The Top Button

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Throughout July we’re taking an in-depth look at Proverbs, the Bible’s one-of-a-kind book about our never-ending need for wisdom.

Lexia Campbell is a young mission worker who grew up in the congregation I served.    

She was on an overseas trip when she learned that her father had taken his own life.  The ache and the yearning that she had always had for her father’s love was now poised to become a wound that was never going to heal. 

Shortly before Lexia began a long-term mission assignment to a Sri Lankan village that had been devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, she stood in our pulpit and movingly described the “tsunami of the heart” that had threatened to drown her emotionally. 

Where did Lexia find hope?

She remembered a simple illustration.  When you’re buttoning your shirt, you always want to button the top button first.  If the top button is fastened correctly, all the other buttons will line up.  Lexia knew that if she began each day by holding on to the love, the presence, and the power of her Father in heaven, the chaos of the rest of her existence would ultimately come into alignment.

We don’t have to read very far into the book of Proverbs to encounter its “top button.”  In the seventh verse of chapter one we read, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…”  Two verses from the end of the book we find, “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30) 

In between, fearing God is a recurring theme.  Proverbs suggests that if we get this one thing right everything else in our existence will come into alignment. 

But for many of us, this seems crazy.  Why in the world should we fear the God who claims to love us unconditionally?

As we noted last spring, the fear of the Lord is a call to a deep-seated respect for God – an appropriate fear that will lead us to make wise decisions concerning the conduct of our lives.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)  Scripture never once tells us to fear Satan.  We are not to fear evil.  There is no need to be terrified of what will happen to us when we die. 

But spiritual health is all about cultivating an appropriate fear of God – something not to be confused with spiritual paralysis or a sense of servile terror.  “Fearing God” means choosing to take God seriously.

One reason we do that is that God, for want of a better word, is dangerous

So is the electricity that comes into my house.  If my power goes off because a limb has fallen onto a power line, I would never say to my wife, “Don’t worry, I’ll grab the metal rake, reach up, and take care of it.  I’ll be back in ten minutes.”  In all likelihood I would never be back at all.  It’s not that electricity somehow has it in for me.  But a wise person must cultivate an ongoing fear and respect for the power of an electric current.   

The ultimate aim of Proverbs is to convince us that a wise person must cultivate an ongoing fear and respect for the reality of God. 

Here’s the simplest way to put it:  There is a God.  And it’s not you

Nair, the hair removal product, is currently running ads with this slogan: “Worship yourself; the world will follow.”  That advice is not calculated to elevate our experience of either wisdom or happiness.  

Years ago one of the members of our church gradually stopped attending worship.  I asked if I had contributed to his departure in any way.  There was a long pause.  Then he told me something that was hard to hear, and which I have never forgotten.  “Glenn, there have been moments in which it seems that you don’t take God very seriously.” 

What did he mean by that, exactly?  He went on, “Think about the last time you served me communion.”  

That morning we had invited our worshippers to come forward to receive the bread and the juice.  As he walked to the spot where I was holding the cup, I remembered that he was on my list of things to do.  I leaned forward and said, “Hey, that meeting on Tuesday night has been rescheduled.”

What was I doing?  I was multi-tasking.  I was using a sacred moment to get a little administrative work done on the side. 

But God will not be managed or multi-tasked, nor will he be reduced to just an item on my list of things to do.  I had lost my sense of fear and wonder at being in the presence of a God who refuses to be taken for granted.

Proverbs, from beginning to end, tells it straight: 

If we button the top button every morning by remembering that God is God and we are not, our days will go infinitely better.

And we will have taken the first crucial step on the path to becoming wise.