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!

Be the Axe

Prudence 10/14/2019

Ever try to chop wood with a dull blade? You can get it done, but it is not easy. I have been chopping a lot of wood lately, and it has got me thinking about this tool.

The purpose of a good tool is to get a job done and to do it efficiently. A dull axe is like using a 3G phone today. You can eventually get where you want to go, but it is going to take you a while. And the whole time you are waiting for it to load up, you are going to know that things could be a lot better. In a world of sharp axes, your 3G phone is dull.

We are similar to that axe. We can be sharp, or we can be dull. When you are sharp, you get things quick. You are efficient and productive. But when you are dull, you are slow and inefficient.

To take a dull axe and make it sharp takes time. The latest method I tried using began with a metal file. I filed the edge of the axe down until I could no longer see any chips along the blade. When I was satisfied with the edge, I began to use a smooth stone. By the time I was done, my sharpened axe was an efficient chopping machine. My cuts were deeper, and my work went by quicker.

Like the axe, to become sharp in life takes time. You have to slowly and methodically remove the imperfections. In the beginning, like the metal file, you are shaving away the big chunks through your own education. You will get sharper as you go, but you will still be rough. But once your foundational work is done, you can get that whet stone out and start honing yourself to a fine edge. The whet stone is trial and error. This can’t be taught in books. You live and you learn.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe. –Abraham Lincoln

Feel the Pain, Make the Change

Let us take a moment to think what is painful in our lives. Is the pain physical? What about mental or emotional?

By nature, we are conditioned to move away from pain. Touch something hot once, and if the pain is severe enough, chances are that you will be more careful around that object in the future. The same with eating things that do not agree with you. It only takes one occasion before it is etched permanently into your mind.

When in a painful situation you have to make a choice. Are you willing to live with it? If not, then you need to start thinking. You need to figure out how to remove the pain from your life. Once you can identify the source of the pain and its remedy, you can improve the quality of your life.

A year ago, I had a lot of pain. Most of it was due to poor physical fitness. Though I may have been deemed normal by many of today’s standards, I was not happy with it. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a person on the downhill. Just the act of putting on my socks would leave me breathless as I struggled to reach the end of my toes. My joints hurt and the chronic pain in my back was getting worse every day. For me, this pain of poor fitness was not only physical but emotional as well.

I had to make a change, and it began with the simple act of thinking. What could I do differently in my life to remove, or in my case reduce, this pain? I had to become more consistent in my exercise. I simply missed too many workouts. After work, I was too tired. The solution: exercise in the morning before work. But as many people know, exercise is not enough. The diet needed to change too. I had to stop being lazy about the things I ate and eat with a healthy purpose. Just the simple daily habit of moving more every day and being aware of what I put in my body had an amazing effect. Such an effect, that much of the pain of poor physical fitness has been relieved.

What is the purpose of wisdom if it is not to improve the quality of life? Most of us would like a better life, and we need wisdom to achieve it. This wisdom is acquired by thinking about what it takes to get us there, finding the tools we need, and then working daily toward that purpose. It doesn’t matter whether your pain is financial, professional, or even just from being in a bad relationship. You can think your way into better choices that will improve the quality of your life.

The Frailty of Life

We all know that death could come for us at any moment. But we usually don’t give it much thought, until we, or the ones close to us, near that threshold. When we are not mindful of death, when it feels far away, we tend to find importance in things that are really not very important at all. But when we are at the gate and the time is near, suddenly the time becomes more precious and a sense of urgency to live becomes paramount.

No one knows when the time will come, but all could live in a way that when the end fast approaches there would be little left to do. Even if the mission was left unfinished, you could leave knowing you did all that you could. You could leave knowing a moment wasn’t wasted or a transgression wasn’t rectified. We could go in peace from this life into our next without a regret.

Show me that the good in life does not depend upon life’s length, but upon the use we make of it; also, that it is possible, or rather unusual, for a man who has lived long to have live too little. –Seneca, Letter #49: On the Shortness of Life.

This was one of the thoughts I originally had when I started writing for my son. That if I was to go before he grew up, he would have this as his legacy. I wanted him to know the treasure of wisdom and the value of searching for it. I wanted him to know the path I have travelled in my own quest to find it. Often I went down the wrong road. I had to learn to hard way. But an easy to find treasure really isn’t a treasure. You have to dig for it, often into the depths of the hell of your own making to find it. My dream is that he will find the path and then stick to it, not forsaking it for an easier way. If I can’t be there for the journey, maybe the writing I leave behind will help. Maybe it will even help others.


For those who loved one is nearing the threshold, my heart is breaking for you. I can’t imagine your pain, but I can see your bravery during this time. Remember, death is not an end but a gateway into the next life.