Challenges as ‘Sport’

Whenever I think of doing challenges Proverbs 10:23 comes to my mind.

“Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool; so is wisdom to a man of understanding.”

The idea that wisdom is like a sport has always intrigued me because people view sports very differently; and that creates many different ways to meditate on this analogy. But what I really love, I found in the nuance of the Hebrew word that is translated sport (sehoq).

This is the only time sehoq is translated “sport” in scripture; it is usually translated as laughter.

But when you translate it:

Doing wickedless is like laughter to a fool and so is wisdom to a man of understanding

It loses so much depth.

The Hebrew word conveys a state of enjoyment that has both good and bad meanings. It can communicate spontaneous joy or deliberate, provoking scorn (BDB 8468). Translated as both laughing and laughingstock. I encourage you to consider the difference between the concept of laughing and a laughingstock?

I suggest the difference is this: we all laugh at a funny joke, but you can’t help but laugh at a laughing stock. Everyone does it, even if we don’t really want to. When a guy on America’s Funnies Home Videos gets hit in the groin with a soccer ball we laugh. Okay, I laugh. Maybe you are more civilized than me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not evil. I don’t want to laugh; but I can’t help it. I was watching America’s Dumbest Criminials years ago and I couldn’t help but laugh at all the stupid things these criminals did. But there was a cilvilized voice in my head arguing: “You should not be laughing at poor people who make desperate and bad decisions.” I sat there listening to that voice and yet still falling off my chair laughing.

There is an idea within the proverb that wisdom is fun, like a haha funny joke; and yet, there is also the idea that wisdom is so much fun that sometimes you will be laughing even when better reason tells you to stop.

But the translators didn’t choose “laughter” they chose “sport.” Translating sehoq as sport opens a huge door for metaphor.

  • Most athletes spend more time training than playing.
  • All sports have rules and require discipline.
  • Most sports are created for fun.
  • People grow in their ability slowly through practice
  • Great athletes lives are consumed by their sport

The one I want to highlight is that all sports are created for fun. People participate in sports because of the enjoyment they receive from them.  In the same way wisdom gives more than joy.

Play along as we consider this metaphor.  I think sehoq like an adult softball league or a weekly pickup game of basketball. In my experience, I’ve come across really different people playing adult softball. There are some who cannot name all the positions, some who cannot run the bases without taking a breather and then there are some who spend $1000 on their bat, gloves, shoes, bags, sunglasses, etc and they work out every day so that they can “be at the top of their game.” Both of them hitting a 3inch ball and running around in circles (okay diamond, but you get the point).

While these may seem like completely different approaches to sports, they are not. Both participate because they receive a blessing.  You see, the point is not that one is horrible at sports and the other is a great athlete. The point is that their hearts have delight in what they do. The proverb teaches us that practicing wisdom is sehoq. It’s fun. It’s the open mouth-cant-help-but-laugh joyous activity. It is not skill oriented; it is delight oriented.

I’m sure we would love to be the Tiger Woods of wisdom, the Michael Jordan of acumen, or the Daryl Strawberry of discernment (ok, Ive gone too far, but you get the idea). We would love to be full of wisdom, full of discernment and insight; but more than that I want everyone in the world to get joy out of the pursuit of wisdom. Orienting Wisdom around delight is not my idea. Proverbs 2:10 says that wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. The Hebrew word for ‘pleasant’ describes what Solomon feels toward his lover (song 7:7) and David felt for his friendship with Jonathan. Not to be graphic, but you don’t ever have to tell a young man to desire his lover’s beauty; it is deeply seated in the fabric of all that he desires. Do your own study. Proverbs 2:10 “pleseant” is Strongs 5276, TWOT 1384. In the metaphor of athletics, I would love that we all become professional athletes; but the thing that should be noted is that most successful athletes love playing their game. They enjoy it. Many still embrace that childlike joy that says, “I don’t believe that I get paid to do this;” and if by practicing or playing they hone their skill (learning about themselves, the game, or their opponent). I encourage you to bring a sense of delight to our physical postures and scrutiny.

Another reason that I encourage you to think of practicing disciplines like a sport is so that you will give yourself the freedom to fail. When you practice a sport you often fail. That’s why you’re practicing. If you made every shot you took you never need to practice.

In the big game there will be pressure and you will need to make the shot, but at 6:am while you are alone in the gym you can take any shot you want. When it comes to challenges many people are afraid to fail. But the purpose of the challenges is to orient ourselves toward God and act shrewdly toward our culture. You cannot fail at this. Even if you fail at whatever the challenge was for the month. Say perhaps the challenge is to eat only porridge for a month, and after three days you give up.

You may feel that you have “failed” the challenge, but you have not failed. You have moved forward in your understanding of your own culture/faith/habits. Why did you give up after three days? Does the Holy Spirit bring anything to mind? Use that so-called-failure as a chance to examine yourself.  If you ‘give up’ after three days yet keep your heart oriented to the Lord you will have opportunity to learn. Perhaps you are undisciplined? Perhaps your eating habits need to be re-examined. Perhaps you have low blood sugar and this challenge would never have worked for you. There are 1,000’s of possibilities. My hope for you is that you willingly examine yourself and allow others to gently, playfully, and kindly sharpen you as we walk these challenges together.

Just a note about myself. I ‘fail’ most challenges. In that I mean that I end up not finishing the reading, or eating more of something for a day or something of the like. But I don’t care. I’m not doing the challenges to get notches for my belt. I do them because I grow every single time. I do them because it gives me a chance to encourage and admonish my brothers and sisters. I do them because my sin blinds me and I want to orient myself toward the light of Christ in all that I do that perhaps He will grant me grace to be like more like Him.

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