Personal Faith

The Way That Seems Right

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There is a way that seems right to a person,

but eventually it ends in death. (Proverbs 14:12 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 14:1-13 GW)


How often have you heard this quote, "To thine own self be true?" It's a famous quote from William Shakespeare's play, Hamlet. In those times it had a certain meaning but it's been reinterpreted in a different way in our present culture.

What comes to mind when you hear this saying? What does this expression mean to you?

Looking back on my own spiritual journey, it seemed I was always looking for a way to live that fit me—that seemed right to me. I was looking for something that was true for me.

But that kept changing as I went through various life experiences and sampled different approaches to life and spirituality. I found that being true to myself was an unreliable guide.

Using one's own self as a plumb line isn't such a great idea. It's unreliable because we tend to internalize values and beliefs based on our acceptance or resistance to what we encounter in life. Sometimes it's a combination of acceptance and resistance that results in a hodgepodge of beliefs and values.

I came to a turning point in my life where I challenged God to reveal Himself to me in some obvious way. After a morning of fasting, hiking through the woods, and waiting, I returned home disappointed. I saw no vision or sign, nor heard any voice of direction.

Later, after grumbling about this failure, I opened up a Bible someone gave me and began to read. I came to where Jesus said the wide gate and easy road leads to destruction and the narrow gate and hard road leads to life (Matt 7:13-14).

I realized I'd been looking for a wide gate with an easy road. I was heading in the wrong direction and I knew it.

Jesus also said, only a few found this narrow gate and hard road that leads to life. The day started with me challenging God but ended with God challenging me. I accepted that challenge and my way in life became clearer day by day from that point on.

I've never turned back since that day but life since then has not always been easy. But, my life from that point has been fulfilling and God has blessed me in countless ways.

This verse in Proverbs may be hard to hear but the larger context helps clarify its truth (especially verses 2, 10, 13).

We all need a reliable guide for our lives. God's written Word and God's Spirit are always reliable. They've been a trustworthy plumb line for many centuries for millions of people.

Reflection—

Are you wondering if you've chosen the right way for your life? Read through these verses, even listen to them read to you (Proverbs 14 audio). Allow the truth of God and His Spirit to give you insight on all of this.

Prayer Focus—

Ask God for discernment and confirmation of the way of life—a true and fulfilling life—that He intends for you. Ask God to guide you with the peace of His Holy Spirit and the clarity of His truth.

©Word-Strong_2018


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A Cure for the Heartsick

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Delayed hope makes one sick at heart,

but a fulfilled longing is a tree of life.

Whoever despises ⌊God’s⌋ words will pay the penalty,

but the one who fears ⌊God’s⌋ commands will be rewarded. (Proverbs 13:12-13 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 13:1-13 GW)


The heart of a person can't be expressed with an emoji and it's far more complex than the outline of a heart made with two fingers and thumbs.

When we talk about a person's heart, we speak of a person's inner being. It's deeper than our emotions but certainly affects us emotionally in ways that are good, bad, or indifferent.

Indifferent is worse than bad. Indifference to emotions indicates an emotional blankness—what psychologists call a flat affect—having no response to external stimulus or situations. It can indicate shock, numbness, or even clinical depression for example.

An indifferent nature is far worse. When a person is indifferent to others, it often indicates anti-social behavioral tendencies. Being sick at heart indicates a profound sadness and a sense of hopelessness—a human spirit that's crushed.

What causes someone to be sick at heart? According to this verse in Proverbs—a delayed hope. A hope that is set aside by circumstances beyond a person's control. It's more than unfilled expectations. It goes deeper.

This type of delayed hope comes in many ways. A refugee in a worn-torn area longs for peace and safety. When someone longs for a marriage partner or having a child, they also can become heartsick.

Obviously, some life situations are more dire and pressing than others but a person who is sick at heart focuses on whatever hope seems most important to them.

This proverb goes on to say, but a fulfilled longing is a tree of life. This isn't the longing of a selfish desire, it's much deeper.

When refugees find peace and safety, it's certainly more fulfilling than a good meal or gaining any possession. When we witnessed adoptive parents uniting with the child or children they were adopting through our ministry, it was a sweet and emotionally fulfilling time.

The key or cure for those who are heartsick is a change in what they're focused on. This is indicated in the following verse—

but the one who fears ⌊God’s⌋ commands will be rewarded. (Prov 13:13b GW)

The fear of God isn't a state of anxious fear but trust—a personal trust in God. I heard an interview of a journalist who was kidnapped by Muslim pirates and held several years for ransom. He hated his captors and longed for freedom.

When he heard a religious leader speak of mercy and forgiveness, he began to change his view of his captors by forgiving them.

He said it began to change his attitude towards his captors and seemingly hopeless situation. His heart and outlook lightened up. He acknowledged it required discipline. He had to work at forgiving them each day. Eventually, the day came for him to be freed—a longing fulfilled.

Are you sick at heart because of a longing in your heart or a hope that seems to get pushed back over and over again? The cure is a change of focus.

This is similar to what King David and the Lord Jesus said—

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:33-34)

Set the eyes of your heart on the One to whom nothing is impossible. Not just once but daily, even many times within a day, till it becomes a personal discipline—a commitment of your heart.

Reflection—

Set your heart on the Lord as your primary focus—not on what you are heartsick for or about. Do this so it becomes a personal discipline—a commitment of your heart—and trust whatever you are longing for to God.

Prayer Focus—

Learning to trust God in a deep way requires commitment and discipline in prayer. Prayer is the lifeline for communication with God—to share what's on our hearts and to spend time to wait and listen for Him.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Lifting the Weight of an Anxious Heart

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A person’s anxiety will weigh him down,

but an encouraging word makes him joyful. (Proverbs 12:25 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 12:15-28 GW)


It's an epidemic. Opioid addiction has become a national epidemic in America. But it's not only opioid-based medications that are a problem. A myriad of disorders ranging from depression to behavioral problems has brought a plague of prescription drugs on our nation.

We may be a rich and powerful nation but we're weighed down with worry and can't seem to get out from under this burden without a prescription.

But there is another way to deal with this problem. A surprisingly simple way. It doesn't require a doctor appointment nor a prescription, nor any specialized training.

Anxiety may weigh a person down—

...but an encouraging word makes him joyful.

It may seem too simplistic. Indeed, some psychological disorders may still require treatment and medications but genuine and meaningful encouragement is still helpful in severe cases. I've seen this firsthand.

Words are powerful. They can tear down or build someone up. They're rarely neutral. What we hear is played back in our minds over and over, like a never-ending recording. It's called self-talk.

Destructive words go deep. They penetrate our hearts and embed themselves in our minds.

Careless words stab like a sword... (Prov 12:18a GW)

It doesn't matter who utters these piercing words. When spoken by those we're closest to—parents, a spouse, siblings, children, significant others, friends, people at work or school—their wounding words go deep.

So, how can this be countered?

How can you and I deal with worries and wounding words?

We all need to hear encouraging words of truth often and from people we trust. People who are trustworthy and those whom we know genuinely care about us. Likewise, we need to speak encouraging words and be genuine and trustworthy for others.

Here is the counter to the words that "stab like a sword"—

...but the words of wise people bring healing. (Prov 12:18b GW)

Notice it says, "words." Not casual or trite statements like—"Oh, they didn't really mean that..." or, "just ignore what they say." Genuine and encouraging words are needed.

Words of encouragement need to come from people wise enough to know what is needed and what is appropriate for each person. They also need to be words of truth—

The word of truth lasts forever... (Prov 12:19a GW)

If your heart is anxious and if you're weighed down with many worries, you need to be around people you trust. People who can encourage you with the truth. 

Where? Church is good place to start but I know too many wounding words are spoken by people in churches.

We need to seek out a community of believers who are accepting and loving in a biblical but non-judgmental way. It could be a church or a small group connected to a church or ministry.

There are no quick fixes with prescriptive words and phrases. Bible quotes are nice but can easily be said in trite ways (see James 2:15-16).

A continuing flow of encouraging truth is the only way healing and restoration go deep enough in our hearts and minds. This will lighten the load of worries and wounds we encounter.

Reflection—

If your heart is anxious and if you're weighed down with many worries, you need to be around people you trust. People who can encourage you with the truth.

Prayer Focus—

Ask God to help you see encouraging words in His written word, the Bible. If you don't have encouraging people around you, ask the Lord to help you find people you can trust and who are encouraging and for His help to be the same way for them.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Good Roots

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A person cannot stand firm on a foundation of wickedness,

and the roots of righteous people cannot be moved.

...but the roots of righteous people produce ⌊fruit⌋.

One person enjoys good things as a result of his speaking ability.

Another is paid according to what his hands have accomplished. (Proverbs 12:3, 12b, 14 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 12:1-14 GW)


Every hurricane season, trees are uprooted, seashores are eroded, and homes get flooded. Such is life in the Carribean, Florida, and all along the Gulf Coast.

In SE Asia, typhoon season brings similar scenes. Not only are trees uprooted, many homes are completely washed away with storm surge and flash floods. Though not unusual, it's still devastating for families to lose homes, livelihoods, and even, for some, the lives of loved ones.

Whether trees or homes or people's lives, a solid foundation is vital for enduring powerful storms. Roots are the foundation of a plant or tree and provide a network for sustenance essential for life.

These two verses referring to the "roots of the righteous" speak of two outcomes—they "cannot be moved" and they "produce fruit." Stability and life.

What's the key to these "roots of the righteous?" Their roots are in solid ground and soil that's nutrient-rich with sufficient water.

An immediate reference to the truth of God can be drawn from the larger context of Proverbs and the figurative lesson in Psalm 1:1-3.

I see another reference in verse 14—

One person enjoys good things as a result of his speaking ability. Another is paid according to what his hands have accomplished.

Families and cultures can produce tremendous pressure on a person to conform to what's most likely to lead to a successful future. But many times it's at the cost of a person's identity and integrity—their internal essence—their spirit.

We're all wired differently. We all have different gifts and skills. Many people are not suited for college but do well with practical training in what they do best and countless university degrees never factor into a person's life work.

Each of us needs to stay grounded in who we are as God created us to be.

Some people are good with words, both learning and teaching in an academic environment, or in other ways of expressing thoughts and ideas through words. Others are good with their hands and actions, they build or create things skillfully and are content with doing things well.

How can a person know for sure what they are best suited to do?

When each of us is well-grounded in our relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of our life—the One who knows us best—it's much easier to know what we were created to do best.

The important thing is being rooted in a personal relationship with the Lord and living our life guided by His truth and wisdom.

Reflection—

If you want to know what your purpose in life is—what you were created to do well—then allow the roots of your life to grow deep in a well-grounded relationship with God.

Prayer Focus—

Pray for discernment and wisdom. Ask God to either clarify or give you fresh insight into what He's equipped you to do mentally and physically—according to what fits you best.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Rich and Satisfied

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One person spends freely and yet grows richer,

while another holds back what he owes and yet grows poorer.

A generous person will be made rich,

and whoever satisfies others will himself be satisfied.

People will curse the one who hoards grain,

but a blessing will be upon the head of the one who sells it. (Proverbs 11:24-26 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 11:20-31 GW)


"It's not about you!" You've likely heard this expression, maybe even said it. It's become a favorite put-down said when a person doesn't want to answer someone or explain something.

The trouble is—we live in a world of "me." It's common for people to ask, "What's in it for me?" Millions of selfies and personal opinions flood various social media daily.

The focus on getting rich and being satisfied is an American obsession. It occupies most every free moment we're awake, including daydreams at work, and perhaps even our dreams at night.

Yet, the idea of growing rich and being satisfied in these few verses of Proverbs is based on unselfishness. It's the opposite of what you might think and is expressed in contrasting and complementary statements.

The first of these three verses make this clear. Here it is from another Bible version—

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. (Prov 11:24 ESV)

As Jesus told His followers when He sent them out for ministry—"Freely you have received; freely give" (Matt 10:8 NIV). 

This is so contrary to a self-centered idea of getting rich. In the wording of Proverbs being rich or prosperous speaks of far more than material wealth (see link below or here — Proverbs Study Guide).

Many Americans who travel to poorer nations see the generosity and hospitality of people living in poverty and marvel at it. Why? The concept of contentment and happiness is often tied to material possessions.

Can a person be generous and still become prosperous? Yes, especially in God's economy. If the focus is on wealth and prosperity, it's a setup for disappointment and discontent.

Many wealthy people give away great amounts of their wealth for the benefit of others. It's called philanthropy. Of course, there are plenty of wealthy people who hold on to all to their wealth and possessions tightly and whose lives are empty and lacking satisfaction.

The obvious focus in these verses is on others, not self. This is the point. It's not a formula or scheme. It's an attitude of the heart.

Want to be rich and satisfied? First, figure out what is motivating you. Also, are you thinking short-term or long-term?

If you run after personal riches and satisfaction, you might find it in the short-run but you'll end up poor and dissatisfied in the end. But if your concern is for others, God will honor it. 

The Lord values those who care and value others. And His blessing isn't restricted by time—the present and future are all the same to Him. He often honors us with temporary wealth and satisfaction when we don't hold on to it too tightly in this life.

The key to richness and satisfaction that honors God and is a lasting blessing to us personally is unselfishness—when we are considerate of others not just ourselves.

Reflection—

Running after personal riches and satisfaction in the short-run leads to a personal poverty and dissatisfaction in the end. But concern for others honors God who in turn will honor us for our unselfishness.

Prayer Focus—

Ask God for a heart that seeks what honors God and for an unselfish attitude of heart daily. As you seek God for this, look for the opportunities God brings into your life where you can give freely and to enjoy what satisfies in the truest sense.

 

©Word-Strong_2018


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