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,
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
Day Twenty-Six: A Morning Conversation With King Solomon
A conversation that happened this morning as I came upon a visitor in our fireplace room….
Day Nineteen: God Chose Her, Not You
The doctrine of God’s rule and reign in and over all things comes crashing into the human conception of the self-made man. We are tempted to think we have so much to do with our happinesses. But the wisdom found from James speaks a wakefulness into the pondering of our circumstances—the good gifts we have come not from our own hands, but by the grace and providence of our heavenly Father. And the wisdom of Solomon makes clear—one of man’s greatest gifts is something only God can give, an understanding wife.
Day Seventeen: The Great Gain Of Godly Contentment
We live in a world where the temptation is constant to believe the amount of our wealth and possessions directly translates to our joy and happiness. The Bible, once again, confronts our culture and holds out another possibility. Namely, “better” does not imply “more,” “bigger,” or “expensive.” It suggests that the reason you still haven’t found what you are looking for is because you’ve been searching in all the wrong places. Wisdom opens our eyes and hearts to deeper wells of contentment.
Day Fifteen: I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me
I always feel like somebody's watching me. And I have no privacy. Woh, I always feel like somebody's watching me. Tell me is it just a dream? So sang Rockwell in the dawning of my high school years back in 1984. All the cool kids were singing it at the time, and its the tune that sprang to mind when I read this similar sentiment this morning: Yahweh is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3, New Living Translation)
Day Fourteen: Death By Living
For those of us desirous to live a good life, we’ve known since the very beginning of this book that it begins with a healthy awe, reverence, and trembling before the God of the universe whose name is Yahweh (Proverbs 1:7). And here we are again reminded that this humble posture before the Holy One is a fountain overflowing with life.
Day Thirteen: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
One of the key assumptions we’ve been working with as we make our way through the wisdom literature is that God has hardwired wisdom into the way creation (and the creatures within it…us) operates. It was there at the beginning. It’s the inner logic of everything, and the secret code for how it works. (see Proverbs 8:22-31)
Day Eleven: A Pig Is Still A Pig
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion. (Proverbs 11:22, English Standard Version) “Well…I never!” she replied to the King. Reading this proverb, it seems highly probable to me, given the stories of King Solomon and all the women in his life (1 Kings 11:3), that this was probably a proverb born from experience. He comes along a beautiful woman, of high social standing, of influence and power; but in his interactions with her, he begins to see her true self shining through all her external adornments. She has no discretion—she is a woman of loose and dissolute conversation, her mind and conscience are defiled. There’s a beauty for the eye, but the corruption of her character slowly transforms how Solomon sees her, and no amount of jewelry will cover that up.
Day Twenty-Nine: Please—Quietly Hold Your Tongue
Anger. noun. “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) As I entered day twenty-nine of Proverbs this morning, and came to 29:11, it struck me that this book has quite a bit to say about anger, strife, wrath, quarreling, fights, and rage. It is a theme that Solomon keeps coming back to, probably because he knows that it is a theme woven through humanity and history. Sometimes the best way to see a theme is to pull on that string so all the wisdom he has offered comes together for our observation. The accumulation helps us feel the weight of it.