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Proverbs – Week 34 Notes

By September 27, 2020Sermon Notes

Look at this image, if you can see it on the TV or at your phone…famous optical illusion

If you have seen it before you “know” the lines are equal in length…but you still “see” the second line as shorter

I’ll come back to this…

The chief investment officer of a Large financial firm invested tens of millions of dollars in the stock of Ford Motor Company.

When asked why, turns out he had attended an automobile show and had been impressed…“Boy” he said “do they know how to make a car.”

He trusted his gut, he had done good research on the actual value of Ford stock…is it underpriced?

Instead this financial expert decided based on “I like cars. I like Ford. I like the idea of owning Ford stock.”

In his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”

Psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman describes how our minds work in making decisions of all types…large and small.

Our brains are not literally divided into these two parts…but for sake of illustration he calls the different ways our minds work “system 1 and system 2”

Let’s call it “Fast brain” “Slow brain.”

We need our brains to work both ways…in order to be successful in life…but we can, at the wrong times, default to the “fast brain”

In the line illusion…

Fast brain…quickly decided that the top line is shorter

*Fast brain needs to quickly make depth perception decisions in order to get around in the world.

Slow brain…learned or measured and knows they are equal.

You can’t prevent your fast brain from doing its thing…but you you learn to distrust the illusion.

We need the fast brain to do its thing…it makes lots of quick and often correct (or correct enough) judgments…all day, every day.

But we need the slow brain to put a leash on the fast brain…sometimes.

Not all illusions are visual…some are of thought…there are many of these…and they can have profound impact on our lives.

Like the financial expert…whose thinking illusion is called “Substitution”

When faced with a difficult question we often answer with an easier one instead, usually without noticing the switch

“Should I invest in Ford” would require lots of mental work…slow brain work.

The easier question “Do I like Ford cars” “How do I feel about them”…fast brain reaction…came readily to his mind and determined his choice.

He would tell you he made a completely rational decision…his intuition was formed by years of experience…but that was not the case here.

When we are faced with a decision…many times the hard work of getting facts is substituted for what we feel about something… “This college or major or purchase or relationship…fells right to me.”

It may have actually been a good decision, it may be right…but the work of getting facts was substituted by the much easier question… “What do I feel about this.”

Really smart, really educated, “rational” people…generals, presidents, leaders of all kinds…can and do make some terrible decisions…because they trust their fast brain too much.

Again, we make fast, and often good decisions about a million little things everyday…these become automated and allow us to function in life.

But the fast brain is gullible and is biased to believe based on a number of thinking errors or quirks…it makes snap judgements…that why it is fast…and why it can be wrong.

Slow brain is in charge of doubting and unbelieving…figuring things out…but is it often busy or lazy…so defaults to fast brain decisions.

*Studies show that if you occupy the slow brain with certain processes (ideas, tasks)…you can get that person to make decisions that are incorrect…and the person doesn’t even know what is happening.

For instance, people are much more susceptible to the impact of advertising when they tired…fast brain requires more effort.

*PBS has an interesting series called “Hacking your mind”…they reference much of this research.

Some other “fast brain” errors are…

Halo/horn effect: Fascinating research on how people (all of us)…exaggerate the positive qualities of people they already like (or products) and exaggerate the negative qualities of those they don’t already like.

*I read two articles yestereday…each an interview by the same Christian writer…with two evangelical intellectuals…one man gave his reasons why Trump is the better choice, the other why Biden is.

In both articles…they discussed essentially the same issues regarding the two candidates…but with totally different conclusions

It seemed to be a clear case of the halo/horn effect…as I read these smart, and I think…really good men.

Availability error…it is when details that come easiest to mind form the basis for making decisions or coming to conclusions.

“I know 10 people who were very ill with Covid”

-This is a pandemic

“I don’t know anyone personally who has been ill with Covid”

-This is all political

I know a leader who has the reputation of being heavily influenced by whoever talks to him last

So much so, that I was told recently…

“If you want something from him…make sure you are the last one to talk to him that day.”

The information most available to his mind…has larger power in shaping his decisions.

We all are susceptible to this.

There is a corresponding Proverb for most thinking errors…here’s one for the availability error

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

Proverbs 18:17

There is a lot of interesting and fun studies…that demonstrate how almost no one believes they are susceptible to the availability error…but in fact everyone is.

*When we believe we are not impacted by these errors…we assume others are wrong or idiots…or wicked…it effectively cuts off any real relevant information coming into our minds…we block people out who are “wrong”

Kahneman’s book was written in 2011 and it has turned out to be prophetic for 2020

He talks about how media stories about risk can catch the attention of the public and the emotional reaction becomes a story in itself.

This prompts additional coverage which in turn produces greater concern and involvement.

The cycle is sped along by what he calls “Availability entrepreneurs”…individuals or organizations who know that what is most available to our minds…most shapes our decisions or fears, or interests.

These people work to ensure a continuous flow of worrying news…in order to sell news.

The issue then becomes politically important because it is on everyone’s mind, and the response of the political system is guided by the intensity of public sentiment.

The availability cascade (it’s most readily available to everyone’s fast brain) has now reset national priorities.

Other risks, and other ways that resources could be applied for the public good, all have faded into the background…this has happened many times in our history.

Just in case you are one who is inclined to think the Covid response has been overblown and ill advised…and are now thinking “Right on…I like this Kahneman guy!”

He goes on to say that the corresponding response to public fears by politicians based on “avaiilability effect” is not always wrong.

So please don’t miss the point of all this…I’m not trying to prove or disprove anyone’s view of current political and social issues…this is no statement on real news, fake news…masks, no masks.

I’m trying to demonstrate that there is now 50 years of research that proves what the Bible has already told us…

We are prone to be foolish…we are easily fooled…which makes us bad deciders

We are prone to trust ourselves too much…which means we believe we are really good deciders

We are less likely to see errors in our own thinking…so we need others to help us make good decisions.

If we lack humility…and believe we are immune to these thinking errors…we are going to make some bad decisions…maybe costly ones. 

If we don’t listen to and actually “hear” criticism of our thinking…actions…attitudes…we are less likely to make good decisions…less likely to prosper.

I AM NOT ADVOCATING FOR PERPETUAL DOUBT, OR CYNICISM…I’m advocating for growth in wisdom.

To be humble, to fear God, to listen to others…then go make good, wise, courageous decisions…to decide and then live decided.

As we wrap up this month of wise decisions let’s discuss three principles that help guide wise decisions…

  1. Self-interest is good…wisdom is to do what is good for you to do.
  2. Humility is wisdom…it is really good for you.
  3. With humility and for your own good…Utilize God’s resources…to make good decisions

1.Self-interest is good…we should want to do what is good for us, what will lead to thriving and prospering.

The entire book of Proverbs assumes that we want to be wise…so that we can live better lives.

It gives counsel on how to get along with others(because it’s not fun when we don’t), how to be physically healthy, how to accumulate resources, how to be happy.

It assumes that we want to do what is good for us to do…because we care about our own lives.

In fact, the Bible as a whole…assumes we want what is good for us…it then tries to convince us of what is actually good for us…because we are easily fooled.

In the extreme you have this…

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Proverbs 14:12

Positive side…

Jesus said(John 6) “The bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven”

“Sir”, the people asked “give us this bread.”

Jesus didn’t say… “don’t be so selfish, your always wanting bread, and life and joy and forgiveness…”

He said “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in my will never be thirsty.”

This should be self-evident that it is normal and okay…to want is best for us…but often “self-interest” is confused with “selfishness”

Selfishness is bad…self-interest it not bad.

To do what is good for you, is not mutually exclusive from doing what is good for others.

In fact…they are complimentary.

I am happier when I put others first…so in this sense…it is in my own best interests to put the interests of others ahead of my own.

Phil 2 “Each of you should look NOT ONLY to his own interests but ALSO to the interests of others…”

The assumption…self-interest does not exclude putting others first…in fact they tied together.

I use this principle often in wedding ceremonies…if each person puts the other first, they are both happier for it.

Self-interest…in the Biblical form…is win/win in relationships.

Look at Ephesians 5

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 

(Stop there: Hebrews 12 says that “Christ, who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross”…he went to the cross for his own joy…AND God’s glory AND our good)

…In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 

Eph. 5:25-30

Assumption here…its normal, it’s good to take care of yourself…and husbands…love your wife (who has become one with you)…like you take of your own body…like you provide for its needs.


Look at Jesus’…Great commandment, second half…‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Mark 12:30

This is not a command to start loving yourself (if you for some reason you have a poor self-image)…this is the assumption that you do love yourself already…now go love others like that.

Self-interest is not selfishness…one is normal, one is sinful.

So, with that in mind…listen to Proverbs 22:4

The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.

Proverbs 22:4

The “reward”…the payoff…this is good for you, listen up…be humble, fear God…the payoff is riches, honor, and life.

Wisdom is to be self-interested…and to realize what actually is in your own best interest.

James 4:6

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”

So, what are you saying James?

“I’m saying, pride is dumb…who wants God as an opponent?…that is clearly not good for you.”

So…do you want what is best for you?

Do you want to be successful in your endeavors?

Do you want “honor” and respect from the people you care about?

Do you want God as an ally and not an opponent?

Then embrace humility more fully…follow the ways of God more faithfully…this is good for you.

The story of humanity is rejecting God’s will and his ways in order to have a better way.

The outcome has always been terrible…collectively and individually.

I need to put my confidence in God…I need to live with faith and humility…if I want to have any hope of real success and happiness.

Self-interest is good…and it should move me towards God and his wisdom.

  1. Humility is key to wisdom.

C.S. Lewis famously said that “Humility is not thinking less of yourself it is thinking of yourself less.”

Humility is not trying to think you are bad, or dumb, or wicked, or not talented…it is being clear about who you are in relationship to God and to others.

He alone is God…all the rest of us…are made by him for him.

What we have…he has given.

What he has given is for his glory, the good of others, and our own joy.

So, the really good woodworker who is told he is really good at woodworking…should respond with “Thank you”

Not… “Oh, I’m not that good”

That’s not humility.

“We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works that he has prepared for us to do” Eph. 2

If you are really not good at something…okay…open hand

If you are really good at something…okay…open hand

What you have been given or not been given from God is for his glory and the good of others…and again…for your own joy.

Pride for a human is a form of insanity…with insanity being defined as an attempt to live outside reality.

Human pride…is really an attempt to escape from reality…escape from reason.

Consider just a few facts:

God is eternal… “In the beginning…God”, “Before Abraham was born…I am”

We are very, very temporal…we just haven’t been around long…won’t be around long.

God is powerful…very powerful.

We are very easy to break and kill

God is good…really good

We are not

God is really, really smart…he knows all that can be known.

The smartest of all humans… a tiny little bit about all that can be known.

Pride is not in our own self-interest:

-Because it is out of line with reality and it makes us stupid:

-we don’t listen to others

-we don’t see our “fast brain” mistakes

-we fail to see God do, what only he can do in our lives

-we diminish and even destroy relationships that could bring us a lot of joy

-we argue and fight and compete…when we could relax and enjoy life and each other

-we try to compel and coerce others….when we could influence them

-It makes us less curious and less childlike…two important parts of a happy life

-It makes us worse decision makers.-

When I was younger, I assumed those who were much older and in positions of leadership and authority were mostly wise people

Key leaders in political, military, business, education…had so much experience and accumulated knowledge that they would more consistently make good decisions.

Of course…this is not always true…the reason why…

They have grown older, and more experienced, but not humbler.

There are many who have…and you can, I think…see the difference in how they live their lives.

*Students…the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom…to live with humility and faith…is in your own best interest.

Everyone does what makes sense to them…but pride, “self-faith” means that what makes sense to us…is not good for us.

“I have come that you may have life to fullest”. Jesus said.

Don’t learn from experience…that a life lived “your own way” is a failed attempt at happiness and success.

Take the Lord’s word for it…then start with faith…and then learn from experience…that what he offers is in your best interest.

Last point.

  1. With humility, and for your own good…Utilize God’s resources…His Word, His Spirit, His People…to make good decisions

Operate with Humility:

-Realize you are prone to human errors of many kinds

-Realize you are not smart, good, or strong…not really

Operate for your own good: (as God sees it)

-Realize that what God wants for you, you would also want…if you had the wisdom to see it.

-So train your heart to want what he wants.

Utilize God’s resources for decision making:

-His word: He will not lead in a way that is outside the parameters of his will as revealed there.

-His word reveals wise and good actions, attitudes, and ideas

-His Spirit:

The Holy Spirit does speak to us…comfort, conviction and direction…but remember, although he is without error…we are not.

*For Christians there is another kind of thinking/decision making fallacy…that you don’t find in the normal textbooks.

Let’s call it the “search for peace fallacy”

It is often very hard work to make wise decisions…so we substitute what feels “good or right” for what may actually be right.

Christians can, without intending to do it…spiritualize their “intuition, feelings, impulses”

“I don’t feel peace.” “I feel lead/don’t feel lead”

Again…I don’t doubt that God can and does lead…I just doubt how good we are, on our own, at clearly hearing from him.

We need caution and humility here…we need to trust him more and ourselves less.

Trust him by trusting others he has given us as friends.

So, we have his third resource…

-His people

“Whoever walks with the wise grows wise…” Prov 13:20

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Prov 15:22

We discussed this at length last week…but let me briefly illustrate how we can prosper by listening to trusting friends…and not trusting ourselves in key times.

I have a friend who was going through a terrible time several years ago.

He came to a conclusion that he believed to be correct.

I was outside the storm of emotions and the various mental triggers he was dealing with and I had a very different conclusion.

My friend choose to trust me…the result was that he escaped long term sadness…and has experienced a great deal of life and relationship as a result of going the opposite direction from what he thought best.

My point is not that I am that smart…but that we are all often smarter about each other’s lives than our own.

My friend was convinced the wall was black…I told him it was white…who was he to trust in that moment?

Who will you trust when you are convinced something is so but it may not be?

Proverbs, Wisdom, and now many years of research warns you away from putting your confidence in self…trust your trusted friends…they are God’s resource, God’s gift to you…and are essential for you to experience life at its best.

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