Proverbs, how to get wisdom, instruction, good judgement, wise action, live well, wellbeing, embodied wisdom, learning, personal development, generative wisdom

Proverbs: How to get Wisdom, Instruction, and Good Judgement

For the past couple of years, I’ve chosen a Word of the Year – one value which I wish to embody in my life. It’s always been one of my values, but there’s always one that stands out more than others. For 2022, that word is Mastery:

  • the mastery of self (self-awareness and the resulting self-control) as well as
  • knowing more (knowledge and understanding) and
  • putting that new learning into practice.

Because to know anything is to do things differently from before.

Life management is about being well adjusted. … being able to stand against the wind of disappointment.
Time is not really the important element. It is what time represents that matters.
Time management is not about a list of things in order of priority that must be completed… Time management is about life management.

Given that life is mostly about intangible things, does it not make sense to learn to control them – things such as thoughts, desires, anger, curiosity, ambition, motivation, sadness, hurt and sorrow?
Althought we live in a tangible world, life itself occurs within our mind, spirit and soul.

Jonar C. Nader, How to Lose Friends & Infuriate People, a controversial book for thinkers.

For me, this is the essence of what I am reminded of when I read Proverbs – self-awareness and then the option for self-control.

The wisdom of Proverbs

One of the many things that I’ve had on my “I wish I had time to do” list is to deep dive back into Proverbs. Of all the books of the Bible, this is one of the two that most resonates with me. The other one is the book of James.

Proverbs has a special place in my heart because I remember my dad reading it to me every night before bed. Occasionally, we would talk about what a verse meant. But more often than not, it was just a reading of a chapter or a portion of a chapter.

I was left with many more questions than answers.

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from dictionary.com

Of course, many times, we try to read Proverbs literally, and not all of it can be understood with a literal meaning.

My experience with Proverbs is that different ones “jump out at me” at different moments in life. Moreover, I’ve interpreted them differently, depending on what I’ve been learning at the time.

As with any proverbs, many of them take time to digest and understand.

The usefulness of Proverbs

In the very first chapter of Proverbs, there is a small introduction, although there is debate as to how much of the book of Proverbs this introduction applies to.

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Proverbs 1: 1-6, Amplified Bible

I find it irrelevant who the author of Proverbs was: I don’t read the book of Proverbs because of who wrote it.

Throughout my life, I’ve turned to Proverbs when I’m in turmoil. And these last three years have had their fair share of inner (and outer) turmoil.

Consider how other translations present the introduction to Proverbs:

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Proverbs 1: 1-6, The Message
proverbs 1, wisdom, instructions, words of understanding, justice, judgment, equity, knowledge, discretion, a wise man, learning, a man of understanding, wise counsel, understand a proverb, words of the wise, kjv
Proverbs 1: 1-6, King James Version

These are the wise sayings of Solomon,
    David’s son, Israel’s king—
Written down so we’ll know how to live well and right,
    to understand what life means and where it’s going;
A manual for living,
    for learning what’s right and just and fair;
To teach the inexperienced the ropes
    and give our young people a grasp on reality.
There’s something here also for seasoned men and women,
    still a thing or two for the experienced to learn—
Fresh wisdom to probe and penetrate,
    the rhymes and reasons of wise men and women.

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;

To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.

The place of Proverbs

Proverbs is one of the five books of Wisdom of the Bible, together with Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.

I find it interesting that two of these books are poetry and psalms, rather than writings of wisdom, per se. And yet, all five of the books offer unique perspectives on life and the experiences of life.

But, as you will have noticed from the introduction to Proverbs, it has lofty goals:

  • wisdom
    • wise behaviour
    • the discipline of wise thoughtfulness
    • good judgement
    • astute common sense
    • intelligent discernment
  • instruction
    • a manual for living
  • knowledge
  • understanding
    • to understand what life means
  • insight
  • righteousness
  • justice
  • integrity
  • lead others to the truth

The road to wisdom

So, over the coming weeks and months, I intend to take a new journey through Proverbs and re-examine how it impacts my life. What new wisdom can I glean from these pages?

Where do you go for wisdom?

Meditation: Romans 6: 6-7, 14

We need to remember that each day we are “born anew”, we die to sin and rise to Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Because we are shown grace and mercy, we have the possibility of dying to whatever holds us back, and rising again renewed and full of life and light.

Matthew 5: 13-15

13 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its savor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 You are the light of theworld. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house

But until we actually recognize that living in the Presence of our Creator actually means shining forth every day as light in this world, we are only surviving, instead of thriving.

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Sermon: Accountable before God

Readings:

This morning in Romans we read:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. … So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

And in Matthew we read:

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

The reading in Matthew started with:

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
18:22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Some say that means that we have to forgive 77 times and others say that’s 490 times: seventy times seven.  So, imagine with me, for a moment, if God actually kept score of our forgiveness of each other, the same way that we keep score of how others have wronged us. How would that ledger look? Do you ever make it to forgiving someone 77 times for one offence? Ever?

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And then imagine if God was as quick to pass judgment on us as we pass judgment on others. Romans asks us today, why do we despise each other? Some versions say “treat them with contempt”, others use the word “belittle” or “look down on”, and still other versions say “set at naught”. To set at naught means to treat as of no account, to disdain, to hold in disregard, to treat with ignominy, to hold as insignificant.

A loving Christian is meant to care, deeply, for others: family, friends, church members & neighbors. But when we go into survival mode, that vulnerability and authenticity get shut down. Poets have long claimed that hearts grow cold and become hardened:  we treat others with disdain and insignificance. In our attempt to protect ourselves from distress and dull the pain, we divest ourselves of caring and responsibility.

When broken people live together in a broken world, pain is inevitable for anyone who loves. The only way to avoid the crushing pain of a broken heart is to make your heart unbreakable. So, we become the person that says “I don’t care” or “whatever”, when the luxury of giving ourselves the time and space to feel is threatened. And much of this despising or indifference towards others comes from looking inwards at our hurt and pain, and the defense mechanisms that we naturally have to block this out: just stop feeling. And so our hearts become hardened. If you choose the becoming “unbreakable”, you will also choose to lose your compassion.

What is critical to remember is when a heart becomes hardened, the brain has its own reasons for pressing down upon vulnerable feelings. To feel sets the person up to get hurt and the brain is geared towards survival at all costs. To bring emotional defenses down, the heart must be softened. The question is how can this be done? For me, personally, forgiveness has played an incredible role. I have repeatedly worked with Ho’oponopono meditation, where you sit and repeat: “I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you.” I’ve used this focusing on loving myself, loving others, loving God.

Forgiving and letting go is so much more than just my relationship with other people: a hardening of heart inevitably means I have hardened my heart towards God. And when you forgive yourself and others, truly forgiving them, you begin once more to experience God’s love and light in your life.

Jesus knew this: which is why he said we need to forgive an offense 77 times (or 490 if you read the KJV). If we want to be compassionate in this world, we need to allow people into our hearts. People will hurt you. People will take advantage of you. People will manipulate you. Not everyone and not all the time, but some will. And you have two choices: you can either choose to forgive or you can choose to become hard. You can’t have it both ways.  And forgiving is a hard practice: for most of us, it is not something we just do once and then we’re done. Hence the need to forgive again, and again.

When we remember the offense that the other person has committed against us, we have to repeat: practicing forgiveness. And for a while we will forget and let it go. But the memory of the hurt and offense will come back again, and we will have to repeat once more. And repeat once again. Not because you are going to leave yourself in a situation where that person will continue to hurt or take advantage of you, but because you are choosing a relationship with God over and above all things.

When you are consciously aware that such-and-such a person is “like this”: let’s say that they always ask you to lend them money and they never pay it back. When you make a decision to forgive them and also to keep that person in your life, you know that you will be exposed to more requests for money that will not be paid back. And then you have two choices:

  1. You can give them the money, as a gift, freely, with love; or
  2. If you cannot find it in your heart to give them the money lovingly, you can learn the life lesson of saying “no”. Of learning how to say “no” with love, without attacking them; without putting them down. Just “no”.

But if you give them that money with resentment, it’s like you are putting a curse upon them, because in your heart: you are cursing them and resenting them. If you are going to give, then give with love and joyously.  Make it truly a blessing.

1 John 4: 20 reminds us of this truth:

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”

There’s a lot of emotional intelligence involved in being a true Christian! You have to set loving boundaries in your life: where you love yourself enough to be true to yourself, and yet you love God enough to be willing to do the work to be open, vulnerable and authentic. We say we love God, but then we’re not willing to let go of our pain and hurt. That’s mine – my precious. I’m holding onto that pain. I’m not letting it go, I’ve been carrying it around for so long now, it’s part of who I am.

We say we love God, but then we’re not willing to let go of our judgments and prejudices against others. Paul says in Romans 14: don’t judge those who are vegetarians, or those who eat pork, or those who honor the Sabbath differently from us. Are we supposed to respect the Sabbath on Saturday, or on Sunday? We live in a society where dressing in a nun’s habit is okay, but it’s not okay to dress in a hijab. A society where girls should be allowed to dress anyway they like – but it’s their own fault when they get raped for dressing seductively. If we read Romans 4, verses 2 to 4 from the version The Message, we read:

For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

So who are we to judge another by appearances? Everyone has been invited to God’s table and is to be warmly welcomed. Even those who have hurt us. Even those who have somehow betrayed us. Our accountability before God is individual – I will be judged according to what I have thought, said, done or failed to do in honor of God. You will be judged and held accountable for what you have thought, said, done, or failed to do for God.

I leave us with this parting thought about the way we live our lives, in forgiveness and compassion for all others who are invited to the table:

None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It is God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other.  (The Message – Romans 14:7-8)

 

 

Sermon: Living with the Consequences

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:13

Last week I spoke about David’s adultery, conspiracy and murder, how he broke at least 4 of the 10 Commandments:

  • murder
  • adultery
  • theft
  • covetting your neighbour’s wife

Today I’d like to continue with the lessons that we can learn from David.

Now remember, it wasn’t that David was starved for female companionship. By this time as a wealthy king, he has many women: Ahinoam of Jezreel, Abigail the widow of Nabal, Maacah daughter of a king from Geshur (east of Galilee), Haggith, Abital, Eglah — that’s six while he was living in Hebron — and then “David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem, and more sons and daughters were born to him” (5:13). In addition he has Saul’s concubines in his harem (12:8). So, don’t think that was the issue here!

I didn’t mention this last week, but some commentators have blamed Bathsheba, saying “she came without any hesitation and offered no resistance to his desires.”  hmmm…  The person with the power here is David, not Bathsheba, and in chapter 12 of Samuel, we find that David is held solely responsible for the sin by God (12:9).

At the beginning of this morning’s Reading, we see that after Bathsheba’s time of mourning has passed, David sends for her and makes her his wife.  This is nothing new for David – he’s added wives before, and so she is simply another.  But, for many, what David did was an act of heroism:  He has taken into his harem the poor, pregnant wife, widow of one of his fallen captains.   It was not unusual for a king to take a widow to wife immediately after the death of her husband. It was viewed as charitable, since the king would provide for her provisions and protection.

“Look at the way he stands behind his men!  If they are killed in battle, he will take care of their widows!  What a great King!”

Right?

The Bible clearly points out that this displeased God!

Since Adam & Eve sinned,we have attempted to cover it us.  We fall into guilt and estrangement from God and from our fellow man!  We are embarrassed by it, and we try to put our fig leaves in place to cover it up.  And when that fails, we hide!

Unlike Nixon, Clinton or even Martinelli, David seems to have gotten away with his shenanigans.  His cover-up was very effective and culturally appropriate.  No one is pointing the finger at him for what he had done.  And it looks like he’s gotten away with it.  A whole year has passed.  The baby has already been born…

But during this time, David is suffering from the guilt!  One of the Psalms written about how he felt during this period is Psalm 32:

… When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer.

But even though David knew what he had done was wrong, he still hadn’t dealt with it!  David knew the stress and agony of living a double, false life.

Even in his deceit, David was still leading the worship of Yahweh. You can imagine the tension going on inside of him. He was the judge of Israel. So, during that time God just wrings him dry. Until he is finally ready to face the real issues in his heart.

And so we read that God sends Nathan to speak with David.  We don’t know how long Nathan took to prepare this message, but his approach was nothing less than masterful!  He confronts David with his actions, brings him to acknowledgement and repentance, and stayed alive in the process!

Remember, David is the judge of Israel, and he has, so far, gotten away with murder and adultery… No one knows… and so he thinks he’s being told a real story, to pass judgement, when really, he’s being hung out to dry by his own tongue.

“There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb 

A little ewe- remember – David was a shepherd, and had probably, at one stage, had his own little pet lamb. So he immediately identifies again with the poor man and this one little lamb.

I remember we had a pet lamb once, Mum & Dad named him LambChop… you can imagine my horror when I worked that one out!

and so, this poor man had bought and nourished this little ewe lamb; and it grew up together with him and his children. It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, and was like a daughter to him.

it was dear to their hearts, something special, just like Cecil the lion…

and so the parrable goes that a traveler 

just a passing fancy, like a look over the parapet at a naked woman, no love, no commitment, just someone going by… a little like the dentist that just wanted to hang a great head on his Wall to boast to his friends about… until his next great hunt…  

came to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd, to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; rather he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan,

“As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. And he must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion.”

Most of us are umpires – we jump at the opportunity to call strikes on someone else.  It’s so easy to apply God’s standard to others – but we dodge its application on ourselves.  Isn’t it wonderful when you can find somebody who is worse than you?  You can vent upon them the spleen, the wrath, that you feel about yourself. That is exactly what David did.

He had been a shepherd. He had had a little ewe lamb. He knew what it was all about.  Then here was this totally callous person, this rich man with flocks and herds, who grabbed this poor little ewe lamb, all the poor fellow had, and took it for a wayfarer, not even for his mother-in-law or some important visitor.

He is pronouncing judgment on himself, and he doesn’t even realize it.  He’s strict about applying the law in THIS case!

And then, once he has him where he wanted him, Nathan comes in with the punchline:

“You are the man! 

Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. I also gaveyou your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, 

Remember that harem I mentioned?

and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!  Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 

Notice, no mention is even made of Bathsheba – this is ALL on David!  You used treachery; You used deceit; and You used pagan enemies. Collatoral damage – all the men that Uriah was leading at the time… it wasn’t just one man on his conscience!

And yet Nathan says “you sinned against God”.  Why God? Because David failed to accept and believe God’s promises:

if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!

What does repentence look like?  While it’s difficult to describe, it’s easy to recognise.  You know it when you see it!  And there is no mistaking it here with David:

I have sinned against the Lord!

That’s a short response.  No excuses. No qualifications.  Guilty as charged.  David didn’t say “well, we all mess up once in a while” or “well, I didn’t expect it to go that badly?” or “but I had legal permits for hunting a lion, I just didn’t realice it was Cecil… well, except that we tried to destroy the GPS tags”…

No, he takes full responsibility for everything, including the consequences.  Accepting responsibility is liberating. Yes, it’s hard to admit you were wrong. But it demonstrates strength, courage, and a commitment to personal excellence. It’s respectful. By doing so, you demonstrate that you care about yourself and others.

And David was forgiven!  He should have died for this, as he says in his own condemnation of the rich man!  But even though he will not die for his deeds, he still doesn’t get to escape the consecuences.  Unfortunately, many times, even though we have admitted our mistakes, we still have to live with the consequences.  Most of us think that God’s forgiveness is escaping the consequences, but that’s not usually the case. Even when we’ve admitted we’re wrong, there are often still consequences that we are going to have to live with.

And so we have Psalm 51:

  1. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your lovingkindness: according to the multitude of Your tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
  2. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
  3. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
  4. Against Three, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight: so You are justified when You speak, and are clear when You judge.
  5. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part You make me to know wisdom.
  6. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
  7. May be to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which You have broken may rejoice.
  8. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
  9. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
  10. Cast me not away from Thy presnece; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
  11. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.

This is why David is a man after God’s own heart!  Because he acknowledges, heartfully, when he has screwed up and offers true repentence!