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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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An Exposed Heart

If Sheol and Abaddon lie open in front of the Lord

how much more the human heart! (Proverbs 15:11 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 15:8-19 GW)


I’ve often wondered why people subject themselves to the public scrutiny of reality shows. Is it just for the money? Much of the time, some not-so glamorous moments in people’s lives are laid out for all to see. That is, all who watch.

As you can probably tell, I’m not a big fan of reality shows. The few times I’ve endured watching them for a while, I find myself cringing and shaking my head at what I see.

I don’t like having my life exposed for everyone to see. People are too quick to draw their own conclusions—often jumping to unfounded judgments of reasons and motives.

Having a somewhat public life as a pastor and overseas missionary, I’ve experienced some unwanted exposure of my life and endured some unfair and unwarranted criticism and condemnation.

It’s part of the territory for those roles in ministry but it can still be difficult to endure. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion but it doesn’t mean those opinions are right or true or valid.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years—there’s always more to the story. More importantly, whenever anyone of us sits in judgment of others, we’re sitting in a seat that doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the only True and Righteous Judge—God.

There’s not one person on earth who hasn’t sat in judgment on another. All of us do it in some way and to some degree.

We look askance at people for what they wear or don’t wear. How they talk or look or act. People judge each other for what they eat or don’t eat, the music they like or don’t like, their politics, favorite sports team, and what they watch or won’t watch on TV.

What catches my attention about all this is how exposed my heart is before God. Nothing is hidden from Him. Nothing.

It’s not just my heart that’s exposed to God, it’s every human heart. Yours and mine.

Several places in the New Testament scriptures, including the words of Jesus in the Gospels, tell us there will be a judgment to come of all people at the end of the age. None of us now when that will be exactly but it is certain.

Even Sheol and Abaddon—death and destruction—are not hidden from God. After all, He is eternal.

You won’t be seeing me in any reality shows any time soon—not if I have anything to say about it! But even if my life isn’t displayed for all to see, I know the Lord sees everything in my heart—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This humbles me when I consider it. The psalmist David says this eloquently in Psalm 139—here’s an excerpt—

You alone know when I sit down and when I get up. You read my thoughts from far away. You watch me when I travel and when I rest. You are familiar with all my ways.

Even before there is a ⌊single⌋ word on my tongue, you know all about it, Lord. You are all around me—in front of me and in back of me. (Psa 139:2-5 GW)

I try to keep this awareness fresh in my mind. When I remember my heart is exposed before God, it helps me avoid sliding into any judgment seat. And when I find myself sitting in His seat, I sense God’s Spirit whispering to my heart that I’m not where I ought to be.

Reflection—

All of us have judged someone in some way and to some degree. Whenever we do, we’re sitting in a seat that doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the only True and Righteous Judge—God.

Prayer Focus—

Join me as I daily, even moment by moment, ask God to keep me from judging others and asking Him to forgive me when I do.

©Word-Strong_2018


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The Power of a Gentle Answer

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A gentle answer turns away rage,

but a harsh word stirs up anger.

The tongues of wise people give good expression to knowledge,

but the mouths of fools pour out a flood of stupidity.

The eyes of the Lord are everywhere.

They watch evil people and good people.

A soothing tongue is a tree of life,

but a deceitful tongue breaks the spirit.

 (Proverbs 15:1-4 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 15:1-7 GW)


I don't know about you but I'm fed up with the rancorous political rhetoric and mudslinging that goes on at election time. And it seems to get worse each election!

And the news media, including social media, plays off of it all and ramps it up even more. It doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum you're on—it comes from all sides. If it doesn't bother you too, you're probably caught up in it too much.

All of this rancor and uncivil debate confirms the second line of this verse—

...but a harsh word stirs up anger.

But what about the first line of the verse? How can a gentle answer turn away anger or rage? At first glance, it may seem absurd or naive. But it's true. I've seen how it's true firsthand.

I can get emotional and passionate about what I think is right or when I think I'm right in a heated discussion (aka– argument). My wife and good friends have turned away my anger and rage on more than one occasion. Thankfully!

It's been helpful to me personally but also an example for me to do the same. I'm also thankful I've become less easily angered over time, as the Lord continues to work His grace into my heart and life.

Perhaps this is why I'm bothered by combative talk, especially when one party really isn't hearing or considering what the other is saying.

As said many times before, it's not just what you say but how you say it. So, how can a person do this? How can we learn to give a gentle answer in the face of someone else's wrath?

The first thing is to observe how effective it is when someone else does this. For starters, we can all learn a lot from how Jesus deflected the animosity and opposition aimed at Him.

But how is really more about who—our character. This isn't an encouragement about self-improvement exercises or things to say. It's about an internal change in us—our heart, our nature.

It's about an internal change in us—our heart, our nature

Reading further in this chapter, three verses stand out to me in relation to this first verse—

The tongues of wise people give good expression to knowledge (Prov 15:4a GW)
The lips of wise people spread knowledge (Prov 15:7a GW)
A soothing tongue is a tree of life (Prov 15:4a GW)

The first two verses speak of the character of a person and how they speak and what they say. Wisdom isn't gained by osmosis or by birth—it doesn't just come by being around it. It's gained by taking wisdom in, considering it, understanding it, and then living by it.

The first part of verse 4, the third verse mentioned, is very similar to the first verse. It's a little different in its wording but conveys the same thing—a gentle answer... a soothing tongue. These words have power but are not intimidating.

When you speak gently to a scared animal, it tends to calm them down. Talking loudly and forcefully only reinforces the fear in an animal or a person.

When a baby is crying it doesn't help to yell, "Stop crying!" at the baby. But when you speak in a soothing way with encouraging and comforting words, it helps relieve tension and is reassuring. This is true for a baby, a child, and an adult.

So, when confronted with someone's anger or rage next time, try answering them in a gentle way and speak with a soothing tongue—whether in person or in some form of social media. Choose to lower the tension. Choose the wise way—the godly way.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18)

Reflection—

If we want to give a gentle answer in response to anger or wrath, we need to embrace the wisdom from above and let it bring a change deep in our soul—our heart and mind.

Prayer Focus—

Ask God daily for His wisdom—it's pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere—so you're able to give a gentle answer in the face of anger or rage.

©Word-Strong_2018


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The Fallacy of Common Sense

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The teachings of a wise person are a fountain of life

to turn ⌊one⌋ away from the grasp of death.

Good sense brings favor,

but the way of treacherous people is always the same.

Any sensible person acts with knowledge,

but a fool displays stupidity. (Proverbs 13:14-16 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 13:14-25 GW)


Whatever happened to common sense? If it's so common, why isn't there more of it? It turns out... common sense isn't so common after all.

If you haven't said it, you've probably heard something like—"Use some common sense!"—as an admonition to use good judgment, act wisely, or think wisely before making a decision.

Sadly, common sense or good sense seems in short supply. The idea of good judgment that follows logical, rational thought just isn't so common or ordinary.

There's no question that it's valued but it doesn't appear to be common for the general population. Why not? What seems to be the hindrance?

Common sense, in order to be good, sound judgment, needs to have a sound basis or origin. Is there really such a thing as common sense? Yes, but at present, it's suppressed in our culture by what's popular, trendy, or whatever is most appealing at any given time.

For common sense to be sound, it needs to have a frame of reference and a reliable point of origin. Also, consistency and continuity are required for something to be common or accessible for everyone.

When something is uncommon, it's in contrast or at least significantly different than what is common. In other words, for something to be an exception to the rule, there needs to be a rule—a standard.

In a way, common sense gets pushed aside with a new common. The new standard is relativism and individual preference. These have become a new frame of reference for truth, morality, fulfillment, and even spiritual truth or spirituality.

Consider how flexible and accommodating companies and the service industry have become. Menus with "no substitutions or changes" are going by the wayside. Most of the time, you can have it your way for a small up-charge.

The consumer public wants their personal preference to prevail. We don't want what everybody else has unless it's customized to suit us. This demand for accommodation and individuality permeates our present-day culture in so many ways.

Even the truth is affected, or should I say, infected with this expectation for individualistic expression. Individualized interpretation of the truth results in confusion and a lack of understanding when it comes to theology and spirituality in general.

When everyone has their own interpretation of the truth or what truth is, there's no reliable standard to base truth on, which also affects what is considered sound judgment.

When you or I go to buy something at a store or fill the car with fuel, it matters what the cost is based on. What taxes are added to the cost? When it comes to measuring things, is it metric or American standards? When traveling abroad, what currency is used and what is the exchange rate based on?

Common sense needs a common point of reference as its basis, its standard. Otherwise, it has no lasting value. When it comes to navigating life and our relationships, we also need consistent and reliable values.

So, what is the standard for your life values? What truth are you relying on?

When you rely on your own interpretations of the Bible and its truth, you'll run into the same troubles others have who choose to go their own way and common sense will elude you.

If the truth of God written in the Scriptures isn't your point of reference, you don't have a trustworthy standard of truth. This is the message of the wise writings throughout Proverbs.

Good sense brings favor

Reflection—

Do you think you have common sense and good judgment? What truth are you relying on? If God's truth isn't your point of reference, you don't have a trustworthy standard of truth and likely lack sound judgment.

Prayer Focus—

Seek the Lord regarding whether or not you have common sense based on His truth. Ask God to give you discernment and confirmation of what good sense is and if you have it and are experiencing His favor.

©Word-Strong_2018


Lifting the Weight of an Anxious Heart

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A person’s anxiety will weigh him down,

but an encouraging word makes him joyful. (Proverbs 12:25 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 12:15-28 GW)


It's an epidemic. Opioid addiction has become a national epidemic in America. But it's not only opioid-based medications that are a problem. A myriad of disorders ranging from depression to behavioral problems has brought a plague of prescription drugs on our nation.

We may be a rich and powerful nation but we're weighed down with worry and can't seem to get out from under this burden without a prescription.

But there is another way to deal with this problem. A surprisingly simple way. It doesn't require a doctor appointment nor a prescription, nor any specialized training.

Anxiety may weigh a person down—

...but an encouraging word makes him joyful.

It may seem too simplistic. Indeed, some psychological disorders may still require treatment and medications but genuine and meaningful encouragement is still helpful in severe cases. I've seen this firsthand.

Words are powerful. They can tear down or build someone up. They're rarely neutral. What we hear is played back in our minds over and over, like a never-ending recording. It's called self-talk.

Destructive words go deep. They penetrate our hearts and embed themselves in our minds.

Careless words stab like a sword... (Prov 12:18a GW)

It doesn't matter who utters these piercing words. When spoken by those we're closest to—parents, a spouse, siblings, children, significant others, friends, people at work or school—their wounding words go deep.

So, how can this be countered?

How can you and I deal with worries and wounding words?

We all need to hear encouraging words of truth often and from people we trust. People who are trustworthy and those whom we know genuinely care about us. Likewise, we need to speak encouraging words and be genuine and trustworthy for others.

Here is the counter to the words that "stab like a sword"—

...but the words of wise people bring healing. (Prov 12:18b GW)

Notice it says, "words." Not casual or trite statements like—"Oh, they didn't really mean that..." or, "just ignore what they say." Genuine and encouraging words are needed.

Words of encouragement need to come from people wise enough to know what is needed and what is appropriate for each person. They also need to be words of truth—

The word of truth lasts forever... (Prov 12:19a GW)

If your heart is anxious and if you're weighed down with many worries, you need to be around people you trust. People who can encourage you with the truth. 

Where? Church is good place to start but I know too many wounding words are spoken by people in churches.

We need to seek out a community of believers who are accepting and loving in a biblical but non-judgmental way. It could be a church or a small group connected to a church or ministry.

There are no quick fixes with prescriptive words and phrases. Bible quotes are nice but can easily be said in trite ways (see James 2:15-16).

A continuing flow of encouraging truth is the only way healing and restoration go deep enough in our hearts and minds. This will lighten the load of worries and wounds we encounter.

Reflection—

If your heart is anxious and if you're weighed down with many worries, you need to be around people you trust. People who can encourage you with the truth.

Prayer Focus—

Ask God to help you see encouraging words in His written word, the Bible. If you don't have encouraging people around you, ask the Lord to help you find people you can trust and who are encouraging and for His help to be the same way for them.

©Word-Strong_2018


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