Day 194: Ecclesiastes 9-12; Remember Your Creator in Your Youth

While I’m not entirely sure that this article fits with all that is said in these last chapters of Ecclesiastes, I do think it fits well with the last chapter that we read today.  After reading through this book, I think now more than ever it is important for us to understand the necessity of doing things for the Lord and making sure that our children understand that.  Mostly I think this because I can see that if we just think that we know stuff and that knowledge is the only way to go, our actions in life become meaningless real fast.  This is one of the problems with the church today and one of the reasons why we see our youth leaving and never coming back.  We think that if we have the nicest things, the funnest games, and the coolest experience that people will come to our services and youth groups… that may in fact be true, but what are they learning from that?  Are we teaching them the ways of the Lord?  Are we teaching them that what we do matters?  Are we showing them the way to faith?  Or are we simply pursuing vanity… pleasure… numbers?

The article that follows is copied from the Holland Sentinel, July 8, 2013 issue.  This article was written by Annette Manwell.  None of following is my work and I take no credit for writing it.  You may find the full article by clicking on the title below.

Youth are leaving the church, many never return, according to a Hope College study

Seventy percent of youth ages 18 to 22 leave the church and only 50 percent of them return later in life.

A new study is raising an alarm about young people who leave the church and might not come back. It also is suggesting strategies to keep youth in church to begin with.

The study says half of that 70 percent who leave will return later in life. In a 10-year period, many who left will return once they’ve married or become parents and want to raise their children in a church. But that still means 35 percent of today’s youth will never return to church.

Young people are marrying later in life and many are choosing to remain childless, said Virgil Gulker, servant leader-in-residence at Hope College’s Center for Faithful Leadership, a program designed to teach and create the next generation of Christian leaders.

Known locally as the founder of Love Inc., and Kids Hope USA, Gulker worked with a group of students at the Center for Faithful Leadership to determine why youth are leaving at such an alarming rate and to develop a plan to keep those youth in the church.

During the study, which also incorporated the work of high school students, interviews were conducted of senior and youth pastors, boards and youth of several local churches.

The results showed that youth groups, thought to keep youth interested in church, are actually one of the main culprits. Youth are craving involvement in the church more than the entertainment provided by some youth groups. Through social media, some teens will look to find which church is providing the most entertaining program that week to determine where they’ll attend, Gulker said.

In the midst of that, true faith in and a relationship with God is lost, he said.

“They identify with the youth group, but not with the congregation,” Gulker said.

Youth aren’t being taught to understand their own beliefs and faith. Many inherit their faith from their parents, Gulker said, but a parent’s faith won’t get their children eternity in Heaven. A father cannot save his son a place there, he said.

“Faith is not inherited, it is internalized,” Gulker said. “We’re taking them through activities but not working on their faith.”

During interviews, teens asked if they could have substantive discussion about faith instead of all the entertainment. They also asked why youth leaders are always young and why they can’t interact with the older members of the church.

In many churches there are what Gulker called silos, groups put together by age: elementary students, teenagers, young adults, older adults, etc. But silos keep the youth separated from the older members of the church and hinder relationship building.

“It is the rare church that offers leadership training to its youth,” Gulker said.

Even though in careers people are regularly trained to step into higher positions, churches are not allowing or inviting youth to have leadership roles on boards or committees, he said, not even in an advisory capacity.

Like the stereotypical 18-year-old who knows everything, the church “never asks questions, they know everything,” Gulker said. Churches don’t know where today’s youth are at and youth view churches as exclusive, repressive, shallow and overprotective.

“The key is connection,” Gulker said, adding the youth who stayed in the church can identify at least five adults they connected with as teens.

The Center for Faithful Leadership identified five truths teens should experience while at church and ways to get them more involved and inclusive. Mentoring between various ages in the church is main component. Someone about to become a parent should be mentored by experienced parents in the church, so they can build a relationship. A couple planning to wed should be mentored by married couple. High school students should be mentored by older adults while mentoring middle school students.

Developing a solution to stave off the exodus must involve the youth or “it’s not going to work,” Gulker said.

What can the church do to retain youth?

A Next Generation Church Leadership Team could form small group structures designed to help teenagers experience and internalize five truths:

• I believe — possessing your parent’s faith does not count as belief; many inherit their parent’s beliefs or faith rather than internalize their own

• I belong — because youth between the ages of 15 and 18 are less likely to leave the church if they can name five church members who have invested in them

• I am needed — the church gives me training to accomplish significant work

• I am heard — church leaders ask for and listen to youth’s opinions

• We are making a difference — because others will know we are Christians

These truths should be integrated with the following evangelism activities:

• Mentoring — older adults mentor high school students, high school students mentor middle school students

• Making a difference — a shared missional focus gives old and young a common interest and challenges them to make a difference in their world

• Sharing ownership — youth become stakeholders in the church as they are trained to tackle meaningful leadership opportunities

• Growing faith — Bible study and faith-building experiences give youth their own faith

• Inclusive worship, relationship building — people of different generations and races discover a Christ-centered oneness through inclusive worship, small groups and mentoring experiences

Hope College’s Center for Faithful Leadership found youth are leaving the church because it is:

• Overprotective

• Shallow

• Anti-science

• Repressive

• Exclusive

• Doubtless

— But these are symptoms. The real real reason is that in most cases, there is no meaningful plan to involve youth with the church, its members or its vision.

Church challenge:

For those over 50, how many teens can you name who attend your church?

Teens, how many people over 50 can you name who attend your church?



Day 193: Ecclesiastes 5-8; Life under the sun

Today’s reading has two parts to it, at least two that I noticed.  They are, however intricately linked together in the whole of this short book.  After yesterday’s talk of how everything under the sun is meaningless if it does not find its meaning in God, we find ourselves at the beginning of Ecclesiastes 5 reading that we are to stand in awe of God.  Solomon, as he has done in the book of Proverbs, encourages us to take time when we speak to God.  While I think that he is talking specifically about prayer here, I think that Solomon is also referencing the way that things find their meaning in God as well.  Too often we are very quick to say that something belongs to God.  This is taught in many a church classroom I bet: “All you have belongs to God; it is on loan from heaven so make sure you take care of it.”  There is indeed an air of truth in this statement, but I do wonder if we ever take the time to contemplate what exactly that means… what God’s desire is for the things we own or the relationships that we have… Are we so quick to ‘dedicate’ it to God that we don’t take the time to understand the implications of that in our lives?  I’d dare say we boarder on that often… at least I do.

The other thing that I noticed about today’s reading is actually more of a line of thought that started in yesterday’s reading and continues through today and into tomorrow’s as well.  Solomon continues to speak about the evil under the sun and the meaninglessness of the things that he has observed in his life.  He is making a point here that is too often misinterpreted to mean something that it doesn’t.  The point he is getting at isn’t the meaninglessness of different things like riches, pleasure, work, etc.  His point, as it has been throughout the book of Proverbs as well is that the pursuit of these things is meaningless, or folly as he calls it in Proverbs.  All that Solomon is saying here is his expounding upon the theme that everything in life is meaningless unless if finds its meaning in God.

King Solomon, Russian icon from first quarter ...

King Solomon, Russian icon from first quarter of 18th cen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What he is saying makes sense though too… like… common sense.  There are been countless movies made about people seeking after riches, power, and even immortality, none of which work out at all.  And really, if you think about it, what is the point of extravagant wealth?  Eventually we will all die… and then what?  Everything that we have done, all that we have worked for will be gone.  The same goes with power and even reputation.  Eventually we will pass away from this life and in time our memory will be lost.  I am reminded of the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 16 when he says,

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Solomon’s point here is not that what we do in life is meaningless.  A wise man once said “It isn’t about what you do but about who you are doing it for that really matters.”  The testament here is being intentional about working for the Lord and living your life as a way of pleasing God.  We know that we cannot earn our salvation or any sort of merit with God for these things, but we can live in gratitude for the grace we have received.

As he draws towards a conclusion, Solomon points out that life is rough.  It seems that bad things happen to good people.  Work and toil is hard.  All eventually come to the same fate.  So then, what can we do?  Like I have said, and Solomon has said so much better, do all that you do before God, “in whom we live and move and have our being.”  More than that though, we need to learn to find joy and contentment in what it is that we are called to.  God has truly blessed us with many things, more than we can comprehend, much less handle well.  For these we should give thanks and indeed offer them to God that we may bring glory to Him with the days He has given us.



Day 192: Ecclesiastes 1-4; Meaningless? Meaningless?

We have come to the book of Ecclesiastes, the second of three books attributed to king Solomon.  Ecclesiastes is also a book about wisdom, however it is written from the other side of life.  The book of Proverbs is a book written by a wise king at the beginning of his reign.  Solomon was visited by God, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 1, and upon Solomon’s request God granted him all the wisdom of the world.  One of the results of that was the book of proverbs, a sort of collection of all the wise sayings of the king throughout his reign.  The book of Ecclesiastes comes from the opposite side of his reign, the waning years of his life when he evaluates all that he did.  It is almost like two books written by one person about being a particular career.  One he wrote fresh out of college with all the theory and book knowledge that his education had given him and the other after 40 years of working and toiling, a reflection on all that has happened.  You will notice that the thesis is the same, having to do with honoring and fearing the Lord, yet the perspective is notably different, which indicates a great deal of growth on Solomon’s part.

When you begin to read this book, you’ll probably notice that it seems as though the book is taking a decidedly negative tone.  Everything is vanity, or meaningless, and nothing really matters is the presumed theme that we encounter here.  However, I think that this gloomy outlook on life needs some perspective of its own so that we can better understand what Solomon is saying in this book.  You see, Solomon, those wiser than anyone ever, did not necessarily follow his own advice.  As we read in the beginning of 2 Chronicles, Solomon had extraordinary wealth and power, but was drawn to women so much so that he had hundreds of wives.  One would think that a man that can talk so well about wisdom and wives would have been rather wary of women, but instead Solomon allowed them to lead him astray.  At the time of this writing, Solomon was likely an old man and was looking back on his life and seeing what a fool he actually was.

The Theme and Purpose of Ecclesiastes Photo Credit: www.foundationsforfreedom.net

The Theme and Purpose of Ecclesiastes
Photo Credit: www.foundationsforfreedom.net

Ultimately though, what Solomon writes here also falls under Wisdom’s thesis statement in Proverbs 1, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  He comes back to this time and again in this book, pointing out that everything under the sun is meaningless unless it is done for the Lord to please him.  There is wisdom in the toil that we do here, even if it is left to another when we die.  Solomon realizes that no amount of wisdom or hard work will spare him the death that eventually comes to all, both wise and foolish.  So what’s the point then?  It seems like Solomon is on a mission to destroy our hope… actually some people ask this question a lot in Christian circles, just with a different spin on it.  “If we are saved, and our sins are forgiven, then why does it matter how I live my life?”  I think that question and the idea that Solomon is trying to destroy our hope is a misrepresentation of what is happening here.  Solomon is actually working to direct our hopes to the only One who can truly fulfill them.  He affirms the value of wisdom, knowledge, work, relationships, and even pleasure, but he affirms them only in their proper place.  Alone they are indeed meaningless, temporal things that will eventually fade into history.  However, we have hope in something greater than ourselves and our experience, and when these things are seen in light of the eternal, they find their true place in our lives and gain meaning beyond all that we could ever give on our own.

One final thought: Ecclesiastes is a book that build on itself.  One could be tempted to jump ahead to chapter 12 and just see Solomon’s summary and conclusions, but let me encourage you to read through the whole book… for it is not at all meaningless.



Day 191: Proverbs 29-31; Wisdom and Authority

Today I had planned on highlighting the wise sayings of other people, particularly that of Agur and King Lemuel, the two other major contributors to the book of Proverbs.  I made this decision, admittedly, before I read through today’s reading and now I am hear to tell you that we are going to change plans a little bit.  After reading through these chapters though, I noticed a specific theme that really came through as we end our journey through the book of Proverbs, the theme of having wisdom in places of authority (which also includes wisdom in dealing with those in authority over us.)

Now… this could easily turn into a governmental rant with political convictions spouting off political jargon and dogma towards one side or another, something I intend not to allow happen in my writing here.  These verses in Proverbs are not about whether we should be a democrat or a republican.  They also weren’t written for us to use as little darts to throw at a particular political philosophy, agenda, or bill as a way of proving oneself to be in the right while they are in the wrong.  While it is true that many of these and other proverbs speak of the foolish things that wicked and foolish rulers do, I would contend that one of the main thrusts of the Proverbs is to make sure that you are wise in your dealings with them.

In fact, if you really look at these proverbs, it isn’t at all about proving someone else is in the wrong, but more about making sure that you yourself are acting and being wise in the things that you do.  Solomon says again and again that foolish people will be caught in their own folly.  I think we can see this clearly as a great many governmental scandals continue to come into the light.  Whether or not these are pinned on President Obama is besides the point, it is abundantly clear that those in charge of these different sections were quite foolish in their actions and now have to operate within the brokenness of their credibility.

One particular verse that caught my attention, while we are on this subject, was Proverbs 29:4.  After the last presidential election there were a whole lot of accusations that the democratic party gave out gifts to people to get them to vote democrat.  Republicans, some of them at least, even went so far as to say that this was the reason that President Obama won again.  Whether or not this is true is not the point I am trying to make here at all.  But this verse does speak to that: “By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down.”  In this same light I think of so many of the things that have happened during past presidencies: Obama Care, more entitlements, No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act, etc. etc.  The list could go on and on… but perhaps we should be asking whether our government, whether local, state, or national is governing with justice in mind…  some would say “yes, it is unjust for people to suffer without some of these things.”  Others would say, “No, people need to work hard for what they have.”  Both sides, I think, would have Biblical support for their argument.

The question then is, are we being wise in what we do?  Are we being wise in how we govern?  Are we being wise in how we are governed?  Even this falls under Solomon’s Thesis statement: “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Are we honoring God in what we do?  What we say?  How we lead?  How we follow?

The end of the book of Proverbs is very telling.  All throughout the book Solomon has been making the comparison between Lady Wisdom and lady folly.  He ends the book by telling the end of the story, the Son he spoke to chose wisdom and the result are as follows.  While  this too can be the ideal of a wife to live up to, it is just as much the description of one lives their life in the ways of wisdom, in the way of fearing and honor the Lord.  May it be so for us in all that we do.



Day 190: Proverbs 26-28; More Proverbs of Solomon

Reading through today’s Proverbs, a great deal of emphasis is placed on dealing with “foolish” people.  There are many analogies for what it is to talk to and deal with a foolish person, so many of which I feel like I encounter on a weekly basis.  I don’t know about you, but when I read these verses there are people in my life that come to mind right away.  As I read one proverbs after another talking about interacting with a foolish person I had to chuckle at the accuracy of the descriptions that were there.  So, here are some things that come to mind.  I’ll post the Scripture, and then some thoughts of something I encountered.

Proverbs 27:1-2
Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring.
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
a stranger, and not your own lips.

Lebron James, Miami Heat are NBA Champs

Lebron James, Miami Heat are NBA Champs

A couple of weeks ago, the Miami Heat won the NBA national championship, something that was “guaranteed by Lebron James some time in the past couple years or something (admittedly, I don’t pay attention to it at all).  In post came interviews, Lebron compared his ‘moments of greatness’ with that of Michael Jordan a decade ago.  First of all, he looked like an idiot because practically no one agreed with him.  Second, he looks like a complete jerk because he feels the need to define his own moments and build himself up because no one really is.  Third, what about the rest of the team?  Lebron never mentioned a single one of his teammates in in speech.  While there isn’t a particular verse that mentions remembering one’s teammates, not thinking of oneself more highly than they ought is certainly a proverbial theme through all of this book.  Finally, and this I find most interesting, the new of the team’s win disappeared about as fast as the last game ended… which makes be think that there is something to Proverbs 26:1, “Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool.”  It is so unnatural for us to see and admire someone so self-absorbed… it just seems so out of place and unnatural.

Proverbs 26:11
Like a dog that returns to his vomit
is a fool who repeats his folly.

Cycle of Addiction Diagram

Cycle of Addiction Diagram

Before going into seminary, I worked in the Emergency Department of a hospital.  It was a truly transforming experience for me as I was able to take care of people when they were at the lowest of the low points in their lives, some by accident and some by virtue of poor choices.  What was truly sad were those people that we saw time and again in the department because they continued to make the wrong choices day after day after day.  We tend to call this addiction, but truly addiction starts with a bad choice repeated many times in a cycle until it seems that the body cannot live without it.  Alcohol, Drugs, the wrong friends, and many more will bring a person down into the dust.  Solomon is point to this as well.  Sometimes it happens because a person doesn’t know better.  Sometimes it happens because a person feels they have nowhere else to turn.  Sometimes it happens because a profound sense of self-loathing or a need to escape.  In any case, we tend to turn a blind eye to the addicts and stuff because they “did it to themselves.”  While that may in some sense be true, never in the wise sayings of Scripture does it tell us not to love them as God loves them.

Proverbs 26:20-23
For lack of wood the fire goes out,
and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body.
Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel
 are fervent lips with an evil heart.

I think this is one of the most self-explanatory, and also one of the hardest to go along with Proverbs in today’s reading.  My memories are drawn back to high school and middle school (though sadly adult life is not devoid of this either) and the abundant drama that exists within the lives of teenagers.  Someone said this about me, but I said that about her, and those people think that about him as well.  Everyone gets upset at someone because of something and at the end of the day, its just an overabundance of drama.  I tried to avoid this in high school as I do in adult life as well.  How?  By not being involved any more than need be, which usually means I am not involved at all.  Without wood a fire goes out and without people who are willing to talk, gossip evaporates into thin air.



Day 189: Proverbs 23-25; Thirty Sayings of the Wise

Today’s reading, though perhaps not marked in your Bible, covers over a section of Proverbs called “30 Wise Sayings.”  As I was doing a little research on this particular section, I came across a blog called “markcole.wordpress.com”  In March of 2008 the writer, whom I assume is named Mark, wrote an ‘annotated version’ of the thirty wise sayings.  I really enjoyed reading it so I am going to re-post it here.  I want to point out for the record that none of the follow is original to me and I assume no credit for any of it.  All credit for the following material goes to www.markcole.wordpress.com.  Enjoy!

30 wise sayings annotated

(the stuff in parenthesis are my comments which may not be as wise as the sayings themselves! They are there to promote thoughtful reflection on the wise saying. Comments are always welcome)

Proverbs 22:20-24:22 (Contemporary English Version)

20I have written thirty sayings

filled with sound advice.

21You can trust them completely

to give you the right words

for those in charge of you.

-1-

22 Don’t take advantage   of the poor

or cheat them in court.

23The LORD is their defender,

and what you do to them,

he will do to you.

(Walmart, homeless, Katrina)

-2-

24 Don’t make friends with anyone   who has a bad temper.

25You might turn out like them

and get caught in a trap.

(root of bitterness)

-3-

26 Don’t guarantee to pay   someone else’s debt.

27If you don’t have the money,

you might lose your bed.

(co-signing)

-4-

28 Don’t move a boundary marker [a] set up by your ancestors.

(respect for old standards and measurements, Jubilee principle)

-5-

29 If you do your job well,   you will work for a ruler

and never be a slave.

(work hard! work smart!)

PROVERBS 23

-6-

1 When you are invited   to eat with a king,

use your best manners.

2Don’t go and stuff yourself!

That would be just the same

as cutting your throat.

3Don’t be greedy for all

of that fancy food!

It may not be so tasty.

(good manners, others first, avoid gluttony)

-7-

4 Give up trying so hard   to get rich.

5Your money flies away

before you know it,

just like an eagle

suddenly taking off.

(You cannot serve both God and money)

-8-

6 Don’t accept an invitation   to eat a selfish person’s food,

no matter how good it is.

7People like that take note

of how much you eat. [b] They say, “Take all you want!”

But they don’t mean it.

8Each bite will come back up,

and all your kind words

will be wasted.

(no such thing as a free lunch)

-9-

9 Don’t talk to fools–   they will just make fun.

(foolish chatter)

-10-

10 Don’t move a boundary marker [c] or take the land   that belongs to orphans.

11God All-Powerful is there

to defend them against you.

(Jubilee principle again – God sides with the have-nots. The WSJ sides with the haves)

-11-

12 Listen to instruction   and do your best to learn.

(you never stop a learner – pay attention!)

-12-

13 Don’t fail to correct   your children.

You won’t kill them

by being firm,

14and it may even

save their lives.

(children are not hurt by firmness – and may be helped by it)

-13-

15 My children,   if you show good sense,

I will be happy,

16and if you are truthful,

I will really be glad.

(good sense is good – truthfulness is even better!)

-14-

17 Don’t be jealous of sinners,   but always honor the LORD.

18Then you will truly have hope

for the future.

(good life does not equal being a rich and famous sinner)

-15-

19 Listen to me, my children!   Be wise and have enough sense

to follow the right path.

20Don’t be a heavy drinker

or stuff yourself with food.

21It will make you feel drowsy,

and you will end up poor

with only rags to wear.

(don’t drink too much or eat too much!)

-16-

22 Pay attention to your father,   and don’t neglect your mother

when she grows old.

23Invest in truth and wisdom,

discipline and good sense,

and don’t part with them.

24Make your father truly happy

by living right

and showing

sound judgment.

25Make your parents proud,

especially your mother.

(mom’s are awesome!)

-17-

26 My son, pay close attention,   and gladly follow

my example.

27Bad women and unfaithful wives

are like a deep pit–

28they are waiting to attack you

like a gang of robbers

with victim after victim.

(avoid sexual temptations as well as falling into deep pits)

-18-

29 Who is always in trouble?   Who argues and fights?

Who has cuts and bruises?

Whose eyes are red?

30Everyone who stays up late,

having just one more drink.

31Don’t even look

at that colorful stuff

bubbling up in the glass!

It goes down so easily,

32but later it bites

like a poisonous snake.

33You will see weird things,

and your mind

will play tricks on you.

34You will feel tossed about

like someone trying to sleep

on a ship in a storm.

35You will be bruised all over,

without even remembering

how it all happened.

And you will lie awake asking,

”When will morning come,

so I can drink some more?”

(avoid alcoholism!)

PROVERBS 24

-19-

1 Don’t be jealous of crooks   or want to be their friends.

2All they think about

and talk about

is violence and cruelty.

(bad friends corrupt good morals)

-20-

3 Use wisdom and understanding   to establish your home;

4let good sense fill the rooms

with priceless treasures.

(Better Homes and Gardens)

-21-

5 Wisdom brings strength,   and knowledge gives power.

6Battles are won

by listening to advice

and making a lot of plans.

(strategize life. Make plans or plan to fail. Listen to advise)

-22-

7 Wisdom is too much for fools!   Their advice is no good.

(Ignore bad advise)

-23-

8 No one but troublemakers   think up trouble.

9Everyone hates senseless fools

who think up ways to sin.

(good sense)

-24-

10 Don’t give up and be helpless   in times of trouble.

(Never Give Up! Never Give Up! Never Give Up! – Winston Churchill)

-25-

11 Don’t fail to rescue those   who are doomed to die.

12Don’t say, “I didn’t know it!”

God can read your mind.

He watches each of us

and knows our thoughts.

And God will pay us back

for what we do.

(Burma, China, Katrina, abortion, Uganda, slavery and human trafficking)

-26-

13 Honey is good for you,   my children,

and it tastes sweet.

14Wisdom is like honey

for your life–

if you find it,

your future is bright.

(wisdom equals honey)

-27-

15 Don’t be a cruel person   who attacks good people

and hurts their families.

16Even if good people

fall seven times,

they will get back up.

But when trouble strikes

the wicked,

that’s the end of them.

(good people fail but they get right back up)

-28-

17 Don’t be happy   to see your enemies trip

and fall down.

18The LORD will find out

and be unhappy.

Then he will stop

being angry with them.

(Love your enemies)

-29-

19 Don’t let evil people   worry you

or make you jealous.

20They will soon be gone

like the flame of a lamp

that burns out.

(Don’t be overwhelmed by injustice.)

-30-

21 My children, you must respect   the LORD and the king,

and you must not make friends

with anyone

who rebels

against either of them.

22Who knows what sudden disaster

the LORD or a ruler

might bring?

(be careful of the temptation to side with the rebellious – it may backfire!)

Footnotes:

  1. Proverbs 22:28 marker: In ancient Israel boundary lines were sacred because all property was a gift from the Lord (see Deuteronomy 19.14).
  2. Proverbs 23:7 People. . . eat: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
  3. Proverbs 23:10 marker: See the note at 22.28.


Day 188: Proverbs 20-22; More on Wisdom

I admit that the title of today’s blog is not overly inspiring, yet really that is what today is about… more wisdom.  As I was reading today I again asked the question of what in the world I am going to write about today.  I kind of felt like I was running out of things to say towards the end of the Psalms, and we’re a little over halfway through the Proverbs and I don’t feel like I have much more to contribute.  There are so many things that Solomon covers here, I don’t think that I could do any one of them real justice considering he was indeed the wisest person that ever lived.  So I guess today’s post will be a bit shorter than normal.

One thing that has struck me, that I mentioned a few days ago, is the nature of pursuing wisdom.  Solomon covers this time and again, which as we learned yesterday means that he is trying to emphasize it a great deal.  One of the major things that he repeats is the rewards of pursuing wisdom vs. the rewards of pursuing wealth.  This is clearly demonstrated in the Solomon’s life as well.  When the Lord comes to give Solomon whatever he asks for, Solomon could have chosen great wealth, power, strength, or even long life, yet instead he asked for wisdom and discernment.  God was pleased with this choice, the result of which actually brought to Solomon great wealth and power.  Ultimately though it wasn’t wealth or power that Solomon sought after; he didn’t choose wisdom so that he would get rich.  Solomon chose wisdom so that he would be a wise king.  His pursuit of wisdom though brought the rewards of great wealth and influence which Solomon used well… for a time.

This clarity of pursuit is covered time and again in the proverbs of Solomon and, as we’ll see in the coming days, in other’s proverbs as well.  The pursuit of riches will eventually bring one to ruin.  We see this time and again with people that spend so much time trying to get rich and then loose it all.  Just think of how many people have won the lottery and are filing for bankruptcy.  The numbers are staggering, and incredibly sad.  Yet there are many out there with extraordinary wealth that really haven’t made wealth their full pursuit.  Instead, they have slowly built their lives and laid them on the foundation of God, as Solomon has suggested.  These are wise people whose wealth is not found in money or things, though they surely have more than enough, but is found in relationships, giving, and glorifying God in their actions.  These are the people that we should look to.  They are happy and content with their lives, with all that God has given them, and are bringing honor and glory to Him with all that He has blessed them with.  They have taken the wisdom of Solomon to heart and recognized the true source of their blessings as we all should.



Day 187: Proverbs 17-19; The Wisdom in Repetition

As I was reading through today’s Proverbs I actually caught myself thinking that this reading was getting a bit monotonous.  I’m pretty sure that some of the things that we read today were things that we read yesterday, or multiple other days.  In fact, there are a great many of the proverbs in the three chapters that we read today that are somewhat repeated from yesterday and days past.  I started to think to myself “why would Solomon repeat things multiple times?”  I definitely had to catch myself here because I think that I was starting to get a bad attitude around them.  Suddenly though, I wast struck but the wisdom in repeating these wise sayings… it isn’t about the vast amount of different wise sayings as much as it is about the wisdom found in the sayings that are there.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Photo Credit: www.faclan.org

The Dead Sea Scrolls
Photo Credit: www.faclan.org

I also realized that there are many examples of repetition in the Bible as well.  There are also many reasons for the repetition we find in Scripture!  Part of it, probably the main reason actually, comes from the Hebrew culture and their writing.  Hebrew writing has no punctuation.  If you read it in the original writing, or look at the dead sea scrolls, there really is very little break in the lines of writing at all.  This means that there are no symbols for adding emphasis like the exclamation point… and certainly no little smiley/frown faces to communicate emotions.  What this means for us, is that when things are repeated, especially when they are repeated in succession, there is a great deal of emphasis that is meant to be heard in it.  Think in Isaiah 6 or Revelation 4 when the Angels are singing “Holy Holy Holy” about the Lord.  This isn’t because they are stuttering or something, neither is it because of some sort of a lack of creativity on the part of the writer.  It is the repetition of the words that makes them powerful in the Hebrew language!  If you were to put it in today’s texting language, God is HOLY! =)

We’ve actually encountered the this type of repetition in Scripture many times in the past.  Think all the way back to Genesis, with the 2 creation narratives that we read.  One was most specific towards the details while the other was more focused on the human aspect, yet both were very geared towards the point that it was indeed God that created all things.  If you think ahead towards Abraham and the many times that the covenant was reaffirmed, we see the emphasis on the covenantal relationship that defines Israel, all which begins with God as well.  We see this with Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the giving of the Law, Joshua, and many many more throughout the history of Israel.  I have written more about this in another blog that I occasionally write in  as well.  It is an article called ‘Pete and Repeat.’  Feel free to check it out!

So today, and in the coming days, as you are reading these proverbs and one sounds familiar, take a moment to think about where you heard it before.  Maybe go back and look for it in the previous days’ readings.  Solomon is repeating these for a reason, not simply because he can’t think of anything else to say.  Perhaps these repeated sections will touch you in a special way today… perhaps they are things that we all need to hear again and again that we may better live our lives bringing honor and glory to God.



Day 186: Proverbs 14-16; Wisdom in Work, Speech, and Planning

While today’s proverbs do indeed cover a wide range of different topics in life, there are three, I think, that come through as being rather prominent.  Perhaps its because I know these verses better than the others, or maybe because they stand out to me at this stage in my life.  Whatever the reason, I think that this is what we’ll be talking about today.

Proverbs 14 is, in many ways, a chapters about being wise in the way that we work.  I think that this is something that we are sorely lacking in today’s culture.  Everything that we hear from culture is about fighting our way to the top doing whatever it takes and stepping on anyone that gets in our way.  While I don’t think that there is anything against advancement in one’s vocation, or even having vocational goals, Solomon is encouraging wisdom in these things.  They way this comes through is via a good work ethic.  Again, this is something sorely lacking in our culture today.  I can recall an abundance of times in some of the jobs that I’ve worked where people just did what they were told to do and made it take as long as possible.  People do this so they don’t have to do as much work and can just get through the day.  This is quite the opposite of what Solomon is suggesting here.

Proverbs 15 talks a great deal about being wise in how we speak.  We live in a culture full of words.  From commercials and advertising to school, work, and family, we are always and forever surrounded by words.  We listen to them, read them, and in many ways are defined by them.  We tend to be quick to speak, hasty to tear down others, and rapidly pass judgment on anyone and everyone.  Yet Solomon is once again encouraging a different worldview when it comes to speaking.

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

This reminds me a great deal of the words of James, in chapter 3, when he talks about the taming of the tongue.  He is not coming up with anything new here as we can see. James is drawing on the wisdom found in proverbs and bringing Christ into it as well!  Ultimately, James says, the taming of the tongue is the most difficult and equally the most beneficial thing that a person can do, something that we all have to work on our whole lives.

Proverbs 16 speaks more towards the plans of humans.  We are a culture of planning people aren’t we?  It doesn’t take too long to listen to the radio or watch TV before we hear some sort of an advertisement for retirement or investing and all that comes along with it.  Ultimately though, all of these plans, things about the future that we try to control are in God’s hands.  While I don’t think that Solomon would be opposed to prudent planning and being smart with money and investments for the future, I think that the crux of the issue for him is that all of this is done before the Lord.  Many times I think that we do all that we can to try and protect  ourselves, as if we rule our own little world and can control it with all the things that we do and the plans that we make.  However, Solomon is very clear when he says that in all things we need to make sure that our trust is in the Lord.  Again, James, in chapter 4, picks up this line of thinking, a Scripture that we will end with today.  Remember, as we said yesterday, that all of these things fall clearly under Solomon’s “thesis statement:” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.



Day 185: Proverbs 11-13; The Proverbs of Solomon

The end of yesterday’s reading began the section of Proverbs known as “Solomon’s Proverbs.”  This is a section marked by a train of wise statements, one or two verses long, that talk about the difference between wise living and foolish living.  Many people find this section to be kind of repetitive and dry.  Others would deem it as being the manual for moral living.  In some ways, this section displays very clearly the difference between making good choices and the results of repeated poor decisions.

Yet, there is more to today’s reading, and the next couple of days’ reading as well, because these chapters of wisdom, like all Scripture, cannot be read in a void.  We cannot look at the words of today, tomorrow, or even the rest of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes without remember the introduction section of Proverbs that we read the past couple of days.  Like I mentioned on July 1, some people think that this book is largely devoid of a focus on God and actually talks more about moral living.  However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  All of everything that we are reading today and will continue to read in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon fall under the opening verses of Proverbs 1, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

So everything today, all that we are reading today, may not speak directly to God or living for God, but it obviously speaks to the need for wisdom which finds its foundation in God alone.  Proverbs and all of wisdom literature, really all of Scripture isn’t about living the right way for its own sake.  Solomon would say that it is the fool that lives rightly for his own sake or seeks wisdom for his own gain, but it all falls under the fact that we live our lives before God.  The point of these proverbs is not simply to live in a moral way, the point is to honor God with our lives, with our choices, in our relationships, and in everything that we do, think, say, and influence.  Again, we can hear the  Biblical echoes of Deuteronomy 6, the well known Shema of Israel, loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  It is clear here and will continue to be clear in our continuing readings of proverbs, that Solomon is echoing and in many ways continuing this command, laying out clearly the many ways that we are to live our whole life in a way that is pleasing to God, keeping His way before us at all times.



Day 184: Proverbs 8-10; The Foundation of Wisdom

Our reading today covers the end of the introduction section of Proverbs.  You may have noticed that there was very little in the way of actual proverbs in the first nine chapters of Proverbs.  Instead, we have seen Solomon lay out very clearly the necessity of wisdom, the foundation of wisdom, the need for wisdom, and how to attain wisdom in our own lives.  We have seen how he has set up the metaphor of wisdom and folly calling out to a young man, trying to ‘allure’ or ‘seduce’ him into bringing them into his life.  Solomon has shown how lady wisdom and lady folly sound so similar at times and how it can be difficult to discern between them.  Yet it is clear, or rather it becomes clear very quickly which one is actually life giving and which one is life stealing, life sucking, and ultimately life destroying.  Today, we read Solomon wrap up this metaphor in the introduction, going so far as to lay out the nature of the life of those who turn to wisdom and those who turn to folly.  Chapter nine lays this out clearly, showing those who have turned to wisdom as being like those who have gone to a feast.  Interestingly, those who turn to folly are also described as those who are going to a feast, yet instead of eating food that gives life, they are eating and drinking their own death.  Wisdom is life and life giving… Folly is the way to death and will always be life stealing… even if it doesn’t seem that way at the time.

God's Wisdom is displayed in creation Photo Credit: www.wisdom-ink.com

God’s Wisdom is displayed in creation
Photo Credit: www.wisdom-ink.com

The other very notable thing about today’s reading comes in chapter 8.  Solomon writes very extensively about the history and nature of wisdom.  I like how he talks about wisdom “dwelling with prudence,” and “finding knowledge and discretion.”  This demonstrates the relationship between these four virtues and how close they all come together.  He also clearly displays the antonyms of wisdom as well: pride, arrogance, and perverted speech.

God's Wisdom in Creation Photo Credit: www.datinggod.org

God’s Wisdom in Creation
Photo Credit: www.datinggod.org

What is more interesting, I think, is the presence of wisdom in the creation narrative.  If you remember back to Genesis 1 & 2, the words of Proverbs 8 will have a familiar cadence to them.  Yet Solomon’s point here is not to reiterate the creation narrative, but to make the connection between Creator God and Wisdom.  In some ways, the description of wisdom here as being so intricately involved in creation that it cannot be separated from the action of God as creator.  Some people have even identified this as some “proof” that the Holy Spirit, or better stated, all three persons of the Trinity were involved in creation.  Solomon is laying out the clear foundation of wisdom on which this world is built.  It is the clear that wisdom can be seen in every facet of creation’s design.  One can hear the canonical foreshadowing of Paul’s words in Romans 1:20, when he talks about all of creation being without excuse.  Both Paul and Solomon are laying out the argument that creation displays wisdom and, as we have said, wisdom and the Lord are intricately linked.  God’s glory and His wisdom are clearly displayed in all of creation, and if we are willing to look, we will be able to see it and give glory to God because of it.



Day 183: Proverbs 4-7; A Father's Wise Warnings

Did you ever have parents that told you or warned you about something and you thought that they didn’t know what they were talking about?  I dare say that we all have experienced this at one point in time.  Kids always think they know better than their parents… especially teenagers.  I remember being a senior in high school and thinking that my parents didn’t know anything and that I had it all together.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Of course there is an amount of growing up that all children have to do on their own.  We grow and learn through our experiences, shaped by the people around us and our interactions with them.  However, when it comes to those that have helped us to grow the most, there are none that compare to our parents.

Proverbs Wordle Photo Credit: www.fbcmb.wordpress.com

Proverbs Wordle
Photo Credit: www.fbcmb.wordpress.com

The words of today’s Scripture readings are works just like that, wise and loving words of instruction and warnings from a father to his son.  This is not your average after school lecture about getting good grades or doing the chores though, the words of the one speaking here are  those of a loving father trying to instruct and warn his son of what is to come in the world.  The purpose?  To gain wisdom and insight.  Why?  Because keeping wisdom before you is one of the best ways to say away from folly.

Again today we see the analogy that Solomon started to make yesterday between lady Wisdom and lady Folly.  Solomon is telling his son to get wisdom at all costs, and insight as well, and to cherish her above all else.  I don’t know about you but I can almost here the echos of wedding vows in these statements.  He says to “cherish her above all else, prize her, and not to forsake her.”  It is almost as if he is telling his son that once he has wisdom, he should never let her go for it is wisdom that will help make straight the paths of life and lead to a good life.  Not only that though, having wisdom and understanding is also the way to guard against going astray, falling into the trap of folly who is seductive and tricky.

Solomon once again shows folly as being like a prostitute, beautiful on the outside but crafty and false through and through.  Like the fast diets or get rich quick schemes of the world, things look really great at first glance, but when you really see into it, all your doing is just giving your money away to someone else.  Solomon warns too that folly will take you when you aren’t looking, which is why having wisdom, understanding, and insight is so important.  Temptations lurk around every corner, looking and sounding like something very nice, and turning out to be crooked and evil.

In all of this, we need to remember that ultimately Solomon is not encouraging wisdom for the sake of being wise, but wisdom that finds its root and beginning of God alone.  It is not at all a coincidence that Solomon is using adultery as a metaphor here.  Time and time again God has used this metaphor as a way to describe the children of Israel as their are enticed away from Him and towards other gods.  The Scripture that we read today would not have been simply thought of and received as Solomon talking to his son, but as God Himself, the Father of the nation of Israel, speaking and instructing His children and warning them against the allure of other gods.  Remember how God instructed His people to remove all the people from the land of Canaan lest they be lured away by their gods?  Our reading today is no different.  It is instruction to a son, a people, to us a couple thousand years later saying we indeed need to have wisdom that is rooted in the fear of the Lord… understanding and insight that we too may walk the straight and narrow path and not be led astray by the many tempting gods and adultresses of our time.



Day 182: Proverbs 1-3; Introduction to Proverbs

Welcome to July and welcome to the book of Proverbs.  This books is attributed mostly to King Solomon, the son of David.  Remember that Solomon was visited by God who offered to grant him anything that he asked for.  Solomon asked for wisdom and the Lord granted him wisdom in abundance so that Solomon was the wisest man that ever lived.  These Proverbs, as well as the books of Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon as attributed to Solomon.

The writings of proverbs are wisdom for living.  You’ve likely heard some of them in your life already; short sayings that seem like quick quips but are actually quite helpful. Some of the sayings that we’ll read are a bit more complex and may require some additional reflection to uncover their deeper meaning.  However, all are meant to help the reader in living a life of wisdom.

Some have said that the book of Proverbs is somewhat devoid of God.  These people would point out that most of what Solomon is saying here is not really about God but about correct moral living.  While in some ways that could be true, God doesn’t show up as much in this book as He did in most of the other books, the idea that God is not in this book couldn’t be further from the truth.  God indeed is here and is the basis for all that is written.  Solomon says it in Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge

The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom... Photo Credit: www.words2wall.blogspot.com

The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…
Photo Credit: www.words2wall.blogspot.com

The Hebrew word for ‘knowledge’ used there is actually a rather broad ranging term that encompasses the ideas of knowledge, perception, skill, discernment, understanding, and wisdom.  Solomon is saying that all of what is about to happen here finds its true origin in God alone.  This is not just moralistic teaching, and none of it can be divorced from God.  Knowing God, fearing the Lord (fear being the idea of reverence, awe, worship, wonder) is the basis for all that is to come in this book.  We must recognize that before we move on.

I think that another important thing to mention here is the use of the female pronouns in the book of proverbs when referring to wisdom.  While we have talked about using gender inclusive language when we read the Bible, this is a place where changing the ‘her’ to an ‘it’ would be an injustice to Solomon’s writing.  In these first chapters, Solomon is setting up a very specific contrast between the path of Wisdom and the path of Folly.  He does so by creating something like a scene from a drama: Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly are both trying to win the heart of a young man.  Lady Wisdom calls from the street corner.  She is out there in plain sight for all to see and listen to.  Lady folly though, is like the adulteress woman who sneaks around and creeps into the hearts of those unaware only to disappear as soon as she is done with you.  This is, perhaps, an over dramatized idea of the inward battle between Wisdom and Folly, but as we will see… it is not too far off base.

Wisdom words of James 3 Photo Credit: www.thedisciplestongue.com

Wisdom words of James 3
Photo Credit: www.thedisciplestongue.com

Ultimately the attraction of the way of Folly is that of riches and wealth in quick progression.  Folly offers everything now as long as you are willing to ignore the rules or social convention.  Interestingly though, wisdom offers greater riches over time but on a safe path of understanding, perception, and knowledge that is rooted in the Lord.  In this, Solomon says, we find the true way in which God will also be our protector.  Ultimately the wise person will be blessed in greater ways than that of the foolish, but it takes more work, more patience, and more trust in the Lord.  In chapter 3 Solomon even makes an allusion to the Shema from Deuteronomy 6, keeping things like love and faithfulness bound around the neck and written on the heart.

Ultimately the path of wisdom is going to lead to right living and a blessed life.  The difference, though, between that and the world’s teaching of ‘wisdom’ is that living morally is not an end in itself, it is only a byproduct of keeping our eyes on God.  We don’t live morally for personal gain, we do it because of our love for God and our desire to live for Him as a way of gratitude for all that He has given us.  All of this, all of us should be grounded in the fear of the Lord.  It is the beginning of everything, something we will continue to hold in front of us throughout this book.



Day 181: Psalms 145-150; The Great Doxology

A Doxology is a song of praise to God for His blessings.  Think of the familiar Doxology that you may have sung in Church before:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

Worship Photo Credit: www.worshipunashamed.org/

Worship
Photo Credit: www.worshipunashamed.org

Today’s psalms are just that, a doxology.  In one church that I worked in, after we gave our offerings and tithes we all stood and sung the doxology, thanking God for the blessings that He has given us and committing them to the Lord.  It was always a moving experience and did a great job keeping in focus the truth of our giving: We do not give what is ours, we give back to God what was already His and was only entrusted to us.

Today we encounter a Doxology, or what I have deemed “the Great Doxology” in Scripture here at the end of our journey through the psalms.  We’ve spent nearly 1 full month on this book of the Bible combing through its great variety of emotions, teachings, prayers, songs, laments, praises, and so much more.  As we come to the end though, we have the opportunity to look back and see how great the whole of the book of Psalms is and what it indeed has taught us and modeled for us.  And now we have the opportunity to say thank you and to lift up praises to God.

Today (well tomorrow night actually), also marks the half way point in the year!  We’ve come a long ways and have seen the amazing story of God’s work in creation, in the nation of Israel, and in the teachings of His Word.  We have so much to celebrate today!  It is fitting that these psalms also fall on a Sunday (at least they did in 2013), and we have to opportunity to gather with God’s people to worship Him.  The words of the Psalms today fit the worship bill to the letter:

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his hosts!

There are so many songs out there that draw their words from today’s 5 psalms.  One that comes to mind right now is “All Creatures of our God and King”  Take a moment to listen it.  We will close our section on the Psalms with the words of that song today.  I would encourage you to continue reading the psalms too.  I know its a lot of reading with all the other readings that we are doing and the reading of this blog as well.  But, remember as we started out the Psalms I talked about how N.T. Wright said that he reads 5 Psalms a day every day and just keeps repeating them?  He does this because he said that it has helped him learn how to pray, praise, lament, thank, trust, hope and worship the Lord through the words of Scripture.  This, he said, was an invaluable experience.  Maybe you can’t read 5 psalms a day… maybe you can only read 1 or 2… that’s ok!  I encourage you to continue doing that as often as you can!  Let the Word of God flow over you.  Let the Word of God read you… that you may find yourself and your story in it!

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing
O praise Him alleluia
Thou burning sun with golden beam
Thou silver moon with softer gleam
O praise Him O praise Him
Alleluia alleluia alleluia

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heav’n along
O praise Him alleluia
Thou rising moon in praise rejoice
Ye lights of evening find a voice
O praise Him O praise Him
Alleluia alleluia alleluia

Let all things their Creator bless
And worship Him in humbleness
O praise Him alleluia
Praise praise the Father praise the Son
And praise the Spirit three in One
O praise Him O praise Him
Alleluia alleluia alleluia



Day 180: Psalms 139-144; Search My Heart

Today’s reading is a return to the laments of King David.  Though only one of them (Psalm 142) has a specific situation attached to it, they all exhibit the crying out of a person in distress.  One of my favorite Psalms of today is Psalm 139.  This Psalm is considered to be a Psalm of lament, but I see it as more than just lamenting in that as David cries out to the Lord he is also confessing his trust and belief in a God that is vastly more powerful and wise than the situation that he finds himself in now.  I invite you to re-read the words of this Psalm:

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.

Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

Check out the song Search My Heart from Hillsongs, based on this psalm.

We often find ourselves in situations that we cannot handle and do not see any way out of.  Sometimes we sin for reasons that we don’t understand at all.  This leads us deeper into a pit of despair and self-doubt.  Take comfort in knowing that God is greater than any situation that you will encounter.  Take comfort in knowing that God knows you heart.  He formed and created you.  He knew you before you even existed.  And, as Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Indeed He has provided a way for us in Jesus Christ, the true way out of sin and temptation.  That isn’t to say that life will be perfect here and now, but we can live in the assurance that our sins have been bought and paid for in Christ’s blood.  We know that we are not enduring anything that Christ hasn’t, and that His Spirit is with us each and every day strengthening and guiding us along the way.  And He will indeed lead us in the way everlasting!