"Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding"
One of the main messages of the book of Proverbs is that wisdom is all around if we would just look for it and be sensitive to it when it shows up.
make your ear attentive to wisdom
Solomon tells us that we must make our ear attentive to wisdom.
The word ear is the Hebrew word ozen which means ear or the part of the body that interprets symbolic language or a person's responsiveness to commands or information. It is this last aspect that catches our attention. In a Hebraic mindset, one has not really heard what another has said unless there is obedience or appropriate response to it. When the Scripture says "Hear the word of the Lord," it means obey the word of the Lord, not listen for the sounds God will make or take notes on what He just says. So in this same way Solomon says you have to make yourself ready to respond positively to wisdom when you come across it. You are not really a student of wisdom if you just say, “Oh, that is interesting” or “I will save it for later.” It must be imbedded in your person so that you act in accordance with it.
We have a storage-tank approach to information and wisdom, filling ourselves with information and good actions that we call wisdom to be pulled out of the storage tank and used when appropriate. This works in some cases. The Scripture has a different view when it comes to wisdom. When you are faced with a decision or course of action, you are looking for wisdom. You will not find wisdom if you do not pre-commit to doing it once you find it for it may be somewhat painful to do in the short-run. Remember that wisdom is the triple-win choice – that action or choice in which God wins, others win, and I win. This is opposed to the choice in which I win and others lose or I win and some others win but God loses. Therefore if I am facing a decision, I need to pre-commit to doing the triple-win option when I find it. If not, I will be tempted to go for the quick, selfish choice in which I am looking out for number 1.
The point Solomon is telling his young learner is that wisdom must be done or it is gone. It cannot be found if it will not be obeyed. I have counseled many people who have asked me to save their marriage or help them financially or stop their children from rebelling, but then they tell me what they are unwilling to do. Usually what they are unwilling to do is the direction that wisdom is in. They will say things like, “I have already tried that” or “Don't ask me to apologize or give more of my time or live on a budget or something like that.” What they want is for everybody else to change but themselves. They want to continue to be selfish and get different results in their marriage, checkbook, and family.
Make a pre-commitment to wisdom. It may seem difficult to lessen your personal win to have others win and God get glory, but it pays rich dividends in the future just as making small investments over time in a reasonable investment option. It gets better with time.
I recommend that you tell God every day, as you are studying the Scriptures, that you want His wisdom and are ready to do it. Also, when you are facing a major decision in your work, marriage, family, church, or any aspect of your life, start by telling God you are looking for wisdom and are right now pre-committing to it.
incline your heart to understanding
This is a fascinating concept that we think we comprehend but we don't.
The word heart is the Hebrew word leb which means the actual physical organ of the heart; it means the center of the person or the place of decision, volition, and emotion. And some would connect this with the immaterial part of man called the soul.
The word incline is the Hebrew word nata which means extend, lean over, incline, bend. This word carries with it the idea of leaning to the point of falling in a certain direction; going beyond what is normal and natural and balanced. One could say that Solomon is advising us to unbalance our mind, will, and emotions to grasp this thing called understanding.
The word understanding is the Hebrew word bina which means distinguish between, between the power of judgment and perception. One of the quick ways I like to understand this word understanding is as the connections between things; to grasp how things are interrelated. In other words, if I do this, then that will happen. If I say this, then so and so will feel these things and probably react in these ways.
It is tragic when a person does not have any understanding of the connections between what they say and do and how other people react. They just see what they want and go after it, regularly amazed at the idea that other people may have had designs on that thing themselves or could have a reaction.
This is the place where many people in our society are today. They do not realize that all actions are interrelated with lots of other people. If a person chooses to smoke, they are doing a lot of things beyond just putting smoke in their lungs. They put smoke in the lungs of those around them; they damage their lung's ability to breathe; they increase their risk for cancer; they decrease their life expectancy; they are perceived differently; they smell different. If a person chooses to be proud, a whole host of connections and reactions are set in motion. If a person commits adultery, a massive amount of connections and reactions are set in motion. If I own a company and choose to pollute the river or air, a huge number of reactions and connections are unleashed in the society. We live in a society in which people basically want permission to do what they want to do with little regard for what will happen to all those who are impacted by their actions.
If you and I are going to be wise, then we will need to stretch out for or not rest until we see the various reactions and connections that our actions will have. If we were to just stop and think a while before we acted – What will happen if I do this? – we would be inclining our heart to understanding. It is like putting a chess piece in the place we are thinking about moving it but not taking our hand off it. We can then survey the various possibilities and countermoves that our potential move makes possible.
Too often we just grow weary of this type of hard thinking and want to do what we want before anybody can stop us. This is the fool's way. If we want a great marriage, a satisfying career, an enjoyable family, devoted friends, then we must take the time to lean over and see the various reactions and connections that our actions will have on these very important parts of our life.
If this is hard for you, then ask someone who is wise to help you. Give them hypothetical situations and say, “If I said this, what do you think my spouse would say; my children, my boss, my friends?” Keep doing this type of thing until you begin to grasp understanding for then you will be wise and most likely a lot less quick in speech and action.
At various times you will be caught completely off guard by the reaction of others. This is an indication that you have some growing to do in understanding. A person who has understanding can anticipate the reactions and interactions of others and decide beforehand whether they are worth it.