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 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 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

Proverbs 2-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He desires to give wisdom to all those who follow after Him

Everyone wants to be wise.  No one has ever said to me, “I can’t wait to be foolish today!”  Most of us have a natural curiosity about how things are made, where they come from and how they affect us.  When I was a teenager, I was asked what my favorite book was and without hesitation I replied, “The Encyclopedia.”  I know this sounds strange coming from a young person, and of course my answer should have been the Bible, but I’ve always loved moments of random learning.

We couldn’t afford the coveted set of World Book Encyclopedia and the internet was not available back in the dark ages; but every chance I got, I paged through the volume of knowledge held between the pages of the encyclopedia at the library. However, possessing all this knowledge does not a wise person make.  Wisdom is the ability to apply the knowledge we have, and this is what Solomon was addressing in our reading today. 

@ Proverbs 2
Proverbs 2 is a tutorial on how to find wisdom, where to find it, who it is for and what we receive once we obtain it.  All this in 22 little verses!  Only a very wise man could accomplish this in so few words. 

How:  Listen for wisdom, concentrate on it, ask for it with fervor and search for it like one who is digging deep in a mine for silver.  This proves to the Lord that we respect Him and what He has to say. (2-5)

Where:  Wisdom comes from the Lord. “For the Lord grants wisdom!” (6) 

Who:  God responds with wisdom (knowledge, understanding, common sense, protection) to those who are honest, walk with integrity, are just and faithful. (6-8) 

What:  We will understand what is right, just and fair; we find the right path to walk; we are filled with joy; we are kept safe; we are protected from evil people, including immoral woman and men; and we make right choices. (9-16)

The process is like a chain reaction.  We ask for wisdom and diligently search for it>through His Word we learn how to live a life of integrity and righteousness>He grants wisdom in response to our life of integrity>we are blessed with understanding, guidance, joy and protection.  What a deal!  All of this is ours today for the low, low start-up cost of asking. 

@ Proverbs 3
The mark of a truly wise person is one who follows this advice from Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.  Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.”(5-7)  It’s difficult to trust with all my heart in someone I don’t know very well, risky at best.  Trust develops through relationship and time spent together – enough said.

We may say that we have faith in God, but it is trust that applies action to our faith.  Faith is the noun, and trust is the verb that demonstrates our faith.  Faith without trust is like knowledge without wisdom – great to possess but not always useful.  When I depend on my own understanding, there’s really only one person to trust in and that’s me – not very wise when the wisdom of heaven is mine for the asking.

Moving Forward: “Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her.” (18)  Today I seek His wisdom in what I do and say.  And I trust His wisdom to guide and direct my steps. 

Tomorrow @ Lamentations

1 Kings 5-9 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He fills our lives with His glorious presence to accomplish His will

“During the fourth year of Solomon’s reign he began to construct the Temple of the Lord…480 years after the people of Israel were rescued from their slavery in the land of Egypt.” (6:1) The construction of the portable Tabernacle that we have read about in Exodus was built to last for several lifetimes – 480 years!  God was specific in His instructions for a reason.

Those of us who have been involved in temporary church sites in strip malls and rented spaces understand the cumbersome putting up and tearing down week after week of sound systems, chairs and all that goes with church.  Compared to 480 years, our duration seems insignificant, but because these accounts in the Bible are given to us as lessons, we would do well to consider the reasons for the delay in the building the permanent temple.

During the 480 years, the Israelites were often disobedient and willful against the Lord and were ruled by many judges of like mind.  The people wanted to be like other nations and demanded a king to rule over them because God was not quite enough in their thinking.  King Saul was a major disappointment to everyone, including God, and David the warrior king had too much bloodshed on his hands for the building of God’s temple.

Finally, King Solomon was chosen for this task.  In the building of almost everything, God uses people as his instruments to accomplish His will.  When the building is taking longer than we desire, it never hurts to examine our hearts.  Are we disobedient or willful in our labors?  Is God’s plan enough in our thinking or are we compelled to help Him out, usurping His plan?  No doubt this will slow down our progress.

A major hindrance to the building of the temple was Israel’s enemies.  From the moment they entered the Promised Land, nobody wanted them there. The Israelites fought to take possession, fought through the judge era and then through the early kings, but they never gave up.  We can be sure that anything we build for the glory of the Lord, be it family, career or church, will be met by resistance from our enemy.  He will attempt to defeat us at every turn, but we can never give up!  Every demon from hell in local governments will thwart our attempt to build a church or a business for the Lord, raising our costs and burying us in red tape.  The enemy may bring out the big guns by attacking our families, but we can never give up!

How do we defeat our enemy and stay strong in our process of building the temple, our family or whatever it is? We do it the same way we maintain victory once we achieve it.  At the completion of the temple, “When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord.  The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the temple.”(8:10-11)  I just love it when the presence of the Lord fills my space to the point where I can no longer perform (NIV) or continue my service and it becomes all about Him.  Willfulness and disobedience cannot exist there in His Presence and governments and enemies must bow before Him.  With tenacity to complete the task, I yield to His direction, His handiwork – He is more than enough. 

Moving Forward:  Submitted to His plan for my day, I call for His glorious presence to fill my space, to defeat my enemies and to complete the work He has begun.

Tomorrow @ Psalms 66-68

Proverbs 1 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He supplies all the wisdom we need to live right, just and fair

“These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel. Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.  Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just and fair.  These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young.” (1-4)  We want wisdom to be sure, but discipline? Not so much.  Yet, they always seem to go hand in hand.

“Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser.”  Well, I’d stand in line all day for that!  Wisdom, however, is not a destination, but a journey.  We never stop gaining wisdom unless we want to stop, “but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (7)  By nature, we don’t really want to hear about the disciplines of God.  We want to hear sermons that only make us feel good about ourselves, pat us on the back and say “Good job!”  Every pastor knows that a feel-good message will draw a crowd, but then according to Solomon, does this mean we are fools?

“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge.” (7)  To fear – to reverence and respect, to honor, to obey – God is what we are encouraged by Solomon to build upon for our entire lives.  We can only respect and build on what we know. The Proverbs of Solomon, as well as the rest of God’s Word, were written so that we may know His wisdom and his disciplines (1). And the end result is true knowledge.  Everyone seems to be searching for counsel today but tend to search in the negotiable areas of man’s wisdom rather than the well-defined areas of God’s wisdom.  Doesn’t that seem… foolish?

I love Solomon’s picture of wisdom shouting in the streets, an ethereal form, calling out, “Follow me. Follow me.”  Wisdom calls, “Come and listen to my counsel.  I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise.” (23)  When Jesus lived on earth, He was Wisdom personified as He called out, “Follow me! Follow me!” We, too, share in that calling when our message to the lost calls out to follow Him.  “He who wins souls is wise.” (Proverbs 11:30 KJV)

The wisdom and disciplines of God are a constant source of comfort and security for me because they show me how to behave in life, how to respond to life and how to love in life.  I’d rather know the disciplines of God than to be one who flounders through life like, say, a fool. 

Moving Forward: Today I will look to wisdom in His Word and respond to its call to come and listen to its counsel.  And if I take heed, it will make me wise. 

Tomorrow @ Jeremiah 47-52