31 Days in Proverbs – Day 6: Wise Warnings

Proverbs 6: 32-33
But a man who commits adultery has no sense;
whoever does so destroys himself.
There is a lot of teaching in the proverbs about warnings against adultery. This morning, this one in particular struck out to me because it is so different from the messages presented about adultery in popular film and television.
In 2015, I started reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. In fact, I can tell you the precise day I started reading it – February 14. I wasn’t reading it because it was Valentine’s Day – I read it to distract myself while I was experiencing early pre-labour contractions with my second child who was born the next morning.
Being of Scottish descent myself, I loved the Scottish Highland setting. I also loved learning about the history – the deposed Stuart Monarchs – with whom I share a family linage (albeit a very very distant one!)
I also love the main character, Claire. I love her passion and her fire. I love that she is not a damsel in distress, but instead when she finds herself magically transported from the year 1946 to the year 1743, she uses every skill she had hones as a battle nurse on the front lines in WWII to survive.
Claire, married to Frank Randall in 1946, begins her journey in the past desperately seeking her return to the man she loves. Yet, through circumstances beyond her control, she soon finds herself with no other choice but to marry another man – rugged, hyper masculine, yet gentle and kind Jamie Fraser – (think every image emblazoned on the cover of a mills and Boone novel rolled into one).
Throughout the novel, both Claire and the reader’s allegiances shift from the “husband of her youth” Frank to her new husband Jamie. When circumstances eventually get too dangerous for Claire to stay in the 1700s, (with the ill-fated Battle of Culloden looming, and Clarie and Jamie finding themselves on the wrong side of history).
Instead of cheering for the safe return of Claire to her husband, little by little, the reader, along with Claire, has fallen for Jamie. Our hearts break when their love is separated again by a seemingly uncrossable span of 300 years. (But – spoiler alert – with another 6 novels to go at that point, we can safely assume Claire won’t remain in the 20th Century forever!).
I went along with the ride, suspending my critical brain and allowing the author to make me feel the same things as Claire. It was only later when I realised that I had been expertly manipulated into cheering for the ruination of one marriage for the sake of another.
When Claire returns to Frank, their relationship is never the same again. Nor should it be. She has given herself to another man – body and soul – and has nothing left to give to her first husband, despite the love she initially felt for him.
Outlander does in some ways depict the pain of emotional betrayal and marital breakdown; the sections that show the 20 years of a fractured, broken marriage between Claire and Frank after her 3 years with Jamie are painful, raw, and heartbreaking. In some ways it does depict the warnings of proverbs. Adultery can will the adulterer to injure themselves as well as the people they purport to love.
Yet the message presented by Outlander, as well as many other popular film and TV shows, can undercut such warnings. Claire finds her true love and soulmate in Jamie, despite the fact she has made a covenant oath to another man.
Outlander isn’t alone in preaching this message. Scandal, Homeland, The Good Wife and even my beloved BBC Sherlock all contain plots were we follow a main character from the arms of their spouse and into the affections, and often the bed of another.
Certainly, these shows do show some the problems that arise from such a coupling, and the complications that ensue. Yet, at the same time they are also designed to build the sexual tension between the two characters so that when they finally succumb to temptation, the audience is cheering, rather than, in the words of the proverbs, seeing the characters as having “no sense” and on a path to “destroy themselves”.
So much of the TV I consume runs in distinct contrast to the warnings in God’s word, like the one I read in Proverbs today.
What about you? Do you tune in to the TV and turn off your critical brain? Do you allow the messages of the story to dilute the true, right and lasting messages of God’s word?
God’s warnings in the Proverbs are to those who want to be wise. These are warnings we won’t be seeing on TV. What are you going to do with your viewing habits? And how will you temper them with the timeless truths of God’s word?

 

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 4: Deceitful Hearts

Proverbs 4: 23-27

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.
Today I was struck by the poetry of this section, the way the different parts of the body are involved in the life of the wise person, and the roles each part has to play.
It starts with the heart, which is to be guarded above all else. The heart, the centre of our being, is where our truest desires come from. There is a place in my heart for the things I truly value, and those things say a lot about who I am. Of course my husband is always there, and my children, but my hopes and dreams for our family aren’t set in concrete. They shift over time. And these hopes set the path of my life – whether I’m conscious of it or not.
But while my heart is where my desires for my family lives, my heart also has a huge section in it labelled in bright bold letters – “ME!”. This is the selfish, childish, part that screams only for my own comfort.
This part is often at war with my desires for my family. Where my hope would be for my children to become well-rounded individuals, my selfish heart screams “just one more episode of Paw Patrol so I can have some peace!”. Where I worry about their attention spans and the development of their brains at this young age, my selfish heart says “just a few more minutes of computer games can’t hurt them!”
Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”. It’s no wonder then that the first steps in true wisdom is to guard it. If left unguarded, that part inside that screams for my desires, my comfort, my ease would always win. And everyone else I love would lose.
But, if the heart is beyond cure as Jeremiah says, then what hope do we have? Paul provides the answer in Philippians 4:6-7 –
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Only God can keep my deceitful heart from going astray. Only a miracle can stop my loud, selfish desires from crowding out the oft-too-quiet voice telling me the good I hope to do. Only Jesus can take my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, eager to live in obedience to him.
Only then will I be able to marshal the other parts of my body in line with the rest of the proverb. Only Jesus can help keep my lips free from unhelpful speech, my eyes fixed firmly on the right goals, and my feet fixed firmly on the right path, not wandering left and right into whatever temptations come my way.
If left alone to guard my heart, I’d have no chance. What great news that I’m not alone in this, that God promises to help me. All I need to do is ask.

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 3: Wise Discipline

Proverbs 3:11-12

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,  and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves,  as a father the son he delights in.

I can’t remember getting into too much trouble as a kid. I’m not saying I was an angel, more that the memory of my childhood has faded over the intervening decades. I do have a distinct memory of me and my two brothers, crowded into the back of out small late-70s model Mazda. We were on our way to visit my Grandfather or our cousins in the Eastern Suburbs.

The car didn’t have air conditioning and in summer your legs stuck painfully to the vinyl seats. There weren’t iPods or iPads then. We didn’t even have a cassette player – just the radio (talk about dark ages!). Instead, we’d have to entertain ourselves on the 30 minute drive, which as kids stuck in a hot and uncomfortable car, would soon get out of hand.

I can still see us, laughing the kind of jokes that as a kid you think are hilarious, or jostling each other about. Looking at my own youngest child’s latest antics, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d reach out and pinch my brother, or poke him in the face just for fun. I was that kind of kid.

Dad’s stern voice would come from the front seat, issuing a warning that quietens us down for a moment. But not for long. Either one brother would annoy the other, or one of them upset me (never the other way around of course!), and at the next traffic lights – slap! One of us (almost certainly one of the boys) would get a slap on the leg. That’s when we knew it was really time to stop.

I remember being young and being disciplined by God, too. I was 16, and had been a regular church member and follower of Jesus since I was 12. In my early teens, my experience of following Jesus was more external than internal. I was a Christian because I did “Christian things” – like go to church, teach at Sunday School, and attend Youth Group. My Bible Study leaders also encouraged me to read the Bible and I did because I respected them and wanted to be like them.

(As an aside – youth leaders- never underestimate the power your life and example have to influence young people. The kids under your care will pick up your habits without you even noticing it – the good and the bad ones!)

As a young teen, my experience following Jesus was more of a series of habits than a relationship. Obedience to God meant ticking those boxes every week. Perhaps I’m being harsh on my young self, I probably did have the notion of a personal relationship with God, I just hadn’t had to make any hard choices yet. I didn’t have to risk losing friends because of my faith – most of my friends were Christians, too. And those who weren’t were either happy to come to Youth Group with us, or didn’t care that we went. At 16, I hadn’t yet been tempted by parties with alcohol and drugs, none of my friends were into that.

The first hard choice I had to make as a follower of Jesus was precisely were my weakest temptation was – it was about a boy.

We’d met at my part time job filling shelves at a toystore. He was a few years older than me, finished school and working full-time. I thought he was nice. I liked talking to him. He didn’t drive and lived in the same suburb as me so my dad drove us both home from work a few times. We got chatting one night on ICQ – an online chat program that was a forerunner to what Facebook would become. Then, one night as we were chatting online, he asked me out! Me! Awkward, ugly, overweight, still with braces on my bottom teeth. It seemed too good to be true.

(I still to this day don’t know why he wanted to date me. I definitely wasn’t his type, as his later dating preferences would attest to.)

It was the beginning of a new year. I had just been away on a Church camp where we studied Hebrews 11 – which from that time has become one of my favourite passages of the Bible. I’ll write a post about it sometime in the future. Yet, within weeks I’d ignored everything I’d learned about what true faith, true trust in Jesus looks like, and decided that instead, I’d throw it away for a boyfriend.

Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last long. Nor did it end well. It took a whole year for me to truly recover.

After not reading God’s word for a few months, I decided to take back up where I’d left off at the end of the church camp – Hebrews 12. The verses from proverbs above are quoted, then the writer to the Hebrews goes on –

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!

 

They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

 

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

 

-Hebrews 12: 7-13

I can still see myself – 16, heartbroken, sitting on the bed my small bedroom with pink walls covered by posters of The X-Files, reading these verses. I remember the awe I felt when I realised that God’s word was describing exactly what I was going through at that moment.

Up until that point, I had only expected good things from God – easy life, good friends, success at school. And when a difficult choice arose, I was thoroughly unprepared for it.

We think of discipline as punishment or correction – and sometimes it is. But there is another facet of discipline – training, growing, failing and trying again. And God promises to guide us through it. Just like our parents discipline us because they love us and want the best for us, just like I try to discipline my kids because I want the best for them, God wants us strong in our faith and our relationship with him. And he knows better what we need than even a parent does with their child.

That moment when I was 16 was when God laid the groundwork for a real relationship with him. It wasn’t the first time I’d face difficulty and had to work out my faith. There’d be lots more between 16 and 35, and I suspect lots more to come between 35 and whenever it is that my Lord calls me home. And no matter how painful the discipline, I will be thankful for it, just as I am thankful for that day, almost 20 years ago.

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 2: True Wisdom

Proverbs 2:6-7 

For the Lord gives wisdom;

from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

He holds success in store for the upright,

he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,

for he guards the course of the just  and protects the way of his faithful ones.

One of the great blessings of the Information Age we live in is the access to seemingly infinite amounts of information. And, with that information comes great blessings. The internet, used wisely, can provide us with, so many new things we can learn, new ways of seeing the world, new skills to master.

One of the things I love to do is learn from life-hackers or productivity gurus. I’ve picked up some amazingly helpful habits by chance, stumbling onto the right podcast episode, or reading the right blog post.

Like when a blogger on a Christian website mentioned the Pomodoro Technique for productivity. This is where you work for focused bursts for 25 minutes, then schedule a 5 minute break. Finding this was was revolutionary for me at the time, particularly when I was struggling with motivation to climb what seemed to be the unending mountain of my PhD.

Or another time when I listened to an episode of Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Podcast and she talked about reward bundling. That is, when you tie something you don’t want to do with something you enjoy doing. For example – if I have a pile of marking I’ve been dreading, I can take it with me to a nice cafe and treat myself to a coffee and cake while I mark. Or, I’m struggling with motivation to exercise, so I tell myself I can’t listen to the audiobook I’m dying to unless I’m out for a walk or exercising at the gym. Doing the thing you want to do helps you do the things you don’t.

These life-hacks, among others I’ve come across, have served me well. But even the most proficient of online self-help gurus (like Tim Ferris or Jordan Peterson) have their limits.

True wisdom cannot be found in a system. It cannot be finessed with a motivational technique. It comes from God.

I find this infinitely comforting!

To gain wisdom, I don’t have to search the labyrinthine depths of the internet for the best way to organise my life, or structure my day, or fold my clothes in my cupboard. God has revealed wisdom to me already, and made it freely accessible in the pages of his word, the Bible.

In my Bible study last term we looked at Proverbs, and we kept coming back to the phrase “wisdom is truth applied”. I tried to find out if we had come up with it ourselves (it’s a group full of very wise women!) or if we’d read it in a commentary like Graeme Goldsworthy’s notes of Proverbs. A Google search turned up this instead –

“Wisdom is truth applied to the soul as guided by divine love.”

-Doug Groothius, The Soul in Cyberspace

The truth of God’s word, the great good news of Jesus and what that means for those who believe in him is freely available in the pages of the Bible. But it’s not enough to know the facts of Christianity – wisdom is putting those facts into practice, living them out in the muck and the mire of everyday life. It’s hard. It’s tricky. There’s no easy life hack to guide you.

But we do have this great promise from God –

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

-James 1:5

I’m not a naturally wise person. But I follow the Lord of all who is willing to give his wisdom to me. All I need to do is ask.

 

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 1: Wise and Foolish Friends

I can see why the Godly couple I spoke of in my earlier post would choose to read a chapter of Proverbs every day. There is so much gold to be mined, so many pearls of wisdom to be applied. It’s going to be hard for me to pick up on just one thing every day without feeling guilt for all the other brilliant teaching I’m going to be leaving behind.

(Perhaps I could encourage you to be reading Proverbs for yourself so you can see what I mean!)

Take chapter 1 for instance. Perhaps the most famous verse in the whole of Proverbs is 1:7 –

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction (NIV11).

And while there’s lots that I could say about this verse and how helpful it is as a framework for approaching God (when understood correctly), this isn’t the verse I want to focus on today.

Today, what jumped out at me was the passage written in the form of a warning from a father to his son –

My son, if sinful men entice you,
    do not give in to them (Proverbs 1:10, NIV11).

Later, in 1 Corinthians, Paul makes a similar warning about the power of foolish friends –

 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:11, NIV11).

It’s a frightful warning. It strikes me hard as a parent. I want nothing more for my children to grow up to know Jesus as their saviour and to live with him as their King. It’s my prayer, my longing, my deepest desire for them beyond what grades they get at school, or what career they choose – (the eldest one has already made up his mind on that front. He’s decided he wants to “go to work with daddy”, and that on his first day, they’ll have to drive together because he doesn’t know the way to daddy’s workplace yet!).

I can pray for them. I can teach them God’s word. I can try my best to model what it looks like to follow Jesus. But there’s so much I can’t control.

Friendship and can have so much power, can exert so much influence.

But God’s spirit is even more powerful.

And so I will continue to pray, to teach the word, to try my best to model faithful obedience to Christ.

And now I’m going to start praying for my children’s friends, too.

31 Days in Proverbs – Introduction

I once heard about the habit of a Christian leader I admire. He and his wife read a chapter of the Proverbs every morning. Every single morning. And when they get to the end of the book, they start again.

Proverbs is perfect for this, of course, as it has 31 chapters. One for each day of the month (a few extra chapters in February!).

Ever since learning this, I’ve thought more and more about the character of that man, and the one thing that continually strikes me is his Biblical wisdom. Now, I’m certain that his wisdom has come from reading more of the Bible than just this one book, but I’ve always wanted to emulate this pattern.

And so, this month, I’m going to read a chapter of Proverbs every day, and post a brief reflection every morning.

Can I challenge you to do something similar? If not a chapter, maybe a few verses. If not the Proverbs, maybe another book – the Psalms, or one of the Gospels?

If you do, drop me a line. I’d love to hear how you’re finding it.