Thursday, July 9, 2009

Building a Life of Wisdom

Proverbs 9

"...rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Proverbs 9:8b-10).

As I write this I'm sitting at my kitchen table looking out the window listening for God's voice in what I have read in Proverbs 9 and John 2. It is so hard to keep my mind still, to rest my spirit and wait for the Lord's voice. If you are patient, He will speak.

He has spoken to me this morning. His words have lifted me up, as they always do, if I am submissive enough to listen. "Blessed is the man who listens to me" (8:34). Here is what I'm learning from His voice, the voice of wisdom. "Jay, I am building your life. Trust me and my process". Building a life of wisdom is a process that 1) takes time (9:6), 2) requires some hardship and hard work to get to the next level (9:8-9), 3) is orchestrated by God, according to his ways and his timing (9:10), and therefore, 4) requires me to have a submissive heart (9:10). And, I should add, 5) is full of God's goodness and blessing (9:11-12).

As I look out my kitchen window I see my neighbors house, which made me think of all the roofing replacement going on in our neighborhood. Hurricanes leave devastation, but as so many of my neighbors have said, "That old roof was due to be replaced". I'm fifty years old and nearly forty years old spiritually. It's time for some upgrades, remodeling and new construction. And that is a good thing, but not without some cost and effort and time.

In house construction, the foundation is quickly poured and the frame is set, often in a day or two. Then the more complex and labor intensive details are added. The process of building a life of wisdom is much the same. Proverbs describes the materials and the process of building a wise heart. It starts with a submissive heart (relationship), one that fears the Lord (1:7; 9:10). The submissive heart allows you to build on the appropriate foundation, the Solid Rock. On the foundation you begin to build your framework which Proverbs describes as the commands (rule), law or knowledge. Commands include both the direct commands of Scripture and the wise counsel of others. Commands define right and wrong for us, and they direct us in the path of wisdom.

Like putting up framework in construction, adding knowledge seems to happen relatively quickly and with ease and eagerness. I was amazed at how quickly the early phases of construction took place for the Lutheran church at the entrance of our subdivision. That was early spring. It is now summer and it appears like the construction is at a stand still. These later phases require more detail, greater patience, effort, skill and time.

The second phase in building a wise heart is discipline (rod), which requires explanation, understanding, repetition, drilling, rebuke and correction. The instruction of discipline requires us to use knowledge to correctly apply wisdom to life. Discipline slaps our fingers when we begin to do something wrong.

Trials, injustices, persecution are hurricane force winds that put our heart to the test. It reveals weaknesses and strengths, motives and desires. All this is hard stuff, but good stuff. "If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you" (9:12).

Hurricane winds are unpredictable. They come by God's sovereign hand. We need them in our life. but we also need the daily "winds". Sometimes these are graciously given by our parents, friends, elders, teachers, spouse as they instruct, counsel, teach, fellowship, hold us accountable, etc. "He who walks with the wise grows wise" (Prov. 13:20a). But the majority of the wind forces should be self-imposed. "Discipline yourself toward godliness" (1 Tim. 4:7).

Now, I want to come to the part that really spoke to me today. It's the time and patience part, which again requires a submissive heart that fears the Lord. This was brought to my attention as I read John 2. Jesus performs his first miracle by turning water into wine. He did this in a very subtle, behind the scene kind of way. The master, bridegroom, nor the guests, knew where the wine came from (2:8-10). Only the servants knew what had happened and who was going to believe them? Why all the hush, hush, sneaking around in the background? Jesus reply to his mother gives us some insight, "My time has not yet come" (2:4). Even the Son of God had to wait. But in waiting God's glory could not help but seep out. "This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory and his disciples put their faith in him" (2:11).

I want to be like Jesus and I want to be like those servants who obeyed a seemingly mindless and fruitless task. They played a part in displaying God's glory. That is all we can ask for and certainly more than what we deserve.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Where do we find Lady Wisdom?

Proverbs 8

"Blessed is the man who listens to me (Lady Wisdom), watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord" (34-35, italics mine). "...wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her" (11).

If my life and the favor of the Lord depend on my pursuit and discovery of wisdom, I better know where to find her. So I ask, "Where do we find Lady Wisdom?".

1) Wisdom is found at the point of decision. "On the heights along the way, where the paths meet,...beside the gates leading into the city, at the entrances" (2). These are markers, intersections, and entrances where decisions are made. These are places that are both prominent and important for direction and progress. Wisdom intersects at these points of decision which impact the progress, momentum and direction of our life. Wisdom calls out at these crucial junctures of life. Will we recognize her? Will we listen to her?

2) Wisdom is found when we listen. How do I know if I'm opening the door to Lady Wisdom?

Are you listening? "Listen to my instruction and be wise, do not ignore it" (33; also v. 1, 4, 6, 32-34). Listening requires patience, humility, and a relinquishing of control. When we are truly listening we are saying, "These words, and the person speaking them, have value". Listening is an act of love. Listening is also an act of surrender. I am surrendering my right to be heard. I am yielding to anther's voice. I am saying, "Your input is more important than what I have to say at this time".

What are evidences that you are listening? You are a person that seeks the counsel of others. You are a person that asks God for direction. These are the kinds of things found in your life: you read and meditate on the Scriptures, read good books, down load sermons, you are involved in small groups, have serious accountability with other men, let your wife talk while you have eye contact, you listen for God's voice through fasting. You are a person that values solitude with God.

3) Wisdom is found when we wait. "Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting daily at my doors" (34, italics mine). The wise pursuit is one of patience and trust. A wise person plans and takes action, but these actions come only when Lady Wisdom has clearly spoken. Her directives make us bold as lions. But the lion first listens, then leaps.

4) Lady Wisdom has her companions. Where you find her you will find these companions: instruction (10), prudence (12a), knowledge and discretion (12b), the fear of the Lord and a hatred for evil (13), counsel, sound judgment, understanding and power (14), righteousness and justice (20). Seeks these and you will find Lady Wisdom.

5) Lady Wisdom is found in God. "The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works" (22). Know God and His directives and you will find Lady Wisdom.

When you find Her you also find true life and the favor of the Lord. This is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with Him.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Silencing Seduction: His Words Over Her Words

Foundational to a life of sexual purity is a life filled with and dominated by Scripture. It's no wonder then that sexual sin, and sin in general, is so prevalent in our lives. Most of us are not brimming over with Scripture. Even those who have developed a daily discipline of Bible reading forget most of what they read an hour later. Even when we do remember a thought or two, how many of us are intentionally and actively using, speaking, thinking about these truths throughout our daily lives. It's no wonder we are so easily and quickly defeated by sin, especially sexual sin.

A life of victory requires some incredible diligence.

1) It requires storing up Scripture. Do you have a full pantry of Scripture to draw from? Is your store house stocked for the challenges of spiritual warfare, persecution, and the lonely and empty times? Wisdom says, "Store up my commands within you" (7:1). Study, listen, learn, memorize and meditate on God's Word.

2) It requires continual practice. "My son, keep my words" (7:1). "Keep my commands" (7:2). As Christians, we know more spiritual truth than we ever use. The gap between knowledge and obedience is much greater than the gap between ignorance and knowledge. We are obese with spiritual knowledge. Like an exercise training routine, we need to do daily reps, focusing on specific character and behavior traits that need strengthening. We need to be intentional, focused and consistent in our application of Scripture. I've found it helpful to spend a whole year or more working on one specific growth goal in my life. Work that specific spiritual muscle group until it becomes reflexive, almost instinctive thoughts and behaviors. "Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart" (7:3). "...Guard my teachings as the apple of your eye" (7:2).

3) It requires a new relational motivation. "Say to wisdom, 'You are my sister,' and call understanding your kinsman" (7:4). Relatives are loved and valued. You will sacrifice for your family. There is nothing that will motivate and drive you more than personal relationships. When you fall in love with God, you will hold his Word dear. The lure of sinful desires will pale in comparison to the lure of His love (7:5).

Wisdom and understanding are from God and lead us to God (1:7; 2:1-8). When we embrace them, we embrace God. We can do nothing apart from Him (John 15:4). Wisdom is the skill of loving Him. "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love" (John 15:10). "You are my friends if you do what I command " (John 15:14).

What gems will you mine today as you study, search, learn, memorize, meditate on Scripture? What jewels will you wear as you carry God's Word into life? Will God's truth be at your finger tips and on your heart so you can apply it, speak it, teach it, proclaim it, live it? Will you remember your Beloved who gave you these gems and who died and lives for you? Will you talk to Him, listen to Him and experience His presence in your life today?

He will silence her seductive words into oblivion (7:5).

Monday, July 6, 2009

Untrapped and Unstuck

Are you stuck in life? Have you made some poor decisions that have kept you from a more fruitful life for God? Or perhaps you are stuck because you struggle making decisions. You are polarized by your own unwillingness to take personal responsibility, to discipline yourself, or to take the leadership and the self-initiative in your life. Proverbs 6 gives us wisdom to free us from our frozen state.

We are given two examples of a stuck person in Proverbs 6:1-11. The first makes a financial and verbal commitment that is rash, impulsive and risky (1-2). This entraps him to the consequences of his poor decision. The second example is one who does nothing. He is like a sluggard. He can't or wont make decisions and commitments (6-11). This seems like the easy route, but quickly leaves this person empty, robbed of God's best.

What do you do if you've made a foolish commitment or a poor decision? Perhaps you've purchased a car or home you can't afford, or committed to a job that has robbed you of precious family time, or volunteered to do something beyond your ability to deliver. The wise person will make every attempt to free himself (v.3). This will take humility -- "Go and humble yourself; press your plea with your neighbor". You are admitting you made a stupid decision. We are then encouraged to act swiftly -- "Allow no sleep to your eyes" (v.4). And with great intensity, like a wild animal caught in the hands of a hunter (v.5). Your life is on the line, so move.

For the person caught in his inability to make decisions, to move forward and change the status quo, learn from the ant. The ant is an example of unsupervised, uncoerced self-discipline. Without any outside leadership or pressure, this tiny creature gathers and stores provisions for the more difficult days ahead. When we are stuck in life, whether by our own foolish decisions or our own laziness and lack of self-discipline, the wise course of action is to humbly admit our condition and then get to work. Just start moving in the right direction. Take responsibility for the future.