A Word About Wisdom

This week in my devotional time I read a lot of verses that talk about wisdom. Take a look”

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” James 1:5

“Listen to my instruction and be wise. Don’t ignore it.” Proverbs 8:33

“Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life.” Proverbs 19:20

“Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more.” Proverbs 9:9

I also looked a bit into the story of Esther. If you remember her story (there’s a whole book of the Bible written about it), as a young Jewish girl she’s drafted into possibly becoming queen of Persia, she actually does become queen, she saves her people (the Jews) from massacre because she pleads with the king and reveals the villain, and ends up living happily ever after. One of the supporting characters in the story is Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, who helps her with knowledge about the impending massacre. But the story reveals that Mordecai sharing knowledge with the King goes back further than the main story of the Book of Esther about the planned massacre, to a time when Mordecai revealed that there was an assassination plan targeting the king (Esther 2:21-23). The king is saved and the story apparently goes on. But some time later (in the middle of the story about the planned massacre) the king had trouble sleeping so he read back through the logs that were kept of the goings on in the kingdom and was reminded of this assassination attempt and he asked an important question about what was done to reward him for his dedicated service (Esther 6). It turned out that nothing had been done, so the king followed up and rewarded Mordecai.

I share all of these verses and this story from Esther for several reasons. First, there’s no reason whatsoever to ever think or assume you know everything. Everyone forgets things and everyone can only remember or know or be exposed to so much. It’s one of the reasons the internet is so powerful and such an important tool for our lives today. Second, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help or a second opinion. Since we’ve already established we don’t know everything, it follows that someone else certainly knows something you don’t and you can tap into their knowledge. Third, keep learning! I keep notes about lots of stuff because I want to make sure I take care of things or to remember things, and as we saw with the story of Mordecai and the king, notes of those kind can make sure that you’re following through on the important things in your life, as well as to keep a record for those who come after you.

One final thought: wisdom only does good if you do something with it. It’s important to keep learning and to connect with others, but only if you’re going to do something with that knowledge because there are people out there in the world who could greatly benefit from what you know. For example imagine learning all you can about cancer and never doing anything with that knowledge, it sounds silly, right? Whether you do more learning or sharing this week doesn’t matter, what does matter is that you’re taking time to both learn and contribute your wisdom to the world.

What God Asks of Us

Recently I have been thinking about the plans that God has for our lives and how they all work out. So today I thought I would share some verses I came across about what God asks of us and calls us to:

To be forgiving: “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13

To live with honor: “If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Romans 14:8

To live with and show mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience: “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

To do what is right, love mercy and be humble: “No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

To pursue righteousness and unfailing love: “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.” Proverbs 21:21

To be a servant: “‘The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.'” Matthew 23:11-12

The things God has called us to and asked of us aren’t things we have to do alone, nor can we, they all require that we work with others to make it happen. This week I encourage you to choose one of the things God has called you to and make it a part of your life.  God doesn’t ask us to do or be things without a reason, I pray that He reveals some of that to you as you work with Him this week.

Reminders from God

Sometimes we get so caught up in life that we forget to stop and take a moment, or we’re so focused on one direction that we can’t see the way God is trying to lead us.  Let’s take a look at some of the reminders in the Bible:

There’s a lot we can’t see, and a lot to hope for:
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”  Hebrews 11:1

Use your words wisely:
“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”  Proverbs 15:1

Live with joy:
“I will be filled with joy because of you.  I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.”  Psalm 9:2

If God can forgive and be merciful, can’t we?:
“But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love.”  Nehemiah 9:7b

God saves us, leads us and teaches us:
“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.”  Psalm 25:5

God is generous, gracious, and loving:
“Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.”  1 Timothy 1:14

We belong to God, and are to worship Him:
“For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship…”  Acts 27:23 ESV

Choose patience:
“Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.”  Ecclesiastes 7:8

Don’t give up:
“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”  Philippians 3:14

Each of our days include thousands of interactions, experiences and relationships, each with the potential to teach us something, help us heal in some way, make us a better person, put us in a position to help someone else, or reveal another aspect of who God is to us and who we are to Him.  It’s up to us to be open to where life takes us and where God sends us, and to pay attention to what’s going on around us.  What has God shared with you recently?

Taking Time to Listen

Given the events of the last week as well as the big meeting between two world powers happening somewhere half way around the world, today I thought we’d take a look at the words of Proverbs 8:33: “Listen to my instruction and be wise. Don’t ignore it.”

My heart hurts whenever someone chooses to end their life before God has determined it’s their time. The world lost two public figures last week to suicide, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. While we may never know what truly caused them to make that decision, many who choose suicide do so because they don’t have hope, don’t believe life could get better, don’t feel heard or have been so beaten down they can’t take it anymore. Statistics show that on average over 100 people choose suicide each day, which is a really scary number, and means there are thousands of hurting families out there.

The Bible teaches us that we should love our neighbors, that we should be giving and support each other, that we should look out for women and children, to trust that the God who knows the petals on a flower and all the creatures of the sea could look out for the little details of our lives, and that God has a plan for good for our lives. But these are not assurances that everyone knows because not everyone knows the Bible.

These aren’t just spiritual messages, they’re life messages. Anyone can love, listen and be compassionate, regardless of race, sex, age, location, or language. Are you taking the time to listen to the people in your life? To the ways they’re trying to help you and things they’re trying to tell you? I encourage you to choose love and compassion this week, to stop and listen when people speak, to make time to listen to what God is trying to tell you, and make time for those who are most important to you.

A Sweet Touch of Kindness

We’re nearing the end of Lent with the arrival of the Easter holidays starting on Sunday with Palm Sunday, and today we were able to celebrate the arrival of spring. Some of us have a spiritual practice of giving something up for Lent, but spring is known for the arrival of new things and Easter is really about a fresh (forever) start. So today I thought we’d talk about something you can start fresh this spring, something that’s Kingdom inspired, as shared in Proverbs 16:24:

“Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”

Kind words are one of the least expensive but sometimes most challenging things we can do. It’s easy to keep our mouths closed and a little too easy to pass on gossip or say something that’s more disparaging than constructive criticism. However, with a little practice I believe we can make kind words not only something that’s sweet, but easy going down too. I think the best place to start is with whatever is easy for you. If it’s easy for you to thank the cashiers, start with consistently thanking them. If it’s easy for you to send a nice, meaningful thought to your partner each day, start with that. If it’s to offer kind words to pets that have been severely neglected or abused by volunteering at animal shelters, start with that. Find something kind that feels good to you and you feel comfortable doing and do it every day, multiple times a day.

As anyone who has tried to lose weight or get in shape knows, one meal or one workout doesn’t an ultimate goal reach. You have to be consistently working on those meals and workouts and starting with small steps and growing to bigger ones if you want to get to your target weight or activity level. The more you’re kind in ways that are practical, normal and easy for you, the easier it will be to branch out into other ways of being kind and saying kind things to others.

What kindness practice will you start today?

Ask, Seek, Knock: Success Steps

In thinking about one of our topics for the month, success, today I want to talk about a passage you’re probably familiar with, Matthew 7:7-8: “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” This passage about asking, seeking and knocking establishes a great guideline for us to consider throughout our days and what goes on in our lives.

Ask:
“‘No one has ever seen, no one has ever heard, no one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.’ But God has shown us these things through the Spirit.” I Corinthians 2:9-10
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” James 1:5
“Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.” Proverbs 12:15

First, asking is important because it means we’re willing to admit that we don’t know everything and are willing to learn. However we’re not always great at asking questions. Too often we ask the wrong questions, questions that don’t give us the answers we need because they’re not the right questions. We can get too busy asking things like “why me” and “how could you” instead of asking questions that will help us get the necessary answers and find solutions and help for our questions. Second, James 1 makes a point of letting us know it’s good to ask questions. God doesn’t criticize us for asking questions, only for thinking we know more than He does.

Seek
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Romans 8:35
“Your laws please me; they give me wise advice.” Psalm 119:24
“The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace.” Psalm 29:11

Asking questions is important because they give us directions to learn and move in. If we don’t ask questions we’ll never be able to figure out what we don’t know and what God wants us to do with our lives. Once we’ve asked the questions we hopefully receive some wisdom and knowledge to use. We start our search with the knowledge that God will not be separated from us by the challenges we face and will give us the strength and peace to learn what we must.

Knock
“May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed.” Psalm 20:4
My father taught me, “Take my words to heart. Follow my commands, and you will live” Proverbs 4:4
“It is very sad that people leave the world just as they came. So what does a person gain from ‘trying to catch the wind’? They only get days that are filled with sadness and sorrow. In the end, they are troubled, sick, and angry.” Ecclesiastes 5:16-17

In the very action of knocking we’re going from learning to doing. You can’t knock without taking action. There’s not much good to asking the right questions and getting advice unless you do something with it. Throughout the Bible God encourages us to be wise and live lives that reflect the wisdom we’re given or find. Don’t waste your life, your lessons and your abilities, choose to make something of it all if not for you but because your lessons and your willingness to knock may be the difference between life and death for someone.

What questions will you ask, learning will you do and actions will you take this week?

Spiritual Labor

As we look ahead to this weekend and Labor Day here in the US, I thought we’d take a look at a few verses from the Bible about work and what God says about work.  A few of the results caught me by surprise, so as we head into the new month we may take time to dive deeper into a few of them.

Work:
“He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” Colossians 3:23

“The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do.” Deuteronomy 28:12

“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!” Proverbs 14:23

“I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned.” Ecclesiastes 2:18

“Whatever you do, do well.” Ecclesiastes 9:10a

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” Zechariah 4:10a

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9

“Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval.” 2 Timothy 2:15

“When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned.” Romans 4:4

“Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.” Romans 12:11

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24

God and work:
“But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”” John 5:17

“On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.” Genesis 2:2

“Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.” Psalm 127:1a

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” Psalm 8:3-4

“For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” Isaiah 64:4

“For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.” Romans 1:16

“God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.” 1 Corinthians 12:6

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

What are your thoughts on (spiritual) work?

Concise Communications

Our conversations about listening this month have really reminded me about the value of being a good communicator. If you’re really a good listener you’ll know how to ask questions that clarify what someone else is talking about, you’ll know how to talk to others in a way that doesn’t offend but still communicates your point, you’ll know how to communicate something in a concise but not too brief fashion and you’ll know when to shut up. Presentations, events and speeches aside, the majority of what we do should be listening and thinking. Why? Because there’s lots of things being said in the world and too many aren’t helpful and only add to the overall noise.

As you can tell I’m a writer, and I love to think and talk about communication. Whenever an issue is brought up by a client about a situation in their life or business one of my first questions is about something communication related, because all too often it’s a lack of communication or a miscommunication that created or exacerbated the issue. Of course communication does largely depend on being able to speak the same language and understand each other, two things that are prevalent challenges in our world, whether you’re a police officer trying to take a report or a parent trying to understand your son/daughter who has autism.

I’ve read many a book or article and heard some speeches that I’ve thought were too short and definitely could have been longer (or I would have enjoyed the story continuing). But I’ve also run into a few books, some articles, and too many speakers that run on and on and I’m exhausted by the time they’ve finished, if I even made it that far. Which is what we’re focusing on today, the value of using fewer rather than more words. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t completely explain the situation or that it’s OK to talk in one and two word sentences (if you can call them that).

We all can work on learning how to communicate in a way that gets our point across, answers the question, is polite to those listening, doesn’t wander or go on many tangents, doesn’t waste precious time, and takes into account the very short attention span of many people. God has given us the ability to speak and communicate with each other, are you respecting and honoring Him with your words?

“A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered.” Proverbs 17:27

Thankful for Criticism

This month we’re talking about being thankful.  It’s a topic that is encouraging and brings hope when you think about it typically because it is all about looking for the good and choosing to focus on the good and not the challenges or the problems.  But today I want to take a different perspective and talk about Proverbs 15:31-32 which says:

“If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.”  

Some people are really quick to jump up and offer criticism, it’s always easier to see ways others can improve.  We also don’t really like thinking about our own failures so sometimes we look for the failures of others to hopefully find that they’ll eclipse what we’ve done wrong.  Can we learn from the mistakes of others? Absolutely.  It’s a great idea to learn from their mistakes so that we hopefully can improve on their decisions.  But the simple truth is that everyone screws up at one point in time or another (and most of us do it on a daily basis).

But the real challenge presented in these verses is that it’s really hard to ask for criticism or guidance about your failures.  It’s not easy to ask others to criticize you or something you’ve created and offer feedback, especially when you think you’ve done something really good and others don’t have as much excitement over it as you do.  And then if you do work up the courage to ask for the feedback and they come back with a laundry list of things you can improve on, it can be discouraging.

However, as these verses point out one of the best things you can do is to get constructive criticism (key word there is constructive), and look for ways you can improve yourself. God may have designed you as perfect but that’s not who we are right now, we’ve all got growing to do before we reach that point.  So this week I encourage you to reach out to trusted friends or even to a mentor or someone who doesn’t know you personally and ask them for feedback on how you can grow through the things that are challenging you most right now.  You don’t have to fix everything at once, but you should take at least one forward step each day.

Humbly Choosing Joy

This month we’re talking about enjoying life, along with the typical Halloween topics.  One of the best reasons to enjoy life and make it a point to do things you enjoy is because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  Tomorrow could be a better day than today (something those of us who have had a bad day certainly hope for), or it might bring serious challenges and require you to make changes in your life, or it might even be your last day.  I’m not the type of person who lives life to the absolute fullest like some people do, but I certainly make it a point to have at least a little fun and joy in each and every day, even if it’s something as simple as having a cup of tea.

But on the other hand I don’t make lightly of the gift that life is or criticize those who can’t find even a little joy in each day.  It’s not something everyone can instantly do, it’s a skill that has to be honed typically as adults because we’ve lost the gift that just about everyone has as a child of appreciating life and being able to see the gifts in each day, even if they don’t seem that remarkable to someone who has lived for several decades.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow are gifts, even if we don’t see them as such yet.  As we head into some of the busiest times of the year there will be a lot on your plate and in your life.  Sometimes all that busyness will drive you crazy and you’ll just want to be done with it.  But I would encourage you to step back and give in to the temptation to truly enjoy it.  Don’t get mad that the Hanukkah and Christmas stuff is out in stores, think about which carols you’re going to sing in your head while going trick-or-treating with your kids.  Don’t rant and rave at the bad driver in front of you, choose to be thankful you’re a better driver than them.  Don’t get mad at your kids when they don’t do well on a test, take it as a lesson and choose to work harder with them on understanding the subject for the next test and talk with them about what didn’t go right.  Don’t give up on a family member because they’ve chosen an addiction and can’t follow through with treatment, remember the good times and be there to support them when they do try treatment.

There’s always more than one way to approach a situation, will you join me in choosing joy?

“Don’t brag about tomorrow, since you don’t know what the day will bring.”  Proverbs 27:1