Many who know me are quite aware that I am indoorsy. It’s not that I don’t enjoy going for a run, a bike ride, or even a hike through the woods or in the mountains. It’s just that I don’t want to sleep out there. I believe God inspired us to create hotels and houses for a very good reason: to return to, enjoy, and sleep in. It’s a very important part of what separates us from the animals.
Well, back when I was in school for ministry training, all the students in our small school were taken for a multi-day hike in the northern woods of Wisconsin as a bonding experience. Before we began this adventure, our guides gathered all the men into a few groups and taught us orienteering. They held up a large piece of paper with colors and squiggly lines all over it, and said, “This is a map.” They showed us a compass. They taught us how to find our location, identify topography and checkpoints, and chart a course from point A to point B. This was really important information, because (little did we know) each of us would be responsible at some point over the course of the coming days to lead the others safely from checkpoint to checkpoint, eventually finding our way back home to civilization.
I learned a great deal on that trip (boy, could I share some stories!). Not the least of them was how crucial it was to have someone give you their wisdom on making one’s way through difficult country, the importance of taking care of one’s bodies with food and water, and the absolute necessity of a functioning compass and accurate map. Without them, you could get utterly lost and your life could be in peril.
The father in Proverbs understands such things. Listen to how he talks to his son, as he sets out into a dangerous world:
20 My son, be attentive to my words;
incline your ear to my sayings.
21 Let them not escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
22 For they are life to those who find them,
and healing to all their flesh.
23 Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
24 Put away from you crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
25 Let your eyes look directly forward,
and your gaze be straight before you.
26 Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.
(Proverbs 4:20-27, English Standard Version)
This isn’t a checklist for a hike into the woods. Rather, it is a checklist for safely making our way wisely in the world.
The first thing the father points out is that our bodies are a big part of making our way safely in this world. He engages multiple of the senses and members: we must be attentive to words of wisdom, never letting them out of our sight; we must prick up our ears to take them all in, listening carefully and closely; our eyes must also be set steadfastly on the path, and we need to carefully plant our feet as we move forward, staying on the proper course.
Above all, like caring for a good compass so it operates and leads one properly, we must keep our heart with all vigilance (v. 23). You see, the father understands that it’s not what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside, that’s most important. And from theheart (which means our minds, hearts, and whole personality) “flow the springs of life”—the capacity to properly live with joy and vigor regardless of circumstances. And without wisdom’s protection, corruption will enter in, hindering the proper functioning of the heart, and thus its ability to keep us safely on course.
Finally, to find our way, we must have a good map. It is the wise words and sayings of the father that reveal the topography of our lives in this world, the obstacles we will come up against, the peaks we will ascend, and the valleys we will have to traverse. The words and sayings provide the path and way (v. 26) we must follow. And if we do, we will make our way safely home, we will find our way to life and healing (v. 22).
We will live a good life.
We approach you today, in the light of this text, in a spirit of gratitude. What a good Father you are! Thank you for opening your mouth and giving us words and sayings of wisdom. We know that there are principalities and powers in the heavenly places that will come against us, so thank you for reminding us to keep our hearts with all vigilance. Thank you for giving us a good map, and a compass, and sound bodies. And , help us now, Father, by your Spirit whom you have given to us, to be good orienteers so that we can live lives of wholeness, joy and vigor, and make our way through this dangerous world, to arrive safely home to you.
Yes, and very amen, in Jesus’ name.
Pursuing the wise and good life with you,
P.S. If you’d like to study some of the wisdom literature further, I highly recommend the Wisdom Series from The Bible Project, and their resources on the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs Thirty-One Day Reading Plan
August 14: Proverbs ch. 1
Aug. 15: ch. 2
Aug. 16: ch. 3
Aug. 17: ch. 4
Aug. 18: ch. 5
Aug. 19: ch. 6
Aug. 20: ch. 7
Aug. 21: ch. 8
Aug. 22: ch. 9
Aug. 23: ch. 10
Aug. 24: ch. 11
Aug. 25: ch. 12
Aug. 26: ch. 13
Aug. 27: ch. 14
Aug. 28: ch. 15
Aug. 29: ch. 16
Aug. 30: ch. 17
Aug. 31: ch. 18
Sept. 1: ch. 19
Sept. 2: ch. 20
Sept. 3: ch. 21
Sept. 4: ch. 22
Sept. 5: ch. 23
Sept. 6: ch. 24
Sept. 7: ch. 25
Sept. 8: ch. 26
Sept. 9: ch. 27
Sept. 10: ch. 28
Sept. 11: ch. 29
Sept. 12: ch. 30
Sept. 13: ch. 31
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