What makes you stand out from another in a crowd? Lately, I have been observing all kinds of things which make folks stand out. Things like those into multiple body piercings - loops dangling here and there, chains connecting this to that, and studs outlining their facial features like eyeliner. Okay - it makes a statement, but not the one I want to make. Then there are the ones who clamor for the latest of fashions - skirts shorter this year, towering on six inch spikes of death (better known as "heels"), and gargantuan purses truly capable of accommodating the proverbial kitchen sink. Again - not my cup of tea. So, what is it we desire to have on display? Is it our fashion sense? Is it our need to be noticed? Is it the "shock-factor" we give our onlookers?
A wise person gets known for insight; gracious words add to one's reputation. (Proverbs 16:21 The Message)
Solomon offers us one insight into our "display" - get known for your insight! It isn't what we "display" on our bodies - it is what is displayed in the outpouring of our minds, hearts, and spirits! Where do gracious words emanate from? The scripture points us to the heart - out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). How is the heart made reliable? Scripture points to the fact of our heart being "deceitful" and "desperately wicked" - a puzzle no one can truly figure out (Jeremiah 17:9). We are faced with a conundrum of sorts, aren't we? We want a great reputation, but our heart betrays us!
As we look again at our passage, we are directed toward our words - following the path scripture points us, we find the root of our words is the heart - therefore, the root of a good reputation lies in a changed heart. In allowing the examination of the heart, we often are providing the means to "uproot" the stuff which negatively impacts our reputation. A plant grows in various kinds of soil - in varying places of nourishment.
Looking at some of the well-cultivated gardens of the South, I find rich, dark soil. It is filled with all kinds of nourishment for the plant. The soil is easily worked and relatively free of barriers to growth. Yet, the soil is affected by "external" things - like rain, or sunshine. Too much rain and a lack of sunshine - mold and mildew begin to affect the roots. Not enough rain and too much sunshine - plants wither. It is a fine balance, isn't it? So, "intake" is important to maintaining the health of the plant. This is the purpose of the roots, is it not? Intake also involves spreading leaves wide to receive the rays of the sun. A different type of plant grows in the shadows of the tree than that which is out in the blistering sun of day! Too much of even a good thing can affect us adversely! The importance of "balance" in our lives is not to be missed.
Looking at the rocky desert landscape of Arizona, I find alkaline soil - hard, impenetrable, and almost hostile to growth. The things which grow in this soil are much different in appearance than those of the deep South. In fact, many of the plants growing in the deserts have to struggle to grow. There are rocks in the soil, impeding the deep reaches of the roots to much needed water sources. The "leaves" of the desert plants resemble spikes! In fact, they often repel rather than attract. Most of the time, you don't hear anyone saying, "Oh my! Just look at the beauty of that cactus over there!" But...there is something to be said about the roots of these growing things in our desert. Their roots go deep! They have to in order to survive! Strong winds apply pressures each monsoon season - easily ripping up those which are not anchored deep. Hot seasons produce very little relief in drenching rains.
Now, consider the "reputation" of the two types of "growth". The plant of the deep South - it is beautiful, lush looking, and admirable. But...will it endure the harshness of the seasons? I challenge us to consider again the plant of the Arizona desert. First, it is adaptable. When the seasons of dryness come, it may not bloom as much or as vividly, but it sinks its roots deeper and endures. Second, it has adapted to where it is planted. The spines may look a little "rough", but they are simply "adapted" leaves. Last, but definitely not least, they grow where others tend to wither.
Bringing this back to our discussion of "heart", here's what I want us to see. An "adaptable" heart reflects the soil its roots are planted within! At first, we may only see the spikes of "adapted leaves", but in time, we see the beauty of sturdy, steady, and deeply anchored roots. The woodpecker makes his nest in the hollow of the cactus, carving out a safe habitation for its young. He looks beyond the long spikes of the cactus, anchoring his trust in the shelter of the stately cacti.
Hmmm...I wonder if this is what Solomon had in mind when he reminds us of the reputation of the wise? They may not "fit the mold" of what the world calls wise. If you have ever been drawn to the words of one touched by God in the depths of their heart, you will soon realize they have adapted to the soil they are planted within, allowing it to affect them deeply. In turn, their words provide a little nourishment to all who take them in - a shelter of sorts. The external appearance may not always reflect the internal source of strength realized in the "rooting" of the wise person - but their words betray their roots!