LISTEN TO YOUR PARENTS!

“Pay attention to what your father and mother tell you, my child. Their teaching will improve your character”.

Prov 1:8,9 GNB

Some people listen to their parents – and blessed are those parents whose children absorb their advice. It is perhaps more common for a young man or woman to say, “I used to listen to what my father used to say and as I grew up through my teens I was embarrassed at how ignorant the old man was. But when I was thirty I was surprised to see how much he’d learnt in the intervening years”.

It is true that we do learn the longer we live and so parents become more knowledgeable as they go through life – and hence more capable of advising their children. Some parents not only gain in head knowledge, they grow in experience and in wisdom as well. This means that a parent of sixty years of age will be even better equipped to advise a son or daughter of thirty-five than they were when their children were storming their way through the turbulent teens. It is therefore usual but not automatic that parents will be in a position to guide and advise their children.

Of more importance than head knowledge is the development of character. Parents can guide younger people with insight, understanding, and care in the development of personhood. And Jesus had one memorable incident when he and his parents missed each other! Nevertheless, we can assume that he and his parents exercised loving care towards each other and that he learnt much about the fatherhood of God from the fatherhood of Joseph in his own family circle. And he learnt carpentry in his father’s workshop too – useful to be able to earn a living!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help all parents to guide and help their children.

DON’T BE STUPID!

“Stupid people have no respect for wisdom and refuse to learn”.

Prov 1:7 GNB

It is amazing how many stupid people there are – and always have been! You find them in all walks of life, doing all manner of silly things. There are stupid males and stupid females, stupid young and stupid old. Some educated people are stupid in terms of using their common sense. Here is a beautiful young woman of twenty years. She attracts a qualified young man and they date for a couple of years. One night they get into an argument and in a temper she goes off and gets drunk. Then she drives her car home and wraps it around a tree along the way – end of car! But she had got good marks all the way through school.

It makes sense to have faith, to believe in God and to follow his ways. King Solomon, the fountain of wisdom for the Hebrews said that only stupid people didn’t listen to and learn the wisdom in which he was a specialist. Absorbing the wisdom of the ages puts you in touch with God. It teaches you about God, about faith, about worship and about living. It teaches you about relationships with the opposite sex, about managing money, about friendships, about society, about work. It helps you to develop “sanctified common sense”, which is “godly gumption” or dedicating common sense to God in faith and trust.

If you would attain to the wisdom advocated in Proverbs, begin by giving your life to Jesus Christ. That will begin an exploration of the greatest of all mysteries. And it will be the beginning of your search for wisdom and practical Christian living. And the more you apply these proverbs the more you will grow in wisdom in all things.The apostle Paul, listing the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, said that the Spirit gives messages of wisdom to some Christian disciples. He also refers to Christ as “the power and wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24 NIV). It is a Christian thing to be wise. So don’t be stupid!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to be wise and to trust in you.

WHERE IT ALL BEGINS

“To have knowledge, you must first have reverence for the Lord”.

Prov 1:7 GNB

The foundation for the wise, strong, intelligent, honest and just life is God. It all begins in reverence for someone outside of oneself – someone bigger, wiser, stronger, more powerful and infinitely more loving. Someone has said, “Life is not so much a problem to be solved as a mystery to be explored” (E.H. Peterson, The Gift, p64). But we want to approach everything as if it were a problem to be analysed, weighed, measured and sorted out. And God is the greatest mystery of all. When we worship him, praise him, bow in adoration and pray to him then we are engaging in reverence for him. And that is the first step or movement towards wisdom and knowledge. Reverence for God.

The ancient Hebrews had none of our scientific knowledge, no mathematics, space exploration or medicine – but they acquired wisdom because they observed reverence for God, exploring the mystery of his nature and his creation. It was when Moses was worshipping God on Mount Sinai that God revealed to him the Ten Commandments which were to form the structure and fabric of their national and social life. This meant that the whole pattern of their religious, family and common life all stemmed from God. And the commandments were their great gift to the rest of humanity.

If you would attain to the wisdom advocated in Proverbs, begin by giving your life to Jesus Christ. That will begin an exploration of the greatest of all mysteries. And it will be the beginning of your search for wisdom and practical Christian living. And the more you apply these proverbs the more you will grow in wisdom in all things.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to reverence you in all things.

EXTRA SHEEN FOR THE BRIGHT ONES

“These proverbs can even add to the knowledge of the wise and give guidance to the educated”.

Prov 1:5 GNB

A thoughtful person once observed, “In the church we have a strong theology for the weak, but a weak theology for the strong”. That means that we have something to say that can help people who are lost, confused, failed or fearful. But that doesn’t say anything to people who are at the top of the pile, who are successful, well-off, and “doing nicely thank you”. In fact, the Bible’s main message for such people is that of stewardship – use your gifts and strengths for the glory of God.

There were “top of the pile” people in the days of the Old Testament. They did not just emerge when universities developed a few hundred years ago. People who study and know the Bible are not walking encyclopaedias. Many of them are humble searchers after truth. They know enough to realize how little they know. The subject is vast – more than any one brain can encompass. But the wisdom the Bible advocates is not so much intellectual book knowledge but practical living. In fact, the Book of Proverbs could be described as “A Handbook of Practical Christian Living in the Middle of the Old Testament”. Even the “clued up” can be tempted, make a mess of things and “come a cropper”. In these proverbs there is advice for those tempted sexually, for business managers, and for family relationships, leaders and those who fail. And those who are successful need to go on and accept responsibility and leadership roles, learning more of God, encountering the greatness of his glory and the glory of his grace.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, enable the strong Christians to be a strength to the weak.

LIVING INTELLIGENTLY AND HONESTLY

“(These proverbs) can teach you how to live intelligently and how to be honest, just and fair”.

Prov 1:3 GNB

Throughout our childhood we were constantly being encouraged to learn how to live with integrity when we grew up. There were stories of heroes who did just this. We were told that “Honesty is the best policy” and similar values. We were also fed stories of those who did not live up to this kind of standard with warnings about the dire consequences that happened to “the bad lot”.

In ancient Hebrew society there were three groups of people who taught people the wise and godly way to live. One group was the prophets who brought messages direct from God and whose messages were prefaced by the phrase “Thus saith the Lord”. Then there were the priests who taught the Ten Commandments and all the elaborate out workings of the Law. Then there were wise men who were usually the scribes who taught a collection of proverbs, maxims and statements of wisdom such as have been collected in the Book of Proverbs. With the passing of the centuries the wise men seem to have become less prominent. But the sayings of King Solomon were treasured and passed down. He achieved an enduring reputation for wisdom.

Christian disciples want to live intelligently and honestly. Often a person’s Christian character will itself serve as an indication of his or her integrity. In a world where lies are regarded as normal and many people are unreliable a Christian character is something to be prized and cherished. This is especially so in the work place where we are tested severely at times. Be known as a Christian disciple and live with integrity.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to live intelligently and with integrity.

WISDOM AND GOOD ADVICE

“Here are proverbs that will help you to recognise wisdom and good advice”.

Proverbs 1:2 GNB

Most people like the Book of Proverbs. It is much easier to understand than many of the other parts of the Bible. And we all admire people who are wise and knowledgeable, wishing that we were ourselves. The whole purpose of living life under God’s sovereign rule is to avail ourselves of the wisdom that comes from knowing God and living according to his guidance and advice. So proverbs takes us straight there.

It is wise to have faith in God. Faith makes sense of a world bedevilled by evil and if you live without the “advice” of God you will do many things that are unwise. You will be led into more temptations and believe many superstitions that would not bother you if you followed the way of Christ. Most people of faith do not live with their heads in the clouds as plenty of unbelievers suppose. Their faith enables them to live with their two feet on the ground. This is why the Book of Proverbs offers the Bible’s version of wisdom which is practical common sense lived out in the day-to- day contacts of life and following the advice of God.

It is good and sensible to try to be wise as a Christian disciple. You can make plenty of awful mistakes if you are not wise. And the world is waiting to make a fool of you and exact a heavy price of you if you make a habit of being unwise. John Wesley said to his ministers, “You will need to have your wits about you”. The same applies to every Christian disciple.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to seek to be wise and follow God’s advice.

GOD STAYS WITH YOU

“Blessed be God; he didn’t turn a deaf ear, he stayed with me, loyal in his love”.

Ps 66:20 EHP

People sometimes lose heart in their Christian discipleship. This is usually because something bad happens to them in life generally and they think that God has let them down. They lose a job, or a family breaks up, or they get involved in a conflict situation, or they lose some money. They think God has no right to allow such things to happen to them and that is probably because in their youth they were taught that to be a Christian disciple meant to live permanently on a “high”. Another factor that often causes people to feel let down by God is when he doesn’t answer their prayers with a straightforward “Yes” every time.

The psalmist who wrote Psalm 66 had thought through a lot of what is involved in relating to God. And he had faced some tough situations and been in many kinds of trouble. He had learnt that, despite some appearances to the contrary, God did not abandon him. Rather the reverse, God more than anyone else, stood by him and stayed with him. In fact, he was a living presence and a loving presence come what may. And in the rough, tough world in which the psalmist made his way he needed someone of strength and durability to help him along.

God will stay with you too. However rough the way; however contradictory it might seem; however many temptations you may have to face; however compelling the arguments telling you that there isn’t a God might sound, he will stay by you and stand by you. You can trust him all the way. Try it.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, in all my trials and tribulations, stay with me I pray.

A TWO-WAY RELATIONSHIP

“God has surely listened and has heard my prayer”.

Ps 66:19 NIV

Many Christian disciples find prayer difficult. They find it difficult to pray in the first place, except when they have a specific need for which to call upon God for his help and mercy. Then they usually wonder if the form of words that they use is “right”. They listen to the prayers that are used in Church services, acknowledge that the language used there is something they cannot manage, and so trust that God knows what they want without them ever needing to say anything. Another problem they have is that many books about prayer teach that there are various techniques that you have to use to get God to answer. If you don’t get the answer you are looking for it means that you have slipped up somewhere along the line. And some feel that they are just too unworthy to communicate with God.

In fact, to pray is to communicate with God – it’s as simple as that. It is to tell him your worries, your cares, your mistakes, your needs, your sins, your hopes and your fears. And also, it is to be quiet and silent, to wait and to listen for his word to you – which might be a word of command, or reassurance, of comfort, or even of rebuke. The Psalmist found that he was involved in two-way communication with God. He spoke to God and God spoke to him.

Speak simply and naturally when you pray to God. Know that in response to your prayers he may say, “Yes”, “No” or even “Wait a while”. Keep on praying. God loves to have you conversing with him. Keep trying.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, teach me to pray.

PRAYER AND PURITY

“If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened”.

Ps 66:18 NIV

There used to be a teaching amongst “evangelical Christians” that one reason for prayers not being answered was that God could not work with anyone who sinned. This meant therefore that sin on the part of the pray-er could block God’s actions in responding to the worshipper’s prayers. It is quite probable that where a person did sin that person was less likely to pray at all, never mind get negative answers. Furthermore, the person who does pray, and prays regularly, usually exercises this discipline because the grace of God and the Holy Spirit are at work in that person’s life and they are far less likely to sin. A pure life is not something achieved by the effort of the disciple, although discipline is needed. A life of uprightness, loyalty, and discipleship comes about through grace and is itself a gift of grace. The psalmist had a firm trust in God that God would answer his prayers. His “attitude of mind, however, must not be interpreted as a boasting of the merit of his prayers; on the contrary, within the context of the whole psalm, it is to be judged as an affirmation of faithfulness and as a grateful reference to the way of discipline and purification along which God led him, so that his prayer was preserved from wicked doubts and secondary aims which would have precluded its having any hearing. The ability to pray with a pure heart, that can wholly rely on God, is itself a gift of his grace and carries with it the promise that the prayer will be answered” (A. Weiser, The Psalms, p471-2).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, teach me to pray and to live with sincerity and honesty.

WHAT IS YOUR STORY?

“Come and listen … and I will tell you what (God) has done for me”.

Ps 66:16 GNB

Two men who were complete strangers found themselves on a car journey together. After a while the passenger asked the driver, “So what is your story?” The driver was nonplussed for a moment, wondering how the passenger could be interested in the details of his rather ordinary life. He thought he had better say something, so he told the passenger a bit about his background. As he thought about it afterwards he reflected that no one’s life is devoid of all interest or achievement, that in fact everyone has a story.

The psalmist here calls on the other worshippers to “Come and listen … let me tell you what he has done for me”. This is significant. Most of the worship of Israel centred around the recital of what God had done for the nation. It was the story of his saving deeds. But the poet had a salvation-story of his own. Alongside the national story it was small indeed. But it was not insignificant. It was a constituent part of the community’s experience, the recounting of which brought new strength and joy to all the congregation. In telling of God’s deeds at the personal level the poet emphasised, not so much what he had witnessed as an inner personal experience, but the decisive act of God in which he answered the man’s prayer. The glory was all directed to God, not to himself.

Christians too have a story. God has done something for the human race, but what he has done in an individual’s own life and experience is a vital enrichment of the collective history of the whole church. What is your story?

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for your guiding and influence in my life.