Making the Proverbs sticky

When trying to understand Proverbs, the journey is just as valuable as the destination. Proverbs are meant to be wrestled with and mulled over. They’re meant to be traversed again and again. They don’t yield their treasures to the surface scanners; the deep-down-in-the-earth miners are the ones who uncover the precious jewels. And it’s the process– the vigorous, difficult, patience-requiring, long-term process– that makes a person wise. The journey is as valuable as the destination. It’s great when we reach the peak– but it’s the rivers we crossed, the rocks we climbed, and the obstacles we faced that make us seasoned climbers.

I try to always be reading through the Proverbs. A few years ago I categorized every single proverb, and made a resource for myself that enabled me to look up references related to specific circumstances. I still use the finished product, but it was the creation of that thing that gave it value. The simple process of reading the proverbs slowly and asking what they’re about was hugely beneficial.

Now I’m trying a different approach. I’m on my second time through the Proverbs using this approach, and it’s turning out to be a great way to know and apply the wisdom there. Here’s what I’m doing:

1. Read slowly, mark the verses that stick out to you. Underline, bracket, or whatever. Make note of the passages that seem to be specially applicable to your life situation.

2. Take one verse paraphrase it. Try to understand the proverb and say it in your own words. This will force you to get the point of the saying and put it in the vernacular. I don’t think we really understand something until we can articulate it in our own words.

3. Make it sticky. Try to make it punchy and memorable. Maybe make it rhyme. Or try to make it something you’d say to your kids when they need to hear it. Sticky. This is what proverbs are meant to be: short, wise, pithy and practical sayings that find their usage in everyday life.

4. After that, write it down on a 3×5 and keep it as bookmark in Proverbs. This little card will eventually become a list of sticky sayings. The more you look at them, the more you’ll remember them, so it makes sense to put it in the place you’ll constantly be coming back to. After you’ve filled front and back, get a new 3×5.

For example, I marked Proverbs 14:23: “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.”

My paraphrase would go something like this: “Hard work is profitable and valuable, but all talk and no action is empty and destructive.”

And then, to make it sticky, I did this: “Faithful toil will never spoil.” I could see myself using this to instruct my kids– plus it’s faithful to the principle of the proverb. As a side benefit,  it’s a fun challenge for people who like words!

Here are some others I’ve come up with (some are better than others)

Proverbs 13:11 “Haste makes waste” (this has been around for a while, so it’s not original to me, but I’m gonna use it!)

Proverbs 14:21 “It’s a blessing to bless.”

Proverbs 23:4 “Don’t work for money.”

Proverbs 12:27 “Diligence pays.”

Proverbs 13:27 “Disaster pursues sinners”

Proverbs 17:2 “Wisdom trumps rank.”

Proverbs 17:12 “A fool is more dangerous than a grizzly.”

Proverbs 18:9 “Laziness is destructive.”

Proverbs 20:13 “Love not sleep!”

Proverbs 22:3 “It’s sometimes wise to run and hide.”

Proverbs 23:17 “Sinners aren’t winners– don’t envy them.”

As I continue doing this, I hope the wisdom of the Proverbs will be kneaded into my heart and mind. That my speech would be seasoned with the wisdom of God, and my marriage, my family, and my relationships would benefit.

And all her slain are a mighty throng

Proverbs 7 describes how the adulteress lures a young man into her room while her husband is away. She pulls out all the stops. She mentions the sacrifices she made earlier and the vows; she describes her excitement for the young man, and she assures him that no one will find out: “For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey.” The young man consents not knowing that the decision will cost him his life.

Then Solomon says “And all her slain are a mighty throng.”

Those taken down into the pits of adulterous death aren’t the weak, the stupid, the ignorant. And they aren’t few. Kings and lords, elders and laymen, pastors and businessmen, writers and plumbers, CEOs and Ph. Ds. The adulteress doesn’t discriminate; she’s on every corner, in every building, on every screen. She’ll barter with presidents and peasants. “All her slain are a mighty throng.”

As soon as you think you don’t have to go out to battle anymore you’ll see her bathing on the roof. Keep vigilant, gripped by truth and committed to integrity. Know a war wages and brandish your weapons to fight. And keep fighting.

Remember that “all her slain are a mighty throng”

Thoughts on Spiritual Wisdom

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Colossians 1:9-11

It’s hard to imagine knowing God’s will without having spiritual wisdom and understanding, but I think Paul’s extra words to modify this knowledge are necessary, because knowledge and wisdom are two distinct things. Knowledge has to do with facts. Wisdom has to do with applying facts to lifestyle. Knowledge of God’s will without spiritual wisdom is incomplete. Knowing God’s will without the wisdom to live it out is sin—James agrees: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (4:17).  Knowledge without wisdom can only lead to pride (1 Cor. 8:1). Though knowledge is absolutely necessary for wisdom—so much so that in most of Paul’s prayers he asks for it specifically—it is not complete without the wisdom and understanding that puts it all together and translates it into action.

Spiritual wisdom essentially  is the ability to see reality. That doesn’t explain what I mean very well because reality can be a very ambiguous term. Hopefully this will clear up what I mean: “for we walk by faith, not by sight” — real faith has eyes to see the spiritual reality that our physical eyes cannot see. It sees ultimate reality. Abraham went to live in a foreign land because we was “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10)– and that was the ultimate, absolute reality. His physical eyes couldn’t see heaven, but his spiritual eyes could—that’s faith. Wisdom walks like that. We walk by faith, not by sight.

Not only does faith see spiritual reality; it loves spiritual reality.  It sees the beauty of God himself and pursues him. It sees the beauty of the unseen, unfulfilled promises of God and pursues them.  It seeks the reward of obedience. It is enamored and overwhelmed with God’s glory. Faith enables our spiritual tongue to taste the sweetest morsel in all the universe—and thus we become enthralled with this taste that we continually come back to it for more. That’s what the Psalmist means when he bids us “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Spiritual wisdom is grounded in a faith that sees the fullness of reality—including the glorious goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ and the eternal reward.

Therefore the exhortation that Paul gives later on in Colossians “seek things that are above, where Christ is” is not only a call to duty. It is like a treasure map to the born-again believer.  It is like giving advice for the treasure hunters out there—like saying if you want more of the Treasure, do this: learn to think about the spiritual things in heaven! Wean yourself from being so focused on the temporary, earthly things. Think of sitting next to Christ on his throne! Think of eternity with Him! Faith can see those things. Faith loves those things. Faith is the foundation of the wisdom that sees the fullness of this reality and lives to attain its highest reward in heaven. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb 11:6).  Central to real faith is the belief that there is a beautiful spiritual reality for those who seek God. There is a reward—and the spiritually wise man wants it. And he doesn’t act out of duty, he acts out of joy. C.S. Lewis said, “A perfect man would never act from sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one.” A man with perfect spiritual wisdom would have spiritual eyes to see reality for what it is, and thus would always want the right thing more than the wrong one.

So in recap, spiritual wisdom is eyes that see the real, eternal, and spiritual consequences of every action (or non-action) and thus lives to attain the highest reward in heaven. That is why, as Paul shows in the verse above, that spiritual wisdom results in “walking in a manner worthy of the Lord.”