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Devotionals

Proverbs Day Twenty-Nine | Love criticism!

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Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery. Proverbs 29v1 (NLT)

I love these kind of Proverbs. The reason is simple, because criticism is painful and hard to take. I guess it is for most people.

Last night my daughter was discussing personality types and she concluded that I don’t take criticism personally. I am not sure that is true! Whilst I take a degree of comfort that I may have a degree of resilience to criticism which helps me, but the other side of that coin is that it can make me stubborn and unyielding. Over the long haul that is dangerous territory. Key to criticism acceptance is identifying a core of people who have free reign to criticise you. You must know, before the criticism begins, these people are for you, love you and want you to win. Don’t let the criticism change your perception of that. I have seen too many people confidently declare a trust in people, only to distrust them when the criticism comes.

He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing. Proverbs 29v1 (ESV)

Proverbs Day Twenty-Seven | Friends

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The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense. Proverbs 27v9 (NLT)

This is a short one today. It has been a long one and a good one.

Just a moment is needed to reflect on the blessing of genuine friendship. When this proverb was written “oil and perfume” or “perfume and incense” would have been considered valuable commodities. Therefore so should the input and advice of those people you know love you and are for you. Value friendship because friends are valuable, especially when their friendship is demonstrated by honest communication.

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. Proverbs 27v9 (ESV)

Proverbs Day Twenty-Six | Dog vomit!

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As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness. Proverbs 26v11 (NLT)

This has always been one of my favourite and most helpful Proverbs – which might seem strange as I am not a fan of dogs! It screams out to me learn from your mistakes.

Like a dog we will vomit out our mistakes, don’t be surprised when that happens. The key is to reflect and review why the mistake happened. Be rigorous about it, don’t settle for the first answer your ego provides to protect you!

Once whilst being away in a city where I could barely speak the language (barely is me being kind to myself), I had a pathetic grasp of their culture and felt out of my depth in tackling the everyday things.

This meant several “mistakes” which cost me money. Some I could immediately learn from and so revise my plan for the following day. Others lessons would have to wait for the next time I leave my country.

On reflection, the mistakes and consequences (on my wallet) hurt and were annoying, but now I come to see that these things are inevitable and caused by a willingness to step into new things. Making a mistake does not make me a fool, but repeating one does.

Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly. Proverbs 26v11 (ESV)

Proverbs Day Twenty-Five | Perfectly timed provision

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Trustworthy messengers refresh like snow in summer. They revive the spirit of their employer. Proverbs 25v13 (NLT)

Years ago, I was given a financial gift from someone. It was perfectly timed and I really need that exact amount. I have thanks to God for the giver and the gift. I saw it as provision. A mistake that I began to make shortly afterwards was that I began to “hold” onto the cash – prior to the gift I had known real need and the gift really met that need. I likened it to the account of manna from heaven (God’s meeting his people’s need, see Exodus 16). If you read that story you will see that they weren’t meant to hold onto it – that would be robbing them of the opportunity of trusting God every day. This does not mean don’t be a good steward and having savings etc. But it does mean don’t put your security in the gift rather than the giver. In God’s economy regarding the matter of provision, as with manna, there is always more!

If we live like that then we will experience the refreshing timing and reminder of “snow” again and again as God meets our need neither too late or too early. That is refreshing to the soul.

Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest is a faithful messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the soul of his masters. Proverbs 25v13 (ESV)

Proverbs Day Twenty-Four | Core strength training

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If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small. Proverbs 24v10 (NLT)

Too many may read this and focus primarily on the word fail. Interestingly the ESV translation uses the phrase faint.

I think that faint captures the heart of the wisdom much better. After all, as the adage goes “real failure, may be failure to try”.

Resilience is a really important trait especially in those pressure circumstances we might find ourselves in. It could be any number of situations! Resilience stops us fainting. We are able to resist it.

This proverb stood out immediately to me because I feel I am learning about calmness in the face of pressure – when the odds are stacked against me.

It is a slow journey of learning and asking God to change me. It matters most when I disagree with someone, they rub me up the wrong way or don’t do what I expected or wanted. I have spent so much time in Psalm 23 this year because it is the antidote to weak strength in the face of strong pressure. The key to strength is knowing that God is with me. His rod and his staff they comfort me etc.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23v1-6 (ESV)

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Proverbs 24v10 (ESV)

Proverbs Day Twenty-two | Gaining friends

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Whoever loves a pure heart and gracious speech will have the king as a friend. Proverbs 22v11 (NLT)

Loving a pure heart is about a sincere desire to do what is right. It is not about always being right. The same applies to gracious speech. Our sentences should be filled more with words that win others over not cause them to wince.

The tongue is the most accessible weapon on the planet and perhaps has done the most harm. The sheer power of the word to build up or destroy is frightening.

This small nugget of wisdom says that if kind, generous words gain us access, acceptance and a hearing with the most powerful of people, it will surely do the same or more for our peers etc.

He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend. Proverbs 22v11 (ESV)

Proverbs Day Twenty-One | Not missing it!

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The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices. Proverbs 21v3

I am deeply provoked and sobered that I could miss the really important things in following Jesus. In addition I could spend too long and too much effort on the things that matter a whole lot less.

Jesus really was unflattering about those who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. What these folk taught or said might be true, but it needed to be demonstrated not just declared. Failing to do this may make us guilty of “crushing people with unbearable religious demands and never lifting a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23v4).

I see more than ever that a relentless pursuit against performance and pretence will be good for me and for others I share life with. God is not fooled. He knows what we do for show and what we do for Him. He knows whether we operate in the Kingdom or out of it. I want to help people discover, follow and serve the Jesus of Matthew 23. He said it as it was, saw it as it is and changes us despite ourselves.

Therefore, I am learning in a new way the high value Jesus places on justice, mercy and faith. These are matters of the heart (Matthew 23v23). That is wisdom!

To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. Proverbs 21v3

Proverbs Day Nineteen | Think outside the box of generosity

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Many seek favours from a ruler; everyone is the friend of a person who gives gifts! Proverbs 19v6 (NLT)

I suspect I am not the only one who often reads a Proverb and goes “huh?” What does that mean?

Then I might read another translation and have more questions – is it a ruler (NLT) or a generous man (ESV)? Maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe it does?

So what might be the wisdom here?

Perhaps the ruler is intended as a contrast to the generous man. The ruler is in demand due to his position and authority. His role does not mean he is generous.

However the generous man is liked because of what he gives. It is universal. Whereas the ruler role is limited to one or a few but the generous role, and its benefits, are unlimited.

But is it not limited to means? Only if we read generous as just relating to material possessions. What if I could be generous in words, encouragement, time and service? Surely that kind of generosity will serve me just as well as others.

Many seek the favour of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. Proverbs 19v6 (ESV)

Proverbs Day Fifteen | Gospel centred prayers

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It is my experience, and there is some evidence in the Bible to support this, that the prayers God delights in are not often fanciful words, long petitions or doctrine punctuated monologues. Of course, long words, petitions or sentences are not wrong de facto, but the thing I have discovered that counts most – more than time, tone or vocabulary – is the heart.

The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but he delights in the prayers of the upright. Proverbs 15v8 (NLT)

When I speak to God does my heart mean it? Of course upright should be understood as having the right heart in prayer, but also I take it to mean the kind of uprightness that could only be accomplished through the promise and power of Jesus Christ.

Don't let prayer be limited by the clock, your knowledge or your ability to construct fluent sentences. Just speak to the Lord when the moment comes using the words that come – relying that the acceptable prayer is one that is made through faith in Christ Jesus, not our way with words. God will delight in that!

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. Proverbs 15v8 (ESV)

Proverbs Day Twelve | The Hope of Dunkirk

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I have just watched the film trailer of Dunkirk. One of the screen shots is labelled with the phrase “Hope is a weapon“. During the past year I have learnt a lot about hope.

Hope is life-giving. Hope is not easily quantified. I have often described hope as a spectrum (a horizontal line). There is hope for eternity (one end of the line), but there is also the need for hope in this life, hope for tomorrow, hope for today and even just hope for now (the other end of the line).

Whilst the good news of Jesus Christ is an indestructible hope, we need to give sufficient hope to people where we find them. Here lies the sheer power of an encouraging word or a word of affirmation.

Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up. Proverbs 12v25 (NLT)

The first type (encouragement) calls people to lift their chin and press on. This is the “You can do this” word.

The second type (affirmation) declares what is already present in that person which shows the world they are made in the image of God. This is the “You are this” word.

Both are weapons in the hands of the righteous. Encourage what can be, and affirm what is. People need the hope of both.

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. Proverbs 12v25 (ESV)