There is a lot of dialogue among Christians of varied persuasions about the techniques, abilities, and theology of how to listen to God [or even if God speaks today]. A young man told a group of us last night that he has often wondered “Where do the words come from that are a benefit to others, when they are not in my head to begin with?!”
How often have you felt like you were being prompted to say something to someone and immediately the following thoughts ran through your mind? “They won’t trust me. They won’t listen to a word I say. They’re going to say, ‘GOD? Speaks to him? Hardly!’” Or this objection: “Lord, please, I don’t talk well. I’ve never been good with words, neither in the past or today. I stutter and stammer.” Or the ultimate objection: “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Sound familiar? Too often we think that we are not the right person for the job God has in mind for us. Of course, stopping to think our objection[s] through, we will see clearly it implies that God does not know what He is doing. It implies that He has randomly just picked me to go do or say something because I happen to be handily available.
I suspect that the real reason that we are resistant to following the prompting of God has to do with it taking us out of our comfort zone. We do not like being uncomfortable. And why are we uncomfortable? Because we have set boundaries around what we will do in obedience when God prompts us in some direction. The author of Hebrews quotes God writing: “… my righteous ones will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” And then he adds “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” [Hebrews 10:38-39 NIV] If we are to believe God, then shrinking back from doing what He wants us to do is to invite God’s displeasure in us.
God understands better than we do how uncomfortable it can be stepping outside of our ‘comfort boundaries.’ Jesus was there. He experienced that also. Our fear of stepping out be it to talk to a stranger or give a message really has to do with slavery. Who or what do we fear the most? Are we a slave to our fears; are we a slave to our individual preconceived boundaries of trust? Do we really believe it when God tells us, in writing, that “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear …” If we doubt that God really means what He says, than we will miss out on opportunities of receiving blessings from God’s hand by failing to minister to others that He Himself put in our way. We are a slave if we fail to obey, which is an oxymoron because being a slave has to do with unwavering obedience.
Proverbs has been provided to us by God so that we are able “to discern the sayings of understanding.”
We seek understanding so that we can distinguish right from wrong. We seek wisdom and instruction so that we can discern truth from counterfeit. Our lives are short. God tells us that they are like smoke that curls up and disappears. In that short amount of time we need to be able to distinguish and perceive the words of what is true knowledge.
The Gospel, God’s good news for us, exceeds the understanding of a natural man. It takes a man willing to seek the face of God and then the Holy Spirit reveals the meanings of knowing; we come to an understanding of the Bible under the guidance and direction of the Spirit of God.
When we discern the Bible, we are able to form right notions of people, relationships and events around us. We gain discernment in to how to speak and act wisely, as well as to help others. Paul told the believers who lived in the town of Philippi that they would want to discern correctly the Bible so that they “may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.”
F. B. Meyer I think said it best when he wrote about the benefits of studying Proverbs: “Certain it is that the [men] who ponder and practice these maxims can hardly fail of a successful career.”
We live in a world of information. You can find knowledge for anything. With access to the web we can find information and instructions on any given subject within seconds. But where do we get wisdom? How long does it take to get wisdom? Maybe a better question: just what is wisdom? Proverbs is a wisdom packed book to help us navigate living life in a Godly manner. If we allow it, we will find it sharpening our minds. Why does God want us “to know wisdom and instruction?” In order for us to know salvation, we need to be on the same page with His eternal perspectives.
“To know wisdom and instruction,” We use these three words commonly in our everyday language. Let’s look at the first one. What does it mean to know something, especially in regards to what God has to say to us? “I know how to drive.” “I know Jesus.” “I know Spanish.” The word ‘know’ is actually a strong word. It means to grasp in the mind with clarity and certainty; or to understand something as true beyond a shadow of doubt. Conversely, to not do so with the Word of God is to ignore what God says to us. To ignore or to even be unfamiliar with what God says is to be ignorant of His truth about Himself and His perspective of us. In other words, we will be very much in the dark on what is reality and ethically [morally] correct from God’s point of view.
“To know wisdom and instruction,” Wisdom is not just intellectual learning. It is the combined outcome of knowledge regarding what God has spoken to us about living in relationship with Him and my neighbors. Wisdom is learning to apply that knowledge. Wisdom is experiential knowledge. I love how Adam Clark defines wisdom; as “that Divine science by which we are enabled to discover the best end, and pursue it by the most proper means.” In other words, knowing what God says I should know and knowing what I need to refuse to know and follow.
“To know wisdom and instruction,” Left to our own devices, we would all be hell bent. But God has provided instructions. I find it insightful that the word ‘instruction’ in the Hebrew means ‘chastisement.’ God did not leave us to our own devices to speculate on what is right and wrong. God’s clear instructions found here in Proverbs [as well as the rest of the Scriptures] seem to be synonymous, and are used to show that the most supreme mastery and comprehensive knowledge may be attained by paying attention to this book. The Apostle Paul told Timothy that the Word of God “is able to make a man “wise unto salvation”; and is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.” [2 Timothy 3:15]
To know wisdom and instruction is to become intimately acquainted with them so that my mind, actions and quality of character imitate Jesus. Are you willing?
Wisdom Personified: Understanding Words of Insight
Exactly three years to the day, before he succumbed to cancer on November 25, 1986, my Dad gave me a Bible with the following Scripture reference inscribed on the flyleaf:
Get Wisdom at Any Cost
4 Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;
pay attention and gain understanding.
2 I give you sound learning,
so do not forsake my teaching.
3 For I too was a son to my father,
still tender, and cherished by my mother.
4 Then he taught me, and he said to me,
“Take hold of my words with all your heart;
keep my commands, and you will live.
[Proverbs 4:1-4 NIV]
That was 30 years ago. I still ponder those words. Until a few years ago, I used to think that when one got white hair then one was wise. I supposed that it sort of happened magically. Then recently I was reading through the book of Job [I have lost count how many times that I have read his account but it is one of my favorites] and I read where the young man called Elihu’s brings rebuke to Job’s three older friends who were attempting to bring Job ‘counsel.’ Elihu said “It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right. But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.” [Job 32:9, 8 ESV]
Suddenly, the magic disappeared and it became clear. God our Father wants me to take a grip on His words, not in my cerebral spaces but with my heart. Here is a command with a distinct promise: “keep my commands, and you will live.” What have I learned in three score and twelve years? Just this, that there is nothing that will bring peace, insight and clarity to my existence than paying attention to my Father’s instruction. It has meant that I have had to learn to be obedient in the right direction over the long haul. I wish I could say that I was always a willing learner. But I have learned that by taking hold of His words and allowing the Holy Spirit to teach my heart, it has brought guidance, prudence, knowledge and discretion to my words and actions.
I would like to pass on what I have struggled to learn. So join me in a journey through Proverbs.