. . . wisdom will come into your heart. —Proverbs 2:10
This passage opens a door to every one of us. God is telling us here how we can enter into newness of life. If you see a sign out in front of a church, “Revival here next week,” you can be sure there won’t be a revival there next week. We do not program God. But in this passage God himself tells us our next steps in moving toward him. We want to grow and change and get closer to him, closer than we’ve ever gone before, closer than we’ve ever dreamed of going. Now God is telling us how.
We feel disqualified, because we are. But that isn’t a deal-breaker for God. With him, there is only one deal-breaker: “The complacency of fools destroys them” (Proverbs 1:32). You do not need to hate Jesus to waste your life. You only need to be okay with how you are. But if your heart is lonely for God and longing for a better life – can’t you see here in verses 1-4 that anyone can go deep with God, anyone with a heart for God?
Proverbs chapter 2 is one of the most helpful passages in the Bible, because it explains what growth and change and sanctification and renewal – what that feels like. It explains the psychology of revival. And this new mentality is the opposite of complacency. What happens inside people who are seeing God in powerful new ways? What are the conditions of soul that make God say of those people, “Now that’s what I’m talking about”? Am I in that condition of soul today? Are you? Can we go there together? God has brought us to this passage, to open that door for every one of us.
In Proverbs chapter 2 a wise father-figure is counseling his son. He starts out in verse 1, “My son . . . .” Hear the tenderness in those words. God is speaking to every one of his children with all his mighty heart. His flow of thought in the chapter is structured like this:
1. You can be renewed in God (verses 1-11)
A. If you get real with God . . . (verses 1-4)
B. . . . God will get real with you . . . (verses 5-8)
C. . . . and you will change (verses 9-11)
2. You can be protected in this world (verses 12-22)
A. Safe from devious men (verses 12-15)
B. Safe from deadly women (verses 16-19)
C. Safe forever in God’s place of blessing (verses 20-22)
You don’t need to run from life. You only need to run toward God, and he will prepare you for real life.
You can be renewed in God
Verses 1-4 tell us how to get real with God. If these verses describe how you feel about him, you can thank him, because he is already at work in your heart. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, here is the non-complacency that the grace of God stirs up:
My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures . . . .
You see the word “if” in verse 1, again in verse 3, and again in verse 4. You also see the word “then” in verse 5, and again in verse 9. Those are the markers of verses 1-11 that walk us through the process of change. “If . . ., then . . . .” And some of us are thinking, “Wait a minute. That sounds like legalism. How can the grace of God be conditional?” How can the grace of God not be conditional? We can’t deserve his grace or earn it. But we must reach for it decisively, allowing nothing to stand in our way.
Think of it like this. You and I are standing on the brink of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It’s magnificent. You’re loving what your eyes have the privilege of seeing. I’m standing there beside you, and my eyesight is bad, so I put on my glasses. But the lenses are dirty and smudgy and scratched and filthy. I can’t enter into all that magnificence right in front of me. So you say, “Ray, clean your glasses.” And I say to you, “Now don’t get legalistic on me!” You’re not being legalistic. Legalism is thinking I can do something to make God pay attention to me. This passage is turning that around. This passage is asking every one of us, Are you paying attention?
How does God want us to pay attention to him? Look at the verbs. Look how they escalate in intensity: “If you receive . . . treasure up . . . making your ear attentive . . . inclining your heart . . . call out . . . raise your voice . . . seek . . . search . . . .” Do you see the point? Wisdom is not our default setting, and we will never get there by drifting. You cannot become a significant person by being neutral and cute and safely unchanged. That is complacency. God is offering you a treasure infinitely worth seeking – more of himself entering into you, renewing you, safeguarding you. I don’t know what your need is today. But I do know this. God is saying to you, “My child, I am so available – if you want me more than you want your own status quo.” Will you give yourself completely to God today? Will you say to him right now, “I want to change more than I want to stay the way I am. I want to stop bargaining with you. I am now hurling myself into your arms”? That is the wholeheartedness God demands. C. S. Lewis explained why God expects it of us:
God cannot bless us, unless he has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, God claims all. There’s no bargaining with him.
The status quo you’re afraid to let go of – why is that so great? Who’s telling you God is bad risk? Who’s telling you you’re okay the way you are? Is God your Father saying that to you? I read this comment on a blog post:
I live in an upper-class suburb surrounded by a great deal of kind, responsible religious people who find great encouragement in people like Joel Osteen and Oprah. They speak often of “God’s potential” for their lives, and often relate the gospel with self-made material success.
Many of them attend my Episcopal church and at times I have found myself sitting in the pews thinking, “The words in this Prayer Book about sin, sickness, powerlessness, death, propitiation, justification, and resurrection don’t make any sense at all [to these people]. . . . They’re not perfect, but they’re doing just fine.”
But then a few days later I spend time with their kids and realize that they have parents who are dying, who are unflinchingly racist, who are openly cheating one another, and who are addicted to alcohol and/or cocaine. And that’s just the obvious stuff. But everyone comes to church with smiling faces. It’s weird, you know?
One of the most common teachings I’ve heard from [Oprah and Osteen] regarding success in life is, “You’ve got to stop spending time with those people who are holding you back, the kind of people who are always stuck in a rut. They’re going to drag you down with them.”
Why do we buy into that? People long for love, not success. When was the last time you saw a feel-good movie that ended with, “And then she ditched all her friends so she could finally get that position at Bank of America”? Movies resolve with love because people long for love, even if they get dragged down with the beloved in the end (which they almost certainly will).
God our Father loved us enough for his only Son to get dragged down at the cross for us. Here’s how we respond to his love. We turn from our delusions of control and our concocted wonderfulness, and we turn back to God through the humility of prayer, confession and repentance. There is no set of rules to tell us what to do, here in verses 1-4. It’s all about desire for God.
What does God promise? Here is what every true seeker can count on from God:
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
guarding the paths of justice
and watching over the way of his saints.
God is not saying, “If you seek me, I will love you more.” He is saying, “If you seek me, you will find me, for all that I am worth.” You can know God, personally, in ways that will help you and guard you. How? Verse 6: “. . . from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” The Bible is “the mouth of God” today – not a voice within but the Bible. On my seventeenth birthday my dad and mom gave me a new Bible. This is what dad wrote inside:
Bud, nothing could be greater than to have a son — a son who loves the Lord and walks with him. Your mother and I have found this Book our dearest treasure. We give it to you and doing so can give nothing greater. Be a student of the Bible and your life will be full of blessing. We love you. Dad
Our heavenly Father is promising that to all of us, right here in verses 5-8. We don’t have to be geniuses. We only have to be straight with him: “He stores up sound wisdom for the upright” (verse 7). If we will seek God honestly, he will deal with us directly.
What else can we count on from God, if we see him as verses 1-4 urge us to?
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
discretion will watch over you,
understanding will guard you . . . .
God is able to give your heart a new taste, a new relish and instinct, for wisdom. If you want to be a better husband, if you want to get out of credit card debt, if you want to know how much TV to watch (or not watch), you don’t need someone to beat you down with guilt and pressure. You don’t need five easy steps to this or seven sure-fire principles for that. You need a new heart, new character, an awakening within. And God is saying, “If you will seek me, wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.” Wise people don’t whine, “Do I have to?” They’re set free: “You mean I get to?” They love the things of God as satisfying to the appetites of their renewed souls. They experience what Jesus said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
Our Father is saying in Proverbs 2, “If you will seek newness of life in Christ (verses 1-4), you will go deep with him (verses 5-8) and you will change within yourself (verses 9-11). Then you’ll be prepared for life in the real world (verses 12-22).” That is how grace works.
You can be protected in this world
With God’s wisdom soaking into our hearts, we are fortified against two temptations we inevitably face in this world. The first temptation is described in verses 12-15:
delivering you from the way of evil,
from men of perverted speech,
who forsake the paths of uprightness
to walk in the ways of darkness,
who rejoice in doing evil
and delight in the perverseness of evil,
men whose paths are crooked,
and who are devious in their ways.
The key is “men of perverted speech,” in verse 12. They are often highly impressive, formidable men. You will secretly hope they’ll include you in their “inner ring” at the office or the dorm or the recording studio. Over coffee one day in friendly conversation, the hint will come that they want you, they’re welcoming you in. It will mean a little bending of the rules, but cool people are never held back by that. In your insecurity, you will so want to be included. But if you take that step, the next time you will go further from Christ, and the next time further still. You might end up in scandal and even prison, or you might end up on top of the heap. But either way, you will be a fool, with a heart that loves darkness.
Here’s how your heart can stay on alert this week. “Perverted speech” isn’t limited to bad words and dirty jokes. It includes even good words, but good words being used to turn things upside down. Upheaval, turning things upside down and inside out – that’s the force of the Hebrew behind the word “perverted.” Words should represent reality, but words can be used to twist reality, words can be used to flip meanings into their opposite. In politics, for example, listen for the way people use a good word like “patriotism.” In sociology, listen for the way people use a good word like “family.” In religion, listen for the way people use a good word like “Jesus.” Bad men use good words to smuggle in bad realities, and many people are fooled. But if wisdom has entered your heart, tricky words just won’t pass the whiff test. You might not be able to explain what bothers you, but you will be protected by the wisdom God has put inside you.
The God-given wisdom in your heart will protect you from a second temptation, described in verses 16-19:
So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman,
from the adulteress with her smooth words,
who forsakes the companion of her youth
and forgets the covenant of her God;
for her house sinks down to death,
and her paths to the departed;
none who go to her come back,
nor do they regain the paths of life.
The key here is “her smooth words,” in verse 16. Again, words are what to watch for. When a married woman says, “I want you, you’re handsome, you make me feel alive again” – that woman has forsaken the man she fell in love with and has forgotten her covenant with Christ – this is a church-going woman in view here – and she is offering you her love? Her husband means nothing, and she wants you involved? Verses 18-19 are warning us, there is no such thing as a one-night stand. It just isn’t that simple. It get complicated fast. We need a Savior to extricate us from the bondage of sexual sin. Thank God for Jesus! But if wisdom enters your heart, you will know what to do right then and there at the moment of temptation. Run! If you’re married, go home to your wife, look deeply into her eyes, tell her you love her and give her your heart to her completely, for the sheer joy of it, all over again. If you’re single, go home, kneel down in prayer and give yourself, body and soul, all over again, to your Savior and Lord. That’s wisdom going down deep, protecting you.
But wisdom is more than avoiding sin. Wisdom escorts us into the path of everything desirable:
So you will walk in the way of the good
and keep to the paths of the righteous.
For the upright will inhabit the land,
and those with integrity will remain in it,
but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.
Here in the conclusion to the chapter, the father-figure points to the resource we all need for constant new beginnings in our lives. The Bible is not holding up a standard and leaving us to ourselves. This is good news for weak people. The clue is “the land,” in verses 21 and 22. If you want a new heart of wisdom, you’ve got company – the good, the righteous, the upright and those with integrity. But far better, we are together in “the land,” that is, in New Testament terms, in Christ. “Inhabiting the land” is Old Testament code language for “abiding in Christ.” Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). What will you ask him to do in you today?
Your most meaningful prayer is to call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding (verse 3). The whole passage is meant to position us in that place of blessing and protection. We need it. A tsunami of sin is slamming us in our world today, and all of us are suffering under it. Sometimes that suffering is our own fault, because we have been glib and unguarded. Other times that suffering is precisely because we have obeyed the Lord. Either way, we might wish that our abusers would come back and say they’re sorry and restore to us what they wrongly took away. But they cannot. They have the power to take but not the power to restore and heal and revive. God is saying to us here in his Word, “Don’t fixate on them. Come to me. Deal with me. I am able to restore you out of the past and defend you for the future. Hurl yourself at me in all your need. I will give myself to you in all my grace. My wisdom will enter your heart in ways you’ve never known before.”
Will you come to Christ today?