the fear that brings wisdom

Okay, it’s about to get awkward and honest. Well, more honest than awkward (I do enough of that in real life) but you might feel awkward reading my latest loop-de-loop that’s got me feeling exposed.

Did I ever tell you I’m stubborn? Well, I am. And I can blame it on Nichols nature or I can blame it on the human condition or I can take full credit for that thing in me that resists when people offer to help carry an obviously too-heavy load. Yep, I’m stubborn. And I’m pretty accustomed to the good and bad situations I get into because of it.

Recently, though, I’ve been surprised.
I never thought my stubbornness would keep me fearful or help me avoid risk or support “playing it safe.” All those things seem like what I use stubbornness to fight against nearly every day. I always thought stubbornness was something I could use to my advantage – to push through when things were hard or didn’t make sense. My knowledge of the Lord led me straight into a very stubborn belief that, in any situation, I can “grin and bear it.” I thought stubbornness was almost holy, I guess.

And here’s where it gets honest. 

I’m afraid of the GRE.
I’m nervous that I can’t kick it in grad school.
I’m worried I might choose a specialized field that doesn’t translate practically to serving real people.
I hate the thought of looking foolish in a classroom.
I fear the pride of another degree.

And I guess a combination of the above is what led me to steer clear of institutionalized higher learning after I graduated in 2007. I actually researched graduate programs that didn’t require the GRE and have since looked for “continuing education” programs that don’t emphasize a degree. That’s how stubborn I was about my fears.

And I was missing out.

When Christ promised to bring life in abundance, he did not call everyone to the same position or profession. He is big enough to be abundant in the life of a lawyer and big enough to be abundant in the life of a shepherd. I got so stubborn holding onto Him being “big enough to be abundant” while I fill my schedule with part-time work that I refused to think there were other ways I could use/grow my gifts. This was my excuse on the surface for all those other stubborn reasons I wasn’t sharing.

“I know God will use me wherever I am, as long as I’m willing to be used.”

That little bit of self-talk has been on replay since I came back to the States on a mad hunt for a job to pay off my school debt. It kicked up into high chipmunk-style gear when I started working for my uncle on the farm and then when I accepted two part-time jobs in Ames. I just kept saying, I’ve just got to be willing. I still believe it’s true, but I also believe it allowed me to hide. It was Jim Elliott who said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” And to that I say, amen! But, I would add that we must always have a heart ready to do something else – something that might throw our fears out into the light and challenge our stubborn resolve.

The flip side of my willingness has hit me like a bucket of cold water in the past couple days. Am I willing to release my stubbornness and face my fears about doing something else? Am I willing to say that all the closed doors for full-time employment mean an open door for more learning? Am I willing to say “God is big enough to be abundant” if I go back to school?

Some fear is not good. And this is that kind of fear for me.

I think I’ll pray for the kind of fear that ends up being worth wisdom. And then I’ll pray for the courage to do what that wisdom reveals.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” Proverbs 9:10

let LOVE fly like cRaZy


I haven’t posted anything for the past few days because I haven’t been using my computer… because I misplaced my cord. After the battery died a few nights ago, I shrugged, moved on, and thought, “Well, there’s that.” I knew it would turn up eventually. This is one of those times when I’m reminded I don’t fit in US culture anymore.

But, cultural careening aside, I’ve been diving in to some precious reads lately. Finding Calcutta by Mary Poplin, Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey, and the Perspectives textbook are striking straight conviction in my heart and sending me to Scripture and prayer.

I keep coming back to this idea of knowledge.

I know, I know. I’ve already hashed it out – knowledge is useless unless it results in obedient acts full of love. But, I literally have to remind myself of this every day, multiple times a day. It’s a discipline to recall those things I’m learning and then, instead of simply sharing my realizations, put them into practice. If I am learning to serve, then I must ask, “What can I do to serve right now?” instead of, “How can I explain what I’m learning about service right now?”

So, I’m learning what it means to see knowledge as responsibility – personal responsibility.

I’m also learning that catchy phrase from School House Rock, “knowledge is power,” holds true for our culture in a way that we often ignore.

Mary Poplin spent most of her life running after isms and throwing rocks at religion. After becoming a believer while a professor at Claremont in California, she decided to spend two months volunteering with Mother Theresa and the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. Her book, Finding Calcutta, explores how her journey shaped her young faith and impacted what she would understand a “Christian life” to look like. Let’s just say it looked a lot different than the Christianity she ran from for so long… and it had a lot to do with how our knowledge of God plays out in the everyday-ness of our lives. In grappling with her role as an educator, she writes about a realization she had on a plane ride one day,

“…Genesis 1:1-3 informs us that ‘in the beginning… the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.’ I saw distinctly the three moving as one – God, His Spirit and His Word. What a miracle that these three always agree! The Gospel of John reveals more about the Word that God spoke, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without Him was not anything made that was made… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ Paul tells us in Hebrews that Jesus ‘is the exact imprint of God’s very being,‘ and in Colossians that ‘by him all things were created… and in him all things hold together.’ I asked myself, If these are true, then how could anything I taught not relate to God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus?”

Christianity is not knowledge on Sundays to make our Monday through Friday knowledge a little less painful. Following Christ is not about believing a nursery rhyme because believing real truth is just too depressing.

Some of our generation’s atheist thinkers (who would philosophically trace back to David Hume), explain our fascination with religion in this dualistic way. Because we can’t deal with the reality that life has no meaning, we create meaning so we can sleep at night. We have what Francis Schaeffer called a two-story concept of truth.


We conveniently hold two competing worldviews in a dichotomy so that we can appease both the ‘scientific facts’ and the ‘subjective feelings’ warring within us. We can say, “The sun will come up” with sure, scientific conviction as much as we can be convinced that “no one really knows the meaning of life or if there is one.”

Pearcey takes Schaeffer’s two-story idea in her book Saving Leonardo and explores its implications throughout history – bringing us up to our jumbled, dichotomous understanding of truth today. She writes of one Cambridge philosopher, Peter Lipton, who has a Jewish background. In an interview, he once said, “I stand in my synagogue and pray to God and have an intense relationship with God, and yet I don’t believe in God.”

Stranger than his statement is that to question him is ‘intolerant’ and anti-intellectual. When did “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” start to say, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Biblical wisdom” in Psalm 9:10? We are not so developed, my friends – not so progressive as we like to think. It used to be that the great theologians were naturally the great philosophers; that great pastors were naturally the great scholars; that great evangelists were naturally great orators. Why? Because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7)… and not just cute, Sunday school knowledge. All knowledge.

What Mary Poplin realized on that plane ride was that there is only one Truth. Sure, people believe different things – about science and philosophy and art and what happens to the worms who will one day eat our flesh. But, believing in something doesn’t make it true. There is only one Truth that makes sense of things on this earth and it starts with a holy fear of the Lord.

Our culture is parched. The people are desperate for this no-holds-barred message. Forget sugar-coated. Forget patty cake and beating around the bush. They want answers. The hard stuff. The rated R conversations with God.

Two Cathedrals clip from The West Wing (warning for language)

The world will not make sense until we understand that all knowledge must begin with a fear of the Lord. Until then, our generation is simply caught in the crossfire of heaven and hell with no defense, just like Brandon Flowers croons.

Crossfire by Brandon Flowers (lyrics here)

Our culture is CRYING OUT and hoping that something calls back. I think they’re even willing to wrestle it out, ready to tear down the stories of skyscrapers built to stand against religion, if it means there is something solid to stand on underneath.

We Don’t Eat by James Vincent McMorrow (lyrics here)

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