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.

 

Thoughts for the Anxious Christian

Anxiety is a broad term for a lot of different psychological and physiological responses. And people use it in a myriad of ways.

Psychologically speaking, some people say they are anxious when they are mildly worried about something. Others don’t consider passing worry to be anxiety until it becomes obsessively debilitating worry – worry that’s often irrational or over the top.

Still others reserve the word anxious for when their bodies are responding to the fear in their minds – increased heart rates, feeling hot, feeling claustrophobic, feeling unable to breathe, feeling like your having a heart attack, stomachaches. When physical anxiety is at it’s worst, most people call that experience a panic attack.

The nice thing (if there is one) about anxiety is that the Bible speaks to it in more than one place. To be honest with you, I’ve always read verses about anxiety from the stand point of mild worry. But the Lord has me in a season where anxiety means more than that to me, so I am looking afresh at the “anxiety verses”. Just because I’ve limited their meaning in the past to mild worry doesn’t mean that’s the only way God intended them to be interpreted.

On that note, I read this today:

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1Pe 5:6-11)

Verse 6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” 
  • We should submit to the idea that our anxiety (however we experience it: mild worry, obsessive worry, depression, panic attacks, debilitating anxiety disorders, etc.) is God’s doing (either directly or indirectly); He is in control. He knows what’s best, and, as hard as it is, He has deemed this best for us right now.
  • He will deliver us from this suffering at the proper time. (The NIV isn’t a great translation here; thankfully, vs. 10 clarifies Peter’s meaning.)
Verse 7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
  • We are to continually place our anxiety on Him, not keep it ourselves. Whether it’s worrisome thoughts or physical anxiety, we should consciously give those things to God. We can do this through prayer: “Lord, I don’t want to worry about ____. I don’t want to be afraid of ____. I don’t want to feel ____. You take these things.”
  • I have a hunch that if God tells us to cast our anxiety on Him, it’s because He is willing to take it from us. In other words, it will be a fruitful exercise. I can’t prove this. So don’t go hanging your hat on it.
  • He cares for us! As alone as we may feel in the midst of anxiety, we are not. And because He cares about us, He wants our anxiety. He wants to free us from all levels of worry, just as we long to ease our childrens’ worried minds and take their physical pain from them.   
Verse 8: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
  • Satan wants to devour us in the midst of our experiencing anxiety. This is an opportune time for him. I don’t know that he can cause our anxious symptoms (particularly physiological responses), but I am certain he tries to exacerbate them by drumming up our fears concerning them.
  • We need to say to Satan, “I will not be the one you devour!” in the midst of our anxious episodes.
  • We are not picked on by Satan because we are weak or less than; I believe we are targeted because we unashamedly identify ourselves with Jesus. We should consider Satan’s attacks an honor and not feel ashamed in anyway that we are experiencing them (1 Peter 4:12-19).
Verse 9: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
  • We can resist Satan by declaring truth out loud, “God is good. He only allows that which is in my best interest. I refuse to believe otherwise. He is in total control, and I am safe with Him.” (Psalm 107:1, Romans 8:28, Proverbs 19:21, Psalm 4:8)
  • We are not alone! Believers all over the world and all over our own churches are experiencing the same kinds of anxiety in all its forms. As a side note, Satan seeks to divide and conquer us by isolating us. The more we share our stories with each other, the braver we all become to get the help we need to overcome our anxiety, especially the more debilitating forms.
Verse 10: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
  • We will suffer, but not forever; only for a little while.
  • We are personally called and chosen by God, and He Himself will restore us from this season of suffering. And when He restores us to emotional health, He will make us strong, firm and steadfast. There is no mincing words here; this is a promise
Verse 11: “To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
  • It is by His power and as a testament to His power that these things will come to pass.
  • Amen is an expression of absolute confidence that it will be so. Peter is confident. We can be confident.
Whether you struggle with “normal” worrying from time to time or more intense anxiety, reread this passage of scripture the next time you feel concerned. There is power in the Word. I’d even encourage you to read it out loud. In some situations, doing so will be enough to quell the anxiety and empower you to cast all your anxiety on the Lord. Other situations warrant additional action steps. Either way, incorporating scripture will undoubtedly help us.

Wherein God Sounds Like a Broken Record

My 6 year old daughter attends a Christian school. Every week the students have to memorize a passage of scripture. Last week it was Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

It’s a pretty familiar verse, so, sadly, it doesn’t pack the punch for me it once did.

My 4 year old daughter attends a children’s class on Wednesday nights at our church. Every week they have the children memorize a passage of scripture. Last week it was the first half of Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”

It’s a pretty familiar verse, so, sadly, it doesn’t pack the punch for me it once did.

My 35 year old husband is a Christian. Every time I write a blog post, he reads it. Last week he commented on a post with Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

It’s a pretty familiar verse, so, sadly, it doesn’t pack the punch for me it once did.

My twitter feed is full of posts by friends and celebrities that often quote scripture. Last week someone I follow posted Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

It’s a pretty familiar verse, so, sadly, the Lord has to BEAT ME OVER THE HEAD WITH IT before I pay any attention to Him. Lucky for me He’s not opposed to doing that.  And it doesn’t hurt too much. And we laugh about it later.

I like to think I’m fairly good at trusting God. It’s the “lean not on your own understanding” that gets me.

You mean sometimes I have to do things that don’t make sense to me? Or, worse, I have to do things that go against what sense I do have?

If I can’t trust the intellect I have to steer me right, I feel like I’m up a creek without a paddle. I panic. I feel paralyzed. How do I make decisions if my decision-making device – my knowledge – isn’t trustworthy?

Well, for one thing, I don’t think this verse is declaring my own understanding completely null and void. God gave us intellect to help guide us in life. The Bible encourages us to search for wisdom and pursue knowledge.

But I think this verse is trying to communicate that we shouldn’t only or primarily depend on our own understanding.

First and foremost, we are to trust in God – to lean on Him

We put our weight – the bulk of our confidence – on His understanding. When our own understanding – our logic and experience and observations – is complementary to God’s understanding, we gain additional support from ourselves. But when our own understanding conflicts with God’s understanding, if we are trusting in Him, we won’t fall despite the noticeable absence of our own understanding.

He is strong enough to support us with or without the help of our intellect. Let’s trust Him.

Feeling Let Down By God

It’s been a long time since I’ve wept tears of frustration over the scriptures. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever done that… But I did Sunday night. Uncontrollably.

There are a lot of theological “issues” I can’t wrap my mind around, but most of them I can say, “I don’t know,” about, and leave them at that. For example, I can’t explain how to reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s freewill. And I’m ok with that. This type of theological conundrum doesn’t necessarily affect me in the day to day. I don’t live and die by having answers or explanations about this and most other aspects of God.

But there is one issue in particular that doesn’t just stay in my mind; it creeps down into my heart and stirs up all kinds of emotion.  It plagues me. Two or three times per year for the past decade this issue has crept up, and life circumstances have demanded I form an opinion about it.

And every time it comes up, I study this issue in depth, with all of my intellectual and spiritual might. And every time I come away still not knowing what to believe about it.

image via zirconicusso/freedigitalphotos.net
image via zirconicusso/freedigitalphotos.net

This would be ok if my life didn’t necessitate I have a conviction one way or the other. But it does.

Which sets the scene for Sunday afternoon. The issue. There it was again, front and center, screaming at me, “WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?!” I came home from church exhausted, but I pulled out my study Bible anyway and began to dig in. I read and reread all the passages on the subject I’ve read and reread countless times before.  I considered context and historical setting and all the different possible ways to interpret what I was reading.

I spent a couple hours pondering, periodically throwing out a prayer to God, “Lord! What does this mean?!” And when I didn’t get a reply, I got angry. I was angry at Paul for not being more clear. But, really, I was angry at God for allowing Paul to be unclear. I mean, God knew when Paul wrote and when the canon was settled that I would come on the scene in 1983 AD and need some clarity on this subject. And He still chose not to give it.

I closed the Bible, and the questions began.

Didn’t God care about me (and a whole bunch of others) enough to be clear on this subject? Why didn’t He plan accordingly? Didn’t He understand the desperate place my soul was in? Why didn’t He lead me to understanding? Doesn’t He want me to have a solid view of this issue so I can honor Him in my decisions? How can He expect me to obey Him when His instructions about this issue aren’t clear?

There is a subtle lie behind all these questions. If ever I think God should have done something differently – like dispensed scripture more clearly, for instance – I am really saying I know better than God. If I were in charge, would have been clear on this subject…

My anger mixed with depression. I got in the car and drove. Anywhere. Windows down. Music up. Waiting for the Lord to tell me something. He didn’t.

I returned home, put the kids to bed, and began to share with my husband my feelings of frustration. I angrily opened my Bible – the Book around which my whole life is centered – and I read a couple of perplexing sentences aloud. And then 10 years of uncertainty broke.

Right there on the tissue-thin pages of God’s Word, my tears fell. Hot rivers down my face, into my hands, washing away my anger, exposing the lies underneath.

I wasn’t so much angry as I was hurt. I felt like the Lord had let me down. It seemed like He hadn’t considered my very real need for clarity on this subject when he had decided all those years ago not to give clear directives about this topic.

While all this felt true, I knew it wasn’t… There has never been a moment in the entire scheme of eternity when the Lord wasn’t thinking about me. He knows everything about me. He knows what I need before I ask for it. He has never abandoned me, nor has He ever failed to plan for me.

Monday morning I awoke to an email from a friend who knew I was struggling, referring me to Proverbs 2.

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding– indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:1-6 NIV)

Instantly, the lies that had felt so true the night before lost their power. I was reminded of the personal nature of our God. He hadn’t failed to plan for me when He had Paul write scripture; God promises to give me wisdom, knowledge, and understanding Himself. He will, undoubtedly, use the scriptures to do so. But, ultimately, as John wrote, it’s God’s Holy Spirit that will lead me into all truth (John 16:13). And this Proverbs passage reiterates God’s trustworthiness to do so.

Later that day, I confessed to the Lord the wrong posture of my heart the night before. And I felt Him say, “I wept with you.” I hadn’t noticed Jesus when I was sobbing Sunday night. But when He informed me He had been weeping, too – that His heart broke because I was heart-broken – I felt His love again. Jesus went on to say, “I would never want to do anything that would hurt you. Believe the best of me always. I love you so.”

While I haven’t solved the seemingly unsolvable scriptural issue at hand, my confidence is renewed that God will faithfully and lovingly lead me in my search for wisdom.

And He’ll lead you in your search, too.

The Lord Delights

Two of my favorite concepts in Scripture are the Lord’s unfailing love and His delighting in us. And I think they go hand in hand.

The phrase “unfailing love” appears 39 times in the NIV, and it is only used to speak of God’s love, never man’s. Telling, isn’t it? The Lord loves much more reliably than we do. The security He offers is incomparable. And for someone who is constantly asking of Him and of others, “Do you love me?” reflecting on His unfailing love for me overwhelms my heart.

Psalm 36:7 describes God’s unfailing love as priceless. Yes, God’s infallible love for us is invaluable, and constant access via Scripture to assurance of that kind of love is pretty priceless as well. Namely because we just can’t find unfailing love anywhere else. No matter how well others love us, they just can’t love us perfectly.

Possibly as a result of God’s unfailing love for us, He also delights in us. Delights! He experiences joy on account of you and me.

On some level, God delights in us because He made us (Psalm 149:4). We automatically evoke a flood of love and joy in His heart simply because we are His, just as the thought of your child or grandchild warms your heart. We don’t have to do or be anything spectacular to cause God to generally delight in us…

But on another level, God’s delight in us in inextricably linked to our doing specific things.

  • “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love,” (Psalm 147:11). If we have a healthy respect for God and trust His heart for us, then He will delight in us.
  • “The Lord detests those whose hearts are perverse, but he delights in those whose ways are blameless,” (Proverbs 11:20). If we act out of pure hearts, then He will delight in us.
  • “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy,” (Proverbs 12:22).  If we are characterized by consistent honesty and dependability, then He will delight in us.

Perhaps God is experiencing two different kinds of delight – a delight in who we are (His children), and a delight in what we do (the actions outlined above). The first kind of delight is constant. The second kind of delight comes and goes, depending on our behavior.

I rest in that first kind of delight. There is freedom in knowing no matter how thick-headed and hard-hearted I act, the Lord delights in me.

But I thrive on the second kind of delight. I am inspired to do the things God wants me to do because He will feel delight if I am obedient. And knowing I am causing God to feel delighted, in turn, delights me. I’m not sure there is any better feeling. And I love how God designed things to work this way. Win-win.

The Problem with Comfort Objects

God wants more for us than we want for ourselves.

Which is awesome and terrifying all at the same time.

Our hearts are so broken and bent toward sin that if someone were to ask us what we want in life, our list would be pretty self-centered. My list contains things like happiness, fulfillment, healthy family and friends. I want to grow old with my first husband, and I want my kids to thrive.

These things might seem benign on the surface, but I know the real motives underneath – I want to avoid pain and maximize pleasure.

And so do you.

But God wants more for us than a good time. He wants us to live lives that matter. Comfy, cozy lives don’t accomplish much. Self-preservation seems right, and it is natural, but it misses the heart of God (Proverbs 16:25).

We’re all here for 2 reasons: to know God and to make Him known (Exodus 9:15-16). But our pursuit of pain-free living often prevents us from knowing God (and, thus, making Him known).

How?

Because we find things that feel good and provide comfort, and we latch on to them for dear life, refusing to let them go.

(Note: this is called idolatry. I know, I know, too harsh. But true.)

We are born doing this. As newborns, we literally latch on to our mother’s, for nourishment, yes, but any mother can tell you, her baby hangs around well past meal time, suckling solely for the comfort. As we grow, this pattern of behavior continues, it just manifests differently.

When all our energy is focused on our comfort objects, we don’t have much time (or room in our hearts) to draw nearer to God. Problem.

But draw nearer we must. It’s the only way we can be fulfilled for any length of time, and it’s the only way we can fulfill our life purposes – to know Him and make Him known.

So God, lovingly, gently, and Fatherly-y (like a Father?), beckons us to find our comfort in Him.

Naturally, that doesn’t typically go over well with us. Our entire lives have been spent seeking and holding on to comfort objects that weren’t Him. To put them into their proper places – lower places than the Lord – is foreign and scary and hard and scary.

But He wants better for us than we want for ourselves. So He continues to encourage the process of loosening our grips on our chosen comforts that we might find our hands free to grab onto Him, the Ultimate Comfort.

I have a feeling the sooner we I cooperate, the better it will be for all involved.

How about you?

Honorable Mention

I remember my first marathon. Maybe because it was my only marathon.

I ran the whole thing – from the starting line, around the playground, around the open field behind the school, and to the finish line.

Fifth grade Field Day. I was hand-picked by my P.E. teacher, along with 8 others, to compete in the “marathon”. I was nervous. I couldn’t believe she thought so highly of me. It was a long way to go (maybe a mile and a half?), and I wasn’t so sure I could make it. But Mrs. Bateman picked me, so I rose to the occasion.

We all lined up at the starting line – four girls, five boys. Our parents, our teachers, and the entire student body lined the designated path. The bullhorn sounded. I sprinted off the line, unaware that conserving energy is generally a better strategy in a long race.

On the back side of the school property, we were too far away from the crowd to hear them. All I heard was the rocks beneath my feet that created the path outlining the school’s property. I was toward the back of the pack. I wondered if I could really finish this race.

Girls were competing against girls, and boys were competing against boys, so I really only had 3 people to beat.

But there was a problem.

God didn’t make me fast.

Athletic, yes. Competitive, yes. Coordinated, yes. But not fast.

Winding back toward the finish line, I already knew the only person I was going to beat was the slowest boy of all, Evan. I wasn’t even going to place. The unfamiliar disappointment of not being the best at a sport sunk in to my 11 year old heart.

I crossed the finish line. People cheered. But I didn’t.

image via kleertech.com

They handed me a ribbon that said “Honorable Mention”.

Seriously? What is that? It may as well have read “Lost”. Everyone knew I hadn’t accomplished anything spectacular. The ribbon just seemed to mock me.

This memory came back to me this week when God told me I treat Him as if He were an Honorable Mention ribbon.

God has been on a mission to get me to realize He is first prize, always. I rarely recognize this fact, so He is kindly helping me grow in that area. By taking away all the prized people I value more than Him.

As He says to me, “I delight in you, and I want you to delight in Me. I want to be your primary source of love, assurance, security, joy, peace, and esteem. Primary. First. Most-oft pursued and looked to.”

I’ve been gritting my teeth during this process, begrudgingly obeying Him. I’ve been saying to myself, “I don’t have my most important friends anymore… I guess I have no choice but to settle for friendship with God.”

And God says, “Hey, I’m not chopped liver. I’m no Honorable Mention. In fact, Dear One, I am first place. I’m what you’ve really wanted all along. I will fulfill you like no other.”

I haven’t experienced this yet because I am stuck dwelling on the losses. But I believe it can be true if I cooperate with God.

Trust in the Lord. Lean not on my own understanding. And He will make my paths straight. They may be straight up, but they will lead straight to Him, First Prize.