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The DEEP

Down at the Crossroads

The devil is looking to make a deal

Proverbs 1:31-33

31 Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way,
And be filled to the full with their own fancies.

32 For the turning away of the simple will slay them,
And the complacency of fools will destroy them;

33 But whoever listens to me will dwell safely,
And will be secure, without fear of evil.”

Proverbs 12:15

15  The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But he who heeds counsel is wise.

 

You have reached a crossroads of sorts in your study in the way of Wisdom, as found in the book of Proverbs. Here you are faced with a choice: heed the words of Lady Wisdom…or fall into a fatal complacency. 

The devil often meets you at crossroads such as these, for he knows that the time is right for “helping” you with your decisions. 

In the 1930’s, legendary blues musician Robert Johnson rose to fame with his almost supernatural skill in playing the guitar. As he sang the soulful songs of the rural American south he rose from the obscurity of the dance halls and backrooms of the Mississippi Delta–to the bright lights and hit recordings that turned the music world on its ear. He did this all before his untimely death at 30.

Described by later accounts as the “Jimi Hendrix” of his day, Johnson always claimed that the secret to his incredible talent was that he had sold his soul to the devil. The story goes, that late one night, and down on his luck, the young African-American bluesman made his way in the moonlight to a nearby crossroads and made an eternal deal to obtain world-renowned talent. 

This crossroads (now commemorated at the corner of highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale Mississippi) is mentioned in the opening lines of one of Johnson’s signature songs, Crossroads Blues:


I went down to the crossroads
Fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above for mercy
“Take me, if you please.”

Did Johnson make a deal with the Lord…or with Old Scratch, himself? Such Faustian tales of “deals with the devil” are both common in literature and a serious matter–but one thing is certain: whether Johnson really sold his soul to the devil–or simply sold a good story to his audience–the man could really bend those strings.

But I digress from my digression.

The crossroads of Christian complacency or the Way of Wisdom is nothing to sing about. In a simple definition, Christian complacency is a loss of zeal. You have considered different fools up to this point, but the complacent fool may be the most subtle and most difficult to avoid.

Here at the beginning of Chapter 2, Solomon is about to launch into several chapters of fatherly instruction on growing in wisdom. Before this can happen, the foolishness of complacency must be identified and dealt with. He begins with a fruity description:

31 Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way,
And be filled to the full with their own fancies.–Proverbs 1:31

There is a famous scene in the fairy tale Snow White where the evil queen, in a deceitful disguise, gives Snow White a poisoned apple that sends her into a deep, deadly sleep. When you eat of the fruit of complacency, it too will put you into slumber–but of the spiritual sort. 

This “fruit of their own way” is simply the desire of people to live in what Tim Keller calls “a dream of metaphysical self-sufficiency.” As we are warned later in Proverbs :

15  The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But he who heeds counsel is wise.–Proverbs 12:15

This being “wise in your own eyes” practically describes nearly everyone you know, does it not? This is the call of the western culture: to be smart, self-sufficient and an expert in all things, but wise in none. If you do not know, you have the knowledge of the entire internet in your phone, just waiting for your googling fingertips.

The complacency of being “filled with your own fancy” describes how you can become all-too-focused on things in this life that do not matter. This is not just talking about hobbies or who will be chosen this week on The Bachelor–although these things can take up a lot of valuable real estate in our hearts. 

This is talking about the sense of self-assurance you adopt when you feel the need to get it all together, to make this life what you want it to be, and bring all things under some form of control. This can mean tormenting your spouse with impossible standards of love, struggling at work because it is not your “dream” job, or pressing your pastor to maintain Martha Stewart-levels if administrative skill.

As a Christian, this complacency will rob you of your zeal for serving God. The prosperity and comfort that this western culture offers, can make you hesitant to stand out of the crowd or even tell others about Jesus. 

Or better yet, you may become content with simply contracting out your zeal in the form of your poor aforementioned pastor–after all, is it not his job to do these things? A church with a competent, sincere pastoral staff is a true blessing for the lives of its parishioners, but when the people grow content with allowing them to minister alone, then the body of Christ suffers. 

Paul in great disappointment asks the Galatians, “what has happened to your joy?” Has your desire for the perfect life robbed you of your joy in serving the One who is the Bread of Life? 

Age can even bring you to a place of complacency. Perhaps you are in the retirement phase of life, you have done your bit and prefer the younger people to do the spiritual “heavy lifting” of the church. 

Or maybe you see the zeal in younger people and seek to even warn them in their naivety of the hazards of life ahead. Stephen Uthank, in a recent article, remembers a quote from J.C. Ryle on how joy for the Lord can fade in proportion to age:

...it may be very true that wise young believers are very rare. But it is no less true that zealous old believers are very rare also.–J.C. Ryle

Spiritual complacency causes general strife in the church and throughout your life as a believer. C.S. Lewis describes this brilliantly in “The Screwtape Letters:”

All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them.” – C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. 

Tim Keller reminds us that despite all of your efforts to control your life, it can all come crashing down in a moment: 

No matter what type of designer life you think you have put together for yourself, bereavement, illness, betrayal, and financial disaster happen to anyone. No amount of wealth, success, power, or planning can make you impervious to them.–Tim Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life”

It is ironic that the very pinnacle of our standards of life fulfillment, that in trying to make it your “best life,” you may actually be falling into the devil’s trap:

32 For the turning away of the simple will slay them,
And the complacency of fools will destroy them;–Proverbs 1:32

Please do not get me wrong. Is it good to live an organized, well-ordered life? Yes. Is it responsible to strive to protect your family, your livelihood and home? Of course. Are hobbies and interests good to pursue? Absolutely. 

Complacency creeps in when we make all of these good things the focus of our lives–when we grow anxious to preserve and promote them. Then we heed the cry of Dame Folly to pursue only these things–and despair.

Wherein lies your hope? What must you do to avoid the complacency trap? Solomon begins his instructions to his son in Chapter 2:

Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,

If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;

Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,
And find the knowledge of God.

For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;– Proverbs 2:3-6

As Lady Wisdom cries out for you to listen, so you are to cry out to God for him to give it to you. In His prayers, Jesus continually petitions His Father to provide for Him the things He needs. This life of prayer, this life of joyous service is mirrored in Paul’s exhortation to the Christians in Rome:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.–Romans 12:9-13

I love the old hymn by William P. Merrill, “Rise Up, O Men of God,” and the sense of this joyous purpose that it captures:

Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and soul and mind and strength
To serve the King of kings.

[You may enjoy this version of the classic hymn by Christian artist Phil Keaggy. Keaggy, like Robert Johnson, is a guitar virtuoso in his own right–but one whose soul belongs wholly to Christ!]

So you stand at the crossroads. Like Robert Johnson, you too may encounter the Devil as you seek to purse a fool’s complacency or heed the call of Lady Wisdom. Beware the slippery slope of the Devil’s path, as C.S. Lewis rejoins us to describe:

The road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.- Your affectionate Uncle, Screwtape

Do not wait for or rely on others to serve Christ in your stead while you tend to your dream life–while living a waking dream of complacency. Instead, cry to your heavenly Father for the gift of His wisdom as found in His Son Jesus Christ. In this you will find your zeal–your joy–to serve Him.  

 

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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