Choose Hope

“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.”

Proverbs 23:17-18 (NIV)

Have you ever looked across the way and thought life was better over there than it was on your side of the fence? Whether it was envy of another’s person’s house, car, family, appearance, relationships, wealth, or personality, whatever you found yourself jealous of, remember Proverbs 23:17-18. These verses exhort us not to be envious of others, but instead to place our focus on revering the Lord and his commands.

The importance of this idea is repeated multiple times in Psalms and Proverbs:

Psalm 37:1
“Do not fret over doers of evil; do not envy those who do wrong.”

Psalm 73:3
“For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

Proverbs 24:1
“Do not envy wicked men or desire their company;”

Proverbs 24:19
“Do not fret over evildoers, and do not be envious of the wicked.”

Proverbs 28:14
“Blessed is the man who is always reverent, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.”

In the verses above, both David and his son Solomon tell us not to envy others. Why should we not envy others? Solomon explains in Proverbs 23:18 that when we replace envy of others with a fear of the Lord, we have a hope that ensures eternal life in heaven. He also tells us in Proverbs 14:30 that envy will rot our bones. So, in classic couplet style, Proverbs 23:18 provides us with two simple choices:

  1. envy others and find ruin and hopelessness or
  2. fear the Lord and embrace hope and eternal life.

What does it mean to “fear the Lord”? Fearing the Lord is having a deep respect, or an awe for God. This means we respect his commands, seek his wisdom, and rely on the Holy Spirit to help us through our temptations and struggles. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, which in essence makes them a “god” to us, we keep our focus on the Lord and what he says about us.

During different times of my life, I have envied others: their extravagant yearly trips, their flawless complexions, their luxury cars, their close friendships. But wisdom tells me not to compare myself to them but, rather, to be who God made me to be (Ps. 139), and to be content in this life (Phil. 4:12).

God had an intentional plan when he gave me my own unique looks and talents, and I should celebrate those things and use them for his glory (1 Pe. 4:10-11 and Mt. 5:14-16). When I consider the struggles of Paul (persecuted, chased, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and snake-bitten, to name a few), and hear his words on being content regardless of his lot in life, surely I can find contentment, too. Having a humble and grateful heart help with this. I am fearing the Lord when I acknowledge that everything I have comes from him, and when I praise him for the things he has given me.

Is there anything you envy right now? Release that envy to the Lord, thank him for who he has made you and what he has given you, and enjoy the hope that only comes from God.

 

 

The One and Only Source of Wisdom

“A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.”

Pr. 17:24 (NIV)

It was a sensory and information overload to me. As a young writer in my 20s, I went to a conference in New York City and realized how much I had taken in when I returned home to my quiet apartment in Birmingham, Ala. I was so happy to be home, away from the non-stop sounds of horns honking, people murmuring and trash trucks making their way down the streets in the middle of the night; the sights of bright lights, crowds of people, and skyscrapers that seemed to never end; and the copious amounts of information given at conference workshops I attended every hour or so for three days.

There was just so much to take in on this trip, that my eyes wandered everywhere to make sure I didn’t miss anything. While this might have made for an interesting trip, it does not make for a good way to live. For, when we try to focus on too many things, we end up focusing on nothing. Like my trip to NYC, there is so much that competes for our attention in our everyday lives that it makes it hard to figure out where best to look for wisdom when we have important decisions to make.

We’re faced with choices all day, every day. Some of those choices have greater implications in our lives than others, but nonetheless each of them affect our lives. With information at the touch of our fingertips, it’s easy to look for wisdom in so many places and forget that true wisdom is found in God’s word.  On the other hand, it’s equally easy to ignore wisdom altogether and try to fill our lives with entertaining things that will keep us from thinking about those tough decisions we have to make. Either way, the result is a wandering eye when we don’t seek God’s wisdom.

My blog post from last week described wisdom as “light” that allows us only to see a short distance because we must trust God with our every step. Proverbs 17:24 implies this same idea in that the wise person keeps his eyes on the wisdom that is set before him. We are to actively seek wisdom (Pr. 2:1-5), but it’s important to understand that wisdom is specifically rooted in God’s word. We know this because wisdom originates from fearing the Lord (Pr. 9:10). Wisdom tells us in Proverbs 8 that she was there with God at Creation, and we know that God, our creator, is all-wise:

Pr. 3:19: “By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place;” (NIV)

Job 12:13: “To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.” (NIV)

Ro. 16:27: “to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (NIV)

Is. 55:9: ““As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (NIV)

God is wisdom, and as Christians, we are to seek his counsel instead of looking for worldly advice or relying on our own insight. Proverbs 17:24 gives us the image of the wise person always keeping wisdom in view. The Hebrew translation of keeping something in view, or in focus, is  pə-nê, meaning “upon the face.” Something that is upon our face is right in front of us.

Practically speaking, we can’t read our Bible every minute of the day, but we can devote a daily time to reading Scripture and praying, and even joining a weekly Bible study. Whatever Bible study looks like in our lives, we should remember that Scripture is the wisdom set before us. It is what we should keep before our faces. Wisdom promises us counsel, sound judgment, understanding and power (Pr. 8:14); honor (Pr. 4:8); and straight paths (Pr. 4:11-12).

In contrast, the foolish person in Proverbs 17:24 looks as far out as he can, looking anywhere and everywhere for an answer or an escape. We have so much information easily available to us through the Internet, that it, like my trip to NYC, can be information overload, which is not true wisdom. God tells us in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (NIV). To find wisdom, we must simply ask for it. There is no need to look far and wide when we know true wisdom is found only in the Lord and as close as his word.

Limited Light

“For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life,”

Pr. 6:23 (NIV)

Don’t you just hate it when a light bulb in your house blows, especially when that means there is total darkness in a room? Blown bulbs always seem to come at the most inconvenient time, too. Because of this, I have been known to make do with a dark room for a few days until we can replace the bulb(s). This happened to me earlier this week when our laundry room light bulbs all needed replacing. I chose to fold laundry in a dark laundry room one night. It was a more challenging task than I anticipated!

Light helps us see everything we need to see. It helps us find our way. In my case earlier this week, light would have helped me match socks and fold clothes better! Just like visible light helps us to see physical things more clearly, God’s light symbolically helps us see wise ways of doing things. Throughout the Bible, the Lord reminds us that having a lamp to light our way is necessary for us to walk carefully along the path of life.

In Pr. 6:23, Solomon uses the images of a lamp and light, just like his father David did in Ps. 119:105. The lamp they are each referring to is wisdom, and that wisdom comes from the Bible. Every word from God is pure and flawless (Pr. 30:5). The Bible is our light that can be trusted.

It’s easy to travel in the daytime when the sun is out and we can see things ahead of us. But, it’s not always possible to travel during the day. And when we have to travel at night, our visibility is limited. The headlights on our car and the streetlights along the road help to illuminate our path, but it is still dark outside, and we can only see as far as our lights will allow.

This is how it is in trusting God for wisdom. He provides a light for us through his word, but we must trust him at all times and only look as far ahead as we can see. We need not worry about those things that are out of view. God wants us to focus on him and not on our worries about what lies ahead. Just like he provided manna and quail for the Israelites in the desert, he will provide for us.

In her devotion book, Jesus Calling, Sarah Young says, “When you try to peer into the future and plan for every possibility, you ignore your constant Companion who sustains you moment by moment.” Instead of fretting over things over the horizon which we can’t see clearly, let’s trust in the moment and walk as far as our lamp allows us each day.