Rescue the perishing
Proverbs 24: Rescue the perishing; don’t hesitate to step in and help.
Fanny Crosby wrote the missionary song that’s based on this proverb. Many a missionary service of years gone by has featured her song “Rescue the Perishing.” Would that the lives of God’s people feature it’s message in this day! The immediate assumption of the proverb is that there are those who are, indeed, perishing. In some cases it’s quite clear that people are in trouble. Their lives are unraveling and it’s plain that things can’t continue as they are. In other cases it takes insight to see what’s happening. People are living ordinary lives and pretty much keeping things together. However, spiritually speaking, they too are perishing. When Jesus stated his mission he gave it in terms of “rescue” saying he came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” As I consider this proverb, I’m challenged to join Jesus in that mission. “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying. Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.”
Take Away: As followers of Jesus we need to join him in his mission to rescue the perishing.
Trust in God, not in chance
Proverbs 22: Don’t gamble on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, hocking your house against a lucky chance.
From the middle of Proverbs 22 through most of chapter 24 we’re given a list of thirty wise sayings collected by Solomon. In fact, this is the first of three such collections, the last being some of Solomon’s own gems. Clearly this wise man is not only a source of wisdom but is a collector of it too. The proverb concerning gambling catches my eye today as gambling is everywhere in our culture. Several states have turned to casinos as an answer to financial shortfalls. Also, there are many state sponsored lotteries. It isn’t unusual to be approached by someone selling raffle tickets in support of some worthy cause. (If I think it is truly worthy, I make a donation but decline taking a ticket.) When I turn on the TV I find shows about poker games. It’s clear that our society is awash with gambling. This isn’t how people of faith are supposed to operate. My hope isn’t that by taking a chance I can get hold of the money of other people who have taken the same chance. The life of faith isn’t about getting all I can from anywhere I can. Rather than gambling on my future by guessing the right lotto numbers I can stake my future on the solid rock of God’s faithfulness to me. Jesus said it’s impossible to serve both God and money. In this proverb, I see the wisdom of avoiding the gambling trap.
Take Away: Our hope is in the Lord, not in picking the right lotto numbers.
Giving my best, depending on a dependable God
Proverbs 21: Do your best, prepare for the worst — then trust God to bring victory.
At one time Jesus is ministering to thousands of people in a remote place. As the day turns to evening some of the disciples think Jesus ought to dismiss the people so they can go home and get something to eat. Jesus replies, “You give them something to eat.” How often do I see a need and then go to the Lord with instructions I think he ought to follow to meet that need? How often does God respond with, “You do it”? My first instinct is to reply, “Well, Lord, you know this is more than I can do, so it’s up to you. I’ll just go find a comfortable spot and watch you in action.” That’s never what the Lord wants me to do. When I see a need, this proverb instructs me to think and plan and make the effort to deal with it. However, at the same time, I’m to keep my eyes on him. In the incident from our Lord’s ministry, it’s actually Jesus who provides the food while the disciples are simply given the responsibility of distributing it. In light of this proverb, I’m reminded that the Lord expects me to get involved and give my best to the situation. At the same time though, I’m to remember that if I’m going to make a real difference I need to depend on a dependable God.
Take Away: The Lord expects us to get involved in meeting the needs I see.
The generosity of God’s people
Proverbs 21: Sinners are always wanting what they don’t have; the God-loyal are always giving what they do have.
One of my favorite people in the Bible is Paul’s first side-kick, Barnabas. His name means “Son of Encouragement;” a nick name given to him by the Apostles. We first meet this encouraging gentleman in Acts 4. There’s a financial need in the young church and Barnabas sells some land he owns and gives the proceeds to the church. As we continue reading in Acts we find that this good man is always unselfish and giving. The wise man of the Proverbs says that a characteristic of a sin dominated world is to want that to which one has no right. Meanwhile, a characteristic of God’s people is freely giving away what they do have. Barnabas is an example of that approach to living and I want my life to be an example of it too.
Take Away: The people of the Lord are a generous people, how can I best demonstrate that today?
Taking our religion outside
Proverbs 21: Clean living before God and justice with our neighbors mean far more to God than religious performance.
I love the church and owe a great deal to it. I was raised in church and most of the big events of my life are associated with it. When properly defined, I believe “religious performance” matters. That is, I think church attendance and activities are important. However, the measure of my religion is more than how I spend an hour or two on Sunday mornings. It includes how I live the rest of the week. This proverb doesn’t diminish the importance of religious matters but it does underscore the importance of taking my faith out of the church and living it in the rest of my life. Aside from extraordinary circumstances religion without the church is destined to become shallow and self-focused. However, religion that stays in the church displeases God and self-deceptive.
Take Away: Religion is best practiced out in the real world, outside the church.
Beginnings and conclusions
Proverbs 20: A bonanza at the beginning is no guarantee of blessing at the end.
Last year we had a new restaurant open in our community. It seemed the whole town decided to try it out. The place was packed out and it looked as though the owners had a real winner on their hands. However, things didn’t work out that way. After that first couple of weeks things really dropped off for them. Finally, the doors closed. The promising start didn’t guarantee a continued success. I’ve seen that happen in people’s spiritual lives too. At the beginning I think that they’re going to be a productive, consistent disciple of Christ. But it simply doesn’t work out. The promise of their lives gets derailed and, in the end not only are we disappointed, but so are they. The tragedy here is that such failure never has to happen. That restaurant might have been doomed from the start. It might be that anyone who knows about such things could have predicted that it won’t work out. However, when it comes to living for Jesus there’s every reason for success. Sometimes it seems that the one who simply decides for Christ and just starts living for him has a better chance of seeing it through than the one who makes a big splash at the beginning. That’s not only the lesson in this proverb, but Jesus’ parable about the sower and the seed makes the same point.
Take Away: When it comes to living for Jesus there’s every reason for success.
My children’s inheritance
Proverbs 20: God-loyal people, living honest lives, make it much easier for their children.
Parents have responsibilities far beyond providing food and shelter for their children. We’re to teach them how to live. In fact, we do teach them whether we want to or not. “Do as I say, not as I do” was dumb the first time it was said and it remains dumb. Kids watch their parents and the values of the parents become theirs. As the years pass grown children are surprised that they not only look more and more like their parents, but they act like them too. This learned behavior can be absolutely destructive as a person finds himself or herself treating their children in some unacceptable way that they, when they were children, promised themselves they would never do. However, there’s a positive side to this. In fact, that’s what God intended when he created us as he did. If I’m faithful to the Lord and honest in my relationships my kids are likely to adopt the same life-style. Their lives will be better lives because of that. The greatest thing I can pass on to my children is not an excellent stock portfolio; it is a rich value system.
Take Away: Ask the Lord to help you be the kind of parent who passes a solid value system on to your children.
Free will with strings attached
Proverbs 19: People ruin their lives by their own stupidity, so why does God always get blamed?
The Proverbs have a strong undercurrent of self-determination that runs counter to the mysticism I hear so often. For instance, a person uses tobacco for years. When they’re diagnosed with cancer, they say, “God gave me cancer as punishment for smoking.” The wise man of the proverbs would say, “No, you gave it to yourself, don’t blame God for it!” Now, I do believe God is active in this world and touching our lives in many ways. Still, I’ve been given free will and with that freedom comes responsibility. I can’t have things both ways, declaring that I’ve been granted the freedom to choose and, at the same time, think that everything that happens to me is brought about by divine intervention. The Lord will walk with me and will guide me in my choices if I’ll allow it. However, he’ll also let me make dumb choices if I insist. When I, in my own free will, decide to get on some toll road I shouldn’t be surprised when I come to a toll booth!
Take Away: The Lord is willing to help us with our choices, but, ultimately, we’ve been granted the freedom to choose.
Love and marriage
Proverbs 18: Find a good spouse, you find a good life — and even more: the favor of God!
Solomon was either the world’s greatest expert on women or else he was the world’s greatest dunce! He married hundreds of women and then tells us that having a good wife promises a man a good life and the blessings of God. Seriously, I know that his marriages were nothing like the marriages of my culture. For him, as Head of State, marriage was part of sealing a treaty between one nation and another. Since Solomon’s influence spread throughout the known world there were lots of treaties to be sealed! With that in mind I’ll cut him some slack on this one. Another thing that brings a smile is that he tells the other side of the story in the next chapter. If finding a good spouse equals having a good life, finding a nagging one, he says, is like having a leaky faucet in the house: drip, drip, drip. Apparently, some of his “treaty wives” weren’t all that much of a blessing! When I put these two proverbs together I see what a powerful influence husbands and wives have on one another. We can become a constant irritation, making the other miserable or we can be a source of joy and blessing. It’s reasonable that every husband and wife take stock once in a while to be sure that their spouse views them as evidence of the favor of God on his or her life.
Take Away: Be a blessing and not a constant “drip, drip, drip” to the person you love the most!
Friends and family
Proverbs 17: Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.
I’ve lived long enough to know that “all kinds of trouble” comes to every life. Sooner or later its each person’s turn to face disappointment and be let down by people and circumstances or be betrayed by their own humanity. At such times it becomes easier to see what and who matters the most to us. I’m thankful today for family of both the “blood line” and the “relationship” variety. There’s power in positive relationships. Even when we’re at the end of ourselves, we can draw strength from those dear ones who stand with us. I’m reminded today that, first, I need to appreciate precious friends and family and not take them for granted even though they love me enough that I could probably get away with it. Also, I remember that I’m privileged to be such a friend to some. It’s an honor, but it’s also a responsibility that I must take seriously no matter what the “weather.”
Take Away: Thank the Lord for friends and family and, thank the Lord for the privilege of being friend and family to others.