How to Become Wise and Make Those Around You Wiser

I’m reading through Proverbs right now (not right now, but you know what I’m saying), in which Solomon writes ad nauseum about wisdom. I guess that makes sense since that was his forte, but still, he repeats himself over and over (which I realize is redundant, but I like redundancy…I also like to say things again and again… … … … …)

Anyway, one of the dead horses Solomon beats is that wise people listen to advice and accept discipline. In fact, Proverbs 19:20 reads, Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” So. There you go.

Likewise, Proverbs 12:15 says, “The wise listen to advice.” Proverbs 13:10 reads, “Wisdom is found in those who take advice.” Proverbs 10:17 says, “Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life.” Proverbs 12:1 reads, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge.” Proverbs 15:32 says, “The one who heeds correction gains understanding.”

Several thoughts occur to me.

First, if we want to be wise, the verse says we have to listen to advice and accept discipline. Which we cannot do if people aren’t giving us advice and disciplining us.

Now, don’t get scared. I’m not going to say we should walk around spanking adults for misbehavior or placing grown people in time out (although, I think I’d benefit greatly if someone would make me sit on a mat and think about what I’ve done from time to time). Discipline here has less to do with punishment and more to do with instruction and correction. Think disciple. Wise people listen to advice and accept instruction and correction.

Obviously, all advice and instruction are not created equally. Some people give really crappy advice. Others over-correct constantly because they like the sound of their own voices. So we have to be careful about who we consult. But we all need good advice-givers and discipliners/instructors/disciplers in our lives. 

On the other side of the coin, we all need to be good advice givers and discipliners.

I don’t know a lot of people who struggle with not giving advice. Most people like to give advice and find it easy to do so because it is a lot like giving an opinion. We all have a lot of opinions and most of us don’t mind sharing them.

But I don’t know a lot of discipliners and correctors. It takes more guts to correct someone than to give them some advice. Personally, when someone is saying or doing something stupid or wrong in my presence, I’d rather keep my mouth shut and silently wish the moment would pass than confront him on it.

I suspect most people are like me in that regard; we have an aversion to correcting people because we associate conflict and animosity with correcting. We anticipate it won’t go well. How many of us have been taught how to correct/confront others in a gentle, helpful way and feel comfortable doing so?

But what is the result of being a society–a Church–who does not correct people when they are wrong or foolish? We end up with a void of wisdom.

The verse says, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” We cannot produce wise people unless we are willing to correct people. This has far reaching implications in every aspect of life. On a a big picture level, those of us who have an aversion to conflict have to get over ourselves if we want a society/government/culture/Church/family that is wise. 

On a small scale, when we withhold valuable instruction and correction from the person sitting across the table from us who is bragging about his latest sin or laying out the worst plan we’ve ever heard in our lives, we contribute to his downfall. We stunt his emotional and spiritual growth. Ultimately, we fail to love him well.

That puts a whole new perspective on things. Next time you feel compelled to not correct someone out of fear of the uncomfortable confrontation that may occur, think to yourself, “Self, if I love him, I will speak up.”

If you don’t love him, well, that’s a whole different problem.

 

Advertisements

How to Develop Self-Discipline (From the Valedictorian of I Don’t Want To)

Self-discipline has always been my forte.

(They say you should open with a joke.)

Actually, I am as self-disciplined as a newborn. And we all know how ridiculous they are… cute, but entirely self-centered.

How to develop self-discipline (from the valedictorian of I don't want to)
image via David Castillo Dominici @freedigitalphotos.net

I don’t know that you much care why I lack the ability to make myself do things I don’t want to do. So I won’t dwell on that much beyond the following guesses: I am the baby of my family, most things came easily to me as a kid (read: I never had to work hard), and selfishness is my spiritual gift.

(Ok, not really, but if selfishness were a spiritual gift, I’d ace that section on the test.)

Basically, if something doesn’t have an immediate pay off for me, I usually don’t do it. Similarly, if not doing something will have an immediate negative consequence, I can’t do it fast enough.

I’ve never put forth any real effort in training myself to learn how to do things I don’t want to do – i.e. – to develop self-discipline – because I’d have to be self-disciplined in order to discipline myself to become more self-disciplined.

(The words and the logic – I’m good at using them to my advantage, aren’t I?)

It is not lost on me that the words “disciple” and “discipline” seem to share a root. Without getting into a language lesson, I would not be surprised if the two words are related because being a disciple requires discipline.

Ah.

Fantastic.

The other day Oswald Chambers had a devotion on the idea of self-discipline that nailed me to the wall.

(Go read it. I’ll wait.)

The part that resonated most with me is this:

“We go wrong because we stubbornly refuse to discipline ourselves physically, morally, or mentally. We excuse ourselves by saying, “Well, I wasn’t taught to be disciplined when I was a child.” Then discipline yourself now! If you don’t, you will ruin your entire personal life for God.”

I really ought to stop following Oswald on the Twitter.

But I can’t.

Because he says things I need to hear.

Maybe you need to hear them too?

In regards to self-discipline, I think about another guy who will tell you like it is. Dave Ramsey says a budget is telling your money what to do.

I don’t struggle with finances because I am inherently cheap. (Seriously, I think it is a gene I inherited from my grandma on my dad’s side.) I struggle to be disciplined in a lot of other areas in my life, but the one I’d say that takes precedence is my feelings.

(And I have a hunch you can relate to me on this one, so allow me to start talking to us.)

I don’t need to rehash the Bible’s take on feelings, but I’ll summarize it with this: feelings ought not be trusted. 

That is so contrary to what we modern Americans have heard all our lives that it’s hard to swallow. But swallow we must if we’re going to become disciplined disciples.

Oswald basically tells us to grow up, and take responsibility. It doesn’t matter if we have never “learned” to discipline our feelings, we ought to just do it now. Taking a page out of Dave’s book (not literally, because haven’t we learned anything from Mark Driscoll this week?!), we must tell our feelings what to do. 

And when we’re being honest, that doesn’t actually take much learning. If we say we’re going to spend some time learning how to be self-disciplined in an area, we’re really just saying we’re going to see how long God will let us stall.

Yesterday my four year old was in her booster seat in the car. I told her to buckle her seat belt. She half-heartedly pulled it and whined, “It’s too haaaaaaard…” And I don’t even know how she got inside me, but Jillian Michaels came spilling out. As I looked at my child through my rear view mirror, I calmly but firmly said, “I don’t want you to tell me how hard it is; I just want you to do it.”

And right then and there in that parking lot, I felt the conviction. How long have I been telling God (and a whole host of people) how hard it is to discipline my heart? If I put half the energy into just doing it that I put into talking about how hard it is…

“I don’t want you to tell me how hard it is; I just want you to do it,” I imagine God saying, with a touch more compassion than Ms. Michaels and I usually exhibit…

In what area are you struggling most to discipline yourself? Can I gently challenge you to stop talking about it, and just do it? Our feelings need to be told what to do. Or they will be our ruin. 

Why Does God Discipline Us?

In my post The Longest Time Out Ever, I let Jeremiah show us how God exercised His right to severely discipline the Israelites.

Jeremiah makes a good case as to God being just in disciplining. He is holy. We are not. He tells us to obey. We don’t. Therefore, it is fair for Him to discipline us.

But that doesn’t explain why He disciplines us. Just because He can doesn’t mean He must. When He occasionally doesn’t discipline us even though we deserve it, we call that mercy. But if He never disciplines us when we deserve it, we call that terrible parenting. We will not grow. We’ll remain immature Christians, failing to impact the world with the love and truth of Jesus.

Surely, God disciplines us for the sake of His reputation – He can’t have no one take Him seriously because He never follows through with His punishments. And He can’t have people thinking He is okay with sin, undermining His holiness.

But the primary reason God disciplines us is for our benefit.

And our good buddy, Jeremiah, speaks to that as well.

God banishes the Israelites to Babylon for 70 years on account of their gross sin and unwillingness to repent. During that time, the Israelites begin to get it. They start to grasp the gravity of their idolatry. They weep. They repent. They seek forgiveness.

Discipline accomplishes its initial purpose. The Israelites feel the weight of their sin.

But that’s not the end all be all of repentance.

When their hearts turn from their sin and toward Him, God promises to, “…gather [the Israelites] from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to [Jerusalem] and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul,” (Jeremiah 32:37-41).

We see here the underlying purpose of discipline.

Yes, God wants us to stop doing sinful things. But much more so, He wants us to always live in close emotional proximity to Him. He wants our hearts! He wants our love. He wants us to trust Him. He wants relationship with us. He wants to be the single focus of our hearts.

No matter what He is disciplining you over, this is why He is disciplining you. He wants your heart. Give it to Him.

The Longest Time Out Ever

Once upon a time, Israel disobeyed God year after year after year. Like a patient parent, He warned them time and time again, “Please don’t do this. Choose to obey.” He took the time to explain to them they were headed toward destruction and pain. They wouldn’t listen.

Finally, God had to follow through and discipline them. Like the best parents, He had to go against every impulse of His Father heart and punish His children so they would learn to not be self-destructive anymore.

In Israel’s case, God allowed/orchestrated the capture of the Israelites by enemy nations. They were carried off to Babylon, where the Israelites were enslaved for 70 years.

This may sound harsh at first read, but keep in mind God had been warning Israel through prophets for YEARS they were heading toward this exact punishment. God didn’t mince words. He was as honest with Israel as I am when I tell my children beforehand that a certain behavior WILL result in a spanking.

Like the unruliest of children, like me, Israel tested those limits. And they got exactly what God told them they’d get.

While reaping what they had sown in Babylon, Jeremiah, who was still in Jerusalem, sent the exiled Israelites a letter. In it Jeremiah quoted the Lord telling the Israelites to, “Build houses and settle down… Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage… seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you in exile,” (Jeremiah 29:5-9).

When I am being disciplined by the Lord, the last thing I want to hear is, “Settle in; you’re going to be here awhile.” I much prefer to take my discipline quickly and get it over with.

Seventy years. The Israelites had FOUR GENERATIONS to sit and think about what they’d done wrong. That’s the longest time out ever. And yet, we can’t really get mad at God for going overboard – they were WARNED this was going to happen!

Imagine the self-loathing the Israelites felt. I can picture the Babylonians coming in, taking over, and marching the Israelites out of Jerusalem. I imagine the shocked men thinking, “This is really happening… God said things would happen this way, but we didn’t believe Him. We didn’t think He’d really go through with it, but here we are, being exiled. We have ANGERED God. We have angered GOD. Oh <expletive>!” Then the fear took over their bodies as the reality of the situation set in. It’s a wonder their legs were able to work at all.

I think a little fear was good for the Israelites. I know it’s good for me. I spend way too much time not having a healthy fear (awe, respect for) God. I need reality checks sometimes, and this was just such a reality check for the Israelites.

But lest that healthy fear turn into unhealthy fear (“God is scary”, “God doesn’t love us”, “God is spiteful”, etc.), God sends the Israelites a word of encouragement and reassurance once they arrive in Babylon. He says, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to [Jerusalem]. For I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future,” (Jeremiah 29:10-11).

When this letter was read aloud to the Israelites, I imagine they wept at these words. When my children come out of time out, they look at me with one question in their eyes, “Do you still love me?” And just as God says to the Israelites here, I want nothing more than to tell my children, “YES! YES! Of course I still love you! There is nothing you can EVER do that would make me not love you.”

God goes on to say to the Israelites, “I am with you and will save you…I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished,: (Jeremiah 30:11).

Even when you and I are in “times of exile”, experiencing the just discipline of the Lord for our disobedience, GOD IS WITH US! AND HE WILL SAVE US!

It may be a longer season of discipline than we’d like, but He is near, and He is good. And that is enough to get us through. That is enough to get us through.

How to Best Respond to Correction

We started time-out with our girls, ages 3 and 5, when they were 18 months old. At that age, they weren’t interested in my explanation as to why they were being disciplined. Their eyes roamed the room behind me, looking for the next toy they would play with, my words never entering their brains. They learned to wait until I was done speaking, say “Yes, ma’am,” and be on their way, having no idea what just happened.

They were focused on something else. A lot of times they were focused on getting back into whatever they had been in when they made the choice that had gotten them sent to toddler-jail in the first place.

It was as if they were thinking, “As soon as this lady is done talking, I am bolting for that doll I threw at my sister’s head. Doll. Doll. Doll. I wonder what will happen if I throw it again? I wonder if sister will squeal again. That was cool. Doll. Doll. Doll.”

And, sure enough, as soon as my monologue ended and I said, “Ok?”, that kid was out of the gate on a specific mission to possess as quickly as possible that toy she’d been eyeing.

By the time they were 2 years old, I had successfully trained the children to LOOK AT ME while I was speaking to them. (Kids… you have to teach them EVERYTHING.) I thought this eye contact would help them process what I was saying, tuck those little truths in their hearts, and blossom into joyfully obedient darlings.

But my oldest, who is a people-pleaser and rule-follower by nature, soon showed me otherwise. She mastered the eye-contact thing very quickly. And she also mastered the eyes-glaze-over-while-I-tune-you-out just as fast.

When I would correct her post-time-out, she’d look at me like we were having a staring contest. Intense. No blinking. Eyes as wide as possible. But it never took long for me to realize she was totally absent from our teachable moment, probably thinking about the toy she wanted instead of looking at it.

And, as soon as my monologue ended and I said, “Ok?”, that kid was out of the gate on a specific mission to  possess as quickly as possible that toy she’d been thinking about.

Needless to say, the “lessons” I wanted my kids to be learning from time-out weren’t sticking. We’d repeat time-out for the same offenses day after day after day. They weren’t being trained by the discipline.

Ah. Yes. The Bible told me this would happen.

Hebrews 12:11 reads, “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.”

Hmm. So it seems the author of Hebrews is telling us sometimes we endure discipline and aren’t trained by it. Like my kids.

What a waste! As someone who has been disciplined by the Lord A LOT lately, let me tell you, it angers me to no end to think that we sometimes endure the pain and difficulty of being disciplined and learn NOTHING.

“Oh, no,” I vow to myself, “I will NOT be going through the wringer for nothing!” I resolve to be trained by the discipline so I don’t have to be disciplined again later for the same expletive thing!

As my 3 year old says, “That is unasseptible.”

While discipline that gets through our thick heads produces righteousness and peace in our lives, we can infer that discipline which fails to penetrate hardened hearts produces the opposite – unrighteousness still exists because we haven’t changed our ways, and chaos abounds on account of our poor choices and the very pain of the discipline.

Chaos.

Yes, that aptly describes life with toddlers and preschoolers who are not being trained by parental discipline.

I don’t want chaos in my home. But, much more so, I don’t want chaos in my heart.

I don’t want to be focused on getting back to the sin that caused the Lord to discipline me in the first place while He tries in vain to change my heart. I want to be focused, instead, on what He is trying to teach me by instructing me to steer clear of the sin.

He never disciplines us for no reason. And He never disciplines us for no good reason. He is methodical, purposeful, and always has our best interest at heart. We can trust Him to improve us via the discipline. But we have to choose to trust Him.

If you are being disciplined by the Lord, resolve with me to be trained by it, for goodness’ sake. Don’t WASTE the pain! Learn from it, and bear the fruit of righteousness and peace.