord is the only one who judges people fairly.

Good people think the wicked are disgusting, and the wicked feel disgust for those who are honest. (Easy to Read Version)

I’m not much one for binary definitions of either/or. I find both/and to be a better approach to most things. So, when it comes to the nature versus nurture debate, it seems confusing to apply the either/or. Children are shaped by both their nature, DNA, and ancestral lineage – and the nurturing (or lack thereof) provided by their parents, grandparents, and significant people in their lives.

Both nature and nurture influence children so that the way of the parent tends to be the way of the child. It is extremely difficult for kids to rise above traumatic, abusive, or neglectful parenting and be virtuous. Violence, greed, and misdirected anger are vices both inherited and learned.

Even in loving homes directed by good hearts, a child can fall into bad companionship leading to bad behavior. And added to the mix, we are all profoundly touched by the fall of humanity. Our disordered loves, unhealthy habits, and dubious actions easily rub off on others, especially kids.

This is why self-discipline is so very important. It needs constant attention. There are too many obstacles and too much at stake to ignore wisdom and slide into an undisciplined life. The biblical proverbs help us to focus our attention and our efforts in healthy directions so that we might contribute to the good of our families and our society.

Reverence and trust in the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The self-controlled and self-disciplined life leads to spiritual prosperity, emotional buoyance, and a mentality of abundance. Selfishness, and the lack of proper boundaries, quickly degenerates into foolish behavior and adversely effects the family and society.

Any garden variety fool can bluster on and cause a raucous, being insensitive and shortsighted to the consequences of their words and behavior. Foolish people scoffing and belligerently offering their unsolicited opinions helps absolutely no one. Indeed, it seems the fools around us are a dime-a-dozen.

The security and stability of both home and society depend upon wise order. Such order, applied wisely and graciously, avoids the extremes of harsh discipline and lax correction. It takes wisdom to make sound decisions in finding the sweet spot between too much and not enough.

Holding people accountable for their words and behavior, and doing it without a critical spirit, is at the heart of godly living.

A great deal of self-discipline is to force ourselves, and allow the Lord to bend our will, to exercise faithfulness in a responsible, regular, and robust way over all those whom we nurture and care for – without succumbing to ramshackle improvising, as if spontaneity were our only tool.

The wise sayings of the biblical proverbs are to be our merciful guide, keeping us on the road of life, not falling into the ditch on either side.

May it be so to the glory of G-d, and the shalom of our family homes, faith communities, and societal institutions.