“The prudent show their wisdom when they contemplate their ways” (Proverbs 14:8a)
This is the fourteenth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter. The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 14, preceded by a brief reflection.
Christmas morning was a wild scene when I was a child. As soon as my parents appeared, my two brothers and I tore into piles of neatly wrapped gifts. We did not take turns, and pausing only to confirm our name on a present, we raced through the gifts like a murder of crows feasting on carrion. I can’t remember giving much thought as to who the giver was (Mom & Dad, grandparent, Santa), and barely was one gift opened that it was tossed aside and another attacked. Quickly the stacks of packages were converted into a sea of empty boxes, bows, and wrapping paper. I have a memory of board games, electric trains, cap pistols, and coonskin hats. But more than the presents, what I remember most is unbounded energy and excitement marked by shouts and squeals of delight.
Now you might be tempted to dismiss my recollection as just that – a faded memory that has become embellished with each telling. But in this you would be wrong because there are tapes! My dad, you see, was an audiophile and sort of amateur archivist who selectively recorded people and events. He owned a good quality reel-to-reel tape recorder, which probably means nothing for those of you who are under 50. Reel-to-reel was a technology that preceded eight-track recorders and cassettes by a couple of decades. Rather than the recording tape being self-contained within a single cassette, it moved between two separate reels. Suffice it to say, the tape recorder was a rather large affair weighing perhaps fifteen pounds or so and about the size of a small suitcase. These days with smart phones, it is a simple matter to secretly record a conversation or event, but stealth was not so simple in the days of reel-to-reel.
The first time my dad recorded us on a Christmas morning, we were more or less oblivious to the fact that we were being taped. But we boys caught on fast, and thereafter carefully searched when we suspected he was going to record us. This was the situation one Christmas, where we conducted a sweep of the room before diving into our presents. Despite our efforts, he caught us on tape again. For unbeknownst to us, he had set up the tape recorder in the basement underneath the living room where we opened presents. Drilling a hole in the floor, he had threaded the wire so that the microphone could be in the living room while the recorder was in the basement. And where did he put the microphone, which was about the size of a deck of cards? Why, in the box of tissues next to his chair of course!
When my dad played this recording for me many years later, what I described above is pretty accurate. Lots of ripping of paper against a chorus of “oh boy, oh boy’s.” It wasn’t altogether unpleasant to listen to, but even with the passing of so much time, I felt a bit silly to hear it played back. Still, we were only little kids and the unrestrained excitement and joy seems very natural to the season.
For most other times in my life I am thankful that what I have said has not been recorded. Too often I have spoken out of anger, frustration, or just plain meanness. I would no doubt be overwhelmed if the full extent were made known. What a grace that no one can play my words back to me.
But if the idea of having my words recorded is not bad enough, how much worse would it be if someone had recorded my thoughts? Unbearable shame is what comes to my mind. For the truth is that too often I choose thoughts of anger over forgiveness, pride over humility, defensiveness over teachability, lust over purity, resentment over joy, criticism over understanding, and selfishness over generosity. These thoughts have hurt others as they have worked themselves out in my words and emotions.
We are spiritually mature to the extent of our thoughts. In the words of Solomon in Proverbs 14, “The prudent show their wisdom when, they contemplate their ways.” (Proverbs 14:8a) This idea of contemplating or giving thought to our ways is repeated in a later verse. “The prudent think about their steps, and where they’re bound to lead.” (Proverbs 14:15b) In other words, thoughts matter. Indeed, our thought life is a hinge about which our spiritual life pivots.
This truth is expressed in different ways in Scripture. The Apostle Paul wrote, “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) And to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) It’s not just that our thoughts are at the root of our actions and emotions, but according to Jesus, unholy thoughts are morally equivalent to their corresponding action. “I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. … I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:22, 28)
I am grateful that there is no technology that can secretly record my thoughts the way my dad recorded my words on a Christmas morning long ago. But God of course transcends physical technology and is always monitoring our thoughts. This is what it means for God to be omniscient, and what King David beautifully describes.
– O Lord, You have examined me, discerning what’s inside;
You know my every thought and deed, there’s nothing I can hide.
– You know when I am sitting down, You know when I arise;
You know my thinking from afar, whatever I devise.
– You know when I am going out, You know when I’m at rest;
You know the places I have been, You know my worst and best.
– Before a word is on my tongue, You know what I will say;
You know what I am thinking, Lord, the thoughts that I’ll convey.
– You’re all around on every side, behind me and before;
You lay Your hand upon my head so I can rest secure.
What’s on your mind?
1 Wisdom builds her dwelling house,
where solidly it stands;
But Folly strikes and tears hers down,
by means of her own hands.
2 The one who fears the Lord walks straight,
and upright every day;
But one who hates him is perverse,
and crooked in their way.
3 The foolish utter prideful words,
that hurt them in the end;
The wise however speak with lips,
that guard them like a friend.
4 Where there’s no oxen for the plow,
the manger will be bare;
But where their strength is utilized,
abundance will be there.
5 An honest witness tells the truth,
when giving a reply;
But one who falsely testifies,
tells nothing but a lie.
6 A mocker seeking wisdom tries,
but vainly casts around;
The wise find knowledge comes with ease,
as quickly it is found.
7 It’s wise to stay away from fools,
avoiding where they live;
For there’s no knowledge they can share,
no wisdom they can give.
8 The prudent show their wisdom when,
they contemplate their ways;
But fools reveal their folly when,
deception fills their days.
9 The foolish mock at all attempts,
to offer recompense;
The righteous find acceptance by,
redressing their offense.
10 The heart knows its own bitterness –
its darkness and its light;
There’s no one who can know its pain,
or share in its delight.
11 The vile will see their house destroyed –
demolished where it stood;
The righteous flourish in a tent,
for doing what is good.
12 There is a way that seems correct –
a way perceived as true;
But it deceives and in the end,
it’s death it’s leading to.
13 Although a heart may laugh and shout,
inside it still may break;
And even though rejoicing ends,
it still can grieve and ache.
14 The faithless ones will be repaid,
for their ungodly ways;
The righteous will be satisfied,
with how they’ve lived their days.
15 The foolish trust in everything,
And to such things accede;
The prudent think about their steps,
and where they’re bound to lead.
16 The wise are cautious and aware,
and turn from evilness;
But fools show overconfidence,
and reckless carelessness.
17 The foolish and quick-tempered act,
in ways that are unwise;
While those devising evil schemes,
are hated and despised.
18 The foolish get what they deserve,
with folly their return;
The prudent wear a noble crown,
of knowledge to discern.
19 The wicked bow before the good,
when they comes into sight;
Indeed they bow before the gates,
of those whose ways are right.
20 The poor are shunned by neighbors who,
on once they could depend;
The rich although know quite a few,
who love to call them friend.
21 To hate a neighbor is a sin –
an act of wickedness;
But one who’s kind to those in need,
is filled with happiness.
22 Those plotting vile and evil acts,
will surely go astray;
But those whose plans are good find love,
and faithfulness each day.
23 In working hard there’s wealth and gain –
a profit one can see;
But merely talking makes one poor,
and leads to poverty.
24 The crowning glory of the wise,
is wealth without surcease;
The foolishness of fools just makes,
their foolishness increase.
25 A truthful witness saves a life,
when called to testify;
But one who speaks deceitfully,
condemns it by a lie.
26 Whoever trusts and fears the Lord,
will have security;
And for the children in their home,
a refuge it will be.
27 To fear the Lord is like a spring,
that flows with life untold;
It turns one from the snares of death,
and its determined hold.
28 A king who governs multitudes,
is honored by his reign;
But princes with no one to rule,
know ruin and disdain.
29 The one who’s slow to anger has,
their wisdom on display;
But one who’s temper quickly shows,
displays their foolish way.
30 A tranquil heart gives life and health,
to make a body sound;
But coveting is cancerous,
so rotten bones abound.
31 The one who persecutes the poor,
shows God contempt and shame;
But being kind to those in need,
brings honor to his name.
32 The wicked will be overthrown,
by their iniquity;
The righteous feel secure and safe,
in their integrity.
33 Those having understanding live,
with Wisdom in their heart;
But she does not reside with fools –
with them she has no part.
34 Now righteousness will surely lift,
a nation in its place;
But sin condemns societies,
to fall into disgrace.
35 A wise and honest servant has,
the favor of a king;
But one who causes shame will feel,
the fury of his sting.