If Wisdom (Proverbs 2:1-4)

As we begin chapter two of Proverbs, we note that once again the author is addressing their child. Chapter one ended with words from Wisdom herself, challenging us to heed her call. Chapter two begins to point out some more of the benefits of finding wisdom, and we would do well to build this foundation in our hearts prior to tackling the more familiar short and punchy proverbs.

If…

My son, if you accept my words

    and store up my commands within you,

2 turning your ear to wisdom

    and applying your heart to understanding—

3 indeed, if you call out for insight

    and cry aloud for understanding,

4 and if you look for it as for silver

    and search for it as for hidden treasure,

Proverbs 2:1-4 (NIV)

Count how many times “if” appears in those four verses… go on, go ahead…

Three times. And three times does it suggest that we have a choice about whether we take on wisdom or not.

I mentioned in my post on Saturday – Is it worth it? – that in my day job I am a statistician. Part of my work involves computer programming, and anyone familiar with that will be aware of the “If statement.” This is a way of telling a computer that if this happens, then do that. It is a basic building block of many programs.

In a similar way, these verses tell us that if we do certain things, we will get particular results.

We are to accept the words of the teacher of wisdom, and that extends to all the Word of God in my view. We must accept what we are taught from Scripture, taking it on board and making definite decisions to put it into practice in our lives.

Having accepted the words of wisdom, we must then store them up in our hearts. This is more than just remembering, although that is certainly part of it. To store God’s Word in our hearts is to be so saturated in it, that it becomes our true nature.

For example, when Christ was nailed to the cross, He did not say a great deal. Most of what HE said though, cries of anguish and pain, were largely direct quotes from the Scripture. When we find ourselves in times of testing or pain, our true self is revealed. If you hit your thumb with a hammer, what erupts from your mouth is likely what you have stored in your heart. When Jesus was put under the greatest pressure there was, His true self was revealed, and that was the Word of God.

Verse two tells us to turn our ear to wisdom, which is to give it our full attention. Sometimes, when reading my Bible, I guiltily admit that I do not give it my full attention. I read the words, but they do not penetrate my heart. I have not given them my ear, and allowed them into my inner man. Unless I do this, I have little hope of “applying my heart to understanding” as the remainder of the verse says. We first turn our ear to it, then apply our heart by meditating on it.

The next “if” we encounter, in verse three, urges us to call out for wisdom and understanding. In chapter one, we recall wisdom herself shouting out in the streets for us to come to her. Now, we cry in return for her insight. Wisdom is freely given if we diligently seek it.

#Wisdom is freely given if we diligently seek it #Bible #Proverbs #Christianity

What does it mean to cry out or call for wisdom? This is not a literal command of course, but endeavours to urge us to action. We recall James’ letter telling us to ask God for wisdom, and so we do. Let us not ask passively though, just expecting God to do all the work, let us each engage with Him and His teaching to fully obtain understanding.

Hidden Treasure

Closing out this post with verse four, we see the third and final “if.” This is a challenging one too.

We should not seek wisdom half-heartedly, but seek it as if we were looking for “hidden treasure.”

You hear stories of people spending their entire lives searching for some long-lost treasure, giving up their time, money and more to try to find it. They seek the glory of being the one to solve the puzzle, and the wealth that comes from the gems, gold or the rest.

That kind of passion and energy is what we ought to use to seek after wisdom.

I used to say “I want to play the violin…” but I later realised that is not true. I do want to be able to play it, but I do not want to put in the many hours it takes to learn it. The same is true for learning a language; I always said I wanted to learn a language, and yet have never set aside the time or resources to actually fulfil that “want.” If someone would wave a wand over me and it would happen, then great, but I am not actually willing to invest in it to make it so.

We say we want wisdom, and to live in a discerning manner – but do we? Do we mean, like my violin example, I would take wisdom if someone just put it in my heart, or do we instead mean I will put in the time, the prayer, the study and the effort to make it so.

Lastly, when we write an if statement on the computer, we must say what we want the computer to do when it encounters that situation. If we do this, then what will happen? If we seek after wisdom in this wholehearted way, then what will be the result? Find out next time…

Thanks, as ever, for reading!

Don’t Go That Way (Proverbs 1:10-19)

The next part of Proverbs chapter one turns rather dark. The narrator, King Solomon himself, now appears to talk directly to his child/son, and warns them of danger.

 My son, if sinners entice you,

    don’t consent.

11 If they say, “Come with us.

    Let’s lie in wait for blood.

    Let’s lurk secretly for the innocent without cause.

12 Let’s swallow them up alive like Sheol,

    and whole, like those who go down into the pit.

13 We’ll find all valuable wealth.

    We’ll fill our houses with plunder.

14 You shall cast your lot among us.

    We’ll all have one purse.”

15 My son, don’t walk on the path with them.

    Keep your foot from their path,

16 for their feet run to evil.

    They hurry to shed blood.

17 For the net is spread in vain in the sight of any bird;

18 but these lay in wait for their own blood.

    They lurk secretly for their own lives.

19 So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain.

    It takes away the life of its owners.

Proverbs 1:10-19 (WEB)

We will not go through each verse in turn, as they come together to paint a vivid picture. Verse 10 probably summarises this whole section, and I cannot really add to its wisdom with my own words.

My son, if sinners entice you, don’t consent. Proverbs 1:10 #Bible #Wisdom #Christianity

The thrust of this section is simply this: when you are tempted by sinners, don’t go that way!

Verse 11 and 12 go into some particulars about the kind of words or enticements they may use to trap you. On the face of them, they do not seem that appealing to anyone. Why lie in wait purely for the purposes of “blood”? You might associate this kind of talk with demonic sources, but not your everyday “sinner” right?

While such direct words may not be used, any temptation to lie in wait for an innocent victim boils down to such language. These are robbers who care little for life. The thrill of sin is addictive to them, and we must stay well clear of any such evil.

Verses 13 and 14 tell us the real purpose for their trap – money. They would kill the innocent for the sake of a few coins. They have not, so they take from others, not caring the harm they do in the process. Robbers of the time would prey on the unwary, exacting violence in the process. Are they all that different from modern day burglars? Such thieves break in, ransack people’s homes for financial gain, and do immeasurable harm to those on the receiving end. Heaven forbid the homeowner should run into such a burglar, who is likely to strike out in violence to get away with their crime.

Don’t go that way! Verse 15 echoes this cry. Do not walk on their path, nor even put your foot upon it. They run to evil, instead of away from it. Let us be known for our flight from wickedness, and not towards it.

Verse 17 is a little proverb in the midst of our narrative. Put simply, if the bird can see the net, it won’t fly into it. We might learn to look out for things that might entrap us, and steer well clear.

The end of our passage points out that the trap these evil ones set for the innocent will in fact close upon their own selves. They lay in wait for their own lives – how so? Because we serve a God of justice. While some believe they can escape justice in this life, they can never escape the justice of God. We will all stand before Him one day and give an account for our lives. Such evil people will not be able to justify their actions before our Righteous God.

If you have been mistreated, or were the victim of some wickedness in the past, it will be put right. Even if those who hurt you got away with it, they will never escape God’s judgement. When we stand before Him, we will know that all and every sin will be accounted for – either at the cross of Christ, or as the penalty for the wicked. God has not forgotten what happened to you.

To us all I say again, do not follow the evil path. If you are being enticed into iniquity, or spending time with the wrong crowd, it is time to make a change. It is better to be alone, than to be with those who would lead you into sin.

It is better to be alone, than to be with those who would lead you into #sin. #Bible #Jesus #Christianity

I leave you where we began with verse 10. Spend some time today just meditating on its truth. It may save your life!

My child, if sinners entice you,

    turn your back on them!

Proverbs 1:10 (NLT)

Listen to your Parents’ Wisdom (Proverbs 1:8-9)

Yesterday, I wrote a brief Introduction to Proverbs, and so today continue on with chapter one. The author turns their attention to the wisdom offered by parents, but is really an exhortation to gain wisdom. This continues the theme of chapter one, pointing out the numerous benefits of living wisely.

My child, listen when your father corrects you.

    Don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.

9 What you learn from them will crown you with grace

    and be a chain of honor around your neck.

Proverbs 1:8-9 (NLT)

Verse 8 tells us to listen to our father’s correction, and not to neglect our mother’s instructions. This is fairly plain on the face of it, and good advice for the young (and not so young).

Correction

In my post last week – An Open Rebuke – we examined a particular proverb pointing out that being rebuked openly was preferable to hidden love. A rebuke is related to a correction, and put simply is a way for a superior to point out where we have gone wrong and set us straight.

We all need correction at times, and although it rarely feels like a blessing in that moment, it will do us good in the long run.

Emotions make correction hard to accept, but ultimately we must trust that one bringing correction to us has our best interest at heart. In this verse, the correction is being brought by a father, and it urges us to listen to what he is telling us.

Is it your experience that the father brings correction, while the mother instructs? I guess it is a bit of both. A turn of phrase from a few decades ago was the well-known – “Wait ‘til your father gets home!” So perhaps historically the father figure has brought the discipline.

How do we accept correction? Firstly, we must trust that the person wants what is best for us. Secondly, we should prayerfully consider what they say. Not all correction is trustworthy, and not all of it is accurate, so we should be a little discerning. Right or wrong however, if the person feels we need to address something in our lives, then we would be wise to reflect on that.

If the correction is justified, then we need to take steps to put it right. That may require an apology, or some other restitution depending on what has happened. It may simply mean adapting our behaviour going forwards. My view of correction is not to bash someone about what happened in the past, but rather to steer them towards better choices in the future.

My view of correction is not to bash someone about what happened in the past, but rather to steer them towards better choices in the future.

Instruction

Verse 8 tells us not to neglect our mother’s instruction. Instruction is simply to tell someone else what to do. This might be helping them do something new for the first time, or it might be to show them a better way to do things.

If we choose to ignore instructions, then chances are we will make mistakes.

Take a recipe. If you do not follow the steps or the method, you likely will not get the results promised. If you do not weigh out your ingredients, but instead just throw random amounts into the pan, it will not turn out as expected.

We tend to think of parental instruction as only applying to the young. While this is primarily the case, our parents help and advice can be invaluable throughout our lives. Many older people whose parents are no longer with them admit to missing their parents’ support in times of need.

I am acutely aware, when writing of parents, that not everyone reading this will have had a good relationship with theirs. Perhaps you never knew your parents, or perhaps they did not treat you all that well. Whatever the case, there are still lessons for us here.

Firstly, if you did not get on with your parents, or worse if they mistreated you, then there are still lessons you can learn. Try not to repeat their mistakes, and do not pass on what they gave to you. This can be hard to do, especially if you picked up on their bad habits when young. As an adult though, you can examine their lives and their interactions with you, and hopefully you can see some things you do not wish to repeat on your own children.

Secondly, not every parent has to be a blood relative. While this verse says “father” and “mother,” I do not think it a stretch to apply it to other older people who may hold a pseudo-parental role in our lives.

When I think back over my years in church, I can recall a number of elders who looked out for me, instructed me at times, and corrected me too. They were not “parents” but they were spiritual foster-parents of a sort. I am eternally grateful for those who have spoken into my life.

A Crown of Grace

To conclude this post, I just want to reflect for a moment on verse 9. It points out that for those who accept the instruction and correction of our parents (actual or otherwise), wisdom will become a crown of grace or a chain of honour.

In my mind’s eye, I picture a mayor wearing gold chains, or royalty with a golden crown atop their head.

When we accept the teaching of those who have gone before us, we can learn great wisdom, and such wisdom will be evident for all to see.

If there are people in your life right now who love you enough to instruct or correct you, tell them how much you appreciate them. It only takes a second to reach out today and share your gratitude.

Introduction to Proverbs

The wonderful book of Proverbs begins with its own introduction. The text sets out the purpose and goal of the book, and gives us a flavour of the benefits of reading and studying it.

Proverbs begins as follows:

These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.

2 Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,

    to help them understand the insights of the wise.

3 Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,

    to help them do what is right, just, and fair.

4 These proverbs will give insight to the simple,

    knowledge and discernment to the young.

5 Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser.

    Let those with understanding receive guidance

6 by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables,

    the words of the wise and their riddles.

7 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,

    but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 1:1-7 (NLT)

The Author

Verse one tells us that the proverbs are primarily written by King Solomon, son of David. King David is the most famous king of Israel’s history, and his son Solomon is not far behind.

King Solomon was known for his great wisdom, and he acquired it from no worldly source.

Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom.

1 Kings 3:9-10 (NLT)

Rather than ask for gold or silver, or fame and power, Solomon asks for understanding. He does this so that he might rule over God’s people well. God was pleased with this request, and granted it to him.

So the source of Solomon’s wisdom is from God, and therefore we would do well to heed the words we find in the book of Proverbs. Some of it may seem repetitive at times, but that is usually a way of helping us remember the truths contained there.

The Purpose

The purpose of the Proverbs is clearly set out in verse 2. The point of them is to teach wisdom, to help give understanding, and also to improve discipline.

Wisdom and knowledge differ. Knowing something can be helpful, but knowing how to apply it is called wisdom.

Wisdom and knowledge differ. Knowing something can be helpful, but knowing how to apply it is called wisdom.

Do you find yourself making many mistakes in life, or regretting choices you have made? Then there is a chance you lacked wisdom. I once heard it said that wisdom is making choices now, that you will be satisfied with later on.

Verse 3 is interesting to me, and begins by saying a further purpose of the proverbs is to help people live disciplined and successful lives. It then goes on to say that they aim to help one live a just, right and fair life. In the world’s eyes, these two parts of this one verse may seem contradictory. To the world, success means getting what you want, no matter the cost. The world’s way gives little care to what is right or fair, only the goal is important, and not how you get there.

Not so in God’s kingdom. In God’s eyes, success means we do indeed live a just, fair and right life. Even if the results are not fame or fortune, or whatever else the world deems successful, to God, living righteously is the way of wisdom.

Verse 4 gives two categories of people who might benefit from studying the proverbs. These are the “simple” and the “young.” Describing someone as “simple” is not exactly politically correct these days, but the point here is that you do not need to be a genius to succeed. Likewise, you do not need years of experience and be full of years to gain wisdom. If you are young, or have little academic prowess, then you are welcome here!

Verse 5 expands the potential audience from not just the young or simple, but to the wise and the understanding also. Let the wise become even wiser, and those who possess understanding add to it. Whether you consider yourself wise, or not so much, there is great benefit in studying these words.

This is done, as verse 6 tells us, by exploring the meaning of the proverbs. This suggests some effort on our part. We cannot just read the words and expect wisdom to just grow inside of us. Rather, we must apply our minds and stretch our mental muscles.

Many of the proverbs are short, bite-sized chunks which you can mull over throughout the day. Take one or two of these, write them out and ponder them whenever you have the chance. They cover a multitude of subjects, ranging from anger, to finances, to temptation and much more. Verse 6 uses the word riddle, and although it does not mean quite the same as what we might think of as a riddle, there is certainly much to test our brains with.

The final verse in our passage today is perhaps the perfect summation of all you hope to find in the book of Proverbs. Learning this one truth is perhaps the first step in acquiring true wisdom.

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,

    but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 1:7 (NLT)

Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. This does not mean to be afraid of Him in the sense of terror, but rather to revere and respect Him. To not do so will only ever lead you away from wisdom, and not just because He is the source of all wisdom, but because without the Lord, you are on a path to destruction.

The first step for all of us in gaining wisdom is to give God His rightful place in our lives. He is the Master and Creator of the Universe, and we are mere created beings. The universe works and holds together because of God’s power and insight, and we cannot hope to tap that wisdom without first making sure God is first and foremost in our lives.

Can you say right now that He has that rightful place in your life and heart? If not, now is the time to act. Surrender to the Lord, give Him your life and ask Him to be in charge. He will not only direct your steps, but will save you from all of your sin. God does this through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. By placing your trust in Him and what He did at that cross all those years ago, you are setting yourself on the path to wisdom.

Verse 7 also gives us a glimpse of what will become a familiar format in the Proverbs. The writer contrasts one with another. Here, we see the comparison of the wise and the fool One seeks and fears the Lord, while the other despises understanding. Which will you choose to be?

If you wish to grow in wisdom, then you can ask of the giving God, as James instructs us to:

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

James 1:5 (NLT)

As we dig into the depths of the wisdom in these pages, pray this prayer along with me.

Dear Lord and Father,

We thank You for the wisdom of Your Word. We pray that as we study the Scriptures, You will grant us wisdom, and help us to grow in understanding. May we use that newly gained insight to live fully for You, and to serve You and Your Kingdom on this  Earth.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen!

An Open Rebuke

An open rebuke

    is better than hidden love!

Proverbs 27:5

Generally speaking, and not wanting to assume, you probably are not all that keen on being rebuked… let alone having it done openly where others may overhear it!

At work, if we need to correct a member of staff about something, it is thought bad practice to do so in the open office where others may listen in. It does happen from time to time, and it is surprising how quiet an office can get when it does!

So, all in all, an open rebuke doesn’t sound all that fun. And yet, this proverb tells us it is preferable to hidden love. How so?

Firstly, what is a rebuke (open or otherwise)?

A rebuke is a stern reprimand. It is essentially to pull someone up on something in a not always so gentle manner. For me, what makes a rebuke tolerable or not is the heart behind it. If someone is trying to show me up, catch me out or just downright embarrass me, then I have little time for it. If, however, they are generally trying to help me, turn me away from some destructive behaviour or to improve my performance in some way, then I gladly accept it.

The “open” part might be harder to handle than the rebuke itself. We might be able to take a rebuke conducted privately where no one else can see. We certainly do not want others to see the mistakes we have made or to be aware of our faults and failings. Something about a public correction seems far worse than a private one… and could that simply be pride? We tend to portray a certain persona to the world around us, and rarely let our guard down except with close friends or loved ones. An open rebuke may allow others a glimpse beyond the veil of our external personality.

Given this, in what way is “hidden love” worse?

I am reminded of these verses from James’ letter.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

James 2:14-17 (NLT)

This situation is similar to hidden love. While the character here may bestow good wishes on this individual in need, they do nothing to actually help them. Hidden love, likewise, may make one feel warm and fuzzy, but does no good to the one being loved.

I may love my wife and children, but if I do not show that love at any point, then it is hidden.

Hidden love appears identical to “no love”.

Hidden love appears identical to “no love”.

At least if someone rebukes me, I know that they care. Someone who cares nothing for me will simply let me continue in error. But a friend will point out my fault, and help me get back on to the right road.

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,

    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,

6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.

Hebrews 12:5-6

These verses from Hebrews remind us that God’s love is not hidden, and that He rebukes and disciplines those He loves. Discipline is a sign of love, believe it or not. When I discipline my children, it is not because I am some mean ogre, but rather because I do not want them to engage with sin, danger or behaviour which will not set them up for a good life. While I take no pleasure in rebuking, it is more loving to point out the danger than to ignore it.

Imagine a person walking towards an open pit and not realising it is there. It is not loving for me to avoid telling them about it, for fear of rejection or how they might react. No, I tell them, “Look out!”

There are a number of ways we can apply this verse in our lives.

Firstly, do not be offended when someone tries to set you straight. For the most part, we must trust that people have our best intentions at heart. Take their rebuke to the Lord and see how He directs you. If it is a true rebuke, it will lead you to repentance and change. If it is not, you can move on and not waste your energy on offense.

Secondly, do not hide your love. If you care about someone, then show them! This is not about rebuking them left, right and centre, but love them in every way you can. Don’t just wish them well, as James points out, actually do something they can see or feel.

Lastly, is there anyone in your life whom you need to challenge? Make sure it is your place to do so. If some random stranger started rebuking me in a coffee shop, I probably won’t respond all that well! Why? Because they have no place or right to speak into my life. If my wife comes and points something out, then that is very different. She has more than earned the right to correct me, and I trust her to do so. We err when we think we have the right to tell anyone we like what we think.

Pray about it before you decide to confront. Let the Lord guide you carefully. He will show you if it is you who should do it, and the timing and the words you need. Humbly ask Him if you need the same message yourself first.

Thanks for reading!

Is the Old Testament Relevant Today? (Best of 2021)

As part of my Course in Christian Studies, I have completed an assignment about why I think the Old Testament is relevant to 21st Century readers. I thought I would share it with you today. Is the Old Testament Relevant Today? CCS Assignment 1 Imagine you have a Christian friend who cannot see the point…
— Read on andy-brown.org/2021/01/09/is-the-old-testament-relevant-today/

Your Government Needs You

The COVID pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges that has faced our generation, many have said. Governments across the world have grappled with its consequences, and whether you think your political leaders have done a good job or not, you cannot deny the scale of the issues they have faced.

The UK appears to be in an unusual place concerning the pandemic. We were heading for a full release of restrictions on 21st June – so call Freedom Day – but due to rising cases of a COVID variant named Delta, our government have pushed this date back to 19th July.

The challenge facing the UK Government does not end on 19th July however, and a whole new set of challenges begins. Many have lost their jobs over the last 18 months, much money has been paid out to businesses forced to close during the lockdown, and our health service faces a massive backlog of treatment they could not give in the last year.

All of this came to mind this morning when reading Proverbs:

When the country is in chaos,
everybody has a plan to fix it—
But it takes a leader of real understanding
to straighten things out.

Proverbs 28:2 (Message)

Whether you think it fair to describe the current state of affairs as “chaos” is down to you. As above however, this country and nearly all others are facing unprecedented times. Things certainly need to be straightened out in one way or another.

The phrase “everybody has a plan to fix it” stood out to me this morning. At every turn, and every choice the Government makes, there will be someone telling them they are wrong. Commentators, experts and the general public say they should do this or that, but of course, no one can agree. For every expert that says “Go this way!” there is another which says to go the opposite direction.

Such times as we live in, and indeed, any times really, require leaders of wisdom. They must use their wisdom to make sensible choices, and not be swayed by wavering opinions. Sometimes the right choice is obvious… but often it is not.

This is true in our own lives, let alone running a whole nation. We do not always know which path to choose, and so how can our governments when they face decisions which can have implications for generations to come?

Only God has wisdom enough to show us the right path to choose. We, as Christians, must seek Him fully in His Word and be obedient to His call. When we face a choice not clearly described in the Bible, we pray for guidance and lean on the Holy Spirit. We must pray the same for our political leaders. They may or may not be Christians, but they still need godly wisdom to do what is right.

Your government needs you! It needs you to pray, and such prayers will benefit the whole country. It is a Christian’s duty to pray for our leaders, even when we do not agree with them.

The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.

1 Timothy 2:1-3 (Message)

At times, we may all be guilty of criticizing the government and our national leaders. Their job is extremely difficult, and I am not sure I would want to have the responsibility they hold. I confess that I do not pray for them as often as I should, and clearly they need our prayers now as much as ever.

Some will feel called by the Lord to get involved in politics, local or otherwise, and others will certainly not. Whether that applies to you or not, the Bible is clear that we are to pray for our governmental leaders.

If you are not sure where to start, then here are a couple of suggestions.

As above, ask God to give our political leaders wisdom to make godly choices. When the right path forward is not clear, ask the Lord to show them the right way to go.

Also, pray that the Gospel can be freely preached in your nation. There are places in this world where the preaching of the faith is strictly prohibited. While not banned in the UK, the Gospel is no longer a popular message (if the Gospel ever was) and those who wish to share it are being penned in on every side.

Your government needs you to pray for them. The Bible commands us to do so. Let each of us set aside some time this week to pray for those in authority.

Have a great day!

Reliable

13 Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest

    is a faithful messenger to those who send him;

    he refreshes the soul of his masters.

14 Like clouds and wind without rain

    is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.

Proverbs 25:13-14 (ESV)

Has anyone ever described you as “reliable?” How did that feel? For most of us at least, being called reliable probably isn’t all that much of a compliment. There isn’t anything exciting about being “reliable,” and it probably isn’t the one word most of us would choose to sum up our lives.

Yet God is reliable. And it is something I too strive to be.

These two proverbs were the focus of my Bible study for yesterday, and it got me thinking about the subject of reliability. Few times have I ever heard someone preach on the subject in church, and the most memorable one I can recall is one I heard about excellence (which touched on the same subject).

In verse 13, the proverb compares the cool of the snow in the time of harvest. Now that is not to sy they are hoping for snow while trying to bring in their hard-earned harvest, but uses the picture of cool snow to reflect refreshment. One paraphrase depicts a refreshing drink on ice to communicate refreshment. This refreshment is then likened to a faithful messenger or worker to the his/her master. I suppose good help is hard to find at times, and so it is like a breath of fresh air when we find reliable help.

Verse 14 paints an altogether opposite picture. Like the clouds which promise rain and never deliver, is the one who talks a good game and yet does not come up with the goods. I once heard someone at work described in such terms – “He talks a good game, but I’ve yet to see him kick a football!”

It reminds me of the fig tree in Mark 11 which Jesus cursed. It promised nourishment in the form of fruit by displaying its leaves, and yet, when Christ sought the tasty fruit, it had nothing to offer. Some feel sad for this poor little fig tree which Jesus was seemingly so hard on. However, studying it in context shows that this was a picture of the religious of the day. They boasted of how they followed all the commands and looked the part, yet bore little if any fruit.

We are not to be like this.

As Christians, we must seek to be a totally reliable people who stick to their word. If we say it, then it should be considered done to those who hear us. Far too many of us say things we do not mean or have no intention of doing. This is not right at all.

God never breaks His Word. If He has said it, then we need not doubt it will be fulfilled. He is totally, 100% reliable, and that is exciting! It means that everything He has promised you will be done. That is the difference between biblical hope and the hope of the world. When the world “hopes” it just means that it wishes it was so. Not us! For us, our hope is guaranteed by the promises of God and His Word.

What does that mean for us – His people? I think it means that if we make a commitment, then we must stick with it. I think that it means we need to be very careful about what we agree to, or what we allow others to talk us into.

Psalm 15 says:

in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

Psalm 15:4 (ESV)

This phrase “swears to his own hurt” is interesting. I believe it means that a righteous person sticks to their word, even if it hurts them in the long run. Say they commit to helping out at church, and then realise they have double booked themselves and must miss the “must see” sporting event of the year. They stick to their commitment, despite the hurt of missing the game.

The lesson is not to commit, not to agree to build before counting the cost.

Are there examples in your own life where you have made a commitment that you wish you hadn’t? Do you need to see that through now despite regretting it?

The classic example for me is when the children are naughty. In a moment of temper, I say something ridiculous like “You’re grounded for 20 years!” (I exaggerate) and I know I don’t mean it, they know I don’t mean it, and my word is no longer reliable.

Let us not be a people who throw words away without thought. Let each of us mean what we say and say what we mean. Don’t be hasty with your words, and make sure you count the cost before you begin. If someone is pressing you to agree, and you’re just not sure, say so and ask for some time to think it over.

Let our words be few, but let us mean every single one of them.

Words Can Be Atom Bombs

Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow
is one who gives false testimony against a neighbor.

Proverbs 25:18 (NIV)

You have likely heard the schoolyard or playground phrase “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” But is this true? I think not! Sticks or stones may indeed bruise our body, or in a severe case, break our bones of course but words can wound as well. How many people took a physical beating at one point and are now totally recovered, yet those same people carry deep scars from vicious or poisonous words in their past.

A single fist may bruise an eye, but a single word can start a war if spoken at the right (wrong?) time.

If sticks and stones can break our bones, then words are atom bombs!

The writer of the proverb above likens false testimony to that of real life weapons. He clearly compares clubs, swords and arrows to that of spreading falsities about one’s neighbour. When we hear the word “testimony” we may automatically think of a courtroom. While this is certainly the place to tell the truth, we can give false testimony about our neighbours in any setting. It is every bit as important to be truthful in the court of opinion and on social media as it is in a court of law.

Jesus tells us, in Matthew 12:

But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.

Matthew 12:36 (NIV)

If there was ever a Scripture to make us shudder, then this would be it! We speak often, and how much of it is “empty words”?

The Bible has a huge amount to say about our words, and Proverbs in particular talks of the important of how we speak. James, in the New Testament, is often thought of as the Proverbs of the NT, and he too warns of the power of words. It is hard for me to state how critical this subject is. Jesus was so careful about what He did and did not say, remaining silent at crucial moments.

Although the thought terrifies me, I toy with the idea of recording myself for an entire day and listening back to the conversations I have had. What would that reveal? Would I hear myself building others up and encouraging them? Or would my words be careless, inflicting wounds without thought?

Would you wish to be recorded for a day, and have to listen to it back? Let each of us take an inventory of, not just our words, but our tone as well. Often we communicate more in the way we say things than in what we specifically say. Instead of an entire day, why not just take stock for an hour. Make notes or record yourself, then pray over the results.

Are there words in your past that you deeply regret? Such words cannot be changed, but you can learn these lessons and avoid the dangers in future.

Like the psalmist, ask the Lord to set a guard over your lips.

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.

Psalm 141:3 (NIV)

Remember, words are atomic bombs that can devastate a life. They are also a wellspring of life that can create and build up.

Watch your words today, and every day! Lord, do help us to speak out only good things to the people in our lives. Guard our mouths so that we utter nothing in anger or haste that will harm and wound. Holy Spirit, watch over our words this day and let them point people to You – in Jesus’ Name! Amen

Love Discipline

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,

    but he who hates reproof is stupid.

Proverbs 12:1 (ESV)

One of the things I love about Solomon’s proverbs is the fact he doesn’t mince his words! There’s a place for diplomacy and sensitivity, but sometimes there’s a need for stark warning.

Loves Discipline

The other day, my three year old threw a toy across the room. When I told her not to, she got rather cross and took a swing at me with all her might. I took it on the chin (not literally) but sent her to the “naughty spot” in our house. It is fair to say she did not “love” discipline in that moment!

How many of us can truly say that we do love discipline? When my boss calls me in to their office (virtual or otherwise) to point out something I need to change, I hardly relish the experience! Yet, as I’ve gotten to know my boss over the years, I know that they have my best interests at heart and anything they correct me on is for my benefit. By “loving” the discipline, I’m growing and improving.

Discipline is tough in the moment, and far too few of us later reflect on that correction and realise its value. Church discipline, for instance, often leads to people walking out of the church, not gratitude to the pastor or minister for loving them enough to say something.

We cannot hope to grow as Christians without the love of discipline. I learn from others who teach me, and from those who love me enough to say something when I go wrong. If no one ever pointed it out, I might never come to the realisation on my own.

Discipline works best when it comes from a safe and loving relationship. My wife can point out my faults to me in a way a total stranger never could. I trust her judgement and know she wants what’s best for me. The same can’t be said for a person I do not know well.

God knows us best, and we must trust in His deep, unending love for us. When He disciplines us, it’s because He loves us and does not want us to stay stuck in a place of error.

Hates Reproof

The Proverbs often mirror themselves. So, if you are wise to do one thing, then you are stupid to do the reverse. We see this here. If it is wise to love discipline, then it is stupid to hate correction.

To hate discipline is really to hate ourselves. It suggests that we have a level of pride where we think we couldn’t possibly be wrong.

Often when correction comes, we react badly to it. We point to the one disciplining us, and say “What about when you…?” Discipline does indeed hurt at times, but it is a pain which leads to something better. I once heard someone say that you can go through the pain of change, or go through the pain of staying just as you are.

Do not hate discipline, nor the one who brings it to you. While you may feel too excited about it, take the time to thank the person and bring it before God. If, for instance, that person does not really have good intentions, then you can lay that before Jesus and let the Spirit lead you.

Discipline in general, but church discipline in particular, does seem to be becoming more and more rare these days. I wonder why this is? There is truth to it that many church members are easily offended, and would storm out if a church leader even dared breath a word of correction near them. This, of course, does put church leaders off of doing it.

Also though, I wonder if all of us have somehow lost a level of holiness in our own eyes. As I consider this, I realise that bringing discipline makes me take long look at myself, and highlights the areas where I fall short. If I make so many mistakes, then how dare I tell others what they should and should not do?

Iron sharpens iron though, and only by living and worshipping together can we ever hope to support each other. I need you to tell me when I am going wrong, and likewise you need me to do the same for you. Let us love each other enough, and be brave enough, to help one another grow.

Is God bringing discipline into your life right now? Is He using a friend or family member to do it? Is He prompting you to speak a word into someone else’s life? Do so with humility, and love them as best you can.

Justice (Audio)

Andy shares about the subject of justice, and considers one of the Proverbs given below.

Condemning the innocent or letting the wicked go—both are hateful to the Lord.

Proverbs 17:15 (GNT)

This audio will also be uploaded to the podcast feed for those who prefer to listen to it there. You can find the podcast “The Andy Brown Podcast” on all good podcasting apps, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

It’s Not Really Stealing…

The Lord hates people who use dishonest scales. He is happy with honest weights.

Proverbs 11:1 (GNT)

Some people accuse the Bible of no longer being relevant to life in the 21st Century. I totally disagree with this! Never more has the Bible been more relevant than right now.

As I sat down to write this morning, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to talk about. Usually when this happens, I start to read the Proverbs as they are so rich with life lessons and wisdom. I did not have to read for long today before I felt this verse was important to discuss.

I am working from home at the moment due to the COVID-19 virus. While our office is technically open, nearly all employees are able to log in from home and do their daily work from there.

I thank God for my employer who has been extremely supportive during this time. They have been more than understanding about how we do our work while balancing caring responsibilities.

We all had a chuckle the other day as a colleague’s young child burst into the room where he was conducted a teleconference and shouted, “Daddy, I’ve done a poo!” before he could trigger the mute button!

So what does any of this have to do with this verse from Proverbs? I can’t recall the last time I saw a set of balance scales, let alone used one. I certainly have never used one in my working life…

In context, this verse is about being honest. If you imagine people selling goods by weight in a market, then you will start to get an idea of what this is about. A customer would ask for a pound of whatever product they were buying. The seller would use their balance to weigh it out. You would have the product on one side, and the weight on the other. When they balanced, you knew you had the right amount.

The problem with this system was that dishonest sellers would use weights which weren’t quite true. They may be marked as a pound weight, but actually be slightly less. The result was that the customer was cheated and did not get what they paid for.

This happened to me once. I bought a bulk pack of coffee beans. I ordered one kilogram, but when it arrived I weighed it. The package only contained around 900g of coffee, and so was 10% short. When I complained, I was told the weighing machine they used had a certain tolerance or error margin. Some customers may get less than a kilo, while others slightly more.

Perhaps this was true. Perhaps I was just an unfortunate customer who got slightly less, while someone else a little more. I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt – but isn’t it funny how it so rarely works out in our favour?

Again, you might be thinking what does this have to do with anything?

The point of the proverb is that we are to be honest in our dealings. If we are selling something for a particular weight, then it should actually weigh that much. It is about integrity.

For someone like me who works in an office role, I rarely interact with customers nor do I sell a particular product. But the principles can still be applied.

If I am paid to start work at 9am, but don’t arrive until 9.10 then I am using an unjust balance – that is, I’m stealing that 10 minutes. Is it really stealing? Actually, I think it is and unless we work those extra ten minutes at the other end of the day or take a shorter lunch break, we are taking something we have not earned.

This is very much pertinent to our current situation. For me, working at home with four children running around can be very challenging. As I say, my employer has been very understanding and is allowing us time to sort out domestic issues. I should not take advantage of this however.

God wants us to be people of excellence. He wants us to be a good example to the world. Even if the rest of the world thinks it is fine to steal a few minutes here and there, we live to a higher standard. We are not satisfied to live below par just because no one is looking, because we know God is always looking.

Some say the Ten Commandments are old fashioned or even irrelevant. Not so.

Do not steal.

Exodus 20:15 (GNT)

This is a pretty straightforward commandment.

God has not changed His mind.

While we may not enter a store, pick something up and leave without paying for it, we sometimes fall a little short. If an online shop makes an error and sends you two items instead of one, and you’ve only paid for one, then you do not have the right to keep it without checking with the store. Offer to pay for it or return it, and many stores may just tell you to keep it. This has happened to me more than once.

Do not steal. It sounds simple, but can be applied in many ways in our lives. God has convicted me while writing this, and I hope it encourages you to come up higher and reach for excellence in all you do.