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"Gain a Heart of Wisdom"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 16, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Psalm 90:12

Mark Eischer: Hello, I'm Mark Eischer. Thanks for making this program part of your day. Thank you for your faithful support. Your prayers and gifts help The Lutheran Hour bring Christ to the Nations—and the Nations to the Church. Learn more at Now, here is our Speaker, Dr. Michael Ziegler.

Mike Zeigler: Hey, Mark. Don't go anywhere yet. You still there?

Mark Eischer: Yeah.

Mike Zeigler: Okay, good. I've got a quiz for you today. Are you willing to participate?

Mark Eischer: Well, I didn't do any studying.

Mike Zeigler: I don't think you'll need to study. It's just a list of sayings, and I want to see how familiar they are to you. So I think you'll get them all. And for those of you listening, you participate. You answer along with Mark, say it out loud, wherever you are. I'll say the start of the saying, and then you and Mark can finish it together. And I want to let you know to keep things fair, I have not shared these with Mark in advance. He's going to be hearing them right now in the moment, along with you. So if you guys are ready. Mark, are you ready?

Mark Eischer: Go ahead.

Mike Zeigler: Okay. Number one, God helps those who?

Mark Eischer: Help themselves.

Mike Zeigler: All right. Number two. Rules were made to be?

Mark Eischer: Broken.

Mike Zeigler: Very good. Number three. You only go around?

Mark Eischer: Once.

Mike Zeigler: Yes. Number four. He who dies with the most?

Mark Eischer: Toys wins.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah. Number five. Different strokes for?

Mark Eischer: Different folks.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah. Number six. No pain?

Mark Eischer: No gain.

Mike Zeigler: And number seven. No guts?

Mark Eischer: No glory.

Mike Zeigler: All right. Give yourself a hand. You got them all. Good job. I'm pretty sure that everyone got all of those, but thank you for your help, Mark. The fact that we're able to finish most of those sentences shows that we already are living by proverbs. Proverbs is the name of a book in the Old Testament of the Bible. But in a more general sense, proverbs are vivid, memorable, short statements of general truths about life. And proverbs are everywhere. You can find them on billboards and bumper stickers, on coffee mugs and cat memes. You can find them everywhere. So it's not whether we live by proverbs, but rather which proverbs, which proverbs will we remember, which proverbs will we repeat, whose proverbs will we cherish? All right, same exercise. See if you can finish these sentences.

Mike Zeigler: Number one. The fear of the Lord is the? Do you know it? It's from the book of Proverbs 9:10. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Mike Zeigler: Number two. The Lord disciplines those? How's that one go? That's from Proverbs 3:12. The Lord disciplines those He loves.

Mike Zeigler: Number three. Whoever trusts in riches? What comes next? That's Proverbs 11:28. Whoever trusts in his riches will fall.

Mike Zeigler: Number four. A wise person ignores? What does a wise person ignore? That's Proverbs 12:16. A wise person ignores an insult.

Mike Zeigler: Number five. Those who love their children, what do they do? That's Proverbs 13:24. Those who love their children discipline them.

Mike Zeigler: Number six. The Lord tears down the house of the? Whose house does He tear down? That's Proverbs 15:25. The Lord tears down the house of the proud.

Mike Zeigler: And number seven. Whoever mocks the poor? What's next? That's Proverbs 17:5. Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker, insults God.

Mike Zeigler: All right. So which set was more familiar? The first set of secular proverbs or the second set of biblical Proverbs? I'm guessing it was the first. It was more familiar to me. Years ago, a teacher of mine gave our class that list of sayings, just like I did for you. And we got every single one of them. I remember sitting in the class and those words from the secular proverbs, they came to me, they came to me like my dog comes to me when I'm outside in the back grilling steaks that, right there at my side, salivating, those words were there instinctually. But that second set, it was more like looking for my lost set of car keys. I know they're here somewhere.

The experiment shows that I have more practice swimming in the waters of the world's wisdom than I do in the Bible's. And it kind of bothers me because I'm a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. I'm baptized. I have been plunged into those waters, and by Baptism I share in Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, and I've come out of those waters to share in His new life. I've been adopted into God's family, the church, because of Jesus. And I want to be a lifelong student of His and of His Word, the Bible. And maybe you're with me in this, or maybe not. Maybe you just happened to be listening today. And you're wondering, what's wrong with swimming in the world's wisdom? Water's not all bad, is it? No, it's not all bad. There's usually some good that comes out of the world's proverbs.

I'm a follower of Jesus, but that doesn't mean I have to reject everything that the world offers. Take Moses, for example. You remember Moses, right? Moses was the guy God called to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt. Moses was the guy who spoke with God like a man speaks with his friend. Moses was the guy who had a direct connection with the Creator of the universe, but that didn't make Moses wise automatically. On the contrary, Moses wasn't a very wise leader, we learn. He was trying to do everything himself. He was wearing himself out. And do you remember who it was that gave him the good advice about delegating and sharing responsibility? It was his father-in-law, Jethro.

Now Jethro was a pagan priest. He barely knew anything about the one true God. Jethro had never talked to God like Moses talked with God, but Jethro was wise in the world's wisdom. He was schooled through lived experience. Even though he had spent most of his life following false gods, he had some wisdom. Read Exodus 18. So even if you're not a follower of Jesus, I can learn to appreciate and benefit by your wisdom, and I want to, because the wisdom of the world isn't all bad.

Consider these worldly American proverbs. Consider the early bird. What does the early bird get? The early bird gets the worm. Or the phrase, bloom where you're planted. Or, when the going gets tough, the tough get doughnuts. No, no, the tough get going. And if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. And persistence prevails when all else fails. Understood in a proper light, these worldly proverbs are not so bad. They help me remember that as a follower of Jesus, while I am saved, while I am adopted into God's family, by grace through faith in Jesus, while I am not saved by my works, I am saved for good works—good works that God has prepared in advance for me to do to help Him serve my neighbor. And when I do these works, laziness, complaining, and quitting—they're not going to help anybody.

So there's some truth to these secular proverbs. But what about these? See if you know these. Where there's a will, there's a way. Records are made to be broken. Only the strong survive. I didn't come here to play; I came here to win. Know your limits, then break them.

When I was in the military, I was assigned to about a month of temporary duty on the island of Puerto Rico. We were stationed near the coast. And so on one of my days off, I wanted to go check out the water. There was a ferry that would take a group of people a couple of miles out on the water to a small uninhabited island, a deserted island, kind of like you see in cartoons or movies, just sand and palm trees, tropical sea green water all around. But when I ended up on the island, it was a little crowded with all the other tourists, but off in the distance I could see another island. No one was on that island, and it didn't look that far away. And the water was so inviting. And I thought to myself, the world is my oyster. The sky's the limit.

I think I can. I think I can swim to that island. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. So I did. Now, earlier that day I had considered renting some snorkeling gear back at the hotel, but when I saw how much they were charging, I thought to myself, huh, a penny saved is a penny earned. So there I am swimming out in the open sea without so much as a pair of goggles. And I could feel the current getting stronger, and it's pulling me in directions that I don't want to go. And I swam for a long time. In reality, it was probably about five minutes, but it felt like a long time. And I stopped and tread water and I wiped the salt out of my eyes to see how much further I have to go. And it must've been some kind of mirage because the island was just as far away as when I had started. And then I turned back to look where I had come from and that island was just as far away. And so I'm treading water and I'm winded. And I'm starting to wonder about my future: here today and gone tomorrow.

The thing to remember about the world's proverbs is that they're only half true. They only tell half the story. Sometimes I think I can. I think I can. I think I can does get the little engine over the hill. Sometimes early to bed and early to rise does make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. Sometimes the early bird gets the worm, but sometimes with the bird, you're the early worm. And in that case, what do you get?

There are other secular proverbs that undercut all this toxic positivity. So Mark, Mark, you still there?

Mark Eischer: I'm here.

Mike Zeigler: All right. I need your help again. Another quiz on some secular proverbs. You think you can do that? I know you didn't study.

Mark Eischer: Yeah, let's go for it.

Mike Zeigler: Okay. See if you can finish these phrases now. Don't put all your eggs in?

Mark Eischer: One basket.

Mike Zeigler: Good. When it rains?

Mark Eischer: It pours.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah. That's the way the cookie?

Mark Eischer: Crumbles.

Mike Zeigler: Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep?

Mark Eischer: And you weep alone.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah. When I'm right, no one remembers. When I'm wrong?

Mark Eischer: No one forgets.

Mike Zeigler: With friends like these?

Mark Eischer: Who needs enemies.

Mike Zeigler: No amount of planning will ever replace?

Mark Eischer: Oh no, that one I don't know.

Mike Zeigler: All right. You got all the others. So good job. No amount of planning will ever replace dumb luck. Kind of sad. Thank you, Mark. These proverbs tell an important part of the story. They remind us that for all our best-laid plans, for all our elbow grease, so much of life is tragic and random and just plain wrong. Even old Moses recognized this. He wrote a prayer in the form of a poem, and it got recorded in the book of Psalms 90. Moses said to God, "All our days pass away under your wrath. O Lord. We finish our years with a moan. Our days come to 70 years or 80, if our strength endures. And yet the best of those days are but trouble and sorrow for they pass quickly and we fly away."

You and I can't help but swim in the world's wisdom, but if that's all you have, eventually you're going to sink, like me, by myself out there, off the coast of Puerto Rico. At some point, I realized that I was never going to make it to that other island. And I'm wondering now, if I can make it back to the first island, and I should have never been out there in the first place by myself because no man is an island. And so I start to do the dead man's float. The dead man's float—it's a bit of work smarter, not harder, practical wisdom that they taught us in the military during water survival training. You float face down like a dead man, but you turn your head slightly to take slow breaths to conserve your energy while you're waiting to be rescued. So I'm dead man floating there, and my thoughts turn existential.

Something I heard once about the best-laid plans of mice and men, about how man proposes, but God disposes, about how nothing hurts like the truth. That's what it's like to swim alone in the half-true proverbs of this age. And then when I least expected it, something solid struck my foot. I was still a good distance from the island, but I had unknowingly dead man floated over an unseen sandbar, leading the way back to dry land. The world's proverbs aren't all bad, but at best they're only half true. Even the Proverbs of the Bible, don't tell the full story, but they do lead us in the right direction.

See, wisdom isn't just a tool we use to make a good life. Wisdom is God's personal character. And that's why the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Fear, love, and trust in the Lord is the way to wisdom in person. And we meet God's eternal wisdom in Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus Himself is the way. Jesus is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And the truth is, God helps those who can't help themselves. So even when you're dead man floating out in a sea of chaos and sin, Jesus will secure your foot on solid ground because He loves you. He gave up His life to save you. He lives to lead you in wisdom. And one day He will return to put right all that is wrong in this world. So don't put the cart before the horse; put first things first; let the whole truth set you free. And this week as you wade back out into a sea of secular proverbs, spend some time with God in God's Word, repeating God's Proverbs in the Bible. And if you're willing, pray with me the prayer of Moses from Psalm 90:12.

"O Lord, teach us to number our days rightly so that we may gain a heart of wisdom." In Jesus' Name. Amen.

Reflections for May 16, 2021

Title: Gain a Heart of Wisdom

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to Once again, here's our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.

Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. Today, I'm getting to visit with Dr. David Coe. He's an assistant professor of theology and philosophy at Concordia University in Nebraska. He's the author of the book, Provoking Proverbs: Wisdom and the Ten Commandments, it's called. Welcome, David.

David Coe: Thank you, Michael. Great to be here today.

Mike Zeigler: Now, David, I saw you're from, well, you went to college in Georgia. Do you consider Georgia home?

David Coe: Yeah. Both the State of Georgia and the State of Alabama. Mom and Dad raised me in both of those states, and went to college at University of Georgia.

Mike Zeigler: All right. But now you're in Nebraska?

David Coe: In Nebraska. Never thought I'd be here, but the Lord is gracious.

Mike Zeigler: You've recently written a book about inclining our ears and opening our hearts to God's wisdom. How would you define a proverb? What is a proverb, and how are they different than other forms of communication such as stories, or lists, or equations?

David Coe: I'd say a proverb is a short sentence or two of wisdom that packs a lot of punch in that one sentence.

Mike Zeigler: Your book is titled Provoking Proverbs. I'm sure you put a lot of thought into picking this title, but why is it not Pleasing Proverbs or Profound Proverbs? Why is provoking the right word here?

David Coe: Our God is a good Dad who loves to discipline His children. He puts us in a pinchy place oftentimes. But ultimately I would say, I chose the title Provoking Proverbs, because David Coe is a sinner. Firstly, with my sinful nature, I will not be roused to good behavior unless there are uncomfortable consequences. And so, the Proverbs say things like, "A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back," Proverbs 29:11. And so that says, "David, you want to go ahead and give a full vent to your spirit. You may, go ahead and be a fool." So Proverbs can have that provoking way that, as we'll talk about in a little bit, the first use of the Law, where they punch us and they say, "You either shape up or ship out. If you don't shape up, you can plan on shipping out."

The other good news, the other side of the coin with Provoking Proverbs is that, with God's help, once the Gospel comes in our lives and the Holy Spirit is a gift who is our Helper, who lives with us in our souls, then the Proverbs turn into something that is not just provoking in a negative way, but thought-provoking in a positive way. Because the Gospel, once God, the Holy Spirit, calls, gathers, enlightens His children with the Gospel, the Holy Spirit helps us to change the Law from not just a list of no-no's and do's and don'ts, to a list of love languages for how we can love God and our neighbor. And so, the Proverbs not only have this provoking negative sense, because I do still carry my sinful nature with me, but my new nature in Christ, being sanctified after the image of Jesus, Romans 8:29, sees the Law and sees the Proverbs in a new light that is thought-provoking, that provides a wonderful guide for good works created in Christ.

Mike Zeigler: That indicates that when we hear these words of the wise and we keep them within us, have them ready on our lips, they will be pleasant. Like you were saying, not just provoking in a negative sense, but thought-provoking. They will become pleasing proverbs to us. As you have let these Proverbs shape you and poke you at times, how have you also found them pleasing?

David Coe: I had a wonderful example of this in my life this morning. I love my colleagues on the hall here at Concordia University, Nebraska. And as I was passing a colleague, there was an opportunity. "How are you doing today, Dr. Coe?" I could have said, "I'm about to be interviewed by Michael Ziegler on The Lutheran Hour. And it's going to be wonderful." The Proverb that came to mind then, it was Proverbs 25:27. "It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one's own glory." And so, my sinful nature got curbed, the bad behavior, the sinful behavior that wants popularity and recognition got curbed and I kept my mouth zipped about that.

The other side, my new nature being recreated in Christ Jesus got to use this proverb 25:27 as a guide. That, yep, we will not do anything that seeks my own glory or is stated with that as the goal. So, this is one example just from today how a proverb memorized and put in the heart and kept on the lips is a wonderful way that the Holy Spirit uses His Word, the Law, to guide us even after being forgiven, loved, and treasured through Jesus Christ in the Gospel.

Mike Zeigler: Right. Like you said, our sinful nature does need to be curbed. Yet, this can also at the same time be a pleasing thing, knowing that this wisdom, this comes from a loving Father who is shaping us continually into the image of His Son, Jesus. All right. Well, thank you for taking your time to visit with us today. If we could, we'll have you back and we'll talk some more about this book and how we might open our hearts and incline our ears to God's wisdom.

David Coe: Thank you very much.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"I Know My Faith Is Founded" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.

"Christ Is the World's Redeemer" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

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