For a third week, we’re going to spend our Time Alone with God in the Book of Proverbs, which is part pf the poetry and wisdom literature of the Old Testament.
Monday, August 20
Read: Proverbs 6:12-15
Consider: I love how the poetry of the Bible gives me new perspective—how it helps me to see the “big picture.” That’s what music, art and poetry do for us. They help us look beyond the things that vie for our attention to see the things that make us truly human. People don’t write poetry about how to fix a lawn mower. They write about love, grace and beauty. They write about pain and suffering. They write about death and new life. It’s all there in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament.
But the Book of Proverbs also gives us the “big picture” in amazingly practical forms. One of those is what we would call “truisms”—self-evident, obvious truths. And, though they need no explanation, these are pieces of wisdom that we tend to forget. And usually, we forget them at our peril.
We see in today’s reading from Proverbs a warning to the deceitful person that “disaster will overtake him in an instant; he will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy” (6:15). Now, don’t make the mistake of seeing this as a “God’s-gonna-get-you” warning. That’s not what it is. It is a truism that reminds us of the consequences of deceit. When we intentionally deceive, we build a structure that is certain to collapse. We build a life that will implode.
God’s wisdom teaches us that we don’t have to be punished for our sins. We are punished by our sins.
When it comes to deceit, we see evidence of this every day. The #MeToo movement is a striking example that our deceptive ways will turn on us. People sexually exploited others with the confidence that their victims would be too afraid or too humiliated to speak about or report what had been done to them. In some cases, this worked for many years, but eventually the destruction heaped on the victims returned to the victimizers. Jesus said…
“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” (Luke 12:2-3)
So, wisdom tells us to live authentic lives. We confess our sins to God and seek his power to live in such a manner that we have nothing to hide. We’re not perfect. So, we must be perfectly willing to admit it. We must be real, flawed and humble enough to bask in God’s grace.
Pray: “Lord, I confess my sins, not out of fear, but out of gratitude for your grace and forgiveness. Help me to live authentically. A transparent life will stand, while a deceitful one will collapse. I thank you for your grace and I know that I always stand in need of that amazing grace.”
Tuesday, August 21
Read: Proverbs 6:16-19
Consider: God loves us. We cannot overstate God’s love, for love is more than an attribute of God. Love is the essence of God—or, perhaps better said, God is the essence of love.
“Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)
I love to talk about God’s love. Talking about what God hates is tougher. What would God hate? Logic isn’t my strength, but my simple logic tells me that if God is love, he would hate that which destroys love and destroys what he loves—those he created in his own image.
The wisdom writer gives us “six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him” (6:16). Those are strong words. This is poetic writing, but the meaning is clear. In this warning we find that arrogance, deceit and violence are despised by God.
As we saw yesterday, we don’t have to be punished for our sins, because we are punished by our sins. Arrogance is a case in point. We tend to look at it as a minor character flaw. And yet, it distorts our perspective, keeps us from reality, destroys our relationships and can inflict great damage on those around us. And it keeps us from seeing and knowing the love of God. Humility liberates. Arrogance destroys.
To be arrogant is to live a lie, and the wisdom writer said that deceit — “a lying tongue” and “a false witness” — is detestable to God (6:17, 19). It is the very antithesis of Jesus, who called himself “the truth” (John 14:6) said, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
And violence? Well, Jesus said that “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). He spoke those words when he was arrested and as he tried to save both his accusers and his followers.
Wisdom would tell us that we should love what God loves and hate what God hates. God doesn’t hate arrogant, deceitful, violent people. He hates what lies in them that destroys them. So, I shouldn’t hate anyone. But I should hate the arrogance, deceitfulness and violence I find in me.
Pray: “Lord, you love me so much that you hate what works against your will for my life—what you want to do in me and through me. Make me humble, transparent and nonviolent in my spirit, my motives, my speech and my life. When I’m too proud and stubborn to admit that I’m proud and stubborn, humble me and help me to see your liberating truth. You are truth.”
Wednesday, August 22
Read: Proverbs 9:1-9
Consider: As we continually see in the Book of Proverbs, the writer turns effortlessly from soaring rhetoric to practical instruction. In Proverbs 9:1-6 he returns to Sophia—the word for wisdom that conjures the image of the beautiful women who sets God’s life before us. And as soon as we begin to picture the banquet of great food and fine wine she is serving, he takes us back into the rough and tumble of human relationships. And he uses these hypothetical encounters to, once again, contrast wisdom and foolishness—humility and arrogance.
So, he addresses the question of how you should correct an arrogant person. How do you do it? The simple answer is that you don’t. “Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you” (9:7-8).
The real gold comes in the next sentence — “Rebuke the wise and they will love you” (9:8).
Let’s not miss where he’s going with this. I don’t believe the wisdom writer is telling us to go find wise people and straighten them out. That, of course, would be arrogant. No, he is instructing us to be that wise person, to be the person who can take a “rebuke” and appreciate the worth of it, even to the point of loving the person who gave it to us.
He goes on to describe the beauty of the wise…
“Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.” (9:9)
When you find yourself at a party, a cookout or some other gathering where multiple conversations are taking place, the wise person is easy to pick out of the crowd. It’s not the one who is ranting about politics or the one who is trying to impress people with how much he or she knows on a certain topic. It’s not the person who is monopolizing and pontificating. It’s the one who is saying…
“Wow! I didn’t know that!”
“That’s so cool! Where can I find that book?”
“What’s the name of that documentary again?”
“Thanks for sharing that!”
“I’m going to check out that web site. Thank you!”
Be that person.
Pray: “Lord, I thank you that wisdom is attainable. It is something I can grasp, provided I am not ‘wise in my own eyes’ (Proverbs 3:7). Help me to be increasingly teachable and able to find wisdom everywhere simply because I am listening.”
Thursday, August 23
Read: James 3:1-12
Consider: There are several chapters in the Book of Proverbs that are full of one-liners. These proverbs are short enough to tweet. They can be read without context. They are simple and profound, and they provide beautiful instruction for daily living. What we read from James’ letter today is very succinctly stated in Proverbs 10:19 — “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
When I read what James has to say about the human tongue—our use of words—I always get a bit uncomfortable. My problem is that I talk a lot.
Do you remember that television commercial where the person said, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up”? Well, I’m a preacher and a teacher. I love to communicate. And sometimes I don’t know when to quit. On several occasions I’ve said to Carol, “I’m talking, and I can’t shut up!”
According to Proverbs and James, that can get dangerous. Our communication can easily veer from positive to negative, from thoughtful to thoughtless, from building up to tearing down. Controlling my tongue is one of my biggest challenges. I’m trying to learn how to stand up and critique some bad things that are happening in the government, the church and the world without sounding strident, hateful or arrogant. How do we oppose evil without becoming evil? It’s not easy. It takes a lot of discernment. And, as we’ve been reading consistently from Proverbs, that wisdom begins with humility.
So, when I want to point out evil, I must begin by seeing my own sin. I need to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
I recently read a quote that made me laugh and cringe at the same time…
“The church is like a swimming pool. Most of the noise comes from the shallow end.” — William H. Vanstone
Pray: “Oh Lord, make me wise enough to leave the shallows. I want to go deeper with you and that begins with a humble, teachable spirit that is ‘quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.’ Give me the wisdom and discipline I need to offer words that heal, and not wound—words that build, and not destroy.”
Friday, August 24
Read: Proverbs 11:24-25
Consider: One of the teachings that has perverted American Christianity in recent decades is the Prosperity Gospel. It’s a give-to-get doctrine that emphasizes material wealth and presents that as our avenue to joy. It teaches people to look out for themselves rather than working for all people to live in sufficiency with dignity. It makes God out to be a sort of vending machine, rather than the sovereign Creator that we would never dream to try to placate or manipulate. (Can you tell I’m not too fond of it?)
Well, that’s not the wisdom of Proverbs 11:24-25. Even though it speaks about the prosperity of the generous, it does so in a much broader way that places wisdom high above wealth. In fact, it teaches us that the wisdom of God is real wealth.
The wisdom writer speaks about a “generous person” as one who “refreshes others” (11:25). That’s beautiful language that helps us broaden our thinking.
Let’s not talk about generosity simply in terms of material possessions or money. Let’s pray for a spirit of generosity and hospitality of heart. Let’s think about the giving of ourselves to God by giving ourselves to others.
This is the generosity that causes you to allow interruptions to your busy life to listen to someone who needs to be heard. This is the generosity that looks the homeless person in the eye with love, even if you have nothing material to give. This is the generosity that hurts with those who hurt and mourns with those who mourn. This is the generosity that lifts those around you as you are increasingly liberated from worrying about your own feelings and your immediate desires. This is the generosity that is slow to judge and quick to embrace.
Generosity cannot live in an environment of perceived scarcity. When we’re convinced that we don’t have enough or when we’re afraid that we won’t have enough tomorrow, we lose the joy that comes from generosity. But we do have enough. There is enough hope to go around. There is plenty of affirmation to share. We don’t need to worry about joy, because the more we give it away, the more it multiplies. And laughter, well, that’s easy to come by if we simply look for it.
A spirit of generosity and a spirit of gratitude are inseparable. They grow together. They multiply together. And when we live the life of spiritual abundance, wonderful things happen, for “a generous person will prosper” and “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
Pray: “Lord, take me to a spacious and plenteous spiritual place. Teach me hospitality of the heart so that I may welcome others. Give me a spirit of gratitude that loves to give. And help me not to fear what I may lose, for generosity is never a losing enterprise. Thank you for supplying all me needs.”
Saturday, August 25
Read: Romans 12:9-21
Consider: In this beautiful passage from Paul’s letter to the Roman believers, he quotes Proverbs 25:21-22 — “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”
It kind of sounds like a backhanded way to inflict some pain—almost passive-aggressive. It doesn’t sound very loving to heap burning coals on someone’s head. It sounds like sweet revenge.
But there are a couple of profound and wonderful things at work here. The first is a powerful truth that Jesus emphasized; we use what is good to expose what is evil.
The best way to fight evil is to expose it for what it is. Our culture consistently tries to fight evil with evil. Of course, people don’t recognize that as what they’re doing, because they think they are righteous to oppose evil by any means. But if we oppose evil by evil means, we are engaging in evil. We are becoming evil. So, evil is never exposed. It is accepted.
Paul said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:21). This is what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount when he taught us to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. Many times, evil exposed is evil defeated. The exposure—seeing evil for what it is—is like burning coals.
But that is not the end goal. God’s will is for us to overcome our enemies by turning them into friends. The wisdom writer and Paul instructed us to “feed our enemies”—to eat with them. When humans engage in the ancient and ever contemporary practice of breaking bread together, something wonderful happens. In doing that, we are treating one another as equals. We are getting to know our enemy and seeing his or her humanity. It’s hard to call someone a monster when you see their wounds, their scars and their dreams.
The burning coals—the acknowledgment of evil—is the opening door for fellowship at God’s table. That is true wisdom.
Pray: “Lord, I don’t want to wield the weapon of hate. Teach me to use the tool of love. Make me humble enough to listen to your prompting so that I may learn how to ‘overcome evil with good.’”