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.