There’s a beautiful body of water in England called Mill Pond, where swans frequently make a stop on their annual migration. Stretched across one corner of the pond are overhead power lines. A number of swans have been killed because they didn’t see the power lines as they approached the pond to make a landing. After neighbors complained, the power company installed red flags on the lines. The swans, now alerted to the danger, avoid the lines. Since the red flags were installed, not a single swan has died.
Proverbs are meant to act like those red flags that were provided for the swans’ protection. With enough repetition, the Amish principles of simple living should pop into a person’s mind when he sees danger ahead. The Amish understand a biblical truth: paths that lead to sin—like those power lines—can be nearly invisible, yet have devastating consequences to one’s character.
Maintaining a person’s character begins—and continues—with a decision, so these red flags create “advanced decision making.” Under pressure, a well-developed character can stand firm and respond by knowing God’s way. The best way. Tempted to lie to get out of a tight spot? Up pops the red flag: “The Lord detests lying lips” (Prov. 12:22 NIV). Decision made! Such principles of wisdom have been so engrained through repetitive use of proverbs and sayings that, when one is faced with a critical crossroad in daily life, vital messages trumpet out good judgment.
Easy to remember, proverbs can clarify the difference between right and wrong, good and evil; they help an individual avoid moral mud puddles. With rich and colorful language, these sayings evoke vivid word pictures:
“You can smell scorched soup from afar” is a reminder that gossip spreads like wildfire.
“Much straw but little grain” is a person who is all talk but no substance.
This one needs no explanation: “They who trim themselves to suit others will soon whittle themselves away.”
The Amish believe that no one is born with an innately good character . . . and pride is every human being’s “default button.” It’s where our natures tend to slip. Curiously, many common sayings have to do with a mule facing the consequences . . . of being mulish: “Wherever an ass falleth, there will he never fall again” means you can put a mule in a dilemma only once. Can’t you just picture a father trying to teach his son to learn from a mistake and not repeat it?
Here’s a favorite: “‘One must remember where it comes from,’ said the farmer when the mule kicked him.” Wouldn’t you love to know the story behind that one?
One of the main tasks of the Christian life is to grow out of folly and into wisdom. Wisdom flows from good character. But part of the process of developing a good character involves making mistakes. Many bromides take a tongue-in-cheek approach to life’s mishaps.
“Every hen will lay an imperfect egg now and then” implies that accidents happen in the best of families. “Even a clever hen will lay outside the nest” means that everyone makes mistakes.
But a man who doesn’t learn from his mistakes?
Well, as the saying goes, “He went through school like the mule through the mill; in at one end and out at the other.”
Now that is cause for concern.
Excerpted with permission from Amish Proverbs: Words of Wisdom from the Simple Life (Revell).