Wisdom — Week 2

We’re spending some time in the wisdom and poetry of the Old Testament. Though we find poetry and songs throughout the Old Testament, when we speak of the “Wisdom Literature” we’re talking about Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.

 

Monday, August 13

Read: Psalm 63:1-5

Consider: We spent last week in the first two chapters of the Book of Proverbs. There is one statement there that I would like to revisit — “Wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul” (2:10).

Whenever I read that passage, my mind is taken to what we read today from the sixty-third psalm…

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you…I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods…” (63:3,5)

Okay, I really like to eat. I’m guessing you do, too. Of course, eating for the wrong reasons can have devastating effects on our health and our lives. Food can become an addiction when we go to it to find comfort or joy. Simplicity of life calls us to eat for nutrition and to fuel our lives for service to God.

But when we approach food in the right way, we really do enjoy it. And that was God’s intent.

Good food is beautiful, and enjoying it greatly enhances our lives. And sometimes we’re called to feast on it. That’s right, on some occasions, we’re called by God to celebrate with great food and drink. In the Old Testament, God repeatedly called his people to honor him with feasts.

I have simple tastes. When I think of the “richest of foods,” the first thing that comes to my mind is something I eat from time to time simply for the pleasure of it. It’s not nutritional and it shouldn’t be eaten often. But it is my “richest of foods”—a cream-filled long john from Hinkley’s Bakery in Jackson, Michigan. Words cannot describe it.

Of course, the wisdom writers aren’t talking about food—even Hinkley’s long johns—but they are focusing us on reality. Life is hard. We go through seasons of great difficulty. And living for Christ requires humility, discipline and submission. But let’s not forget that God’s love is “better than life” and living in his wisdom is “pleasant” to our souls. It is wise for us to live in that reality today.

Pray: Take some time to meditate on the psalmist’s words — “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you…I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods…” (63:3,5).

Slowly savor those words as you would your favorite food or drink. Don’t gulp them down, but “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

 

Tuesday, August 14

Read: Proverbs 3:1-8

Consider: When I was a child, there was a plaque that hung in our home with a portion of today’s reading on it. Daily I saw the King James Version of Proverbs 3:5 — “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”

Our home was characterized by learning. I frequently heard my mom and dad discuss new concepts they had learned from reading a book, reading scripture or hearing a sermon. Though they had never attended college, my siblings and I were expected to. Learning was very important to my parents.

The responsibility to learn and grow was never in conflict with the plaque on the wall. The writer of Proverbs says that “the discerning heart seeks knowledge” (15:14), but we should never lean on—depend on—our “own understanding” (3:5).

There is a beautiful dynamic in this. When we are humble enough to admit our own ignorance, we are freed to seek, learn and grow. When we’re not trying to prove to others or to ourselves how smart we are, we are freed to seek wisdom.

The writer of Proverbs teaches that the know-it-all is a fool—the one who is “wise in his own eyes” (3:7). The seeker finds true wisdom.

Yesterday I had the privilege of spending an hour with a remarkable 85-year-old woman. This brilliant lady has experienced great highs in her life, but also great tragedies, including the deaths of two children. She has known decades of caring for a child with no capacity to care for herself. It was evident to me that all her experiences had somehow formed her in beautiful ways. We talked about love, grace, community and continual learning. At one point I told her she was wise. She gave me one of those shy smiles that said, “No, I’m not wise. That’s too grandiose a term for me.”

But that was what made her wise—she was not wise in her own eyes. She was still a seeker of wisdom.

Pray: “Lord, I want to be humble enough to know that I don’t know. Yet I want to be wise enough to seek your truth. I won’t depend on my own, limited understanding. But I will depend on the fact that you can teach me. Teach me, Lord. Teach me how to live and love in the manner for which you created me.”

 

Wednesday, August 15

Read: Proverbs 3:11-12

Consider: The Lord doesn’t punish us. But he does discipline us. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the difference.

When people become parents, the pressure is on. From time to time we get impatient and angry with our children. That anger may stem from our own experiences of the day, the baggage we carry from past wounds, or simply lack of sleep. And, of course, it may also come from the fact that the kids are acting like monsters today.

So, the parent’s job is to administer discipline without withholding affection. To straighten the child’s thinking and acting without framing it around our own inner issues. To discipline out of nothing but love.

Of course, none of us always live up to that ideal. We are all so far from perfect. But because we can’t always pull it off, and because we beat ourselves up for our lack of parental perfection, we forget how our Heavenly Father disciplines us. He’s not doing it out of anger or revenge. He’s not trying to tell us how bad we are. Our Father is a redeemer, a savior. He rescues us from ourselves.

So, Solomon wrote to his son and said, “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves” (3:11-12).

In the New Testament, the writer to the Hebrews quoted those two verses from Proverbs and then went on to say…

“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.” (Hebrews 12:7-11)

The Lord disciplines us in a variety of ways. But always remember, the Lord’s discipline is proof that you are his child.

Pray: Think back to times when you were disciplined by God—times when you were clearly shown that you were wrong in your thinking and in your living. Those are usually painful memories, so don’t spend too much time on them. Rather, spend some time remembering what you learned and how you were changed. Then thank God for the guidance of our Heavenly Father who always acts on our behalf in love.

 

Thursday, August 16

Read: Proverbs 12:16

Consider: Sometimes the Old Testament wisdom literature speaks to the great truths of life, what I like to call the Big Picture. Other times the proverbs that we read are incredibly practical. And often, the down to earth stuff is harder to take in than the view from thirty thousand feet.

Today’s proverb fits that description—eminently practical, yet tough to implement. We’re taught that a prudent person—a wise person—overlooks personal insults.

Our culture teaches us that we must answer our critics. Of course, there are times when that is appropriate. When it involves an evil, such as racism or misogyny, we shouldn’t be silent. Values are corrupted. People are victimized. We must not stay silent in the face of oppressive language and actions. And, of course, when language rises to the level of verbal abuse in a home or in any setting, something has to be done.

But when we’re simply acting out of our own bruised ego, wisdom says that we needn’t put our emotional energy into the insult. We’re foolish to put ourselves through misery over something someone else has said.

Let’s be honest, many times the “insults” we endure are simply misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the words, posts or tweets of people whose egos are just as fragile as ours. I’m trying to learn to handle those differently than I have in the past. I used to ruminate over questions like, “What did he mean by that?” or “Why would he say that about me?” Now I’m learning to answer those question with a simple statement; “It doesn’t matter.” That frees me to give them the benefit of the doubt that they were probably just clumsy with their words and didn’t intend to harm me. It frees me to move on and focus on things that matter. I’m not saying that’s easy to do or that I have perfected it. I’m still in process.

But there have been times when I didn’t have to wonder. Because I write and preach, my views are out there. I’ve received online attacks filled with hatred and vile language. These are from people who have chosen to shoot from a distance and not get close enough to see me as a human being.

I’ve had to learn that I have an audience of One. I can’t be preoccupied with what others think of me, nor can I control it. So, wisdom says that I can rejoice in the One who thinks I am beautiful—the One who made me in his image.

Pray: “Lord, I’m so thankful that I never have to prove myself to you. I’m so glad that I’m never misunderstood by you. I’m grateful that there is nothing I can do to make you love me more and nothing I can do to make you love me less. Please give me discernment on how to handle the small, insignificant insults of life as well as the injustices that are heaped on us. I want all my reactions to be Christlike, so I desperately need your wisdom.”

 

Friday, August 17

Read: Proverbs 11:2

Consider: Yesterday we considered the prudence of overlooking an insult (Proverbs 12:16) and the wisdom of remembering that how others view us has nothing to do with what God sees in us. This has everything to do with that simple statement from today’s reading — “With humility comes wisdom” (11:2).

I think it’s important that we try to understand what humility is. It is not the same thing as low self-esteem. Many people, in striving for humility, refuse to believe anything good about themselves. They denigrate themselves with internal scripts as well as their outward speech. But that is not humility. Ironically, sometimes it is pride. For when we are constantly consumed with how adequate or inadequate we are, we are placing ourselves at the center of our own thinking—the center of our universe. Humility frees us from that. It liberates us to place God at the center. And when he is at the center of our lives, we no longer have to spend our emotional and spiritual energies on who we think we are.

That’s why a humble person is much more prepared to overlook insults. It is also why low self-esteem can make it seem impossible to overlook the indignities of life.

Now, I don’t claim to be able to fully define humility. (That’s a good thing, because if I could, I’d be pretty proud of it!) But there is a way for us to take on this aspect of wisdom even if we cannot fully comprehend it.

Humility is a gift. God gives it to us. And I think he wants us to ask him for it. We can take our low self-esteem and give it to God, asking him to humble us as he heals us. We can simplify our source of esteem by asking God to liberate us from the bondage of other’s opinions (real or imagined). And we can ask God to show us how to remove ourselves from the center of our universe and place him there.

“With humility comes wisdom” and, I think, with wisdom comes humility.

Pray: “Jesus, you exemplified humility. My prayer is that you will teach me to walk as you walked. For your love and your liberating grace I thank you.”

 

Saturday, August 18

Read: Proverbs 4:20-27

Consider: We’ve all asked ourselves a simple question. We’ve considered what we would do if we had to suddenly evacuate our home. If total destruction of our house was imminent and we only had moments to flee, what would we take with us? It’s a good way of asking ourselves what we consider to be most important and what we consider to be most precious. What would we protect?

The wisdom writer told us what he thought was most precious, not in our homes, but in our individual lives. He said, “Above all else, guard your heart” (4:23).

The Bible uses words like “heart,” “soul,” “spirit” and sometimes “mind” to help us get at who we really are. In other words, there is more to us than meets the eye. And if we’re careless and preoccupied with other things, we’ll neglect who we are and what God created us to be.

Within the context of his instruction to guard our hearts, the wisdom writer talks about our personal moral and ethical issues.

“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.”
(4:24-27)

Now here is where we tend to get off base. We make one part into the whole. To many people, our personal ethical choices comprise the sum-total of our spiritual journey—our walk with Christ. So, many well-meaning religious leaders and institutions have developed their lists of personal do’s and don’ts. Their good intention is to keep us from perversity, corruption and evil.

Here’s the problem. When religion has been reduced to the list, we have lost our capacity to really know God. We’re trying to do the right things in order to avoid guilt or condemnation. That’s a lousy way to live.

The wisdom writer didn’t address our personal morality so that we could become good enough for God. He wasn’t telling us to do certain things to be saved. The whole Book of Proverbs is comparing wisdom with foolishness—humility with arrogance. He is telling us to be wise. Don’t let the junk get in the way of living true to the heart of God in you. That would be tragically foolish.

Pray: “Lord, your call to wisdom calls me away from the things that complicate my life and sidetrack my walk with you. But I can’t clear the junk by myself. I need your discernment—your wisdom—as to what is hindering me. And I need your strength to do what you call me to do. Teach me how to guard my heart.”