humility

A Double–Whammy

A person who will not bend after many warnings

will suddenly be broken beyond repair.

A person who flatters his neighbor

is spreading a net for him to step into. (Proverbs 29:1, 5 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 29:1-17 GW)


The old cartoon series, Lil’ Abner, featured a character who could deliver a double-whammy hex by looking at someone with both his evil eyes. But the term was popularized many years before by others with less evil intentions. The phrase is used by most people to describe a detrimental and powerful impact of some kind.

In weather, a combination of two dangerous events like a cluster of tornadoes and excessive flooding could be considered a double-whammy. The combination of increased inflation and higher unemployment would be an economic double-whammy.

A double-whammy in sports could be a one-two punch combination in boxing or when a baseball pitcher intentionally walks a good hitter only to give up a grand-slam homer to the next batter.

These two selected verses in Proverbs 29 shows us a double-whammy of sorts. The double dilemma of stubbornness and flattery. The whammy-effect of being stubborn is a little easier to see than the deceptive trap of flattery.

Some double-whammies happen to us. But others we bring on ourselves. These verses speak of the latter—what we bring upon ourselves.

The danger of stubbornness

Stubbornness isn’t just being strong-willed. A strong-willed person can learn to turn what others see as stubbornness into perseverance.

One example is the life of POW Louis Zamperini, as told in the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. There’s also a movie adapted from the book but the book is much better.

Louis’ life story—as detailed in the book—portrays a man who moves from delinquency to an Olympian runner, then through a grueling internment in a WW II Japanese POW camp, and the ups and downs of post-war life to a fulfilling and redemptive life.

It’s a great insight to how stubbornness can become perseverance but can also be destructive.

A person who will not bend after many warnings will eventually be broken beyond repair. Another Bible version describes this person as “stiff-necked.” This is a person who resists correction and warning, including rebukes, for their attitude and behavior that harm or impact others.

The idea of a repeat-offender in and out of jail may come to mind but this also applies to a person who offends others but refuses to make amends or apologize to anyone. It could even apply to someone who refuses to heed medical advice and warnings to their own detriment.

Natural consequences will take their toll at some point leading to a loss of freedom, broken relationships, poor health, a psychological breakdown, or death.

God will mercifully try to intervene in the life of a stubborn or stiff-necked person but will not stop those bent on self-destruction when they refuse His merciful corrections and interventions.

The flattery trap

And how about flattery? How could this be the other side of a double-whammy?

The destructive impact of flattery can go two ways. It can be a snare for those who are deceived by someone’s smooth talk and it can equally bring a reversal of an intended deception.

Flattery can be used in an insincere, deceptive way to intentionally trap someone at their own expense and for the flatter’s profit. But the trap laid to ensnare a person can also become a pit to fall into by the one who flatters.

We also need to guard our own heart from the self-deception of believing someone’s flattery, whether it’s insincere or excessive praise.

On one hand, when we take to heart flattering words we create a snare of pride for ourselves. When we only want to hear and accept the praise of others while shunning any criticism, we set ourselves up for a fall.

When we flatter others for our own benefit, people will begin to realize this about us and not take what we say seriously—whether it’s flattery or not. People will see us as dishonest, prideful, and unreliable.

Avoiding this double-whammy

How can we avoid the pitfalls of self-destructive stubbornness and the deceptiveness of flattery? Two simple things come to mind—honesty and humility.

We need to be honest with ourselves and willing to hear the honesty of others—especially from people who are trustworthy.

Humility is the only real antidote for pride and conceit. Genuine humility can help us guard our hearts from self-destructive attitudes and behaviors, as well as the deceptiveness of flattery.

Reflection—

We can avoid the pitfalls of self-destructive stubbornness and the deceptiveness of flattery when we’re willing to be honest with ourselves and accept honesty and pursue genuine humility, the only real antidote for pride and conceit.

Prayer Focus—

Do you identify with either the stubborn person or someone prone to flatter or listen to flattery? Pray for discernment and wisdom. Ask God to show you how to humble yourself and be open to the truth.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Gateways of the Heart and Mind

A conceited look and an arrogant attitude,

which are the lamps of wicked people, are sins.

Whoever shuts his ear to the cry of the poor

will call and not be answered.

Whoever guards his mouth and his tongue

keeps himself out of trouble. (Proverbs 21:4, 13, 23 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 21:1-31 GW)


Your can observe a lot just by watching. (Yogi Berra)

Yogi Berra—a great baseball player, coach, and a humble man—was famous for some of his sayings, sometimes known as “yogi-isms.” They might sound funny the way they’re expressed but they made sense within their context.

It’s not hard to get what he meant from his point of view as a veteran all-star baseball player. If you know anything about baseball (I’m a lifelong baseball fan), there are many subtle elements and strategies to the game. As Yogi would say, “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”

Observation is watching with the intent to learn something. It isn’t a passive gaze. When we observe something we take in all that our eyes see. We may focus on certain things but even what’s in our peripheral vision is processed by our mind.

These three verses give some insight to how the eyes, ears, and mouth are gateways of a person’s heart and mind. What goes in and out of each gateway has consequences and benefits that impact the heart and mind.

The eyes

The eyes perceive and take in what they look at but are also an outlet of what’s inside a person. It’s pretty easy to distinguish eyes filled with joy from those flushed with anger.

The nature of a person, as well as emotions, are seen through the eyes. The attitude of the heart is conveyed through the physical eyes, especially when accompanied with emotion.

As Jesus said—

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)

A conceited look and arrogant attitude reveal a darkness within a person and that darkness is destructive. It isn’t beneficial for anyone which is why it is sinful.

The ears

When I’m focused on what I’m doing, I tune out the noise and activity around me. This makes it easy to not hear someone telling me something, especially if I don’t want to hear it.

Children have very selective hearing when parents ask them to do or not do something. Husbands develop a similar form of selective hearing but tend to justify it. “Honey, can you take out the trash? It stinks! (wife) “I can’t right now, I’m in the middle of something” (husband while watching a sports event).

But when we shut our ear to the cry of the poor it points to a deeper issue within us. We’re not hard of hearing—our hearts are hardened. And yet, when we cry out in a time of need we expect God to attend to us. We need to be careful what we shut out—what we don’t hear or see.

The mouth

We’ve all said things we wished we hadn’t. Even when we know it would be best kept unsaid, we say it anyway. We say something in the heat of the moment then regret it. If we’re willing to humble ourselves, apologize, and make amends as needed, we might rectify the situation.

But with social media—what’s out there stays out there. Once the internet captures it, it gains a life of its own. Many people have found this out the hard way.

It’s far better to guard our mouth from saying regrettable things. But this is easier said than done. As it says in Scripture, no one can tame the tongue… (James 3:8 GW).

Why can’t the tongue be tamed? Because the words of our mouth go deeper that’s what is spoken and heard—they reveal what’s in our hearts. Jesus clarifies this for us—

Your mouth says what comes from inside you. (Matt 12:34c GW)

I’m reminded of a simple child’s song using repetition and rhyming to make the point of these three verses—O be careful little eyes…ears…mouth…. It’s important for all of us to remember we’re responsible for what goes in and out of these gateways of the heart and mind!

Reflection—

It’s beneficial to us as a whole to guard our hearts from arrogance and callousness, and to use discretion when we speak. We are all accountable for these three gateways of the heart and mind—the eyes, ears, and mouth.

Prayer Focus—

Which of these three gateways give you the most difficulty in life? Even if it’s all three—ask God daily, even throughout the day, to give you discretion in your interactions with others along with humility and tenderness of heart.

©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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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


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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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