honor

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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A Maligned Gift and Enduring Memorial

Photo thanks to–  http://povcrystal.blogspot.com/

I read two posts a while ago about kindness and it got me thinking how we may have differing personal views on kindness. This personal view involves our motives and intents—how and why we value kindness and perhaps what we consider as kindness.

A simple story found in three of the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, and John—reveals at least two different views on kindness. It also reveals the heart and character of two people—known for very different reasons.

I’ll give a synopsis of the story below but you can read it for yourself here—Matt 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:2-8.

Photo thanks to– ifiwalkedwithjesus.com

Photo thanks to– ifiwalkedwithjesus.com

A story of two hearts

Following the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, at the beginning of the week and before the Passover Feast, a woman named Mary comes to anoint Jesus with an expensive ointment as He reclines at a meal given in His honor.

Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead only a short while before this, reclined at the table with Jesus at the home of Simon the leper. Martha, the sister of Lazarus, is busy serving the guests as her sister Mary anoints Jesus with fragrant spikenard.

As the fragrance of the oil filled the room, it prompted a complaint and caused some dissension. Why the complaint? It was seen as a waste of money. Who complained? None other than Judas who would soon betray Jesus—the focus of this act of pure love.

Mary understood who Jesus was and expressed her love and devotion by sitting at the feet of Jesus as her sister Martha served. Once again, her devotion to Jesus caused some dissension. This time with her sister, Martha, who complained to Jesus about her workload because of Mary (Luke 10:38-42).

When Mary poured her oil on Jesus, it was an expression of love, a picture of true worship. It’s as if she poured her soul out to honor Jesus. It was true kindness.

The heart of Judas is also revealed—he was a greedy thief—he cared only for himself not for the poor (John 12:6). His concern had nothing to do with kindness. It was pure selfishness.

What a great contrast he is to Mary—Judas the betrayer and Mary the worshiper.

What a great contrast—Judas the betrayer and Mary the worshiper

Jesus made it clear what was most valuable—

She has done a beautiful thing to me…She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. (Mark 14:7, 8-9 NIV84)

Photo ©Lightstock.com

Photo ©Lightstock.com

Empty praise or a heart full of worship?

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the cheers of the crowd shouting, Hosanna—oh save us—Son of David! It fulfilled an ancient prophecy (Zech 9:9) but was prophetic in its own right (Matt 21:1-11).

The crowd who honored Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem with shouts of triumph would cry out in just a few days, Crucify Him! How quickly things changed this final week of Jesus’ life on earth—from triumph to tragedy.

How could this happen? Why would it happen?

Yes, it was prophesied. And it also exposed the shallow expectations of one of Jesus’ followers and the depth of devotion of another.

Judas was rebuked for his selfish complaint—shamed by his greed and shallow commitment. He was part of the crowd who shouted, Hosanna! And his betrayal set in motion the cruel cries of hardened hearts to crucify the Lord.

Mary’s gift was accepted and honored by Jesus. It would become an enduring testimony of her love for Jesus—an act of worship and a prophetic preparation for the Lord’s burial.

What is of greatest value to you—wealth and good intentions or a heart of devotion?

As people celebrate Holy Week worldwide, many will express their worship and devotion for the Lord. So I ask, what do you have to offer Jesus?

What do you have to offer Jesus?

Empty palm branches and shouts? Or, will you pour your soul out to the Savior of the world?


Here’s another post related to Holy Week you might like to read— It’s Easter Time!

Too Much and Too Little

Eating too much honey is not good,

and searching for honor is not honorable.Hebrew meaning of this line uncertain.

⌊Like⌋ a city broken into ⌊and⌋ left without a wall,

⌊so⌋ is a person who lacks self-control. (Proverbs 25:27-28 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 25:16-28 GW)


We live in a binary world. Consider how pervasive computers are—huge main frames, desktops, laptops, and handhelds. They all work off a sequence of zeros and ones.

Ok, it’s not quite that simple. A programmer may use different ways to configure things—different programing language or code—but it boils down to manipulating a sequence of zeros and ones to execute some action.

Think of the countless decisions you make in a day. Most decisions are yes–no, either–or. Others weigh the pros and cons of a decision. Still binary. And there’s the classic—Are you a glass half-full or half-empty person?

Why is life in this world so binary? I track it back to the decision in the garden to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Even that decision was a choice between—Do we continue to trust God or believe this clever talking serpent?

They chose the second option. They chose the lie.

Our Struggle

What does all this have to do with these two verses? Each of us struggle to find the somewhat neutral ground of contentment between too much or too little.

Why is this so difficult? Because our self—our ego—our basic nature—never seems to be satisfied. This leaves us open to making poor decisions, pursuing empty promises, or drifting along through life.

Both proverbs are explained with simple illustrations of comparison.

Too much

We know what it’s like to have too much of a good thing. It’s not good. In an earlier verse (Prov 25:16), we’re told eating too much honey makes a person nauseous.

You know the feeling of eating more than you should because it tastes so good—a 2nd or 3rd helping or a rich dessert after a big meal. This applies to more than eating. It’s great to get some sun but too much will make you sick or sunburned or both.

We all want and need honor and respect. The opposite would be shame or contempt. No one enjoys shame or contempt.

When others honor and respect us, it’s a good thing. But when we pursue our own honor or glory, it’s despised by others and tends to bring embarrassment, shame, and disrespect on us.

Too little

It’s not hard to imagine an ancient walled city with broken walls. You’ve either seen it in photos, movies, or digital games. If not, recall the story of ancient Jericho’s walls tumbling down after Israel’s army marched around it for seven days (Josh 6:20).

It would also be similar to the destruction a tornado, hurricane, or earthquake brings. Imagine being in a house where the walls and roof are blown away or broken down leaving you vulnerable to the elements, wild animals, or scavengers and looters.

This is the picture of someone who lacks self-control. We’ve seen what this brings in the life of others and perhaps in our own life.

A lack of discipline leads to many problems—over-eating, over-spending, little to no exercise, too little sleep, and so on. A lack of self-control can lead to things like addictions, broken relationships, excessive worries, poor health, and on and on.

How can we escape the back and forth struggle between too much or too little? Contentment comes with trusting the Lord. Trusting Him instead of our self. We need help with who we are and how we’re wired internally.

Later, in the New Testament book of Galatians, the apostle Paul speaks of this struggle (Gal 5:16-18). He goes on to say the evidence of relying on our self is obvious (Gal 5:19-20) but when we rely on the Lord—His Spirit in us—we gain self-control and a lot more (Gal 5:22-23).

The book of Proverbs is intended to help someone gain wisdom and develop self-discipline. This isn’t about self-improvement or self-reliance but entrusting our self, our decisions, and our deepest needs to the Lord.

Reflection—

Contentment comes with trusting the Lord rather than our self. We don’t need to improve nor rely on ourselves but entrust our decisions, deepest needs, and life to the Lord daily.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself caught in the tension between too much and too little, call out to God in prayer. Ask His help with decisions before you make them. He knows your deepest needs, so look to Him as your source of honor and respect—He knows you better than any person on earth.

©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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False News and Fact Checking

Before destruction a person’s heart is arrogant,

but humility comes before honor.

Whoever gives an answer before he listens is stupid and shameful.

The first to state his case seems right

⌊until⌋ his neighbor comes to cross-examine him. (Proverbs 18:12-13, 17 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 18:9-19 GW)


How can we know something is true or false—not just in the media but in everyday life? If it’s things in general related to public life, several fact-checking sites exist where you can, well… check to see if something is factual.

One of the more popular sites is Snopes but there are several others and it’s good to use two or three sources when fact-checking.

But these sites don’t help with our everyday interactions with people. You could study body language indicators but these are highly dependent on interpretation and subject to individual bias.

An old saying goes, “there’s two sides to every story” or “…two sides to every coin.” Actually, it’s likely there are three sides. Each person has their version of an event or situation and the truth may be somewhere in between their versions.

At first glance, these first two verses don’t seem connected but they share a common thread—character based on attitude of the heart. Humility—genuine humility—governs our emotions and thoughts instead of them governing us. So, humility helps us respond rather than react.

Arrogance blinds a person from seeing anything but their own point of view. It numbs their ability to hear anything but their own opinions and thoughts.

Arrogance blinds and numbs a person

Humility helps us respond rather than react

Humility helps a person to be aware and alert. Instead of listening to the loudest voice, those who are humble listen for what is not being said and for another point of view. They look for what resides between two extremes and are patient enough to listen for the rest of the story.

This is the main point of verse 17—

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (ESV)

I had to learn this the hard way as a young pastor. When people I trusted would be bring their concerns about the church, I tended to jump into action to rectify the perceived problem.

I learned to be less impetuous and more patient and willing to pursue more information from others sources—especially those involved in these concerns—to avoid being hasty and foolish.

Photo by  Emily Morter  on  Unsplash

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

I found considerate and probing questions revealed a bigger picture and more complete story than relying on one person’s view of an issue.

Though I learned this lesson long ago, I can still engage in knee-jerk reactions rather than maintaining a calmer attitude of heart and humble mindset.

This is an important lesson we all need to be reminded of… often. It’s a lesson to apply in all facets of life, especially relationships where we tend to be more reactive than wise—at home, at work, and especially in social media.

If we don’t heed this lesson, we only have ourselves to blame for being led astray by false news, false accusations, or false concerns. So, ask yourself and others the hard questions—the ones likely to reveal a fuller picture and story, whatever the issue.

Reflection—

When you hear something unsettling or hard to accept, make a point to get more information, consider other points of view, and ask considerate but probing questions. This can help keep you from unnecessary worrying, jumping to conclusions, or reacting in the moment. Humility and wisdom are honorable and peaceable virtues.

Prayer Focus—

If you are impetuous or quick to be concerned about what you hear or see, make a point of asking the Lord to give you discernment and wisdom before you react. You might need to ask God to help you many times throughout a day.

©Word-Strong_2018


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