A Storm Is Coming

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” —Proverbs 1:22

Wisdom is not handy tips to upgrade our lives from four to seven on a scale of one to ten. Wisdom is not a high-octane added ingredient to boost performance. Wisdom is a matter of life and death. An old hymn helps us to hear the gospel clearly:

Wealth and honor I disdain; earthly comforts, Lord, are vain;
These can never satisfy; give me Christ, or else I die.

That’s wisdom, that’s reality, because Jesus Christ is not a garnish on the side. Nobody says, “Give me parsley, or else I die.” The Bible says, “The complacency of fools destroys them, but whoever listens to [Christ] will dwell secure” (Proverbs 1:32-33).

Chapters 1-9 of Proverbs burn with urgency. Our passage today is for people who think, “Sure, I wouldn’t mind my life getting a little better.” The Bible is saying, “Now is the time to turn a corner. Your attitude is complacency.” Isaacs Watts gave us words for where we all need to go: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Today’s passage breaks down into three sections: wisdom is demanding (verses 20-21), wisdom is dangerous (verses 22-31), wisdom is our only safety (verses 32-33).

Wisdom is demanding 

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the markets she raises her voice; 
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks.

In our last passage we overheard a father speaking to his son. The whole book of Proverbs is like that – a father-figure preparing his son for greatness. Now the father points to wisdom, personified as a woman, but not a typical woman, especially for this culture. Women were not given the same voice as men. But Lady Wisdom is standing at the crossroads of culture – where business, government, education, the arts, athletics, all intersect – right in the middle of all the bustle and noise, and she stands up and shouts louder. We’re looking at Wisdom the street preacher, warning and scolding and demanding, very unladylike.

Why does Lady Wisdom go out to the streets and markets and city gates? Because that’s where the people are, it’s where they live, it’s where they need wisdom. God’s wisdom isn’t for a secluded life. The Beatles did not need to fly to India to sit at the feet of the Maharishi. God was trying to get through to them back in Liverpool. God is speaking today in London and New York and Nashville – if we’ll listen. God wants to speak into your life with a helpfulness only he can give. Let’s not think, “When I can thin out my schedule, I might be free to pay more attention.” God is free right now, for all that God is.

Unbelief says: Some other time, but not now; some other place, but not here; some other people, but not us. Faith says: Anything He did anywhere else He will do here; anything He did any other time He is willing to do now; anything He ever did for other people He is willing to do for us! . . . God wants to work through you!

God isn’t holding out. He’s available. But he demands a hearing above all the noise.

Wisdom is dangerous

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you.
Because I have called and you refused to listen,
have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
would have none of my counsel
and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices.
—Proverbs 1:22–31 

There are two kinds of danger – the danger of poison, and the danger of fire. Poison can only be life-threatening. Fire can be helpful. For example, dig some gold ore out of the ground, and it’s mixed with rock and baser metals. You then smelt it to 80% purity. You then refine it in the fire to 99% purity, the international gold standard. It takes a metric ton of ore, most of it gunk, to yield about six grams of gold. So much has to be burned away. But the fire doesn’t harm the gold, only the impurities.

Jesus and his wisdom are dangerous like fire. It’s our own folly that’s dangerous like poison. That’s why wisdom says here in verse 22 – you hear urgency in her tone of voice – “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” We do not have to tell ourselves “I hate wisdom,” to miss out on it. We only have to be okay with the way we are. The scoffers and fools, in the rest of verse 22, are more advanced cases, more hardened. A scoffer is an aggressive, confident, calculating person, outwardly impressive, often successful, but he will slit your throat. A fool is thickheaded, stubborn dolt. He just won’t listen. He always knows better, always has an excuse. Nothing is ever his fault. Both the scoffer and the fool are headed for disaster. But the simple – they are the under-committed, the ones keeping their options open, they don’t really know what they’re living for, they tend to go with the flow and conform – the simple still have a chance. They might respond to Wisdom. That’s why Wisdom is calling to them. But they need to make up their minds. They just don’t feel strongly either way. No urgency. When Wisdom cries out, “How long?” she is saying, “How many sermons is it going to take before you start down a new path?” I heard Peggy Noonan describe one of our former Presidents as “a profoundly unserious person.” Christ loves people like that. He is calling to people like that. He takes us seriously. Here is what he promises,

If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you. —Proverbs 1:23

The Lord is saying, “Sometimes I’ll disagree with you, I’ll correct you, I’ll rebuke you. I don’t work with perfect people. I work with responsive people. Here’s the response I’m looking for: turn.” That word “turn” is the most important word in the Bible for repenting. It is not a sentimental word. It’s a decisive word. If we decide to turn away from our present selves, both our failures and our attainments, and turn toward Jesus and say to him, “I want you to renew me. If need be, let’s start over at John 3:16. I’m open to you challenging anything in my life. I’m not protecting anything from you. I want to become wise, like you” – if we will be open to him, decisive for him, what does he promise to do for us?

“I will pour out my spirit to you and make my words known to you.” Why does he promise that? Because we’re weak, we’ve tried before, and we’re so tired of failing. We’re thinking, “I do want to turn to him. But how could I keep it up?” Jesus is promising to responsive people, “Batteries are included. I’m wise enough to know all your need. I died, to take away your guilt. I rose again, to give you my power. I have thought of everything.” He’s promising to give you a new passion in your heart to sustain you and new insight in your mind to intrigue you. He will make the Bible come alive to you. Would you like that? You must decide. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Revelation 3:20). At some point, maybe today, he will knock for the last time, and then silence. What happens then?

Because I have called and you refused to listen . . .
I also will laugh at your calamity. —Proverbs 1:24-26

If we are too busy for God, he will judge us, and he will not apologize. Hell will not veto the joy of heaven. God’s laughter here is not giggly. He is not laughing at the pain of fools, but he does laugh with amazement at their stupidity. It’s like, “I can’t believe my eyes. I’m offering you everything you desire deep in your heart, and you go on marginalizing me? You must be joking.” Anything is better than that. So, it’s a mercy when we suffer. It’s when our hearts finally crack open to God and we finally turn to him. It’s when we stop laughing at him. Regina Spektor sings,

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God
When they’re starving or freezing or so very poor

No one laughs at God
When the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one’s laughing at God
When it’s gotten real late
And their kid’s not back from the party yet

No one laughs at God
When their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake
No one’s laughing at God
When they see the one they love hand in hand with someone else
And they hope that they’re mistaken

No one laughs at God
When the cops knock on their door
And they say we got some bad news, sir
No one’s laughing at God
When there’s a famine or fire or flood

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-theme joke
Or when the crazies say he hates us
And they get so red in the head you think they’re ’bout to choke
God can be funny
When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God
When they’ve lost all they’ve got
And they don’t know what for

No one laughs at God on the day they realize
That the last sight they’ll ever see is a pair of hateful eyes
No one’s laughing at God when they’re saying their goodbyes

Right now is your moment to turn to God and say, “I am not laughing at you. I am so listening to you, whatever you have to say to me.” If you’re in earnest with God, he will make every promise true for you. But if you turn away, the Bible says a storm is coming. Verse 27: “. . . when terror strikes you like a storm.” You know the perfect storm? Not when you fail but when you succeed and you finally get your perfect life. It’s the poison of your kingdom coming and your will being done. Cynthia Heimel wrote,

I pity [celebrities]. No, I do. The minute a person becomes a celebrity is the same minute he/she becomes a monster. Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Barbra Streisand were once perfectly pleasant human beings with whom you might lunch on a slow Tuesday afternoon.

But now they have become supreme beings, and their wrath is awful. It’s not what they had in mind. . . .

The night each of them became famous they wanted to shriek with relief. Finally! Now they were adored! Invincible! Magic!

The morning after the night each of them became famous, they wanted to take an overdose of barbiturates.

All their fantasies had been realized, yet the reality was still the same. If they were miserable before, they were twice as miserable now, because that giant thing they were striving for, that fame thing that was going to make everything okay, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them with personal fulfillment and (ha ha) happiness, had happened.

And nothing changed. They were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable.

The storm of your life might be when you get want you want, or it might be when everything falls through. Either way, God doesn’t hit you over the head with hammer. He doesn’t have to. The sorrow comes inescapably from within the negative energy of your own choices:

They shall eat the fruit of their own way,
and have their fill of their own devices. —Proverbs 1:31

There’s no trickery. Hardness of heart inherits itself, and hell cannot be more horrible than that. C. S. Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.’”

Wisdom is dangerous, like fire. It will purify you. Folly is more dangerous, like poison. It will turn you howling and insufferable. Which danger are you going to risk? I have a friend in California named Ted. He was one of the first hippies back in the mid-60s. He was a sail-maker in Sausalito, across the bay from San Francisco, when he became a Christian. A few years later he said this in a sermon at the church where we both served:

You cannot sin and not suffer from it. It just can’t be done. I spent a great deal of my life trying to sin and to do away with my conscience at the same time. One of the things I like best about being a Christian is the way that I suffer when I sin – it is the chastisement which guarantees me that I am one of God’s people. I like it. It feels good. It feels like correction. It feels as if I am being straightened out. . . . When I was only half believing God, he actually did come into me and make me miserable every time I sinned. That is how I learned that he really is believable. . . . It corrects me and puts me on the right path.

That’s the purifying fire. Is that so bad? It’s the love of God getting real with us. Let’s receive it.

Wisdom is our only safety

For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.
—Proverbs 1:32–33 

You see the contrast between “complacency” in verse 32 and “ease” in verse 33. Complacency is counterfeit ease. The truth is, Jesus Christ is dangerous, but he is also the easiest person in the universe to get along with. His yoke is easy. He is easier on you than you are on you. He will love tenderly, correct you helpfully, and carry you faithfully all the way into a wise and beautiful life forever. And the price you pay for that true ease? “Whoever listens to me . . . .” Reverent listening sets you apart from the world to Christ, where you are safe.

The Bible says, “If you think you are wise . . ., you need to become a fool to be truly wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18, NLT). Here’s why the Bible says that. You and I both know that this listening to Christ isn’t easy. We like the word “whoever.” Everyone qualifies. There is room for you and me in that word “whoever.” But the “listens to me”-part can be hard. If we listen to Christ, we’re going to change and we’re going to look stupid in the world’s eyes for the rest of our lives. Are you willing? The world offers complacency. That is its false promise. Christ offers you ease. That is his true promise to all who listen to him with urgency. What is your next step of obedience to the Lord Jesus? It might be scary, but it will also be thrilling. And not taking it is even more scary.

Jesus took the storm-imagery of this passage in Proverbs and told us that everyone who hears him and obeys him will be like a wise man who builds his house on a rock (Matthew 7:24-27). When the storm comes, it doesn’t make any difference, because the rock of grace will hold. But everyone who doesn’t listen will be like a foolish man who builds his life on sand – the sand of “Don’t rush me,” “I’m not that bad,” “I’m so busy right now,” “Maybe some other time” – the constantly shifting sand of Self. And when the storm comes, that house falls, and great is its fall.