I stopped first at verse 4:
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
What is unusual about this one is that it is the first one I noticed that accepts the reality of 'less than ideal' and is very pragmatic. Also, it is the least parallel of all we have read in its antithesis. No ox means no work, no work means no fruit- the barn will look neat, but totally useless. There are a lot of symbolic analogies here, but what makes the biggest impression to me is that we sometimes adopt ineffective or impractical goals that unintentionally deter progress.
My suggestion is that we communicate effectively before we adopt policies/procedures and investigate potential unintended consequences. A quick example of this: Our athletic administration used to hand down random and often (in some of the coaches' opinion) inconsistent dress code policies that were subject to frequent redrafts. One in particular was that no coach could wear a black shirt on the sidelines of any athletic contest. Now, I'm willing to follow any decision- but I wondered had anyone ever asked why some of our coaches would be in different shirts during games? If someone had at least asked, they would have discovered that during football games, the easiest way to find a signal is to have that coach wear an opposite color from the general sideline color. So in college and pros, you see the primary signal caller wearing a bright red or sometimes black. The new policy would- look neater- but make it harder to accomplish a task. That was just a small example of one application of this.
This leads me to another crucial aphorism here in verse 12.
There is a way that seems right to a man,but its end is the way to death.How many times do we quote this? Do we really understand the import? Our presuppositions may lead us to our destruction. My term for this is that we all must live with a humble and prayerful, 'healthy self-suspicion'. This is one of the big reasons I suscribe to the Presbyterian form of church government and why I am such a big believer in the American form of democracy. The default mode of man is not good- we often judge and perceive by facts that have been twisted to fit our own prejudices.
Having built in checks and balances is a must- but this takes courageous leadership and plain talk communication. There has to be procedures in place to appeal decisions and there must be healthy councils to overturn such decisions. If there is not real accountability- there can be real mistakes made.
Another silly example is in the game of football. I have been coaching for 19 years and have watched thousands of contests and practices. But if I am smart, I will not assume I know exactly what happened in a game or a play until I am able to study the video tape of the contest- sometimes I am SO SURE about what happened only to be humbled by the taped evidence. Sometimes we can be SO RIGHT- we end up being dead wrong. I cannot tell you how many times people have confidently told me about what made the difference in a win or loss but had no data to support it other than what people say or their own memory of mili-seconds of action. If fans knew what actually made a difference in the outcomes- they would say less and NEVER bet on it.
So how do we work in a world that is tainted by our pre-suppositions? What will it take for the truth to crash through our protected illusions?
Here are a few suggestions:
1) Be Cautious and Go Slow. This is actually stated over and over again in Proverbs.- verse 16 says 'One who is wise is cautious, but a fool is reckless'. vs 29 'Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding'. Can we go too slow? YES! Do we often go too hastily? YES YES. This is part of being prudent.
2) Open/Honest Communication. This is so much harder than we ever will admit. But it is easier to be honest if we have attitudes and spirits that are open and patient. If you have a boss who is likely to fly into a rage when you discuss uncomfortable topics or takes it personally- you learn to just keep quiet.
3) Prayer and Scripture- God's Word is a mirror deep into the soul- it helps us to judge motives.
4) Willingness to admit wrongdoing- It is hard to humble yourself to someone else and say, I used to believe this, but now I know I was wrong- but it is a huge trust builder and relationship strengthener.
One more point from Ch 14: See a subtle hint in Vs 9.
Fools mock at the guilt offering,but the upright enjoy acceptance.
People sometimes mistakenly think of different paths to righteousness in the Old and New Testament. We can get tempted to say there are different God's and different salvations. It goes something like this: 'The OT God is wrathful and salvation is by works- the NT God is loving and salvation is by grace.' But this is so wrong it is heretical. God is the same and salvation is the same. Part of OT righteousness is trust in the guilt offering- a shadow of the NT guilt offering in the blood of Christ.
Fools mock Christ.. but the upright (sinners who participate in the guilt offering) ENJOY acceptance.
Too much here to capture it all............