The world has enough mockers

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 15-16, 1 Corinthians 15, Proverbs 9

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
rebuke the wise and they will love you.
Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.

Proverbs 9:7-9

For most of my life I viewed this passage in Proverbs purely the way it was written, through the lens of how I should deal with others. I would read this passage and think to myself, “There is so much truth in this! There are just some people who are pointless to correct. If only they were open minded to wisdom! They are the epitome of the mocker described in Proverbs! They are so closed minded!” The fundamental flaw in this view is that it automatically assumes that I am wise and have all of the correct answers. By viewing this passage simply through the lens of how to deal with others, we miss the opportunity for self-reflection that we are offered as well.

This passage applies to every area in life, but I think it is safe to say that it manifests itself in today’s world most prominently through politics. There are very few people that have much of an interest in hearing what the other side has to say on an issue. We view most conversations as nothing more than a debate. Even the most patient of us typically only listen and attempt to appear open minded as a tactic to open the mind of the person we are with, find holes in their argument, and eventually attempt to “win them over to our side”. Very little listening is done with a genuine attempt to understand the position of the other person. Very rarely do we take down our own walls and ask, “Is there some wisdom in what they are saying?”

Frequently the answer very well might be no. On some issues, the answer is a pretty obvious and incredibly definitive no, and that is only hammered home more and more the longer we listen! However, by not being willing to actually engage, listen, and consider the thoughts of others, we become a mocker and lose the chance to “add to our learning and become wiser still.” And in cases where we come away feeling like we are on the right side of the argument after listening further, we have lost the opportunity to have any impact on the other person’s views as well. No one is going to take kindly to being called an idiot who doesn’t actually understand how the world works. No one who is mocked or insulted based on their views ends up opening their mind and coming away wiser because of the interaction.

This was absolutely my default throughout high school, college, and in my early to mid 20’s. I knew how the world worked, the correct sides to all arguments, and felt confident in making my case in such a way that would be hard to counter.

This all changed leading up to the 2008 election. (Wow that seems like a lifetime ago currently!) I was 26 at the time and decided to do an intellectual exercise for myself. I took 8-10 political hot button topics and actually asked myself, “What if I am wrong on this issue? Do I actually believe this because I have truly considered every aspect of the topic, listened to people from both sides with an open mind, looked at actual research and facts presented by each, and thought through the philosophical ramifications of the position I currently support? Or have I just always believed it and sought out sources of information that worked to confirm my already existing bias?”

Wow, that was challenging! For about 6 months I wrestled with quite a few topics. I spent time on just about every hot button topic imaginable and really tried to be open minded to the possibility that I was either completely wrong on my stance or that it might be more complicated than I originally thought and that a more nuanced approach was necessary than I wanted to admit.

I came away changing my stance almost completely on about 30-40% of topics and having a far more nuanced view on most of the others. At this point I am pretty confident I would get crushed if I ever ran for office, by both sides, because there are simply too many issues on both sides of the aisle that I support. We demand that every person get in line with 100% of the party platform or we call you ignorant! It is incredibly natural to choose a side that seems to fit more of our beliefs and then embrace what we are told to think by that side on all topics, instead of deciding what we believe and accepting the fact that “our party” might not agree with us on everything.

One of the biggest revelations I had in doing this exercise was the realization that politics, and our country as a whole, would be far better off if more people only agreed with 70% of what their party told them to support. Our country would be far better off if people looked into individual issues on their own, heard arguments from both sides, and made their own personal decision about how they feel on the topic.

I now listen with a far more open mind to people that I disagree with. I really want to understand where they are coming from. I want to know why they believe what they believe and if there is any truth in their position. Sometimes I am surprised by how well thought out their position truly is, even if I disagree. Sometimes, I find myself being swayed slightly or even quite a bit towards a portion of their argument, and am thankful I took the time to ask the question and listen. At a bare minimum, I am at least thankful for better understanding the psychology of why they believe what they believe instead of simply pigeon holing them because “I already know why they think the way they do”.

Virtually every single person you talk to today will say that the world is completely divided right now and do not like the polarized and toxic nature of our country. On this point, virtually everyone on both sides agree! (Other than those who actively seek to continue this divide for their own purposes) However, most of us prefer to shake our heads and say, “It is too bad the other side is so full of mockers and not people willing to seek wisdom.”

This past year has caused me to revert back into this tribal feeling more and more. I have found myself slipping back into a mindset where I view this passage in Proverbs 9 as advice for me on how to deal with others and not advice directed to me, encouraging me to not be a mocker, but to instead seek wisdom.

The world has plenty of mockers.

This morning I am making a decision to go back to being willing to learn.

In the words of Jerry Maguire: Who’s coming with me?

Thought to ponder

If I am being honest with myself, have I spent the last 12 months as a mocker or willing to learn?

What do we envy?

Daily Readings – Leviticus 26-27, Psalm 37

Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Psalm 37:1-7

I imagine this passage in Psalms speaks to everyone out there attempting to be a marketplace missionary! It is so easy look around and see people having a high degree of success in their lives that are teetering on the line of ethical behavior, pushing the envelope a little too far, or blatantly taking advantage of others and doing the wrong thing over and over again. If we are simultaneously in the midst of a season of life where we have not felt God’s blessings on our work over the course of a few days, months, or years, it is easy to become envious. It is natural to start to ask, “Am I possibly being a bit too uptight in the way I am going about things? Would it really be all that bad if I was to…”

As hard as we try, it is our human nature to slip back into a mindset focused entirely on our current material condition. The desires of our heart constantly pull us back towards the comparison game, materialism, and status.

This doesn’t simply go for career success, money, or position. It applies to most things. A classic example for me throughout high school was the old adage, “Nice guys finish last.” I would look around and see so many absolute jerks taking advantage of women, treating them poorly, having the worst of intentions, and yet seemingly thriving in that department. It was easy to envy. It was natural to think, “Maybe they are right…”

I have had those moments in my career where I have seen others in similar positions to me having success while doing business in such a way that is not focused on serving God and serving others. It has been easy to ask, “Do they have a point? Would it really be that big of a deal if…”

The Bible tells us, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” 

Waiting patiently…easier said than done. In Genesis 18 we saw the story of Abraham and Sarah and saw the perfect example of needing patience. God has his own timeline and his own version of righteous rewards that do not always match up with ours.

When we read, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” it is easy to turn this into the health and wealth gospel. Just delight in the Lord and he will give you that amazing house, car you have always wanted, perfect children, incredible vacations, etc.

And yet I have found repeatedly in my own life that when I am delighting in the Lord, the desires of my heart shift. I am not as concerned about the status of the guy next to me. I am not envious of the material possessions of person I perceive as cutting corners and behaving unethically. I am not thinking about material possessions, bank accounts, etc. The desires of my heart shift towards doing the work of the Father. My desires shift towards having opportunities to pour into others and spread his Kingdom here on earth.

When I delight in the Lord, he has never failed to put people in my path that I am able to impact. He has never failed in giving me these desires of my heart! And when focused on these, envy has no choice but to melt away!

Thought to ponder

What are the current desires of my heart? Where have I fallen into envy of others that is not in line with the life God has called me to live? How can I delight more in the Lord and have more patience and trust with his plan for my life?

Faith the size of a mustard seed

Daily Readings: Exodus 1-2, Proverbs 4, Matthew 17

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

-Matthew 17:20

Faith the size of a mustard seed is a concept that can frequently be a stumbling block for many Christians today. I have often had a hard time wrapping my mind around the miraculous works that God does in our lives and through our lives. Where this struggle becomes particularly pronounced for me is when I am required to trust in God’s timing. In the Western World we want to take these words from Jesus and change it slightly. We prefer the version of the verse that goes a little something like this:

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move…immediately upon the snap of your fingers!”

We want our faith to result in magic trick style miracles. We want miracles that can clearly be seen as supernatural in the moment that they occur. The man was blind one moment and the very next moment his sight returns! A dear friend had a serious medical condition and then it was gone without explanation!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have known many people personally that have experienced these types of miracles in their own lives. It is amazing to see God work in these ways and nothing short of awe inspiring when it happens! God wants us to pray with conviction for the miraculous.

However, God’s miraculous works in our lives are not always instantaneous. Sometimes they take place overs years or even decades. Occasionally the miracle is instantaneous…but not until a significant time later. We saw this back on Day 9 with the story of Abraham and Sarah. The moment Sarah became pregnant was a an unexplainable, instantaneous, medical miracle…that they had to wait 25 years for. How is our faith when we are made to wait? How is our faith when we are required to truly let go of our plan in a given situation and trust that God has a much bigger plan than we can ever comprehend?

Faith the size of a mustard seed.

I think we would all prefer a setup where we are allowed to have faith the size of a mountain…for 6-12 hours!

Jesus wants us to simply have faith the size of a mustard seed…that has staying power! Faith that withstands the storms in our life. Faith that is unwavering even if the outcomes of our prayers don’t go exactly the way we expect. Faith that embraces that God’s plan is frequently a marathon and not a sprint.

That is the type of faith I know that I want in my life!

Thought to ponder

In what areas of my life have I tried to put God into a box and wanted him to answer my prayers on my terms and on my timeline?

Five short chapters later…

Daily Readings: Genesis 37-41, Psalm 16

I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

-Psalm 16:7-8

Keeping our eyes always on the Lord can be easier said than done at times in our lives. Declaring that we will not be shaken regardless of what comes, knowing that God is always there at our right hand to counsel us, can be incredibly challenging!

One of the best stories throughout the entire Bible that illustrates this is found in Genesis today when looking at the life of Joseph. Talk about a rollercoaster!

Throughout the course of five chapters we see some amazing drama unfold. Joseph is his father’s favorite son. Then, out of jealousy, his brothers sell him into slavery. God has a different plan, however, and Potiphar puts Joseph in charge over his entire household. This doesn’t last long. Soon Potiphar’s wife is trying to seduce Joseph. When he refuses, she lies about Joseph attempting to rape her and has him thrown in prison. God is still with Joseph and the warden eventually puts Joseph in charge of the prison. After miraculous dream interpretations from God, Joseph is let out of prison and put in charge of all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh!

Joseph’s story truly is the stuff that movies are made from. Challenges, high points, devastating plot twists, and eventually redemption. There is an inspiring theme throughout the story of Joseph that applies to our life as well.

God wants to use your story, no matter how bad it looks, to further his plan for your life. Whether the adversity you face was God ordained for a specific purpose, or simply self-inflicted based on our own choices; God will use those challenges to advance his story and serve others if we allow him to.

The hard part is remaining patient as God does his miraculous work of redeeming our story. It is easy to read the story of Joseph for 10-15 minutes, over the course of 5 chapters, and say, “Wow. Look at the faithfulness of God!”

It is easy to scan over the following verses without even thinking about them:

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers

Some time later 

When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt…

This entire short story for us was anything but short for Joseph. As soon as things began looking up, immediately the next shoe fell. Over and over and over again. This wasn’t 13 days or even 13 months; it was 13 years!

I try to put myself in Joseph’s shoes. I think about the last time we see him made to wait in this story. Joseph gives the cupbearer good news about his dream and simply asks that he talk to Pharaoh on his behalf once the cupbearer is restored to his former position. Joseph must have been sitting there that day when the cupbearer was restored, eagerly awaiting the call for him to be released from prison. Finally! After years in slavery and then prison, I am going to get out!

That day passes, and the next one, and the next one…

Eventually the cupbearer remembers Joseph and, only a chapter later, Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream, is released from prison, and in charge of all of Egypt!

One chapter for us was a two-year wait for Joseph.

How patient are we with God’s story? How do we respond when we are in the midst of the slavery chapter in our lives? Where do we fix our eyes when waiting in our own personal prison for longer than we would like?

Often in my own life when going through challenges I try to maintain the perspective that God is going to use this for his glory in some way. This trial will allow me to minister to others in the future who are dealing with similar challenges as I am facing right now.

It is a comforting thought. However, more often that not, I want to pass quickly through the prison phase and get the part where I am in charge of all of Egypt! I want to fast forward God’s plan. I want to skip ahead.

Whatever you are facing right now or whatever trials you face in the future, God can use them to advance his plan. He can use them to have a powerful impact in the lives of others. He can redeem them for his glory. Our job is to release control, trust in his timing, and keep our eyes fixed firmly on him.

Thought to ponder

How could God use previous challenges in my life to advance his kingdom and to serve others?

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