discernment

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


Would you like a free study guide for Proverbs?

Click Here to get a Free Study Guide for Proverbs

Separating Truth from Emotion

Anger is cruel, and fury is overwhelming,

but who can survive jealousy?

Open criticism is better than unexpressed love.

Wounds made by a friend are intended to help,

but an enemy’s kisses are too much to bear. (Proverbs 27:4-6 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 27:1-16 GW)


It can be hard to separate truth from emotion—whether it’s the emotion of the speaker of truth or the emotion of the hearer. Our human tendency is to react rather than listen and consider what we hear before responding.

Too often, we allow our emotions to drive us but emotions cloud and even corrupt how we hear or say things. And so, the meaning or intention of what’s said is obscured or filtered through the emotions of the speaker or the hearer or both.

The ability to separate emotion from words of truth is a valuable quality. Discernment and discretion are needed to gain this ability. The intention of the book of Proverbs, as made clear in the beginning (Prov 1:1-7), is to help a person gain this ability.

Strong emotions

The first verse of these selected verses in Chapter 27 gives us a sense for why emotions cloud our understanding of what is said by others. Words spoken in anger have an intent to hurt, put down, or belittle a person. The phrase—lashed out in anger—describes the cruel intent of words spoken in anger—like the snap of a whip burning or slicing the skin.

Fury is out of control anger—unrestrained like a flood of water or a raging fire. But jealousy is an irrational and untamed emotion. A combination of hate and love. It’s destructive. This brings the question—who can survive jealousy?

It destroys any relationship with its impact on both the jealous person and the one who’s the focus of the jealousy. As one person put it—jealousy [is] jaundice of the soul. Jealousy is like a disease with trust and truth its only cure.

Understanding the impact and power emotion has on words spoken and heard helps give insight for the other two verses—5-6.

You might wonder—How can open criticism be better than expressed love? One simple observation is the former is known while the latter is hidden. But it’s deeper than that. Love is left unexpressed because of fear or indifference. There may be other reasons for love to remain unexpressed but it’s still an unknown truth.

Criticism—even when it comes across in a harsh manner—is more or less an observation. As a pastor, I’ve heard plenty of criticism over the years. It goes with the work and position. When said, it was often not intended to be beneficial nor expressed in a constructive way. But it was expressed.

Learning to separate truth from emotion

I had to learn to hear it in an objective way. As the expression goes—chew the meat and spit out the bones. It’s hard to extract the truth from criticism or a rebuke or a reprimand unless it’s detached from emotions.

In other words, although hard to do, don’t take it all to heart. If we can learn from criticism and correction, we’ll gain insight and wisdom. If we can’t, we lose an opportunity to grow beyond our self—beyond self-focus, selfishness, self-pity and so on.

This is especially true when it comes from someone close to us—Wounds made by a friend are intended to help.

The last two phrases of the third verse brings Jesus to mind for me. Reading through the gospels it’s hard not to notice Jesus used some strong words with His followers. They get rebuked and reprimanded for spiritual dullness (Matt 15:16) and for missing the point—the greater concern (Matt 16:8-12; Mark 10:13-16).

Jesus can also relate to the second half of the last verse. He was betrayed with a kiss by one of His followers (Judas). Betrayal is similar to jealousy because it’s insidious. It’s indefensible. Not only is betrayal cowardly, a person can’t defend them self or prevent it because it’s secretive and underhanded.

Except Jesus. Jesus knew He would be betrayed and knew His betrayer. He even washed His betrayer’s feet the night He was betrayed. Once again, Jesus shows us He can relate to everything we experience in this life—even flattery and betrayal.

It’s a valuable ability to separate truth from emotion just as Jesus did.

Reflection—

It’s a valuable ability to separate truth from emotion. We need wisdom, self-control, discernment, and discretion not to be ruled by our emotions or someone else’s. The wisdom of Proverbs can be helpful and valuable to gain these qualities and gain this valuable ability.

Prayer Focus—

When you find it difficult to hear criticism or correction, ask God to help you sift through what is said without your emotions or the other person’s emotions clouding what may be helpful insights. Remember, the Lord knows what it’s like to be criticized and betrayed. Trust in Him.

©Word-Strong_2019


Would you like a free study guide for Proverbs?

Click Here to get a Free Study Guide for Proverbs

A Bird, a Curse and a Contradiction

Like a fluttering sparrow, like a darting swallow,

so a hastily spoken curse does not come to rest.

Do not answer a fool with his own stupidity,

or you will be like him.

Answer a fool with his own stupidity,

or he will think he is wise. (Proverbs 26:2, 4-5 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 26:1-12 GW)


Opposites are not absolute and they’re not mutually exclusive, that is, they don’t offset or cancel each other out.

Black and white are opposites but aren’t of equal strength, nor are they a perfect balance in the color spectrum. Black is an absence of visible light, while white is the presence of all visible wavelengths of light.

Darkness as a quality of black—the absence of light—does not absorb or destroy light. Light disburses and shines in the midst of darkness, as displayed in a nighttime sky full of stars. The light penetrates the darkness.

It’s a common thought that opposites either cancel one another or are held in some perfect balance in nature. But this is not true. Spring declares this in the cycle of seasons, as do vegetation and life from seeds buried in the ground.

Good does not exist in a perfect balance with evil. At times, it may seem as if evil is stronger than good. But goodness will overcome evil. This is the theme of redemption—the existence of evil will come to an end. It is overcome by God’s goodness.

Those who trust in God—true believers—have this hope in their hearts (Heb 6:19) and we are exhorted to overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21). the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a testimony of this. Death is overcome by life.

Evil is overcome and subdued by God’s goodness. Light is greater than darkness. Faith in God is trust—a confidence in God who is the source of light and goodness and life itself.

Fear God not curses

This is why we don’t need to fear curses nor be bound by superstition. When someone expresses a curse on us, it only has power if we allow it to be stronger than God in our mind and heart.

A hastily spoken curse has no power. Or, as it says in another version—it’s without cause.

An illustration of this is found with Balaam the prophet who could not pronounce a curse on the Jewish people. Although paid to do so, he couldn’t unless the Lord originated it (Num 23:8).

We are not to fear the curses or threats or insults of others. The Lord whom we trust is greater than those people and their words. We need to fear God who has power over our lives for eternity rather than the evil of people (Matt 10:28).

Just as swallows and sparrows never seem to rest but dart and flutter and fly around—so are words spoken against us. Don’t take them to heart. Don’t allow them to nest in your mind. Trust in the truth of God—the One whom you trust above all.

The value of discernment

This brings us to what seems to be contradictory statements. Do we answer a fool with their own stupidity and foolishness or not? Which is it? It depends.

The point of this paradoxical proverb is the need for discernment. An awareness and wisdom for the situation. At times, it’s best not to answer someone’s foolish talk, even when it’s directed at us. But sometimes foolishness needs to be confronted with the truth.

How can we know which to do when? There is no trustworthy formula or grid to figure this out. No set answers. We need discernment and wisdom. We need to be aware of the situation and alert to what the Spirit of God stirs in our heart and mind (Matt 10:16-20).

The one thing we don’t want to do is react. We are not to be driven by dogma nor controlled by our emotions. I see this too often in social media and it accomplishes nothing good. Here is where discernment needs to lead to discretion.

Think before you speak or answer a person who spouts what you see as foolishness. Listen to the Spirit of God rather than the voices of people. As James said so well—

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…. (James 1:19 NIV)

The noise of the world around us can get loud. And so are the voices competing for our attention. Everyone seems to have an opinion and feels entitled to express it. But at what cost? And what value does it really hold?

The short of it is this—people of faith are not at the mercy of the world’s whimsical wisdom because we can draw from the source of true wisdom, God’s wisdom. So let us live accordingly—guided by the Lord’s wisdom with discernment and discretion.

Reflection—

Evil and foolishness are overcome by God’s goodness and truth. When we rest in the wisdom of God and rely on His Spirit, we can learn when and when not to answer the voices of those around us. We can live as a living testimony of His goodness.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself plagued with harsh words, ask the Lord to direct you in His Word—the Bible—to counter them with the truth. When confronted with foolishness, pray for discernment and wisdom and discretion.

©Word-Strong_2019


Would you like a free study guide for Proverbs?

Click Here to get a Free Study Guide for Proverbs

People—Simple but Complicated

A motive in the human heart is like deep water,

and a person who has understanding draws it out.

Who can say, “I’ve made my heart pure. I’m cleansed from my sin”?

Even a child makes himself known by his actions,

whether his deeds are pure or right. (Proverbs 20:5, 9, 11 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 20:1-13 GW)


People are people

Across cultures and geography, the basic needs and wants of people are the same. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, for the most part, are true any place among the peoples of the world.

And so, at a basic level, people are simple to understand. If we lack basic physiological needs, we’ll be motivated to fill those needs. Of course, this is in a general sense and there are always exceptions to the rule. But, as a general rule—people are people.

Beyond basic needs people get a bit complicated. The motives of a person’s heart aren’t always easy to discern, especially when the mind and heart of a person is in conflict.

Sociopaths and psychopaths are examples of people whose values and judgment are in conflict or turned upside down. Somewhere along the line, the development of their moral conscience was short-circuited..

What’s all of this got to do with these verses in Proverbs? Plenty!

Discernment and wisdom needed

Discernment and wisdom are required to know and understand a person’s motives. Psychology can help us with clinical observations but to discern at a deeper level we need help.

This is where the wisdom of God and God’s Spirit are valuable.

God—our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer—knows everyone inside and out—our deepest thoughts, motives, and feelings. We need His help and guidance to understand others, as well as ourselves.

As a leader and in counseling others, I learned how valuable it was to listen well.

I learned how valuable it is to listen well

Listening well includes hearing what is spoken, what is not said, and what is held back. Not just reading between the lines but listening at a deeper, spiritual level.

Self-deception

On the subject of motives, we often don’t discern our own motives. We fool ourselves into thinking our heart is pure and without sin.

For some of us, self-deception becomes our shield from reality. Self-deception can even become somewhat of an art form but not in a good way.

While counseling people and even while teaching or preaching, I often sensed the Lord asking me, “Are you hearing what you’re saying to them?” More often than I’d liked to admit, I needed to hear and heed my own counsel for others.

Sooner or later, who we are and what our motives are is revealed through our actions and attitudes. Others tend to know things about us before we’re aware of them—especially our parents, spouses, close friends, and children.

Even sociopaths and psychopaths are seen for who they are at some point though they don’t realize it themselves.

People are people. We’re all the same for the most part. Only God knows us and others at the deepest level of our being.

It takes patience and help to draw water from a deep well, as it does to discern motives and values in the heart of a person including ourselves.

Want to know your own or someone else’s motives?

Be patient. Be a good listener. Be humble.

And ask God for discernment and wisdom.

Reflection—

God alone knows us in the deepest sense. If we want to understand our own motives or the motives of others, we need His help. We also need to be patient, humble, and learn to listen well—to God and others.

Prayer Focus—

As you go through your day, ask God to give you discernment and wisdom in your dealings with others and for how you live and interact with others.

©Word-Strong_2019


Would you like a free study guide for Proverbs?

Click Here to get a Free Study Guide for Proverbs

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


Would you like a free study guide for Proverbs?

Click Here to get a Free Study Guide for Proverbs