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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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The Fickle Factor

Showing partiality is not good,

because some people will turn on you even for a piece of bread.

Whoever trusts his own heart is a fool.

Whoever walks in wisdom will survive.

Whoever gives to the poor lacks nothing.

Whoever ignores the poor receives many curses. (Proverbs 28:21, 26-27 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 28:17-28 GW)


People are fickle. This includes you and me. Driven by emotion or in reaction to changing situations, we change our minds. We make commitments and decisions but don’t follow through with them. We change because life changes around us.

We set ourselves up with unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. When we’re let down—even when we fail to keep our own expectations—we tend to blame others. We’re fickle but there’s often good reason for it. Of course, we can also be capricious and unreliable—just like everyone else.

How can we avoid or overcome this fickle factor in life? Great question but there’s no easy answer—only a difficult one.

A prevailing thought is to focus on what you can control not what is beyond your control. This can be a good starting point but it leaves us with another question—what is really in our control? Our self? Self-control alone is a big challenge.

Every day is full of variables way beyond any person’s control—the weather, world events, the progression of time, people—those involved in our life and billions of others in the world, the universe, and so many other things.

So, the only possible domain of control is our own life. But we are impacted by the people and events surrounding our life every day. If we try to escape all of it, we isolate ourselves and whatever flaws and challenges within us are heightened by our isolation.

Isolation is not a viable option. We need others. None of us are self-sufficient enough to live on our own, independent of others. Self-sufficiency is a fantasy. We are far more dependent on others than we like to admit.

Can you imagine what it would be like if all 7.7 billion people on earth tried to live independent of each other? It would be chaos. No, it would be worse than chaos.

Self-sufficiency is a fantasy

What is in our control?

So, what’s the point of all this? We’re back to the question—what is in our control? The answer is difficult only because we are more prone to being self-absorbed than self-controlled. Delving into our selected verses from Proverbs 28 will give us some insights.

Looking at verse 21 first—Why is showing partiality not so good? It speaks to the inconsistent and unreliable impact of moral relativism—fickleness when determining what’s right or wrong.

Moral relativism is fickleness about what is right or wrong

What happens to other people and how they respond to their life situations is beyond our control. Whatever we hope to gain or avoid when showing favoritism or partiality sets us up for unrealistic expectations of others.

As made clear throughout Proverbs, trusting in anyone other than the Lord is unwise, or as it says here in verse 26—Whoever trusts his own heart is a fool. Wisdom is gained by trusting in the Lord.

When we trust in the Lord and live according to the wisdom He gives us, we can be confident of a more consistent and reliable outcome with others. Why? Because we choose to trust the Lord and His direction rather than the fickle whims of people and the world around us.

When life is more stable than when we trust in our own limited judgments and perceptions, we can be confident of God’s provision for our everyday life. This leads to contentment and frees us to be generous with others.

Generosity and contentment enable us to give freely without expectations. When I give to others without expecting anything of them, I’m less likely to be judgmental of them.

I have no expectations of them—why they’re in need, what they will do with what I give them, or how they will make it further without my help. All of that is beyond my control.

Contentment frees us to be generous with others

My trust in the Lord frees me from the fickle factor of my expectations of others and their expectations of me.

Reflection—

Trusting in the Lord frees us from the fickle factor of our expectations of others and their expectations of us. It also frees us from the fickleness of moral relativism and frees us to be generous with others.

Prayer Focus—

If you struggle with what seems to be fickleness in life with people, the world around you, or within yourself—seek to grow in trusting the Lord in all things and all ways in your life. He alone is not fickle!

©Word-Strong_2019


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Self-Development and Self-Expression

⌊As⌋ iron sharpens iron,

so one person sharpens the wits of another.

As a face is reflected in water,

so a person is reflected by his heart.

The crucible is for refining silver and the smelter for gold,

but a person ⌊is tested⌋ by the praise given to him. (Proverbs 27:17, 19, 21 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 27:17-27 GW)


The self—our individual sense of identity and personhood—is a favorite topic in American culture. There are books and courses on self-development, self-improvement, and self-expression among many other self oriented focuses.

This fits well with our ingrained sense of individualism. The term expressive individualism captures the obsessive yet elusive search for the true self.

This is nothing new. It’s just a new spin on it all. It may appear new the past couple of centuries but Solomon reminds us there’s nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9).

The classic figurative language used in these three verses describe what defines and shapes us. Each verse flies in the face of what our surrounding culture says about self. Perhaps these few thoughts are keys to discovering the elusive but genuine self.

Benefits of honesty in relationships

Iron sharpens iron…that sounds harsh. What happens when iron strikes iron? Sparks fly with the clanging thud of metal against metal! And don’t get your fingers caught in between because that would hurt! Makes me cringe to think about it.

Who wants to be on the wrong side of conflict or confrontation? No one! Most all of us tend to avoid or resist such experiences—unless we’re searching for punishment or derive some strange satisfaction from it.

But the focus of iron sharpening iron is a beneficial and positive one. It is when we value honesty in our relationships. The benefit of honest conflict, correction, and counsel from someone we know and trust brings accountability, balance, and perspective in our life.

If we want real self-improvement in a way that benefits others and ourselves, we need people in our life whom we trust and appreciate because they’ll be honest with us—even when it makes us uncomfortable.

As our personhood develops in the way God intended—through healthy and honest relationships—our true identity will be evident to those who know us. When a person experiences inner transformation others will see it in their attitude and actions.

Who we are on the inside is seen by others on the outside—whether it’s good or bad. Other people notice whether or not our words and actions agree. They notice if the attitude of our heart doesn’t match the expression on our face and the words of our mouth.

The real test of a person is not how we handle criticism but praise from others. A person can ignore criticism and avoid conflict. But no one is indifferent to praise from others. How we handle it reveals our true self.

If we, as the saying goes, believe our own press releases—thinking everyone else says the same about us when we think well of ourselves—we set our self up for a fall.

Do we allow the praise of others to over inflate us with pride or resist and reject compliments and praise? Neither reaction is healthy for us. Both produce a false sense of identity.

If we are able to accept and appreciate the compliments of others, then set them aside to keep a good sense of perspective, we’ll be a healthier version of our self.

I need people in my life who care enough about me to be honest with me. People who will tell me how things are not how I want them to be.

I have had and now have people who keep me grounded in reality and I’m better for it. When I was pastoring on the west coast, I met regularly with two other friends. We knew each other well and called one another out when needed. We helped keep each other grounded in reality.

How about you? Do you have people in your life who sharpen you and help you see yourself in perspective with things as they really are?

Reflection—

Our personhood will develop the way God intended through healthy and honest relationships and our true identity will be evident to those who know us. We all need people in our life who care enough about us to be honest and keep us grounded.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself avoiding honesty in relationships, ask the Lord to show you why and how to benefit from those who care about you in a healthy way.

©Word-Strong_2019


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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


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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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