Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
Everyone is back to school at this point. We are all getting in the groove of what this school year might bring. I’ve had my fair share of recorded calls from the board of education. I think I must be on every call list available—but that’s ok, it’s better to know than not know. The buses are bringing kids to the Boys and Girls clubs, and it is great to walk in the church right after drop off and hear the hush as kids are diligently working on homework. This time of year, there is still much excitement and newness surrounding the school year.
I was one of those kids that liked school. Well, at least I excelled in school. Particularly, I like history. Learning other cultures, learning patterns in human behaviors that lead to certain things, understanding the whys and the hows behind world events. When I went to college, I majored in history, and I had a lot of fun along the way. I entered new worlds that I didn’t know existed, I dug deep into the research into figures that most people never knew existed. My curiosity ran high, and this allowed me to work to make sense of the things around me.
During my time in college, I really began to deeply appreciate education. I’ve got my awards and degrees that I hang on the wall, but what I got the most from my education was my critical thinking skills. Education, particularly a deep exposure to the humanities, cultivated in me a way of looking at the world and exploring problems and issues that I carry with me today.
Knowing my experience, I am so thankful that we live in a state that is has made a college education accessible to just about any person who doesn’t already have a degree. And as much as my life has been impacted by the traditional college experience, this is also for trade schools. Through these programs, people are learning new trades and exploring education in ways that has not been attainable for many people before. It seems that our state may be in the beginnings of really grasping an idea that education is the key to success.
Education is important, and it makes sense why many view it as the key to success. There have been studies that point to college graduates having better health than non graduates. People with degrees from trade schools and college generally make more money than those without degrees. College graduates are even more likely to report that they are happier.
Without a doubt, education is important, but to be truly successful education alone misses something. Education is great, but it isn’t everything. I want you to know that it kind of hurts me to say that. I went to four years of college, I have masters degree, I’m involved with a post-graduate leadership fellowship right now. Clearly, education is important to me, so it does hurt a little bit to say that education isn’t the key to success. But, I’ll let go of my pride, and I want to share with you what I have found is the key to success.
The key to success in life can be found the writings of a guy named King Solomon called the book of Proverbs. At least, tradition tells us that Solomon wrote Proverbs. Proverbs is a book in the Bible that is about wisdom. In Proverbs we find many sayings and many teachings on wisdom and how to live a good life. Today I want to share with you some of Proverbs that teaches us the key to success in life; in just a few moments we will look at Proverbs chapter 3.
Like many books in the Bible, Proverbs has different sections. Often these different sections will be written by different people, or address different situations or times. If we look at the first nine chapters of Proverbs, we find that they have a very specific context and a very specific purpose. We find this purpose in Proverbs 1:8-9--
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction;
don’t neglect your mother’s teaching;
for they are a graceful wreath on your head,
and beads for your neck.
This first section of Proverbs is parental advice and teaching. We see in this that parents are sitting down with their child to teach them and advise them on how to life a full life. These parents know that there are multitudes of influences out there for their child, and they want to be the active parents who help guide their child into his or her next chapter in life. These are words designed to help grow with this child into adulthood with all the pitfalls and trials. Very clearly, these parents would love to share with their child the key to success.
That brings us to the passage that I want to focus on today: Proverbs 3:5-10. Here the parents give their children a very important key:
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
don’t rely on your own intelligence.
6 Know him in all your paths,
and he will keep your ways straight.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Remember, I said this one’s hard for me. With as much as I value education, with the time and effort that I put into my education, here I see this teaching that we are not supposed to rely on our own intelligence. I know it doesn’t say education is bad, but come on—I am an American, I am supposed to be about finding my way and self reliance. That’s part of the education thing, teaching our children to be self reliant, to be independent, to learn to care for themselves. But here, in proverbs these parents show their child something different. The key is not education and independence, it is trusting in the Lord.
They tell their child, whatever you do, remember to trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t rely on your own intelligence. I think these parents are pretty wise. When you rely on yourself you can get pretty far in life. You can be smart, educated, you can have a good job, a nice family, you can make a lot of money. But the problem is, what do you have when things go bad? What do you have when the stock market crashes? What do you have when your spouse finds someone else? What do you have when your health begins to fail? What do you have when a storm takes your house from you? When you have built up yourself and relied on yourself, what happens when it all falls apart?
This teaching reminds me of a story that Jesus would tell many years after these parents were teaching their child. In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus told a story about two house builders. One build his house on bedrock, meaning he relied on God. The other builder built his house on sand; he relied on only himself. Here’s what Jesus said:
24 “Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock. 26 But everybody who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It fell and was completely destroyed.”
If you rely on yourself you can get far in life; you can build a nice house; but when the storms of life come, it threatens to bring everything down. These wise parents and Jesus know that you will never be successful relying on yourself, you will only find success if you rely on one beyond yourself. The key to success is not independence, it is God-dependence.
This trusting in God thing, is not just something we do in our head or our hearts. The wisdom from Proverbs says to “know God in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight.” If you look at a more literal translation of this passage, we read “in all your ways know God.” Whether its translated ways or paths, these wise parents know that their child will take many roads in life. She may go pursue an education. He may get married and have kids. She may join the military. He may loose all his money in a real estate investment. She may move far away and only see her parents on the holidays. But the wise parents say, whatever your path is, whatever you do in life know God through it all. And if you know God, God will keep your ways straight; God will help show you the good and faithful path.
Then to wrap up this portion of their advise for their child, they give him a glimpse of success, a glimpse of what life is like if he lives God-dependent.
7 Don’t consider yourself wise.
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
8 Then your body[a] will be healthy
and your bones strengthened.
9 Honor the Lord with your wealth
and with the first of all your crops.
10 Then your barns will be filled
and your vats will burst with wine.
11 Don’t reject the instruction of the Lord, my son;
don’t despise his correction.
12 The Lord loves those he corrects,
just like a father who treats his son with favor.
Trust in the Lord, and your body will be healthy. Then they tell their child that whatever he earns, however rich or poor he become in life, that he needs to give some to God. In fact, they tell him to give the first from all of the crops—to give the first that is earned to God. And if you trust the Lord in all you do and in all you are, you will be full and successful. Basically they tell their son, trust in the Lord and your life will be full. Depend on God and you will be successful. The key to success really is God-dependence.
However, there is a small problem with this. When we read this advise from a parent to their child, it makes it sounds like trusting God is a recipe for economic and material success. That if you have enough trust in God, your 401K will be overflowing, your body will remain healthy and strong, all will be well. But all we have to do is to look around the world to see that this is not the case. There are people around the world that trust fully in God, yet they have very little material wealth. In fact, it often seems that some of the poorest people are the ones that have the most faith.
It is here, that I think it might do us some good to keep two things in mind. First, this is advise given from a parent to a child. When we talk with our children, we talk with them in age appropriate ways, in ways to encourage them. You don’t tell your teenager that is about to go to college that she might trust in God and work very hard and still she might loose it all and have nothing to show for it. No, you encourage your children, and tell them that if they remain faithful and work hard they will succeed. I think this might be a little of what is going on with this advice. You don’t want to teach your child something about trusting in God then tell him that it might all fall apart
I also think it is important for us to read this advise along with Jesus’ story about the two builders. Jesus’ story adds some realism, because it acknowledges that the storms of life fall on the faithful and those without faith; the wise and the foolish; the poor and the rich. Jesus’ story tells us that none are immune from the storms and hardships of life. And even if the storm takes away your material possessions, it has nothing to do with your faith in God or how much you trust God in your life.
What we do see in this parental wisdom, is that when you trust in God you will have success because God is with you no matter the circumstances. God dependence is the key to success, because it means that God is with you no matter how you feel, how your health is, or how you financial portfolio looks. God dependence is the key to success, because it means that God is with you and God will lead you. So, who are you trusting for success? Are you trusting in your own worth, your own education, your own being, or are you truly trusting in God.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.