THE UNPLOUGHED HEART

Bible Reading:  Proverbs 21:1-31

“Haughty eyes and a proud heart – the unploughed field of the wicked – produce sin” [Proverbs 21:4].

“…break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord” [Hosea 10:12].

Twice in the Old Testament there is a command to “Break up your fallow ground” [see Jeremiah 4:3; Hosea 10:12]. Ploughing breaks up fallow ground and is necessary before seed can be sown successfully. The order is plough, sow, water, and then reap a harvest. The unploughed field is hard and resistant. The field of the wicked remains hard because of haughtiness and pride. According to Hosea they have depended on their own strength and abilities. An attitude of what I can do for God has replaced the right attitude of what God can do through me.

To plough the fallow ground is to allow the Holy Spirit to work in your heart in such a way that in place of hardness and resistance there will be softness, receptivity to the seed of God’s Word and the ultimate result will be a harvest of righteousness. There is a breaking of the human heart that is a work of God and which we allow God the right to do. It is similar to God pruning us, or the remaking of the damaged pot [John 15:1-4; Jeremiah 18:3-4]. David writes, “My sacrifice O God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

The ploughing that brings about this kind of brokenness comes through pain, rejection and trials. Most godly leader go through a period of preparation through pain? For Joseph it was a pit, slavery and a prison! Thirteen years of pain was his preparation for leadership. David was hated and hounded by the jealous King Saul but they were eight formative years in his life. Daniel faced death before he became Prime Minister of Babylon! Dr. A.W. Tozer said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man until He has hurt him deeply.” C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.” The way that you handle the trials that God uses to break up the fallow ground of your heart will either make you or break you! You will become either better or bitter! The choice is ours!

Questions:

Why do you think that David called a broken and contrite spirit a sacrifice?

Read James 1:2-4. What should be the effect of trials in the Christian life? What should our attitude be to trials?

If all things work together for good [Romans 8:28], then what does that tell us about trials?

A Prayer:

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Break me, mould me, melt me, fill  me; Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.   

GOD HATES DOUBLE STANDARDS

Bible Reading:  Proverbs 20:1-30

“Differing weights and differing measures – the Lord hates them both” [20:10]

False weights and unequal measures – the Lord detests double standards of every kind” [Proverbs 20:10 NLT]

God hates double standards in business. When God’s Word speaks of differing weights and differing measures it is literally speaking of double standards. Two sets of weights were used, lighter weights when selling and heavier weights when buying. In this way the tradesman gave less and gained more! God’s standards for business are very clear. He hates cheating but delights in honesty and demands fairness in every business deal [Proverbs 11:1; 16:11].

God hates double standards in the way we view others – when we point out the faults of others but don’t see our own faults. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke about seeing the speck of sawdust in a brother’s eye but not paying attention to the plank in your own eye [Matthew 7:3-5]. Jesus called these people hypocrites. The Greek word for hypocrite is ‘hupkrinomai’ meaning “a stage player who acts under a mask,” “a counterfeit.” Literally it is to act falsely, to put on a face, and to pretend to be something that you are not.

God hates double standards when our words cannot be trusted because they are not consistent. James writes in his epistles that our “Yes” should be yes and our “No” should be no [James 5:12]. The text says, that if we fail in this we fall into judgment. We should say what we mean and mean what we say. We should not say one thing but mean something else.

Questions:

Why do you think that a person would pretend to be something that they are not?

Read James 3:2. What do you think is the meaning of “Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check?”

Several times we read the word “integrity” in the Book of Proverbs [e.g. Proverbs 10:9; 11:3; 13:6. What do you think is the meaning of the word integrity?

HOW TO FAIL SUCCESSFULY

Bible Reading:  Proverbs 19:1-29

“A lazy person sleeps soundly – and goes hungry” [Proverbs 19:15 NLT]

The sluggard is mentioned thirteen times in the Book of Proverbs and is a picture of a person who is lazy. It is a kind of snail that sleeps all day, has a voracious appetite, is a pest, and slides in its own slime! It is an apt picture of a lazy person! Consider some things the writer says about the sluggard.

The sluggard loves to sleep [Proverbs 6:9; 26:14]. God gives his loved ones sleep but there is a right time to sleep, and it is not during harvest when a person should be working [Proverbs 10:5].

The sluggard is a pain to his employer. He is like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes [Proverbs 10:26].

The sluggard makes excuses for his laziness. His excuse for not working is that there is a lion outside and he is afraid of being killed [Proverbs 22:13; 26:13]. This excuse is absurd because there would not be a lion roaming the streets of an Israeli town!

The sluggard is self-deceived – he is wise in his own eyes [Proverbs 26:16]. The sluggard is too lazy to feed himself [Proverbs 19:24; 26:15].

The sluggard is poor because he is lazy [Proverbs 24:30-34]. The result of laziness is scarcity and poverty [Proverbs 6:9-11].

It was always God’s plan that man should work – even before the fall [Genesis 2:15]. The sluggard is told to learn from the ant [Proverbs 6:6-8]. The ant works without being supervised and at the right time. It stores up for the future and does not allow difficulties to stand in its way. Weakness is no excuse for laziness. Paul spoke strongly on this subject when he said that if a man would not work then he should not eat [2 Thessalonians 3:10]. He also said that people who work hard gain respect [1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NIV].

Jesus told the parable of the three men to whom talents were given. Two of these men were rewarded but the third was condemned. He did nothing with his talent and buried it in the ground. He was lazy [Matthew 25:14-24].

I recently heard of a Filipino cleaner working in a hotel. So thorough was her work that she came to the attention of her superiors. Today she is the CEO of that chain of luxury hotels where she was once a cleaner! If you want to be successful ask God to give you innovative ideas and work hard! Do not be like the sluggard – if you are you will fail successfully in life!

Questions:

What do you make of the statement, “Both overwork and laziness are symptoms of rebellion?”

If you were to meet with Jesus today would He be pleased or disappointed with your attitude towards work and the way that you have performed?

THE POWER OF SPOKEN WORDS

Bible Reading: Proverbs 18:1-24

“The tongue has the power of life and death”

[Proverbs 18:21]

There are nearly one hundred and fifty references to the words that we speak in the Book of Proverbs. It is a matter of great importance! When God spoke creation came into being.  We are created in His image, and our words are also creative. They have the power of life and death! James tells us that the tongue is a little member of our body but has great power and influence for good or for bad [James 3:3-6].

There are words that destroy. Firstly, there are reckless [thoughtless, rash] words [Proverbs 12:18]. In Hebrew the edge of the sword is called the mouth. That is why God’s Word is called a two-edged sword. A Greek proverb says, “A sword the body wounds, a word the soul.” Reckless words are normally spoken in anger and are harsh [Proverbs 15:1], grievous and hurtful. Secondly, there are deceitful words. There are two kinds of deceitful words, lying and flattery. A lie is always an attempt to deceive. The devil is the father of lies! In Pilgrim’s Progress Bunyan wrote, “Beware of the flatterer.” Take a look at the description of flattery in Psalm 55:20-21. “Flattery is more than false. It is fundamentally hostile, setting a person up for his downfall” [Tim Stafford]. Deceitful words are always destructive. Thirdly, gossip. Gossip is the wood that keeps a quarrel burning [Proverbs 26:20]. Someone has said that gossip is exalting yourself at someone else’s expense. Little wonder that the writer of proverbs says that the power of life and death is in the tongue.

There are words that heal. Words that heal are wise words. “The tongue of the wise brings healing” [Proverbs 12:18]. These words are the result of a relationship with God [see Psalm 50:4]. Words that heal are gentle words. “A gentle answer turns away wrath” [Proverbs 15:1]. They are not retaliatory. “A gentle word can break a bone” [Proverbs 25:15]. Words that heal are kind words “A kind word cheers a person up” [Proverbs 12:25]. They are encouraging. Words that heal are honest words. “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” [Proverbs 24:26]. Honesty and affection belong together.

There are two lovely descriptions of healing words in Proverbs. They are like honeycomb [Proverbs 16:24] – sweet and soothing. They are like “apples of gold in baskets of silver [Proverbs 25:11]. Words can be very beautiful.

Questions:

What did Jesus say about our words? [Matthew 12:36-37; 15:17-20]

Read Isaiah 6:1-8. What did Isaiah confess when he saw the Lord and what did the Lord do?

Has the Holy Spirit spoken to you today about the words you speak? Is there anything that He is specifically saying that you need to do?

A CHEERFUL HEART

Bible Reading:  Proverbs 17:1-28

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones”

[Proverbs 17:22].

“Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength”

[Nehemiah 8:10]

I was recently surprised to hear of a clinic that had been opened to help people learn to laugh because it would improve their health. I wonder if that clinic came as a result of reading this proverb about a cheerful heart? Doctors speak of improving health by good nutrition, exercise, and the right amount of sleep. These things are important but holistically we must recognize that our attitude and spirit have a major effect on our health. A happy and cheerful spirit will improve your health but a negative and wounded spirit can ruin it.

What does the Bible mean by a “crushed” or wounded spirit? On several occasions in Scripture David spoke of the wounds that sin caused [Psalm 6:1-6; 38:1-11; 51:8-11]. In his repentance David prayed that God would renew a right spirit within him. Sin had damaged his spirit. Deceitful words crush the human spirit [Proverbs 15:4]. Heartache and sorrow crush the spirit [Proverbs 15:13]. “A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down without walls” [Proverbs 25:28]. Literally it is an open door for the enemy and for all sorts of bitterness, anger, hurt, lust and resentment to gain entrance! Little wonder the wounded spirit causes spiritual, emotional and physical problems!

When I asked my wife what she thinks is the meaning of a cheerful heart her response was immediate. She said, “It is joyful, contented, peaceful, and full of worship to God.” The writer of Proverbs sums this up, “Do not be wise in your own eyes [don’t be proud]; fear the Lord [honour and reverence Him]. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” [Proverbs 3:9-10]

A cheerful heart or a wounded spirit is a matter of choice. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted! If you will allow Him to do so Jesus can cleanse you of all those things that damage your spirit.  Open yourself up to Him and allow Him to be the Lord of every part of your life. In Him alone you will find true freedom, contentment, joy. To have a cheerful heart or a wounded spirit is your choice!

A Prayer:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me by your generous Spirit. Forgive me, cleanse me, renew me and restore me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

OUR PART IN GUIDANCE

Bible Reading: Proverbs 16:1-33

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed…

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps”

[Proverbs 16:3,9]

Have you, like me, often struggled over the issue of guidance? I am reminded of the times that with white knuckles and clenched fists I have cried out to God to show me His will. Is this the way it should be, or is there a better way?

The clear indication from our text is that we make plans and commit them to the Lord. God is a God who makes plans and He made us in His image, so surely it is natural that He would expect us to make plans too. Certainly Paul made plans to go into Bithynia but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow him to [Acts 16:7]. He made plans but the Lord determined his steps!

Some years ago a Jewish rabbi was critical of English translations of the Old Testament. As an example he quoted Psalm 37:4 that in English reads, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” He said that a more correct translation from the Hebrew would be, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you His desires.” This immediately raised the question in my mind as to whether or not our desires are to be trusted. In the New Testament we read, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” [John 15:7]. There is that word “desire” again.

If we are living in an intimate relationship with God then what He desires will increasingly become what we desire and guidance becomes literally doing what is in our heart to do. As we do what is in our heart, then the Lord Himself will correct us if we are moving in a wrong direction in just the same way that He corrected Paul and told him not to go to Bithynia.

One of the most remarkable stories of man planning and God guiding concerns Abraham who planned a wife for his son Isaac. He sent his servant to find the right woman and in a remarkable way he found Rebecca. When the servant returned to Abraham his testimony was, “I being in the way, the Lord led me…” [Genesis 24:27].

Questions

What is in your heart to do? If it is something the honours and pleases God why not just do it, believing that God will bless you and is quite capable of correcting you if you make a mistake?

Read Genesis 12:1-20 Abraham made a mistaken decision. What was the mistake and how did God rescue him?

WISDOM IN MANY COUNSELLORS

Bible Reading:  Proverbs 15:1-33

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed”

[Proverbs 15:21-22];

“Without good direction people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances”

[Proverbs 11:14 The Message].

In 1624 the poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself.” All of us want to be successful, but rarely does a person succeed who goes it alone and doesn’t seek wise counsel. As a boy I used to enjoy lying on my bed in the 1950’s and watching a black and white television series called “The Lone Ranger.” The Lone Ranger always turned up at the right moment and defeated the bad men, but even he was never without Tonto, his trusted Indian companion and scout! In the Christian life it is dangerous to be a lone ranger!

None of us has a total understanding of truth. Paul says that “we know in part and we prophesy in part” [1 Corinthians 13:9]. This lack that each of us have requires the help of others to make us complete and help us to make wise decisions. If we are locked into one way of thinking, then we are liable to miss the right way because our minds are closed to other options. We need the experience of others to enlarge our vision and broaden our perspective.

Seeking the counsel of others as we make plans will enlarge our vision and understanding and therefore give us greater safety and more certainty of success in what we do. Pride is a reason why people don’t seek wise counsel. Some people are so self-confident and sure that they have things right that they almost scorn the idea of consulting with others. To seek the counsel of others in the plans that we make is actually an evidence of humility.

Even if the advice you are given is not right, it is still good to consider and weigh it up. Men like William Carey and C.T. Studd were advised not to go to Africa and India by well-meaning people, but they went and achieved great things for God. In a similar way, people tried to persuade the apostle Paul not to go to Jerusalem but he knew that God wanted him to do so [see Acts 21:4,10-12]. When you know what God wants you to do, seek godly counsel in order that you might do this as effectively as possible but at all times retain a humble and teachable spirit.

Questions:

If you are you facing a time when you are making new plans for the future, will you seek the advice of mature and experienced people?

Not all advice is right. How do you determine what is right and what is not?

Read 2 Chronicles 10:1-19. What mistake did King Rehoboam, son of Solomon make when he sought advice in making an important decision?

A PLACE OF SECURITY

Bible Reading:  Proverbs 14:1-35

“He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge”

[Proverbs 14:26]

To be secure means to be safe, protected, and not shaken when crisis come.

The only safe place is in the Lord who is our refuge and fortress. This safety is emphasized several times in Proverbs. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe [Proverbs 18:10]. Whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe [Proverbs 29:25]. God is a shield to those who take refuge in Him [Proverbs 30:5].

Proverbs 19:23 says, “The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” This security and place of safety is for those who have a right relationship with God and a reverence for Him. In Him there is contentment, rest and being untouched by trouble. Does this mean that there will be no trouble? Jesus said that in the world there would be tribulation. Writing about trials James says that we will face trials of many kinds. Concerning these trials he uses the word “when” trials come and not “if” trials come. They are certain to come!

How can we be untouched by trouble? In her book, “Though the Mountains Shake,” Amy Carmichael writes about how to be secure in the Lord, at times when trials and troubles come:

“First, He brought me here; it is by His will that I am in this strait place; in that fact I will rest.

Next, He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace to behave as His child.

Then, He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.

Last, In His good time He can bring me out again – how and when He knows.

Let me say I am here, [1] by God’s appointment, [2] in His keeping, [3] under his training, and [4] for His time.”

Our security is in the Lord and this will not only be a blessing to us, but also to our children.

Questions:

What kinds of things that cannot give security do people put their trust in?

Read Psalm 46. What does this Psalm say about God being our refuge? How should we respond to this [see Psalm 46:10]?

Read Psalm 15. This short Psalm ends with the words, “Whoever does these things will never be shaken.” What are the things the Psalmist says we must do in order to never be shaken?

WATCH THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

Bible Reading:  Proverbs 13:1-25

“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm”

[Proverbs 13:20]

You become like the people you hang out with! Many years ago I heard a preacher say that if you want to be a man of God then keep company with men of God! This is such sound advice.

I am grateful for older men who became my mentors and teachers. Ken and his wife took me in and I experienced a Christian home environment for the first time. Pastor Howe took me under his wing, was patient with me, prayed for me and instructed me in God’s ways. Pastor Yan in Indonesia became like a father to me and I saw in him so much of God’s grace. These godly men helped to form my spiritual life and character.

“A righteous man is cautious in friendship” [Proverbs 12:26]. The Bible commands us to stay away from a foolish man [Proverbs 14:7] and not to desire the company of wicked men [Proverbs 24:1]. It was so painful, at the burial of her eighteen-year old son, to hear a mother say, “If only he had not got into the company of people using drugs!” The issue may not be as overt as drugs but equally devastating can be the gossip who separates friends [Proverbs 16:28], the bitter person or the one who mocks truth!

Some years ago a friend gave me this piece of advice –“‘Be careful who you listen to!” If you are a person who is easily discouraged then stay away from people who speak negative words! Perhaps a summary of what is said in Proverbs about keeping wrong company is summed up in the very first verse of the Psalms: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of scoffers.”

We may have many acquaintances but be careful not to have too many really close friendships. Be especially careful not to listen to the people who only tell you what you want to hear. In my experience my best friends are the ones who encourage me but also tell me the truth even though it may not always be palatable. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” [Proverbs 27:6]. The wounds of a friend are a kindness [Psalm 141:5]. Every one of us need a Paul who disciples us, a Barnabas who encourages us, and a Timothy who we disciple and mentor.

Questions

Who are people who have most helped you to grow in your Christian life? Give thanks to God for them.

Why do you think that we become like the people we hang out with?

How do we fulfill the command to come out and be separate [2 Cor.6:17] and at the same be, like Jesus, a friend of sinners?

A CURE FOR A HEAVY HEART

Bible Reading: Proverbs 12:1-28

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up” [Prov.12:25]

We are living in a day of ever-increased depression. More anti-depressant medication was dispensed last year than at any time in history. The following statement was taken from a medical website: “Major depression is the No.1 psychological disorder in the western world. It is growing in all age groups, in virtually every community, and the growth is seen most in the young, especially teens. At the rate of increase, it will be the 2nd most disabling condition in the world by 2020, behind heart disease.”

There are many reasons for depression but God’s Word states one of them very clearly: “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression” [Proverbs 12:25 NKJV]. The Amplified Bible puts it like this: “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down.” Worry is a major cause of depression! In 1 Peter 5:7 we read, “Casting all your care upon Him for He cares for you.” The word we translate as “care” in this verse is the Greek word merimna, from meiro, “to divide,” and noos, “the mind.” It is literally, “all that divides your mind.” That is what worry and anxiety does and we know that double-mindedness causes instability [see James 1:8].

Our verse today is equally clear in saying that the anxious, depressed and weighed down heart can be lifted by kind words. A young Dutchman who worked for an art dealer in London fell in love with his landlady’s daughter. She rejected his proposal of marriage and he became depressed, but remembering, his father, a pastor in Holland, he sought comfort in Christ. He had great success in preaching to the poor and ministering to needs, washing their clothes, caring for their sick, consoling their dying and leading them to Christ, but he was hounded and persecuted by the religious leaders of his day because of lack of theological letters and education. In despair he gave up the ministry and took up painting. At the age of thirty-seven and in awful, manic depression he committed suicide. Just imagine how Vincent van Gogh might have preached Christ, if he could paint sunflowers with such sensitivity, and all for the lack of kind words and encouragement!

A Question:

The person with a heavy heart can be lifted by kind words. Would you make it your goal today to encourage others with words of kindness?

Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.
[Fanny J. Crosby]