Month: July 2023

Prepare Your Work- Part 2

Yesterday’s post was about an artist that seems to example this verse. Although he has achieved recognition and appreciation for the high quality of his work, he continues to prepare his work diligently “with [his] might” (strength and power).

Believers are to work with their might to produce excellent work because they honor the Lord through such work. The motive should not be to gain the praise of men; rather, the motive that prepares work to the highest level, is the kind of work that pleases the Father.

Preparation or groundwork for producing excellent, God-honoring work could be viewed as a series of basic, simple steps—keeping in mind that each person’s work will require unique preparation and inspiration from the Lord:

  • Proper order- The first step begins with the top priority—what is most necessary to begin the process of preparation—and establishes a clear goal. This first step always involves seeking the Lord’s will and guidance, with the goal of inspired work that honors and pleases Him.
  • Foresight- Think ahead for each succeeding step; anticipate needs and possibilities.
  • After establishing proper preparation, begin to produce the work- With wise mental, spiritual, and physical preparation, a firm direction is laid out: financial, emotional, and personal costs have been estimated. It is time to produce heartily for the Lord.

Prepare Your Work

The Pulpit Commentary summarizes this verse in this manner: Proverbs 24:27 “enjoins a man to look well to his resources before he undertakes to build a house or to establish a family.”

While keeping in mind the concrete meaning and instruction presented in the verse above, I would like to recount an incident that seemed to demonstrate a possible deeper spiritual meaning:

My husband and I have visited an art gallery of one of my favorite artist several times over the years. This artist is world-renown and noted for his meticulous and realistic paintings; and, it is not an exaggeration to say it is sometimes difficult to distinguish much of his artwork from a photograph. Additionally, the painter has designed stamps, received numerous awards and honors, met with presidents, and has lead what appears to be a blessed life with his large family.

During our most recent visit, we were fortunate to find ourselves virtually alone in the gallery; and after we asked a question, two of the gallery experts enthusiastically began to educate us about the artist and his work. I was astonished about the detailed preparation this skilled artist undertook before he ever put his brush to the canvas. For example, a flower in one of his paintings was scrupulously detailed on a work canvas, where he experimented with the form of the flower as well as the colors that would be selected. After addressing all the minor details, the painter critically attended to the overall appearance of the painting; noting how realistically and aesthetically it was coming together and what additional details were required.

I was deeply impressed with the painter’s unrelenting effort to present his best to the world despite the level of skill and success he had achieved. There seemed to be a humble appreciation of the gift God had entrusted to him that manifested in each and every work he completed.

More tomorrow concerning spiritual application for preparing our work…

Answered Prayer?

A retired couple had been praying as to whether the husband should seek part-time employment. He and his wife had adequate retirement, but the work would allow for more financial breathing room, as well as provide a means of “getting out of the house.” As it turned out; the man did not get the job despite the fact that he was over-qualified for the position. They began to question why he was unable to secure the employment…what could possibly be interfering with getting this hourly work? Why was God not answering their simple prayer?

The question arises: Do we recognize God’s answer to prayer, if His answer is not the one we were seeking in our heart? To put another way, are we really imploring the Lord to make a way for what we think we want and need; and, when we do not get it, we assume God has not heard our prayers?

Although there is voluminous biblical instruction regarding prayer, several key points help with understanding what may appear to be unanswered prayer:

First, we need to pray! Perhaps we have expected something without diligently seeking the Lord about it. Another point made in James 4:2-3 is that when we do ask in prayer, we may not be hearing from the Lord, or receiving answers because we asked amiss (not in the will of God, or according to what is good and proper for a believer to request). It follows that, as 1 John 5:14-15 teaches, we must ask according to the will of God, and then we can be assured that we will have our petition. Therefore, if our prayers appear to go unanswered, can we accept the fact that the Lord’s will in the situation was not in line with what we asked for—and furthermore, that we might have asked “amiss”, or the timing and methods God had chosen were above our understanding (see Isaiah 55:9)?

But, perhaps most important of all, may we pray with unwavering faith (James 1:5) and remember to look for and recognize the goodness of God, no matter what His answer might be; for He is always faithful!

Pruning Is a Good Thing

PRUNE: To trim by cutting away dead and overgrown branches and stems, especially to encourage growth and fruit-bearing.

A few years ago, I planted several apple trees. One in particular grew much faster than the others, but proved to be the most susceptible to disease. After researching the malady, I discovered that cutting out the diseased portions could help alleviate, but not cure, the problem. Furthermore, the information indicated that if the disease was systemic, the tree would likely never thrive.

For the next few years, I kept pruning and pruning the dead portions of the tree. Remarkably, it did eventually bear a few apples; however, they were somewhat deformed. Finally this year, the tree was so full of fruit that we needed to add two supports. Little did I know that pruning merely to keep it alive, would actually make it thrive!

It is not difficult to grasp that the process of pruning my tree could visibly illustrate a well-known Bible passage:

Indeed, the Lord spiritually prunes his children—never to harm them—but to cause them to bear fruit abundantly for the sake of his kingdom. We will not merely survive, but thrive, living life abundantly as Jesus came to provide.

Our Father prunes us (corrects; disciplines; sanctifies) in order that we abandon any thoughts, words, or actions that hinder fruitful, Christ-like living. I kept pruning my little apple tree for years without giving up on it; but infinitely greater than my efforts, is the loving and never-failing pruning process carried out in our lives by our Heavenly Father—He never gives up on us! Furthermore, God’s pruning power is greater than any sins that interfere with our good fruit-bearing—the most ingrained (“systemic”) fleshly “disease” is no match for His faithful, wise pruning. May we surrender to this process—regardless of any pain or discomfort that may be involved; because when all is said and done, “Herein is [our] Father glorified, that [we] bear much fruit” (John 15:8).

Walking Past Temptation

My husband and I often walk through our local mall in extremely hot weather in order to regularly exercise. At first, I took particular notice of all the stores, food vendors, and music, noting new displays and other overt changes. However, as we continued to regularly visit and walk through the mall, I grew less cognizant of those kinds of details. The fact is, the mall businesses did not abate in their attempts to attract customers with enticing displays and friendly salespeople; all that changed was that I was not as consciously aware of their alluring tactics.

Shopping is not in itself a problem; it is only when its appeal controls our desires rather than our spiritual self-control dictating our actions. The world is relentlessly bombarding us with tempting appeals to fulfill our lustful desires; and we can become desensitized to these worldly temptations simply because they are ever-present and often subtle in their nature. We would all benefit by remembering and clinging to this promise from the Lord:

For in that He himself hath suffered being tempted, His is able to succour [help; come to the aid of] them that are tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you that you help us when we are tempted; you never leave us defenseless—you always provide a way that we can escape temptations that might otherwise overwhelm us.Lord, your name is above all names, and you are forever worthy of all our praise! Blessed be your name…Amen.

Put a Smile on Your Faith : )

Years ago I heard a clever play on words from a gifted teacher, “Put a smile on your faith [face].” Someone might think, “There is not a lot to smile about; I don’t want to wear a fake smile when things are so difficult.” Yet, the instruction not only has biblical support; it is also validated by scientific studies. Several neurological studies show that smiling (whether ‘fake’ or not) can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce stressful reactions, boost the immune system, and lift moods. But of course, the inspired Word of God is well aware of this; after all, the Lord designed and knitted together our bodies. From a spiritual standpoint, the Bible contains many scriptures pertaining to joy—for example:

Clearly, smiles come from merry hearts; and, we read in this verse that physical benefits result.

In Psalm 42:11 we learn that the Lord himself is the health of (the One who helps) our facial expression. Therefore, if we hope in and praise our God, we will develop a cheerful countenance.

Most of all, we are children of a perfect Father; and he is the the One with whom we experience our most important relationship. Therefore, we can boldly come into his presence, where there is fullness of joy…and smile.

The Perfect Care of Jesus

Have you ever felt that God was not using your suffering for anything good? Did it seem no one knew about it and only harm came from it?

During one of my devotion times, I confessed to this kind of reasoning: I loved the Lord; so if God was working all my trials together for good, I should be able to see and witness the good results. But, I was not able to discern the good outcome; and time was moving on. As I continued to seek the Lord in prayer, another verse came to mind that held a special place in my heart because of its relevance to my life:

The verse read, “that He may exalt”—the Lord himself would spiritually lift me up; therefore, I needed to be obedient and trusting under His hand, and then place any good that would result from my trials in His hands. Only God could know the “due time” (the right, proper, and optimal time) to make everything work together for His glory and purposes. My part was simply not to resist what the Lord had permitted by growing impatient and doubtful as I looked for a good outcome.

Moreover, I began to understand that I ought to fully allow the Holy Spirit to grow, change, and lead me even as I continued to pray and meditate on his word. With this understanding, I surrendered to God’s process of maturing me to bring me to a place where he could use “all things” to accomplish his will. A key instruction was to forget my self-focus by refusing to dwell on the ‘when, where, and how’ of bringing benefit from suffering—that care belonged only to the Lord. Throughout these kinds of experiences, Jesus has used it all to help develop and strengthen my trust in His perfect care for me!

Dining In Style

There was a period in our young family life when we could rarely afford to eat out; and when we did dine out, it was at a fast food place. One Valentine’s Day while we were traveling back home from a visit with the children’s grandparents, we decided to stop at a popular fast food restaurant for dinner. The children were too hungry to wait until we reached home to eat, so we pulled into the first one of these locations we could spot. The dining area was surprisingly busy considering it was dinnertime on Valentine’s Day; and when we were met at the door to be seated, we began to realize this was not going to be the usual dining experience at McDonald’s.

The tables were covered with red, white and pink tablecloths; candles were lit at each table and flowers filled small vases…the whole atmosphere was festive and upbeat. A “waitress” took our order. It is hard to explain the simple enjoyment of that dining experience—we were eating in style on a fast food budget. Decades later, I fondly recall how unexpectedly special the meal was for our small family—undoubtedly due to someone’s heartfelt desire to create a memorable experience at no extra cost to families such as ours.

Am I a Doormat?

A doormat is laid down to wipe feet upon; it is “abused” for the purpose of getting rid of rubbish clinging to the bottom of shoes. We have all heard—perhaps we have even said—“I feel like I am just a doormat in this situation.”

The truth is, how we are treated is often a result of how we see ourselves, which leads to how others regard us, and visa versa. Consider the following verse:

We need to always keep in mind that God has a good plan for us—one designed for our welfare, not for our harm (Jeremiah 29:11). It seems reasonable to conclude that if our image from God is being harmed and damaged (if we are feeling “like a doormat”) we are not operating in the Lord’s good plan for us. Sometimes, we are not in a position to stop abusive treatment toward us, and it becomes not only necessary, but right to actively seek help while entrusting the situation to the Lord’s will and deliverance. Although many of God’s children have been unjustly oppressed, their suffering was righteously endured if it was experienced willingly as part of God’s greater plan and divine purpose. However, when we misguidedly give ultimate power over our lives to another imperfect human being (instead of entrusting supreme authority only to the Lord), we unwisely turn from God’s good plan for our welfare and perhaps forfeit how He might have used our situation for the welfare of others.

Jesus said to the Jews after teaching a parable about the Good Shepherd who guards his sheep at all costs, “No man taketh it [my life] from me, but I lay it down myself” (John 10:18). In other words, Jesus made the decision to willingly suffer and submit to God’s will; it was not based on the will or forcefulness of any other human being. To summarize simply and briefly: Jesus did not allow anyone to interfere with God’s purposes or damage His relationship with the Father, and neither should we.

Thoughtful Quote

“The devil sees nothing more abominable than a truly humble Christian, for [that Christian] is just the opposite of [the devil’s] own image.”

—Hans Nielsen Hauje

A Mind to Work

REFERENCE: The book of Nehemiah, chapters 1-6

Nehemiah was a Judean who spent most of his life in exile in Persia as the cup-bearer to their king. Jerusalem, in his homeland of Judah, had been destroyed by the Babylonians and the walls of the city had been broken down. Nehemiah was greatly distressed by this and his burden to rebuild the walls lead him to diligently seek the Lord regarding what could be done to restore the city; and so, it was given to Nehemiah to travel nearly 1,000 miles to Jerusalem to contract the massive task of rebuilding the gates and walls. The quest to rebuild Jerusalem seemed dangerous and overwhelming, and it was necessary for its citizens to set a watch against their enemies both day and night.

As is almost always the case, God chose to carry out his purposes through his people—God had put his plan into Nehemiah’s heart; and Nehemiah was enabled to effectively inspect the walls, ascertain what needed to be done, and then determine how it all could be accomplished. Meanwhile, the people of Judah “had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6). When their enemies came against them with threats, harassment, and false accusations, each continued their work with “one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand [holding] a weapon” (Nehemiah 4: 17).

Our enemy’s tactics against the Lord’s people and against the work He wishes to accomplish through them has not changed! Today, Satan entices and uses others to threaten, harass, bear false witness against, and interfere with the work that the Lord entrusts to his children. Therefore, we can learn much from the Judeans of Nehemiah’s day, because they successfully carried out God’s plans and overcame their ememies:

First, we must be determined in our hearts and set our minds and wills to carry out whatever the Spirit leads us to do. We must be fully committed to obey what we know to be right regardless of whatever befalls us.

Second, we must constantly be on guard against the enemy and his tactics, equipped with full spiritual armor for warfare.

Finally, we need to bathe everything in prayer, earnestly seeking the Lord (as Nehemiah did) until we know in our hearts and settle in our minds what the Lord is requiring of us and how to carry it out.

While these tactics are not all inclusive, they provide good groundwork for us to prepare ourselves today for the increasing challenges we face…we must ask ourselves Nehemiah’s question, “Why should the work cease?” (Neh. 6:3).

A Father’s Influence

Recently, as I was continuing to make my way through the Old Testament, I picked up on a tidbit about King David and his son Solomon’s relationship. While my impression may not necessarily be completely accurate, I believe what I found might have been extremely important in Solomon’s life; in fact, it may have been life-changing.

In 1 Chronicles 22: 11-16, King David gave a charge to his son Solomon who was to inherit David’s throne; within that charge David bestowed a blessing upon Solomon:

Later we learn in 2 Chronicles 22:7-12 that when the Lord gave Solomon the opportunity to ask for whatever he desired for himself as king, Solomon requested wisdom and knowledge. This request greatly pleased the Lord, and so God also granted him riches, wealth, and honor such as no king before or after would ever experience. The life-changing course of Solomon’s reign was set due to his humble request that was—I believe—rooted in his father David’s blessing over him:

We would do well to never underestimate the power of godly blessing spoken over our children. Who can know if with those words, their hearts might be humbled, encouraged, and turned toward the Lord?

“Ask God”- Conclusion

The final entry on the sign read:

I asked God to help me love others as much as God loves me. God said, “Ah! Finally, now you have the right idea.”

The flow of love seems to work in this manner: God loves us- He loved us so much that He sent his only begotten Son to suffer and die on the cross for our forgiveness of sin; and then raised Jesus from the dead so that we could live with Him forever. We love God- For so great a demonstration of love, how can we not love the Lord in return? We love others- Because God IS love, when we are filled with His Spirit, we will choose to love others even above ourselves…in the way that Jesus, the Lord, demonstrated to us. Because of His love for us, we can take a willful delight in loving others, exercising the aspects of love outlined in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13.

“Ask God”- Part 3

Another nugget of wisdom from the sign:

I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life. God said, “No. I will give you life so that you can enjoy all things.”

Jesus made this assertion:

Jesus—in contrast to the devil who came to destroy life—came that we might have life more abundantly. Abundantly literally means “beyond measure.” We receive this fullness of life the moment we accept Jesus as our Savior; but, we may find that we enjoy this life to varying degrees. As one commentator put it, “The more we turn ourselves over to the Holy Spirit, the more we enjoy the life that has been given to us.”

“Ask God”- Part 2

The second prayer request and God’s answer to it read as follows on the restaurant sign:

I asked God to give me patience. God said, “No. Patience is a by-product of tribulations; it isn’t granted, it’s earned.”

Galatians 5:22 explains that patience is a fruit of the Spirit; that is, when we choose to live and walk in the Spirit, patience will be manifested in our lives. Notice that living according to the will of God is a choice and this choice to stay close to Jesus produces patience by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. We cannot grit our teeth and practice a genuinely patient attitude; we need to submit to the Lord and cooperate with what He is doing through our tribulations:

The Apostle Paul also taught that patience is a “by-product” of tribulation, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh (accomplishes, achieves, results in) patience; and patience, endurance; and endurance, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)