The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:11-12)

18 12 2010

Proverbs 3:11-12

11My child, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
12for the Lord reproves the one he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.

The fun themes keeping coming, don’t they? If you skimmed the first line before reading the entire passage, you probably had the same reaction that I did, “Great, another discipline/correction passage.” The dread is searing and heavy. But reading through it carefully, the passage causes us to do the oddest thing. It causes us to pause. It causes us to stop. It causes us to rest our racing minds and busy hearts and think about what it’s saying. That’s the great and hard thing about reflecting and meditating on a short passage of scripture; it forces us to finally consider what we’ve been avoiding, to finally address what we’ve been running away from, to stop and face our fears or uncertainties, questions and confusing doctrine we’ve been taught or even came to conclude ourselves. It forces us to face the uncomfortable, the “I’ll take a rain-check on this” spiritual moment that affects us everyday but that we avoid consistently. It forces us into a realm of reality and truthfulness that we have no choice but to encounter. In pausing, we cannot rush past what we don’t want to encounter but we see it and then encounter it head on. We do the adult thing and face our realities. We move past the childish tendencies to bypass challenges and face them directly.

And in doing the adult thing, we find our child-status reasserted. God’s voice in God’s wisdom is heard gently but clearly heard. God calls us “child,” we are tenderly reminded we are God’s child in this teaching moment. And when God addresses us with such tenderness, we can hear the love and the concern and the desire for our well-being. What’s more, the love is evident, especially in the warning issued forth: we should not ignore God’s correction; God only does it because God loves us.

We know God’s correction in two ways it seems, discipline and reproof. Discipline is the withholding of privilege or even physical correction. It’s residual action. It sounds like “I’m doing this because I love you/this is going to hurt you more than it hurts me/you’ll understand why I’m doing this when you’re older,” something a parent would say while issuing a time-out, grounding or spanking. Reproof is the intense present moment of correction which, nine times out of ten, directly precedes the discipline. It sounds like “You know you’re not supposed to open the door for strangers/eat dessert before dinner/talk back to your teacher/watch TV before you finish your homework.” It is the verbal narration of what was done wrong. Sometimes it includes an explanation why it is wrong, and other times, we already know why before we do it and our parents know that we know, hence the lack of explanation why.  

Although discipline and reproof may conjure negative images or nightmarish recollection, we have to admit that, to a certain extent, it worked. It caused us to do a number of things: 1) understand that our parents had power over us and our decision-making (whether we liked it or not); 2) relate differently to our parents; 3) relate differently to people, concepts and ideas (whether it’s with caution, suspicion, trust, respect etc.); 4) think before we acted.

Somehow because of correction’s place within our lives as the third parent, we were made smarter, better, wiser, sounder, keen. The correction that may have been hurtful or painful to our little childish hearts, ways of thinking, reasoning, and desires is now extremely helpful. We don’t follow strangers down a dark alley, we don’t touch hot stoves, we don’t pay too much for car insurance, we don’t cook with too much butter, we don’t go for days without brushing our teeth, we don’t steal from our co-workers, we don’t overfeed the fish – we are smarter because of all the warnings we received, all the “ah, ah, ah’s”, “don’t even think about it’s” and “remember not to’s.”

We have to admit it, we got a lot of good advice from our parents or guardians because they simply experienced things first and more and were gracious enough to pass along the wisdom. Where else would we get wisdom if not for someone else? Sure God can give wisdom but God sends the people to alert us to something, warn us of this person or to listen to this or that. God uses people to channel God’s love and wisdom. Good guardians or good parents are the closest avenue to experiencing God fully in that way.

God takes action, God verbally warns because God loves us just like our teachers, parents, guardians, older siblings, friends or family do when they teach us something about life because they have run into the struggles life presents. God does not parent us in this “I’m now going to point out everything you’re doing wrong so you can be the perfect person” manner. God’s love is a holy love that I honestly don’t think we’ll ever be able to grasp nor understand. We can feel like we understand, but I really don’t think we do.

God delights in us.

We make God happy; we give God joy. We, sinful human creatures, make our Creator happy. I don’t understand the depth of love that would allow that to happen.

But God does. God is that love. If God didn’t offer us correction, we would have to wonder if God cared about us. But if we feel that God is always closing doors, not speaking, staying away, maybe we should examine what is going on. Maybe God is closing doors because God has something else, but maybe God is closing doors so that we can get back to the basics and realize Who created those doors. Sometimes I think we use the “closed doors” metaphor to describe our benefit, but we overlook the fact that God is closing those doors from the inside waiting to be alone with us so that we could again realize in wonder Who this God is that loves us so and wants to be with us. Maybe God is not speaking because we didn’t ask the right question. Maybe the question shouldn’t be “Lord, what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? I know You know and am trusting You will reveal it to me.” Maybe it should be “Lord, what do You want me to do today?” Maybe God is staying away because we wandered outside of God’s holiness; that’s pretty scary. It’s scary to move so far away from God that the God who is more vast than vastness itself is far from us.

When we realize that God corrects us not only for our well-being, but ultimately to serve our purpose in worshipping God through being who God has created us to be, then we’re getting somewhere.

What does God delight in about you? Are you existing within that space of God’s pleasure? God wants you to, that’s why correction is necessary and pleasure-producing for our betterment and for God’s enjoyment.

Prayer: Lord, enjoy us. May we all realize and live what this means for us and for You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Revivals are pointless if nothing is revived.

27 07 2010

Revivals are pointless if nothing is revived.

I come from the black church tradition and I never quite understood (within my soul) what a revival was for. I never went to a revival in the church I grew up in as a child. I learned of this phenomenon in class but never experienced one until my time in divinity school.

And it felt like a glorified midweek service. Nothing was special about it except the name.


What was being revived? Dead traditions? The old church? Practices of generations gone by?

If so, I don’t think I like revivals. They might as well be renamed “Excited about our Traditions Week.”

It’s almost as if everyone got excited about the tradition more than anything. Like the only thing special about the revival was the fact that a revival was arriving. Like it was time to celebrate the week of celebrating our church. It seemed borderline narcissistic to me.  

But what is being revived?

I understand that revivals are supposed to reignite the spark for church within the church, but to me that seems a bit idolatrous. Almost like an active reminiscence of the good old days when church used to be powerful, fun, when it meant something (like the article, “The Black Church Is Dead” points out, sometimes “memory becomes its currency”: But if the focus is to receive that nostalgic, not spiritual high, the revival is not quite serving its purpose.

Why can’t revival look like community service every week for a year? Why can’t revival be challenging instead of thrilling? Why doesn’t revival look like “Take all the money you’ll spend on a new outfit and donate it to your local food bank? Why can’t revival look like fasting as a church from eating out and coming together for meals once a week?

Why can’t revival be hard?

Isn’t God in the unconventional? Revival should look painful; it should be a time of repentance and mourning, reflection and revisiting why we believe we’ve been chosen in the first place.

Revival should encompass more than what felt good thirty or forty years ago. Revival should be spiritual practice and disciplines. And church folk know better than anyone that discipline is hard. And anti-climactic. And not joyous. And not full or rich music or fiery sermons. But it’s slow. Solemn. Almost depressing to be disciplined.

 And that may be a little too hard. I mean, what about the guest preacher who’s invited every year?

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