The Epistle to James and How to Sort Yourself Out

Sort yourself out

I’ve been doing Sunday school lessons on the book of James for weeks. It’s been challenging and enriching. I’ve also been listening to Jordan Peterson’s lectures for the last year or so. And in them he uses the phrase “sort yourself out” frequently. One morning, I decided I would read the book of James through the lens of “sorting yourself out.” Let’s define sorting yourself out as something like this: looking at the parts of your life that are preventing you from being what you know or at least think you should be and reordering them to pursue that good efficiently. So to sort yourself out might mean to stop buying videogames on steam sales that you’ll never have time to play when you know you need to pay off student loans or buy groceries. Or it might mean to submit your desire to get the last word in a fight for the goal of peaceable relationships.

Dr. Peterson never said this exactly, but he did, roughly speaking say something along those lines. That, I would say, is a good supposition.

 

Here’s what I found:

  1. Own your trials (James 1:2-4 and 1:13-15)
  2. Pray for wisdom before rescue (James 1:5-8 and James 5:13)
    James says to pray in the midst of trials for wisdom. This is powerful because our first instinct is to pray for difficult times to end. And James does endorse this notion at the end of the book. But it seems that prior to praying for God to miracle us out of a rough patch, James says to pray for wisdom. This is connected, I think, to two things. One is that most of us know what will solve our problems because we’ve heard wisdom and we have a conscience. And so, to ask for it from God reorders our minds to make us perceptive to what might already be present in us. But also, we’re asking God to give us genuine insight that we may not currently have to solve the problems that we’re facing. This is directly connected to owning our trials. James also says that if you ask insincerely or with a double mind, you won’t get wisdom. What does this mean? It means that if you ask for help out of your trial without a willingness to perhaps let go of the parts of your life that are causing you problems, you will not benefit from the prayer.
  3. Submit to the highest good you can imagine (James 1:17 and James 4:7)
    Saint Anselm defined God as the being which is the highest being that could be conceived. And so, whatever the highest ideal we have in our minds is, that is, subjectively speaking, our God. And then God is, objectively infinitely more true, good, and beautiful than that. And so James is saying that God is the source of all goodness and to submit yourself to God. Many of us willingly do things in a manner that does not reflect God himself or his goodness and even more so, we do not even do things in a manner that reflects our own highest conception of the good. And James says that we need to get that straight.
  4. Judge yourself, then act (James 1:21-25, James 2:14-26, and James 3:13-18)
    James then tells us that God’s moral law, contained in Scripture, is the standard by which we must judge ourselves just as we judge ourselves in a mirror. This reflection upon Scripture is meant to give us a picture of how shabby we are morally so that we can shave, shower, comb our hair, and straighten out our clothes. It’s not enough to believe that God’s law is good. And it’s actually worse to believe God’s law and use it to simply judge how bad others are. Instead we have to believe God and do what he says is best, and “it will be accounted” as righteousness to us. James also paints a picture of the worst possible version of yourself and the best possible version of yourself in 3:13-18. The idea is to simultaneously give you a future so horrifying that you run from it like hell, literally, and a future so beautiful and enthralling that you seek it like a river of pleasures and heavenly joy (Psalm 36:8 and Psalm 46:4).
  5. Let Jesus define your vision of glory (James 2:1)
    James briefly mentions that Jesus is the Lord of Glory. For Christians and maybe for any non-Christian in Western Civilization, it’s deeply important that we fully imbibe the story of Jesus in its details, broad strokes, and multiple layers of meaning. And James is telling the early Christians that the Christian faith is a faith that doesn’t reject the concept of glory, but a faith that defines glory as “whatever Jesus is.” Learning to see Jesus as the wise Lord with true teachings, the prototype of perfect humanity, an archetypal figure whose journey through chaos can be a picture of our own, the lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the second person of the Godhead, the way the truth and the life, the resurrected master of the cosmos, and so-on goes a long way in our efforts to sort out our lives.
  6. Start with the little things: the tongue (James 3:2)
    James says that getting our lives together requires taking control of what we say. But the claim seems to be but one expression of a deeper Biblical truth, that if we’re faithful in small matters, God will see to it that we have authority in larger ones (Luke 16:10). The idea is that if you can take responsibility for your tongue, then you’ll learn to control the other habits of your body. Similarly, if you can clean your room or your car, then maybe you’ll start having a better picture of how to clean your heart or your relationships at work or in your home.
  7. Let sorrow make you good (James 4:8-9)
    Sometimes, our circumstances cause us deep deep sorrow. James helps us to see the value of sorrow by encouraging it, despite the fact that earlier in the letter he commends joy in the most trying of times. How can both be true? First, many of our sorrows are our own fault. Not all, but many. If we look to them and weep as he suggests, then we may have insight into what we need to do to cleanse our hearts. Cleansing your heart, is a biblical way of saying, “Sort yourself out.” Second, sometimes our joy is false and we can only learn that we should be sad if we draw near to God and discover how tattered we are due to sins to which we’ve made a commitment which rivals our commitment to God.
  8. Virtue outlasts your achievements (James 2:5, James 4:14, and James 1:9-11)
    The highest form of success we can have is to be virtuous when we die. This idea is stoic but it’s also Biblical. Happiness as a state of life includes more than mere virtue, as the Bible speaks of a life with more goods than mere virtue (see Proverbs). But you cannot always control your possessions, family, and local economy, but you can control your actions.
  9. Resist the devil daily (James 4:7)
    Assume that Satan is the god of the earth (2 Corinthians 4:4). This means that our culture, which shapes our desires, is probably filled with bad ideas, bad habits, false knowledge, counterfeit gospels, and fake news. Not only so, but you’re a product of your culture. So, you’re full of those things, too. So to resist the devil is to resist (or re-aim) the darkest parts of yourself toward the good and to resist the temptations of civilization to stifle truth telling, creativity, love, service, or moral purity. And the devil, in the senses above is without and within. Good luck.
  10. Sacrifice your plans to God (James 4:13-15)
    The Bible is pro-planning. But it’s against holding on to plans in an arrogant way. James says to say, “if God wills we will do ‘this or that.’” The idea isn’t to superstitiously say that. In James, the word “say” reflects your intentions. And so what James is getting at is that at any moment, our best plans for the future must be subject to revision based on our understanding of the will of God. The Old Testament sacrifices are a good metaphor for this. You might have a prized lamb and it is the best possible thing your crops produce, but instead of basing your whole life on that, you must be willing, should the need arise, to sacrifice it to God. In doing this you can sort yourself out when it comes to your competent plans for the future and the level of frustration you’re willing to experience if those plans betray you.
  11. Humble yourself if you want honor (James 4:6 and James 4:10)
    Most people want honor, but few even consider that you might receive honor from the highest possible good (God). And yet, this is precisely what James says. And if we make honor itself the highest good, we’ll find ourselves doing things we regret deeply because we’ll do what the world around us tells us to do without reference to conscience, the truth, or our own intuition.[1] But if instead we think in terms of a covenant or contract with God wherein he promises to make those who humble themselves great by his standards, then we’re not constrained by culture except in the sense Paul talks about in Romans when he said to think about “what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).
  12. Learn to save a brother without judging (James 4:11-12 and James 5:19-20)
    James also tells us that our social lives need sorting. And of course, that’s included in he says about the tongue, doing the will of God, planning our future, and judging ourselves. But a large part of it is learning to avoid having a condemnatory attitude toward others. I think that this is done by seeing ourselves as in need of judging first. This is a principle James outlines in chapters one and two. And Jesus certainly says as much in Matthew 7:1-5. But after judging ourselves and seeing the depth of darkness in our own hearts, we are now competent to observe the evil in others. And if we see it we can guard against evil people, which James talks about in James 2:6-7 and James 5:1-6. But we also have the power to gently correct those who are sinning. And I think we can do this by talking about our own struggle with sin and what was necessary to overcome. But we can also do it by warning as sternly or gently as circumstances warrant from the position of loving family rather than condemning judge.

I frequently feel the need to finish a sermon with “so there” or “take that.” Instead I’ll just say, “any thoughts?”

Footnote

[1] An interesting thing that I really need to think about for a long time is the relationship between conscience, the sinful/deceitful heart in Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and the usefulness of personal intuition and the contributions of our unique personality to our calling.

Effort Habit: Keep the Faculty of Effort Alive in You

William James on the Effort Habit

One of my favorite selections from James’ psychology text book is about developing an effort habit:

Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically ascetic or heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. Asceticism of this sort is like the insurance which a man pays on his house and goods. The tax does him no good at the time, and possibly may never bring him a return. But if the fire does come, his having paid it will be his salvation from ruin. So it is with the man who has daily inured himself with habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and when his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast. – William James, The Principals of Psychology, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 130.

William James

William James, his self-mastery was developed by the effort habit of not shaving.

That little paragraph has been very helpful to me. James makes the excellent point that exercising yourself in self-denial until it becomes a habit for you to handle discomfort is an an incredible down payment on handling trials. I agree. Self-mastery of this sort is practically a super power.

Your Bad Habits are a Hell on Earth

He also notes later that “the physiological study of mental conditions is thus the most powerful ally in hortatory ethics. The hell to be endured hereafter, of which theology tells, is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world by habitually fashioning our characters in the wrong way. Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to themselves while in the plastic state (James, 130).”

In the Christian conception hell is an experience in life and post-mortem. Even if you reject the existence of God and of eternal judgment, you cannot reject the existence of hell if you’ve seen the state people get into because of their own awful habits.

You must develop good, challenging, creative habits in for your mind, body, spirit, career, and relationships and you’ve got to do it little by little every day. And if you don’t want to, imagine for a moment the hell you’ll be in if you let yourself continue down the path of your worst possible self.

Develop Christian Habits

Thanks be to God that in Christ we have available forgiveness of sins. Not only so, but we have spiritual disciples, graciously given by the Lord: Lord’s supper, weekly worship, prayer, fasting, giving our possessions, memorizing Jesus’ teachings, meditating upon the Scripture, etc to transform us. And on top of that, we have help from God’s Spirit to supply what lacks in our character as we go.

A Parting Quote

As we become permanent drunkards by so many separate drinks, so we become saints in the moral, and authorities and experts in the scientific and practical spheres, by so many separate acts and hours of work. Let no youth have any anxiety about the upshot of his education…If he keep faithfully busy each hour of the working day, he may safely leave the result to itself. He can with perfect certainty count of waking up some fine morning, to find himself one of the competent ones of his generation in whatever pursuit he may have singled out ( James, 131).”

Sunday School: Career vs Calling

Christianese:

  • I’m not sure what I’m called to do.
  • I’m pretty sure God is calling me to become a chef.
  • God told me to change majors.
  • God called me to date so-and-so.
  • I’m feeling called to the [insert cause that allows for very little personal accountability here].

3 Aspects of Calling (in and out of the Bible)

  1. Being Addressed by God[1]
    This is God’s commissioning of a specific individual or group of people for a specific task. Such as when the Lord calls the prophets of the Old Testament or gives somebody a task through a prophet. This would also include the baptism of Jesus, the resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples, as well as to Paul. In such circumstances, the idea is that the individual in question was addressed by name and given a specific task by God. Or, the group was addressed by God through such an individuals or group and given an identity and task by God, “Hear O Israel…”
  2. Being a Christian[2]
    In the Bible, calling is also used to refer to converting to follow Jesus Christ. The idea is that the gospel message is a summons from God himself. To become a Christian it to be called. Bible passages like Ephesians 4:1 show that every Christian, by virtue of being a Christian, has a calling. This is the calling of every single Christian: to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in a community of Jesus’ people.
  3. Finally, in modern life, “calling” often refers your unique purpose in life.
    This is where the confusion sets in: When you ask, “what is the task to which I should devote my life that is unique to me and my circumstances?” The Bible does not say how to find a calling or that you “have to do it.” The idea that you must leave a unique mark on the world with your life is recent in history. The nature of your calling is tied up with your career, your family, the civilization in which you live, and your life circumstances. But many people assume, without much thought, that this particular aspect of calling is something that God will tell you to do if you only listen carefully. Therefore, many Christians never use wisdom, advice, or forethought in choosing their career or their calling because they confuse God’s calling of prophets in the Bible and his calling of all Christians to follow Jesus with the notion of discovering a life goal or life mission.

Gary North‘s Concepts for Discovering Careers and Callings:

  • Capacities– This is what you’re really good at, what you’re willing to spend thousands of hours upon, and what other people tell you you’re good at when they’re not being flattering. See Ecc 10:10 If the ax is blunt—the edge isn’t sharpened—then more strength will be needed. Putting wisdom to work will bring success.
  • Job Importance– This is what you can do that makes money for your family, the causes you’re interested in, for missions, for charity, etc. Not only that, but it is what you do that leaves a legacy, that changes people’s lives with what you build, what allows you to raise your children to lead godly lives, to spend time with your spouse, and to influence others for the gospel. See 1Ti 5:8 If anyone does not take care of his own relatives, especially his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
    Also see 1Co 12:18-23 But now God has arranged the parts, every one of them, in the body according to his plan. (19) Now if all of it were one part, there wouldn’t be a body, would there? (20) So there are many parts, but one body. (21) The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or the head to the feet, “I don’t need you.” (22) On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are in fact indispensable, (23) and the parts of the body that we think are less honorable are treated with special honor, and we make our less attractive parts more attractive.
  • Replaceability – This is the concept of being replaced in your context. Are you doing a job wherein anybody with no training can replace you? Get out of it. Do something that you’re willing to be good enough to be irreplaceable in the region you live for the field of work you’re in. Pro_22:29 Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.

Conclusion Questions for Finding Your Career and Calling

Questions for Career:

  1. What are my capacities?
  2. What is the most important job I can perform with my capacities?
  3. What is the most important job you can perform in which few men can replace you?
  4. What career will let me give to charity, pursue my calling, and leave wealth behind me?

Questions for Calling:

  1. What do I like to do?
  2. What kind of legacy can I leave behind for my children, my church, and the well-being of the world?
  3. What can I do that helps others to know God, find happiness, and become successful?

Footnotes

[1] This is the most common notion in Scripture. It can be seen in with individuals in Isaiah 6:1-5 and Ezekiel 1. It can be seen with the people Israel in Deuteronomy 28:10 where the Lord makes it known that the Israelites were called by him and for his purposes. In Romans 1:6-7 we see that Paul considers the church, as the community who faithfully obeys Jesus, to be called by God to be holy people.

[2] The second is like unto the first, as was noted. Here is some Biblical support for the idea: 1 Corinthians 1:26 and all through chapter 7 Paul refers to the Corinthians of their calling as the state in which they lived when they were converted to Christ. The idea is that their state of poverty, obscurity, and foolishness when the gospel came to them should always be a humility inducing matter in the face of their pride. But, a take away ancillary to Paul’s main argument is that Paul wants them to, on the basis of this calling, live as disciples of Jesus Christ. Thus, their calling, is not only their circumstances (which Paul wants them not to change unless it would improve their lot in life), but their entrance into a community whose main task is to “do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)” and to “imitate me (Paul) as I imitate Christ.”

On the sissyness of Christian advice.

Often, advice from successful Christian men and women boils down to platitudes that sound spiritual, but reflect neither wisdom nor what those very people did to become successful.

Here are things I heard in sermons to college students when I was in college or that I heard when I asked for advice:

  1. Ask God for guidance.
  2. Listen and see what God tells you to do.
  3. Your early twenties is a good time to spend yourself on volunteer work (usually the mission cause of the agency represented by the preacher) because you won’t have time when you’re older.
  4. Just wait on God.
  5. Don’t worry about that kind of thing, God will provide.

When somebody reads that list, they are likely to think, “Of course that makes sense, it’s all good advice.”

I call foul.

I think evangelical Christianity is so influenced by this very language that we often cannot even tell that what we’re saying makes no sense.

If a young Christian man asks an older Christian man a question like, “How can I make more friends?” He’s obeying Scripture when it says, “with many counselors there is victory.” He’s probably asking because he feels lonely or gets picked on often and he sees the man he asks as successful and likable. But many people, instead of giving advice based on their own experience say the silly nonsense I mentioned above, even though the man who was asked does things like dresses well, makes interesting conversations, listens to others, and has masculine body language.

Similarly, somebody who is wondering what to major in is often told to pray about it and listen to the Lord to find his calling, even though the Bible never says that God will tell you what to major in, in college. The Bible does say, to “pray for wisdom” (James 1:5) and to gain skill in order to be successful (Proverbs 22:29).

Anyway, Christianese is usually not biblical and is almost never helpful. Don’t give it and don’t believe it when you hear it. Also, try asking better questions like, “what did you do to get ‘x'” or “if you were me, what would you do differently to achieve ‘y’.”

The soul of the sluggard

The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. (Pro 13:4)

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”(Exo 20:17)

In our Bibles coveting is an interesting concept, but itself it simply sounds like desire. But in the contexts the word appears, it clearly means desire out of proportion and intention to have/take what one cannot have.

At its core, to covet is to entertain the desire to seize upon something which rightly belongs to another. Another way to say it is “to intend to have what belongs to another.” James says that sin, in general, starts with a desire that is then mismanaged. Covetousness can start with a desire to have fruit brought on by seeing a tree covered in tasty but prohibited fruit. And instead of getting fruit one is allowed, one obsesses over the other.

I’ve come to think that of the keys to overcoming covetousness is to become productive. Proverbs 13:4 above implies this (it does not use the Hebrew word for covet, but the idea is similar). The sluggard craves but does not get. James makes this observation about the source of quarrelling: “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask [in prayer or perhaps of a brother when in genuine need]. (Jas 4:2)” Interestingly, if somebody desires something, even if that desire is spurred on by a neighbor’s goods, it would appear that if you are diligent you soul will be richly supplied insofar as your diligence is for pursuing the good.

The cure for coveting is probably not turning off one’s desire to have a house, a wife, or property in general. Instead, to cure covetousness we should exercise diligence in pursuing and accomplishing good. And, when you do have a need that is not met by diligence or that is too pressing, then ask [God or neighbor].

Don’t Retire to Watch T.V. and Wish You’d Lived Differently

Don’t retire, if you retire from your career, pursue your calling as soon as you clock out on your last day.

Watch this video. This woman is 100.

Proverbs 24:10 says:

“If you faint in days of adversity, your strength is small.”

I hope to follow this woman’s advice and I hope you do to.

Here’s an article at ergo-log.com describing a study which tried to determine if the phrase “he worked himself to death” describes a real phenomena: Hard Workers Live Longer

ht to Gary North for finding the video.

Be Wise For Yourself

One of the most interesting features of the book of Proverbs is that despite the fact that the Proverbs themselves try to help the individual to be oriented toward others, the book appeals primarily to self-interest. This is very important. I’ll probably write more about it later (I still need to finish my series on the common topics). But when our self-interest is appealed to, our desire to survive, thrive, and experience happiness Christians often feel embarrassed or feel the need to correct the Bible with comments like, “Jesus offers these gifts, but really we should be self-less.” Check out the Prologue to Proverbs:

Proverbs 9:10-12 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (11) For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. (12) If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.

If you become a scoffer, ultimately that falls on you. But similarly, if you become wise, it falls on you. Therefore, become wise. Other people cannot do it for you and you cannot do it for other people. Other people and things can be motivations for gaining wisdom, of course. If you want to be wise in order to have a longer life, Proverbs offers that as well. But, again, it’s on you to become wise and there is no guarantee that it will help other people, that they will appreciate it, or that they will support you. Similarly, if you become a scoffer, there is no guarantee that anybody else will be hurt, but there is a guarantee that you’ll bear the result of scoffing because you’ve become a scoffer.

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Seek wisdom in order to have the good life for yourself.
  2. Part of wisdom is loving God and loving neighbor and wisdom will help you do these better and indeed, loving God and neighbor has a volitional (will) component and an affective (enjoyment) component.
  3. The motivation for loving God and neighbor is given in the Sermon on the Mount. If you participate in God’s kingdom, the benefits, if real, are staggering (Matthew 5:3-10).
  4. The motivation for glorifying God is obtaining glory (see Romans 3:23 and 5:1-5 and all of chapter 8). In other words, God doesn’t need us to glorify him, God calls us to glorify him because it benefits us.
  5. It is unwise to be selfish, but true wisdom is self-interested and still loving to others.

Wisdom Wednesday: The Wisdom of Solomon 8:7

One of the most interesting pieces of ancient literature (in my mind) is the Wisdom of Solomon. If you’re Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox, it will appear in your Bible. If you’re Protestant some Bibles include it, some do not. It represents an attempt to express Jewish wisdom in relationship to Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism. I find the book to be intriguing and in many ways compelling. One of my favorite parts is where the author, using the voice of Solomon says this of wisdom:

I loved her and sought her from my youth,

and I desired to take her for my bride,

and I became enamored of her beauty. She glorifies her noble birth by living with God,

and the Lord of all loves her. For she is an initiate in the knowledge of God,

and an associate in his works. If riches are a desirable possession in life,

what is richer than wisdom who effects all things? And if understanding is effective,

who more than she is fashioner of what exists? And if any one loves righteousness,

her labors are virtues;

for she teaches self-control and prudence,

justice and courage;

nothing in life is more profitable for men than these. And if any one longs for wide experience,

she knows the things of old, and infers the things to come;

she understands turns of speech and the solutions of riddles;

she has foreknowledge of signs and wonders

and of the outcome of seasons and times. 9 [1]

Note the bolded text. If anybody loves righteousness/justice, then wisdom will teach that person self-control, prudence, justice (righteousness), and courage. If one is truly concerned with being right with God and man, then wisdom (no longer merely a word for skill or cunning in this book) will provide its adherent with all of the other virtues.

Why does this matter?

  1. New Testament Interpretation
    I think that the presence of the four cardinal virtues in this book is important to the modern Christian because in 2 Peter 1:3-11, Peter refers to virtue as a trait of Jesus that attracts us to the gospel and as a trait that brings us into conformity to his will. So, Jesus excellence (perhaps in terms of these four traits) is part of what makes the gospel appealing and is part and parcel of Christian character (as Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Unless we keep the barbarian virtues, gaining the civilized ones will be of little avail.” One might rephrase it thus, “If we cannot manage the pagan virtues like courage and cleverness, the Christian ones like innocence and meekness will be of little avail.”
  2. Old Testament Interpretation
    An ancient Jewish interpreter of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Song of Solomon, and of the whole Old Testament found that wisdom as a way of life ultimately taught what was best in paganism. In other words, an ancient Jewish Bible scholar thought that self-control, prudence, justice, and courage were important virtues exemplified or shown by counter example in the Old Testament.
  3. Christian Life
    If we use the four cardinal virtues as lens (not the only or the main one) for reading the Bible, they can help us learn which Biblical characters should be treated as exemplars and which would be shameful to emulate. And if we treat the Bible as a legitimate repository of wisdom that is part of the pathway to a life of fully orbed character and joy in God and his creation, then I suspect it will help us on that path. Indeed, Paul says that the Old Testament is inspired for training in righteousness in a passage where he says that it also makes us wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:14-17). The connection between righteousness, wisdom, and virtue is very important in our Bibles, far more than certain reductive readings of our Bible have led us to believe.

[1] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Wis 8:2–9.

Wisdom Wednesday: Faithfulness to Good Routines

Don’t You Hate It When
I’m a routine guy. I love routines. Routines, in my mind, are exactly what makes spontaneity pleasant. Now, interestingly, if you love routines, spontaneity can also become a no-go. But that isn’t the topic. The topic is veering off from routine for no good reason.

Example
Most mornings I wake up, do some reading, work on some writing, do my exercises, and get ready for my day.  This morning I woke up and decided I would send an email, first thing. When I checked, I had an email from my boss which he wouldn’t have expected to receive a response to for days. But, many of the questions contained in the email were interesting and pertained to something I’d been thinking about for a few months. So, I spent about an hour writing him back. Basically, what happened is that I missed my routine almost entirely. I am writing my Wisdom Wednesday post where I reflect on the Bible’s wisdom literature, but most of my routine was missed.

A Topical Proverb
I had a different post in mind that maybe I’ll write tonight (broken routine), but I was reminded of this Proverb:

Proverbs 20:9 ESV  Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”

The easy way to respond to breaking one’s routine is to give up on it for any number of reasons:

  1. Too hard
  2. It got boring
  3. Too easily distracted
  4. I missed it a few times so it wasn’t right for me

But this Proverb reminded me that people do wrong things on a much more important scale (the moral one). We plan for evil, we fail to plan for good, we give up on our good plans, we pursue the good with evil intent, we pursue the good with bad methods, and so-on. So, the Proverb asks all of us, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin?’ To whom is the question addressed?

  1. The self-righteous and judgmental fellow
  2. The person on a permanent diet from sin who has a cheat day every day of the week
  3. The Christian who still struggles with anger/lust/laziness/idolatry after decades of discipleship
  4. The person who thinks that God owes him/her

Now the wrong response to the Proverb is, “Screw it, who can stop sinning? Not this guy!” Instead the idea is to be gracious with oneself and others and get immediately back on the right path. Our routines (for basic self-discipline or for following Christ) are always going to be human and therefore puny. The human will is so wussy (try moving something with your will but not your body). The earth in its circuit is difficult to move out of routine. A human being can be moved off of the path by an email. But, like a parenting tactic I learned from a friend, “You put the kid back in bed until he’s too tired to fight it and goes to sleep.” This process is similar to routines: “You break it Monday, you do it again Tuesday through Friday” until it becomes easier (or it doesn’t, what’s wrong with hard?). Then you can adapt it to your needs. If you fall of the wagon every other day, keep the routine every other day (better than no days). If the routine break involves falling (or running excitedly) into sin, do the same. Quitting some sinful habit every other day is better than doing it every day.

I suppose it is important to remember this as well:

Ecclesiastes 7:20 “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”

Wisdom Wednesday: The Simple

In Proverbs 14, the simple get a bad rep. But the point of that is to remind us, who might be simple-minded, to gain some nuance in the way we think.

For instance, Proverbs essentially outlines four ways of coming to know:

  1. Senses
  2. Inference
  3. Testimony (correction, tradition, instruction, or divine revelation)
  4. Trial and Error

Proverbs says that the simple believe anything that they hear and that they inherit folly.

Proverbs ESV 14:15  The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.

Proverbs ESV 14:18 The simple inherit folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.

The simple, in Proverbs, is essentially the person who does not stop and think things through, whether a good or bad person. They are easily swayed, this is why Lady Wisdom is always trying to get their attention and way Lady Folly and the scoffers find them such easy prey.

Anyway, the prudent is the person who through habitual attention to the four modes of knowing learns to consider the way to go forward. What this means that that a prudent person considers propositions before acting on them and situations before forming definite opinions. In other words, the prudent uses trial and error to test methods, senses to test ideas, inference to move forward from sensory data, and to compare ideas to one another.

Interestingly, I think that the simple person (from the rest of Proverbs) has a tendency to over complicate simple things, “I can’t go to work…there are lions in the streets,” and to over simplify complicated things, “I’ve gone to work for like 6 weeks and I’m not rich. This work thing isn’t worth it.”

Don’t be simple.