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Proverbs: A Great Source for Little Threads of Life

Life looks big. That’s the first thing we learn as children, and some carry that perception with them through every significant stage of life.
Our point of view in childhood is mostly at knees and ankles. We look up, craning our necks to look into eyes that are mostly focused in our direction. Eventually we look all grown up, but inside us there’s a child that keeps asking, “Am I big enough to do this?”

There are scary and demanding things out there that keep us from being all we can be. There are challenges that look, at first glance, to be impossible.

Yet, there’s also a hope that keeps us going and there’s a sense in which first steps form the beginnings of paths taken that go down the hard roads and yet lead us on a journey that’s celebrated with a deep sense of accomplishment.

It seems, to me, it’s the little threads of life that make our lives meaningful and that have more to do with how well we do than the big things that threaten us into a lifeless submission.

I think there are little threads of hope and optimism that can lead us in new directions, but where do we go to identify those strands?

What do you collect? Some collect matchbooks from all over the world. Some collect musical instruments or paintings or books or CDs. Others collect rare glassware or thimbles.

My next-door neighbor in San Antonio, Texas, had a collection of antique clocks. Both his living room and dining room were covered with ticking clocks.

The tick-tock, tick-tock was bad enough, but every 15 minutes the clocks would intrude upon the ticking silence with their noisy clatter marking the quarter-hour. Half hours were worse and the top of the hour was utter chaos!

They were unique and priceless because no one makes clocks like this anymore. “Enough to raise the dead, preacher!” my neighbor said to me in a voice that rose above the racket of his expensive collection of rare clocks.

There is a book of the Bible that showcases a “little threads” collection gathered and attributed to King Solomon, but it’s unlike my neighbor’s clock collection as there aren’t any objects saved other than words and sayings.

The book of Proverbs is a reminder that there was once a time when wisdom was so valued, it was saved and turned into a collection that was instructive for life. Proverbs has something to say that deals with the whole spectrum of life’s great needs.

“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). Jesus took this one a step further in Luke 12, and James added a nice image to bring it to life, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).

We all live as though there’s no end in sight until we begin to explore life’s losses and realize the vapor is us. Life forces us to come to grips with the reality that we have limits placed upon us and can’t bank on tomorrow with any certainty.

I’ve come to appreciate the mystery of not knowing. It adds a spicy understanding to the gifts of the day and my ability to enjoy them as the good gifts from God given as a sign of God’s love and blessing.

Tomorrow may have more blessings but I should take care to enjoy today’s gifts while they’re here and let tomorrow take care of itself as God gives us breath.

How about this one? “Go to the ant, o sluggard … observe her ways and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6). I love this one, don’t you?

What would happen if we went out in the flowerbed and lay on our stomachs and watched an ant mound with all its activity and paid attention to them? Besides being stung mercilessly, what else would you learn?

There is not an ounce of laziness among them. Everyone seems to have a task they’re busy doing.

In all the chaos, there seems to be individual purpose and a larger goal they all seem to be working toward. Other lessons might help us understand the need to stay at it or to work toward the building of a unified whole.

Here’s one someone from my home church gave me to guide me when I left home and launched myself in college: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways, acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

That was helpful to me when I was asking all the questions of who was I and where was I going. It continues to be helpful because we all get to the edges of what we know and need to draw upon the wisdom of God who wants to be an active participant in our lives. Need direction? Go to God and expect God to answer.

The last little thread is problematic for those of us who cling to our need to dole out retribution to our enemies.

“If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink; for you will heap burning coals of fire on their heads, and the LORD will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21-22).

There is power in reversing the order of things. When we break free from the need to protect our own interests that are defensive in nature and turn hate into love, we are swimming upstream.

This is what Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. used in combating the hatred of the dominant against the hopefulness of those who were controlled by it to break free.

The little threads are actually powerful agents of change. They breathe life into the mundane. They lead, rather than follow, toward life that has purpose and meaning. Something to ponder.

Keith Herron is pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., and a member of the board of directors for the Baptist Center for Ethics. His sermons appear on EthicsDaily.com.