Keeping Our Eye on the Prize
We are in Week Two of a short series called, FOOL PROOF, taken from a Book of short, yet wise words of instruction to all who are willing to listen and apply her wisdom. That Book is PROVERBS. The purpose of Proverbs is to gain WISDOM, INSTRUCTION, AND UNDERSTANDING. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs, which makes a great tool for gaining spiritual wisdom each day of the month!
We are seeking to answer the simple, yet profoundly helpful question offered by Pastor Andy Stanley in his series, “The Best Question Ever”: IS IT WISE? In light of your past experiences, in light of your present circumstances, and in light of your future hopes and dreams, “IS IT WISE?” Listen again to this strong caution from the Apostle Paul:
15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
With the help of my friend J.D. Walt of Seedbed, we are going to look at some ways we can be FOOL PROOF by dipping our toes into the wisdom of Proverbs. Last week one of the key verses is one that may be the key to unlocking all of Proverbs:
7The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, among other meanings, a fool is: “a person lacking in judgment or prudence.” Here’s another peculiar definition: “a cold dessert of pureed fruit mixed with whipped cream or custard.”
The Hebrew word FOOL is pronounced, ironically, “EV-EEL.” According to one commentary, the word FOOL throughout Proverbs is described as on who is obstinate, unwilling to listen to the wisdom of others or the command of God.
Last week we saw that Wisdom is calling out to all who are teachable. Those people include those who are simple—unlearned, inexperienced, but willing to change—and the wiseàthose who have previously gained and applied knowledge and wisdom but seek more. But the fool despises wisdom and instruction. We saw that it takes humility to be teachable.
And an indicator of humility is the practice of REPENTANCE. I like the word Dr. Brian Russell, author of our new study, INVITATION, uses to describe repentance: (RE)Alignment. For the one who has never known Christ, repentance means to align yourself for the first time.
For those who follow after Christ, repentance is the continual RE-ALIGNING ourselves to God, his Word, and his Mission in the world to make disciples of all nations and create His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.
In last week’s Proverb taken from 1:20-23 about Wisdom crying out from the roof tops to all who would listen, the closing declaration was this:
23Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
Re-align yourselves to God’s Word of discipline, correction, and teaching. We know from the Bible that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV).
So why is it that we often must learn the same lessons over and over again? This is gross, but listen to another Proverb about that human condition : As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly (26:11 NIV). We all know how disgusting regurgitation is. Witnessing the act can cause others to join in involuntarily. We humans would never consider returning to it, but dogs do for some insane reason. And then they lick us in the face!!! YUCK!!!!
Why, then, do the foolish repeat their folly. The root word in Hebrew is the same as fool: EV-EEL. The fool is foolish. The Sinner is sinful. Let’s talk about SIN for a minute. (“Oh no! There he goes again! Stepping on everybody’s toes and bringing down the mood in the room!”) That’s not my intention. Let me be clear. My hope is to point to ways we can avoid “returning to our vomit.” It IS POSSIBLE to avoid many of the snares of the tempter. The problem is that we simply refuse to apply what we know are wise, biblical principles that grow us into more mature followers of Jesus Christ.
SIN has been defined in many ways. There are two major theological concepts of sin throughout Scripture:
Transgression: “to step across” or “to go beyond a set boundary or limit”
In football, when a player goes outside the limits of the field, he is “out of bounds.”
Missing the mark or the goal. In basketball, when the player shoots but misses the goal, how many points does he get? None.
So it is with sin. We try to go the right way, but somehow we veer off from the goal.
In both these concepts, there must be a boundary, a goal, or a standard to miss. To sin is to transgress the boundaries God sets for us or to miss the goal God has for us.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 7 that the Law of God shows us what sin is: I would not know what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’” And sin leads to death.
Hear this Good News this morning: Because of the death and resurrection of one Man, Jesus Christ, sin no longer has power over the believer. While the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23 NIV)! For the Christ-believer and follower, those times when we choose to go “out of bounds” of God’s perfect will and return to our own vomit is NOT the last word.
As the writer of Lamentations beautifully expressed it :
22Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
23They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
God loves you. God saves you. And God continues to save you because of his steadfast love.
EXERCISE : I want us to do something simple, yet powerful. I want you to close your eyes and, without saying anything out loud, I want you to allow the Holy Spirit to remind you of at least one sin—one area in your life where you continually find yourself stepping out of God’s boundary. Maybe you have a problem telling other people’s junk—GOSSIP. Or maybe you are always wanting what someone else has—COVETOUSNESS. Or maybe you drink too much, or gaze your eyes upon other women or men that are NOT your spouse—LUST. You get the idea. Take just a second in this silence and allow that SIN to become very real to you.
Now, with your eyes still closed, I want you to silently confess it to God. Agree with Him that whatever the trespass, it is against him. As King David put it in Psalm 51 when confronted by Nathan about his adulterous, murderous behavior, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:3-4 NIV). Tell God that you agree that your thoughts and actions have violated His Word. Ask Him to forgive—to take way—your trespass in the name and power of Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
Finally, believe this Good News: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That proves God’s love for us. Accept God’s forgiveness no matter how much you want to continue to condemn yourself. You can open your eyes now.
Now that you have been assured that you are cleansed from all unrighteousness by the blood of Jesus, how do we ensure that we do not fall into the same trap and revisit that sin again? Well, there’s certainly NO guarantee that we won’t; but there are some guard rails we can have to keep us from driving into the ditch again. God’s Word in Proverbs gives us very practical, sage advice. Let’s look at a couple of passages, the first being a very familiar one :
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (3:5-6 NIV).
Notice that there’s a tiny, three-letter word found in both these verses: ALL. “Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart…in ALL your ways acknowledge him.” ALL means ALL, not some. Until we come to grips with the totalizing nature of this word, “ALL,” we are destined to remain in some level of nominal faith.
Here’s the deal. Faith is never really an “all-or-nothing” proposition for most of us. That would make it easier, I think…like taking the flu shot or NOT taking it. Here’s what J.D. says : “It’s not being an ‘all or nothing’ kind of person that gets us. It’s being an ‘all or something’ kind of person.” It’s settling for the easy out of, “At least I’m doing something.” THAT’S NOT BIBLICAL FAITH. The enemy of our generation is NOT doing nothing…it’s the mentality that says SOMETHING IS GOOD ENOUGH.
And that mentality leaves us open to compromise God’s values and our own convictions. “Trust in the Lord with “SOME” of your heart? In “SOME” of your says submit to Him?” Doesn’t quite have the same ring of truth, does it? Then why do we settle for it?
Here’s the last passage from Proverbs for today :
23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
24 Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.
26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.
Focus matters . Whatever captures our focused attention captures us. If you need heart surgery, are you expecting your surgeon to be focused or distracted? Do you think great quarterbacks like Dak Prescott, Aaron Rogers, or Tom Brady are thinking about dinner plans when they’re on the field? No, their laser focus is the end zone and trying to get there.
Notice the connection between the eyes and the heart. It’s widely believed that the control center of our lives is the heart (our will, our affections, aspirations, etc.). And it is our eyes that are the primary navigational instrument to the heart. Jesus even said that our eyes are the window into our soul (although he called them the lamp to our bodies).
Proverbs says, “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.” Some of you have farmed or are farmers. I have not. But J.D. Walt’s family were soybean farmers, among other things, and he learned how to drive a tractor to plant soybeans in his early teens. When he started out, however, he learned a valuable lesson. He said that when he started to make his row, he would look down at his left front tire, and then his right.
An old farm hand saw him and quickly flagged him down, pointing out that his rows looked like they were created by a drunk person. With crooked rows, the task for plowing and harvesting later in the season would be much harder.
The old farm hand told him, “John David, if you want to plant straight rows, you have to pick out a tree on the far end of the field and keep your eyes focused on that tree and drive straight to it.” Low and behold, J.D.’s planting rows straightened!
Friends, there’s a “Tree” on the horizon of all our lives. This “Tree” is the hallmark sign of the greater vision for which we were all created. This “Tree” must become the focal point of our daily, walk around experience. You know the “Tree” I’m talking about, right? Listen to how the writer of Hebrews puts it:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2.
[PRAYZNMOR] Avoiding the folly of repeating the same sin in our lives over and over is LESS about “stopping an activity or behavior” and more about “starting” one: Trust God with ALL our heart…in ALL our ways submit to him. Why? Because his ways are best. When our FOCUS is on the Author and Finisher of our faith, we are less likely to be distracted by the wiles of the enemy. We are less likely to be idle of mind and hands so as to become enamored with the trappings of this world. And we are MORE likely to be content, happy, and at peace with ourselves and others. AMEN.