Turn Your Ear & Fix Your Eyes (Proverbs 4:20-27)

My son, attend to my words.

    Turn your ear to my sayings.

21 Let them not depart from your eyes.

    Keep them in the center of your heart.

22 For they are life to those who find them,

    and health to their whole body.

23 Keep your heart with all diligence,

    for out of it is the wellspring of life.

24 Put away from yourself a perverse mouth.

    Put corrupt lips far from you.

25 Let your eyes look straight ahead.

    Fix your gaze directly before you.

26 Make the path of your feet level.

    Let all of your ways be established.

27 Don’t turn to the right hand nor to the left.

    Remove your foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:20-27 (WEB)

The other day my wife was talking to me, and like a dutiful husband, I was nodding and saying “Uh-huh…” in all the right places. My mind however, was somewhere else! I had to hold my hands up and admit that although I was hearing the words, I wasn’t really listening.

Verse 20 of Proverbs 4 is a rather eloquent way of saying “Listen up!” Attending to someone’s words is not simply to hear them, but rather to engage with them. Likewise, turning one’s head in the right direction (so that the ear is pointed at the speaker) is not nearly enough to ensure the instruction hits home.

Solomon is again entreating us to listen, to take on board and to respond to the wisdom of his teaching.

In a similar way, verse 21 encourages us to keep Wisdom’s teachings before our eyes and thus planted in our hearts. This idea of God’s Word and wisdom not departing from our eyes is an exhortation to be both regular and consistently reading and studying the Scripture.

A 30-minute sermon on a Sunday is not enough. A 5-minute devotional each morning may be encouraging, but it may be insufficient to receive the full counsel of God’s Word.

For me at least, little and often may be the key. I have followed “Bible in a year” plans before, and while useful in some cases, it can become a burden or even chore as we wade through six or more chapters each morning.

Better to read and meditate on a few Bible verses regularly, than read a dozen pages without taking it in.

Better to read and #meditate on a few #Bible verses regularly, than read a dozen pages without taking it in.

That is not to take Scripture out of context, I hasten to add. There is just as much danger in reading your favourite few verses all the time, and not engaging with the wider text or understand its place in the big picture.

Verse 22 says:

For they are life to those who find them,

    and health to their whole body.

Proverbs 4:22 (WEB)

Verse 22 has always been a verse which fascinates me. It says that God’s word, or the instruction of wisdom, provides life to those who find them and even health to our physical bodies. We touched on this in previous posts on the book of Proverbs, and clearly living wisely will lengthen your life. Smoking, drinking or eating to excess, or not looking after oneself is not wise, and as a consequence will of course reduce one’s lifespan.

The word translated as “health” here is the Hebrew word marpe’ and is most often translated as “health” (as above) or “healing.” It can also be rendered as “cure” or “remedy” also.

Could it be that the very studying of God’s Word can bring health to us, and I mean in some supernatural way rather than as a natural consequence of living right? While some would give a definite yes to that question, others would dispute it. I would encourage you to study its meaning for yourself.

The WEB translation of verse 23 is a little confusing, to me at least! Here it is from the NLT:

Guard your heart above all else,

    for it determines the course of your life.

Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

Despite talking of the health of the body in the last verse, this one is not referring to our blood pump, but rather our inner self. Guarding our heart is very much in line with what this passage has been talking about. Too few of us take seriously what we allow into our hearts and minds. Instead of keeping the Word of God before us constantly, we fill ourselves with ungodly entertainment or gossip. We are foolish if we think our hearts can go unscathed by such continual battering.

Your heart, that is, your inner self, will determine how your life goes. It is like a child who is constantly criticised or put down, they will struggle in life to overcome such negativity. Our hearts, in a similar way, cannot be soaked in negativity and produce positive results.

Verse 24 deals not with what we put into ourselves, but rather what comes out of us. It strongly advises us to be careful about how we speak, and I cannot emphasise enough the power of our words.

Paul also instructs us to:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

What a challenging verse this is! I say a lot of things in a day, but can hardly confess to all of it being helpful for building others up. I try to add value with my words, always having in the back of my mind that one day I will give account for them to the Lord. Yet too frequently I find my words are not wholesome, but instead are negative, critical or just wasteful. How about you?

Verse 25 to 27 all echo the same sentiment. Keep your eyes fixed ahead, and your feet on level ground. This is clearly not to advise us against turning our heads nor to ascend inclined ground in our hometowns! Instead, the Proverbs are warning us to keep fixed on what is right, and not to turn aside to evil.

If we do not do this, if we just wander along aimlessly, then we will find ourselves in trouble. Our focus and our determined purpose must be to seek after what is right and good. Our sinful nature has been programmed into us since birth, and despite the new life Christ brings, we do tend towards selfishness and evil unless we are set against it.

What are your eyes fixed on? Are locked ahead, gazing upon God’s Word, or do they wander and lead you astray? How about those feet? Are they shod with the Gospel, and following after Jesus, or do they stumble or meander away?

Make a decision right here and now that you will seek after wisdom all day long. Fix those eyes and discipline those feet, and you will life in God’s Word.

Sharp Words

We are often discouraged from using sharp words when talking to others. It is usually meant by this that we Christians should talk to people with gentleness and humility, and not to be rude, hard or harsh. This is all quite true, but not the point of my post today.

I instead want to think about another form of sharp words:

For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 There is no creature that is hidden from his sight, but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.

Hebrews 4:12-13 WEB

The Bible, here called the Word of God, is a sharp word. While it is never intended to be harsh, it can be a difficult pill to swallow at times.

These verses tell us that the Word is both living and active. To be “living and active” means that the Bible is not some ancient, dead or irrelevant work with no bearing on life today. The culture may have changed, but the Word has not, yet this does not make it outdated. God does not change, and neither does His Word. Our design and purpose as humans has remained the same, even if the world around us is different from what it once was.

If you want to know your purpose, and if you want to know how to live well on this Earth, then you will need to engage with this living Word. It teaches us who God is. It tells us how we ought to live. It instructs us in how to please our Creator. It sets out how we can be saved from our sin, and be united with Christ for all eternity. There is nothing more relevant; nothing more necessary.

The Word of God is sharp, indeed sharper than a two-edged sword. It can pierce. It can divide.

When we venture into sin, the Bible can pierce our hearts. That stab of guilt and shame we feel as we face our sinfulness is found only in knowing we have fallen short of God’s standards. The Word does not condemn us, but it does convict, prompting us to change. Condemnation leads only to death, but conviction through the Word and the Spirit leads to life. Practically, if your feelings of guilt and consciousness of sin lead you away from God, then that is condemnation. If they spur you on to live better and follow Him more deeply, then that is conviction.

The Word of God can divide. It separates flesh from spirit, showing us when our desires are selfish or selfless. It discerns, as it says above, between the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. This is a key point. Too many of us do the right thing, but for the wrong reasons. We pray loudly and earnestly in front of others, hoping they will think us saintly. We sing loudly and robustly in church, while at the same time wondering what we will eat for lunch. We bless our brother or sister in Christ, then tear them down with gossip over coffee the next day.

The Bible reveals all such things to us. It is a mirror that we can gaze deeply into, and as we do, it will show us not just where our actions fall short, but where our heart does as well. The wonderful thing about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (from Matthew 5-7) is that He shows us that the thoughts of our heart are every bit as important as our actions.

If you look lustfully on someone who is not your spouse, then you commit adultery. Even if you do not physically go near them, your heart betrays you as you have gone there in your mind. To hate your brother is the same as killing them, as surely to hate is to wish someone dead. Such thoughts are every bit as bad as their corresponding actions.

Verse 13, quoted above, tells us that we are naked before Him to whom we must give an account. This means there is no place to hide. We cannot push our sins under the rug and hope He does not notice them. All will be uncovered; the good we did with wrong motives, and the good we did not do for similar reasons.

That is why the Bible is a sharp word. It forces us to face ourselves and a level of honesty most of us do not dare enter.

If you find this difficult, then that is exactly right. If the thought of exposing your heart makes you uncomfortable, then you are feeling precisely the correct emotion. If our sinfulness does not make us squirm, then we have not fully understood it, nor our need for a Saviour.

If our sinfulness does not make us squirm, then we have not fully understood it, nor our need for a #Saviour. #Jesus #Bible #Christianity #sin

The poisonous feelings of guilt and shame must lead us to the antidote – and His name is Jesus. As we gaze into the Bible, it shows us of our need of rescue and points us to the One who indeed saves.

The sharp words ought to make us turn more fully to God. We cannot approach Him in our own merit, but instead come to Him cleansed in the blood of the Lamb.

As you study Scripture, try not to stick with your favourite passages or books. Look at the parts of the Bible that challenge you. If you notice you are falling short in some way, rejoice that God has shown you and then work with Him to come up higher. Instead of feeling guilty about your failures, turn them into reasons to praise God for sending His Son to save you.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16 WEB

Praise God that He has given us His precious Son that we might be freed from all guilt and shame. Thank God for His Word, sharp as it may be at times, that shows us the way of salvation.

Have a blessed day!

Let Me Love You, Lord (A Poem)

Last week I published a post on a poem based on Psalm 150. if you enjoyed that, then I hope you will enjoy reading this to.

I might look at poverty in the eye,Suffer lack with a hopeful sigh,I may feel down and ready to cry,But Lord let me love you without asking why!I …

Let Me Love You, Lord (A Poem)

And here is a link to my poem published last week in case you missed it…

Psalm 150 Poetry

Word Count

WordPress helpfully keeps a total of the words you have written on your blog each year. Although we are only about a week into 2022, I am reliably informed that I have written nearly 4500 words so far.

This is good for me to know, because I really do want to make good progress on some unfinished books I am writing this year.

One project has around 10,000 words written, and another approximately 17,000 words completed.

Knowing that I’ve already written 4500 words on the blog this year, helps me to believe that it may even be possible to complete both projects in the coming 12 months!

why am I telling you this? Simply for accountability!

I want to try to post regular updates on how the books are progressing, as a way of keeping myself honest! Do pull me up dear reader, if I do not do this!

I also ask for your prayers, and that my writing would be fruitful. Please ask the Lord to help me complete these projects this year, but more importantly that they will be a vehicle for him to bless those who read them.

Word count is not the best way to measure the quality of a book… But in this stage of the project, it sure does help me keep track!

Thank you for your ongoing support and prayers!

Don’t Speak Out of Your Pain (Best of 2021)

You have probably heard it said that people don’t always mean what they say when they are angry. Perhaps, you’ve even said things you didn’t mean when emotions were running high? Among other things, I’m quite certain the Apostle Paul had such things in mind when he wrote these words from Ephesians: Be angry, and…
— Read on andy-brown.org/2021/05/07/dont-speak-out-of-your-pain/

Read the Bible-literally?

A comment on my blog post yesterday got me thinking about whether we should read the Bible literally or not?

I wrote a post on this very subject last year looking at one of the Psalms. I hope you find it useful.

andy-brown.org/2020/03/14/read-the-bible-literally-psalm-91-part-1/

June 23 Strengthen me

I don’t know about you, but I needed to hear this today! I hope you enjoy reading it, and that it speaks to you as it did to me.

“Lord, I call to You; come quickly to me.  Hear my voice when I call to You.” “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips…

June 23 Strengthen me

Don’t Speak Out of Your Pain

You have probably heard it said that people don’t always mean what they say when they are angry. Perhaps, you’ve even said things you didn’t mean when emotions were running high? Among other things, I’m quite certain the Apostle Paul had such things in mind when he wrote these words from Ephesians:

Be angry, and don’t sin.” Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath,

Ephesians 4:26 (WEB)

Anger is by no means the only time when need to be careful about our words. In fact, anger is usually a secondary emotion. By this I mean it always follows some other emotional trigger. When someone stands on your foot, you may get angry about it, but the first thing you felt was pain, then anger followed. Similarly, anger can follow on from embarrassment, guilt or emotional pain.

In the midst of significant pain, irrespective of the type of pain or the cause, try not to speak out of that pain. Words that erupt from pain may feel very real indeed, but in the cold light of day, rarely reflect a reality we would be happy with.

As in all other things, Christ is our ultimate example of this. As He faced the biggest trial of His life, and indeed perhaps the biggest trial of all time, He was especially careful about His words. Indeed, there were moments when Jesus simply refused to speak.

Now I have told you before it happens so that when it happens, you may believe. 30 I will no more speak much with you, for the prince of the world comes, and he has nothing in me. 31 But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father commanded me, even so I do. Arise, let’s go from here.

John 14:29-31 (WEB)

And similarly, before Pilate:

Immediately in the morning the chief priests, with the elders and scribes, and the whole council, held a consultation, bound Jesus, carried him away, and delivered him up to Pilate. 2 Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

He answered, “So you say.”

3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer? See how many things they testify against you!”

5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate marveled.

Mark 15:1-5 (WEB)

I cannot begin to imagine what Jesus would have been feeling in these situations, knowing what He was about to face. Were I in His shoes (laughable as it is), what might I have been saying? It seems hugely unlikely that I would have remained silent.

Yet, like a sheep before the shearer, He remained silent (Isaiah 53:7).

We would do well to learn to remain silent in times of great distress or pain. Too often we pour out words that harm ourselves and those around us. Christ did not say one word He did not entirely mean, and none of us can say the same.

I am no psychologist of course, and am certainly not advising you to simply bottle up your feelings and never share them. That’s quite a different and equally dangerous thing. I am merely saying that there is a time to speak, and a time to remain silent. When our emotions are high, when we feel an intense pain or boiling anger, that is probably not the best time to speak, or to discuss with others. Of course, we must find healthy ways of processing our emotions. Anger and pain are debilitating if not properly worked through, but often we require much time or space to do that.

I recently heard someone talking about a time of trauma they went through. They reflected that at the time, and shortly thereafter, they spoke often and loudly about the pain they had been through. Dear friends advised them to be careful about their words during that time, because it was clear their pain was driving what they were saying, rather than any reasoned opinion or thought. The realised this was good advice that they were sorely in need of. It took them a number of years to process what they had been through before they could speak about it with any sense of balance.

If you are not going through a difficult time right now, then please do not dismiss this. IF you are not going through a difficult time at the moment… then just wait! Chances are you will sooner or later, and when you do, don’t speak out of the pain you are feeling then and there.

For more on the power of words, check out my post Words can be Atom Bombs

God bless you!

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.

A Gentle Answer

“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”

Proverbs 15:1 (NLT)

This particular verse came up in my Bible reading this morning. It may be very familiar to you or perhaps it’s the first time you’ve read it. Either way, there is much wisdom in its words.

A gentle answer can make a huge difference in a single conversation, or an entire relationship. As I note these words, I wonder how many marriages broke down because somebody chose not to give the gentle answer but instead snapped in anger.

This post is for you today. It may only be brief, but it may make a world of difference in your life. If you are not in conflict right now, just wait! Conflict can occur between any two people at any time. If this is not a lesson you need today, then you very well may need it in future. I know that I do!

In the heat of the moment, please pause and take a breath. Before you react angrily, let this scripture come to your mind. A gentle answer is still an answer, and still gives you the right and space to say what you need to say. Saying it in a gentle manner however makes it much more likely that the person you are speaking to will hear you.

I pray that in all of your conversations this week, all your answers will be gentle. Ask God, as I will, to forgive you when your words spill out angrily. Speaking the right words in the right way can change a persons life.

God bless you and your words today.

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

Say What You Mean (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

Say what you mean, and mean what you say

Some say talk is cheap, but actually it can be very costly. How many relationships were ruined after someone said something in anger that they really did not mean. Words can leave deep wounds, yet we seem to respect them so little in our society. A single misplaced tweet can be enough to cause outrage the world over.

Say what you mean. Be clear with your words and make sure everything you say is what you mean. Don’t be hasty and don’t let your temper get the better of you. Better to remain silent that unleash words which cannot be taken back.

Similarly, mean what you say. Don’t be a person without integrity. Do not say one thing and do another. If you make an appointment for 7pm, make sure you are there on time and be a person of your word. If you hit something unexpected that makes you late, call ahead.

Your children remember what you say, and they remember when you don’t keep your word. If you promise to take them out on Saturday, you had better make sure you do. Trust is more easily destroyed than built. One broken promise can devastate trust for a lifetime.

God is the perfect example of this to us. He says precisely what He means, and means every single word He says. There are no broken promises in God; if He has said it, you can consider it done whether you see it yet or not.

My words fall far short at times, but I strive to be a man of my word and to never say a thing I do not mean. I am challenged today, and hope you are too. Let us all come up higher and be people who keep our word.