Week of Sept. 4: Wisdom means more than simply following the rules
Scripture: Proverbs 3:1-12
Lord, help us to seek your righteousness and wisdom in all things so that we may keep in a right relationship with you and become a witness of God, working in the world through us. In Christ’s holy name, Amen.
Knowledge is an accumulation of facts, but wisdom is the ability to see people, events and situations deeper than the surface, to see them as God sees them. Bible scholars doubt that much of Proverbs was actually written by Solomon, but we do know that the king who could have asked God for anything chose to request a “God-listening heart so I can lead your people well, discerning the difference between good and evil...” (I Kings 3:9). Proverbs is a part of the Bible that we call Wisdom Literature.
The instruction in this proverb is to allow our heart to keep the commandments. When our perspective of keeping the commandments is a mental calculation or tally record of our good and bad behavior, our lives are held as an account rather than a relationship. The wisdom literature of Israel points to the passion for keeping a relationship with God for God’s sake, which will become in our own best interest. If we keep the commandment in ways that are driven by our heart and our relationships, we find the abundance they provide, rather than amassing abundance for ourselves.
Whatever it takes
Literary works are filled with examples of advice from parent to child. This passage reminds the writer’s child to trust and honor God. The emphasis is on doing whatever it takes to keep the commandments. To do so is to find favor and good repute with God and people. Langston Hughes writes in Mother to Son, “Well, son, I'll tell you: Life for me ain't been no crystal stair…Don't you set down on the steps. 'Cause you finds it's kinder hard. Don't you fall now—For I'se still goin', honey, I'se still climbin'…”
We need reminders to keep us on track. Roberta Bondi, professor at Candler School of Theology, would start the day in her office by unplugging her phone cord, placing it vertically across the phone and the handset over the cord making the sign of the cross, to find uninterrupted prayer to start the workday. One couple leaves post-it notes for each other with prayers of love and forgiveness on the bathroom mirror to remind each other to start the day with joy and strength. Traditions of pins, statues or commandments are all devices or reminders of prioritizing our life’s activities and motives so that we are faithful to God. Another lesson is to wear loyalty and faithfulness around your neck. Simply wearing a Christian fish pin or a tie with crosses does not make us faithful or true to God. But there is wisdom in wearing signs of our faith to remind us and to encourage others. Think of what we wear around our neck: silver and gold, glasses and name badges, scarves and ties. To what are we most faithful and loyal? Is it our wealth, our name, our status?
Trust in the Lord
Christine Yoder in her book. Proverbs, says “To write on the heart is to make an indelible mark on the center of one’s being…to etch the instructions onto the innermost parts of oneself—to learn…wisdom teaching so well that it becomes a part of you.” In 1887, following an evangelistic meeting, a young man stood to share his story. As he was speaking, it became clear to many that he knew little about the Bible or Christian doctrine. His closing lines, however, spoke volumes to old and new believers alike. “I'm not quite sure. But I'm going to trust, and I'm going to obey.” Daniel Towner was struck by the power of those simple words that he quickly jotted them down and wrote the beloved hymn, Trust and Obey. Sometimes in our efforts to second-guess God and pontificate, we miss the simple things that call us to a close relationship with our living Lord. Richard Foster, one of the most prolific writers of our age regarding the spiritual disciplines, encourages us in his book, Prayer, to seek a relationship with God, like a trusting child has with a loving parent. We need to have a connection and bond with God that not only allows but also encourages us to turn to our Creator when we are frightened or worried or grateful or sick or lonely or happy. We need to feel we can crawl up on God’s lap, wrap our arms around his neck and say, “I love you, and I need you.”
The Lord’s discipline
While we may not agree with the memory of the voice we hear in our head when we recall the punishments we might have received as a child “This is going to hurt me a lot worst than it will hurt you,” we need to know that divine discipline is an act of love. It is most helpful to think of discipline as order rather than punishment. It is not likely that God has a United Methodist Book of Discipline, but God does offer lessons that shape our faith. Wisdom is the byproduct of the suffering, sweat-equity and practice of keeping the commandments. When we don’t keep them from the heart, we miss the opportunity to experience God’s power and grace. The journey of faith is not pressing the easy button, but it is trusting God along the bumps and potholes and deep wells. There we learn to follow God’s lead as we grow into perfection of relationship.
John Wesley said, “Wisdom is the facility of discerning the best ends and the fittest means of attaining them.” We must trust God like a child, “exchanging self-reliance for fear of the Lord.” That is the complete commitment of our lives to God, surrendering all our fears.
Take Action: Choose to pray, fast, worship, read Scripture or celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Be faithful to the activity for the next seven days to help you keep God first in your life.
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” The United Methodist Hymnal #467