On this Father’s Day, if you need a last minute present, maybe forget the Lowe’s or Home Depot gift card and head to a nearby bookstore and pick-up “The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man” by Brett and Kate McKay, a husband and wife team who wrote this book to offer a “Veritable man-cave full of useful, guy-oriented insights that will help men embrace the waning art of the truly masculine existence—which has come about because many men today are restless, unfulfilled and depressed, living lives of ‘quiet desperation’ as Thoreau once said.”
The reason for this, they say is simple, “Men have forgotten how to engage in a sense of adventure via nature. Being outdoors gives men a chance for unstructured exploration; which invigorates the body and puts a man’s problems into perspective.
Therefore, to help a man become manly, and engage his sense of adventure, the authors instruct and advise on everything from finding a campsite—best to do it online and in advance, setting up a tent—erect it on a tarp and toward the wind, along with other important survival skills.
In addition, there’s insights on developing one’s character, and advice on navigating sticky social situations.
The authors contend each lesson is a tried and tested skill, honed and handed down from true, manly men, like George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt.
Now, before you scoff at a how-to book on being a man—ok, after you scoff at a how to book on being a manly man, keep in mind that 1.) how-to-books are a huge money making industry because people buy them, therefore people write them. I intend to write one myself. “How To Be A Pastor: 16 Years of What NOT To Do!”
And 2.) such books are part of a long heritage of “how-to” wisdom we actually find represented in God’s word.
And today we hear from the book of Proverbs, which is arguably the first “how-to” book. But what’s different about this Proverbs how-to book is the writer, a father himself, is not teaching lessons in camping or shaving, or choosing the right cuff links. Rather he’s offering a lesson in something that applies to each of us, regardless of gender.
The writer is teaching his son, along with each of us, a lesson in The Art of Godliness—Classic Skills For Walking Closely With Our Creator.
King Solomon is given credit for the book of Proverbs and it is clear from his words that a life of godliness doesn’t come easy. But it does come down to a handful of practices and attitudes any human being, aiming for such, will spend their days readily embracing.
So if we want to learn the Art of Godliness, let us consider the how-to wisdom of Proverbs.
First, Godliness is grounded in an attitude of unrelenting love.
At the heart of the Hebrew faith was a belief in Yahweh’s “steadfast love.”
It’s the idea that God’s love for God’s people never gives up or fades away.
It’s a belief that the goodness of God, although at times shrouded in seasons of struggle or pain, is always with of the people of God.
Solomon states, “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.”
Godliness then is first and foremost a divinely inspired attitude that drives you to be quick to forgive and ready to reconcile, as well as to be the kind of husband, wife, partner, or friend who refuses to run away when things get testy, but instead fights for the future of the relationship.
The Godly person then is one who, having been transformed by such unrelenting love from God, displays a faithful, unrelenting love for others. We are to love as we have been loved.
The “how-to’s” of this Godliness continue in verses 5-8 when Solomon tells us a truly Godly person will not only have an attitude of unrelenting love for others, but also an intellectual humility about themselves, saying, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart…do not be wise in your own eyes.”
A key skill for the Godly is a refusal to believe that he or she already has all of the answers.
Godly people are well aware of their limitations and will submit themselves to the will and wisdom of God.
This means Godliness encompasses the art of repentance, where we actively turn from our prideful idolatries in all their forms and instead take hold of the unrelenting love and wisdom and goodness of God in Christ.
The father, the mother, the son or daughter, the human being who does these things is loving and humble, and is therefore, faithfully embodying The Art of Godliness.
This “how-to” isn’t done yet though.
Solomon eventually shifts away from inward attitudes and puts his focus on how a Godly person approaches one of the stickiest issues we face as human beings: the stewardship of our belongings.
So often we wrongly attach far too much of our identity and personal peace to the accumulation of inanimate objects. We attach far too much worry and worship to worldly items and ways, like the amount of money we have in the bank, or the car we drive, or the title we hold at work, or how people perceive us.
Proverbs tells us, “Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce.” Doing so, the writer asserts, unlocks true satisfaction and sets us free from the enslaving, idolatrous attitude that our possessions are god.
Those who practice the Art of Godliness regularly see possessions and status differently, remembering what Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart.”
A life lived in the Art of Godliness is a life lived in financial generosity toward the work of the kingdom and the needs of others.
Lastly, the writer of Proverbs gives us instruction that those who practice Godliness realize God is molding and shaping their lives, and such is done through discipline. Therefore, the Godly embrace, and do not despise, divine discipline—knowing that, “the Lord reproves the one he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”
Now for some, that word “discipline” takes on a particular meaning and will include things like corporal punishment, being grounded, sitting in time-out.
For others that word “discipline” takes on the meaning that if people don’t live right God will punish them.
But remember, with God it’s unrelenting love, therefore discipline is regarding spiritual disciplines—practices of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of cultivating a deeper spiritual connection with God and God’s creation.
Such disciplines would include: Meditating on God’s Word, prayer, giving thanks to God for all we have, stewardship and service to others.
These are just some of the ways in which we cultivate the art of Godliness in our lives because as those who are actively part of God’s family, the Godly realize there is need for discipline—spiritual disciplines.
They are not meant to oppress or punish.
They are meant to help make us be better, safer, healthier, and able to thrive in our Godliness.
Godliness—like fatherliness and motherliness, like striving to be a role model and good example of how life should be lived for our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or our little friends running around the church—is no easy task.
Some days we get it right—and we don’t need a “how-to” book of any kind.
But some days we don’t get it right— and we do need the “how-to” books.
Thankfully, on all days, God still sees us in light of what Christ has done for us on the cross instead of how well we raise the children in our lives, or set-up a campsite, or what we do with our possessions.
On all days, God is still there with love and strength and wisdom “how-to’s” as we keep trying to get it right.
So if today you are celebrating or remembering a special man in your life who was able to do well for you—then be sure to thank them for embracing the not-so-easy ways in which they have loved so well.
But beyond that—whether celebrating today, or even grieving today because your father is gone or because your father was never able to achieve a status worth celebrating— may we all still seek to embrace the art of walking closely with our Creator, by committing to further becoming people of unrelenting love and wisdom.
Let us further become the kind of people who steward our possessions for God’s purposes and embrace the spiritual discipline that lead to Godliness.
Let us further become those who strive to do what is right, and not what is selfish.
For when we do, then we will have learned to live out the classic skills for walking closely with our Creator.
We will have learned to live out the Art of Godliness. Amen.