Personal Faith

Purified By Fire

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

but the one who purifies hearts ⌊by fire⌋ is the Lord. (Proverbs 17:3 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 17:1-6 GW)


No one can purify their own heart. No one. We can try but we’ll fail. We fail because we don’t have the right material to work from to develop a pure heart. We’re flawed.

Each of us is born with a selfish nature—a self-will.

This selfish nature isn’t obvious at first. When I first see and hold a newborn grandchild, well, it’s hard to imagine anything but purity in them. Each baby is wholly dependent on their parents, especially the nurturing care of their mother.

But over time—actually, not much time at all—this selfish nature becomes evident. It’s not just a child’s fascination with the word “no!” or their constant pushing of boundaries, it’s deeper than that. It’s embedded in each of us at birth—our individual self-will.

Our self-will is powerful, especially when it’s challenged and even when it appears to be subdued. No matter what the circumstances, it will eventually make its presence known. This can be a good thing many times but not when a pure heart is desired.

Many spiritually-minded people either claim or desire to have a pure heart. But this can only take place when the Creator of our hearts is allowed to work in us. Rather, when we allow the Lord to work our innate rebellion—aka, our selfish nature—out of us.

How does God purify a person’s heart? He uses external pressure. In this Bible version, the idea of fire or intense heat is expressed giving us a graphic illustration of God’s purifying process. But in most other Bible versions of this verse the word test is used to describe the process God uses to purify a heart.

 Photo by  Ihor Malytskyi  on  Unsplash

God’s testing

It’s the tests of life that bring our selfish nature to the surface. Just as in purifying a precious metal like silver or gold in a furnace with intense heat that reduces the metal to a liquid, so God uses various tests in our life to reduce and refine us.

The intense heat of the refining process brings the impurities of the metal to the surface. These initial impurities are scraped off the surface. Then the process continues until the metal is pure enough to reflect an image on the surface like a mirror or still water.

Ever wonder why you undergo certain tests in life over and over? Tests related to hard-to-break habits, unhealthy relationships, or other internal struggles are intended to reduce us to a place of dependence upon God to overcome whatever the target is of this testing in our life.

God refines us so His image is reflected in us

As we experience these tests and allow them to melt us into a trusting submission to God, God will purify our hearts. Each test brings impurities to the surface. When the Lord scrapes these impurities out of us, He also heals the wounds they leave in us.

It’s not an easy process for most of us but it’s worth the work. The goal is to have a pure heart that we might see God (Matt 5:8). For now, we walk by faith—trusting in Him and His work in our hearts as He prepares us for the day we shall see Him face to face (1 Cor 13:12).

Reflection—

When you experience God’s testing in your life, allow it to melt your heart and submit to God with a full trust that He’s purifying your heart. As each test brings impurities to the surface, allow the Lord to scrape them out of you so He can heal and restore your heart.

Prayer Focus—

Be willing to surrender your heart to the Lord as you come before Him in prayer, this will lead to a greater confidence in Him to answer your prayers, as you draw closer to Him through the purifying of your heart.

Here’s a link to a beautiful worship song about the purpose of God’s refining work in us— Refiner’s Fire

©Word-Strong_2018


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True Heroes

Better to get angry slowly than to be a hero.

Better to be even-tempered than to capture a city.

 (Proverbs 16:32 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 16:25-33 GW)


We like heroes and stories about heroes. Perhaps the favorite hero-type is the one who rises up out of obscurity to overcome great odds. Think of all those Rocky movies and a multitude of war films with unsung heroes.

Many heroes are unexpected or unlikely. There were hundreds who stepped into action during the 911 terrorist attacks. Many of their individual stories and the people they helped may never be known.

One hero that stands out in the Bible for many of us is the young shepherd David. He defeats the giant Goliath and later becomes the favored king of Israel.

The stereotype of those whom we consider heroes are men and women who face and overcome great odds in a way that benefits others. These are people we look up to because of their extraordinary actions or character or a combination of both these qualities.

But what if we could all be like heroes or mighty warriors? Is this even possible?

This verse in Proverbs speaks of an inner strength greater than any external strength typically associated with heroes. In fact, some of the heroes people look up to wouldn’t qualify as such because they lack this internal strength of character.

The first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor was an unlikely hero because of his religious convictions and size. His valor is memorialized in the gory but well done movie, Hacksaw Ridge, and the documentary film, The Conscientious Objector.

Thankfully, these films show Desmond Doss as a man of strong character and values that exceed his wartime exploits. His life and how he handled mistreatment by others is an illustration of what is expressed in this verse.

Being slow to anger is obviously in contrast to being quick-tempered. A person who is quick-tempered is reactive and shows a lack of control over their emotions.

Again, to be even-tempered, or as another version says it— one who “rules his spirit”—shows an internal strength and sense of control over their emotions. This is in stark contrast to those alluded to in preceding verses (Proverbs 16:25-30).

For most of us, this isn’t so natural. Some of us may have a temper that flares up easily and often, while others may only allow their temper to get out of control occasionally. In other words, some of us have more self-control than others.

But our self isn’t so easy to control day in and day out. Certain circumstances and situations, and people, tend to get under our skin and bring the worst out of us. Yes, there are times when anger is an appropriate response to a situation but most of the time it’s not.

Self-control governed by an internal strength—a strength of character and spirit—is the key to being a person who is even-tempered and slow to get angry.

This internal strength of character and spirit is developed when God’s Spirit and His word of truth are at work within us and shaping our character. In another place in the Bible, we see that self-control is the fruit or effect of the Spirit of God living and at work within us (Galatians 5:23).

So, a true hero—someone who is respected and a blessing to others in daily life—is someone who is slow to get angry and even-tempered. Someone of strong character and spirit who draws their strength from the Spirit of God and the truth of God.

They will be a hero in God’s eyes day in and day out, and draw respect from most people, even those who may appear as enemies.

The question is—Will you and I choose to be heroic in this way?

Reflection—

Self-control governed by an internal strength—a strength of character and spirit—is the key to being a person who is even-tempered and slow to get angry. A person who submits their life and emotions to the Lord.

Prayer Focus—

Since self-control is a fruit of God’s Spirit living and working in a person, simply ask God to grant you this each day. Perhaps throughout each day! As you come before the Lord in prayer, ask Him for this and be willing to let Him do His work in you to do so.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Pleasant Words

A wise person’s heart controls his speech,

and what he says helps others learn.

Pleasant words are ⌊like⌋ honey from a honeycomb—

sweet to the spirit and healthy for the body.

 (Proverbs 16:23-24 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 16:16-24 GW)


An old children’s refrain goes, “Sticks and stones can hurt my bones but words can never hurt me.” The truth is—words can and do hurt. It’s not just about insults and taunts—those are certainly not pleasant words—but many other words can hurt us.

It can be as simple as words unspoken. Many a child, even spouses, never or rarely hear the words, “I love you,” or “I forgive you,” or any apology or admission of wrong.

How about unfair or false accusations? This happens a lot in homes and in workplaces, even classrooms, let alone in politics and social media.

One tactic interrogators and lawyers use is to sow doubt. This was commonly used in prison camps to break the spirit of POW’s. They would say things like, “Your family and country have forgotten you, “ and “No one is going to rescue you.”

Years ago, an assistant pastor told me I didn’t have a “shepherd’s heart.” It stunned me when I heard this and the wound went deep. It wasn’t true for me but it ended up being true of him. Through prayer and encouragement from others—especially my wife and close friends—the Lord gave me an accurate perspective.

The words we echo to ourselves—self-talk—can also be hurtful and damaging. So, yes, words from various sources and in different forms can and do hurt.

The surprising antidote is to hear and utter pleasant and truthful words—”sweet to the spirit and healthy for the body.” It may sound too simplistic but it’s true.

Certainly, the truth can be spoken harshly and be destructive when spoken with the intent to hurt. This is why understanding needs to be applied when speaking the truth.

As said in another place in the Bible, we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). It’s not enough to just use nice words, as pleasant as they might be. The pleasant words spoken of here in Proverbs come from a wise person and are helpful not harmful (verse 23).

The foundation for pleasant words spoken with wisdom is the truth of God. The primary source of His truth for us is found in the Scriptures and is revealed to us by His Spirit to our mind and heart.

Whoever gives attention to the Lord’s word prospers, and blessed is the person who trusts the Lord. (Prov 16:20 GW)

This leads to understanding that is useful and beneficial—not only for those who hear pleasant words wisely spoken—but this divinely based understanding becomes a fountain of life for those who speak them (vss 21-22).

Let us be careful with our words—not speaking carelessly but wisely. When we choose to speak pleasant words in a wise way, it will bless and help others and bless us, as well.

Reflection—

The foundation for pleasant words spoken with wisdom is the truth of God, which leads to understanding that is useful and beneficial. Let us be careful with our words—not speaking carelessly but wisely— so we may bless and help others and be a blessing.

Prayer Focus—

In your prayer times, ask the Lord to help you be mindful throughout the day in all your interactions with others, that you would speak wise and pleasant words.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Peaceful and Pleasing

By mercy and faithfulness, peace is made with the Lord.

By the fear of the Lord, evil is avoided.

When a person’s ways are pleasing to the Lord,

he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Proverbs 16:6-7 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 16:1-15 GW)


Stress—continuous and sustained—is unhealthy. This is well-documented and verified through life experience. Unhealthy stress can be emotional, mental, or physical—sometimes it’s all three at once. Stress can be self-induced but also beyond a person’s control.

Some common advice today is—focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t control. This is echoed by gifted athletes and business leaders alike. If only it were that easy!

People in war-torn nations and refugees seeking safety from war and oppression are in situations way beyond their control. Still, they look for ways to create a sense of normality and safety in whatever way they can.

Those of us in less desperate conditions may have a lot more freedom and opportunity to exert control over stress in our lives. Yet, too often we add stress rather than lessen it. This is unnecessary stress we choose to live under daily—often by default.

Think about what causes stress in your life. Now, consider how things might be different without certain stresses and what that would mean for you.

What do you have control over? What can you do about it?

Even when we focus on what we can control, it’s usually external things—what we do with our time, how we do our work, who we spend time with, and so on.

Not all unhealthy stress can be relieved by changing things outside of us. Why? Because we tend to bring unhealthy stress on ourselves.

This is where we need to consider what we worry about and why we do. Such things are often called first-world concerns—what we think we need and what we want are easily confused.

What if unhealthy stress can be relieved in a simpler and better way?

Think internal rather external. Think surrender rather than control. Yes, surrender.

When everything depends on us—our ability, our strength, our efforts—it’s a never-ending strain that produces and adds its own stress.

When we trust in the Lord—the way a young child trusts her parents—we learn to surrender and submit our worries and concerns to the Lord. This reduces our stress.

But how do we go about this in everyday life and within environments and situations where we are not in control?

We can choose how we respond rather than react to situations and people we encounter in a given day. We can extend mercy where our tendency is to be judgmental and harsh. We can remain faithful when dealing with inequity and unfairness.

When we choose to be peacemakers, God extends peace to us, as well as through us. When we choose the path of godly fear and integrity, we’ll avoid the evil others encounter.

And here’s the best part—God will extend His peace in our life so that even those who seem to be enemies will be at peace with us. This is a peace and a way of life guaranteed to reduce stress!

Reflection—

We can choose how we respond rather than react and choose the path of godly fear and integrity instead of the path everyone else follows. As we extend mercy and peace to others, we’ll experience God’s peace and freedom from unnecessary stress in our life.

Prayer Focus—

Begin each day in surrender to the Lord, asking Him to help you show mercy to others and for strength to be faithful in the midst of difficult and unfaithful times. Pursue peace with God and ask for His wisdom to navigate each day.

©Word-Strong_2018


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The Path of Wise Counsel

Stupidity is fun to the one without much sense,

but a person who has understanding forges straight ahead.

Without advice plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed.

…and a timely word—oh, how good!

The path of life for a wise person leads upward

in order to turn him away from hell below. (Proverbs 15:21-24 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 15:20-24 GW)


When I was in school as a young student, we used encyclopedias as references for projects and term papers. The Encyclopedia Britannica was somewhat the gold standard then but the more modern American version—the World Book—was a bit more accessible and easier to use.

If you wondering how long ago, it was after dinosaurs were extinct but before Jurassic Park (LOL). We went to public and school libraries to do research, unless your family could afford to buy a set of encyclopedias. Even then, if you needed several reference sources, you went to the library.

But today, a laptop and a good wifi signal will suffice most of the time. Need some answers? Check Wikipedia or “Google it!” Want to know how to do something? Search YouTube.

But the wired-world of today isn’t nearly as reliable and trustworthy as many believe. It’s a closed system of information and tech-savviness. Wisdom and understanding aren’t contained in articles or downloads that await us in the Cloud.

True wisdom is gained through reading, discussion, reflection, and thinking. But who has time for that?

Godly wisdom requires a similar process but is based on the Scriptures as a primary reference of truth and the wise counsel of godly people.

There was a time when “experts” thought the world was flat and ships would fall off the edge of the earth if they went too far. Of course, this was proven false countless times, centuries ago. The earth, planets, and stars in their orbits was also understood in Bible times (Job 26:7, 10; Psa 19:6; Isa 40:22).

Current wisdom is uncertain and short-sighted. It’s based on insufficient evidence with unverified extrapolations. Years ago, certain foods were said to be unhealthy for us. Now, these same foods are considered essential to good health.

Too often, what may be true to some degree is taken to an extreme. This is true in various fields of knowledge. It leads to what I’d call pop-wisdom. It’s pushed by popular opinion but my cynical self says it’s driven by what’s marketable rather than sound reasoning.

True wisdom—godly wisdom—takes the larger view of things and yet sees the smaller details. It doesn’t rush to unreliable conclusions. It’s also practical. True wisdom applies to everyday life and is time-tested.

Godly wisdom is based on an eternal perspective rather than individual preference. This is seen in the larger context of these verses and is summed up here—

The fear of the Lord is discipline ⌊leading to⌋ wisdom, and humility comes before honor. (Prov 15:33 GW)

As spoken of in an earlier devotional, the fear of God isn’t a fearful attitude but a personal, respectful trust in God. It’s not relativistic but a disciplined view of life and truth.

When the wisdom we hold to is no longer based on assumptions and opinions but anchored in a transcendent source of truth, it is reliable and sound.

It includes trustworthy advice from people whose lives are an example of godly wisdom based on biblical truth, not arrogance and self-importance. This is the path of wise counsel.

Reflection—

How are you guided through life? Do you listen to the popular wisdom of the day or rely on the soundness of godly wisdom? True wisdom is gained through reading, discussion, reflection, and thinking on the truth of God with those who trust in Him.

Prayer Focus—

Approach each day with a fresh willingness to seek godly wisdom from the Scriptures—asking God to give it you as you pray and read (James 1:5)—and spend time with the people of God who trust in Him as shown by the example of their lives.

©Word-Strong_2018


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