I think human beings have always been interested in being able to predict the future. Whether it’s through crystal balls, reading palms or cards, or simply cracking a tasteless cookie in search of a good fortune, people have always looked for ways to reassure themselves about the unknowns ahead. On the first day of a new class, a new school, a new job, a new relationship, a new responsibility, a new living situation, and when we moved to a new country, the unknown was unnerving. If you’re like me, you’ve thought to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could see what my work, my school, my classes, my career, and my relationships will be like—even what I will be like?”
I can distinctly remember being in the eighth grade daydreaming about the kind of guy I would be when I was 25. I’d be married, working, and somehow a different person. But when I got there, I realized, “Oh wait—I’m still me.”
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought that someday you’d be someone else.
And then that someday comes—and you’re still you.
Every day you’re you.
And here’s the potentially uncomfortable yet comforting truth: the “you” you’re going to be someday hinges on the “you” you decide to be this day. The best predictor of what you’ll be like in any future situation is your current behavioral patten.
This is not my idea, by the way. It comes from the ancient wisdom produced and curated by Solomon, one of Israel’s ancient kings. Solomon was responsible for collecting, compiling, and contributing to a book in the Bible we know of today as Proverbs.
Scholars refer to Proverbs as wisdom literature. Interestingly, there is no definition of wisdom in Proverbs, just instruction for where to start: with fearing the Lord (Prov. 9:10). That’s not the narrow meaning of fear, like being afraid of God, though that is part of it. It’s the kind of fear that gives preference, honor, and obedience to the Lord, living in ways God designed for human beings to flourish. One dictionary definition of wisdom is “good sense.” The definition I would give is “living today in a way that will help you thrive tomorrow,” which is a description I first heard from leadership guru Carey Nieuwwhof. That’s just good sense.
At the risk of insulting the intelligence of his student, Solomon calls him a “sluggard” and tells him to go learn how to live wisely from an insect (Prov. 6:6-11):
Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, ...
The ant doesn’t need anyone to tell it what to do. It needs no one to motivate it. It doesn’t need anyone to yell like my mom used to yell, “Get your butt in gear!” The ant is proactive. It knows its own need and gets to work. It needs no outside overlord.
… yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.
The ant can evaluate its own environment, see the changing seasons, and determine when it’s time to collect food. There’s a lot in life that’s not predictable, it’s true, but there is so much more that is. The ant predicts the predictable, then plans the work and works the plan. It’s interesting that the word translated here as “stores” is the Hebrew word for “establish”—it refers to setting in place a logical plan and following through.
Not only does the ant recognize the predictable seasons, but it establishes a plan to prosper. It collects and gathers food at the appropriate time in order to be sustained into the future. The ant “makes hay while the sun shines.” The ant lives today in a way that will let it thrive tomorrow.
Solomon then turns his attention back to the listener:
How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.
These last verses are an explanation of what happens if you don’t live wisely. The best prediction is your behavioral pattern. If you make a pattern of putting things off, saying “I’ll get to it later,” or as we say in our house, “That is future-Corey’s problem,” Solomon predicts poverty. He’s not necessarily saying financial poverty, although it doesn’t exclude that.
The poverty of dignity that would come from self-sufficiency.
The poverty of generosity that would come from having margin.
The poverty of relationship that would come from living honorably.
The poverty of character that would come from diligence over the long haul.
So Solomon says to be wise. Live today in a way that will allow you to thrive tomorrow.
Make a pattern of being proactive, predicting the predictable, planning the work, and working the plan.
Now, I’m not calling anyone a slug or instructing you to go looking for bugs. But taking the same risk Solomon took of insulting your intelligence as you read this, I think it’s worth asking, are you wise?
Are you living in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow? Or have you made a pattern of putting things off, thinking that someday you will be someone else?
Someone who saves money?
Someone successful in their career?
Someone with a great marriage?
Someone with a generous spirit?
Someone who volunteers, listens well to friends, and is cherished by those closest to them?
It’s actually not that hard to predict the future. Look at your current pattern of behavior. Start making decisions today that will help you thrive tomorrow. Someone wise once said that you will be the same person you are today in 10 years, except for the people you meet and the books you read. So maybe start with Proverbs.
- How would you define wisdom? How is it different from intelligence?
- What is your favorite verse in the book of Proverbs? Why?
- What other forms of poverty might you suffer in addition to the ones identified by the author if you don’t live wisely now?
- What will you change in how you live today in order to help you thrive tomorrow?