“The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.”
I’ve always loved personal inventory tests. Not the magazine types about boyfriends and fashion. But the ones that reveal your personality type, your learning style or your spiritual giftedness. I would move through those tests, pencil quivering with anticipation at every check-mark and box to be ticked. Positive or negative – I didn’t care. Some fascinating truth about myself would soon be revealed with delicious, tidy efficiency.
Though the evaluations & tests themselves never changed me, they were tools that provided a starting point. A means of awareness that would prompt some growth if I was any bit intentional about my life. And God knows I needed that. I scored “zero” in Compassion the first time I took a spiritual gifts inventory. I took it again a few years later and landed a whopping score of “2”. True story.
I realized this week that herein lies part of my love for Proverbs: Much of Proverbs provides insight and direction, but much of it is categorizing or characterizing in nature. Instead of finding out whether we’re an extrovert or if our spiritual gift is mercy, a read through Proverbs provides us with a personal inventory helping us discover whether we are foolish or wise. A good thing to know about ourselves.
Today’s verse is one such “categorizing” Proverb. Like many we’ve looked at so far in our weekly journey together, it gives us an evaluation tool for our “wise or foolish” inventory test. The measurement this time? The speed at which we show our irritation and annoyance. To say it another way:
The length of our fuse.
If you remember from Not Hardly, my dad practically weaned us on Western movies. Between railway heists, bank robberies & hideaways, these movies contained their fair share of explosives. Luckily for the good guys, there always seemed to be an inordinately long fuse. Long enough to allow time to save the girl and Dodge City before stamping out the traveling flame in the nick of time. It didn’t matter the amount of potential explosives, if the fuse was long enough, calamity could be avoided.
The explosive sin in every human heart can easily be lit by sparks of annoyance. But today’s verse informs us that there are different ways of dealing with those sparks. Prov. 12:16 tells us that “The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.”
The first part of that verse means that if we are quick to blow up when a provoking or frustrating influence is introduced (short fuse), we show ourselves to possess the characteristics of a fool. Why is that foolish? Because we are willfully introducing into our lives all sorts of potential damage through quick displays of anger:
- I can escalate someone’s driving error into a potentially dangerous road-rage situation.
- I can permanently offend a friend or neighbor.
- I can vent indiscreetly about an authority resulting in unalterable consequences.
- I can imprint in my children’s mind my disfigured, irritated expression.
- I can quit something I shouldn’t.
- I can vow something I don’t really want to follow through on.
- I can speak words to loved ones that ought never to cross my lips and which will never be forgotten.
The second part of our verse shows that we can opt for a long fuse instead. This is where we put as much distance as possible between the igniting sparks of irritation and the explosive materials of our hearts. And we do that by forgiving the dishonor that’s been shown to us and concealing the disgraceful way we might be inclined to respond. When we do that, we exhibit qualities of a wise or prudent woman.
Now, let’s pause for a minute on the word “prudent”. For years I’ve shied away from the word “prudence” because all I can picture are uber-modestly dressed, staunch-faced women from the 1800’s who don’t accurately embody the joy that this brilliant quality can produce in a life. But if you can get past that stereotype, “prudent’ is a really great word. I’ve been rehearsing its definition a lot with my girls. It simply means “acting with care and concern for the future.” Not a bad way to operate. All those avoidable troubles and injuries kept far from us because we didn’t sacrifice our future on the fleeting alter of instant release.
So when we’re provoked, we have two options: A short fuse that gives us little choice but to explode. Or a long fuse which affords us time to diffuse matters. Don’t feel bad. Most of us don’t come outfitted with long fuses. I certainly didn’t. But when we surrender our live to Jesus Christ, one of the evidences of His work in our hearts is self-control. In everyday life, that looks an awful lot like a long fuse.
Okay. Pencils down.
So what are you? Have you checked your boxes? Ticked your answers?
The good news is that we have a great evaluation tool in the book of Proverbs. The bad news is that we can’t do anything about the length of our fuse. The great news is that God retrofits faulty explosives like you and me.
Is it time to re-fuse?