You can’t walk right with two different shoes on

live-walk-shoes-wisdom_1170x350

I went on a walk a few days ago. It was such a beautiful day outside, so I didn’t want to do my two miles on the treadmill. I wanted to be out in the sunshine. And it was beautiful. Blue skies. Puffy clouds. Whispering wheat. But something wasn’t quite right. I just couldn’t figure out what it was.

Yup. Crocs. Just like these. ... Not.

Yup. Crocs. Just like these. … Not.

One mile into my walk, I realized that my right toe was rubbing on the front of my shoe. Now, you avid walkers will probably be cross with me, but I usually wear Crocs when I’m out on my walks. They’re comfortable, and while they don’t really provide any ankle support, I’m not running.

But that morning, my right foot seemed to have grown several sizes. My left foot was fine. But my right toes were rubbing the front of my right shoe, and my right heel was hanging off the end. I was puzzled. But, stubborn as usual, I finished my two miles. And when I got back to the house, I pulled my Crocs off and compared them.

Yep. The right Croc was about three sizes smaller than the left.

The rest of the story? My mom and I both have a pair of tan-colored Crocs, but Mom usually keeps hers in her closet. Well, she’d left her pair out on the porch a few days earlier. When she took them back to her closet, she took one of hers and one of mine.

You guys may laugh at me, but one of the first thoughts that came to me was Ephesians 5:15, which says, “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.” That word live actually communicates the concept of walking. So basically, it’s saying that a Christ-follower should be careful how he/she walks through life.

Life is full of traps and tricks and enemies just waiting for the opportunity to ensnare us. It’s full of awesome things too, but as a Christ-follower, we need to have the wisdom to know the difference. And that’s great to say. Be wise. Live wisely. Make the wise choice. But what does that mean practically?

Frankly, it means you need to make sure your shoes are the same size. Wearing two different-sized shoes can make you walk funny, which might hurt your ankles or knees, which will hurt your legs, which hurt your back, which hurt your shoulders. You get the point. You also run the risk of tripping because your steps aren’t consistent.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Our own path is our security blanket, so that when God lets us down, we still have a backup.[/su_pullquote]

Maybe that’s a silly example, but think about how we live. With one foot, we stay on the path that God has laid out for us. With the other foot, we break our own ground because even though we say we trust God, we’re really trusting ourselves instead. Our own path is our security blanket, so that when God lets us down, we still have a backup. But your walk isn’t consistent.

So check your shoes today. Are they the same size? Are you limping and stumbling down the road trying to do it God’s way and your way at the same time? Well, stop it. It doesn’t work, and it only causes more trouble for you down the road.

Be wise about how you walk through life. You can’t rely on yourself and rely on God at the same time. You’ve got to choose one.

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Even masters never stop learning

Have you ever seen the work of a master artist? I don’t know a lot about art, and I know even less about painting, but it’s one of the arts that takes my breath away. I would watch the Joy of Painting for hours, just marveling at how Bob Ross could take a paint brush and some colors and transform a blank canvas into a gorgeous landscape (happy little trees and all their friends included).

What’s really amazing to me is that the masters I know understand that they don’t know everything. The true masters realize that they always have something new to learn. Since we’re talking art, let’s talk about Michelangelo. No, not the Ninja Turtle. The artist. He’s known for a few minor, insignificant things like the statue of David (the one missing the arms) and the Sistine Chapel. No, he’s not really well known.

Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Michelangelo is one of the greatest artists of all time. Yet, one of the sketches he was working on late in his 80s had a phrase written on it: “I am still learning.” Imagine. Michelangelo, one of the greatest, most accomplished, most recognized artists in all history, and as far as he was concerned, he was still a student.

Chapelle_sixtine_plafondToday’s verses are Proverbs 9:8-9.

So don’t bother correcting mockers;
they will only hate you.
But correct the wise,
and they will love you.
Instruct the wise,
and they will be even wiser.
Teach the righteous,
and they will learn even more.

I do believe there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom, but if your search for either of them is grounded in God’s Word, you can’t go wrong. And it’s good to have both, because the Bible often says having both is best. But the best indication of a wise person is that they’re teachable.

Being teachable can be tough. Face it, learning stuff is hard work, and for independent thinkers who like to do things their own way, following class instructions or a teacher’s syllabus can be very frustrating. But for many things in life, there really is only one way, and you have to learn it somewhere.

For a minute, just put yourself in Michelangelo’s shoes (or sandals or whatever people back then wore). This man had painted detailed imagery across the walls and ceilings of a giant cathedral. He’d carved incredible statues and sculptures that retain their priceless value even today. If anyone could have pushed back his chair and declared himself all-knowing on a subject, it was him. But did he do that? No! He declared that he was still learning.

So if a master painter like Michelangelo could be okay with still learning, why can’t we be okay with it too? Is there some great looming deadline hanging over our heads where we need to reach omniscience–or at least subject matter expert status? If there is, it’s a bad idea. You can know a lot about a lot of things, but you’ll never know everything.

Sorry. That’s just the way it works. You will never stop finding things you don’t know, but you can stop learning.

You don’t have to keep learning. You are perfectly free to shut your brain off and glide through life on the accumulated knowledge you built up in high school and college. It’s your choice whether or not to learn. But let’s make one fact very clear: Just because you decide to stop learning doesn’t mean you’ll automatically have all the answers. In fact, you’ll probably find that you have fewer answers than before.

And I’m not talking about being a professional student. There is such a thing as too much education. But don’t ever get it in your head that you know it all, because the moment you do, God will send a lesson your way to bring that ego down a few notches.

Embrace the fact that you don’t know everything. Then look for lessons to learn everywhere you go. You can choose to stop learning if you want, but why would you?

Want to be wise? Want to have knowledge? Be willing to keep learning long after you think you’ve already got the answers. You’ll be surprised by what you don’t know and by how much more you still have to learn. That’s what it means to be a master.

Running for home base, Manhattan, KS

Make up your mind and say what you mean

Have you ever met someone who always says something different than what they mean? Maybe it’s because they’re afraid of confrontation. Or maybe they’re not good at communicating. But either way you can never trust what they say because they never tell you what they mean.

I’m pretty passionate about communicating. That was my degree, but I think I cared a lot about it before I got my degree. I think 99.9% of problems in our lives can be avoided if we’d just talk to each other, but you’d be shocked to know how few people actually talk. Oh, people say things all the time. But there’s a big difference between talking and speaking.

Running for home base, Manhattan, KS

Running for home base, Manhattan, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 14:3.

A fool’s proud talk becomes a rod that beats him,
but the words of the wise keep them safe.

I think there’s a fear among Christ-followers that being too direct about anything will make us come off as overbearing or unattractive. And there’s some truth to that. I know direct people who don’t think about how they sound or how they’ll be perceived, and most of the time they come off as loud or abrasive. And, honestly, in most instances they come off as ignorant—just people spouting off because they don’t know better.

That’s the last thing any Christ-follower should want. But the opposite of direct is just as unattractive.

Do you know wishy-washy Christ-followers? Those people who are sort of weak-kneed, who will agree to anything just so they don’t rock the boat.

Whether you’re talking about something out of the Bible that God says or just a common sense part of life in general, people appreciate directness. Not rudeness. But direct and rude aren’t the same. People just think they are because so many times direct people are just plain rude about it.

Say something is going on at work that you don’t agree with and somehow you end up in the middle (because you’re just blessed). You have a choice on how you’re going to handle it. If you’re a Christ-follower, you have a responsibility to stand up for what is right, but you also have a responsibility to speak the truth in love. There’s that direct-without-being-rude concept I mentioned above.

Or, you can sit back and nod and smile and be overall noncommittal. That’s easy. Seriously, it is, especially if you don’t like conflict. There’s nothing easier in the world than to sit back in your chair and not participate in the conversation at all.

And maybe in some circumstances, that’s the best way to handle it. But if there’s something going on that you know is wrong, don’t you feel like you need to step in and stop it? If that’s the case, how do you do it without being rude? Do you waver and quaver all over the place?

You can, but nobody’s going to listen to you.

It’s like going into a fast food restaurant and trying to order a meal without telling the order-taker what you want. Have you ever tried that? Try it. Go into a McDonald’s and order something without telling the person at the counter what you want. They’ll look at you like you’re crazy. Or they’ll lose patience with you. Or they’ll ignore you.

None of that is what you want. You have to be direct. You have to know what you want, and you have to be brave enough to just say it straight out, without being rude about it.

First, make up your mind. Know for sure what you’re talking about. If you’re weighing in on a situation that you don’t understand, leave the room. Or shut your mouth. If you don’t know enough about the topic to be discussing it, just be quiet and claim ignorance. Know enough to know when to keep your mouth shut.

Secondly, don’t beat around the bush. Just say it. Don’t use big words to make yourself sound smarter. Don’t use phrases to make yourself sound experienced. People respond better to short words used well than to long words and phrases used to inflate their speech. Most people can see right through inflated language.

Thirdly, be humble. Don’t sit there and act like you know everything. Don’t scoff at people or roll your eyes. Be respectful. Be real. Be open. Be honest. Be kind.

If you litter your words with phrases that don’t mean anything or jargon from your industry, those are big red flags that tell everyone you’re compensating for something.

So say what you mean. Be direct about it, but maintain your sense of respect and humility. Don’t waste their time or your time filling your speech with words that don’t matter or analogies that don’t make sense.

If you know what you’re talking about, if you’ve made up your mind, and if you speak clearly and concisely without trying to impress anyone, guess what happens? You’ll impress people. And you’ll become someone people know is worth listening to.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Being nice isn’t enough

Sometimes I read Proverbs, and they don’t sound right. Like the writer took two completely unrelated sentences and joined them together with a comma and coordinating conjunction and expected people to get the point. But as a grammar fiend, it irks me because compound sentences are supposed to be composed of two closely related sentences. And many times verses out of Proverbs feel like they’ve been mashed together.

But something occurred to me this morning. God knows grammar rules. So if a verse out of Proverbs sounds mashed together and unrelated, I’m not reading it right. Maybe that sounds like common sense to you, but it was something of a revelation to me.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 16:21.

The wise are known for their understanding,
    and pleasant words are persuasive.

See what I mean by two sentences that don’t really fit? If I had been writing this sentence, it would sound something like this: “The wise are known for their understanding, and people ask their advice.” Or something like that. Because being known for understanding and persuading with pleasant words don’t sound related at all.

Or do they?

I was having a conversation with a friend last night in regards to someone she knows who is a very persuasive person … in a mean way. She’s apparently one of those types who can launch into a conversation with a particular type of assertive, engineered cruelty designed to get her exactly what she wants. And she’s good at it. She can browbeat anyone within an inch of their lives until they give in and give her what she’s asking for.

Talent? Maybe. Because I couldn’t do that. I make myself sick when I have to confront people at work about doing something for me that they’re supposed to do anyway. I can’t imagine calling someone up and screaming at them until they break.

But when I read this verse today, the part about pleasant words being persuasive caught my attention. Pleasant words are nice, sure, but persuasive? Most of the time when I need something and try to be pleasant about it, I don’t end up persuading anyone.

But here’s where the very related first sentence in that compound construction above comes into play.

Wisdom. Understanding.

Pleasant words by themselves aren’t enough. Pleasant words wielded by someone with understanding? Now that’s a dangerous combination.

Think about it.

If you have wisdom, if you can understand someone, you can communicate with them on every level. Body language. Vocal tone. Understanding means you “get people.” And if you get people, you know how to talk to them. You don’t have to scream. You don’t have to insult or browbeat or attack.

Now I’m not talking about manipulation. I’m talking about communicating. So many times in our world, we don’t communicate with each other. We form preconceived notions about other people so that when they come and ask us for something, we write them off or we dismiss them because we think we know what they want already. Maybe you do. But maybe you don’t.

In the corporate culture where I work, it’s essential to get along with people, but it’s also essential to get information from people. If people around me don’t do their jobs, if they don’t get me the information I need, I can’t do my work. I suspect that many of you who are reading this are in the same position. Well, how do you get what you need from other people who’ve already made up their minds about you?

Get to know them. Understand them. Find out what’s important to them, what matters to them, what drives them. And when you understand that, you can communicate with them on a different level. You can explain what you need, why you need it, why it matters to you, and why it should matter to them.

That’s not manipulation. That’s communication. That’s understanding the people you’re working with. That’s giving the people you work with a window into who you are. And when you can understand people on that level, you don’t have to resort to screaming and threats. You can be pleasant.

Wisdom and pleasant words are powerful tools. They are persuasive, yes, but implementing them at the same time will make a huge difference in your work environment. Because the wiser you become and the more pleasant you become, the more people will like you. And the more you’ll have a chance to help make a difference in their lives.

And that’s more important than getting your way any day. But if you use wisdom and pleasantness together, you might just get both.

Apricot buds

Pleasant words are persuasive

When you know something is right and you know others need to change their thinking about a situation or a circumstance, how do you convince them? There are a couple of ways to do it. You can nag, but personally I don’t find that avenue useful at all, since nagging spurs me to ignore whoever is talking. You can lecture. You can hit people over the head with your points, metaphorically of course. But I haven’t seen that any of those options really work.

If the goal is to convince someone to change their mind, you can’t change their mind for them; you have to convince them that it’s worth doing and then step back and let them make the choice.

Apricot buds

Apricot buds - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 16:21.

The wise are known for their understanding, and pleasant words are persuasive.

I had to write a number of persuasive papers and speeches all throughout my school years, and while I didn’t really enjoy doing them, I know I learned a lot about persuading people. The one speech that stands out in my memory is a persuasive speech I gave in a college class about why our university needed to switch food service providers.

I gave a lot of good points, and I listed all the facts. And I put up lots of pictures of food. Like pizza. And hamburgers. By the end of the speech, the whole class was ready to agree with me just because they were so hungry they wanted to go eat lunch!

So I contrast that speech with the caucus I attended for the last presidential race. I wrote a funny, stupid blog post about it on a funny, stupid blog I started years and years ago and haven’t had time to update. But it was mainly an experience where a lot of old people gathered and lectured on the merits of their respective candidates, some with fervor verging on religious. I hadn’t felt so harangued since the last time I was in a Baptist church, and instead of being persuaded to vote for any of them, I was put off entirely. I still voted, but I actually ended up voting for the representative who was the most professional and didn’t scream at us.

This verse in Proverbs says that pleasant words are persuasive. It sort of echoes Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer deflects anger.” There’s something about being pleasant that encourages people to talk to you, to listen to you. Maybe it’s a lack of pleasant people around, but if you can maintain a pleasant tone and attitude you’re far more likely to have a good conversation with someone, no matter if you’re trying to convince them of something or not.

So can you be pleasant and still persuade people? I think so.

The difference is your perspective. Because unpleasant people try to change the way other people think by beating them to death with their words, but pleasant people understand how other people think. If you want to convince someone to change their mind, you have to let them make the choice. Otherwise, they aren’t changing their mind; they’re just trying to get you off their back.

And let’s face it: getting in people’s faces about any topic isn’t attractive. Yelling and shouting and being offensive about any topic doesn’t make me want to agree with you; it makes me want to get away from you.

Now, are there circumstances where certain levels of righteous indignation is necessary? I think so. There are some issues where passionate speech is needed, but speech can still be passionate without being unpleasant.

Pleasant words are attractive. Pleasant people are attractive. Pleasant people are refreshing to be around and are uplifting on bad days. Pleasant people are just fun. They’re the people you go to when you’re down or when you’re discouraged about something or when you’re confused and need advice. You don’t go running to some obnoxious Bible thumper when you need direction, do you? If you do, that’s fine, but generally that’s not my preferred course of action. I run to the people I like to talk to anyway.

It doesn’t matter what topic you’re discussing. Just be nice about it and remember that it’s not your job to change other peoples’ hearts or minds. That’s something God does. You just be pleasant and use pleasant words, because in our selfish, idolatrous world (and even our mean, unfriendly Church) pleasant words are persuasive enough.

Draw wisdom from the wise but leave the plans to God

Getting advice is a good thing. It’s a good idea to surround yourself with wise counselors because you never know when you’re going to run into a situation that you’ve never experienced before. But just because you’ve never experienced it doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t. And getting their opinion on how to handle the situation is invaluable, especially if whatever decision you have to make will affect more people than just yourself.

Everyone has advisors. Everyone has teachers and parents and friends who they listen to. Even in film. Luke Skywalker had Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi and the dubious influence of Han Solo. Jack Bauer has Chloe O’Bryan. Dr. House has his team of diagnosticians in training, although he really only keeps his own counsel.  Maybe Dr. House is a bad example.

Having people you trust around you is important, and having people you trust who are experienced with life is even more important. Because you can draw from their wisdom. It makes no sense to fumble through life and make the same mistakes other people have made and suffer the same consequences someone else has. Because all you have to do is ask someone who went through the same thing so you can know how to avoid the same pitfalls.

Todays’ verse is Proverbs 19:20-21.

20 Get all the advice and instruction you can,
      so you will be wise the rest of your life.
 21 You can make many plans,
      but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.

Get as much advice and instruction as you can. Surround yourself with wise people and learn from them. Learn from their success. Learn from their failure. Learn the right direction to travel and learn how to keep going, whether you lose everything or whether you gain everything (because either one can be devastating).

Get wisdom and then live a wise life.

Even the President has a cabinet of subject matter experts who he turns to when a situation exceeds his understanding. So why don’t we? Because when troubles come our way (if they haven’t already swept you off your feet, they will), we need the advice and support of our closest friends who have already been through the same struggle. And if you listen to their advice and do what they suggest, you have a good chance of surviving whatever circumstance you find yourself in.

I’m making the assumption that our counslors and advisors are believers, students of Scripture, seeking God actively in their life. If you want to live a successful, godly life, that’s the kind of counselor you need (and that’s the kind of counselor you need to be).

Now, that all being said, our focus needs to turn to verse 21. I think it’s funny that it is included in today’s passage because it’s actually a separate thought. Proverbs is full of short little one-liners. Many of them, I can imagine some little merchant saying or some grandma while she sits and darns socks. If you’ve ever watched Fiddler on the Roof, you can appreciate the value of a good (or even a not-so-good) proverb.

But verse 21 is an interesting reminder that no matter how much good advice you get, God’s purpose and plan will remain the same. And no matter how much wisdom we accumulate, God’s wisdom is still higher. And we can plan and plan and plan until our whole lives are just one big step-by-step process, but God is the one with the real master plan and if your plan doesn’t fit with His, your plan has to change. That’s the definition of a master plan.

By surrounding yourself with wise counselors who are familiar with biblical truth, you can gain wisdom and know how to handle the rough situations that life throws at you. But remember that no matter how wise you think you have become, God still knows more than you do.

And when it comes down to it, I would rather follow God’s plan than my own.