Humility, Fear, Riches, Honor, and Life

Humility

It is said that with pride comes the fall. I have been down that road and chances are, many of you have as well. Humility takes work. And if you are busy working on becoming a better person, when will you have the time for arrogance and conceit. Stay humble. Stay low to the ground. If you do have a fall, you will have a shorter distance to go, and it won’t hurt so bad.

The Fear of the Lord

The priest asked us to close our eyes, and then he asked a question. He said, “How many of you truly love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” I raised my hand. I could hear others raise their hands as well. We put our hands down and were told to open our eyes. Then another set of questions came:

  • How many thanked God this morning for another day?
  • How much time have you spent in prayer?
  • God gave us one book, how much time do you spend reading it?
  • Do you give your first fruits or just whatever you have left over?

We were told to close our eyes again and the same question was asked. “How many of you truly love God with all your heart, soul, and mind?” My hand didn’t go up. I don’t think I was alone.

Break down the commandments and we essentially have two: Love God and love your neighbor. Follow those two, and you are good on the original ten. When I think of loving God, I also think of fearing God. Do I really fear God? If I did, would I live like I do now, or would I live differently?

Riches, Honor, and Life

Pride equals a fall.

Sin equals death.

Humility and fear equal riches, honor, and life.

A proud man wants to flaunt his possessions and abilities. He wants the world to notice him. Most likely, he will live above his means. He will cause others to loathe him. Those he offends would love nothing more than to see his demise. They may even try to bring it about themselves.

Once again, humility takes work. It is the work that brings riches, honor, and life. This is Thomas Stanley’s Millionaire Next Door. This is the one that has much but doesn’t draw attention to himself. This is the one that stays low to the ground and does the work.

The results of humility and the fear of the Lord is riches, honor, and life.

Proverbs 22:4

From Reading to Being

I read Historical Fiction. I lived in a make-believe past. I read Fantasy. I went into a fairy tale world. Historical Fiction and Fantasy, with a dabbling of Science Fiction made up the bulk of my reading for over ten years. What do I have to show for it? I can sit for long periods at a time, and I have a rather decent reading comprehension level.

 And then one day, about four or five years ago, I picked up some Non-Fiction. I figured with all the reading I do; I might as well learn something. My life has not been the same since. I went from leadership and psychology to health and fitness. Whatever I came across that I felt had the ability to improve my life, I read.

What has been the benefit? Almost every facet of my life has become a little bit better. In my opinion, the transformation has been amazing. I think different, feel different, and may even look a little different. There is a quality of life I imagine living and every day I get a little closer to it. All because I changed what I read about.

What you read when you don’t have to determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

Oscar Wilde

Nobody forces me to read. And unless you are in school, nobody is likely to force you to read. It is a choice with a myriad of benefits and very few cons. Regardless of age or ability, there is a wealth of wisdom available to us. The only thing holding us back is us. Make the choice to read. What is the worst that can happen?

A Realization that Leads to Wisdom

Through the eyes of a child, we put our parents on a pedestal. Even an abusive parent will still be loved by the child. The parent is the child’s world, that is all that they know.

As the child gets older, her world gets bigger. She sees the varying ways in which others live. What she imagines as perfect changes. No longer is her narrow scope of reality the only possible way of existence. Now, there are other possibilities. As she grows older and matures, she realizes that it is not an imperfect environment that she lives in, but an imperfection in the people she lives with.

She could live her life in perpetual adolescence, jaded and angry with the world. The hardships she was made to endure by her guardians, she could carry with her until her dying days. It was their fault she turned out the way she did. They denied her the opportunities. They held her back. If only she had parents like those of her friends, it would have all been better, maybe even perfect.

Or she could realize something else. Maybe her parents were not perfect, but they weren’t so bad either. In fact, is there anybody that is perfect? Now as an adult, she realizes they were only human, and humans make mistakes. They do what they believe is right, even when it is wrong. They do what feels good, even when it is harmful. They are not perfect but human, humans deserving of forgiveness. And so, as an adult she gives them what she can: forgiveness.

We can imagine perfection, but we cannot attain it. Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” A couple of centuries before that, Confucius said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” Our heroine in this story has concluded she is no different than the rest of humanity. And like her parents before her, all she can do is forgive herself for her imperfections. Knowing herself and the extent of her ignorance, she is at the beginning of true wisdom.

The day the child realizes all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; and the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.

Alden Nowlan

The Canadian poet, Alden Nowlan, beautifully illustrates a way to wisdom. It starts with knowing who you are and then forgiving yourself for being that person. After all, we are all human and far from perfect. And though we can be incredibly strict with how we live our lives, demanding more from ourselves than we do from others, there is still room for forgiveness. We can forgive ourselves for our shortcomings and then try our best to overcome them. It is a process that if repeated can get us closer to the person we imagined ourselves to be. This is how we grow. This is how we become wise.


Feature photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

More than Praying

I was maybe ten or eleven, when I first read the following passage from the Bible:

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.

Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.

So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.

So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice,

I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.

Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.”

I Kings 3:5-13

It was one of those first “aha” moments I remember. God told Solomon he could have anything he wanted. What did Solomon ask for? He did not ask for wealth, honor, or riches, but for understanding and wisdom. And God gave him wisdom, maybe more than anybody else. On top of the wisdom, He gave Solomon all the things he didn’t ask for, making him one of the wealthiest kings of history.

At that young age, I thought I found the key to conquering the world. From I Kings and Solomon’s writings in Proverbs, I had the secret formula for wisdom. All I had to do was ask for it. I got down on my knees and with all the might I could muster closed my eyes and prayed, “Oh Lord, I beg you, give me the wisdom of Solomon.” Okay, so I know it was no small request. But if you are going to go big, you might as well go all the way.

For ten years I continued that prayer. And for years, God laughed at me and said, “Foolish child, am I some desert genii here to obey your wishes?” I could imagine his laughter. It wasn’t scorn so much as it was amusement at my silliness. What did I expect to happen? Would I one day wake up to become the sage of this generation?

In time, those prayers were put to the side. I was getting older and other priorities grabbed my attention. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was reminded of those youthful prayers. After all, it was back in those days that the seeds were planted. And like well-preserved seeds, they began to come to life after a little nourishment.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Are my prayers being answered by God? No doubt, this could be a debatable topic that both sides could argue. Maybe Solomon woke up one day with an extraordinary amount of wisdom, but that doesn’t usually happen to ordinary guys like me. Wisdom is available to the masses, but it doesn’t come without a price. You must work for it. It is earned, not given.

There is a step to wisdom. Over the years I read it over and over, but it took time for it to sink in. Consider these words from Proverbs:

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (2:6)

The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin. (10:14)

Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge. (23:12)

Buy the truth and do not sell it —wisdom, instruction and insight as well. (23:23)

Over and over, Solomon repeats these words.

Knowledge and understanding. Plant the seeds of knowledge within your mind. Nourish it with understanding. Reap the fruits of wisdom. Prayer alone won’t do the trick. Wishing with all your might is not good enough. As James Allen said, our wishes and prayers are only answered when they harmonize with our thoughts and actions.

Clear the Malfunction

One of the acronyms I will never forget from the Army is SPORTS.

Slap

Pull

Observe

Release

Tap

Squeeze

When your weapon jams up, you apply SPORTS to clear the malfunction. Practice SPORTS enough times, and it becomes second nature. You won’t even forget it twenty years later.

Why do soldiers practice it so much? In the heat of battle, you need to make quick decisions. In a fire fight, the last thing you need is a malfunction. When your weapon system goes down, you can’t call a time-out to analyze the situation. You need to be able to get back up and running as quick as possible, and that is why you perform an automatic action that doesn’t require thought.

Let philosophy scrape off your own faults, rather than be a way to rail against the fault of others. –Seneca

The great thing about making the study of truth, better known as philosophy, a daily practice is that it becomes second nature. If it is always in your mind, you are less likely to falter. And when you do falter, when you have the malfunction, you are quick the resolve the error. You are able to scrape off your faults.

What are my issues? I have a few, but one has recently come to the forefront. I spend a lot of time working on my problems. Equally, I do my best not to worry about the faults of others. This may be ideal on an individual level, but it often leaves me with the tendency to mentally isolate from the rest of the world. In my youth, I was quick to make inaccurate assessments of others based on first impressions and a narrow world view. As I got older, I tried to be less judgmental. That is good, but to some degree I became less empathetic towards the problems and needs of others. This is a problem that I am working on. Can I really put myself in someone’s shoes? Can I understand their pain, what they are going through?

Today, I am going to continue identifying areas in my life that need improvement. I am going to work on fixing those. I am going to seek the truth and allow it to work its miracles on me in the scraping off of my imperfections. I am going to clear the malfunction.

Wisdom. Courage. Justice. Discipline. Faith. Hope. Love. The virtues that make us better people are calling. Who will heed the call?

This is the very perfection of man, to find out his own imperfections. –St. Augustine

Wisdom First

Does anybody begin life wishing for wisdom? Is that what one wants to be when they get older? Or is it a good job, a big house, lots of money, and of course lots of stuff? And when we come to the end, to our deathbeds, will any of those things matter? Hoping to have it ready available to you in the afterlife, will you bury your wealth with you like the kings of old?

“Yes, getting your wish would have been so nice. But isn’t that exactly why pleasure trips us up? Instead, see if these things might be even nicer—a great soul, freedom, honesty, kindness, saintliness. For there is nothing so pleasing as wisdom itself, when you consider how sure-footed and effortless the works of understanding and knowledge are.” –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5:9

Ah wisdom, that which Solomon chose first and foremost when God asked him what he wanted most. Imagine the djinn bursting forth from the lamp granting you any wish you desired, what would you say? Would you choose riches, power, or maybe a long life? Or would you, like Solomon, ask for wisdom? Riches come and go. Power is fleeting. Even a long life eventually comes to an end. But wisdom, it was there in the beginning and will be there in the end.

“How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is preferable to silver.” –Proverbs 16:16

Yet so often, we go for the riches first. It is the gold we are after, thinking that’s the vehicle that will get us to all the places we want to go. But if going for the riches is our priority, when will we go for the wisdom?

“Riches have shut off many a man from the attainment of wisdom; poverty is unburdened and free from care…After you have come to possess all other things, shall you then wish to possess wisdom also? Is philosophy to be the last requisite in life—a sort of supplement? Nay, your plan should be this: be a philosopher now, whether you have anything or not—for if you have anything, how do you know that you have not too much already?—but if you have nothing, seek understanding first, before anything else. “But,” you say, “I shall lack the necessities of life.” In the first place, you cannot lack them; because nature demands but little, and the wise man suits his needs to nature.”  –Seneca, Letter 17: On Philosophy and Riches

My wish is that you would push to become a millionaire. Oh, don’t get me wrong, not exchanging in gold but in the currency of wisdom.

“There is something infinitely better than to be a millionaire of money, and that is to be a millionaire of brains, of culture, of helpfulness to one’s fellows, a millionaire of character –a gentleman.” –Orison Swett Marden, Pushing to the Front

Contemplating Seneca #20

It was weakness on my part for letting it bother me, but in truth I have been guilty of doing the same thing.

Have you ever held information with the intention of increasing your value? Have you ever kept your cards close to the vest rather than share it with the team? I used to work with someone who did. He would keep vital information from the team so that he could deploy it later for his own perceived gains. It made him look foolish, not only to the leadership but to the rest of the team. He had high aspirations of advancement, and in his mind holding that information made him an indispensable member of the team.

It is easy to judge when you are the in the group that is left out. Such an act is truly selfish and keeps the rest of the team from performing at a high level. Have I ever done it? I can’t say I haven’t. I haven’t always been the best teammate. I have sometimes considered personal gain to be more important than the success of the team. He was foolish for doing it, and I have certainly been foolish in the past.

What is the purpose of knowledge? Is it to keep it to one’s self? If it is something that is not used, isn’t it useless? As Aristotle said, “The purpose of knowledge is action, not knowledge.” It is good to have knowledge, even better is to share it. I am not talking about breaking any ethical laws or corporate espionage. Instead, I am saying to share the knowledge you have for the good of the team, for the good of those who would derive benefit from it.

The sage on the mountaintop is no benefit if nobody goes up the mountain, or if he never comes down it. Any knowledge or understanding I have is ready to be shared with any who would hear it. If I have any wisdom, I will gladly pass it on. In fact, that is its purpose. Not only that I can live a good life, but that others may benefit from it as well.

Consider these words from Seneca’s On Sharing Knowledge:

And when you say: “Give me also a share in these gifts which you have found so helpful,” I reply that I am anxious to heap all these privileges upon you, and that I am glad to learn in order that I may teach. Nothing will ever please me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the knowledge of it to myself. And if wisdom were given me under the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it. …Therefore I summon you, not merely that you may derive benefit, but that you may confer benefit; for we can assist each other greatly.

A Word with the Wise

One of my closest friends told me once to break down the barriers that are preventing me from walking my path.

A boss, who I despised and thought incompetent, once told me to control only what is in my control. The rest is out of my hands.

A dear aunt stated that a person’s energy can be seen only if I took the time to look for it.

Through the years there have been those moments when a slice of wisdom passed through another’s lips and took hold within me. Moments that were collected over a lifetime causing me to stop what I was doing and allow the words to be written upon my soul. Moments that molded me into who I am today and who I want to be tomorrow.

It is those moments I seek out, that my very soul longs for. To be blessed by another person freely sharing their wisdom is a gift. It is those gifts that elevates an individual to new heights. As Emerson said, “The best effect of fine persons is felt after we leave their presence.” Long after the conversation has ended, the wisdom remains.

I have read countless books and articles, enjoyed many lectures and podcasts, and viewed numerous instructional videos. The time slips by in study as progress inches along. But can any of them compare to the one-on-one conversations that bring about a greater understanding and a deeper sense of knowledge? In an instant the third eye opens and one wakes to a new light. In an instant, clarity, whereas before only confusion from merely scratching the surface.

A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study. –Chinese Proverb

Consider this Chinese proverb and how relates to all the virtues.

  • Prudence: Solomon said if you walk with the wise, you become wise (Proverbs 13:20). There is a power in having a mentor.
  • Temperance: We can make it a practice of having more meaningful conversations. We can spend less time talking about the weather and trivialities of current events.
  • Justice: This is the path of righteousness. Here we become better individuals and in turn improve the society around us.
  • Courage: To actively enter these conversations, we have to be bold. Not arrogant, but willing to expose our own inadequacies and learn from those farther along the path.
  • Faith: Can you see it? The destination up ahead? Visualize it and realize that you too can have this wisdom?
  • Hope: Dreams become reality, only if we pursue them and put in the work.
  • Charity: Freely they impart their knowledge to us. Freely we should do the same in return.

 

We can win in life through these virtues, and it starts with wisdom.

Preemptive Strike

Prudence 12/23/2019

You would be clever to stop a quarrel before it goes too far. You would be wise to never get in that quarrel in the first place.

A clever person can see that he is out of shape and then takes the necessary steps to get back into shape. It is not easy, but it goes a long ways in preventing future health problems. A wise person knows that it is much easier to stay fit than it is to become fit. Oh, that I was wise when I was younger.

I have had my share of problems. I have spent a good deal of my adult years trying to solve the problems I created for myself as a youth. I have tried to be clever in my solutions. With most problems, the key was to minimize the damage and solve it as painlessly as possible. It doesn’t always work, but it is better than allowing the problem to escalate.

I have saved myself a lot of money by getting out of debt as quickly as possible. But some of that debt, i.e. student loans, I held onto for way too long. Along the way, third parties have given me clever solutions to relieve that burden. But no matter how clever the scheme, there was always a catch. It would sound like a wise choice for me, but it was really clever for them to be the holders of that debt. What I don’t remember is anybody giving me the truly wise advice of not getting into that debt in the first place. How much more money would I have had if I knew the costs of that loan before I got it? It is too late for me to change the past on that one, but I can shape the future for my son when he is old enough.

A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it. –Albert Einstein

I always saw Einstein’s quote as too simple. Of course, it is better to avoid problems. Why would one of the smartest people to walk on this planet say something so simple? Shouldn’t wisdom be complex? Shouldn’t we overthink things a little more?

The missions with the greatest success rates are the simple ones. They are easy to understand and execute. Bog them down with too much complex variables, and they will fail. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Keep it simple and reduce the amount of potential problems. Einstein understood this, because he was a master of solving problems. You could be a master at solving problems too, or you could find a way to avoid as many as possible. Choose wisely.

The Two Spectrums of Habit

Prudence 11/11/2019

They are rock solid pillars of their communities. They have found a formula for victory, and they do not deviate from it. They have studied the works of others. From their studies, they have emulated the successful and discarded the waste. They have built foundational habits tailored to optimize their performance. They are the wisest of men.

The stupidest of men have also built some stunning habits. Habits that are so strong they will never be able to break them. They keep repeating the same patterns of mediocrity, which has time and again failed them. But rather than make a change, they persist in their destruction. They will never learn and will continue to be the stupidest of men.

Keep an eye on your habits. If they are not helping you to succeed, then break them as soon as you can. If not, those habits will become a powerful force in your life, leading to your destruction. Find what works and then build on it. Remove the garbage.

Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change. –Confucius

Don’t be an idiot!