I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps it’s the pessimistic side of my personality rearing its head, but I find it hard to stick to resolutions and end up feeling defeated as a consequence. I suppose I rationalise this by not making them in the first place and then don’t feel so discouraged; however, I’m well aware that this can be quite a defeatist way of living! “If you aim at nothing, you’re bound to hit it”, the saying goes, and I don’t especially want to live by that motto.

Over the past few years, I’ve started the New Year by reading the book of Proverbs, since someone reminded me that it has 31 chapters and January has 31 days. I read Psalms and Proverbs most days as it is, so this resolution stands more chance than most of succeeding. This year I’ve decided to share those musings because the discipline of reading God’s Word is something from which we can all benefit, in my opinion.

I particularly like Proverbs 1 in the Message version, because it brings out the purpose of the book. Any writer knows that the intention of the writing is crucial to judging its success. The book of Proverbs is, we are told:

Written down so we’ll know how to live well and right,
to understand what life means and where it’s going;
A manual for living,
for learning what’s right and just and fair;
To teach the inexperienced the ropes
and give our young people a grasp on reality.
There’s something here also for seasoned men and women,
still a thing or two for the experienced to learn—
Fresh wisdom to probe and penetrate,
the rhymes and reasons of wise men and women. (Prov 1:2-6)

At the start of a New Year, it seems to me that the Bible provides what we need, ‘a manual for living’, teaching both the inexperienced and more mature how to live well for God. We never get so far that we stop learning. Lifelong learning is not just a catchy educational phrase; it’s reality.

Proverbs 1 goes on to tell us, in a nutshell, what wisdom is:
“Start with GOD—the first step in learning is bowing down to GOD; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.” (Prov 1:7). This phrase ( ‘the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’ in the NIV) recurs frequently throughout the book and needs to be our motto for life, not just for 2012! Being wise and learning how to live well is a crucial part of successful living. Wisdom is not just being smart; it’s ‘applied intelligence’, so to speak.

The themes of wisdom and folly (often personified in this book to bring these issues to life) run through the book. There are pithy sayings and one sentence proverbs in abundance, but for now let’s think about how to live wisely and well, in the fear of God.