truth

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 Remedy for Running Wild

Without prophetic vision people run wild,

but blessed are those who follow ⌊God’s⌋ teachings. (Proverbs 29:18 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 29:17-28 GW)


Great emphasis is made on casting vision and vision statements in both business and ministry. The basic idea is that people need a sense of direction and purpose or they’ll wander. This is true.

But vision for business or ministry is specific to the individual mission. It’s only valuable when it’s followed to accomplish whatever the specific mission is. Otherwise it’s just a nice thought.

This requires continued communication of the vision, which also includes clarifications and confirmations of the intended vision and mission.

One can relate this proverb to this popular trend of vision casting and vision connected to a primary mission but this proverb addresses something else more vital for all people.

Relating this proverb to vision casting and vision statements is to make an application without a full understanding of what it’s declaring. To be more specific—the first phrase can’t be understood without the second phrase.

Running wild

People run wild when there’s no prophetic vision because prophetic vision is grounded in and driven by the truth of God—God’s teachings.

During King Solomon’s time, God’s teachings were connected to the Law of Moses. Although it’s primarily summarized in the 10 Commandments (Exod 20:1-17), the Mosaic Law governed all aspects of life—moral, spiritual, civil, and health.

The context of this verse provides a better understanding of what is meant by prophetic vision. It is a divine revelation of truth. In Solomon’s time under the Old Covenant, divine revelation was always tethered to the Mosaic Law.

Prophetic vision is a divine revelation of truth

In our present time—under the New Covenant where the Law was fulfilled by Jesus (Matt 5:17; Rom 10:4; Gal 5:23-25)—God’s teachings include the Gospels and the other New Testament books.

The remedy

The truth of God—as revealed by God in the Scriptures—is a tether to keep us from running wild—it is the foundation for prophetic vision. It keeps us from running wild—it is our remedy.

A simple illustration is like the string attached to a kite. Without the string attached and guidance by the person flying the kite, it will drift off by itself or dance wildly in the sky till it crashes on the ground.

A boat in a violent storm without an anchor or sail will be tossed to and fro then driven to destruction by the wind and waves.

These two illustrations are like you and me without the anchor of God’s teachings. If we’re not grounded in the truth of God, we are prone to be tossed to and fro by the prevailing winds of popular culture (Eph 4:14).

If it seems the world around you is running wild—it is.

If we don’t want to be caught up with those who are running wild, we need the anchor of God’s truth.

Reflection—

People run wild when there’s no prophetic vision because they’re not grounded in the truth of God—God’s teachings. The Scriptures are a tether to keep us from running wild in the world around us—it is our remedy.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself caught up with everyone else and running wild with no clear direction for your life—it’s time to stop and seek the Lord. Pray with an open Bible in hand and ask the Lord to ground you in the truth and guide you in a personal way.

©Word-Strong_2019


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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


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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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Truth, Dishonesty, and Consequences

Giving a straight answer is ⌊like⌋ a kiss on the lips.

Do not testify against your neighbor without a reason,

and do not deceive with your lips.

Do not say, “I’ll treat him as he treated me.

I’ll pay him back for what he has done to me.” (Proverbs 24:26, 28-29 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 24:23-34 GW)


Consequences have gotten a bad rap over the years. Generally, we think of a consequence as something negative. But it’s not. A consequence is a result or effect, a conclusion or product of some cause or action.

The popular sense of a consequence is negative. This was the premise of the popular TV show, Truth or Consequences, which a city in New Mexico was renamed for. But, a consequence can be good or bad or neutral in its impact.

A straight answer

Giving a straight answer, or an honest answer, has a good consequence—it’s, like a kiss on the lips. This figure of expression indicates respect and affection. It’s the opposite of deception.

Directness and honesty are not so common these days. Not a day goes by without an indication or revelation of untruthfulness by someone we encounter in daily life, a celebrity, or government leader. At least, it seems that way.

Sadly, disinformation—a common euphemism for indirect, often untrue statements—has become the norm. It’s not just people in the spotlight—the news media, government spokespersons, celebrities, etc.—but also in advertising or companies who justify not honoring a guarantee.

Before we get indignant and outraged at all this indirect and dishonest communication—think about yourself.

How many times have you been less than truthful or avoided the full truth in conversations between you and your spouse, parents, children, friends, co-workers, or neighbors? We use the euphemistic label white lies to describe this behavior.

How many times have you or I said or thought something like—Why didn’t you just tell me the truth? What we mean is this—Why didn’t you care enough and respect me enough by giving me a straight answer?

Dishonesty and a deeper problem

As far as negative consequences, these other verses speak for themselves. Well, it ought to be obvious these lead to negative consequences. But is it obvious to us?

The problem with lying—even half-truths and white lies—is the continual need to reaffirm the first lie with other lies. Lying becomes habitual. It’s a behavioral mode called avoidance—of consequences, confrontations, or just continued conversations.

But there’s a deeper problem here. One we tend to mutter under our breath or just think without saying—payback. Payback is just another word for revenge. Revenge is a distorted sense of justice—of making things right as we see them.

What we are called to

As believers—followers of Jesus—we are called to be beacons of light in a dark world (Matt 5:14-16; Phil 2:14-16) and to love our enemies rather than get retribution (Matt 6:43-48; Rom 12:19).

So, we are called to give direct, honest answers to one another. To love the truth and speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). To love our neighbors and to be merciful even as our Father in heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36).

Reflection—

God calls us to be beacons of light in a dark world, to love our enemies, to give direct, honest answers and to love the truth and speak the truth in love to one another, our neighbors, and others—and to be merciful.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself being less than honest with someone or even yourself, ask the Lord to give you a love for the truth and for others. Seek to be light in the midst of darkness and to be merciful when others are not.

©Word-Strong_2019


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