Proverbs


Proverbs 16 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  He fills our mouths with sweet words to encourage others

“Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” (24)  It’s hard to place a value on a few kind words.  For those who live and work in a caring environment where kind words are shared on a regular basis, these words are appreciated and make one feel valued.  But for someone who rarely hears a kind word of any sort, a few shared words of encouragement or a compliment could be life changing.

A while back I was making a mad dash through the grocery store, very focused on my list in hand, but I wasn’t too focused to notice a very discouraged looking woman with three squabbling children.  The kids weren’t disorderly or loud, but I could tell they had gotten on her very last nerve.  When my children were young, I often shopped at 11:00 pm when the store was quiet, empty and the soft music was actually audible…and my kids were in bed.  Unfortunately, this mom was not alone.

As I was about to walk past the foursome, I saw her bright blue eyes flash at her children with that look that said “straighten up or else,” and I also noticed how much her turquoise top brightened her eyes and flattered her.  I stopped and told her just that.  At my interaction with them, the children stopped fighting and the mom lifted her head with tears in her eyes and said, “Thank you so very much.  I haven’t heard a compliment for such a long time.”  Well, I realized only the Lord could have filled my mouth with those sweet words that lifted her heart.  When we parted, this weary mom walked away with her head held a little higher, shoulders back and perhaps a sweeter soul. It’s hard to place a value on a few kind words.

Even though my personal world is filled with gracious and kind souls, I will testify as one who can feast for quite a while on a few kind words.  Maybe I’m just easy, but I think most of us feel this way.  Kind words just make us look better, feel stronger and think right.  In our busy world of high rollers and self indulgences, concern for the feelings of others is not top priority.  If we listen to too many news commentators and political ads, it’s easy to get accustomed to serving up sour grapes instead of sweet honey, and I think the terse jargon of today can affect the health of both the speaker and the listener.

Better to follow Paul’s advice in Ephesians 4:29, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”  Sweet! 

Moving Forward: “Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”   Sweet and healthy – imagine! I hope to sweeten someone’s life today. 

Tomorrow @ Daniel 1-6

Proverbs 14-15 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is looking for clean hearts, not clean barns 

@ Proverbs 14
Home decorating is one of my hobbies.  My children often said that at Christmas our home looked like a gift shop, and I guess I did overdo it a bit.  While I’m fairly traditional in style, I enjoy visiting homes decorated with different perspectives and degrees of formality.  With each year, our home gets more and more casual to fit our lifestyle, but elegant homes are still a delight to see, with the exception of one that I visited several years ago.

I walked into a world of white – white walls, white carpet, white furniture, white kitchen, with only a touch of chrome and black here and there.  It was really dull.  Some may consider this style to be serene, but it made me nervous.  I was afraid to breathe for fear my exhaust would stain the walls.  I tried to imagine children running around the house, a science project on the table or spaghetti sauce on the stove, but I just couldn’t go there.  Spaghetti sauce, being red and all, just wouldn’t match.  When our lives are filled with people and projects and productivity, there’s going to be some mess.  I know this to be true.

“Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.” (4)  A barn without animals doesn’t require much attention – no hay strewn about, no feed to manage and certainly no dung to shovel.  But then, of course, that means no milk to drink, eggs to fry or horses to ride.  It’s just a clean, lifeless place.  And sometimes that’s what a life becomes when we try to keep it serene and perfect with no spaghetti sauce.

When we began in youth ministry many years ago, I knew that life was going to get messy.   Lock-ins, car washes and field trips have messed up most of my Saturdays for as long as I can remember.  Christian concerts and praise bands have messed up my hearing to be sure.  Sleep at camp?  Forget about it.  But I wouldn’t trade a moment of all that mess for anything in the world.  The time and energy spent to clean up a messed up soul through the power of God are insignificant in light of eternity.  We are messy people, with our issues and attitudes, but the clean we really need to be concerned about is a clean heart.  “God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

We know that interacting with the troubled co-worker or neighbor or unkempt person on the street with all their issues is probably going to mess up the nice, clean life we enjoy, but don’t we want them to see God too?  Patiently helping and guiding the messy teenagers that cross our path at church or in our home may seem like more trouble than it’s worth, but I can testify that it is priceless.  So why don’t we mess up the barn, cook up some sauce and add a little color to our lives. 

Moving Forward:  Looking for some messy people today.  I won’t have trouble finding them – it takes one to know one.  Thank you, Lord, for cleaning up messy lives!

Tomorrow @ Ezekiel 43-48

Proverbs 13 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: His wisdom helps us raise Godly children

To spank or not to spank – now that’s a debate for today.  Gaining momentum is the idea that spanking promotes anger and hostile behavior in children.  Many others take a more traditional position and believe that spanking when done without anger is an acceptable means of correcting disobedient children.  Having followed the traditional position, it was somewhat disconcerting for me to learn recently from my grown son that the spankings I gave him when he was young never really hurt him.  When I reminded him that he always cried, he gave me a sheepish smile and informed that he did that to make me feel better about it all.  I honestly gave it my best shot.  In spite of this, he’s grown to be a godly father and husband today.

There was no debate in Solomon’s mind regarding corporal punishment – he was all for it!   He began the chapter with, “A wise child accepts a parent’s discipline; a mocker refuses to listen to correction,” (1) and added in verse 24 a stronger statement, “Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.” “Discipline your children while there is hope.  Otherwise you will ruin their lives.” (19:18) “A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness, but physical discipline will drive it far away.” (22:15)  “Don’t fail to discipline your children.  They won’t die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death.” (23:13-14)  Well, I think we know where Solomon stood on the subject.

The most abusive discipline by parents that I have seen came from words spoken rather than spanking. However, spanking need not be our first course of action in disciplining our children, and so very often other methods will take care of the situation we are facing.  When I resorted to this form of discipline, I followed the advice of so many others and never disciplined in anger but did so when emotions were calm and thinking was clear.  Any form of discipline administered without instruction, in my mind, is useless.  The purpose of discipline is to bring correction, to bring about a change in behavior.  How can these dear ones learn how to change without our instruction and help?  Following discipline, I often asked my children to tell me what the correct behavior would have been.  There was a lasting reinforcement in the matter when the answer came from their mouths instead of mine.

There were a few months in my daughter’s early teen years where there was a battle for supremacy between us.  Because of my determination to win, I was considered by her at times to be one of the “meanest mothers in the world.”  I must admit that I wore that label with some pride.  Then one day everything changed when my daughter told me about an exchange she had with a close friend.  She was complaining to her friend about how strict I was, never allowing her do what she wanted to do.  Her friend tearfully responded, “Well, at least she cares about you.  At least she cares about what you are doing and where you are going.  I wish my mom did.”

I believe we both won that battle.  My decisions and instructions were now received without question; my daughter finished her teen years without regrets and is today a beautiful woman of God.  No matter what form we use, disciplining children takes time, tenacity and a willingness to be disliked from time to time, but if we really love our children and care about their future, we will do it.  “Those who love their children care enough to discipline them… Physical discipline may well save them from death,” said the wisest man who ever lived. 

Moving Forward: I move forward today with a grateful heart.  Grateful for the wisdom from His Word that produced the wonderful children I enjoy today. 

Tomorrow @ Ezekiel 37-42

Proverbs 10 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He purifies our hearts, producing wise words from our lips

With the advent of texting, tweeting and facebooking, not to mention old-school emailing, one might think that speaking has become passé;  but, let me reassure you, as long as at least two women know that there’s a sale going on somewhere, conversation will flow.  It’s just the way it is.  When my seven year old granddaughter chattered for 20 minutes the other day without noticeably breathing, I knew the art of speaking was alive and well. Solomon had much to say about the words we speak – perhaps something to do with having multiple wives – but regardless, his cautions and observations will save us from a great deal of heartache.

Classic wisdom for me is found in Proverbs 10:19, underlined in red in my Bible, “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.”  Simple, straight up advice.  All of us say words that cause pain at one time or another, intentional or not, and we would give just about anything to retrieve them.  Once our words leave our mouth or enter the social networks, it is impossible to take them back…frightening.  This thought alone should persuade us to guard our words, whether spoken or written.

Jesus took the impact of our words a step further, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart…For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)  Our words reflect what is in our heart, producing a double exposure, if you will, of not only our thoughts but also of our character.  Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “Better to be silent and thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

I have always wanted my words to speak life and not death, to speak blessing rather than cursing; but sadly, I have failed on occasion.  However, Solomon’s words encourage me to move on from spoken sins and mistakes and continue striving for words of wisdom, “The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain…Wise words come from the lips of people with understanding…the words of the godly are like sterling silver…The words of the godly encourage many…The mouth of the godly person gives wise advice…The lips of the godly speak helpful words.” (11-32)   Oh, that I will always communicate the words of the godly! 

Moving Forward: Lord, touch my heart today to where my words, both spoken and written, reflect purity and bring encouragement to others. 

Tomorrow @ Ezekiel 25-30

Proverbs 8-9 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is wisdom, understanding and counsel for those who reverence Him

I know others may never have done this…I mean, only a procrastinator would need to do it.  But I confess – I have done it.  I remember in college the moment of sheer panic when I realized the big exam was the next day, and I hadn’t studied.  There was no time to read the entire History of Western Civilization.  At that time, I hadn’t really lived much of it so first-hand knowledge was not very helpful.  I decided to study just the large, the colorful and the bold print in my history book, and somehow the next day I aced that exam.  I learned what happened in history, but I didn’t know why.

Several times through the years I have chosen to read for the week just the red letters in a red-letter edition of the Bible.  These are the powerful words of Jesus, the wisdom of Christ, who is our Counselor, words that teach us how to live. However, I think I would be short-changing myself if I didn’t read ALL of God’s word on a regular basis, all the Old Testament stories and New Testament inspiration, because they give explanation of why He said what He said.  He used these illustrations Himself on occasion as examples.  Because of this, I love ALL Scripture, but I must admit that sometimes those red letters just knock my socks off, so to speak. 

Proverbs 8
In our reading today, Solomon was finishing up his lessons on wisdom.   He concluded that wisdom is for everyone (1-5).  It is easy to understand and find (8,9,17).  It is invaluable (18), true and fair (20).  It is established, not whimsical and illusive. (22-31).

In Proverbs 8, wisdom itself explains how it was established, “The Lord formed me from the beginning, before He created anything else.  I was before the earth…before the oceans…before the mountains…before the soil…before the heavens and oceans…before the clouds and seas…I was the architect at His side…I was His constant delight.” (22-31) Wisdom described here sounds a lot like Jesus, the Word with us of John 1 and the wisdom of God in I Corinthians 1:24.

Most do not believe Proverbs 8 is an Old Testament representation of Jesus but rather tells how, with wisdom’s skill, God created the Universe.  Neither a scholar nor a theologian, I am not required to debate this, which brings me great happiness, but one thing I know, “Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot – yes, a new Branch.  And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, and Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1)  Jesus, the Messiah, is wisdom, understanding and counsel!

When I need wisdom and counsel from heaven, I read those red letters in the Bible, the words of Jesus who was there at the very beginning with God.  Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, He tells me truths I need to know about relationships, finances, success, eternity and everything else that concerns me… and Him. It’s all right there in red!

Moving Forward: With gratitude in my heart, I move through this day, confident that His wisdom will counsel and help me.  With certainty, I know I will need it. 

Tomorrow @ Ezekiel 19-24

Proverbs 5-6 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He watches over our steps, providing His wisdom to guide us

“Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones.  Learn from their ways and become wise!” (6:6)  Lazybones – what a great word!  I’m planning to use it in a sentence or two throughout the day, hopefully not describing me.  I can testify that the ants in my kitchen are not lazybones.

My kitchen has been invaded by grease ants; and please be assured, they are not lazy.  One missed potato chip on the kitchen floor caused a frenzy of activity that included the entire neighborhood ant community, forming perfect lines to and from the chip – until I removed the chip.  But while that chip was their focus, they were busy and productive with no foolishness or stray steps.  Hmmm…could this be a lesson?

Solomon’s direction over the next few chapters in Proverbs involves instruction regarding moral and wise living.  The purposed activity of the ants was illustrated to guard against poverty and lack, but isn’t it also a protection from the dangers of infidelity and foolish living? The old saying from the writings of Chaucer comes to mind, “Idle hands are the devil’s tools or workshop.”  A purposed focus keeps us on track, “Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.” (4:27)  When we are focused and productive, there’s little time for straying.

@ Proverbs 5
Much of Solomon’s writing focuses on fidelity and the sin of adultery, interesting coming from a man with so very many wives, but powerful nonetheless.  His heart’s desire was to spare his sons the pain that follows immoral living, and these are instructions we should take to heart.  Regarding the immoral woman (or man), he instructs:

1)  “Stay away from her!  Don’t go near the door of her house!” (8)  Don’t click on the website, don’t open the magazine, don’t watch the movie, don’t hang out at his/her desk, don’t think on vain imaginations…we know where the traps are set.

2)  Consider the consequences. “You will lose your honor…lose all you have achieved … someone else will enjoy the fruits of your labor…you will groan in anguish when disease consumes your body.” (9-11) Nothing saddens me more than when a man (or woman) loses the honor and respect of his children.  How could anything or anyone possibly be worth it!

3)  Live a life without regrets. “If only I had not ignored all the warnings! Oh, why didn’t I listen to my teachers?” (12-13) A life filled with if only this and if only that saps us of the joy and peace God desires for us.

4)  Enjoy your spouse! “Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you.  Rejoice in the wife of your youth…” (18)  Other pastures only appear to be greener.  They require the same amount of attention and care.

Solomon ended this chapter with, “For the Lord sees clearly what a man does, examining every path he takes.” (21) May He see us busy on our path of purpose, not sidetracked by the immoral man or woman or any evil that would take us off track. A life lived without regret! 

Moving Forward: No lazybones for me!  I’ll stay focused on the path that is set before me, looking neither to the left nor the right and rejoicing in the gift of my husband. 

Tomorrow @ Ezekiel 7-12

Proverbs 4 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: His wisdom protects our hearts and determines our course in life

“Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!” (7)  Deep.  We probably won’t spend a lot of time dissecting and examining this statement.  It says what it means, and it’s true. Solomon went on to advise that after we get wisdom, we should develop good judgment, not forget her, not forsake her, guard her with our lives, love her, embrace her and exalt her. (5-13)  It’s interesting to note that wisdom is personified as a woman. That’s all I’m saying…it’s just interesting.  That being said, following Solomon’s instructions will involve the commitment of our will, our emotions and our minds.  In other words, our hearts must be committed in the process of getting wisdom.

The care and protection of our physical hearts get a lot of attention in the media today.  As the list of what we should not eat to protect our hearts grows daily, the list of what we are permitted to eat is reduced to oatmeal, fish oil, fruits and vegetables – make a meal out of that, will you.  Billions of dollars have been dedicated to research regarding the human heart, but Solomon had something completely different in mind when he wrote, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”(23)

While billions of dollars have not been spent researching the spiritual heart, we know from scripture that the heart is viewed as the center of spiritual life, involving our intelligence, our emotions, our will and our morality.  Wherever these characteristics of our lives are focused, that is where our heart will be.  Jesus said, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:21)  The Wisdom of Solomon and Jesus is really the only information we need in order to protect our spiritual hearts.

When asked what He considered to be the most important commandment of all time, Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)  Well, that about covers it – all.  When we love the Lord with everything within us, there’s little room for anything else. We’ll follow Solomon’s advice, “Don’t do as the wicked do, and don’t follow the path of evildoers.  Don’t even think about it; don’t go that way.  Turn away and keep moving.”(14-15) In the long run, it’s much easier, much wiser to resist sin at the very start than it is to fight its progress throughout our lives.

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  Solomon said we guard our hearts by protecting what we say, “Avoid all perverse talk,”(24) and Jesus said in Luke 6:45, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart…For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”  We guard our hearts by protecting where we look, “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you.” (25) Eve’s downfall escalated when she looked where the enemy was tempting.  And we guard our hearts by protecting where we go, “Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path.  Don’t get sidetracked, keep your feet from following evil.” (26-27)  Solomon offered simple tools, full of wisdom, for protecting our spiritual hearts.

“Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!”  Deeper than we thought! 

Moving Forward: While eating my oatmeal, fish oil and veggies today, I’ll guard my words, my focus and my steps to protect my spiritual heart.  May I leave a legacy of wisdom to be passed on to my children and to my children’s children. 

Tomorrow @ Ezekiel 1-6

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