Souls who follow their hearts thrive ...

Ignore the Word and suffer; honor God's commands and grow rich. The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, so, no more drinking from death-tainted wells! Sound thinking makes for gracious living, but liars walk a rough road. A commonsense person lives good sense; fools litter the country with silliness. Souls who follow their hearts thrive; fools bent on evil despise matters of soul. -Proverbs 13:12-16,19 MSG

There are two basic ways to live - from your head or from your heart. When we are young we tend to play it safe and live in the black and white world of our heads - the black and white is easy and merely requires a set of simplistic rules to aid us in the complex decisions of life. The brain is most comfortable with the black or white and is uncomfortable with the gray. Yet the gray heart areas are where true we find the beautiful things in life like love and friendship.

When I ponder what it means to "honor God's commands" or heed the "teaching of the wise" I think of trusting God with all of my heart. Commonsense and wisdom are things that often cannot be discerned by logic and principles because they are "matters of soul" - sometimes we need to dig deep with our hearts and souls to find the wise and sensible way.

Help us to be wise Lord and trust in you with all of hearts and not lean on our own understanding.

Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick ...

A God-loyal life keeps you on track; sin dumps the wicked in the ditch. A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life. The rich can be sued for everything they have, but the poor are free of such threats. The lives of good people are brightly lit streets; the lives of the wicked are dark alleys. Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around. -Proverbs 13:6-9,12 MSG

Being faithful to God is a lifelong pursuit that is replete with trials, heartaches and disappointments. Yet this kind of life is also accompanied by something that transcends pain and suffering - knowing God and being known by him somehow puts these things in perspective. As I look back over my life I realize that even in deep despair I had a sense that God was with me - when Ellen, my first wife, died I had a deep sense that someone was walking beside me.

It is this understanding that causes faith, faithfulness and perseverance to spring up from our souls. In truth no one can take you to court and strip you of these things. No one can take our integrity from us. These things light our way in life and cause hope to arise and fill our hearts even in the toughest of times. These are the the simple things that make our lives so full. Apart from faith, hope and love life would be without meaning but with them life is so rich.

You Lord are the author and completer of our faith. Author faith in us today where none exists.

The speech of the upright saves.

The words of the wicked kill; the speech of the upright saves. The gossip of bad people gets them in trouble; the conversation of good people keeps them out of it. Well-spoken words bring satisfaction; well-done work has its own reward. Truthful witness by a good person clears the air, but liars lay down a smoke screen of deceit. Rash language cuts and maims, but there is healing in the words of the wise. -Proverbs 12:6,13-14,17-18

The stark contrasts in these verses bring to light the struggles that we have in life. Are we people who speak life or death? Do our words cut and maim or do they heal? These verses remind me that James writes in his epistle:
"A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!"
James writes these verses to believers who (he knows this from his own experiences) struggle with the things that they say. James knows that once something is spoken it can never be taken back. He understands, like Solomon, that wisdom is never found in a rash cutting response. I have found that to be true in my life as well.

These words challenge me today to listen more than I speak ... to think before I spout foolish words ... to consider if my words will heal or maim the one listening to what I say. Life or death? The choice is ours. Speak life.

Forgive me for the hurtful ways that I have spoken Lord. Help my words to bless and not curse today.

The world of the generous gets larger ...

The desires of good people lead straight to the best, but wicked ambition ends in angry frustration. The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller. The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped. Curses on those who drive a hard bargain! Blessings on all who play fair and square! The one who seeks good finds delight; the student of evil becomes evil. -Proverbs 11:23-27 MSG

As I read these verses my mind flashed back to a time in 1984 when I was negotiating the purchase of the home I would live in for 18 years. I had reached an impasse with the seller and, out of frustration, I began to pray. As I knelt beside my bed these questions came to me: "What is your motive? Is it to rob this man?" Yikes! The questions confronted me with my desire to get the best of the seller. I had a similar prayerful interaction when I sold my house as well.

What is it in us that wants to get the best of another human being? Is it greed or pride? Is it the same motive that causes us to be stingy with a hard working waiter or waitress? Why do we not want to bless the other party with the better deal? These question hit to the heart of what it means to be generous. In a sense generosity is giving a person more than they deserve. This kind of generosity stretches us to the max and causes us to embrace outrageous grace.

Help us today dear Father to embrace the kind of generosity that you had when you sent Jesus to live amongst us.

Without good direction, people lose their way ...

When it goes well for good people, the whole town cheers; when it goes badly for bad people, the town celebrates. When right-living people bless the city, it flourishes; evil talk turns it into a ghost town in no time. Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances. -Proverbs 11:10-11,14

In the United States, my country, a war of ideas has been raging for as long as I can remember - the country was founded on big ideas like freedom and unalienable God-given rights. And for many years faith has played a major role - when I came to faith in 1976 one of the candidates was a strong Christian who was pictured many times praying in public. That candidate was elected that year but ousted four years later by Christians who did not embrace his ideas.

So when Solomon speaks of things going "well for good people" I wonder about the application for our lives today and if his words are more ideological than practical. Yet it causes me to remember that:
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)
I have watched apathy gain a strong hold of my generation and the ones following mine. These words from Edmund Burke ring out and resonate with what Solomon opines in today's verses. Engagement in our culture is not an option. We must pray and work for God's will to be done and kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

Once again we kneel Lord and ask for your will to be done and your kingdom to come - on earth as it is in heaven.

Good character is the best insurance ...

The integrity of the honest keeps them on track; the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin. A thick bankroll is no help when life falls apart, but a principled life can stand up to the worst. Moral character makes for smooth traveling; an evil life is a hard life. Good character is the best insurance; crooks get trapped in their sinful lust. -Proverbs 11:3-6

I once heard that character is reflected in what you do when no one is looking. I like that. So many of us learned to behave when our parents were around but lost our way and misbehaved when we left home. It reminds me of the parable of the prodigal son - he sinned and lost all of his inheritance when he left home. Yet a spark of character arose in that prodigal as he left the stench of the sty and returned home to his loving father. Bad character is not permanent.

Is there a better thing to aspire to than integrity? Living an external life that is consistent with my inner life challenges and inspires me. Even so, I think that it is so easy to pretend and play the hypocrite. Jesus put it this way: "For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." Integrity, being the same on the inside and outside, keeps us on track and connected to reality.

Help us Lord to be filled with your righteous character on the inside and the outside.

Chatterboxes die of an empty heart

Liars secretly hoard hatred; fools openly spread slander. The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words. The speech of a good person is worth waiting for; the blabber of the wicked is worthless. The talk of a good person is rich fare for many, but chatterboxes die of an empty heart. -Proverbs 10:18-21 MSG

In the sixth chapter of the gospel of Luke Jesus gives us insight into what Solomon speaks of in these verses:
"The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."
I sometimes think that what we say is like a bank account - we cannot withdraw more than we have deposited. If our heart is filled with deposits of envy we will utter envious things. If we have deposited gratitude then thanksgiving will roll off of our tongues. It is why it is so important to fill our hearts with life giving spiritual deposits.

Making deposits into our hearts requires the same diligence that a person saving for retirement needs. Each morning when we awake we make choices about what we will fill our hearts with. Will we preempt an angry outburst later in the day by filling our heart with forgiveness early in the morning or will we let the anger percolate? Will we meditate on the scriptures and fill our hearts with it or will we focus on something else. The choice of deposit is ours.

Help us to know how to store love and other good things in out heart Lord.

It's vinegar in the mouth, smoke in the eyes.

Ill-gotten gain gets you nowhere; an honest life is immortal. ... Sloth makes you poor; diligence brings wealth. Make hay while the sun shines—that's smart; go fishing during harvest—that's stupid. ... A lazy employee will give you nothing but trouble; it's vinegar in the mouth, smoke in the eyes. -Proverbs 10:2,4-5,26 MSG

Often when we think about dishonesty and the term "Ill-gotten gain" we think about thieves and those who take things that are not theirs. That is a comfortable definition for many of us who do not do such things. Yet I wonder how many might expand the definition to include sloth and laziness? It is difficult to know where to draw the line between stealing office supplies and taking two hour lunch breaks. Each seems to be representative of "Ill-gotten gain".

When I read about someone going fishing during harvest I think of a hired hand who does not understand what is important. I wonder if such a person might offer the excuse that spending time with his family fishing is more important than helping his employer harvest the crops? Not to say that life is all about work and careers - just wondering how many employers can really depend on us when it counts and how many of us leave a bad taste in their mouth.

Help us to be known for our work ethic Lord. Speak to us about doing our work as unto you and not unto man.

Mock life and life will mock you.

Skilled living gets its start in the Fear-of-God, insight into life from knowing a Holy God. It's through me, Lady Wisdom, that your life deepens, and the years of your life ripen. Live wisely and wisdom will permeate your life; mock life and life will mock you. -Proverbs 9:11-12 MSG

My life began to change that day that I invited Jesus into my life. My perspective changed as well as my attitude. Being in a prayer filled relationship with the Lord radically tweaked every aspect of my thinking and all of my actions. My heart was filled with an awe that I had never known as I began to regularly experience the presence of God. The awe of the Lord changes me still today. Prayer does not always change my circumstance but many times it changes me.

There is a superficial way to journey through life that keeps one's attention away from the deep meaning of life. So often, as these verses say, we seem to mock life by the things that we do and say. We say no to the Holy Spirit and prevent wisdom from penetrating our heart. Yet when we say a simple yes to God "our life deepens, and the years of our life ripen." Our lives are so different when our hearts are transformed and are filled with the awe of the Lord.

Transform us dear Lord. Fill us afresh with the awesome wisdom and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Don't waste your time on a scoffer.

If you reason with an arrogant cynic, you'll get slapped in the face; confront bad behavior and get a kick in the shins. So don't waste your time on a scoffer; all you'll get for your pains is abuse. But if you correct those who care about life, that's different—they'll love you for it! Save your Save your breath for the wise—they'll be wiser for it; tell good people what you know—they'll profit from it. -Proverbs 9:7-10 MSG

Some of the words that jump out from this passage at me are: arrogant; cynic; scoffer and abuse. When I think of them I wonder what causes people to exhibit these traits. Sometimes I have them - being religious is not a cure for them. Sometimes I think that these things rear their heads when we are reminded of past pains and broken dreams. On occasion I am inwardly cynical when people talk to me about prayer as I remember my unanswered prayers.

When I think of these verses I think of what Jesus said in Matthew's gospel: "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces." When we are vulnerable ... when we share the most holy part of our heart ... with people we risk that our words and even our heart will be smashed and broken. It is why we must exercise wisdom in the sharing of things that are sacred to us.

Father, help us to not be cynical or arrogant. Let the words of a scoffer be far from us. Help us to be humble.

Don't squander your precious life.

Mark a life of discipline and live wisely; don't squander your precious life. Blessed the man, blessed the woman, who listens to me, awake and ready for me each morning, alert and responsive as I start my day's work. When you find me, you find life, real life, to say nothing of God's good pleasure. But if you wrong me, you damage your very soul; when you reject me, you're flirting with death." -Proverbs 8:33-36

There is an old saying that capsulizes these verses - life is precious, handle with care. When we are young life seems so long and we wonder what people mean when they tell us to not waste our life. As we age we begin to understand what our elders meant - nobody wishes that they spent less time with their family. Even so, it is sometimes so hard to set priorities that withstand the test of time. Knowing the right thing to do can seem more of an art form than a choice.

Enter the magnificent Lady Wisdom - our lives transcend the ordinary when we listen to her voice our heart. Sometimes the difference between a life well lived and something less can be measured by the distance between our head and our heart. It is said that wisdom is not about doing things right but doing the right things. This is where a wise heart is so needed. The brain can instruct us in how to do things right but only the heart can guide us to do the right things.

Help us to be wise today Lord. Help us to listen to your voice in our heart.

I live next to Sanity ...

I am Lady Wisdom, and I live next to Sanity; Knowledge and Discretion live just down the street.
The Fear-of-God means hating Evil, whose ways I hate with a passion— pride and arrogance and crooked talk.
Good counsel and common sense are my characteristics; I am both Insight and the Virtue to live it out. -Prov 8:12-15

Wisdom works best when accompanied by the attributes that Solomon delineates in these verses. Even so, sanity is a strange word to find in a passage about wisdom. It reminds me that Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. Sometimes it takes courage to be wise. Often the wise path is the one not taken. Sometimes the sanest and wisest thing we can do is different from the things we have done.

In other places Solomon writes that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom - in this verse he takes that thought a bit further and says that fearing God means hating what God hates. And even further, it is not hating the evil in our neighbor but the evil in our self. Wisdom requires that we reject arrogant pride and embrace humility. Apart from humility we would reject the counsel, common sense, insight and virtues needed to embrace and truly walk in wisdom.

Dear Lord, give us the courage today to humbly embrace the path of wisdom by trying something different.

No Excuses

Can you build a fire in your lap and not burn your pants?
Can you walk barefoot on hot coals and not get blisters?
It's the same when you have sex with your neighbor's wife:
Touch her and you'll pay for it. No excuses.
-Proverbs 6:27-29 MSG-

"No excuses." A hard word to hear for folks who are prone to rationalization and mental gymnastics. The truth is often a difficult thing to receive. In these few verses Solomon gives a very direct word to those who are prone to temptation. The problem is that many times adulterers are not caught and seemingly get off scott-free.. unless the negative effect on the soul is considered.. unless the alienation that the adulterer experiences with their spouse is factored in.

Writing to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of shameful deeds done in darkness. In a sense all sins begins with inner darkness. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks to how murder begins with hate and adultery is conceived with lust. In truth those fiery coals begin to scorch our inner beings long before they are visible to the outer eye. When we play around with hate, bitterness, unforgiveness, lust and other inner sicknesses we give way the sins that destroy us.

Lead us Lord. Not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

Six things God hates ...

Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family. -Proverbs 6:16-19 MSG

This list contained in this passage is sometimes referred to as the seven deadly sins. Of course the list is neither complete or comprehensive - it is given not in an exhaustive sense but as more of an example to us. Why do you think that is says that God hates and loathes (with a passion) the actions detailed here? Is it because these acts offend his holiness or his fatherliness? My thinking is that he knows how these things work to destroy the lives of his children.

Does it surprise you that arrogant eyes and familial trouble-making made the list alongside of murder? I think they are included to remind us that there are no small sins in the eyes of God. When I read about arrogant eyes I think of looking on others with judgment instead of compassion. Interesting how lying is mentioned twice - speaks to me of how important our words are. In the end sin is deadly because of the way that it alienates us from God and from each other.

Dear Lord, keep our hearts, our minds, our lips, our hands, our feet and every part of us far from sin.

How long before you get out of bed?

You lazy fool, look at an ant. Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two. Nobody has to tell it what to do. All summer it stores up food; at harvest it stockpiles provisions. So how long are you going to laze around doing nothing? How long before you get out of bed? A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there, sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next? Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life, poverty your permanent houseguest! -Proverb 6:6-11 MSG

Many years ago I had a discussion with my teenage son about the "work standard". I talked to him about the idea that work, not gold, is what makes our currency valuable. Sadly my view is not shared by many who feel that lottery style shortcuts are the way to become wealthy. Whether these trade on Wall Street or pull the one-armed bandits at casinos, they have the same modus operandi - get rich without work. In this proverb Solomon advises against such behavior.

If you are a betting person (I am not), I think that you should consider that the odds favor the tortoise and are stacked against the hare - few people ever hit the Powerball jackpot but many are able to retire comfortably when they accumulate wealth gradually through daily labor and saving. Working hard is a discipline that pays off over time. Solomon tells us that even the ant understand the value of daily work and gradual saving. It is not rocket science.

Help us Lord to be disciplined. Help us to stay away from shortcuts and get-rich-quick schemes.

If you've gone into hock ...

Dear friend, if you've gone into hock with your neighbor or locked yourself into a deal with a stranger, If you've impulsively promised the shirt off your back and now find yourself shivering out in the cold, Friend, don't waste a minute, get yourself out of that mess. You're in that man's clutches! Go, put on a long face; act desperate. Don't procrastinate— there's no time to lose. Run like a deer from the hunter, fly like a bird from the trapper! -Proverbs 6:1-5

Money is something that is written about extensively in the scriptures and debt/credit specifically is addressed in many places. My first real exposure to borrowing money came when I was in the Army. The day after payday, and seemingly every day after until the next payday, was filled with guys asking for a few bucks to get them by until payday. I never could understand it then, and still have difficulty understanding it now, why people can't live within their means.

Credit and debt continues to devastate families all over the world. Folks buy things that they cannot afford and enslave themselves to lenders and credit card companies. The problem seems to involve a lust for things and a lack of contentment. The apostle told the Philippians that he "learned" to be content. If we are humble, we too can learn to be content. If we will listen to God with all of our heart we too can conquer the materialistic lust that enslaves us.

Lord Jesus, you came to proclaim liberty for those in captivity. Please help those in financial slavery to get free.

Nothing but sin and bones ...

The lips of a seductive woman are oh so sweet, her soft words are oh so smooth. ... She hasn't a clue about Real Life, about who she is or where she's going. ... You don't want to squander your wonderful life, to waste your precious life among the hardhearted. Why should you allow strangers to take advantage of you? Why be exploited by those who care nothing for you? You don't want to end your life full of regrets, nothing but sin and bones, Saying, "Oh, why didn't I do what they told me? Why did I reject a disciplined life? Why didn't I listen to my mentors, or take my teachers seriously? -Proverbs 5:3,6,9-13 MSG

Solomon seems to be a bit reflective as he speaks to his son about the dangers of sexual promiscuity. In first Kings it says "King Solomon was obsessed with women" and indicates that he had 700 hundred wives and 300 hundred concubines. I wonder how many times he gave into sexual temptation with hardhearted strangers? He describes it as undisciplined and a squandering of real life. It is no wonder why he spends so much time warning his son against it.

Regret is a powerful word. Sometimes people cannot get past their past and find themselves left with "nothing but sin and bones". Even King David had regrets after he sinned sexually. He bemoaned how his sin haunted him and was ever before him. Yet David found forgiveness as he cried out to God. In Psalm 51 he repents of his sin and asks God for a clean heart and a joyful salvation. Like David our past does not need to own us. Forgiveness is a prayer away.

Thank you dear Lord Jesus for forgiveness. Help us find a way to get past our past. Restore to us the joy of salvation.

Keep vigilant watch over your heart ...

Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that's where life starts. Don't talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip. Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust. -Proverbs 4:23-27

It is so easy in life to encounter things that bruise our hearts. People do awful things. Sickness and disease sometimes ravage our bodies and those of the ones that we love. So often our prayers go unanswered and we are left feeling all alone in life. It is in these times that our hearts are so vulnerable and need to be protected from the things that cause it to harden to others and to God. If left untended our hearts become numb and lose the capacity to love.

In Matthew 18 Jesus speaks to us of forgiving from "our heart". Ever wonder why he said it that way? I like to think of forgiveness as God's heart softener. When wounds, criticisms and sins make it past our skin and pierce our heart forgiveness can make our heart soft again. Forgiveness guards our heart and keeps it from becoming hard. This is why it is so important to forgive. It is a way that we can keep a vigilant watch our heart and keep it soft.

As you have taught us to pray Lord: forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Sell everything and buy Wisdom!

When I was a boy at my father's knee, the pride and joy of my mother, He would sit me down and drill me: "Take this to heart. Do what I tell you - live! Sell everything and buy Wisdom! Forage for Understanding! ... Above all and before all, do this: Get Wisdom! Write this at the top of your list: Get Understanding! -Proverbs 4:3-5, 7 MSG
I love the imagery as this proverb begins.. the picture of a father teaching his son.. impressing on him the value of inner heart learning and how spiritual life comes from obedience. I also love the straightforwardness of this verse - if you want wisdom then do everything you can do to get it. This captures the heart of the seventh verse of Proverbs One that teaches that wisdom begins when we honor the Lord. Obtaining wisdom, like following the lord, is an issue of priorities.

These verses also tell us why so many are not wise. To be wise we must assume the attitude of a child listening to what their father tells them. The path to wisdom always involves humility. Yet, like the child who thinks they know better than their father, we are full of pride and reject the voice of wisdom. We rely more on the voice of our own 'logical' understanding than the voice that speaks to us from deep within. To be wise we must first trust with all of our heart.

Help me to be wise dear Lord. Help me to hear and listen to your voice deep within my soul.

Your hand is God's hand ...

Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God's hand for that person. Don't tell your neighbor "Maybe some other time" or "Try me tomorrow" when the money's right there in your pocket. Don't figure ways of taking advantage of your neighbor when he's sitting there trusting and unsuspecting. Proverbs 3:27-29 MSG

These verses speak to me about the tension that exists between the evangelical and social gospel. On one hand, there is an idea floating around that presents the notion that all we need is God and a personal relationship Him. On the flip-side some embrace the idea that the gospel is not for "me" but for "us". My thinking is that God reveals his love to us through others - as Solomon puts it "your hand is God's hand". The gospel is all about a love that changes us.

The word "neighbor" reminds me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. The telling of the parable was provoked by the question "Who is my neighbor?" That story so speaks to me of what it means to love your neighbor. Yet in the mind of a Jew, the Samaritan was the least likely person to be the loving hand of God for another person. It teaches me of how God can and will use anyone to love those who He loves. The gospel is all about a love that helps our neighbor.

Teach me Lord to love my neighbor Lord. Help me to be your hands for the one who needs you today.

Her friendship is better than a big salary ...

You're blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom, when you make friends with Madame Insight. She's worth far more than money in the bank; her friendship is better than a big salary. Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth; nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her. With one hand she gives long life, with the other she confers recognition. Her manner is beautiful, her life wonderfully complete. She's the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her. Hold her tight—and be blessed! -Proverbs 3:13-18 MSG

It was a morning in May 1998 when I clearly heard the voice of Lady Wisdom echo loudly in my heart. Months prior to that day I had been offered an early retirement package and I was not inclined at all to accept it - it did not make sense to my head to retire at age 49. In my car on my way to work Lady Wisdom asked me this question: "Is it more risky to stay or to leave?" By the time I got to work I was convinced that the less risky path was to retire.

Funny how wisdom can speak to our hearts in the form of questions. Sometimes she speaks in ways that we can only sense in our gut. Often it is in the form of a thought that we had never imagined before. Solomon here tells us not to ignore the things that wisdom speaks to us. He says that the value of wisdom is great and we are blessed when we hold on to wisdom. Yet it is difficult because we need to trust God with all of our heart when wisdom speaks to us.

Thank you Lord for the many times you have spoken wisdom to my heart. Help me to hear wisdom's voice today.

Honor God with everything you own ...

Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best. Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over. But don't, dear friend, resent God's discipline; don't sulk under his loving correction. It's the child he loves that God corrects; a father's delight is behind all this. -Proverbs 3:9-12 MSG

Sometimes we read about honoring God and we do not understand the joy that is involved in giving to God from our hearts. We reading about giving him our first and best and our mind takes us to tithes and percentages.. and our brain trumps our heart.. and we are robbed of the joy connected with giving. We forget about Paul's words to the Corinthians: "God loves it when the giver delights in the giving." When our heart is involved in the giving we experience joy.

Sometimes we can read of God's discipline and we think that He is out to get us. These verses paint a different picture. In this passage we see how discipline is the natural consequence when we do not honor God with everything we own. It is not the case where a parent is spanking their child but more the case where they allow their children to experience the consequences of their bad choices. God longs to bless us but often we ourselves hold back his blessings.

Help me today Lord to cheerfully honor and bless you with all that I am and all that I own.

In everything you do ...

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track. -Proverbs 3:5-6

It is so easy to compartmentalize our lives into secular and sacred activities. Even in church we sometimes hear how certain things are holy and other things are not. It is a lie perpetrated to exalt religious vocation over others. Yet here Solomon tells us that trusting God is all about listening for His voice in "everything" and "everywhere". Trusting God was never mean to be something that only the religious leaders did in religious acts and holy places.

What do you think he meant when he wrote "Listen for God's voice"? Do you think that the wisest man of his time had a hotline to God or a special connection? Or do you think that this voice was something subtler? My view is that we hear God in the same place that we trust God - in our heart. Some think of it as a "gut feeling" ... some as the voice of their conscience. Either way you see it there seems to be a place within us where we can trust God and hear His voice.

Help us to pay attention to your voice within us Lord and trust that you are speaking to us.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart ...

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track. -Proverbs 3:5-6

These words echo in my soul every time I am challenged with pain. When my brain, body and emotions are overwhelmed with torment these words echo in every fiber of my being. Trusting the Lord only matters when nothing else matters. Consider what the writer of Hebrews tells us about those who trust God:
"There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn't deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world. Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised."
A fire ignites in my soul when I read of such people - it causes me to lean into God with all of my heart when my own understanding of life fails me. Knowing that others, that have gone on before me, have trusted God with all of their heart even though they did not see answers to their prayers thrills every inch of my being.

Once again dear Lord I confess my trust in you. Help me to live from my heart, trusting you today.

Don't lose your grip on Love ...

Don't lose your grip on Love and Loyalty. Tie them around your neck; carve their initials on your heart. Earn a reputation for living well in God's eyes and the eyes of the people. -Proverbs 3:3-4

Love and loyalty (or faithfulness) are the hallmarks of healthy relationships - it is really hard to have one without the other. Just consider these words that the apostle uses when he defines love for the Corinthians: patient and kind; not envious, boastful, arrogant, irritable, resentful or rude. Given that it is no wonder that loyalty cannot be separated from from love. We must hold these values tightly because they define what it means to be a son or daughter of God.

The word "reputation" seems to have both a bright and dark side. In a negative way people sometimes embrace a prideful persona where their reputation is wrapped up in what they do or how they do it. In our scripture today Solomon speaks to how love and loyalty presents a different kind of reputation. He tells us that this sort of reputation is earned by living well. And when we live a life of love and loyalty we live well in the eyes of God and those around us.

Come Holy Spirit. Fill me today that I might live well in your eyes and the eyes of those around me.

Take to heart what I'm telling you ...

Good friend, take to heart what I'm telling you; collect my counsels and guard them with your life. Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom; set your heart on a life of Understanding. -Proverbs 2:1-2

I love the way that The Message begins this chapter with the words "Good friend". In other versions it is rendered "My son". In either case the words denote a loving perspective towards the reader. Sometimes love is what is needed to communicate wisdom. Often a person cannot hear unless they sense a loving motive. It is why the apostle writes of speaking the truth in love. Sometimes the intentions of our heart speaks louder than the words of our mouth.

When I read this passage the word humility comes to mind. God has called us to be life-long learners - but not all are humble enough to learn. In some sense it is impossible to learn or even seek God if we are not a little humble. If we are filled with pride we will not seek out wisdom because we already see ourselves as wise. But if humility has entered our soul we will most certainly understand our need and seek out wisdom. And God promises to help the humble.

Help us, dear Lord, to take to heart what you say to us in the scriptures.

The more you get, the less you are.

They're racing to a very bad end, hurrying to ruin everything they lay hands on. Nobody robs a bank with everyone watching, Yet that's what these people are doing— they're doing themselves in. When you grab all you can get, that's what happens: the more you get, the less you are. -Proverbs 1:16-19 MSG

Solomon's statement: "the more you get, the less you are" speaks to me of how important it is to keep ourselves free of the love of money and material things. I think that we reveal a dark life philosophy when our definition of success encompasses the location of our house or the model of our car. In my thinking success is never defined in material terms - some of the most successful people are poor when wealth is defined by their bank account.

Just as greed takes life away generosity gives it back to us. Developing a generous heart is the only way that we can defeat greed and the temptation to be stingy. Being generous is so much more than giving to the church ... it is a habit we develop when we tip our waiter/waitress after a meal ... it is reflected by the grace we give others when they are late for an appointment ... it is responding with gratitude when we don't have to. It is the antidote to greed.

Free us Lord from the love of things. Help us to be outrageously generous.

The first step in learning is bowing ...

Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning. -Proverbs 1:7 MSG

The heart of King Solomon is seen so clearly in the Proverbs. The first chapters of this book deals almost exclusively with what it means to be wise. In a sense wisdom has very little to do with the intellect - even the simplest of people can be wise because wisdom is more about the heart than the head ... it is more about intuition than logic. Yet wisdom can be so hard to find because wisdom does not always make sense. Sometimes wisdom is found in the strangest places.

Interesting that Solomon begins his writings on the subject with the idea that all wisdom begins with a fear of, or bowing down to, the Lord. It reminds me of how he will later advise us to trust God with our hearts and not rely on our intellect. In a sense wisdom begins when we begin to trust Him with all of our heart. This, I think, is what it means to fear the Lord. We do not bow down with a sense of fearing his wrath but more as a way to acknowledge his fatherly love for us.

Teach us to be wise today Lord. Help us to trust you with all of our heart.

He enjoys giving rest to those he loves.

If God doesn't build the house, the builders only build shacks.
If God doesn't guard the city, the night watchman might as well nap.
It's useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone.
Don't you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?
Psalm 127: 1-2 MSG

Solomon speaks here of the vanity of doing things without the influence and blessing of God. He indicates that even the most ornate of palaces are but mere shacks in the eyes of the Almighty. These verses remind me of how Jesus spoke to his disciples about building their lives on a solid foundation. It speaks to me of the glorious dwellings that we build when we trust the Lord. In truth our lives are only safe when they are entrusted to our heavenly night watchman.

That said I am not sure that I can really relate to the idea of the gift of rest. Can you? When I consider what it means to trust the Lord I sometimes think of some sort of religious activity. Yet trusting the Lord is more about resting than it is about doing. I think that much worry and anxiety has its roots in what we do rather than what He does. Could it be that God only builds when we rest? Is Solomon trying to tell us to be still and know that He is God?

Help me to walk in this gift of rest today Lord. Teach me what it means to trust you.

The gift of wise rule ...

Give the gift of wise rule to the king, O God, the gift of just rule to the crown prince. May he judge your people rightly, be honorable to your meek and lowly. Let the mountains give exuberant witness; shape the hills with the contours of right living. Please stand up for the poor, help the children of the needy, come down hard on the cruel tyrants.
-Psalm 72: 1-4

I love that this series of devotions on the sage of Solomon begins with a prayer. These verses are reminiscent of the response that Solomon gave to the Lord at Gibeon when God appeared to him in a dream and asked him "What can I give you?" I wonder how you would have answered that question? Solomon responded saying:
"Here's what I want: Give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well, discerning the difference between good and evil. For who on their own is capable of leading your glorious people?"
God gave Solomon wisdom that night and over time helped him discern how to lead Israel. I love how today's passage speaks of wisdom and just rule as gifts given to leaders who ask for such things. It seems to me that the fruit of such gifts is the ways that wise and just rulers honor the meek standing up for the poor and needy.

Help leaders all across the world to be ones who seek you and desire a wisdom that helps that helps the poor.

The Sage of Solomon

It has been said that King Solomon, the son of King David, might be the wisest man who has ever lived. His life and ascendancy to his father's throne is chronicled in Kings and Chronicles. His sage (i.e. wisdom received through reflection and experience) is expressed in Proverbs, Psalms, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes.

Over the years I have read his writings many times. For years it was my practice to read a chapter from Proverbs each day. So beginning tomorrow I'll briefly comment (maybe ramble a bit) each day about the thoughts and impressions I have as I read through the sage of Solomon. And, for a change, I'll use the The Message - should provide a different take on these ancient words. Please join me each day on this sagely journey.