Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake. Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them. Ecclesiastes 10, verses 8 and 9.
Happy Week After Thanksgiving, my friend. The feast is over and the dishes are (hopefully) done. The weekend is gone; the manic shopping focus out of focus for another year. Today, we get back to work; today will find me on an airplane, flying back to work in Minnesota. What do you say after a long weekend of thankful revelry?
How about: be careful. That’s part of what today’s verses is saying.
I think “be careful” could sum up my parents approach to childhood. My mom and dad constantly exhorted me to be careful in everything I did. In some cases, it was way overprotective. I was an extremely cautious child, sometimes afraid of my own shadow. That’s something I learned at home. Mind you, I am not blaming my parents; they did the best they could and did what they thought was right. That and, like everyone, I had choices. Still, I was brought up to always be careful in everything. Don’t play football: you might get hurt. Don’t make waves: you might lose. Don’t take too many risks: they just aren’t worth it. Don’t stand up to the bully: he’s bigger than you. I remember one time my mom and I drove up on a highway entrance ramp just as a semi-truck was flipping over onto its side. She stopped the car and I quickly bolted out the door. My only thought was to get to the cab and help out if I could. I took off at a full sprint but then I heard Mom yelling from behind me: “don’t get hurt! Be careful!” It literally took the wind out of my sails, and I ran up to the cab as the driver was pulling himself out, shaken but unhurt.
Don’t. See the common thread?
My parents didn’t intend to inculcate me with over-cautiousness, but they did it; like I said, they were doing their best. In many ways, they were being prudent. That prudence can be both a Godly and desirable thing in many cases; in some, it isn’t. If you take a quick read of today’s verses, you might walk away thinking that they’re in favor of an overly-cautious approach to life. My cautious parents might agree with it. It’s a good thing to encourage safety, and preparation, and caution in approaching most dangerous situations.
But temper that good advice with remembering that nothing in Scripture advises cowardice, selfish caution, or personal safety over self-sacrifice. If anything, believers are encouraged to be confident in God, brave, and fearless. We are told to be cautious when dealing with things of the world, namely when dealing with sin or even the hint of sin. Yet when an opportunity is before us to serve, even if it means putting ourselves or our safety in jeopardy, we are to check the situation against our faith in God and let Him lead us where He will. We are to indeed be bold and serving, selfless and able.
Now would be a good time, then, to re-read those verses and think of them in that context. If you are careless when you dig a pit, you might fall into it. If you are working in an area with snakes and you don’t take precautions, you might get bitten. If you’re quarrying recklessly, you might get hurt. If you’re cutting logs carelessly, you might be endangered by them. See the common thread there again? Carelessness is sin. It’s pride; it’s vanity; it’s really a kind of idolatry, of ‘me first’ thinking that puts ourselves before God.
The common denominator there is ‘don’t be careless.’ It isn’t “don’t” period: it is “don’t be careless.” In a way, my parents over-cautious exhortations tried to say that. Don’t be careless, reckless or foolish, but also don’t let those things get in the way of boldly, selflessly serving. I wasn’t mature enough at the time to see that, and they didn’t do much to explain the difference. Every moment in life is a gift from God, even the moments of danger. Our mission in this world is to give glory to Him in every one of them, whether it’s giving glory by cautiously watching from the sideline when we know we can’t get involved, or whether it’s throwing caution to the wind and running towards the sound of the gunfire. In all situations, in every moment, we should focus on moving forward in faith by avoiding carelessness and cherishing God’s confidence.
So, on this Monday after the start of the holiday season, I’ll carefully advance in my workplace, in my words with friends and foes alike, and in how I use the gifts God gives to me. Today is a good day to be bold, to continue to be thankful for where He has me in life, but to also be cautiously – yet boldly – hopeful and confident about anything the new day presents. I think even my parents would agree with that.