Bring your heart to discipline: “Deepening the Faith” devotional 7

This installment is part of a regular devotional series, “Deepening the Faith,” written by Gordon faculty and staff for the enrichment of the wider College community.

Apply your heart to instruction. —Proverbs 23:12a

I have chosen what might appear to be an unlikely starting point. Who, after all, settles into the book of Proverbs with any hope of it speaking to 2018? Nevertheless, indulge my antiquarian bent as we explore an entirely counter-cultural admonition.

“Bring your heart to discipline” is a painfully literal translation of the first half of the verse which continues, “and your ears to words of knowledge.” Well, yes—we teachers can adopt this exhortation; in fact, we will hand it along with authority. By the way, the word translated as “discipline” here can mean everything from verbal instruction to physical punishment. Discipline is sober business, involving chastening when wrong choices are made. Perhaps that sounds quaint in our 21st century context.

And the object of this discipline? “Heart” in the Israelite worldview refers to the intellectual, emotional and volitional capabilities of the whole person. “You shall love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” (Deut 6:5). “Bring to discipline” means we are to reign in everything about our unruly nature. Paul admonishes us to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

Perhaps a story is in order. One of the wildest creatures I have encountered at close range was a Jerusalem cat. Let me elucidate: in Jerusalem, cats are not house pets. They live in dumpsters, prowl and yowl at night, and are truly untamable and thoroughly unpleasant. One night, one of these creatures invaded our apartment. Feeling immediately trapped and threatened, it sailed in and out of the rooms at the highest altitude possible, knocking a variety of objects out of its way in the process. Our initial attempts to cajole it gently out of the door were utterly useless. You might say that “instruction” did not work. It took three of us, armed with a tennis racquet and two boxes made over into a trap to usher our unwelcome visitor outside.

Each of us has those aspects of our being with which we struggle—our “cats,” if you will. Our thoughts and feelings, inextricably intertwined, sail about uncontrollably if we allow them to do so. They may continue to knock about the “furniture” of our inner being, but they might also issue forth in words and actions that are deleterious to our calling.

I think we all know the spiritual counterparts of the tennis racquet and the boxes; we just need to use them and not allow naysayers to dismiss them as “pat answers” to the challenge of living in a messy world. A determined effort, for example, to turn each undisciplined thought into prayer is essential. And it is difficult; but try it. Equally vital: intentionally planting (not randomly scattering) God’s Word into our hearts. That means memorizing (yes, I did say that), pondering and talking together. What concepts! Note how Deuteronomy continues—teach, talk, bind, write these words “on your hearts” (6:6-9).

Elaine Phillips
Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies
After receiving her undergraduate degree in social psychology from Cornell University and her Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary, Elaine Phillips, along with her husband, Perry, studied and taught for three years in Israel. Upon their return, they taught at a small Christian junior college outside of Philadelphia from 1979 to 1992 and Elaine earned her Ph.D. in rabbinic literature from the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning in Philadelphia. She has taught biblical studies at Gordon College since 1993. In addition to field study in Israel, her areas of interest and scholarly writing include the books of Exodus and Esther, biblical wisdom literature and rabbinic texts. She has received both the Junior and Senior Distinguished Faculty Awards and at the Commencement ceremonies in May 2014 was granted the inaugural Distinguished Professor Award.