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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

More than an instruction book

There have been lots of things in my life which I have treasured.  As a small child, I treasured the new doll, a favorite toy, or even a new bike.  As a teen, I treasured accomplishments such as winning a race, or maybe getting straight A's on a report card. Coming into adulthood, the things I treasured became a little different as children were born into our family - they soon took on the center of my focus and my heart!  As I have grown a little older, kids have moved on, and I am now taking care of mom in her final years, I treasure the moments we can laugh, enjoy each other, and even just sit in quiet repose with each other.  The things we treasure all vary depending on what stage we are in life, don't they?  For some, these treasures will never change - they will never move on to treasure really fulfilling things.  They will be stuck in the things which they think matter - accomplishments, possessions, and skill.  The truth about relationships being a genuine treasure will often escape them.  Whatever has our focus will soon become our practice, so this is why it is very important to focus on the right stuff!  As Solomon opens the Book of Proverbs, he gives us sage advice:  You must follow and treasure my teachings and my instructions.  Follow and treasure - two very distinct ways of defining our pursuit of what really matters in this life.  Follow means we set off in the direction of the object of our focus. Treasure means we actually hold those things close to our heart.  We will do well to consider this instruction in our pursuit of all things godly!

My child, you must follow and treasure my teachings and my instructions. Keep in tune with wisdom and think what it means to have common sense. Beg as loud as you can for good common sense. Search for wisdom as you would search for silver or hidden treasure. Then you will understand what it means to respect and to know the Lord God. (Proverbs 2:1-5 CEV)

Teaching and instruction don't seem a whole lot different, but they are because one describes the precepts or truths taught; the other describes the authoritative direction given. We need both - the method for accomplishing something and the step-by-step guidance on how to actually see it accomplished in our lives.  I can possess a set of instructions to assemble a particular item, but unless I actually use those instructions, they are just precepts - they haven't become the actual authority by which I will begin the assembly!  We cannot expect to go through life with an instruction book on life and never open it, doing what it says.  If we do, we are fooling ourselves.  The day I bought my Camry about 5.5 years ago, I knew it had a keyless ignition.  I had never possessed or driven such a vehicle, so this was a novelty to me.  I had to understand how it worked - so I referred to the instruction manual.  If this was all I did (referring to the manual), I'd still be sitting on the dealer's lot after all these years.  I actually had to put my foot on the brake pedal, push the ignition button, and then put the car in gear!  I put into practice the instructions I was provided.  Anything less than these steps meant the car didn't start, much less move.

This might seem like a little bit of trivial information for you, but it describes how we often treat God's Word.  We "refer" to it from time to time, but we don't always put it into practice. Then we wonder why we are still sitting in the parking lot of life!  I think we can all see Solomon's advice comes down to a set of practices we must absolutely put into practice in our lives - follow, treasure, keep, think, beg, and search.  

Follow:  Move behind God in the same direction as he is going.  This means we actually have to discover which direction he might actually be moving in!  In order to discover, we have to be attentive.  Attention directed in the right direction will inevitably help us make better decisions.

Treasure:  Regard his instruction as precious - as though it were irreplaceable in your life - because it truly is!  Remembering what we place in our focus long enough becomes the object of our heart's desire, does it come as any surprise to us that Solomon would call attention to the wisdom of God's teachings as the object of our attention?  Those teachings are what will keep us on path with him - losing focus of them will insure a whole lot of "drift" in our walk.

Keep:  Truth applied is the only truth which matters.  We can possess all manner of truth, but if we never apply it to our lives, they are simply words which sound good or look nice on a poster somewhere.  Wisdom is the application of truth - to take in, put into practice, and adhere to what we have come to accept as truth.  Without such steps of obedience, we are only "considering" the Word of God, but we aren't "living by it".

Think:  Since all action begins with thought, it seems reasonable Solomon would tell us of the importance of thinking "upon" God's truths.  Notice I didn't say thinking "about" God's truths.  When we think upon them, we are actually like the cow chewing on the cud - we get all there is to get out of it at that very moment and then for a little while longer!  We rehearse it over and over again until the richness contained within is able to refresh us and give us strength for our journey.

Beg:  It kind of seems a little "needy" to tell us to beg for common sense, or like we don't actually possess any of this stuff on our own.  The truth be told, we need common sense in more ways than we realize - so reminding us to ask God for common sense is not a bad idea!  We may not even know where or when we will need it, but when God gives us the common, practical "advice" about how to live, make decisions, and deal with each other in daily relationships, we need to tuck that away so we have it as "common sense" later on. What is practiced becomes "common" to us - it is there for us all the time.

Search:  We show a little bit of tenacity when we are searching for something - like we are finally acknowledging our need.  I think this is why the idea of searching comes after us being reminded to beg!  Searching suggests a yearning which cannot be quenched without us having actually acquired what it is we are searching for.  In this case, it is wisdom.  

It might seem a little bit backward to begin with following - end with searching.  If we look at it this way, maybe it will help.  All things begin with a little willingness on our part to actually move toward them.  If we want a glass of water, we might actually have to get up, turn on the tap, obtain a cup, and then fill it with the water.  We possess it - but we haven't really used what it is we possess at this point.  We took the steps to get it - following our desire, even developing a real thirst, but we haven't taken the first sip.  When we do, we keep sipping.  Why?  The thirst demands to be quenched.  Falling in love with Jesus means we fall into step with him, as well.  When we do, we come into new places of discovery.  These places of discovery lead us into new places of desperation and hope.  As these places begin to affect us deeply, we turn away from the stuff which is just going to pass away in search of that which will endure forever.  A good plan indeed.  Just sayin!