The Wisdom of Spiritual Reflection
We come to the end of the year. You may notice people reflecting on the past year. We reflect on the past events, and on people who have left us in death. Many take this time to reflect on the year and see what has happened in their lives. This is a great time to gain wisdom through spiritual reflection. As a Christian, we should take stock of our lives at times like these before we embark on a new year. We should learn lessons from this previous year and see what wisdom God can bring us to help us move forward into the new year.
We see in this chapter, that the way of wisdom serves certain tasks. This picture is of preparing for a guest to enter a home for a banquet.
She builds (Proverbs 9:1)
She carves out (Proverbs 9:1)
She prepares (Proverbs 9:2)
She mixes (Proverbs 9:2)
She sets (Proverbs 9:2)
She sends out (Proverbs 9:3)
She calls out (Proverbs 9:3)
These seven actions describe the invitation that wisdom gives. God invites us to Himself to receive the wisdom we need. He invites us to examine ourselves. The main idea is that there are two ways in life. There is the way of folly that leads to death. There is also the way of wisdom. God invites us to follow His way – the way of wisdom. This wisdom comes from self-reflection.
Solomon wrote these sets of proverbs. The message of the book is all about wisdom that one learns from experiencing God in one’s life. Proverbs 9:10, similar to Proverbs 1:7 which summarizes the book.
““The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10, CSB)
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7, CSB)
The purpose of the “fear of God” is skilled living that comes from insight into life and God. The “fear of the Lord” is actually respect for God.
Dr. Tony Evans spoke about wisdom and its relationship to knowledge and understanding.
Wisdom requires knowledge and understanding. Just like it takes both a man and a woman to come together and form a new baby when knowledge gets married to understanding, it has a baby, and that baby is called wisdom. When knowledge, the true nature of a thing, meets understanding, which is the enlightened purpose of that truth, a baby is born and it is called wisdom.1
God’s wisdom calls out to me. I can experience this wisdom in various ways. Wisdom is presented as a person from whom one can learn. Many scholars consider Wisdom from Proverbs as the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. So Wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit. While we may be speaking of wisdom as a person in this passage, let us be reminded that the Holy Spirit is the source of that wisdom. The Holy Spirit provides insight that I can use to live life the way that God intended.
What are the benefits of following the insight that comes from respecting God?
Seeing the benefits of following God and His ways comes from experience in life. At times, it is important to sit down and evaluate where my life is and where my life is going? Here, in this section of Proverbs, we are presented with four questions I can ask myself. I urge you to consider these four questions as you end this year and begin a new year. Take a simple self-reflection quiz to see where you have been and where you are going.
FOUR QUESTIONS TO ASK IN SELF-REFLECTION
The first question one asks in self-reflection is:
“How can I improve my life?”
“The one who corrects a mocker will bring abuse on himself; the one who rebukes the wicked will get hurt. Don’t rebuke a mocker, or he will hate you; rebuke the wise, and he will love you. Instruct the wise, and he will be wiser still; teach the righteous, and he will learn more.” (Proverbs 9:7–9, CSB)
The path to improvement is the cycle of practice and correction. One of the best ways to improve my life and make my experience in life much happier is to work on things that prevent me from achieving that contentment and happiness. Correction is one such way to see improvement. The problem is that many people don’t like to be correct. They are represented here in Proverbs 9 by the scoffer or mocker.
A scoffer or mocker is someone who never accepts correction. He thinks other people need his opinions. He is easily offended. He is above other people. If he feels threatened, he scoffs, mocks, mouths off, and denigrates.
Yet, if one wants to improve, you have to allow yourself to be corrected and instructed. Instruction includes the act of correction. There are two tools God uses to correct me in my life? First, He brings people in my life to help me grow through correction.
No one likes correction. Yet at some point, everyone will be corrected by someone. Parents will correct children. Managers will correct employees. People in the church will correct one another. Friends will correct friends. This proverb shows the response to correction. The response has nothing to do with whether one needs correction. (The fact is one needs to be corrected from time to time). Correction is necessary to grow as a Christian. In other words, if I want to be a better Christian, I need to learn how better to respond to correction.
There are two basic ways to respond. I can respond negatively and with an insulting tone. As my wife always says: “The tone makes the music.” In other words, it is not what you say, but how you say it. How do I respond to someone who corrects me? Do I mock them? Do I act like I hate them? This is the improper response. The better response is to be wise. Correction is one way of learning. One may not like the method, but correction will grow you in right living. Learning to handle correction properly will help you in the long run. Ask yourself: “What is God teaching me through this experience?”
A second lesson to learn is that the way a person responds says more about the person than about the one giving correction.
HOW SHOULD I RESPOND TO CORRECTION?2
- Correction is wisdom. Learn from it.
- God is using the person who corrects you. So respect the person even if I don’t like how I am being corrected.
- If I have a problem with correction, do some reflection and self-examination. My attitude reflects what is wrong on the inside.
- Get better at what I do so that I don’t need to be corrected. It is easier to learn from encouragement than correction.
A second tool that God uses to correct me is the Bible itself. God uses God’s Word to teach us to improve ourselves so that as Christians, we are able to enjoy life. The goal is to be complete, but that only happens when I accept the teaching, the rebuking, the correcting, and the training that comes from hearing and obeying God’s Word.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, CSB)
“But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22, CSB)
If I am willing to listen to God’s word and obey it, then I will be able to see improvement in my life. This is why a daily Bible reading plan is so important. You can choose so many Bible reading plans on the internet, or use a variety of apps. The point is to choose a consistent plan of reading the Bible, and start to allow the Bible to instruct and correct you.
The second question I can ask myself in self-reflection is:
“How can I enrich my life?”
“For by me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, you are wise for your own benefit….”” (Proverbs 9:11–12, CSB)
The first question asks about things I can do to improve my life. This question is different because it asks what I can do to make my life full and abundant.
I can enrich my life. This takes not just instruction and correction, but experience. Positive experiences in my life will help enrich my life. Even negative and difficult experiences have the ability to enrich my life. They belong in my self-reflection. So ask yourselves what experiences you want to have this year to enrich yourself and make it a more fuller, better life. What does that look like for you? Does it mean more time with your family? Does it mean spending more time with those in your church family?
The Holy Spirit through His wisdom sets out a table that not just bread and water. He sets out a feast, with servants, and an ability to enjoy life. God invites you to join Him in this adventure called your life. Ask yourself what will you do to enjoy your life? What experiences will you undertake? What will you ask God this new year to help you experience life and live it fully?
The third question I can ask myself in self-reflection is:
“What sins and dangers do I need to avoid?”
““Whoever is inexperienced, enter here!” To the one who lacks sense, she says,” (Proverbs 9:16, CSB)
It is our inexperience that leads us to sin and danger most often. While I should listen to wisdom, many times, I choose to do what I want even when it has consequences. While the first part of Proverbs 9:11-12 says that I can follow the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the scoffer runs the risk of bearing the consequences of sin and danger.
“…if you mock, you alone will bear the consequences.”” (Proverbs 9:12, CSB)
Many times, sin is learned because I choose not to obey God. I choose a form of independence without God that does not bring freedom, Instead, like the Woman Folly, it can lead to a life of slavery that can destroy my life. While wisdom waits for me to follow it’s instruction, folly tempts me. My inexperience leads me to allow sin to tempt me to disobey God and do things in life that ultimately hurt myself and other people.
“But he doesn’t know that the departed spirits are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” (Proverbs 9:18, CSB)
In his epic poems, Homer talked about the island where sirens—beautiful women with beautiful voices—sang. So melodic and haunting were their voices that sailors would head toward their island only to dash their ships on the rocks and perish in the process. Determined to hear the sirens without perishing, Ulysses commissioned a ship to sail to the isle of the sirens. Approaching the island, he instructed the sailors to put wax in their ears and to tie him securely to the mast. I see that tendency in myself sometimes. I know certain things are wrong, so I bind myself with the cords of legalism, rules, and regulations to keep me from doing them. But there’s a better way…
A second Greek hero wanted to sail past the island of the sirens. He was a talented musician named Orpheus. When his ship approached the island of the sirens, the sailors steered toward it. But when he took out his flute and began to play, so beautifully did he play that the sailors became so fascinated by his song that they lost interest in the song of the sirens and sailed by safely.
Who is our Orpheus? Jesus Christ. Therefore, we don’t have to bind ourselves or others with rules and regulations. The fear of the Lord is to love Him, to hear His song so clearly that the siren song of sin is drowned out completely.3
The path of sin and danger is the path that Folly in this Proverbs tempts me to follow. It leads to death. That is what Sheol represents here. Death without the presence of God. Even as a Christian, I can allow sin to tempt me. I can allow my freedom in Christ to lead me to dangerous places and ways. So one way I can spend time in helpful self-reflection is to identify the sins in my life that I need to stop. I need to identify the dangers in my life that can prevent me from following God. We all have them. The question is when am I going to allow the Holy Spirit to help me defeat and overcome the sins and avoid the dangers in my life.
There is a fourth question one can ask in self-reflection:
“How do I make my life more significant?”
“Leave inexperience behind, and you will live; pursue the way of understanding.” (Proverbs 9:6, CSB)
“Leave your impoverished confusion and live! Walk up the street to a life with meaning.”” (Proverbs 9:6, The Message)
Insight in life brings about significance in life. In the immortal words of Mr. Spock, to “live long and prosper.” The word here means to learn how to be prosperous and successful. So the question asks: What am I going to do in my life to make my life count, to make it significant? This is the greatest challenge as we move into the new year.
What is the difference between improving my life, enriching my life, avoiding sin and dangers, and making my life more significant?
Improving my life, enriching my life, avoiding sin and danger all combine to make my life significant. God challenges you and me to leave inexperience behind. Make the effort to follow Him in ways that matter. What matters to God? That is what should matter to you. So ask yourself what matters to God? What discernment does He want you to use in following Him? God has given you purpose in life, if you are willing to follow Him to it. He will direct you to improve your life through correction. He will enrich your life through the obedience to His Word. He will reveal through the power of the Holy Spirit sins and dangers to avoid or overcome.
So ask yourself: What is the most significant thing that God wants you to do? Seek God and He will show you. This is the way to pursue understanding in Proverbs is to seek God.
Listen to the offer of God in His Wisdom as He says, “Come to this feast, taste of my teaching, my correction, my wisdom, and you will be prepared. You’ll be able to make good decisions; you’ll have maturity and insight, and, as a result, you’ll enjoy a long life.” Wisdom recognizes that good and bad influences are out there, but God also knows that the real power is not in the influences but in the power to discern and choose.4
1 Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations: Stories, Quotes, and Anecdotes from More than 30 Years of Preaching and Public Speaking (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 340.
2 Jim Erwin, “My Response to Correction Reveals My Heart,” Proverbs 9:7-9, 30 December 2014, Internet, Patheos, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2014/12/30/my-response-to-correction-reveals-my-heart/, accessed on 28 December 2018.
3 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume Two: Psalms-Malachi (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 201.
4 Paul E. Koptak, Proverbs, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 277.