Proverbs 6: 32-33But a man who commits adultery has no sense;whoever does so destroys himself.
Proverbs 6: 32-33But a man who commits adultery has no sense;whoever does so destroys himself.
Proverbs 4: 23-27Above 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 feetand be steadfast in all your ways.Do not turn to the right or the left;keep your foot from evil.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.