Pandemics are full of pain, extraordinary change, and major readjustments through every aspect of society. For the church there is no simple playbook to take off the shelf and implement that will fix all our problems and keep us sharing and growing in Christ. Even though the church has been through pandemics before, we’ve never had the current scientific and technological tools available to us that enable extraordinary connection and change the landscape of what church community could and should be. Each local church seems to have walked a unique path and there are no simple answers. Instead there is a variety of advice that abounds, a constant need to change strategy, and endless expectations. At worst it devolves into crippling comparisons.
Anyone tired of decision making, sifting through information, and communicating through change management? There is a great promise at the start of Proverbs that is a balm for a confused and weary pastor’s soul. It declares that these proverbs are:
“for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behaviour,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
(or ‘inexperienced’ as in CSB)
knowledge and discretion to the young” (1:2-4)
I’m sure every church leader could do with a boost of deep wisdom and prudent guidance. Amazingly, you can actually take this stuff off the shelf and have it implemented in your heart. The flow-on effects are sure to be richer than any tech strategy, whether we’re in a pandemic or not!
“For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.” (2:10)
Perhaps what is most striking throughout Proverbs when you read it through the lens of 2020 is the sheer contrast between the wise and the foolish. Surely we’ve seen this proverb play out time and time again this year: “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” (22:3) Sadly there are too many churches that are now regretting their earlier decisions to plough on as though nothing is different, regardless of the warnings given to them. Of course, the urgency and importance is there from the start as Lady Wisdom calls out over the commotion of daily life:
“Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
But since you refuse to listen when I call
and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
since you disregard all my advice
and do not accept my rebuke,
I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.” (1:23-27)
For me, the book of Proverbs seems to have a recent anecdote or a news story to go with every line. Take Proverbs 12:25 as an example, “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” That seems to sum up every Sunday for our tech team making our livestream services happen. There is a lot that can go wrong between software updates, large video files and unreliable telcos… but when a few people bother to say thank you and show appreciation for what they’ve enabled then furrowed brows quickly turn to enthusiastic smiles.
So, the rest of this Bible study is simply a curated selection from Proverbs that might have particular relevance at this time, please read and digest inwardly. But don’t let this stop you from going and reading through all of Proverbs slowly yourself. Maybe even let us know what you would add to this list!
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones. (3:5-8)
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared. (3:24-26)
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man. (6:10-11)
“I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.
To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behaviour and perverse speech.
Counsel and sound judgment are mine;
I have insight, I have power.
By me kings reign
and rulers issue decrees that are just;
by me princes govern,
and nobles—all who rule on earth. (8:12-16)
He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son,
but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son. (10:5)
Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death. (11:4)
A wicked person earns deceptive wages,
but the one who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward. (11:18)
People curse the one who hoards grain, (or toilet paper!)
but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell.
Those who trust in their riches will fall,
but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf. (11:28)
The way of fools seems right to them,
but the wise listen to advice. (12:15)
The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves,
but a fool’s heart blurts out folly. (12:23)
An unplowed field produces food for the poor,
but injustice sweeps it away. (13:23)
Even in laughter the heart may ache,
and rejoicing may end in grief. (14:13)
A heart at peace gives life to the body,
but envy rots the bones. (14:30)
Better a little with the fear of the Lord
than great wealth with turmoil. (15:16)
Better a small serving of vegetables with love
than a fattened calf with hatred. (15:17)
Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed. (15:22)
Better a little with righteousness
than much gain with injustice. (16:8)
Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city. (16:32)
Better a dry crust with peace and quiet
than a house full of feasting, with strife. (17:1)
A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for a time of adversity. (17:17)
A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (17:22)
The name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe. (18:10)
The fear of the Lord leads to life;
then one rests content, untouched by trouble. (19:23)
Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler;
whoever is led astray by them is not wise. (20:1)
The plans of the diligent lead to profit
as surely as haste leads to poverty. (21:5)
Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor
will also cry out and not be answered. (21:13)
Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
do not trust your own cleverness.
Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
for they will surely sprout wings
and fly off to the sky like an eagle. (23:4-5)
If you falter in a time of trouble,
how small is your strength!
Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering towards slaughter. (24:10-11)
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day,
or like vinegar poured on a wound,
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. (25:20)
Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring. (27:1)
One who is full loathes honey from the comb,
but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet. (27:7)
The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
but people are tested by their praise. (27:21)
Better the poor whose walk is blameless
than the rich whose ways are perverse. (28:6)
The righteous care about justice for the poor,
but the wicked have no such concern. (29:7)
Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God. (30:7-9)