How’s your heart doing?
Proverbs 4: Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.
I try to keep an eye on my weight and sometimes I do a better job at it than I do at other times. I also pay attention to my bank account. Each month I take time to balance my checkbook and, while I’m no expert at it, I watch my retirement account, trying to do what’s prudent with it. There are lots of things to watch: maintenance on the car, paying the electric bill, mowing the lawn. The wise man of the Proverbs reminds me to keep an eye on my heart. Of course, he isn’t talking about lowering cholesterol. It’s the spiritual heart he’s talking about. I want to be sure I keep my heart centered on the Lord and to know that, as I seek him and his Kingdom, other things will take care of themselves. It isn’t that I’m to neglect watching my weight and my bank account, it’s that all else functions in my life as it should only when my heart is right with the Lord.
Take Away: It’s not a bad idea to do a “spiritual checkup” once in a while…just to keep an eye on things.
God’s the cook, I’m just a waiter
Proverbs 3: Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God’s hand for that person.
The highest honor in life is to work with God in what he’s doing in the world. It’s amazing to realize that the Almighty, the Creator of the Universe, will call on me to assist him in some manner. Jesus uses his disciples to assist him in performing miracles. For instance, when he feeds the 5000 he uses them as waiters who distribute the food. Obviously, transforming a sack lunch into a truck load of food is the biggest part, but the disciples are pressed into service, assisting in the miracle. The wise man of the Proverbs reminds me that I ought to be aware of the needs I encounter in life and realize that God will use me as his assistant to meet those needs. I know that he doesn’t have to have my help. After all, he could rain down manna from heaven. However, I also know that he invites me into partnership with himself. Again, the highest honor in life is to be invited to labor with God.
Take Away: How might the Lord use me, in even some small minor way, to assist him in his purposes today?
Learning to listen
Proverbs 3: Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go.
We tend to think that hearing from God is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or maybe that it’s something only saints on earth experience. It isn’t true. The Lord created us for fellowship with himself. From the beginning he walked with Adam in the cool of the day. I don’t have to do some extreme thing to hear from God. All I have to do is listen. But that’s a problem isn’t it? Hearing the Voice of God in the ordinary flow of life takes practice. If I want to hear him speak when I’m sitting in the emergency room of a hospital or when a precious friend is pouring his heart out to me seeking spiritual council I have to practice listening for him when I’m not in the pressure cooker of life. I’m certain that God speaks, and that he does so constantly. Sadly, I am also sure that I’m not a very good listener. For this proverb to work for me; for me to listen for God’s voice everywhere I go, I need to practice the presence of God every day. The way to accomplish that is for me to discipline myself to meet God by creating quiet places in life where I can learn to hear his Voice. Then, when I’m out there in the “everywhere you go” part of life, I will have trained my spiritual ear to recognize the Master’s Voice.
Take Away: It takes practice to learn to hear the Voice of God in the noisy situations of life.
Grabbing the gusto, looking to eternity
Proverbs 1: When you grab all you can get, that’s when it happens: the more you get, the less you have.
As I read this passage I can’t help but think of the beer commercial that tells us we only go ’round once in life so we’d better grab all the gusto we can. I actually think there’s some truth to that. Life is a gift of God filled with many wonderful opportunities and blessings. I can’t sit around talking about “pie in the sky” and get the most out of my life. There’s a lot of living to do right now. The wise man of the Proverbs, though, gives me the other side of that coin. If I make my life completely about living in the here and now, ignoring all that is yet to come, well, I’m setting myself up for a great fall. Life is more than “right now.” This life might be considered to be a warm up for eternity. So, grabbing the gusto can make sense, but that approach must be kept on a leash and not allowed to just run wild because there’s much more to our existence than just going ’round once. Or, as Jesus says in Matthew 6:20, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Take Away: One way to live the best life possible in the here and now is to live with an eye on eternity.
Put God first
Proverbs 1: Start with God.
The Bible tells us about God and about ourselves. Many of its pages contain a history of God and us, telling us not only where we have been but God’s desire for us in the future. However, there’s more than even that. The Lord doesn’t just want all of us to go to heaven when we die. Rather, he wants us to live the best lives possible in the here and now. That’s what the book of Proverbs is about. These wise sayings aren’t written to tell us our history and they aren’t written to point to way to heaven. They tell us how to live the wisest way today. So, as we begin to read this collection of insights into life we’re immediately given the foundational secret: “Start with God — the first step in learning is bowing down to God.” Theoretically, I might get everything else right, but if I miss this number one concept before long it will all tumble down. Wisdom begins with God and because of that the satisfied, complete life starts here too. Jesus says it this way, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Take Away: When we build our lives around the Lord we have the potential of building a rich, satisfying life…“Start with God.”
Praise God with the sound of the saxophone
Psalm 150: Praise with the blast on the trumpet.
This journey through the Psalms has been nothing close to exhaustive. I find it challenging to write devotionally from material that’s already devotional in the first place! I can get my teeth into a passage that has a story in it but scripture like the Psalms is more challenging to me. Because of that I’ve hopped and skipped my way along and I know I haven’t done this book of the Bible anything close to the justice it deserves. Today, I find myself at this final Psalm and it stirs a good memory. When I was in high school I was a member of the band and at a banquet for the band I was asked to bring a short devotional (yes, we did stuff like that in public school back in the olden days!). I picked this Psalm and had fun reading about all the instruments that can be used to praise the Lord. After the banquet one of my fellow band members complained to me that I didn’t mention his instrument, the saxophone. We laughed about it at the time, but here I am decades later remembering that event and being reminded that there are all kinds of ways to worship: playing the trumpet, drama, singing, preaching, and, yes, even by playing the saxophone! The psalm writer sums it all up by saying, to put it in my own words, “Just do it!”
Take Away: Whatever it is you have – musical ability, teaching ability, using a hammer and saw—whatever you have, find ways to use it in praising the Lord.
Playing hide and seek with God
Psalm 139: Your reassuring presence, coming and going.
It’s no surprise that this is a favorite psalm for many of God’s people across the years. It’s a celebration of God’s connection to our lives. The writer doesn’t have any concept of an absentee God who spun the world up to speed and then moved on to other things. He doesn’t think of God as aloof and disinterested. His God is an involved God, deeply connected to his life. The psalmist can see the hand of this involved God when he looks back on the events of his life. He has no doubt that the Lord will continue to be connected to him. David imagines his playing a game of “hide and seek” with God, not that he wants to be hidden from God for a moment, but that he wants to be sure of God’s knowledge of his life no matter where he might be. In this imaginary game, David goes mountain climbing, and then spelunking in the depths. As he arrives at those remote, hidden places it’s no surprise to him that God is already there waiting on him. The psalmist finds that God always finds him in both the extremes of life and the common places as well. This psalm speaks to all of us who love the Lord and don’t want to live for even one moment outside his grace and mercy.
Take Away: Where ever I am, God is there first.
A song of praise
Psalm 138: Thank you! Everything in me says, “Thank you!”
In this psalm David immerses himself in thanksgiving. God is good to him and he’s filled to overflowing with thanks. He imagines the angels of heaven stepping aside and stilling their voices to hear his song of thanks. That grateful spirit drives his worship and gives him strength. If David, without the story of Good Friday, who lives hundreds of years before some unknown person dreams up doing the horror of doing executions on a cross; if David can be overwhelmed with thanksgiving then I ought to at least be ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with him in this song of praise. So today, David’s song of thanks becomes mine. Thank you, Lord — thank you from the depth of my being — thank you with all my strength. Angels step back. Listen as I call out to God my song of thanks.
Take Away: Praise the Lord – he’s worthy!
Can’t we all just get along?
Psalm 133: How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along!
Here’s one of those “praise chorus” length psalms, just a few sentences long. It’s another of those songs sung by the pilgrims as they make their way up to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. The topic of this short chorus is “unity.” I can just imagine a family making their way to Jerusalem to worship. Maybe the kids are a little tired and irritable and start picking on one another. Mom and dad start singing this song about getting along! Not only that, but as they journey to Jerusalem the pilgrims anticipate not only worship, but the deep fellowship they will enjoy with their fellow worshipers. They’ve come from the four corners of their country to worship together and that’s a beautiful thing. In this dry, arid land, the imagery of the first High Priest, Aaron, being anointed with and overabundance of oil sounds refreshing to them, so they use that image and the picture of abundant dew falling on the parched ground to describe the refreshment they feel in their souls as they join God’s people in worship. As we go through our weeks, dealing with everything life throws at us, we too anticipate the time we have with our brothers and sisters in Christ. That, too, is refreshing to our souls.
Take Away: it’s a beautiful thing when God’s people get together in harmony.
Take it easy
Psalm 127: Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?
Wise King Solomon is credited with writing both this psalm and the 72nd as well, and there’s considerable wisdom here. He reminds us that unless God is the builder a project will produce nothing worthwhile and unless God guards a city all other efforts at defense are a waste of time. It’s the next phrase that gets my attention today, “It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?” Since it’s true that God is the One who builds things that last perhaps we can relax a bit. Without the hand of God all that we accomplish by working 16 hours a day will be exhaustion. It isn’t that we have nothing worthwhile to do. The Lord graciously invites us to labor in his fields and be coworkers with him. He goes with us out into our daily lives with an agenda of his own. The reminder of this psalm is that our Master also enjoys giving us time off for rest and, especially, to enjoy our families. As we’ve heard many times, no one, at the end of life says, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office and less with those I love.” Remember, the direction given in this psalm is from the wisest man who ever lived!
Take Away: Life is a gift of God to be appreciated and enjoyed.