The Proverbs: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life

Four young men have grown up around our dining room table, and the book of Proverbs has shown up as a regular on the breakfast menu, along with the oatmeal and the eggs. Liz Curtis Higgs asked hundreds of her readers to choose their favorite verses from the Proverbs and then narrowed the list down to the top 31 Proverbs to Light Your Path, a month’s worth of daily wisdom, comfort — and jarring insights.

Liz loves words and has dug deep into each text, phrase by phrase, holding the truth up to the light and turning it slowly so as to appreciate each facet. The proverbs are all about wisdom, but the goal Liz has in mind is to assist her readers in savoring God’s goodness. God’s words are an invitation to individual spiritual growth and a deep source of satisfaction for “the hunger no breakfast can satisfy.” (14)

Drawing from personal examples and her own humorous observations of life on this planet, Liz brings unique and refreshing insights to much-beloved sacred words:

“A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart.” (Proverbs 21:2)

Of the 31 Proverbs in the book, 13 have the word but right in the middle. Liz compares but to “a hinged door” that “leads to another possibility or an important comparison. But can also serve as a flashing light, a warning, a stop sign.” (18)

“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” (Proverbs 11:13)

A chatty personality is delightful, and it can come in handy, I’m sure, when Liz is on the road with people coming and going in her life all the time, but she shares the dark side of loving to talk, and the proverbs offer a path of freedom away from the sins that bind us and the bad habits that slow our growth toward righteousness.

In fact, more than a hundred verses in Proverbs focus on the power of words to wound or heal. Having experienced the down side of this equation, Liz invites her readers to dream along with her about a life in which the only words we speak to one another are “pleasant” and “kind” and “fair.” (Proverbs 16:24)

“Anxiety weights down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” (Proverbs 12:25)

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

Anxiety and depression are a reality that cannot be shrugged off with a scriptural band aid. Liz knows from her own experience of swallowing pride and swallowing the daily pill for depression that the “cheerful heart” and anxiety free living are not empty promises — but there are bio-chemical realities that must be faced head on.

And just in case anyone has become discouraged in their reading of Proverbs as a list of good deeds for the habitual do-gooder, Liz makes the important distinction between “doing a good thing” and “doing a God thing.” Generous living and joyous giving flow from a relationship with the God who owns all things.

When Proverbs 18:10 declares that “the name of the Lord is a “fortified tower” and encourages readers to “run to it” for safety, it’s helpful to have a concrete image to connect with the name of the Lord, and Liz has added something to my tool belt:  a list of twenty-six names of God in alphabetical order for memorization and meditation.  (Thanks, Liz!)

The hands-on, boots on the ground mentality of 31 Proverbs to Light Your Path makes it clear that the light on our path is godly wisdom that emanates from wise choices, righteous deeds, and an intentional following of God that happens over a life time.  Each of the 31 Proverbs comes with a One Minute, One Step practical application.  Suggestions range from the very simple — list everything you are grateful for — to the more intensely meddling assignment of initiating reconciliation with someone we have wronged, hurt, or offended.

With Bible study questions in the back of the book along with complementary passages that allow Scripture to comment on Scripture, Liz has crafted a resource for individual use or for small group study. The application of ancient truth to a thoroughly modern life begins with opening the pages of Scripture and allowing the Spirit of God to speak Truth into our words, our relationships, and our motives as we are led along His straight paths.

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This book was provided by Waterbrook Multnomah through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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My Piece of the Elephant

Long ago and far away there were six men, wise indeed, but, alas, they were all without sight.  An opinionated lot, every one, in the course of their wanderings, they happened to meet an elephant, standing squarely in the center of their path.

Feeling duty-bound to report on his discovery, the first wise man gripped one of the massive beast’s sharp tusks and declared, “It is stunning how much an elephant resembles a spear.”

The second wise man, equally confident, reached out until his hands connected with one large and floppy ear.  “Nay,” he retorted, “you are mistaken, for ‘tis clear to me that elephantine nature is like that of a fan.  Already I feel the cooling of air around me as this fine elephant sweeps back and forth.”

The third wise man could no longer hold his peace, for he had meandered off to the rear and found the elephant’s tail.  “Neither a spear nor a fan, my brothers, could take this shape or form.  Obviously, an elephant is like a rope.”

And so the story proceeds with one sightless hypothesis revolving around the muscular snake-like trunk, another enthusiastic theory about its tree-trunk legs, and a final proclamation that the body mass was surely a broad and impassable wall.

Each was partially right, but all were in the wrong. 

Underneath this ancient story’s observation about human nature lies a chilling truth about the perils of logic on this broken ground. To save time and energy in its quest for certainty, the brain will hide its own biases from itself. All the while believing in the thoroughness of our research, we immerse ourselves in evidence that does nothing but confirm our preconceptions.

A minute’s thought will reveal the six wise men had all they needed to correct their narrow perspective:  the observations of the other five.  A move to the right or to the left, a hand extended to a broader reach, or a question posed to a nearby brother:

“What do you mean, it feels like a rope?  Here, put your hand on THIS and see what you think!”

Any of these would have changed the whole story.

Research indicates diverse groups have the ability to reveal hidden biases. What this looks like here on the ground is that if I share my piece of the elephant, while also listening to my sister’s thoughts on elephant morphology, we both get a more accurate view of the beast in question.

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This month, we’re sharing our thoughts on The Elephant in the Room over at SheLoves Magazine. I’m thankful for the people in my life who rescue me from the blindness of a singular seeing — who keep me from reenacting the elephant story in my own time.  I would love it if you clicked on over to SheLoves to finish reading the rest of my post.  And I hope that while you’re there you’ll share your thoughts, because we do need each other’s voices.

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Beginning September 7th, I’ll be hosting a discussion group focused on Wendell Berry’s  Jayber Crow.  His story spans much of 20th century American history and demonstrates the poignancy of this quote from his musings:

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful.  There is always more to tell than can be told.”

 

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

All You Have to Be Is Desperate

By midwinter, the empty canning jars on my basement shelves are beginning to overtake the number of full jars.  Clear glass glints beside the jewel-toned beets, briny pickles, and thick spaghetti sauce.  By practicing the dying art of canning, I pay attention to these containers, knowing that a family of six can put away as many as sixty quarts of green beans in the space of those seasons between gardens.  Truly, the container is secondary to the contents.

A recent back injury is making me conscious these days of another container.  Paul the Apostle would have called it a clay pot.

That image suits me well.
Serviceable.
Functional.
Sturdy.  At least, I’ve always thought so.

But, feeling the brittleness of my mortal clay, it’s clear to me that I’m prone to breaking, and the sharp edges leave me bent and moving about with caution.

On one level or another, everyone fights the battle of fragility at some point in life.

So lest I fall into the mistaken notion that New Testament saints were bullet proof, I return to the words of Paul who strains his apostolic thesaurus to come up with metaphors adequate to the description of his own deep need:

 “We are hard pressed.”

Really?
Did his time move relentlessly forward as the work piled higher?
Did mounting expenses dwarf his income and suck the air out of his dreams?

“We are perplexed.”

Endless word of widespread persecution and death may have mirrored our present-day newsfeed, blaring a stream of events so unbelievable that emotions struggle to keep pace.

How does one meet all the needs, answer all the objections, filter all the choices?

The perplexity and the pressure are overwhelming to me, but Paul seemed actually to be strengthened by it:

“We are not crushed.”

Across the centuries, I strain my ears for the Uncrushable Wisdom, listening for a raspy voice, ruined from the blatant misuse of vocal cords in outdoor speaking engagements and thick with gravel from having traveled around in a tired body.  In exchange for Paul’s emptiness, God offered treasure: “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God,” (II Co. 4:6 ESV).  He became so full that the sheer force of Jesus’ life offset the pressure and permeated all the empty spaces.

I’d love to make that man a sandwich and sit down with him for just a few minutes – or even to stand at the kitchen counter.  I want to ask him how it all worked for him.

Here’s what I think Paul would say:

“All you have to be is desperate.”

CaptureFinish reading over at SheLoves Magazine where we’re talking and writing along the theme of “Capacity.”  I hope you’ll visit and join the conversation!

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Guided by Your Hand

Every January 1st for the past twenty years, I have been greeted by the same bracing truth as I turn again to the first page of my well-worn flip calendar of Elisabeth Elliot quotes:

Lord, give me a quiet heart
That doesn’t need to understand,
But, confident, walks forward in
The darkness, guided by your hand.

In a sense, everyone steps into the darkness of the unknown at the beginning of a new year, and the more people we love, the more vulnerable we seem to be.  We can’t control the choices of others; we can’t foresee the twistings and turnings of the details of our days, of our employment situation, of our health; we can’t shield our loved ones from the forces of nature or the consequences of their actions.

Although Elisabeth was a young woman when she penned these words, she had already grasped an important truth that thrums through my bones at the beginning of every year:  we are walking into the unknown, but even so, we can rest in the knowledge – the deep and abiding confidence – that God wants to guide us, and the unknown is well-known to Him.

“Where then does wisdom come from, and where is the source of understanding? God understands the way to it; He alone knows its source; For He can see to the ends of the earth, and He surveys everything under heaven,” Job 28:20, 23, 24 (NEB).

God, in His wisdom, wants to guide us far more than we want to follow!  He doesn’t simply e-mail a set of directions to us or give us advice from a distance.  He has promised to be a Guide.

I am writing from a place of struggle and questioning at the end of a year that has seen more question marks than exclamation points, more misty fog than lighthouses, and many days in which I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn somewhere.  To be honest, when I have a decision to make, I want sky writing.  When it’s time to buy a car, I want to see, “Buy the blue Ford,” hanging in the heavens.    Notice, however, that whenever supernatural guidance was given in the Bible (pillars of cloud and fire, talking donkeys, angels, dreams, and visions), it was not usually asked for, but came at God’s discretion.  He is free to communicate by whatever means He chooses.

With this in mind, I want to read His promises of guidance with confidence and to sense His leading, to trust His working in my life by His Spirit to guide my steps and — perhaps even more important — to set me on the right path when I make a wrong turn.

Providing a list of “tried and true methods for finding the will of God” or prescribing how God will work in a life is presumptuous – and harmful. Our God is in the heavens, and He does whatever He pleases.  However, an understanding of how God has worked in the past is helpful in discerning how He may work in the future.

Duty

“If any man will do His will, he shall know . . .,” John 7:17. God guides those who obey. If I’m not doing what I know of God’s revealed will, I should not expect further guidance. George MacDonald said, “If any man’s will is to do His will, he shall know . . . Obedience is the opener of eyes.”**

The truth is that much of what God requires of us involves lots of “mundane faithfulness” to daily tasks. David’s harp playing skills that gave him an audience with King Saul were gained in a field watching sheep. Samuel faithfully served in the temple, and I’m sure that Matthew had no idea that he would be called to the life of a disciple on the last day of his tenure as a tax collector.

Timing

The prophet Habakkuk made no great claims to a full understanding of the ways of God, but one thing he knew – God has an exquisite sense of timing:

“Then the LORD answered me and said,
‘Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets.
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.’”     Habakkuk 2:2,3 (NKJV)

Waiting is the hardest assignment of all in the discernment of God’s will. Even Ruth, in all her faithfulness and obedience felt the weight of it and received this counsel from Naomi: “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will fall,” Ruth 3:18.

Relationships

We are subject to authority and, indeed, obligated to serve and to be sensitive to one another in the body of Christ. Fulfillment of my responsibilities to the people God has placed in my life has often served as a beacon by which God has guided me. For example, should I accept a speaking engagement that conflicts with an important meeting with the ladies of my own church? Probably not.

A word from an employer, a co-worker, a sibling, a parent, or a friend may be used to influence and guide us. When seeking guidance on a matter, it is wise to take godly counsel and to pray with a sister in Christ, “for where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them,” Matthew 18:20.

Giftedness

It is no accident that every Christian possesses a particular palette of abilities and spiritual gifts. Countless times, I have heard my husband counsel our boys, “Whatever you have in your hand, God will use,” and that’s not a thought that’s original with him. God said the same thing to Moses about a simple rod.

Desires

It gets tricky here because we are fallen creatures, barely knowing our own motives, but desires placed prayerfully before God can be a trustworthy guide. The prayer life of the Apostle Paul demonstrates his conviction that it was best to submit his yearnings to God, for even a longing to visit Rome for the establishment of the believers there was made subject to God’s approval.

Circumstances

There was nothing glamorous about the circumstances surrounding Saul being anointed King over Israel. Remember? He was in a predicament because his Father’s donkeys had wandered off. He was out looking them, but what he found instead was God’s servant Samuel who had explicit directives that Saul was to be God’s man on the throne. Our circumstances are part of the “all things” that God promises to work for our good and his glory in Romans 8:28. Often we do not recognize the hand of God until in retrospect we look back on the events of our lives and see how He has led.

Coming into 2016, I want to be attentive to God’s guiding hand, to maintain a quiet heart that waits for Him to shed light on the next step. My prayer is that my confidence in His love will overcome my need for white-knuckle control over the road map; that my “eye-opening” obedience to His directives will enhance my sensitivity to His voice; and that walking into the murky unknown, I will find grace to live in the confidence that waits for the Word of God:

“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ’This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left,” (Isaiah 30:21 ESV).

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This post first appeared at Soli Deo Gloria .

Image credit:  Jen Ferguson

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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The Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs has always been a challenging read for me.

My brain wants to make outlines, and it searches in vain for a tidy way to summarize the truth of a chapter.  Proverbs 1 and 2 cooperate nicely:  wisdom.  However, the following chapters  veer off into multiple topics, and my takeaway from reading this valuable wisdom literature is that the message of Proverbs is pure and simple — except that even at its purest, it’s seldom that simple.

In Proverbs Prayers, John Mason has examined the wisdom of the Proverbs with an eye towards prayer, something we’re used to doing with the Psalms.  In fact, his thinking has opened my eyes to the promises as well as the principles that run through every chapter.  The book keeps readers grounded in the text by including all thirty-one proverbs, with each one followed by a written prayer.  Since there is hardly an area of life that is NOT addressed by the Proverbs, praying through them opens the heart to an entire cosmos of issues:

Petition – “Lord, help me to love those around me by sharing your wisdom and love today.”

Declaration of intent – “I’ll not foolishly reject understanding . . .”

Statements of belief, dear to the heart of God – “I believe that you are a fortress, a strong tower . . .”

Verbal application of principles – “If a conflict arises, help me to be patient with others by taking time to hear both sides of any problem.”

Gratitude – “I thank you . . . that  a real friend like you always sticks closer than a brother.”

Affirmation of critical doctrines – “It is your purpose that always prevails.”

Dealing with sin – “Lord, I know that I can never make my own heart clean and pure by myself.  Only you can do that, so I ask . . .”

I’m looking forward to working my way through Proverbs Prayers again, only this time, more slowly.  And rather than analyzing the message of the Proverbs, this time my focus will be to ask for Divine Help in living out their message.


 

This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with these communities on a regular basis:    Soli Deo Gloria Connections, Inspire Me Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Live Free Thursdays, Faith-Filled Fridays, Grace and Truth, Fellowship Friday, Still Saturday, The Weekend Brew, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Thought Provoking Thursday, Small Wonder, Playdates with God,  A Little R & R, Beloved Brews, SusanBMead, Faith Along the Way, Cozy Reading Spot, Reflect, Literacy Musing Mondays, Purposeful Faith, The Loft, Words with Winter, Rich Faith Rising, Encourage Me Monday, Tuesday Talk, What to Read Wednesday, Booknificent Thursday, Give Me Grace, Three-Word Wednesday, Word-filled Wednesdays, Faith ‘n Friends, Essential Thing

Proverbs for Wise Living

Get Wise by Bob Merritt:  A Book Review

Thank you, Bob Merritt, for doing what I have always wanted to do:  sifting  through the random assortment of life-giving wisdom in the book of Proverbs and categorizing the verses according to theme.

As a pastor, Merritt knows that the book of  Proverbs contains the wise words that our hearts need.  In fact, he equates having a wise heart with spiritual sensitivity, and then highlights eleven other extremely practical aspects of living where the application of godly wisdom to daily decisions can make the difference between success and failure, triumph and defeat, life and death.  These categories fall into four major groupings:   Personal Wisdom, Relational Wisdom, Family Wisdom, and Successful Wisdom.

Although the book reads just as Baker’s category (Christian Living) implies, it could also serve well as a teacher’s guide since it includes discussion questions and a focus verse for each chapter.  Merritt’s personal experiences have just the right blend of grimace and grin to hit home — his transparency is heartwarming.  I actually could not help but read parts of the book out loud to my husband and kids, and they had the same reaction.  The next time I teach from the book of Proverbs, this book will be nearby as I study.

I received this book free from Baker Publishing Group. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.