Ever feel like you don't know what you're doing with yourself? Like you're dissatisfied with your life choices but don't see a clear path to improvement? I bear good news! These six – no, seven morsels of sweet, sweet wisdom from the book of Proverbs might not make your life perfect, but they'll definitely make it better.
1. He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm (13:20).
We have a nasty habit of treating friendship as recreation. When we have fun with someone, we're friends; when we don't have fun with them any more, we're not friends. The unfortunate result of this is that our friendships rarely help us grow. We end up goofing off and gathering among like-minded individuals without wondering if that's healthy for us. Proverbs cautions us to consider whether we hang around fools who encourage our foolishness or wise people who encourage our wisdom. Friendship can be more than recreation – it can be discipleship.
2. Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (12:18).
In a culture that prizes its First Amendment right to say Whatever the Heck You Want, it's important to remember that even if words may come without legal consequence, they never come without personal and social consequence. Reckless words hurt. Speaking carelessly or selfishly has the potential to cause others quite a lot of pain. Self-control in speech, then, is key to healthy and wise living, both for your own sake and the sake of others. Before you spit out that comeback or send that scathing text, think twice. Seek healing.
3. The way of the fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice (12:15).
Too often our decision-making process only involves seeking the counsel of Me, Myself, and I. We are afraid to let others into our mental processes because they might judge us and – worse yet – they might be right. Listening to advice isn't easy. Thus, fools don't do it. To seek and obey the counsel of another is a mark of emotional stability and personal maturity; to run from counsel and become a hermit crab of inward-facing decisions is a mark of foolishness and self-destruction.
4. One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty (11:23).
In one sense, generosity is great. It benefits others while giving you a warm glow of self-satisfaction in your decision. But once the warm glow fades, what's left? Insecurity. And the readiest solution to such insecurity is stinginess – if you fortify yourself with wealth, nothing can touch you. Here the proverb reminds us that generosity is the best long-term investment, not only for the security that it eventually brings, but for gains that lie beyond a warm glow of self-satisfaction. Freely giving to others what God has given to you creates the most peace, joy, and wealth for all. Stinginess creates only poverty.
5. A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel (12:11).
Animal cruelty isn't often highlighted as the kind of misconduct that the Bible goes out of its way to forbid – in reality, the Bible associates neglect or abuse of animals with wickedness and care for them with righteousness. Those who show animals proper amounts of attention and affection have proven themselves to be good stewards of God's creation. Those who do not encourage cruelty toward animals as well as other humans. A biblical standard of kindness applies to humans and non-humans alike.
6. A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult (12:16).
This is a tough one. This is a really tough one. Any insult that elicits a negative response is a successful insult. It is the tool of fools to drag others into foolishness. Entering into any sort of insult exchange or beef – even if you emerge victorious – is counted as a loss by the proverb. A good conscience speaks for itself, and returning an insult belies insecurity. Besides, expressing annoyance immediately prevents the expression of love or grace toward someone. To hold one's tongue and take unfair slander in stride is a godly feat indeed.
7. Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs (10:12).
The contrast in this principle is interesting: love is better than hatred not because it simply triumphs over or out-flexes it, but because it covers over wrongs and hurts where hatred only tears people apart. Viscerally, hatred seems to be a thrilling act of self-empowerment, but it ends in the destruction of its bearer and the pain of those it is aimed against. It is never a solution. Love, on the other hand, is an immediate act of humility that ends in re-strengthened bonds of friendship and community. Although it is difficult in practice, love is always the wiser choice.
Proverbs, of course, has many more words of wisdom that can improve your life. I encourage you to read the whole book yourself with whatever free time you have.