Timing is Critical

“Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing.”

Proverbs 20:4 (NIV)

On the surface, this wise saying is about lazy people failing to take the opportunities they have to earn a living. The sluggard doesn’t get up and go to work during planting season–he’s too lazy. By the time he finally gets around to plowing his land and planting his crop, he’s behind the curve. When harvest comes, his crops have yielded nothing because they haven’t had the right growing season. The lesson: Don’t be lazy! When it’s time to work, go out and work so that you can earn a living. Don’t wait around and procrastinate until the opportunity passes you by.

I think that’s a good word for all of us (especially me, since I am by nature a professional procrastinator and it takes a lot of oomph to overcome that). However, as I reflected on this verse and why it “wiggled” on the page I was reading, I realized there was more here than just a warning against procrastination–at least for me. 

I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know much about farming, even though I grew up in a small town where almost everyone was a farmer and I married into a farm family. My father-in-law and brothers-in-law are incredible farmers, and being in their family I have learned that farming is a lot more scientific than putting seeds in the ground and waiting for them to grow. Every spring, I ask my father-in-law when they will start planting, and his answer is different every year. It depends on the weather, the ground moisture, the soil conditions, and many other variables. Just like waiting too long to plant yields a poor harvest or no harvest, planting too soon has the same effect. The point is not to plant early or late, the point is to plant in season. For farmers, timing is critical to success.

The same is true for many things in life. Timing is important to success. Jumping the gun before you’re ready often leads to failure. Waiting too long out of fear or laziness often leads to miss opportunities. My prayer for the week is that God will give us the wisdom to know when the season is right, when the opportunity is ripe, and when the timing is good.

Alignment

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21, NIV).

Recently our church did a painting event, where an artist walked us step-by-step through how to paint a Christmas tree with a cross as its trunk. I was helping my six-year-old son, Jack. We could see what the goal was for our painting, yet as we painted the artist often said, “If you like this, do this. If you want to do something else, go ahead and put your own style into it.” As we painted, Jack expressed his own interests and desires in what his painting should look like, and when I walked around the room, I saw many, many different Christmas trees with crosses for trunks. The variety was incredible, and yet the purpose of the artwork was the same every time.

This is a beautiful picture (no pun intended) of God’s purpose in our lives. He doesn’t just dictate his will to mindless slaves to obey or die. He invites us into the process. He created us with thoughts and emotions, dreams and aspirations. He is interested in what our hearts long for, and he makes space for us to express our own “style” as we go along the way. God works with us to accomplish his purpose, and that is profoundly amazing.

Yet, we must remember that ultimately, it is God’s purpose that prevails. If our plans go against his purpose, we will surely be frustrated. As I was reading and praying through Proverbs 19, the Lord brought verse 21 to my attention. I distinctly sensed him say to me, I want your plans to align with MY purpose. I think when that happens, we experience the fullest sense of meaning, freedom, and joy. We are painting with our Father, who is showing us the purpose while allowing us to be who he created us to be in the process.

This brings to mind Psalm 37:4, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (NIV). May the Lord forgive me the times when my plans have not aligned with his purpose!

My prayer for this week is that our hearts will sync with God’s heart, and we will find the sheer delight of aligning our plans with his purpose.

Shhhh!

“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2, NIV)

Have you ever known someone who loved to hear the sound of their own voice? Or a person who never really seemed to listen, but always cut you off with their own story or advice? How about someone who always seemed to know exactly how you felt and what you were going through, even though they never took the time to actually understand your situation?

I’ve known many, many people like that in my life. And, if I’m honest, there are times when I’ve been one of those people! If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of such a person, you can testify to the truth of Proverbs 18:2. A person who doesn’t really care about you, but just wants to hear himself wax eloquently, shows himself for a fool. He may think he’s wowing you with his wisdom and brilliance when in reality he’s making a donkey of himself because he won’t shut up.

Everyone struggles with pride in one way or another. All of us have opinions, but we need to remember that sometimes our opinions don’t matter. Sometimes what someone needs is our attention, not our advice. Our care, not our solutions. Our prayer, not our opinions. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is the gift of being understood, and being loved in the understanding.

My prayer for the week is that God will give us each an opportunity to listen, and that he will nudge us through the Holy Spirit when we need to stop talking and start understanding.

Don’t be a Drama Queen

“Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.” (Proverbs 17:1, NIV)

Thinking back over Thanksgiving, my guess is that most of us enjoyed a house full of feasting. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, green beans, pumpkin pie–you name it, we ate it! Sadly, for many the feast was accompanied with strife.

While we can all relate to a little strife in the home from time to time, Proverbs 17:1 struck a chord with me beyond just family. At some point in our lives, we’ve probably all had to deal with a relative, a neighbor, a classmate, a co-worker, or a brother/sister in Christ who was (or is), shall we say, melodramatic. Melodramatic is an adjective that means exaggerated, overly emotional, or overdramatic. And while we make every effort to treat our drama queens with love, patience, and grace, after a while the words Solomon penned in Proverbs 17 ring true.

As I was reflecting on this verse, I began to think of all the other people I know who tend to be a little melodramatic. Then God gently reminded me that I needed to examine my own heart first. Am I overly emotional, overdramatic, or easily offended? Do I exaggerate to downplay my own faults or play up the “woe is me” line? Sometimes I am, and sometimes I do. Thank God for his grace and forgiveness.

When I tend to the melodramatic, it’s usually because somewhere deep within, insecurity is rearing its ugly head, causing me to question my value, question my contribution, and be threatened by others. So, I overcompensate. I become hypercritical. I turn into a serial complainer. I exaggerate. I stir the pot. I draw attention to myself because I need you to like me and approve of me so that I can feel secure in myself.

But the truth is, I’m not secure in myself; I’m secure in Christ. And that makes all the difference.

I don’t need to perform to be accepted and loved. I just need to remember who it is that loves me, accepts me, has called me, and takes care of me. When God is your Father and he loves you with an infinite, unconditional love… that’s security–who cares about anything else? My prayer for the week is that we will all remember just how much God loves us, we’ll rest in him and leave the melodrama to someone else.


Enjoy this song by Tauren Wells, and enjoy God’s love for you!


Hidden Motives

“All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:2, NIV)

I don’t know about you, but I have a fantastic ability to justify my own actions. In fact, according to my self-preserving analysis of my decisions, I almost never sin–there is always a reason behind everything. I even tend to do this when I apologize: “I wasn’t trying to snap at you, and didn’t even realize my tone was edgy. I’m sorry you perceived it that way.” Almost as if I didn’t really sin: “You just misinterpreted me, again. It sure would be nice if you would get better at understanding me. Do you know how hard it is to never be understood?”

And just like that, I’ve turned my crappy attitude that I need to change into something for which someone else (usually my wonderfully supportive wife who didn’t deserve to be snapped at) is supposed to apologize to me.

Jeremiah 17:9-10 says:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

“I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9–10, NIV)

My prayer for the week is that God will reveal the hidden motives of your heart and change them through the power and presence of his Holy Spirit.

The Eyes of the Lord

“The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, observing the wicked and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3, HCSB)

As I was reading the opening verses of Proverbs 15, I noticed that verse 3 seemed out of context. I’ve learned over the years that when something in the Bible appears to be out of context, it’s usually worth digging into it to find out why. It’s kind of like God puts these little clues or hints for us to find so that we dig a little deeper, and that process can generate a conversation with God about what we’re looking for or finding, which means we’re spending more time with our Father in his Word.

In Proverbs 15, verses 1, 2, and 4 all had to do with the tongue, our speech. But verse 3 wasn’t about us or our tongues at all. Here’s the full text, so you can see what I mean:

1 A gentle answer turns away anger,
but a harsh word stirs up wrath.
2 The tongue of the wise makes knowledge attractive,
but the mouth of fools blurts out foolishness.
3 The eyes of the Lord are everywhere,
observing the wicked and the good.
4 The tongue that heals is a tree of life,
but a devious tongue breaks the spirit.

Notice that verse 3 doesn’t seem to fit in with the others? That really stuck out in my mind (which is also one of the ways God speaks to me in my quiet time–he makes a verse or two jump out at me as I’m reading). As I was talking with God about it, and reflecting on the passage, God asked: Do you trust me?

Suddenly I saw what God wanted me to understand. God is everywhere. He sees everything. He’s watching over us, and he will handle things. I don’t need to use my tongue to speak harshly, manipulate the conversation, blurt out my foolish thoughts, or stir the pot because I’m not getting my way. I need to trust God enough to let him take care of things. I need to use my tongue to speak encouragement, wisdom, and life.

The extent to which I trust God to see everything and deal with it his way is the extent to which I can stop using my mouth as a hammer or a wedge and start using it honorably. My prayer for this week is that we will trust God enough to stop attacking people with our words and start building them up instead.

Praying for Our Country

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.” (Proverbs 14:34, NIV)

We live in a time and social context in which our country is deeply divided over politics, sexuality, race, religion–you name it, we’ll split over it. We also live in a context in which sin runs rampant. Indeed, Romans 1:18-32 could almost be a description of our society today. Sin wreaks havoc and devastation everywhere it appears, and while our nation is floundering, drowning in its own depravity, what are we doing to help?

Let me suggest that rage against those who disagree with us isn’t helpful. Wishing everyone from a particular political party or religious movement would just go away and live somewhere else isn’t going to fix any of the challenges we face. Now more than ever we need to be praying for our nation and its leaders. We need to be the light of the world that Jesus called His disciples (that includes us) to be in Matthew 5:14-16. We need to live righteous, holy lives devoted to our Savior, and we need to pray for those who haven’t yet heard or accepted the good news of Jesus. It is the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit in true believers, that will exalt a nation–not its laws, its political views, its tolerance, its social services, or its GDP.

So, let me also suggest that aside from being a living picture of the gospel, a reflection of the Lord to your family, friends, neighbors, classmates, and coworkers–the most important thing you can do for our country is pray. It doesn’t matter if we view our neighbors as friends or enemies. It doesn’t matter if we see our governing authorities as friends or enemies. If they’re friends, we should pray for them, and if they’re enemies… well, Jesus told us to pray for our enemies, too.

My prayer for the week is that we will all remember to pray for the people who make up our nation, even the ones we don’t like.

Be Wise, Take Advice

“Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.” (Proverbs 13:10, NIV)

Have you ever known someone who was always asking for advice, but never taking it? Have you ever been someone who frequently asks for advice, but rarely takes it? There have been times in my life when I was desperate for advice. In those seasons, I drank in wisdom from older, more experienced people who’d already been through whatever I was in the middle of.

There have also been times in my life when I was pretty full of myself. I thought I knew what I was doing and didn’t want advice. When a well-meaning person offered me a word of wisdom, I only pretended to listen. My face was interested and attentive, but my heart was smug and prideful. I can always tell when I start getting this way by how I react to unasked for advice. If I’m annoyed, there’s a good chance I’m complacent and arrogant (even if I’m hiding it well).

What I have discovered, often the hard way, is that most advice has something of value I can take away. There are plenty of times when someone gives me advice I don’t want to hear. In fact, that may be the majority of the advice I’ve received throughout my life! But it’s often when I don’t want to hear it that it has a valuable nugget of wisdom for me.

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received came from Dr. Green in a class at Moody Theological Seminary. He said (paraphrased), “You will leave Moody with a Master of Divinity–a higher level of theological education than most people you’ll meet. But, don’t think that you know God better than anyone else in your church–you don’t. You may have read books and written papers, but there’s a whole lot more to knowing God than that.  You can learn something from every single person you meet. Never forget that.”

My prayer for this week is that we will each receive some advice with humility and grace.

It’s Not About the Nail

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

Do you ever have anxiety? Who doesn’t?!? Chances are there is something worrying you right now, and if there isn’t (praise God!), there probably will be before too long. I have several things keeping me awake at night, ranging from family concerns to decisions that need to be made at the church, and everything in between. As silly as it sounds, one of my biggest sources of anxiety is managing my calendar! Because of my introverted, creative-thinking, absent-minded personality, I easily get so focused on one thing I entirely forget something else I need to do… unless it’s on my calendar. So, making sure it gets on my calendar is something I worry about.

When I see someone else struggling with anxiety, my default response is usually, “Let me help you fix that.” But sometimes that’s not really what they need. As the husband in the video below discovers, sometimes people don’t need a solution–they need a kind word. It’s so much easier sometimes to brainstorm ideas to fix the problem than it is to listen, relate, and say something encouraging. God challenged me with this verse in Proverbs to do less fixing and show more kindness with my words.

My prayer for the week is that you will find an opportunity to cheer someone’s heart through a kind word.


I hope you enjoy this funny little video that reminds us that sometimes we just need to listen and encourage.

Don’t Be a Gossip

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

Gossip is a sneaky sin, and I don’t think anyone of us is immune to it! Christians are often quick to point out the obvious, flagrant sins in others–pornography, adultery, addiction, etc. Yet, in my experience gossip is one of the most prevalent and widespread sins in the church. In fact, I’ve seen gossip more often in churches than in the world. For some reason, we overlook this dangerous sin in our midst that wreaks havoc and devastation everywhere it exists. We are experts at disguising gossip, at putting lipstick on this pig that invades our lives.

One very common (so common that it’s become the subject of many jokes) form of Christian gossip is prayer requests. “Pray for Susie. Her husband’s being a huge jerk right now. Their marriage is in really bad shape.”

Or it may be offered in the guise of a friendly warning. “Hey, I heard you went out for coffee with Bill. That’s great you’re getting to know him! I just want you to know that his marriage ended because of infidelity. Not that you shouldn’t spend time with him, just go in with your eyes open.”

Gossip is often shared in the context of asking for advice. “Hey, Bill and Susie are struggling with their marriage after Bill almost cheated on her. I really want to help them work through this issue, but I’m not sure what to tell them. Do you have any advice for me?”

In the church, there are structures in place to give us safe people to confide in, ask for prayer, and get advice. These safe people are the elders and pastors. They are spiritually mature leaders who have met the qualifications in Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:2-4. They don’t break confidence but are trustworthy with sensitive information. Their role is to shepherd, pray for, and give wise counsel to those in need.

We should be very careful what we share, when we share it, and with whom. I’ve found Andy Stanley’s definition of gossip to be very helpful in guiding my own conversations over the years.

Gossip is sharing sensitive information with someone who is not part of the problem or the solution.

No matter how good our intentions are, we can fall prey to gossip if we don’t intentionally guard our mouths. My prayer for the week is that the Holy Spirit will nudge you when you’re about to share sensitive information with someone who isn’t part of the problem or the solution, and you’ll realize the sneakiness of this sin which infects us so subtly.

Does a Godly Home Really Guarantee Godly Kids?

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” But does that really mean that raising kids in a godly home guarantees they’ll grow up to follow Jesus? What about all the kids who were raised well, but walked away from God as adults?

Hold Your Tongue

“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19, NIV)

Have you ever been in a discussion or an argument with someone and you can feel yourself getting close to the line of saying too much? You know if the conversation continues you will end up saying more than you want to, and the outcome of that is almost always sinful.

The temptation to say too much attacks me primarily in two ways: gossip and angry words. Sometimes when Corinne and I argue (yes, we argue, too), I can feel my temper start to rise, and I know if I don’t back out I’m going to say something I will regret later. It’s like I can see myself driving closer and closer to the side of the cliff, and if I don’t turn the wheel, I’ll go right off the edge. I need to stop my words before I get to that point! It’s always better to call a timeout and work through the conflict later after we’ve both cooled off than to keep pushing until we explode.

Gossip, on the other hand, is typically more subtle. It sneaks up on you, and you don’t realize you’re gossiping until you’re in the middle of whatever story you were sharing. Sometimes you don’t recognize the gossip until after the conversation is over, as you reflect on what was shared!

Either way, whether it’s in the form of angry words or gossip, sin is not absent when we flap our jaws too much. It takes the power of the Holy Spirit to keep our tongues in check, and those of us who belong to Jesus have that power dwelling within us. We really have no excuse for allowing our runaway mouths to lead us into sin!

My prayer this week is that God will give us the wisdom and the power to hold our tongues and avoid the sin that comes from talking too much.