Over the past six months I have read through Proverbs five times. The first couple of times I can't say I got much out of it that I hadn't in the past. But on the third time through it struck a different chord, and I found myself dreading my daily dose of Proverbial goodness. Suddenly I began to feel that if the books of the Bible were a family, Proverbs would be the naggy old aunt that no one cares to have around. The one who can't just talk straight, she always has to say things in the most complicated way possible.
That's how I grew to feel about these thirty one books of "wisdom". Frustrated. Restless. And a little annoyed.
Here's the thing, I had read these verses dozens upon dozens of times in the past, but my approach had been different. I read them looking for cleverness. I read them looking for easily quotable material I could use to comfort or encourage people. I read them looking for sweet little quips to embroider on stuff or paint on pieces of wood for home decor. Somehow while I was diving to the deep end of the pool in my study of the rest of Scripture, I always swam back to the steps and put on my floaties when I came to Proverbs. Until a couple of months ago.
I think part of why I had separated this book from the rest of the Bible, and approached it differently, is because the words were just so darn practical. They didn't make me go running in search of an interpreter or a good concordance, it all just seemed simple, easy, every day applicable stuff. Nevertheless, I decided to approach this book as I would any other, and what I soon found was that these sweet little phrases and cutesy sayings that we quote so flippantly, really aren't sweet or cute at all. They are overflowing with conviction.
It's easy to read through these and go, "Oh that's good stuff, I've got to remember that," and move on without giving it a second thought. Yet when given a second, third, and fourth thought, I realized that what this book is saying, in pretty clear language, is that I am a selfish, lazy, bitter, stingy FOOL. Not a little bit of one, a big fat one with a gold ring in its nose. Ouch. Tough revelation.
I began to pray through some of this stuff. Primarily, I prayed that God would help me to see my own folly. Help me lean to accept rebuke. Help me embrace humility and accept the help of others. Show me where I'm wrong, that I may open my eyes to what's right. Slowly (and painfully) God began to move in my heart, and to point out areas that needed work. First and foremost, He prompted me to consider the way I view other people.
I'd like to think that I'm not a terribly judgmental person, but I've certainly uttered my share of Oh-no-she-didn't!'s I've pointed my finger, I've looked down my nose, and (far more often than I'd like to admit) I've said, "I would never..."
From where I stand today I don't see how anyone, could ever, make the statement: "I would never". It assumes so much superiority, and yet is there really any action or person that I stand superior to? No. Given the opportunity, if left to my own human devices, and my natural fleshly bend, I'd say I'm capable of anything. Even the really heinous, raunchy stuff I feel completely immune to. I'm not immune, I'm protected. Instead of saying I would never, I need to be pleading with God, "Don't ever let me!"
When I grasped a hold of this, with both hands, and a surrendered heart, my perspective began to change. Suddenly I'm looking at everyone, not through rose-colored glasses, but through grace-filled eyes. From Ted Bundy to Andrea Yates to the people in my life who have done me wrong, the Spirit in me is screaming, "Don't you see? The only thing that separates you from them is an extra dose of grace!" That's it. That's all.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. We would all agree with that I'm sure. What I'm realizing, ever so slowly, is that apart from him, I can do nothing. At least, nothing good. Romans tells us that there is no one good, not one. I get that now. I can look at these people that I once wrote off as heinous and hopeless, and I can say that, all things considered, they did the best they could with what they had. A sinful nature, a hardened heart, and no relationship with the Redeemer.
Far be it from me to ever say what I would or wouldn't do. It is only by grace, only by grace, ONLY.BY.GRACE., that I live the life that I do. OH man, there is nothing more humbling than that.
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
(Genesis 6:5 ESV)
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:7-8 ESV)