Read Proverbs 4: 1 – 9
God of grace,
Your spirit moves within us revealing your power and holiness. Now we soak up your glorious presence as we open your word, and desire to be led on in our walk with you. Speak into my words and our hearts we pray, so that we might be renewed in spirit, mind, compassion and action by your Holy Spirit.
Hear us and respond to us we pray, in the strong name of Jesus our Saviour,
I wonder who it was who made a significant difference in your life when you were younger?
Did you have an inspirational teacher, minister, Bible Class leader, cub leader, running coach neighbour, uncle or aunt, who took an interest in you and maybe prayed for you?
Who in your family, neighbourhood or circle of friends stood out, or still stands out, as possessing a wisdom, a depth of insight, that informs your thinking and influences your choices in life?
For me, in my early teens in Oamaru such a person was my music theory teacher, Sheelagh. She was also my Bible Class teacher at one stage, and was taking some time off teaching to be with her two pre-schoolers. I loved studying music theory which gave an ordered pattern to my life at a time when priorities and passions can be somewhat topsy-turvy. I particularly appreciated, even more now probably than at the time, Sheelagh’s interest in me as a person, and her gentle but memorable speaking into my life in deep ways which influenced some of my decisions, attitudes and beliefs long after I shifted away.
I’ll be keen to hear whose faces or names jumped into your mind and heart this morning, maybe from long ago, both people who inspired and stuck with you, and people whom you have been a mentor and an inspiration to – perhaps without even realising it.
Sometimes mentoring is intentional and organised like the award winning Buddy Programme offered so successfully by Presbyterian Support Otago, with leadership from our Marco, one of our youth leaders.
At other times a mentoring relationship or a friendship between two people of different ages and life experiences evolves naturally and at its best gives tremendous satisfaction to both people. When I was around 13 – 15 I had a couple of older ladies whom I regularly visited and learned much from, still remembering lessons learned and conversations enjoyed to this day. Such relationships are contexts in which we learn wisdom – its necessity, priority and blessings.
Throughout the pages of the Bible the priority of seeking and finding wisdom, God’s wisdom is reiterated, verse after verse, chapter after chapter.
The Book of Proverbs supremely incarnates and distils God’s thinking in ways that we mortals can absorb. Sadly we’ll simply skim its surface today and just concentrate on verses in chapter 4 about the benefits of wisdom, but I do encourage you to dig deeper in your own study of the Bible. Pick some favourite proverbs, and learn them, maybe email or post them to your grandchildren or a close friend. Keep the proverb you received on your notice sheet today close by – at the kitchen sink or in your Bible or by your bed – wherever you’ll see it most often, and ponder on how you can live out its intent on a daily basis. Or alternatively, over morning tea, or lunch, discuss the proverb you’ve received with someone else, or swap with them!
Wisdom is a key characteristic of God. It’s part of God’s DNA. So when we say God gives wisdom we’re acknowledging that as we cleave to God, incredibly the Creator of the whole universe, who knows each of us intimately, we are receiving God’s self within us at the same time as we’re offering ourselves freely to the Lord of Lords. This is what happened supremely when God gave us His Son Jesus, His unique gift, a life-giving sacrifice for each of us.
Throughout this series of sermons in term 3 about wisdom we’ve come across the recurring refrain “The fear/ reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
The last time we had Bible verses attached to our notice sheets it was from Psalm 111:10 that we learned that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, or as the Good News Bible translates that verse, “The way to become wise is to honour the Lord.”
Wisdom is missing from our society today because we don’t honour, our society doesn’t have reverence for God. With genuine reverence come godly wisdom and all the benefits of God’s grace – power to minister as Jesus did, gifts of the Spirit, a Jesus heart – compassionate, obedient and forgiving.
I said earlier that because wisdom is a key characteristic of God, when we are in relationship with our God of Wisdom, we are in fact ourselves taking on some of those glorious character traits, including wisdom. We’ve spoken quite often this term of the need to lean into God, learning to trust him much more than we trust ourselves. And this, my friends, is what makes us so wondrously distinctive in our self-centred society today. We know we don’t have all the answers. We boast, in fact that we don’t know everything. We glory in the fact that we find all knowledge in God, and that honouring God leads to wisdom and fullness of life. We delight in the truth that that we are supremely found in God’s love when we cling not to our own security or knowledge. It’s those inside-out, upside down, topsy-turvy kingdom of God values that we embrace for we know that there is true, everlasting life.
Jesus said, in John 10:10 ‘I have come that you may have life, life in all its fullness, or ‘abundant life’ in some translations. We find abundant life in Christ when we learn to let go of being in control and give God the reins, when we live as we speak when we say we trust in God rather than in our own abilities, our own experience, our own qualifications or even our own family.
This indeed is counter-culture living – depending on our Creator God, on our Loving God, rather than in our own strength. But independence is so highly prized in our society – knowing all the answers ourselves, so not needing to take guidance from anyone. ‘Do your own thing’ the world around us tells us. So, quite deliberately when we were finishing putting the Mornington Messenger together on Monday we chose a verse from Proverbs for the centre of a page, as a witness to another way of living, a way of life that doesn’t have ourselves at the centre of it. When you receive your copy next weekend then, or as you fold it on Tuesday, take note of Proverbs 13: 13 “ If you refuse good advice you are asking for trouble; follow it and you are safe.”
Our passage for today, from Proverbs 4, is headed up, in the Good News Bible anyway ‘The Benefits of Wisdom.’ A fulfilled life, safety, protection, greatness, honour and crowning glory – these are some of the blessings bestowed on us, Scripture tells us, on those who choose to follow wisdom’s path.
Furthermore, as we lean into God for comfort, direction and protection, we are defined by our relationship with God our Father, not by the mistakes we’ve made in the past. The saddest stories I’ve heard from people over the years are undoubtedly those of regret, as they’ve realised that their choices have defined their future if they are determined to retain control over their own life instead of offering it back as a gift to God, who of course granted us the fulsome gift of life for a start. If we can do this, see our life in Jesus as the greatest gift of all, we will have that most valuable long term perspective which helps us to learn from our past, to receive forgiveness for the wrongs we’ve done, and to place ourselves enthusiastically in God’s hands, for we know that there we shall be safe.
One of the many rich blessings of being part of a church family is sharing together the best gift in the world with people of all ages. Many people don’t have that pleasure of sharing time together worshipping the Maker of the Universe with people older and younger than themselves, forming precious bonds as they do so. The passage we’re living in today, at the beginning of Proverbs 4 links three generations just in his introductory comments – “My child,( 1 generation) listen closely to my teachings and learn common sense….. when I (2nd generation)was still very young …. My father (3rd generation) said to me ‘if you follow my teachings, and keep them in mind you will live.” The writer shows how the love of the best and most valuable things in life will be transmitted mainly by personal influence, to and from those we love the most. That’s a truth and a challenge. If we really love our family members we will want to influence them as much as we can to follow Jesus, to pursue wisdom, found supremely in God’s character, and in God’s relationship with us.
Everything else in life, Solomon implies, pales in comparison. What the world treasures are mere baubles that fade and crash, but in God’s wisdom we find eternal value.
“Getting wisdom is the most important thing you can do. Whatever else you get, get insight.” (Proverbs 4: 7, Good News Bible.)
Prayer as we respond to God’s grace……