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Archive for the ‘Proverbs’ Category

Proverbs 12:15 Wonderful Counselor

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel. Proverbs‬ ‭12:15‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

This is a particularly painful proverb for me this morning. I am such a fool! I have so many blind spots in my own life. In my dreams last night it was as though I had a movie running of all of the missteps and failures I’ve experienced in a particular circumstance over the past several years, yet at the time, I marched ahead as though there was no other way to approach the situation. Yet, I don’t know what I don’t know. Every person lives from his or her own perspective and experiences, and from my view I am right, but my view is not a complete picture. There is always another view. If I were to have the opportunity to go back and “do over” I suppose I would not do anything differently today, except have a deeper sense of humility and a recognition that blind spots are just that — I don’t see them. I would spend more time trying to understand why you think the way you do and not react emotionally or defensively. And I would double my efforts to love and respect, even if I don’t appreciate the other’s behavior. They too have blind spots and I desire to treat others the way that I’d like to be treated. A fool is not a fool for his differences with another, but rather, for allowing a multiplication of those differences into a posture of incompatibility, alienation, or worse, conflict and killing (whether in real life or in my heart). I kill someone as soon as I cease to acknowledge them in my heart.

Does this blindness make me a fool? In my heart I know I’m my Father’s child and His and my goal is to be transformed into His image and likeness. Until then, or while this process is taking place, I accept that there are foolish things within. My own “right-ness.” So today I invite wisdom and pray that when I step on the scales the predominance of my person and perspective tip in that direction.

The heart of the fool is that of narrowness, limited perspective, quick judgement when not all sides have offered their version or perspective. Foolishness is magnified when based on that limited view, I make decisions that affect others negatively and put something in motion that is insensitive, hurtful, damaging, ignorant… and I could go on. Foolishness has no end to its effect. At its core, it elevates my way above another’s even though in the other person’s eyes, their way is just as valid. What a sticky mess!

But I love the remedy: counsel. The Hebrew interprets it as advice, counsel, advisement and some translate it designs, schemes, strategies. The idea is that there is purpose, collaboration, ideas coming together to bring the best possible outcome. I find it interesting that of all creatures on earth, man has the unique requirement to learn, to be taught or shown how to do something. And I find that in the very act of learning we show our love for our creator. The fact that I am teachable, open to wisdom and counsel, have a heart that wants to know the right thing to do or say, says much about my values and who I am. And it’s a predictor of who I will become. And along these lines, look at the many sources our wise teacher gives us — I’m meditating in Proverbs! He’s a wise and wonderful counselor. He’s put teachers in his church. And he’s given us a promise that if any lack wisdom I simply need to ask for it and he gives it liberally. I have many “counselors” at my disposal:

The counsel of circumstances

When you shoot a basketball, the swoosh through the hoop tells me whether my aim is on or off. When I grow flowers in my garden, the full blooms tell me when I have soil, sunlight, and supply just right. When my car careens off the road or into another vehicle, the sound of twisted metal tells me something has gone wrong. Life, and the good or bad that comes from it, is communicating something to me. Let my circumstances speak to me. The Holy Spirit is very good about pointing out what I need to hear.

The counsel of the Holy Spirit

There are so many benefits to being filled with the Holy Spirit — a quick read of John 14-16 and I am so heartened by what my Father gives me in His infilling presence. The Spirit of Jesus within is the ultimate “Wonderful Counselor” (Isaiah 9:6).

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. John‬ ‭14:26‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬

The counsel of friends and others

When I read “listens to counsel” the first fulfillment in my mind is another person who is in the role of a trained counselor. Although I don’t believe people are our only source, they are possibly the intended target of Solomon, and an incredible resource. The body of Christ, my family, those close to me, all speak wisdom and counsel into my life. But I must ask for input, be open to it, recognize it for the gift that it is even when it’s hard to hear.

The disposition of listening to counsel — no matter the source — invites wisdom. Even so, I am thankful that Jesus is the author and finisher of my faith. He’s the one that wants to speak to me and fellowship with me. It’s when I recognize and hear his voice in prayer, in others, in circumstances, and in natural results, that I find real counsel.

Proverbs 12:14 Fruitfulness

A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words, and the deeds of a man’s hands will return to him. Proverbs‬ ‭12:14‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

The fruit, or yield, of my words are like seeds planted in the ears of others. They find soil, receptivity, and growing conditions that produce results. Jesus’ parable of the sower comes to mind in that the quality of the land (or heart) that hears the words affects the harvest — whether the seed is choked out, or whether it finds good, well-tilled soil that produces good things. The focus in this proverb is the well-placed seed. From my heart I pull the good that my Father has given me and see an opportunity to speak or plant it in another. What a great delight when it helps — when the right word, at the right moment, finds the right person.

There are two kinds of fruitfulness, the first being what comes from my heart and mouth, the second comes from what I do. Solomon often contrasts two extremes or opposites, but here instead he uses succession and intensity— one thing following another with increasing results. The words coming from me can be powerful, but so is the “doing” — the labor or outflow of my work. “The deeds of a man’s hands will return to him” or another translation says, “paid back to him.” The Hebrew means to return, to pull in again, or come home. The idea of a natural circuit, or cycle that when it comes back to me is complete, as if it was a payment owed to me. And I find this to be a trait that is just like my Father — He has an expectation for increase whenever he invests or gives something. When something is sent, it returns. Fruitfulness is in His nature.

My fruitfulness comes from being connected to the vine. My closeness to Jesus, abiding in him and his people yields fruit in both my words and deeds. And to put it more plainly: Jesus expects fruitfulness of me. It is impossible to be connected to him and not yield something tangibly good. I like the progression of this proverb — first I speak, then I do. There is an order in how we humans do something. God plants good seed in our heart, we think about it, meditate upon it, allow it to take root, and it grows. But it is not enough for a thought or idea to remain inside. Experiencing life cannot be accomplished only by reading books or hearing stories. I must touch, taste, feel, and know it myself. It must come out. And before any action, there is something I express whether in word, to a friend, in my journal, in my plans. My heart sets a course before it moves. There is something special and powerful about saying something out loud. Speaking it in prayer, or declaring it to a friend. It’s emboldening. Cementing. From there I act. I must act. Life must be lived. Jesus didn’t teach so that we could simply watch re-runs of season 1 again and again. I am season 2. I must make my own story. And as with all good seed that I speak and do, it will come back to me. Just like it comes back to Jesus.

But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. ‭‭Luke‬ ‭8:15‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬

Proverbs 12:13 Daily opportunities

An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, But the righteous will escape from trouble. Proverbs‬ ‭12:13‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬

The order of the Hebrew helps to better understand the phrase: “By the transgression of the lips is a snare to the evil man.” The word transgression means the violation of a law, or to go beyond a limit or boundary that was set. To be ensnared carries the meaning of bait or a lure, and consequently a trap or snare set by the hunter or trapper.

Solomon’s proverbs hold immense power to teach and align my heart and world with the kingdom of God — and they are simply words that come from our lips (or pen). Although words proceed from the mouth they originate in the heart. They are not the substance but rather the fruit. Like clothing is to the body. Or oil on canvas is to the artist. There is hardly a person alive that hasn’t spoken, even surprisingly, something that really is not the intent of their heart. Yet just because something is communicated that I did not intend, does not remove my responsibility for its impact. I have hidden places that seem to only come out with certain people, or in unique circumstances. Who knows why my heart is unlocked and affected the way that it is in certain moments, but in the end, it’s an opportunity — and thus the catch. For example, if I encounter someone who frustrates me at work regularly, and from my mouth comes, “I’d like that person to fail miserably!” Mean? Yes. Compassionate? No. For me, if I heard myself say this I would pray it is an opportunity for exposure, for light to shine in my dark place, to jolt me to corrective action. Love in action would not say such words. I would rather love, forgive, and pray resolution for this person. Yet, the same thing spoken by someone with no regard for the King or his kingdom starts in the exact same spot. Yet, from those words comes a plan… “fail miserably, yes, I can help make that happen.” And the plot thickens.

I love this conclusion of this proverb: the righteous will escape from trouble! But not without effort, or work, or awareness, or self-reflection, and the Wonderful Counselor’s help. It’s my heart and (flawed) character that spoke such a thought, so I take responsibility for it. The Holy Spirit provides the opportunity. He’s the great alchemist mixing the elements of life to give me the opportunity to become more like him every day. Expect it. Expect surprises and gasps (from me) at what comes from my own mouth. But also expect escape. He always provides it. He’s a good Counselor and never leads me through a situation He can not deliver me from.

Proverbs 12:12 What do I want?

The wicked covet the catch of evil men, But the root of the righteous yields fruit. Proverbs‬ ‭12:12‬ ‭NKJV‬‬‬

Or, another translation:

The lawless man craves the prey [gain] of the wicked, But the root of the righteous is enduring. Proverbs 12:12 (Rotherham)

Man craves. I see and I want. Desire combined with my values create the context in which I live. What is it that I want? I endeavor to look in the mirror every morning and have an answer to that question. Whether or not I acknowledge it, what I want, or often what I need, propels my life forward — my behavior every day. It’s so much better to be thoughtful and intentional about that desire than let an impulsive, needy grab for something erupt unexpectedly to the shock of others (and myself!)

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says: There is perhaps an intended contrast between the restless and often fruitless activity of the hunter with his net, and the calm, stedfast fruit-bearing, as by a natural process, of the firmly-rooted tree.

The “catch” or “gain” that Solomon speaks of is a real thing. It’s an increase. If you are an outdoorsman, there is something very exciting about the hunt then the success of the kill. In a way, it is like a drug and when I am successful, the feeling of euphoria from my accomplishment is my opioid. This increase, whatever it is, is material. Temporary. Not self-sustaining. Gained by cunning or method. Or blackmail or deceit. But when the ends justify the means, and there is no discrimination about how I make my gain, one thing is certain… loving God, valuing his ways, aligning with his kingdom, fellowshipping with my creator, is NOT my desire.

On the other hand, living with a kingdom value, loving the king first, honoring and acknowledging my father in all I do is something I was born to live out. The provision that comes from kingdom values is steady, predictable in it’s season, constant year after year, deep — pulling from the nutrients of the earth and the history of those that have preceded me. It does not provide the narcotic-like high that the hunt provides, nor the manic low that failure brings.

The Pulpit Commentary says: The root supplies the sap and vigour needed for healthy produce. Without any evil devices or plotting, the righteous gain all that they want as the natural result of their high principles.

There are two natures inside of me; one pulls me to the excitement of the new, the rush, the catch, the unconventional, without regard for my values, laws, or the goodness others deserve. The other reminds me to be steady, drink deeply, skip the shortcuts, learn from those who have gone before, and prioritize relationships. The conclusion makes me laugh — kingdom life sounds like it may be drab, with no fun or adventure when I put it in these terms. But then I remember, God created fun. He leads us on paths that have spectacular views, incredible discoveries, and increase and provision — but in a context in which he provides great safety and care even in hell-raising adventure.

Proverbs 12:11 Will work for food

He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But he who pursues worthless things lacks sense. Proverbs‬ ‭12:11‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

I have land! I don’t own a farm or field but I own land! Every person alive has been given something to be productive and self-sustaining. Like the parable of the talents (money) Jesus references the fact that I have been given something of value. But in that same parable he also showed that a man’s view of himself and his world either constrained or enabled what he did with it. And just like Solomon, he showed that fruitfulness was something that proceeds from my heart and intentions. The point: use what I have been given! Take advantage of my field and earn a living at the same time.

There are so many incredible things to explore on this earth. When I walk into a library, I’m overwhelmed with the possibilities of subjects within which I may immerse myself. What would qualify something as worthless? There are different shades of meaning depending on the translation: “But he who pursues (NKJV) follows frivolity, or (NIV) or chase fantasies, or (MSG) chase whims and fancies, or (Rotherham) runneth after worthless men.” The thing which I spend my time on should produce something. There should be an outflow from my life that feeds another. It may be bread. It may be art. Or an invention. Or music. My life should be interconnected with others in a way where we nourish each other physically, mentally, spiritually. The contrast Solomon is making seems plain enough: be useful.

I was reading a book recently about a period during World War II on the Island of Crete which explored the incredible athleticism of the Cretans. These men had a deep devotion to their community of fellow Cretans. And they were incredibly fit and capable athletically. Although they did not outwardly look buff or sculpted like our modern gym rats, they could do more than most men — from lifting heavy objects to enduring climbs over treacherous mountains with very little nourishment. Their motto: “Be fit to be helpful.”

But to me, the better questions are: What is worthy? What holds value? Where is the kingdom of heaven for me today? I want to seek it first. Discovering where I may produce bread is often a value decision: Is what I am doing right now the right thing to do? It’s easy to get lost in the moment — the iPhone news stream, the program on TV, the binging on a book, but I want to live out my love for God and for my family in deed. Jesus says that when I do, the other things I have need of will be added.

Proverbs 12:10 Compassion

The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel. Proverbs‬ ‭12:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

When I am righteous I am simply reflecting the nature of God, his character, and his attitudes. Even though I’m the focus of his love and attention, within an animal is also the very life of God. The Gospel of John begins with “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) Life, any life, is reflective of God. His spirit. His breath. His pneuma. For me to be kind to my animal is to have the natural, God-given empathy for another life, especially when they are in service to me. Whether a dog, horse, or farm animal, I have a respect for their contribution and relationship and all that they provide to me. I have a tendency to be anthropomorphic: projecting human traits to animals or other processes (imaginations are very fertile). It’s coded within me. Although a goldfish really isn’t thinking about missing a turkey dinner, I still give it an extra helping of fish food on Thanksgiving. As silly as this sounds, I’m good with it. Our Father has planted desire in our hearts to be kind and good to our beasts. And to especially to others.

What is it that happens to a man that would sabotage or short circuit his natural empathy? The New King James Version translates “kindest acts” as “tender mercies.” Barnes’ Notes on the Bible says: Tender mercies – Better, “the feelings, the emotions,” all that should have led to mercy and pity toward man. Throughout life my heart is either inclined toward God or away from him. What a distance I have traveled if the very natural affection and goodness I would offer another would be cruel. When I read this, I think of a person who has become self-focused, extraordinarily self-absorbed, even narcissistic. Every transaction in life becomes about what benefits me. When I am the center of my universe, it is a lonely place indeed. Although there may be some question about the control a person may have over another relationship, or another human, it’s clear that a man’s animal belongs to him. Yet to the wicked, if cruelty is the fruit, imagine what he thinks about himself. Isn’t it ironic? If my world revolves around me, you would think it was because of an excessive self-love. Quite the opposite.

There is a tread wear on a tire over it’s life. Its natural suppleness becomes worn, less rubbery, and has less grip on the road than when first installed on my car. That’s what life can do to my compassion to others without a connection to the life-giver. Yet, connected to him, he renews me. Daily. Speaks life and healing in transactions with others that have been hurtful. Like a young child who is super sensitive to animals and others, he helps me return to childlikeness through all of life’s transactions.

Proverbs 12:9 Better fed than hungry

Better is he who is lightly esteemed and has a servant, than he who honors himself and lacks bread. Proverbs 12:9

The message Bible says:

Better to be ordinary and work for a living than act important and starve in the process. Proverbs‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭MSG‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

I like the way the Pulpit commentary frames it up:

“Has a servant” literally means a servant to himself. So the Vulgate has, “sufficing himself,” and the Septuagint, “serving himself.” And the expression implies attending to his own concerns, supplying his own wants. Hence the gnome means, “It is wiser to look after one’s own business and provide for one’s own necessities, even if thereby he meets with contempt and detraction, than to be in real want, and all the time assuming the airs of a rich and prosperous man.”

The contrast in this proverb is between individuals that both have the ability to work and produce something substantial to pragmatically help themselves in life. To provide a real need. The result of one is the ability to feed and take care of his own household. The result of the other is hunger. You will know a tree by the fruit it produces. The differentiator is their self view. In one of these individuals, something is out of whack.

Need speaks. Ultimately any need which I cannot meet, something out of my control to provide for myself, may be met in God. Abraham called him Yahweh Yireh, “I am the Lord your provider” in Genesis 22:14. God’s name “I am” is purposefully missing the object. He is… what we need him to be. And he is a good provider. Yet, there are many things he puts in my power to take care of. In fact he expects me to take care of certain things. If I have a sliver yet I believe in divine healing, why would I wait on God to pull it out if I could do it myself? If I have bundled my need in a self-honoring, self-affirming context and lobbed it in basket of faith claiming divine provision when it was in my power to do for myself what was needed, I act foolishly.

But why would I do that? What philosophy, ideology, makes my behavior, position or belief about a topic so important that I need God’s affirmation (or honor) to validate it at the expense of something very practical? From the very beginning he’s charged me to work for my food. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” The Hebrew word for “honoring yourself” comes from a root meaning: to be heavy either in a bad sense (burdensome, severe, dull) or in a good sense (numerous, rich, honorable; causatively, to make weighty). Honor is interesting. It’s heavy. For someone else to offer it to me is kind. Affirming. It builds me up. And dangerous. Especially when I feel entitle to it. When I demand honor the very weight of it becomes unbearable, even deadly. That heaviness, when honor is self-applied, is actually pride. It’s an inflated view of myself that knocks perspective out of whack, even to the point of starvation and poverty — as Solomon says in this proverb.

Loving God and walking in faith is a precarious balance. The words, commands, and promises in the written word of God can only be fully understood by the Spirit. Jesus’ commands to “eat his flesh” or “hate our father and mother” or to “pluck out our eye” must be understood in context and intent. That includes the promise of “ask anything in my name and my father in heaven will give it to you.” I have rarely walked this balance perfectly. My heart is right, but my application often needs refinement. That’s why the feedback loop of life is so important. I must listen — to the Holy Spirit, to friends and counsel, to needs, to hunger and supply. What are they telling me?

My personal story: At one point my super-faith made some conclusions from the fact that Christ died and became a curse for me. At the time I was frustrated with my work and with what seemed like a silent heaven. I grasped in “faith” (and creativity) that not only did Christ conquer death, but also the other curses given to Adam in the Garden, including the need to work for food. So I believed that I could stop working and God would provide. To make a complicated story simple, God definitely provided and my family was fed, but my choices placed us on the fringes of poverty. When I finally realized that need was speaking to me, I embraced work again. I really do believe that Christ conquered poverty and death. And I believe God is deeply attracted to faith. But there is a timing element of his victory that I am not in control over. I must be aligned with the Holy Spirit. By faith I may grasp it… while I work. Now, as much as I’d like to be going about life as I want, I choose to embrace the work I do — whatever it is. I expected God to “honor” my faith, which ended up being, in reality, a form of self-honoring. It was much too heavy for me.

Whether I’m lightly esteemed, or not, is not up to me. But what I do control is how I honor my Father with all of my body, soul, mind and strength. Better fed, than hungry.