Chapel – Dr. Rob Foster

Dr. Rob Foster

In continuing our summer series of reflections in the Book of Proverbs, Dr. Rob Foster explores what it means to fear the Lord in the face of impossible situations, from Proverbs 2 verses 1 to 5.

Rob Foster, Ed.D., has taught in Tyndale’s Department of Education since the program was launched in 2008. Rob previously was a Secondary Department Head and taught French Immersion and History in the Durham Board of Education. He helped develop Core French and Immersion curriculum for the Durham Board and the Ontario Ministry of Education. His particular interest is in the area of ethics and French as a Second Language in education.

Podcast Transcript

My name is Rob Foster, I’m an Assistant Professor of Education in the Bachelor of Education Program at Tyndale. It’s my pleasure to share some thoughts on the book of Proverbs, on the topic of wisdom in impossible situations.

Are you facing an impossible situation? I am. There are many types of situations that seem impossible: relational breakdown, financial loss, a physical or mental challenge. The pain of loss may seem inescapable, the breakage seems irreparable, an illness just isn’t getting better or a loved one refuses to change for the better.  When it feels like there is no solution, we may want to throw our hands up and walk away, or go numb from repeated failed attempts to make things better, or we may just shut down.

Curt Thompson, a Christian psychiatrist and the author of The Soul of Desire, says this: “In the presence of our desire to be known in order to co-create and become beauty with God and others, we often encounter instead a depth of grief and brokenness that can make the hope of new creation seem like a cruel joke.” P71

Proverbs 2 describes wisdom to help hold us together when faced with seemingly impossible situations.

Let me first read the text of Proverbs 2, verses 1 to 5.

  1. …if you accept my words and store up my commands within you,
  2. turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—
  3. indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding,
  4. and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure,
  5. then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.

I see a lot of hope in three phrases from this text in the face of impossible situations. The phrases are: stored up treasure, turning the ear, and calling out for insight.  All three lead to trusting God more than ourselves in impossible situations. Trusting Him more than ourselves: that’s the fear of the Lord and the beginning of wisdom.

Let’s explore this first part about stored up treasure. “Store up my commands within you”, or another translation says : “store my counsel deep within you”. Notice what’s being stored up is not the answers, but God’s counsel. Notice also that what’s stored up is not first and foremost something we do, but something we treasure within. One stored-up treasure I meditate on and repeat often is in Isaiah 43: “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”. In other words, God will make a way where there is no way. No quick fixes here, but belief in a God who causes things to happen we can’t imagine or do ourselves.

I recently had a corrective heart procedure and was put on blood thinners. I was told the pills I was to ingest were necessary regardless of what I did to keep physically fit. In a similar way, the inner workings of God’s word are more helpful than anything we DO.

If we’re willing to keep digging in the face of impossible situations, we begin to unearth the hidden treasures God has for us. We’re on the path of wisdom. There’s wisdom in internalizing God’s counsel, especially when we’ve exhausted the currency of our own resources. And God’s counsel has more to do with removing our inner blockages than fixing the more visible problem. Removing the blockages is like scraping the dirt off the treasure chest so you can open the lid and not just know the treasure is there, but that there’s gold to be held onto inside. “Store up my counsel deep within you”, keep digging, hold onto each gold piece you find.

Let’s look at the second part of this text: “turn your ear to wisdom”. In other words, when you’ve done all the discussing, researching for answers, trying every strategy you can think of, try listening. Sounds passive. But no, turning your ear, or putting yourself in a position where you can hear God, is active. And so is God. God IS speaking. We don’t turn our ear so God can start speaking. We turn our ear so we can TUNE IN to what he’s already saying to us, but we sometimes miss it, like trying to listen to a friend in a crowded room but unable to hear them because of the distractions.

When I was younger, someone I really paid attention to was Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch woman of faith who survived a Nazi death camp. She and her family were caught hiding Jews in their house in Holland. They were carted away to a concentration camp and her sister died there in squalid conditions. Corrie struggled with grief, anger, and hatred toward the Nazis who decimated her family. Impossible to forgive. After the war she met one of the Nazi guards responsible for her sister’s death. Her whole being was supercharged with unforgiveness, yet in the midst of this impossible situation, she was able to forgive. How was this possible? I wanted to hear more. Then I got to hear her speak at a conference. I was riveted. I really turned my ear to her, because she spoke with authority about how God made a way where there just wasn’t a way within herself.

When you don’t know the way forward, when whatever you’re facing seems impossible, put yourself in front of the God who knows you and loves you, and take in the full weight of his word for you. WE want answers, but often God wants to reshape us on the inside.

Now let’s turn our attention to the third part of this wisdom text: “calling out for insight”. Sometimes calling out is a hard one for me. When challenged to the core and losing hope, I can lose the motivation to call out to God.  You may relate to being clammed up, dumbfounded, unable to connect with God when no matter where you turn, there are no solutions. He’s there, somewhere, but seems to be offline. What’s the use of calling out to a God who seems so removed from my struggle? It reminds me of when I trained for the National Life Guard certification on Lake Massawippi in Quebec. On the first day our trainer said “swim across the lake and back”. That was 1.9 km one way in windy, foot-high wave conditions. Coming back from the other side, I was gulping water, out of breath, too tired from fighting the waves to even call out for help. It felt like it didn’t matter if I called out for help, I just wasn’t going to make it.

Wisdom teaches us to call out to God from life’s rough waters. God’s word gives us the will to find our voice in the midst of exhaustion, choosing to believe that our inability to communicate is not loss of connection with God. Feeling cut off does not mean God is out of range. So, we can start by saying: “Lord, I feel so disconnected from you. Please reassure me that if I call, you’ll hear me. I don’t even have the words.  I need your insight to keep going.

And wisdom is insight. When we call out for insight, we’re not talking about a cognitive kind of having-it-all-figured-out, or everything-now-makes-sense kind of insight. Wisdom is insight into the Father’s heart. Sometimes as I listen, I hear only one word. A word like “trust”, or “wait” or “receive”. When there’s no clear course of action to be taken, our prayer may be reduced to one word, but a God-breathed word, with insight into what God wants. 

Proverbs 2 is a rich text. I love how the three parts we’re focusing on fit together. It goes like this: the storing up of the treasure within can really make a difference when we complete the cycle of communication. First, listen, then speak. Turn your ear, then call out. Our ability to call out in impossible situations is strengthened by what we hear from God first. If the cycle is incomplete, listening without speaking, speaking without listening, it’s hard to store up the treasure. It doesn’t really sink in.

As you and I face what seems impossible, God’s wisdom invites us to dig deeper into the treasures of God’s heart, the confidence to keep listening until we can tune in to what He’s already saying, and to call out for his insight, even one word. God’s wisdom, unlike human smartness, settles the emotions, pacifies the soul and reassures our subconscious mind.

As we are living with impossible situations, I want to encourage us to keep digging for God’s treasures. Let’s put ourselves where God is already speaking, so we can take in what He’s saying to us and boldly call out for insight. This is the pathway to God’s wisdom that holds us together because He holds all things together, including the impossible.

Please join me as I pray: 

Lord Jesus, in your mercy, help us hold on to wisdom in our impossible circumstances. Hold us together as we wait for you to make all things possible. To whom shall we turn, if not to You, the source of all wisdom? As we dig deeper into your treasure store of insight, give us the grace to turn away from despair and towards hope, to let go of our own understanding and lean into you, the author of the bigger story. Help us break free from mute self-containment and move toward listening and speaking with you in the midst of having no answers.  We hold on to your promise that you will make a way.

Praise to you, Lord Jesus. 


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