Healing your heart: Proverbs 13-15

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Today’s reading: Proverbs 13-15.

In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. – Khalil Gibran

Your heart health is key to your overall health. As a physician I see it over and over. A younger person dies suddenly because a small artery in the heart closes down. An older person lives on despite multiple disabilities because their heart is strong. We know all the risk factors for heart disease – smoking, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol – but the Bible concentrates on the psychological factors that weaken our hearts. They are just as powerful, and often more easily altered than factors like age, sex, and family history that are beyond our control.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. 13:12

Desire and disappointment. Disappointments can be devastating, especially when they continue year after year. Hope isn’t just deferred; it’s lost. But when our desires are fulfilled it rejuvenates us. My advice: set goals you can achieve, and keep them coming. It may be a trip, learning a new skill, or doing something for someone. Having something to look forward to is as powerful as the fulfillment of that task. You won’t obtain every desire, but having a variety of goals – some more and some less difficult – keeps life interesting and ensures some success.

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones 14:30

Relationships and rest. Peace here means peace in our relationships. Peace with God to begin with. Then peace with others, and finally peace with oneself. Peace in these relationships leads to rest from stress in the natural world and blessings from God in the supernatural arena. Envy is just one example of striving and conflict that comes from broken relationships.

All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast. 15:15

Outlook and outcomes. The cheerful person finds more enjoyment no matter what their circumstances. Even obstacles can be looked at as opportunities and the ordinary becomes more special because of their positive outlook. Yes, some people are naturally more cheerful. The challenge is to put on a more upbeat game face as we go out to tackle the world. We do have the Good News. We do get all this and heaven besides.

Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred. 15:17

Location or love. Usually you can’t have everything you want. Resources are limited, so you have to make choices. For the sake of your heart, choose what will lead to deeper relationships. Love matters more than how much you make or where you live. Time trumps titles.

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. 15:30

Happiness and health. My first thought after reading this verse was that when others look at us joyfully, it brightens our heart. We can’t determine the news, but we can speak kind words to others. The flip side of this verse is research showing that when we actively smile or put on a happy face it leads to improvement in our own mood. A cheerful look on my face brings joy to others and myself. Again, we shouldn’t have to look far to find this kind of optimism. When you feel discouraged, remember that Jesus said, “be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”

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Giving and Getting: Proverbs 11-12

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Today’s reading: Proverbs 10-12.

Who wrote the proverbs? The introduction of Chapter 10 tells us it was Solomon. The first nine chapters were all preparation for the meat of the book, the proverbs of Solomon which make up Chapters 10-22. Each of the proverbs contains two lines. The second line compares, contrasts, or completes the first line. In most of the proverbs the lines contrast each other.  “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” This proverb is a good introduction to today’s study of giving and getting, generosity and hard work.

One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. People curse the man who hoards grain, but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell. He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it. Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf. Proverbs 11:24-28

Remember that the words of Proverbs are principles, not promises. Solomon wants us to know that generosity will usually lead to blessings for the person who gives. The generous person gains more, prospers, finds refreshment, is praised by others, receives goodwill from others, and thrives. Increase is the principle. In God’s economy the one who lets go of his goods finds even more coming back to him. In the original Hebrew he grows fat, he is watered, he is favored. “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11:1). “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6). “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).

Increase is the principle, but I’m left to wonder how it works. Some of it comes from the grateful response of those who benefit from the giver. That doesn’t explain it all, but there is a hint in the line, “whoever trusts in his riches will fall.” The generous person doesn’t trust his wealth. If he did he would be slow to part with it. No, he’s trusting God whom he credits as the provider of his wealth. God, in return, rewards his faith by continually replenishing his supply so that he can continue to be a blessing to others.

He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment… From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him…Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor… The lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions. Proverbs 12:11, 14, 24, 27

This section on diligence or work gives us an example of a comparative proverb. The man who bears fruit by speaking well is compared to the man who gains by his hard work. Diligence here derives from words for sharp or sharpen, as you would sharpen your tools. This word also meant a moat dug with those tools, reminding us how diligent work provides security. The word was also used to describe gold. You can connect the dots. The person who works wisely with sharp tools will find security and wealth. And what will this wise person do with his wealth? He or she will use it to bless others.

“Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind?” John Wesley

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Lady Wisdom: Proverbs 8-9

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Today’s reading: Proverbs 7-9.

Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her maids, and she calls from the highest point of the city. Proverbs 9:1-3

She’s a lady. At least that’s how Proverbs personifies wisdom. Why? I hate to speculate, but here are a few possibilities.

  • Perceptiveness, insight, intelligence, and compassion characterize women – all important qualities of wise persons.
  • The writer gives wisdom an attractive personality for the young men who were the main audience of his writing.
  • Wisdom has a nurturing quality, like women.
  • God made people, both male and female, in his image. Therefore God shares aspects of both male and female personality. The wise aspect of God’s personality is, in some way, more feminine.

Lady Wisdom rightfully boasts of her abilities, which fit into three main categories (Lang, Wisdom and the Book of Proverbs).

  1. Intellect. “My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge. Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.”
  2. Morality. “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.”
  3. Power. “Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have understanding and power. By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just; by me princes govern, and all nobles who rule on earth. I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity.”

Her boasting is really a sales pitch. She stands at the most visible part of the city and she cries out to all who pass by, urging them to choose what she offers. What she offers is second to none, but she knows that her competitor, Folly, stands close by and makes her own pitch. The passers-by have a choice to make, and the decision is of life-and-death importance.

Wisdom says she was the first of the Creator’s works and was the craftsman at his side as he made the world. Some commentators believe that Wisdom is a person, Jesus Christ, but I say that she is a personification. Wisdom is a created thing and not the Creator himself. Proverbs gives wisdom the persona of a woman in order to make it more real to us and to reveal its qualities in a memorable fashion. This persona also allows Wisdom to speak, and her voice is compelling.

“Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the LORD. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death.” Proverbs 8:34-36

Many regard the passage as a description of the Son of God … But the passage may be taken as a personification of wisdom: for, (1) Though described as with God, wisdom is not asserted to be God. (2) The use of personal attributes is equally consistent with a personification, as with the description of a real person. (3) The personal pronouns used accord with the gender (feminine) of wisdom constantly, and are never changed to that of the person meant, as sometimes occurs in a corresponding use of spirit, which is neuter in Greek, but to which masculine pronouns are often applied (Joh 16:14), when the acts of the Holy Spirit are described. (4) Such a personification is agreeable to the style of this book (compare Pr 1:20; 3:16, 17; 4:8; 6:20-22; 9:1-4). – Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

About adultery: Proverbs 5-6

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Today’s reading: Proverbs 4-6.

The heart of the moral wrong of adultery is that a covenant, a sacred commitment, has been broken. The one-flesh union which set this relationship apart from all others has been torn asunder by one of the spouses and by a third party that has now entered into the oneness of the relationship. Dennis P. Hollinger, The Meaning of Sex

The wisdom of Proverbs is not theoretical but practical. It means nothing if it isn’t practiced. God’s word hits the nitty-gritty of our wishes and wham! Choices must be made. One of the choices married couples must make is whether to remain faithful to their partner, or give in to the temptation of adultery. Proverbs leaves no doubt about the outcome for those who give in to the temptation:

Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished. Proverbs 6:27-29

Many give in to the temptation in spite of the warning, so it’s worthwhile to consider why. Here’s my list, but I doubt it’s complete.

  • Passion overrules reason.
  • People don’t believe the warning.
  • People choose the immediate reward of pleasure and discount any future costs.
  • People are selfish.
  • People feel entitled.
  • People are lonely and seek connection by whatever means.

James put it this way:  “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” The desire comes first. It may be a desire for pleasure, for love, for excitement, or some other want, but the desire fuels the chase. Proverbs is honest about the enticement, the allure, of the adulterer. Her lips are like honey, her words smooth as oil, her beauty leads to lust, and her eyes are captivating. The writer is also detailed about the consequences of adultery.

  • It leads to spiritual or physical death.
  • Your wealth is lost to another.
  • Your health will suffer.
  • You will groan in regret.
  • You suffer disgrace and shame.
  • The offended spouse will seek revenge.

Fortunately, Proverbs offers advice on avoiding the trap of adultery. Putting distance between you and the temptation is the first step. “Do not go near the door of her house.” Finding love, satisfaction, and pleasure in your own spouse is equally important. “May you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” Finally, keep the wise counsel of God’s word, letting it direct you straight ahead through the minefield of temptations.

Sometimes we fail and give in to the lure of sin. If you have committed adultery and find yourself groaning in regret, the good news is that God offers forgiveness. Turn away from your practice of adultery, turn back to God by confessing your sin to him, and by faith accept that Jesus has paid the penalty by his death on the cross. Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery when everyone else wanted to stone her, but he also told her, “Go, and sin no more.”

Man’s wickedness is now such that men are more ashamed of chastity than of lechery. Murderers, thieves, perjurers, false witnesses, plunderers and fraudsters are detested and hated by people generally, but whoever will sleep with his servant girl in brazen lechery is liked and admired for it, and people make light of the damage to his soul. And if any man has the nerve to say that he is chaste and faithful to his wife and this gets known, he is ashamed to mix with other men, whose behavior is not like his, for they will mock him and despise him and say he’s not a real man; for man’s wickedness is now of such proportions that no one is considered a man unless he is overcome by lechery, while one who overcomes lechery and stays chaste is considered unmanly. – Augustine

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Don’t be a fool! Proverbs 1

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Today’s reading: Proverbs 1-3.

I don’t think anyone sets out to become a fool, and yet the world has more than enough of them. I’ve acted foolishly before. So have you. It comes down to the choices we make. Will we choose wisdom, or will we reject it in favor of something that seems to offer a better or quicker reward? Often the choices lead gradually downward. enticing a person further and further away from wisdom until they sink in an inescapable mire of foolishness.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline… “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?” Proverbs 1:7, 22

Look at the initial choice: fear of the LORD versus rejection of wisdom. Look at what follows: three different kinds of fools that illustrate the downward spiral.

  1. The simple one (pethiy). Someone who doesn’t know better, who is naive and gullible, empty-headed. Usually this would be a young, unlearned, and inexperienced person. They can potentially learn. They haven’t rejected wisdom yet.
  2. The fool (keciyl). This person is not young or unlearned, but they have rejected wisdom and instruction. They are silly, dull, stupid, and irreverent.
  3. The mocker (luwts). One who scorns wisdom and boasts of it. They not only reject wisdom but oppose it.

The fear of the LORD is the starting point for wise choices. If we fear or respect God we also respect his discipline and accept that there are absolute truths that govern our lives. For the writer of Proverbs, wisdom begins with fear of the LORD and is fulfilled by following God’s directions, resulting in righteousness. It doesn’t come automatically. We have to “store up God’s commands,” implying memorization. We have to “call out” and “cry aloud” for wisdom, speaking of a passionate, emotional effort. We have to search for it like a hidden treasure, revealing that it takes hard work. The work is worth it, however. Wisdom brings God’s protection, victory, safety, long life, prosperity, power over temptations, and respect.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

Proverbs personifies wisdom as a woman who stands at the most important intersection in the city and calls out to all who lack wisdom. Stop rejecting wisdom, she tells them. Make the right choice now. When calamity falls on you it will be too late. How are you responding to wisdom’s call? You may think you have accepted her invitation, but look at this checklist and be sure:

  • I’ve taken up my shovel and I’m actively digging for wisdom, not just sitting back and thinking it will fall into my lap.
  • I’ve put my trust in God and accept that his ways, as revealed in his word, are absolutely the truth.
  • I accept God’s discipline and rebuke when I make mistakes, learning from them and not running away from God when I fail.

Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom. – Charles Spurgeon

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Summing up the Psalms: Psalm 146

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Today’s reading: Psalm 146-150.

What makes a psalm a psalm? If there is such a thing as a typical psalm, Psalm 146 may be it. It has a little bit of all the characteristics that we’ve seen in these devotional songs. Let’s use it to look back and review as we complete our study of this section of the Bible.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them– the LORD, who remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. Psalm 146:3-7

Praising God. “Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works.” Psalm 145:3-5

Man’s fickleness; God’s faithfulness. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” Psalm 51:1-4

God as creator. “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Psalm 90:2

God as rescuer.  “I was pushed back and about to fall, but the LORD “helped me. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” Psalm 118:13-14

The certain doom of the wicked.  “But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another. In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.” Psalm 75:7-8

God’s rule and reign.Why do the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” Psalm 115:2-3

These are some of the main themes of the Psalms. They are always expressed emotionally and personally, especially in those songs written by David. I could also add prophecies about the Messiah and writings about wisdom to the list. What ideas in the Psalms are important to you?

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The power of praise: Psalm 145

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Today’s reading: Psalms 140-145.

What if the weakness of our witness is a lack of praise? We say a lot to the lost about their sin and need of salvation. We hone our personal testimonies (as I have encouraged in this blog). We are quick to point out an unbeliever’s dependence on their own works to save them. Maybe what they really need is to hear more about the glory of God. That’s what the Psalmist says.

The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you, O LORD; your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Psalm 145:8-12

What’s the point of all men knowing of God’s might and glory? So they can be impressed? I don’t think so. So God will feel better about himself? Definitely not. One answer comes from verse 3: God is worthy of praise. But that’s just the beginning. The Psalmist says when we praise God that people come to know him, and by knowing he means that they see God and experience him personally. The power of praise is in drawing men and women into a relationship with God. Look at what that relationship delivers:

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The LORD watches over all who love him… Psalm 145:18-20

The LORD draws near, he fulfills desires, he hears, saves and watches over all those who call on him. They call on him because they know him, and they come to know him because they have heard him praised. There are two categories of praise mentioned in the psalm. One is the splendor of God’s majesty. The other is his wonderful works. If it helps to remember, think of who God is, and what he has done. His goodness, and his good works. His awesomeness, and his activity. His might, and his mighty actions. His righteousness, and his response. Let’s season our witness with much praise, and see what happens when our listeners see God in our words.

To make known to the sons of men his mighty acts. As the State cannot teach these holy histories the people of God must take care to do it themselves. The work must be done for every age, for men have short memories in reference to their God, and the doings of his power. They inscribe the deeds of their heroes upon brass, but the glorious acts of Jehovah are written upon the sand, and the tide of time washes them from present memory; therefore we must repeat the lesson, and yet again repeat it. The saints are the religious instructors of the race; they ought to be not only the historians of the past, but the bards of the present, whose duty it is to keep the sons of men in memory of the great deeds which the Lord did in the days of their fathers and in the old time before them. – Charles Spurgeon

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