Becoming a Brighter Person in the New Year
Scripture: Proverbs 4:18-27: The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free from perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.
Introduction and Theme: Our Paths (Verses 18-19): I love watching the sunrise. When you walk onto the back porch or the balcony of your apartment, the sky is still black. Gradually the darkness begins to lessen – from black to gray – and you can begin to make out the landscape. Over the trees or the ocean, you see a growing sense of illumination, things become clearer, and then suddenly there it is—the orange ball rising up in the east. As it rises higher in the sky, the world become brighter until we have to put on sunglasses. It warms the earth. It regulates the thermostat of our planet. It keeps climbing for the next several hours until finally it’s in the zenith of the sky. According to Proverbs 4, that’s a picture of the godly life. In New Testament terms, that’s the picture of the Christian life. When we come to the Lord Jesus Christ we emerge out of darkness, and our lives grow brighter and brighter. We rise higher and higher, until we’re living in full noon. There is progress. Our lives should be sunnier with each passing year. Our spirits should be higher. The path of the just is like the morning sun that shines brighter and brighter until the noonday.
1. Our Ears (Verse 20-22): And now the writer of Proverbs 4 is going to take us on a little tour of our anatomy. He says, first of all, we should be increasingly wise about our ears.My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them go out of your sight, keep them without your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. God is speaking to us here about listening to His Word. It’s simply impossible to be a growing and healthy Christian without regular daily input from the Scripture.
2. Our Hearts (Verse 23): If we want to make progress in the Christian life and be like the rising sun, we have to guard our hearts. Verse 23: Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. This is talking about our affections and commitments. The older translations say, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out it spring the issues of life.” God occupies two thrones. He sits on the throne of highest heaven, and He wants to reign supreme in the throne of your heart (see Isaiah 57:15). Only one reality should reside at the center of your heart—the Lord Jesus Christ. There are no worthy rivals. It’s easy to fall in love with other things—with ourselves or our habits or our possessions or our lusts. If other things occupy the throne of your heart, you’ll be worried about them all the time, for they don’t really belong there and they may topple down at any moment. But when Christ is at the center of your heart, He occupies the throne that is rightly His with utter security, and the worries of life are diminished by His grace.
3. Our Mouths (Verse 24): Keep your mouth free from perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Have you ever heard someone say, “He’s a born liar.” Well, we’re all born liars. We’re all born sinners. That’s why we’re so good at it. But we can’t deceive God. He demands honest and purity from our lips. And we should be getting better and better at honoring God with our lips.
4. Our Eyes (Verse 25): Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Our entertainment system is ruining our eyesight, in a moral sense. I’ve never stood in the pulpit and told people what to watch and not watch on television or in the movies. I’ve tried to preach biblical principles and then trust the Holy Spirit to help them make specific application in life. But I want to take a moment today to give you my own testimony. It’s a general rule of my life that I just do not watch movies that are rated “R.” I also don’t watch television shows that are in that same category. Sometimes there’s a movie I’d like to see, but if it’s rated “R” I just bypass it, and so far I’ve not suffered any ill effects from the omissions. You don’t have to share my standards about this, but it bothers me to hear about what some Christians are watching. We are engaging in entertainment that violates our own moral code as Christians. Not long ago, I was on an overseas flight, and from my seat I could see the screens of a lot of my fellow passengers who were sitting in front of me. Every seat had its own television screen. I just kept my head down and read and studied, but I glanced up at some point and here were all these screens—maybe twenty of them within eyeshot. Most of them were watching a popular television show that highlights nudity. I had never seen this show, but I was sad at how sensual and degraded it was. Do you know what I did? I just had to do what this verse says: Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. As time goes by, we should be strong and stronger in maintaining healthy Christian eyesight.
5. Our Feet (Verses 26-27): Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. Jesus used the same visualization in Matthew 5, when He talked about the broad road and the straight and narrow path. This also brings the passage back full circle to the beginning, for verse 18 reminds us, “The path of the just is like the morning sun that shines bright and brighter until the noonday.” Here, then, is the general teaching of this passage. When we follow the Lord, we should be growing, becoming healthier every year, becoming holier step by step, becoming brighter in our personalities and in our spirituality. This should affect every part of us—our ears, our hearts, our mouths, our eyes, our feet. Our paths are like the path of the sun, growing brighter and brighter until we reach the perfect day.
Conclusion: Here’s my question: If the Holy Spirit empowered you, what one thing would make you a better or wiser or brighter person in 2016? What could you do to improve yourself, if enabled by the Spirit? It probably involves changing a habit, doesn’t it? In her book, Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin wrote that habits are the “invisible architecture of daily life.” She said that habits eliminate the need for self-control. While it takes self-control to establish the good habits, once the habit is in place the need for self-control is conserved. Then she made this incredible statement: “Our habits are our destiny. And changing our habits allows us to alter that destiny.” I’m always having to work on my habits, and I have a certain procedure for doing it.
First, I’ll think about it for a while to make sure I really want to change my routine and break a habit or start a habit. I’ve been doing that recently with walking every day. I used to work out every day and go running. And then I started having knee problems and then I just became busier and busier. And walking every day takes time. So in my little prayer notebook, I made a list of things I need to change and one of them said, “Go walking every day.” I thought about it. I prayed about it. Then I had to figure out how to put it into my schedule. Out came my daily agenda. I decided as a rule to go walking right after my morning devotions. This is a major life change for me. For over forty years, I’ve had my devotions and then gone right into my study and preparation time for my sermons. I’ve tried to be very strict about keeping my mornings for nothing but study. But I tried other times of the day and my agenda is too busy in the afternoons. So then one morning I gave it a try. I laced up my walking shoes and headed out the door. I did that for about a week, and then I got behind in deadlines and sermon preparation and I faltered. For several days I didn’t do it. I talked to Katrina about it, and she told me I just had to maintain exercise. So I gave it another start, and the same thing happened. I went for about a week, then I got busy and my walking time somehow dropped off my calendar again. But here’s the key. I’m not going to give up. It takes several attempts and enormous effort to change our habit patterns in life, and you just have to be stubborn enough to keep trying until you do it. Sooner or later, that habit is going to kick in and it’ll be such of part of my regular routine that it’ll take very little self-control to accomplish it.
Now, don’t worry about my walking. I’m simply illustrating the fact that something about you needs to change in the New Year. Something needs to improve. Something needs to advance. You’ve got to think about it, count the cost, write it down, ask God for His help, find someone like your husband or wife or buddy to encourage you, and then keep going after it until your habit or attitude changes in a way that pleases God. You and I can be better people than we are. We can change our habits for the better. We can keep improving.
We don’t want to be like the school teacher I heard about who put in twenty years at the same school and then was passed over for a promotion. Going to the principal, she said, “Why you hire that newcomer over me? I’ve had twenty years of experience.” The principal told her, “No, you’ve not had twenty years of experience. You’ve had one year of experience twenty times. You’ve never grown in your career. You’ve just always stayed with the status quo.”
Let’s keep growing. Let’s keep maturing. Let’s get better with our ears and hearts and mouths and eyes and feet. Let’s make the New Year a year of real progress and praise.
For the path of the just is like the rising sun that shines bright and brighter until it reaches the perfect day.
(The picture at the heading of this blog is sunrise over the Sea of Galilee from the balcony of our hotel. The picture below is my quiet time as the sun came up the next morning in Galilee).