I’m captivated by hearing or reading the wise thoughts people have learned in life, distilled into a few words. One of my favourite messages by Chuck Swindoll is, “Stuff I’ve Learned That I’ll Never Forget: Sixteen Essentials from the Last Fifty Years.”
Life can be confusing at best, meaningless at worst. And when a person, particularly a young person, is trying to figure life out it can be almost overwhelming. Having wise words from someone who has learned a few things along the way is so helpful.
That’s why I especially like the book of Proverbs. The whole Bible was given to us for training and correction so that we may be thoroughly equipped (2 Timothy 3: 16-17), but Proverbs specializes in wise, practical stuff about life.
Solomon, said to be the wisest person who ever lived, wrote most of the proverbs but added other wisdom writers to his collection. He especially wanted young people to learn essential requirements for success in life:
…so we’ll know how to live well and right, to understand what life means and where it’s going; A manual for living, for learning what’s right and just and fair; To teach the inexperienced the ropes and give our young people a grasp on reality. (Proverbs 1:2-4 MSG)
Proverbs contains many wise sayings covering multitudes of life situations. But foundational to all of them is three core concepts. By orienting our lives to obey these concepts we lay the foundation for wise and God-glorifying lives.
1. Upward—Fear the Lord. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7 NASB). If Proverbs is the curriculum in God’s school for young people then this is the first and most significant lesson.
There is a distinct worldview in Proverbs. It assumes God made and controls the universe and has hard-wired it with moral and ethical laws that we can observe and choose to live by. The proverbs are observations of these laws working out in everyday life.
The right perspective then is to fear God who made everything and view everything in relation to Him. Seeing and interpreting all of life from this God-fearing perspective is foundational for wise living.
This perspective is necessary for all true knowledge. For example, we must acknowledge man is made in the image of God for a true understanding of human nature. Therefore, fearing the Lord is the compass that provides orientation to all of life.
This fear is not an anxious dread of judgment. Rather it is a loving respect by which we humbly acknowledge our majestic Lord in everything. It is living in reverence, devotion, and trust of Him (3:5-6). To not live like this is to live as a fool or a mocker in God’s eyes and subject to His judgment.
2. Inward—Guard the Heart. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (4:23 NIV). Biblically the heart is the control centre of our motives, desires, affections, will, and intellect. Everything—what we see, hear, think, and do—flows from our heart. In turn, everything also impacts our heart.
There are two aspects to this guarding. We need to guard against anything that diminishes our devotion and reverence for the Lord. And we need to engage in anything that will enhance it. We must constantly measure everything in our lives against this standard asking, “Does it strengthen or weaken my fear of the Lord?” Embrace that which strengthens it, shun that which weakens it.
3. Outward—Choose the way of wisdom. The idea of choosing between wisdom and foolishness is constantly present in Proverbs. Outcomes of wise and foolish choices are contrasted so people can see where their choices will lead. Since everything we see, hear, think, and do flows from our heart and affects our fear of the Lord we are to choose the way of wisdom. Wise living is the outflow of a heart that fears the Lord and is simultaneously the very lifestyle that strengthens it.
Wise living chooses to understand and respond to all of life—our relationships, our work, our words, and our money—from God’s viewpoint. It is living by the boundaries, principles, and guidelines He has established. To choose wisdom is to live according to the laws God has built into life. And rather than being a limitation, living in harmony with them brings blessing (Proverbs 3).
How great that God has given us a book full of wise stuff for life! All that’s left is to live it.