character

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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Transparent Wisdom

A rich person is wise in his own eyes,

but a poor person with understanding sees right through him. (Proverbs 28:11 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 28:1-14 GW)


American’s have a hate-love relationship with wealth. Most people would like to be rich and famous. We fawn over people who have made it big. And yet, we resent them and their wealth when we don’t have it ourselves.

One reason for resentment to rise is the arrogance of those who are rich. Not only do they act and talk as if they’re better than others—they think they’re more right than the rest of us.

Their status and wealth go to their head. But it’s a deception. It’s their own sense of rightness. But other people—especially those poorer than them—often see right through them.

Not all those who are poor understand this. I’ve lived in and visited other nations where despots rule with an iron fist clutching the wealth they’ve stolen from their own people. Still, people continue to elect and support such rulers with a futile hope they’ll benefit in some way.

Those of us who aren’t rich and powerful but who’ve rubbed shoulders with wealthy people in daily life—we know they are people just like us. Their wealth isn’t the problem. It’s how they allow it to affect them.

too often, the rich who aren’t arrogant are the exception

All rich people aren’t arrogant. Some know their wealth and status can disappear or diminish faster than it accumulated. Others see their wealth as a responsibility—they’re compelled to handle it and use it wisely.

Too often, the rich who aren’t arrogant are the exception not the rule.

What about the poor who have enough understanding to see right through the wealthy who are arrogant? Unless we keep our own mind and heart in check, we’ll become resentful rather than discerning.

For many years, I racked up lots of air miles by flying overseas often. This gained me certain benefits and privileges. On one flight, after taking my seat in the economy section of the plane, I was upgraded to business class.

As I made my way upfront towards the privileged section, another passenger made snide comments to me in an effort to make me feel bad. His misplaced resentment was because of jealousy and his own desire for the same privilege.

We only see through a rich person’s arrogance and false sense of rightness when we have sensible values and the perspective that comes with understanding.

A few verses prior to verse 11 above, we’re reminded of something important—

Better to be a poor person who has integrity than to be rich and double-dealing. (Prov 28:6 GW)

If we don’t want to be filled with resentment towards those who are rich nor caught up with the desire for their riches, we need integrity—a soundness of character.

When our values and sense of worth aren’t attached to what’s fleeting and tied to this life only, we’re more apt to be content with what we have, appreciate the people in our life, and be confident in who we are as a person.

we need integrity—a soundness of character

When we have integrity and true understanding, we’ll see people for who they are and things for what they are. And this carries over into the next life.

Reflection—

When our values and sense of worth aren’t attached to what’s fleeting and tied to this life only and when we have integrity and true understanding, we’ll see people for who they are and things for what they are.

Prayer Focus—

If you struggle with resentment towards the rich and powerful, ask for God’s wisdom so you can have a better perspective on everything. Ask for discernment and understanding. God promises to give us the wisdom we lack (James 1:5).

©Word-Strong_2019


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A Sign of Real Strength

If you faint in a crisis, you are weak.

Rescue captives condemned to death,

and spare those staggering toward their slaughter.

When you say, “We didn’t know this,”

won’t the one who weighs hearts take note of it?

Won’t the one who guards your soul know it?

Won’t he pay back people for what they do? (Proverbs 24:10-12 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 24:1-22 GW)


A myriad of cliches are tossed about when difficult times comes.

There’s the famous British saying—Keep Calm and Carry (or Chive) On. How about the classic American expression—When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

But when a crisis hits, especially a life-threatening one, cliches are like chaff in the wind. They have no substance nor weight. Action not words is needed.

People of character rise to the occasion in a crisis. They’re able to meet challenges beyond their control because they don’t trust in circumstances. Their trust is anchored much deeper.

Those who are strong in character and within times of crisis are not centered on themselves. They don’t trust in themselves. Their world is larger than themselves.

Looking beyond ourselves

When our life and world revolve around our self, it leaves us unprepared to handle the change and interruption of a crisis—whether small or great.

Also, a self-absorbed and self-focused life insulates a person from others. This breeds an unhealthy isolation. It also pushes a person towards indifference—an apathetic attitude toward others.

Left unchecked, indifference leads to a hardness of heart. Everyone of us needs to guard against indifference and hardness in our hearts—it can keep us from fainting in times of crisis.

Those who don’t faint in a crisis are those who have more concern for others than themselves. Looking at verses 11-12 reminds us the world is much larger than us. As is often said, “It’s not about you!”

More than that, each of us are responsible to be considerate and caring for others—to show mercy and grace towards people we encounter in daily life.

Coming to the rescue

When we get our eyes off ourselves and become aware of the needs and challenges other people face, it helps put our own concerns into perspective. When I think of rescuing captives (verse 11), it brings many people into view with vastly greater needs than my own.

Many women and children are trapped in the inescapable maze of human trafficking. Unless we or others intervene, they are condemned to a living hell—even death at the hands of merciless captors. It’s not just a global problem but a much more local one.

They need mercy. They need rescue.

Millions of people suffer under oppressive and repressive governments or now live as refugees who fled savage warfare into an indefinite life stranded between danger and uncertainty. Their plight is through no fault of their own and is beyond their control or power.

They need a hand of grace extended to them. They’re crying out for mercy.

Thousands of people are trapped in addiction or in bondage to something too powerful for them to overcome on their own. They need merciful and gracious intervention—just as the Lord showed us.

Be merciful as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36 GW)

If we say, “We didn’t know this,” or “It’s not my problem…I’ve got my own problems”—we aren’t excused. We can’t just look the other way.

This is the heart of what Jesus spoke of in His Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 5:3-9) and Sermon on the Plain (in Luke 6:27-37).

Those of us who are Christian believers—who trust in the Lord Jesus as our Savior—we are called to be like Him in relationship to people we encounter in life and as we become aware of the needs of others.

We are to be salt and light in the world (Matt 5:13-16), an extension of His heart of compassion, grace, and love to those around us.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalm 103:8)

Reflection—

When we get our eyes off ourselves and become aware of the needs and challenges other people face, it helps put our own concerns into perspective. Each of us are responsible to be considerate and caring for others—to show mercy and grace towards people we encounter in daily life.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself wrapped up in your own concerns or worries, ask God to help you look beyond yourself. Ask the Lord to fill you with His compassion and love—His mercy and grace—towards people in your circle of life and beyond.

If you’d like to help extend mercy and grace—

To help those trapped as victims of human trafficking— here are 4 organizations to consider—

To help people under oppressive and repressive regimes, as well as refugees—you can contact my friend Mike Parks with Global Hope Network Intl. or click on these links—Refugee Families in Lebanon / in Iraq

©Word-Strong_2019


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Respect and a Good Name

A good name is more desirable than great wealth.

Respect is better than silver or gold.

The rich and the poor have this in common:

the Lord is the maker of them all. (Proverbs 22:1-2 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 22:1-? GW)


Every person wants a measure of respect. A sense of being appreciated and valued. It’s a pretty basic desire. Perhaps more of a need for gaining a healthy psyche.

This was the impetus for the song Respect. Otis Redding—the great R & B singer who died tragically and way too young—wrote it from a man’s point of view. A few years later, Aretha Franklin rewrote it (R-E-S-P-E-C-T) from a woman’s perspective and this pop version became more popular than the original.

Why were these two songs so well liked? Because they spoke to this basic human desire and psychological need for significance.

But the basic idea of respect gets morphed into an unhealthy desire when distorted by popular culture and when it takes on a much harder edge.

When respect is recast as intimidation—as a tough action hero image, or is idolized—such as with any current celebrity—it becomes a cartoonish caricature of respect.

Anchored in character

Respect and a good name speak of integrity of character—something far deeper than a projected image. An imposter projects a facade—an external representation—but is a fraud underneath. A popular example would be Frank Abagnale of Catch Me If You Can fame.

Solomon—a man of exceptional wisdom and wealth—says a good name and respect are more valuable than great wealth. They have an incorruptible and lasting value.

True respect is anchored in character. It’s not something we can demand as in the two songs, nor something to be commanded through projecting an enviable persona.

People who have integrity of character gain respect because of who they are. They don’t project an image of respect, they reflect who they are by how they live and treat others.

Integrity can be described in these ways—decency, goodness, honesty, virtuous, trustworthy, sound, completeness, honorable, truthful. These qualities have nothing to do with appearance or possessions. They’re not external but internal qualities.

In the context of these verses in Proverbs, respect and a good name are tied to respect and awe of God. They aren’t based on wealth or status. What God entrusts to us—whether wealth or status or neither—isn’t tied to our integrity—for the poor and rich have the same Creator.

Reflection—

True respect is anchored in character. People who have integrity of character gain respect because of who they are. They don’t project an image of respect, they reflect who they are by how they live and treat others.

Prayer Focus—

If you want genuine respect that a good name carries with it, pray for integrity of character. Ask the Lord to help you develop the qualities of integrity for every day life and for help with treating people with respect and grace.

©Word-Strong_2019


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True Heroes

Better to get angry slowly than to be a hero.

Better to be even-tempered than to capture a city.

 (Proverbs 16:32 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 16:25-33 GW)


We like heroes and stories about heroes. Perhaps the favorite hero-type is the one who rises up out of obscurity to overcome great odds. Think of all those Rocky movies and a multitude of war films with unsung heroes.

Many heroes are unexpected or unlikely. There were hundreds who stepped into action during the 911 terrorist attacks. Many of their individual stories and the people they helped may never be known.

One hero that stands out in the Bible for many of us is the young shepherd David. He defeats the giant Goliath and later becomes the favored king of Israel.

The stereotype of those whom we consider heroes are men and women who face and overcome great odds in a way that benefits others. These are people we look up to because of their extraordinary actions or character or a combination of both these qualities.

But what if we could all be like heroes or mighty warriors? Is this even possible?

This verse in Proverbs speaks of an inner strength greater than any external strength typically associated with heroes. In fact, some of the heroes people look up to wouldn’t qualify as such because they lack this internal strength of character.

The first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor was an unlikely hero because of his religious convictions and size. His valor is memorialized in the gory but well done movie, Hacksaw Ridge, and the documentary film, The Conscientious Objector.

Thankfully, these films show Desmond Doss as a man of strong character and values that exceed his wartime exploits. His life and how he handled mistreatment by others is an illustration of what is expressed in this verse.

Being slow to anger is obviously in contrast to being quick-tempered. A person who is quick-tempered is reactive and shows a lack of control over their emotions.

Again, to be even-tempered, or as another version says it— one who “rules his spirit”—shows an internal strength and sense of control over their emotions. This is in stark contrast to those alluded to in preceding verses (Proverbs 16:25-30).

For most of us, this isn’t so natural. Some of us may have a temper that flares up easily and often, while others may only allow their temper to get out of control occasionally. In other words, some of us have more self-control than others.

But our self isn’t so easy to control day in and day out. Certain circumstances and situations, and people, tend to get under our skin and bring the worst out of us. Yes, there are times when anger is an appropriate response to a situation but most of the time it’s not.

Self-control governed by an internal strength—a strength of character and spirit—is the key to being a person who is even-tempered and slow to get angry.

This internal strength of character and spirit is developed when God’s Spirit and His word of truth are at work within us and shaping our character. In another place in the Bible, we see that self-control is the fruit or effect of the Spirit of God living and at work within us (Galatians 5:23).

So, a true hero—someone who is respected and a blessing to others in daily life—is someone who is slow to get angry and even-tempered. Someone of strong character and spirit who draws their strength from the Spirit of God and the truth of God.

They will be a hero in God’s eyes day in and day out, and draw respect from most people, even those who may appear as enemies.

The question is—Will you and I choose to be heroic in this way?

Reflection—

Self-control governed by an internal strength—a strength of character and spirit—is the key to being a person who is even-tempered and slow to get angry. A person who submits their life and emotions to the Lord.

Prayer Focus—

Since self-control is a fruit of God’s Spirit living and working in a person, simply ask God to grant you this each day. Perhaps throughout each day! As you come before the Lord in prayer, ask Him for this and be willing to let Him do His work in you to do so.

©Word-Strong_2018


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