INTRO: Here’s the bottom line for today: Our hearts are the command posts(explain) of our lives…our hearts(explain) set our life direction and we can through consistent and wise choices determine the kind of hearts we have.
Our hearts shape our life choices…our life choices shape our hearts
Last week a friend who is an educator attended some training where a part of what was taught was in essence that bad behavior is really just “brain function” not personal choice.
In other words, bad actions are not bad choices…they are biology…brain wiring.
(Not just people with real mental illness…but everyone)
This is sometimes called “biological determinism”
You choices are largely pre-determined by your biology…mostly by the kind of brain you have.
An angry person…is just hard-wired that way.
A kind person…has not necessarily made choices to become kind…she is wired that way.
This would mean you can never condemn a person’s actions (though you could lock them up to keep them from doing more harm)….but it was really not a choice…not about morality, but biology.
It would also mean to give praise or an award for courage or character is nonsense.
We should not give Medals of Honor to military members…but rather to their “brains”…but you can’ do that…
So why give a medal at all…the person who happens to own that brain…isn’t worth honoring…they just by chance, have that kind of brain.
It’s ridiculous I know…but it’s also insidious…and destructive…why try to be “good” or “better” if who and what I am is predetermined? I have no real choice in the matter.
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood”…is a movie about “Mr. Rogers” of children’s television fame.
At one point in the film(based on a true story) the cynical magazine writer asks Mr. Rogers’ wife what it’s like living with a saint.
She replies “I don’t like that term because if you think of him as a saint you can think his way of life is unattainable. But he works at it. He has a temper but he swims, plays the piano, reads scripture, prays for people, writes letters to people (building empathy)…to train himself to deal with his emotions in appropriate ways.” (Paul said “train yourself to be godly” 1 Tim. 4:7)
Mr. Rogers was not a “brain on stick”…he was a thinking, feeling, choosing soul…who took proactive steps to train his heart to “be” a certain way…then he lived out of that heart in relationship to others.
We can choose and our choices matter.
The most current research indicates that even our physical brains are shaped by our choices (neuroplasticity) and this can and does continue throughout our lives.
Turns out…you can teach old dogs(old brains) new tricks…we are not biologically pre-determined
But we don’t chase research…We chase wisdom…the truth of God.
At the same time, we don’t disregard research…but when it presumes to “prove” Scripture wrong…just wait…it will circle back around again…and research will end up chasing Scripture from behind.
We do live out of our hearts…the thinking, choosing ‘us’…but who we are is not predetermined and fixed…we can by God’s grace and our choices…change…at the heart level.
Luke 10:25-28 “Teacher what shall I do to receive eternal life?” Jesus responded, “What does the law say? How do you read it?” And he answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength., and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said, “Well, there you have your answer. Do that and you will live.”
Jesus taught truth about choices, he gave personal examples of how to live in relationship to God and others…but he resolutely went for the heart.
Because he knew if the heart, the human command post was well-shaped and rightly ordered…then the human life will be oriented towards what is good and right.
People with a well-kept heart are prepared for and able to respond to life in ways that are good and right…even when external circumstances are challenging.
But in order to care for something (like the heart) you must understand it.
To take care of house, or a car, a pet…much more importantly…a child…you must understand it…what does it need to grow and be healthy?
Wisdom requires understanding how to care for our own hearts…because we will shape our hearts through our own choices…and then we will live out of the shape our hearts have taken.
This sounds like “circular reasoning” but it’s not
It is relying on God’s resources(not our own) to shape our hearts…then we will live with out of the shape our hearts have taken…our choices shape our hearts and our hearts direct our lives.
The Heart in the Bible is the entire inner life of a person. (the command post)
–It is the thinking, choosing, planning, deciding… “you”
I am excited to tell you…you can change at the heart level…in powerful and wonderful ways…you can change from the inside out.
I am obligated to warn you…we will change.
You and I will not remain static…at least not for long…so we can and we must choose our direction.
Today we are in Proverbs 4…The Heart of Wisdom…we are going to focus on a few key verses from this chapter…as we zero in on our hearts as the command post of our lives.
Start in verse 4
4 he taught me and said, “Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live.
This chapter speaks of the multi-generational impact of wisdom… “He” here is the grandfather who taught the father who now is teaching the son.
The encouragement he offers is NOT just a series of “do’s and don’ts”…a list of rules for living.
But rather a very specific set of challenges to “live”…from the inside out…to become a person who is “wise” at the core…the heart.
The phrase “Lay hold” “Lay fast (ESV)”…are idioms that mean to grasp something tightly and not let go.
Hanging on a cliff… “Lay hold of this rope.”
Child in busy parking lot… “Lay Hold of my hand.”
-What you mean…is keep holding my hand…because it is of critical importance for your safety.
The starting point for a wise command post…a well-kept heart…is the perspective that this wisdom pursuit is of crucial importance for life itself.
I am to proactively…consistently… “lay hold” of wisdom at the heart level…at the very least this means “to think deeply about the things I do and think and say…what is going on “in there”
Now look at verse 7…a verse that could sum up the perspective of the Bible on wisdom.
7 Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Wisdom and understanding are being used as synonyms here.
Wisdom is supreme (the highest of achievements)…so go get it.
In fact…go get it even if it costs you everything you have…it will be worth it.
Jesus told parable of a man finding a treasure in the field and selling everything he had to buy the field…because he so wanted the treasure.
In fact…the guy with “Joy” traded everything for the treasure in the field.
The treasure was the gospel…the kingdom…life with God.
The ultimate wisdom…treasure…is the gospel…here is Proverbs we are to see this pursuit of wisdom as worth everything we can give it.
There are situations in the world were someone might lose her life to follow Christ…people sometimes literally give all they have for the wisdom of the gospel.
But what does it mean here to say “Though it cost you all you have get wisdom”?…this is more than martyrdom…literally dying for the gospel.
I propose it is a heart attitude…or on inner orientation…this in line with the theme of this chapter…THE HEART OF WISDOM.
Wisdom is about developing and nurturing the value of “wisdom pursuit” over all other possible pursuits.
Like what? Like the pursuit of pleasure. Or fame. Or success. Or safety and security. Or…you fill in the blank.
The pursuit of wisdom/God’s wisdom=is to become the engine that drives our lives.
It is to determine (and to keep determining)…from the inside, from your core…to seek wisdom versus all the other life pursuits…because to seek wisdom is to seek God.
*If you are obtaining, in increasing fashion…a wise heart…you will be living a wise life…what else could equal that in value?
This is about a heart that values what is valuable…wisdom knows what is real and true and good…and the wise heart is the engine that drives our lives in that directions
Jump to verse 13
13 Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.
Keep grabbing hold of wisdom…don’t let it go…it is literally your lifeline.
We leak hope. We leak perspective. We leak joy. We leak wisdom
We are leakers.
What this means practically speaking is we need an ongoing infusion of hope, perspective, joy and wisdom.
We must remain vigilant and diligent…watchful and proactive…and never think we can relax in our pursuit of wisdom or of God.
God alone IS wise (he neither increases or decreases in wisdom…or in anything for that matter…he doesn’t leak)
He does not change or grow…he is infinite in all his perfections.
But we need constant infusions of God’s hope, peace, wisdom.
This side of heaven…we will not arrive, we are always be arriving..
So Proverbs presents life like a journey, a path…not a classroom.
We don’t sit and get wisdom…we walk the wise path…become wise.
*Sometimes, we begin to see “heart shaping choices” like…Groups, worship, Devotions/QT, spiritual disciplines…showing up for family, friends…as not really making a difference, because we not seeing substantial change as result.
So we stop doing the things that really are working, our hearts are being shaped choice by choice…but we become bored, impatient with the process.
We leak vision and perspective…so we fall for the age-old trap…that is…to chase external fixes for what is an internal problem.
-I need new friends, job, spouse, church, car, life….no you need new perspective on what is valuable and real and true.
When you lose perspective, hope, passion for the things you should value…look to the heart.
Rev. 2:5 There is warning to the church at Ephesus because they had lost their first love.
They are not told “Find a new passion”…but to return to their first love “Repent and do the things you did at first.”
“Repent” is a word that means…change of mind (heart) followed by change of direction(choices)
So the solution to their loss of “love for God”…was to go back and do what they had done before…not to chase new shiny objects.
Look at the verse 18,19…you will see this point of gradual, persistent progress even more clearly in these verses.
18The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. 19But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.
The full light of day here in the Hebrew…is the noon day sun…the point at which things are the brightest, clearest.
This walk of wisdom is one that increases in clarity the longer it is walked.
The way wisdom works is you listen and believe, then you walk and you see.
“Child, I’m passing on what I first learned from my dad…and what I have now seen through experience in my own life…walk this path and you will “see” for yourself someday…but for now…take my word for it.”
Proverbs has a lot to say about paying attention to the experience of others, to parents, elders(God)…those who have walked wisdom’s path…because early on in life…you have to believe others because you don’t yet have much personal experience.
And you don’t want the personal experience of folly…it is devastating.
Look at the terrifying alternative to this increasing life clarity…the deep darkness of the foolish path
What is terrifying is that they have become so accustomed to walking in the dark…they don’t understand or recognize the absence of light…or the reason for their suffering.
When they stumble…fall in the dark…even then they don’t understand the cause for their stumbling is they have ventured into the dark.
*I read of an actress who took her own life this last week…I briefly read the narrative of her life.
-I could see the presence of darkness in her life..
She walked in deep darkness but did not know what made her stumble…in the dark you trip, and you can’t even see what made you trip…not so the light...you see trip hazards and you walk around them.
*Disclaimer: What I am describing is a single story…this does not describe every suicide…or suicidal ideation.
The primary point here is that this wisdom walk is a lifetime walk…we don’t take classes in wisdom, graduate with a wisdom degree…and we are good to go…it is a life-long walk.
Wisdom proves itself over time by experience.
But we step on the path (at wisdom’s dawn in our lives) by first trusting God and others.
As we walk the path of wisdom…we combine over time…faith and sight…believing what God has said(through his word and others)…and we are experiencing God for ourselves (seeing for ourselves)
Wisdom’s walk is a lifelong process into the noonday brightness of God…ultimately, high noon is beyond this life…but we get to experience increasing warmth and clarity the longer we walk.
Let me divert briefly and speak to cynicism: Cynics are seen to be the “cool” “in the know” ones in cultural depictions…dark cynics…clearly they are the wise ones, the ones who know how the world really works.
Except they really don’t…they see life through a soda straw.
In Weddings: I sometimes challenge the couple to love the cynics in their life but to pay no attention to their cynicism.
-Cynics watching a couple in love on their wedding day might think or say “Yeah, I was young and naïve at one time like you…but just wait…you will be like me someday”
-There are those whose life experience has taught them to become cynical about lasting marital love.
*And you don’t have to be old to be cynical…some become that way at a young age.
-But measuring reality purely by my own life experience can be like looking through a straw…and seeing only a very small part of what is real and true about the world.
Cynics are arrogant…because they believe their own experience is the full measure of all that can be experienced.
There are those who are cynics about this wisdom walk with God into increasing light…it has not been their own experience…so they doubt it is real…”This doesn’t work”…except it does.
Be careful to not believe the cynics who might say…this life the Bible proposes…it’s nice in theory but not real…they are wrong.
Now…to the beating heart verse of Wisdom applied to our lives.
Proverbs 4:23…a verse I would encourage you to learn by heart (see how flexible the word “heart” is)
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
What a great and important verse…concise, precise.
A wellspring is THE source…all else comes from there.
Like the source of the mighty Mississippi…it can be traced back to a small glacial lake in Minnesota.
The heart is the source for all that comes from your life…what can be more crucial than guarding that source?
We exercise, we take medicine, we lock doors, we wear seatbelts, we use passwords…so many things we do to guard and protect our lives.
But nothing comes close to the importance of guarding the heart…the real inside “us”
So how do we do this…how do we set guard over our hearts?
Look at the clues given in the next four verses.
24Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
25Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.
26Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.
27Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.
Again we ask the question…Which is it…Do we shape our heart through our choices…or do our hearts shape our choices?
The answer is of course…YES.
Jesus said “From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12)
We live out of the condition of our hearts…words flow from what our hearts have become.
But he also taught things like…
“If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt. 5:37)
Because our life choices shape the condition of our hearts.
This makes sense in practice…not just in theory.
When I was a younger Christian…I desperately wanted to change how I spoke…I didn’t like my words.
-I knew I need to put a filter on my mouth (many of the Proverbs I memorized had to do with the tongue)
-But I also knew I needed a change at the heart level…because filters can fail.
*So I worked on externals(holding my tongue)…and sought a changed internal orientation prayed God would change my heart and sought to change my word use in order to shape my heart.
We live out of the shape of our hearts…and we make choices that shape our hearts.
Our hearts are “malleable”…able to be reshaped…and this reshaping is proactive, intentional…a work of God in collaboration with our choices over time.
We live from the “inside out” and we shape our hearts from the “outside in”
Do what wisdom does…become what wisdom is.
What kind of heart do you want?
What kinds of choices are required to have that kind of heart?
Where is God in this? You sound like you are talking about a lot of self-control.
God is all for this…he has given us the resources to be proactive…he empowers our choices for change.
Proverbs is about the wisdom of collaborating with God in becoming wise.
Look at what God has said…Proverbs 25:28 “Like a city whose walls are broken down is the man who lacks self-control.”
When that was written a city with broken down walls…was going to be over run by the enemy…it was a dangerous situation.
So God said…get self-control…pursue choices that are wise…control yourself.
What are some things indicated in those four verses?
- Watch your words
-Our hearts shape our words, our words shape our hearts.
We can complain and judge and use bitter words…and shape our hearts accordingly.
-We complain enough and our hearts will become the hearts of a complainer.
We can speak words of gratitude, grace, life…and shape our hearts accordingly.
-You can be thankful, grateful…speak life words and your heart will begin to take that shape.
What do you want? You have a “say” (no pun intended) in what shape your heart takes.
- Watch your eyes
-This means, partly, that we must understand that whatever we allow our eyes to see…will get into and shape our hearts.
-For instance in regards to media…There are a lot of things you could watch, but there are fewer things you should watch…if you want your heart to be shaped towards wisdom.
But here this “let your eyes look straight ahead” mainly means…a focus on priorities…keep your focus on what matters the most…and an application would be…be careful what you “see”
It is a challenge to not just to literally be careful where your eyes wander…but to watch where you let your imagination wander…watch what you allow to become priority inside of you.
- Make Level paths, ways that are firm…don’t swerve right or left.
-Not about taking the easy path, but the good path
-Not venturing off in sketchy directions…away from the will and ways of God.
-If you get bored with the good path…don’t go looking for adventure…that is a trick…this wisdom walk with God…this is the greatest adventure.
And if you have become bored or discontent with the good path… it is a heart problem not a path problem.
You may be discontent because you are on the wrong path…but often we become discontent with the good path…because we are prone to leak perspective.
If you want a heart that is orientated towards wisdom…you guard your heart by choices you make.
Our plans are perfectly designed to achieved the results we are getting.
Is your heart becoming more like Christ…growing in grace, patience, kindness, contentment?
Or is it going in opposite directions?
We can make choices that shape our hearts(Proverbs is telling us)…we must not be passive by-standers in our own lives.
*Remember Mr. Rogers…it would be convenient(but not challenging) if he really were a saint…or if he was just born with a better brain/heart than me.
But I was very challenged by his life…because I know for a fact…I can make choices if I want to be wiser, kinder, better…If I want to live a great commandment life more consistently…I can, if I will.
All hearts have been and are being shaped…we can choose the shape.
God has given that to us…we choose the shape by choosing the path.
Let’s use Israel as an example of how this works in practice.
The people were given a land of freedom and abundance…out of the long slavery they had lived in.
Moses was dead, Joshua is in command.
God is giving Joshua his marching orders…what life is going to be like in the Land of promise.
God tells Joshua he is going to give the people the land, no one will be able to stand against them.
-This is a conditional promise…the implied condition is “If the people choose to follow me then I will give them success.”
Three times in the first 9 verses he tells Joshua “Be strong and courageous”…and once “Don’t be terrified.”
Why? Because it is going to require strength and courage and effort of will at times…and it’s going to be potentially terrifying.
The very first battle is with the fortified City State of Jericho…God brings its walls down with very little effort on Israel’s part.
This allowed them to see the true source of their success…God’s power not their own strength.
The very next battle was a disaster because of their rebellion against God.
Then as their journey continued…never again was there a battle like Jericho where the walls just fell down…after that…it was hand-to-hand combat coupled with trust in God.
So the stage is set…a successful life in God’s promised land will require faith and obedience in God…and it will require persistent effort on their part…battles are to be won by faith and persistent effort.
This wisdom walk is lived from the heart out…but the heart is shaped by choices, decisions, disciplines.
There is no conflict between “Trust God” and “Proactively choose, decide, give effort.”
Passivity in the pursuit of God/wisdom…is deadly.
Activity in the pursuit of God…will require certain ongoing shaping choices.
What we do in worship, groups, time alone with God…encouraging one another…personal disciplines with our minds and our mouths…these are all shaping choices.
Everything shapes us…we must proactively make the choices that shape us into the image of Christ.
Above all else guard your heart, it is the wellspring of life (4:23)