The Game of Life – Prudence

This series we have been talking about how morality has more to do with becoming the right sort of person than it does being a person that follows all the rules. People sometimes assume that if they can do “good” things more and “bad” things less, they will somehow put God in their debt or gain his approval. This attitude fails to consider the level of transformation that is available in Jesus. In Christ, there is the possibility of New Life, where an internal transformation occurs supernaturally. This is not based on our moral performance, but on Christ’s work on our behalf. This is how we are to become the “right sort of person.”

What is the right kind of person? In this series, we are looking at morality in terms of “virtues:” internal characteristics that define who a person is or is becoming instead of external rules that define what they do or do not do. The 4 classic virtues (sometimes called the “Cardinal Virtues”) are Temperance, Prudence, Justice, and Fortitude.

Let’s talk about Prudence. This is one of those words that has lost its meaning over time. What I mean by prudence is the correct knowledge of things to be done or avoided, or the ability to make the right choice. Prudence is first among the virtues because it guides the others by setting the course of life and helps in applying moral principles to particular cases.


Remember the Game of Life? You make your choices, and depending on how well you choose, you either end up living in “Millionaire Acres” or as some dead beat. I don’t know about ending up in “Millionaire Acres,” but I do think that the Game of Life has a lot to do with Prudence. Prudence, like Life, is all about making choices.

The bible gives us a great conversation throughout the book of Proverbs that sets “Wisdom” against “Folly.” Wisdom is personified by in a noble and beautiful young woman. She is the kind of girl every young man dreams of marrying. Folly on the other hand, takes the form of a woman with “questionable character.” If wisdom is the ability to make good choices, folly is the opposite. Folly is impulse, empty promises, misplaced desire, reckless affection, and self-destruction. She is sneaky and seductive, but in the end she is disaster. She represents all the choices that seem like a good idea only to end in unbearable consequences.

When it comes to virtues, Prudence is not on the top of the teenage list. They tend to make decisions based on feeling, considering only the most immediate impact and ignoring long term consequences. Being prudent means having the ability to forecast the long term impact of our decision. Our culture struggles with this idea, as evidenced by the “credit card philosophy” by which many people live. Play now, pay later is a slogan that would sum up the average student’s attitude toward life. Prudence means taking the time to stop and think, weigh each option for pro’s and con’s, and proceed with the logical choice. Jesus warned about “counting the cost” before beginning any endeavor.

Prudence also means knowing where to find wisdom when you need it. When they are at an impasse, most teenagers naturally look for advice from their friends. This is a bit like asking another drowning person to help you out of the pool. One of the marks of maturity is when a young person starts seeking advice in the right places. Very often, when people say they are looking for advice, what they are actually looking for is someone to agree with what they have already decided. Proverbs 12:15 says it just right: “Fools think they need no advice, but the wise listen to others.” Teens need to be challenged and reminded that teachers, coaches, pastors, youth leaders, and (gasp) even their parents are MUCH better sources of advice than other teenagers.

ORANGE MOMENT: Of course, there are plenty of topics in the teenage universe that they are not comfortable talking to mom and pop about. This is where youth ministry can offer families a great tool. In youth ministry, we have adults (that are not mom and dad) that have taken the time to enter the teenage world and earn enough relational currency to matter. These adults have established a platform to say the same kinds of things that mom and dad would say. This is why we work so hard to create environments that are conducive to deepening the relationship between youth leaders and students. This way parents have a resource they can turn to when another adult is needed to “echo” the wisdom that our students should be hearing at home. Now we are thinking orange!

Questions for you and your teenager:

*How do you make decisions? What is your thought process like? What kinds of things do you consider before making a big decision? Why?
*Who can you go to for advice on something important? Should you trust these people to give you good advice? Why or why not?
*How should the Bible play into our decision making? What role should God have in our choices?


Know the Game – Questions of Morality…

Have you every played a board game with someone that played with a different set of rules than you normally play with? It can be frustrating to say the least. Monopoly is the king of “home grown” rules. It seems like everyone has a different twist or tweak for that game. When it comes to life, I wonder if some people are making up or customizing rules as well. This is very evident when it comes to religion. C.S. Lewis told a story about a little boy that was asked to describe God. The boys answer gets at what I am talking about: “As far as I can make out, God is the sort of person who is always snooping around to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it.”

One example that I found (which will remain “link-less”) is a website full of such rules. This site defines the gospel (which ironically means “good news”) by reminding everyone that God demands perfect obedience and “whoever does not obey God will punish and destroy.” What are these areas where perfect obedience is expected? It is not, as you might expect, in areas of love, mercy, or justice. Instead, issues of the heart have been replaced by a long list of things NOT to do. This list includes: television, movies, newspapers, magazines, ALL organized sports (this website spells out that they mean amateur and professional sports of any kind), holidays like Christmas, and parties of any kind. It appears that people always have the tendency to make Christianity about following a set of external rules.

This was a problem in the early church, though it was a little different then. The big issue for many of the Greek churches that Paul planted was what to do about all the Hebrew code of laws. The 600 different biblical laws and the thousands of laws from the Hebrew Oral tradition were somewhat problematic for the Greeks coming to faith in Jesus. Things like circumcision and food laws had become external stamps of righteousness to the Jews and there was pressure to force the Gentile believers in Jesus into these bonds. The book of Galatians has this tension in the background. Paul makes the argument that Christ’s work on the cross has set us free from the burden of the law. This does not mean that people are free to behave however they want no matter who it hurts, but it does significantly change the motivation for right action. In Paul’s view, it is not about trying “keep the rules” but about meeting the obligations of a love relationship with Jesus. So in one sense we are free: free from the obligation to keep all the rules because that is what we ought to do. In another sense we are bound: we have an obligation to return the love we have been shown.

So if externalism is not the kind of righteousness God is looking for, what is God looking for? This is the question we will be asking this month in Echo. We will be looking at morality in terms of “virtues:” internal characteristics that define who a person is or is becoming instead of external rules that define what they do or do not do.