Most of us know the German legend about Faust and his deal with the devil. Faust is a bit of a con man but he’s unhappy with his life so he sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited earthly knowledge and pleasure. Of course, the story doesn’t end well and is meant to be a morality tale to warn us of the folly of trading eternal things for temporary things.
And that’s the wisdom behind all the disciplines of the Faith; to teach us how to reorient our thinking and choices to eternal values rather than temporary and momentary gains or pleasures. I would argue that most, if not all, society’s ills can be traced to us not valuing dignity, faithfulness, responsibility, and honor over comfort, convenience, and self-centeredness.
Look at our lesson today in Proverbs 5:15-6:3:
Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely hind, a graceful doe. Let her affection fill you at all times with delight, be infatuated always with her love. Why should you be infatuated, my son, with a loose woman and embrace the bosom of an adventuress? For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he watches all his paths. The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is caught in the toils of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is lost.
My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor, have given your pledge for a stranger; if you are snared in the utterance of your lips, caught in the words of your mouth; then do this, my son, and save yourself, for you have come into your neighbor’s power: go, hasten, and importune your neighbor.
Once again we visit the Wisdom literature of Proverbs and see the father giving wise counsel to his son. But today our passage seems to be disconnected. In fact, reading it you may ask yourself “How am I supposed to make sense of this?” It seems our father here is losing his train of thought!
First he starts warning his son about the dangers of infidelity and how treacherous are the passions that intoxicate us into bad choices. Then he seems to switch gears completely and warn us about getting a co-signer on a loan! What gives?
A fair question and I hope you’re ready for a powerful insight into the wisdom of our weaknesses and how they all interconnect! There’s more than one way to sell your soul!
It turns out that our passions so cloud our judgement that they make bad choices common in all aspects of life. Being intoxicated with lust leads to broken relationships. Being intoxicated with fear or a shortcut mentality regarding business leads to selling my freedom to the banker or risking a relationship with another through loans and bad choices! The common denominator: A passion-intoxicated life that can’t see clearly how to avoid the pitfalls of living.
So, the father advises his son to be:
- Awake to his own heart.
- Pay attention to where he is.
- Don’t allow either fear or elation to intoxicate his judgement.
- Don’t be distracted with “easy” answers or mere short term gains.
All great advice. But how do we get there? How do we stay awake when the whole world seems to be bent toward intoxication?
We exercise our will to practice the Faith. We embrace the three basic disciplines of the Faith: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving (a fancy word for generosity) to begin exercising the spiritual muscles that keep us aware of our surroundings and see the path before us clearly. When we do these basic disciplines consistently, the Holy Spirit creates an awareness in us that enables us to avoid that short term thinking that has us selling our eternal values for temporary gains. Making a deal with the devil means being asleep to the consequences! And that always leads to slavery and never freedom.
Today, are you awake to the consequences of your choices? Do you find it difficult to see clearly how to take the next step in your life? We all do at one time or another. The powerful combination of faithful practice of the disciplines of the Faith AND a genuine growing intimacy with God and His Church makes you stronger to avoid the temptations to disaster that so often hurt people who aren’t Orthodox on Purpose.