Thousands of years ago the wisest, wealthiest, and most powerful man of his day compiled a book of pithy and practical insights for living well. Solomon's timeless book of Proverbs provides nuggets of wisdom that are guaranteed to bring success in every area of life.
I have used the term "secrets" to describe Solomon's insights because this wisdom is not available to the casual observer but only to those who search for it as for "hidden treasures" (Proverbs 2:4). Solomon's advice concerning money, marriage, parenting and just about every other life area is really "uncommon sense" because it is contrary to our natural inclinations.
As we look at Solomon's secrets for living well, there are four underlying truths we need to keep in mind.
1. The focus of Proverbs is this life, not the next one.
You can read the entire book of Proverbs without ever learning how to pray, how to share your faith, or how to go to heaven after you die. The emphasis in Proverbs is not the hereafter, but the here and now. God is vitally interested in your success today as well as in eternity.
2. The measure of living well is not money.
Yes, the book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about earning, saving, spending, and investing money. I believe one reason many people are not prospering financially is because they fail to follow God's timeless wisdom about money. If you apply the simple principles of Proverbs, you will have more money to:
• provide for your children's education
• fund a secure retirement
• splurge on enjoyable vacations
• invest in God's eternal work
Yet we need to resist the philosophy of this age that says, "Get all you can, can all you get, and sit on the can." This week I read of a world-famous corporate raider who said, "Money is the best way to keep score." No, Jesus said, life consists of more than our possessions: "For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:25).
3. Living well does not exempt us from problems.
Last Sunday night at our annual "Stump the Pastor" question-and-answer session, one member asked, "Why do Christians seem to have more difficulty in this life than non-Christians?" Behind such a question is the assumption that obedience to God should solve problems, not create more problems. Certainly there is a sense in which that is true. Those who follow God's wisdom will generally experience greater financial, relational, and vocational success than those who do not.
Nevertheless, living well does not guarantee a problem-free existence. The Quaker philosopher Elton Trueblood wrote:
"In many areas the gospel, instead of taking away people's burdens, actually adds to them...Occasionally we talk of our Christianity as something that solves problems, and there is a sense in which it does. Long before it does so, however, it increases both the number and the intensity of the problems."
Jesus promises His followers that they can expect problems in this world. But then He adds, "Take courage, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
Author Philip Yancey tells of the death of his godly father-in-law, whose final years were marked by a disabling illness, the death of one of his daughters, and severe financial pressure. This lifelong Bible teacher began to question some of the truths he had taught through the years. Nevertheless, during the height of his crisis, he mailed a letter to his family outlining the three things he still believed in firmly: Life is difficult. God is merciful. Heaven is sure. In spite of illness, financial loss, and impending death, this stalwart of the faith knew what it meant to both live and die well.
4. The purpose of living well is to glorify God.
God has one overriding purpose in this world: to bring glory to His name. God desires that all of His creation — men, women, children, angels, and demons — understand that He alone is worthy of worship. "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:36).
What does this grandiose theological statement have to do with living well? It means the ultimate aim of living well is not to satisfy ourselves, but to glorify God. Think for a moment about the Israelites, to whom God promised a more satisfying life as a result of their obedience. Notice God's ultimate purpose in rewarding the Israelites:
"See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? (Deuteronomy 4:5-7).
God was saying to Israel, "If you follow My wisdom for living, I will prosper you. But My reason for blessing you will be so that other nations will see the result of your obedience and say, 'What a great God they serve!' "
In the same way, God wants your life to be a demonstration of the benefits of living well. When you follow His wisdom for setting worthwhile goals, handling money, rearing children, and building a strong marriage, it is a win-win situation: You receive the benefits, and God receives the glory! As John Piper has said, "We most glorify God when we are most satisfied in Him."
A few years ago, on April Fool's Day, Gary Hamlin, a Missouri physician, decided that he would become a self-professed "Fool for Christ." He began to do seemingly foolish things. He invested his time and capital in founding a center for troubled teenagers, he gave his services free of charge to a clinic for battered women and children, and he decided to become more involved in missions projects, planning to eventually close his practice and go to Haiti full time as a medical missionary.
Since making that resolve, Hamlin said, "Materialism has lost its value. God was weaning me from the world's attractions. He was showing me His vision for my life. To be a fool for Him every day, but realize how rich I am."
Gary Hamlin knows all about living well. But would Gary be free to dedicate his life to the mission field if
• he had not generated sufficient assets to allow him to make this transition?
• he were encumbered with financial debt that would not allow him to walk away from his job?
• his marriage and credibility had been destroyed by infidelity?
• he lacked the ability to set the necessary short-term goals that would get him to the mission field in the next ten years?
God wants us to master the art of living well so we can be free to experience and accomplish all that He has planned for our lives.
(Adapted from THE SOLOMON SECRETS: 10 Keys to Extraordinary Success from Proverbs by Robert Jeffress, Waterbrook Press, 2002)