God

A Simple Prayer—Just 2 Things

I’ve asked you for two things.

Don’t keep them from me before I die:

Keep vanity and lies far away from me.

Don’t give me either poverty or riches.

Feed me ⌊only⌋ the food I need,

or I may feel satisfied and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

or I may become poor and steal

and give the name of my God a bad reputation. (Proverbs 30:7-9 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 30:1-9 GW)


A futile pursuit

We want everything. But we can’t have it all. It’s not humanly possible. It also leads to self-destruction and emptiness.

Scores and scores of people in every generation find this out the hard way. Either they lose everyone of real value in their life or lose what they pursued, or both.

This is the primary message of King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes. He literally had it all—wealth, women (way too many), wisdom, and worldwide fame. But the theme throughout Ecclesiastes is—

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (Eccl 1:2)

Other Bible versions use a different word for vanitymeaningless, futile, absolutely pointless—to describe the pursuit of everything this world has to offer.

The book of Proverbs, as with other books in the Bible, is written in a memorable way—so people can memorize and retain general truths. This was vital for people who didn’t have the privilege to read and write. They were oral learners.

This is why numbering and lists are prominent along with repetitive phrases. Contrasts and comparisons are used to make helpful distinctions. And, of course, lots of figurative language is used to describe conceptual and spiritual truths in more familiar images and pictures.

[For more insight on this, download my free Study Guide for Proverbs]

Just 2 things

These three verses are expressed as a prayer requesting two things—the first request is related to character and the second concerns day to day life.

Integrity of character is at the heart of the first request–the removal of what’s not true.

When the writer says keep vanity…far away from me, it speaks of self-deception—the fertile soil where arrogance and foolishness grow.

The request isn’t restricted to the lies we believe or tell ourselves, it’s an appeal for protection from the lies and deception of others. If we want integrity of character, we need to guard our hearts from what is not true—whatever its source.

The second request of this prayer focuses on contentment in daily life—something most everyone longs for but is so often elusive.

The author asks for God’s provision somewhere between two extremes—poverty or riches—then explains why.

The concern is that having too much in the way of riches may lead to ignoring the Lord—I may feel satisfied and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

Another way to put it is, “I’ve got all I need and more. Who needs the Lord?”

Keep in mind—the intended audience for these proverbs were people whose identity was tied to their relationship with God.

The concern with being poor and not having enough is it may lead to stealing, which would dishonor God.

The author realizes how our life example—how we act and what we do in daily life—reflects on the Lord, too.

It’s a simple prayer, just two things are requested. The question is—Is it your and my prayer?

Reflection—

Integrity of character—inside our heart and mind, as well as how we live in the real world—will always honor the Lord.

Prayer Focus—

If you believe the world needs more truth and less lying, and a sense of contentment that honors God—make this your daily prayer.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Valuable Words

Take the impurities out of silver,

and a vessel is ready for the silversmith to mold.

⌊Like⌋ golden apples in silver settings,

⌊so⌋ is a word spoken at the right time.

⌊Like⌋ a gold ring and a fine gold ornament,

⌊so⌋ is constructive criticism to the ear of one who listens. (Proverbs 25:4, 11-12 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 25:1-14 GW)


What makes something valuable? Is it scarcity? This is the prevailing and popular belief. But scarcity creates a temporary value not a lasting value.

Lasting value has worth because of intrinsic qualities. Qualities that endure cultural fluctuations, people’s opinions, and time.

Words are valuable when they have an enduring sense of worth. What’s spoken or written isn’t dependent on their situational context or timing.

We live in a day and age when words—written or spoken—have little value. They’re neither scarce nor worthwhile.

An advertising slogan goes, what happens here (said city), stays here. If only this were true about what’s spoken and written on the internet! What gets posted online lingers on long after its initial arrival and eruption in the public forum and can’t be extracted or erased.

How do words become valuable?

How can words become valuable? They need to have intrinsic and enduring worth. Valuable words are true regardless of their situation or time. Truth—pure truth—endures. Its value lives on because it’s untainted.

A precious metal gains value when impurities are removed from it. This requires intense heat and sifting out the dross that collects on the metal’s molten surface—what’s common, corruptive, and invaluable.

When a precious metal such as gold or silver is purified, it becomes mirror-like in its molten state and reflects the image of whoever looks into it, such as the one who refines it.

Words spoken wisely—at the right time and in the right way—are “Like golden apples in silver settings.”

The purity of the silver sets off the purity and beauty of the golden apples. The pure silver frames the gold in a refined and reflective way.

If we want to speak or write valuable words, they need to be true and free of impurities.

Jesus said—

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Matt 12:34 NIV)

So, if we want to speak valuable words then our hearts need to be pure. Our motive and intent for saying something needs to be pure—free from bias, malice, jealousy, or other such things.

But how is this possible?

First, the truth of God needs to be valuable to us—as if it were a precious metal or jewel. Then God’s word of truth needs to find an abiding place in our hearts. We need to treasure it.eLikewise, the truth needs to be prominent in our minds and on our tongues. This requires reading and speaking the truth of God so it impacts and refines our thinking.

When we love the truth it will become evident to others. Even truthful and constructive criticism—though hard to hear—will be welcomed for its value.

But keep in mind—only God is able to purify our hearts. He is the master Refiner of hearts (Mal 3:2-3) And God’s Spirit brings to life and reveals the truth of God to us (John 16:13).

When the Lord does His work in us and we reflect Him to others through our life—our words will become valuable when spoken at the right time.

Reflection—

The truth of God needs to be valuable to us and abide in our hearts, and be prominent in our minds and on our tongues. We need to treasure it.

Prayer Focus—

If you know your words aren’t always beautiful and valuable to you and others, or don’t reflect and honor God, ask the Lord to give you an understanding of the value of His truth. Then ask God to help you love the truth in a new and fresh way.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Do the Right Thing

A person thinks everything he does is right,

but the Lord weighs hearts.

Doing what is right and fair

is more acceptable to the Lord than offering a sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:2-3 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 21:1-8 GW)


The time is always right to do what’s right. Martin Luther King Jr

Every year, as our nation observes the birthday of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, a flurry of his quotes fill social media posts, news media, and speeches. As with many statements these days, these quotes are expressed outside of their original context.

Oberlin College Archives

Oberlin College Archives

The quote above is a statement Dr King made at Oberlin College in October of 1964. The thought of this statement permeates much of what he spoke and wrote about integration and civil rights.

The context of these words are the life and calling of Dr King—a Baptist preacher and the son of a Baptist preacher. The 50’s and 60’s were a tumultuous time in America. It was not empty rhetoric but truth grounded in the reality of his time.

Doing the right thing is a common theme throughout the Proverbs. It’s a common tenet of good business ethics and basic morality. However, what the right thing is depends on a person’s belief system, values, and cultural influences.

Each of us can be convinced of our own rightness but our words and actions in life need to be consistent within our daily lives. Otherwise, it’s a matter of saying one thing but living out something different. Then, what we claim as rightness is out of context with who we are.

A sense of our own rightness soon becomes self-righteousness—our own narrow view of right and wrong. This extends beyond religious self-righteousness and permeates every aspect of our life. It becomes an attitude of the heart.

Self-righteousness sets us up to be judgmental and prejudiced toward others

This narrow view of rightness produces a judgmental view of others and a sense of superiority towards those who don’t measure up to our sense of righteousness—our view of what’s true, right, and fair.

When self-righteousness goes unchecked it isolates a person from those deemed inferior in their religion, thinking politics, behavior, associations with others, and so on.

The only counter to self-rightness is humility—a sense of who we are in comparison to God rather than others.

God knows our heart. He knows our motives. He alone is able to judge in a true and just way and He is by nature merciful (Exo 34:6; Luke 6:36).

When we see our own sense of rightness in light of God’s mercy, we can be freed from a judgmental and prejudiced heart.

True humility can set us free from a self-righteous heart

Instead of the narrow view of self-righteousness—that no one can measure up to including us—humility sets us free to do what is right and fair. This is what is acceptable to God rather than any self-righteous attitude or effort on our part.

How we see and treat others is a good indicator of what standard of rightness we hold. Is it our own or God’s? Do we measure our own sense of rightness in comparison to others or God?

Reflection—

No one can measure up to the narrow and judgmental perspective of self-righteousness. This include our self no matter how right we think we are. How we see and treat others is a good indicator of what standard of rightness we hold—our own or God’s—and He alone is just and merciful.

Prayer Focus—

If you find yourself looking down at others as inferior and wrong, ask God to give you His perspective on others—how He sees them and us. When you find a self-righteous attitude welling up in your mind and heart, humble yourself and ask God to forgive you.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Avoiding Bad Advice

Listen to advice and accept discipline so that you may be wise the rest of your life.

Many plans are in the human heart,

but the advice of the Lord will endure.

The fear of the Lord leads to life,

and such a person will rest easy without suffering harm.

If you stop listening to instruction, my son,

you will stray from the words of knowledge. (Proverbs 19:20-21, 23, 27 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 19:15-29 GW)


Unsolicited advice is cheap and plentiful. Just like opinions, everybody seems to have advice to give about—life, diet, exercise, business, politics, religion… you name it.

Equating advice as wisdom would be an oxymoron. Not all advice is wise. Go to a racetrack and ask for tips on which horse to bet on. You’re sure to get plenty of advice but the majority of it is useless or worse.

This is true for many other scenarios in life. And yet, people keep handing out free advice that others try to follow. I suppose some of the advice may be useful but I wouldn’t count on it.

So, how can anyone be sure of any advice? Of course, it’s important to consider the source of the advice. Is the person trustworthy? Does the one giving advice follow it themselves?

GIGOGarbage In, Garbage Out. This term was coined in the late 50’s as computers began to make their impact in mathematics, science, and business. Simply put, sloppy input produces unreliable output.

Just because a computer spits out calculated information, no one should blindly accept its output as true. Look at all the political and election polls and how skewed or far off they are from actual results or from one poll to another.

If the data input is incorrect, the output will also be incorrect. If the program calculating or analyzing the data is flawed or susceptible to glitches, then the output shouldn’t be trusted.

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The only way to avoid bad advice is to be discerning enough to know the difference between what’s good or bad or questionable advice. Understand the origin of the advice. Where is it drawn from and who is giving it?

As explained before, the Proverbs of Solomon are often expressed as guidance from a father to a son. Solomon, the primary author, sees God as the father and Bible narratives provide scores of life examples of sons to learn from—both good and bad.

Here is reliable guidance for avoiding bad advice based on these 4 selected verses—

verse 20– Two things are recommended to gain lifelong wisdom—listen to good advice and make a continuing commitment to apply it in daily life.

verse 21– Others may have advice to offer and our own heart will generate plenty of plans and ideas but only advice that originates from the Lord will last.

verse 23– Good, reliable advice is grounded in a genuine awe and respect for the Lord. The fear of God leads to life because of the confident trust we have in Him.

verse 27– Commitment and discipline to the truth of God are essential for us to maintain the discernment needed to avoid listening to bad advice and holding to good, reliable guidance for our life.

Reflection—

Avoiding bad advice requires discernment to know the difference between what’s good or bad or questionable. When you listen to good, reliable advice and commit yourself to follow it, you can gain a life guided by sound wisdom.

Prayer Focus—

Ask God for discernment to help you know what is good advice to follow. Pray for God’s guidance and wisdom daily and for understanding of what you read in the Bible.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Good Sense

A person who gains sense loves himself.

One who guards understanding finds something good.

A person with good sense is patient,

and it is to his credit that he overlooks an offense.

Home and wealth are inherited from fathers,

but a sensible wife comes from the Lord. (Proverbs 19:8, 11, 14 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 19:1-14 GW)


Do we even know what good sense is? It used to be typical for parents to tell children to use good sense. Perhaps the expression is out of touch with our relativistic culture.

Even the expression common sense seems outdated and irrelevant today. But the need for good sense or common sense is greater than ever.

First of all, let’s consider what the phrase good sense means in these verses. In general, it speaks of sound judgment, discernment, or wisdom.

Within the context of Proverbs, the basis of good sense and wisdom is God—the One true and living God of Israel.

His revealed wisdom is found within the Scriptures. During Solomon’s life it included the first five books of the Old Testament, the history of Israel and many of the Psalms up to the time of his father King David.

These three verses give us insight into the benefits of good sense—why it’s valuable—personally, in all our relationships, and at home.

Personally

When we gain good sense and wisdom, we love ourself in the best way. Not in the popular self-indulgent or selfish way. The sense of verse 8 from the original language is to love one’s own soul. Another way of saying it is—the person who gains wisdom is his own best friend.

Relationships with others

An important benefit of wisdom and good sense is to help a person cope with difficult people and situations. The idea of patience here is to be slow to anger and to overlook an offense means to be not easily offended.

An old expression goes, “to take offense is to give it.” Wisdom and good sense enable us not to be hypersensitive and reactive when others say or do things that are offensive or irritate us. This is a valuable benefit in our times!

Home

Lasting wealth and security depends more on who rather than what. This verse is the positive contrast to the verse that precedes it (verse 13). A sensible wife is a gift from God. I know this firsthand! Don’t have a spouse? No problem! This could be a applied to wise parents and children, as well (see download below).

Here’s how I see these verses applied in my life—

The Lord gave me the gift of a sensible and wise wife. She helps me see others in a better light than I tend to do at first. I’ve personally gained from her wisdom and good sense.

Being thankful for her and loving her is like loving my own soul. After all, as it says in the Bible, we are “one flesh” (Gen 2:24), and when I love her as myself (Eph 5:28), I’m not so easily offended when she points out my lesser qualities, if you get what I mean.

Reflection—

How would you apply the insight from these verses in your life? When you gain good sense and wisdom, it’s much easier to live with ourselves, others, and those in our family.

Prayer Focus—

Start each day being thankful and ask the Lord for good sense and wisdom. God promises to give us wisdom when we ask Him for it (James 1:5). Ask the Lord for wisdom and guidance on how to benefit from it in all your relationships.

©Word-Strong_2018


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