Step 1. Read the instructions.
Step 2. Follow the instructions.
Interestingly, something needs to happen before Step 1. Someone other than you actually has to create the instructions.
Because some helpful souls have chosen to do that, I am able to properly file my taxes, replicate Busia’s poundcake recipe, assemble a variety of furniture, and successfully navigate to a friend’s house for the first time.
But we don’t always like being instructed or being told what to do (or how to do it). And many times we just don’t read.
Any parent can share stories of how well that goes with their little ones (and not so little ones). And many spouses can likely do the same (apparently there is a proper way to load a dishwasher).
Despite not always wanting to be told how to complete a task, today I am thankful for instructions.
There are a host of things I now know how to accomplish because someone took the time to write down or create a video, step by step, explaining how to get from the beginning to the end. And even when the instructions are a little unclear or incomplete, having more guidance is better than none.
- I have (frustratingly) assembled desks, chairs, tables, credenzas, a hall tree and a host of other pieces of furniture over the last month. (Sidenote, can someone please create a strap for your wrist that prevents you from dropping an L shaped allen wrench/hex key? Thanks).
- I’ve cooked and baked with the guidance of hand written notecards, pinterest images, and overly lengthy recipe blogs.
- I’ve prepped and filed taxes, built excel charts and graphs, applied for loans, learned photoshop… the list goes on.
All because someone created instructions.
Perhaps the most important source of instructions I am most thankful for, come from God. This morning I was reminded of a beautiful book of instructions, called Proverbs, and a particular verse was neatly printed at the top of my daily journal.
“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”Proverbs 29:25 NIV
Do you remember the book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”? It was a little book and on every page there was a little sentence of advice. Neither page of advice was necessarily thematically connected to the other, it was just a stream of little tidbits, little instructions for daily life. Proverbs can feel a little like that.
But when you’re reading the Bible, it’s really ridiculously important to keep these two things in mind (1) It’s a book about God, not you. And (2) read it with context.
One verse out of context can be dangerous.
I wouldn’t apply step number 4 for baking poundcake to the process I used when assembling a conference room chair. Just because I like the way Step 4 sounds, doesn’t mean it was intended to be applied in another situation. Nor does it mean it was intended to be used by me at all. And I also shouldn’t skip a step because I don’t like the way it sounds or makes me feel. If I don’t put butter in Busia’s poundcake, I will not end up with poundcake.
What does it mean to read the bible for context? Let’s go back to grade school and imagine you’re writing a book report… who, what, where, when, why. Who is the author and the audience and the time period and the location? What happened before? What happens after? You may find you’re reading instructions. Or you may find you’re reading a historical account.
Let’s go back to that Proverbs verse. What’s going on there?
Solomon wrote Proverbs when he was the king over God’s people. He was the son of King David (yeah the David and Goliath, David). But he was a young king and God spoke to him and asked him what he wanted. Solomon admitted he didn’t know how to lead such a large group of people and he asked God for wisdom; “a discerning heart that knows right from wrong.” God gave him wisdom. Solomon wrote down the wisdom God gave him for leading a nation of people, in the book of Proverbs.
And since the Bible is a book about God we should be asking ourselves what we learn about God. In this verse we learn he wants to be trusted. Additional context is that Solomon is King, meaning he is in charge and there are going to be a lot of people vying for the king’s attention, some with crazy requests, possibly ulterior motives and maybe scary consequences. There are likely real things for him to be afraid of. So when he is making decisions he will have to decide whether to make a choice simply because he is afraid of the people (man) and how they will respond. But God’s wisdom, that he asked for, says to focus on God instead and trust the instructions God has already provided for how to handle all situations. This verse is leadership advice for Solomon.
Does that mean it can’t be leadership advice for us? Does it mean that we should never make decisions because of fear? Wait, what is meant by “safe”? Does that mean from harm? From heartache?
The bible is amazing and at times confusing. Jesus has clear instructions, and other times a parable may be harder for us to relate to and understand what was meant. There are times I’ll walk away with answers, and many times I’ll walk away with more questions.
This is pretty common in the rest of our lives. Have you ever had to read instructions to understand the instructions? Like Google a word or a term or a tool you’ve never heard of before. Or realized you had to call a friend to borrow a tool you don’t own (thanks Dad and Eddie), so that you can follow the instructions properly? That’s ok. The bible can be like that, too.
Don’t give up on God’s instructions. Get a study bible. Get in a bible study. Follow bible teachers not motivational speakers. And build a little toolbox.
Today I am thankful for instructions.
The person who created the bookshelf, wrote the instructions for how to properly assemble it so it holds the intended weight, so it doesn’t fall down… so it can serve its purpose.
God created me. He wrote the operating manual about me. I get to decide whether to follow it as I assemble my life… or not. But I’m here for a purpose, so I’m going to keep reading the manual, and use the proper tools, too.
For those who are interested, here are my three favorite bible tools. I don’t get commissions or kudos or anything from anyone. It’s just the mix of stuff in my toolbox, that I also think is really approachable and not like attending a 400 level philosophy course:
- ESV Translation Study Bible. It’s a legitimate translation from a multitude of scholars, not a paraphrase from one person’s interpretation. That’s important if you’re studying the bible and not just reading it like a novel.
- The Bible Project Videos. Super helpful short videos about every book of the Bible, old and new testament plus some additional topics. Really helpful for connecting the dots, very approachable and easy to understand and great for most age groups.
- Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin – How to Study the Bible with Our Hearts and Minds. I love her writing. She’s not fluffy or dripping with fake sugary platitudes. She’s clear, concise, direct and practical. She teaches you how to read for context, a great skill.