If you memorize only one passage from all of Proverbs, it should be Prov 4:20-27. This passage outlines the process of change. It shows us how to get unstuck. It describes how wisdom works in us.
Ages ago, I defined wisdom as a continual striving to know and do what the Bible says. We’ve considered at length what it looks like for us to travel this path of wisdom; now we learn how wisdom travels its path in us.
Mark this formula:
Wisdom comes in the ears, through the heart, and out the fingertips.
Wisdom isn’t so much about what you do as it is about who you are. Miss this fact, and you’ll jump to chapters 10-31 and read each proverb moralistically (contrary to the expectation set up in Prov. 1-9). So Prov. 10:1 becomes about keeping your parents happy. Prov. 11:22 appears to mean that beauty is only skin deep. And Prov. 25:21-22 encourages you to be nice to people and wait out your revenge.
Such approaches are not completely wrong. But when we understand the process of change—and especially the need for wisdom to land in our hearts before taking off into our actions—we see the wise instruction of Prov. 10-31 for what it is: the description of redeemed and transformed people. Not a list of behaviors that win approval from God or men.
To illustrate: We have a problem with water in our basement. We fixed a downspout. We re-routed a gutter. We installed a removal/drain system. We’ve guided the water’s behavior in the right direction. And we’ve reduced the flood to a puddle, but we haven’t yet solved the problem.
We need to dig. We’ll have to remove the deck so we can re-grade the soil beneath it. We need to get to the foundation so we can brace it against the buckling pressure.
That’s how wisdom works. It comes from outside and gets under your skin and into your heart. It penetrates the depths of your character and beliefs. Then it works its way out into your actions. It comes in the ears, through the heart, and out the fingertips.
Over the next 3 weeks, we’ll walk through Prov. 4:20-27 and explore each piece of the formula in greater depth.