Category: Word Focus

A Friend Indeed

Shipwrecked Prayers

A voyaging ship was wrecked during a storm at sea and only two of the men on it were able to swim to a small, desert like island. The two survivors, not knowing what else to do, agreed that they had no other recourse but to pray to God.

However, to find out whose prayer was more powerful, they agreed to divide the territory between them and stay on opposite sides of the island.

The first thing they prayed for was food. The next morning, the first man saw a fruit-bearing tree on his side of the land, and he was able to eat its fruit. The other man’s parcel of land remained barren.

After a week, the first man was lonely and he decided to pray for a wife. The next day, another ship was wrecked, and the only survivor was a woman who swam to his side of the land. On the other side of the island, there was nothing.

Soon the first man prayed for a house, clothes and more food. The next day, like magic, all of these were given to him. However, the second man still had nothing.

Finally, the first man prayed for a ship, so that he and his wife would leave the island. In the morning, he found a ship docked at his side of the island.

The first man boarded the ship with his wife and decided to leave the second man on the island. He considered the other man unworthy to receive God’s blessings, since none of his prayers had been answered.

As the ship was about to leave, the first man heard a voice from heaven booming, “Why are you leaving your companion on the island?”

“My blessings are mine alone, since I was the one who prayed for them,” the first man answered. “His prayers were all unanswered and so he does not deserve anything.”

“You are mistaken!” the voice rebuked him. “He had only one prayer, which I answered. If not for that, you would not have received any of my blessings.”

“Tell me,” the first man asked the voice, “What did he pray for that I should owe him anything?”

“He prayed that all your prayers be answered.”

For all we know, our blessings are not the fruits of our prayers alone, but those of another praying for us.

My prayer for you today is that all your prayers are answered.

– Author unknown (I searched for the author of this story, and every reference said “author unknown.”  If anyone knows the author, please let me know).

Friends of God

God created us for fellowship.  We need each other. We need friends.  Our best example in any relationship is Jesus.  His last days before His crucifixion were spent trying to prepare His friends for His departure.  The discourse begins in John 13 but He was especially tender when He addressed His closest friends in the middle of chapter 15.  In John 15:9-17, what we hear Jesus saying is “I chose you as My friends and now I am going to die for you.  If you love Me, you will obey Me by loving one another.”  Both verses 12 and 17 put love for our friends in the form of a commandment.  Verse 13 says that our friendship is measured by our willingness to sacrifice.

Friends were important to Jesus. He sought friends, dined with friends (was accused of being friends with sinners), visited friends (Mary, Martha and Lazarus) and ultimately died for His friends.  If our Lord needed friends, how much more do we need them?

Other Biblical Examples of Friendship

Paul and Timothy

In 2 Timothy, we find Paul’s last words to his dear friend Timothy. Although Paul asked Timothy to visit several times in this letter, we have no evidence that he ever saw Timothy again. In fact, Paul seemed to be aware that his death was imminent. Scholars believe that he died shortly after this letter was written.  These were possibly his last written words.  Knowing that his time was short, Paul took the time to write to Timothy.  He had many things he needed to say.  In this letter (as in the previous one), Paul instructed his friend, encouraged him, and let him know how important Timothy was to Paul and to Kingdom work.

Just as Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to counsel and stand alongside of us, Paul demonstrated that those are the characteristics of a true friend. Just observe the tender references that Paul had for Timothy.

  • The greeting to Timothy, my dear son (1:2)
  • Timothy, I thank God for you (1:3).
  • I long to see you (1:4).
  • Words of encouragement in 1:5-8.
  • Words on instruction in 1:9-12.
  • Encouragement to follow Paul’s example (2:1-3).
  • Warned his friend of danger (3:1)
  • Reminded Timothy to remain faithful (3:14)
  • Don’t be afraid. Finish the work (4:5).
  • Come to see me (4:9).
  • Asked for a special favor. Bring my coat, books and papers (4:13).
  • Hurry! (4:21). It’s as if Paul said, “I really need you. Hurry!”

Paul’s last words were full of praise for other friends as well:

  • Onesiphorus (1:16-18)
  • Luke (4:11)
  • Prisca and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus (4:19)
  • Erastus, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia and other brethren (4:20-21)

He also expressed deep sorrow at those who had proven not to be his friends:

–       Phygellus, Hermogenes, Hymenaeus, Philetus (1:15, 2:17-18)

–       Demas (4:10)

–       Alexander the coppersmith (4:14)

Other Examples

We find many other examples of friends in the Bible:

  • David and Jonathan: 1 Samuel 18:1-4, 20:17
  • Daniel and his three companions: Daniel 2:49
  • Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus: Luke 10:38-42, John 11:1-46
  • Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus: Philippians 2:19, 20, 22, 25
  • Paul, Priscilla and Aquila: Romans 16:3, 4
  • The apostle John: 3 John is filled with mention of several friends and John’s love for them (as well as a sad description of one who was not a friend).
  • Many others

Questions for reflection:

  • What other Biblical examples of friendship have you noted?
  • What have you learned from these examples?
  • Are you in a mentoring relationship?  Paul taught Timothy many things, but it was also evident that Timothy’s friendship brought much value to Paul’s life.  As a mother of adult sons, I have learned much from their wisdom.  Can you see the value of this special relationship for both the person being mentored and the mentor?

Guidelines for Friendships

ŸBe God’s friend first (James 2:23, 4:4).

ŸAfter God, your spouse (if you have one) should be your best friend. Husbands and wives have a very special relationship (Ephesians 5:21-33).

ŸAsk God whom He wants you to befriend (Matthew 11:19).

Choose wisely, but know that He wants you to befriend both believers and unbelievers. How will unbelievers become believers if we don’t love them into the Kingdom of God?  One caution in such a relationship is to be strong enough in your Christian walk that the unbeliever cannot influence you to do worldly things.  If a relationship tends to bring you down, and you are not able to be strong and help the other person up, then it may be best to dissolve the relationship.

This is true especially among young people who are so easily influenced.  There is also a special caution in the dating arena.  One youth pastor I know tells his young people, “never date someone whom you would not consider a worthy candidate as a spouse.”

However, I think that some Christians err on the other side as well and determine never to become friends with anyone who is not a Christian.  That is definitely not a Biblical standard.  Your best friends will probably be Christians, but if you have an evangelistic heart, God will lead you to befriend those who need to know Him. Of course, Jesus was a friend of sinners and we should be, too.  However, we should recognize the limitations of that relationship.

The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray

(Proverbs 12:26 NLT).

Questions for reflection:

  • Have you considered the Biblical guidelines for friendship?
  • Have you ever had a friendship that was destructive?  If you are still in that friendship, what should you do about it?
  • How do you think making God your top priority in life affects the relationship you have with your friends?
  • In John 13:15, Jesus said that we should follow his example.  What does this tell you about your attitude toward your friends?

Choosing Friends Wisely

Ÿ  Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself (Proverbs 22:24 NASB). Choose someone who is not easily angered.

Ÿ  Do not eat the bread of a selfish man, or desire his delicacies, for as he thinks within himself, so he is (Proverbs 23:6 NASB).  Choose someone who is not selfish or stingy.

Ÿ  He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm (Proverbs 13:20 NASB). Leave the presence of a fool, or you will not discern words of knowledge (Proverbs 14:7 NASB). Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words (Proverbs 23:9 NASB). Choose someone who is not foolish.

Ÿ  Do not be envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them; for their minds devise violence, and their lips talk of trouble (Proverbs 24:1 NASB). How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers! (Psalms 1:1 NASB). Choose someone who is not evil.

Ÿ  Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us (2 Thessalonians 3:6 NASB). Choose someone who is not unruly or disorderly.

Ÿ  He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets. Therefore do not associate with a gossip (Proverbs 20:19 NASB).  Choose someone who is not a gossip.

Ÿ  Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; for the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags (Proverbs 23:20-21 NASB).  Choose someone without serious addictions.

Ÿ  It is better to live in a corner of a roof, than in a house shared with a contentious woman. . . . It is better to live in a desert land, than with a contentious and vexing woman (Proverbs 21:9, 19 NASB).  Men (and women), choose your spouse carefully.

Ÿ  This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.  Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:20 NASB). Even among Christian brothers, there is a limit.

Ÿ  But be forgiving. But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree . . . to all of you. Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him (2 Corinthians 2:5-11 NASB). For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you (Matthew 6:14 NASB).

Ÿ  Satan will try to divide the people of God. See 1 Corinthians 1:10, 1 Corinthians 5:1-6.

Questions for reflection:

  • How important is it for you to choose your friends wisely?
  • In the verses above, what catches your attention?  Are there some principles here that you have not thought of before?

Special Christian Friendships

            There is a special friendship/kinship among believers, but even in the family of God, you should choose your friends wisely.

Ÿ  I am a companion of all those who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts (Psalm 119:63 NKJV).

Ÿ  Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them, so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name (Malachi 3:16 NKJV).

Ÿ  And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers (Acts 2:42 NKJV).

Ÿ  I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now (Philippians 1:3-5 NKJV).

Ÿ  . . . but if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7 NKJV).

Questions for reflection:

  • It has been said that you are known by the company you keep.  How do you respond to that statement?
  • Are your friends helping you mature in your Christian faith?  Do they tend to hold you back?
  • Reflect on the Christian friends who have helped you grow in your relationship to God.  Does someone stand out?
  • Do you allow your Christian friends the opportunity to correct your behavior if needed? Do you have an “accountability partner”?
  • Do you remember to thank God for those special friends? In what ways can you show your gratitude?

Characteristics of A Friend

  1. Loves (Proverbs 17:17; 1 Corinthians 13)
  2. Prays (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2)
  3. Is a giver, not always a receiver (Proverbs 18:24)

I went out to find a friend. But could not find one there. I went out to be a friend. And friends were everywhere! ~ Author unknown.

  1. Gives godly counsel (Proverbs 27:9)

A friend is… a push when you’re stopped – a word when you’re lonely – a guide when you’re searching – a smile when you’re sad – a song when you’re glad!

~ Author unknown.

  1. Is consistent (Proverbs 27:10)
  2. Is interested in your growth (Proverbs 27:17)
  3. Stays by your side (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment? (Amos 3:3).  The North American Indian describes a friend as “one-who-carries-my-sorrows-on-his-back.”

Questions for reflection:

  • Are these characteristics true of you?
  • Can you think of one or more of your friends who embody these characteristics?
  • What difference does it make in your life to have a friend like this?

________________________________________________________________________

An English publication offered a prize for the best definition of a friend, and among the thousands of answers received were the following:

–       “One who multiplies joys, divides grief.”

–       “One who understands our silence.”

–       “A volume of sympathy bound in cloth.”

–       “A watch which beats true for all time and never runs down.”

–       But here is the best definition that won the prize: “A friend – the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.”

 “Only God Gives a Friend” by Rosalie Carter

I think that God will never send,

A gift so precious as a friend.

A friend who always understands,

And fills each need as it demands.

Whose loyalty will stand the test.

When skies are bright or overcast.

Who sees the faults that merit blame,

But keeps on loving just the same

Who does far more than creeds could do,

To make us good, to make us true,

Earth’s gifts a sweet contentment lend,

But only God can give a friend!

Questions for Reflection:

  • Describe your best friend. Why is she so special to you?
  • Can you recall a time when you made it through a really tough circumstance because of the care of a friend? If so, did you ever say “thank you?”
  • Do you have friends that pray faithfully for you?
  • Do you pray faithfully for your own friends?
  • What are some ways that you can grow as a friend?
  • What are some ways that you can let your friends know how valuable they are to you?
  • Reflect again on what Jesus had to say to his friends before he died. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are my friends if you do whatever I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you  (John 15:12-15 NKJV).
  • What does it mean to you to be a friend of Jesus? What can you learn from his example as a friend? Have you ever thought of him in this role?  John 15:13 tells us how important that role was to Jesus.

© Stephanie B. Blake

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AAA Marriage

AAA Marriage

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:28-31).

There is no more important relationship than the one you have with God. However, if you are married, your spouse is your most important human relationship. He/she is your closest neighbor. Wedlock has the potential of not only being the most joyful and fulfilling relationship, but also the most difficult. What a person imagines marriage will be like and what marriage is actually like can be two different things.  Even the best marriages have trials and tribulations.

The difficulty of the relationship is evident by the divorce rate. Statistics indicate that the divorce rate among second and third marriages is even higher than first marriages. So, swapping spouse number one for spouse number two or three has not proven to be the solution to the problem.

Marriage counselors make a living trying to keep marriages together. Priests, preachers and church leaders are often called upon to comfort and guide husbands and wives. Many spouses have given it everything they had, but because their partners did not, the marriages did not make it. It is possible to bounce back from a dissolved marriage with God’s help, but few have entered marriage with the idea that it would not work out.

Although marriage is part of God’s design, it is not God’s plan for every person. Some individuals are called to live singly. Paul addresses that issue in 1 Corinthians 7.

This study is addressed to a specific group of married people – men and women who are both Christians striving to glorify God in their lives and their marriages. They realize there are spiritual standards that apply to them. What are those standards and how can a Christian couple apply them to daily living?

In school, teachers have a standard: a letter grade that is evidence of the student’s achievements.  Top students earn an A, while students who have perfect scores rate an A+. Superior businesses are given AAA rating. With few exceptions, students who achieve an A or A+ and businesses that have a AAA rating do so with a great deal of work, dedication and sacrifice. They believe excellence is worth the effort.

Being willing to apply Biblical principles and to put the other person first, Christians should be dedicated to the personal sacrifice that makes their marriage work – Accept, Adapt and Aim –  AAA marriage.

ACCEPT

It is true that opposites attract.  Very few couples are like in temperaments. Complications come with that attraction, however, because different ways of doing things and opposite views can result in friction.  In the courting stage, couples often see the other person as “completing” him/her.  That sometimes means the strengths of one person are contrary to the strengths of the other.  It actually may be a weakness of the other person.

A good example is neatness or orderliness.  One spouse is often a very organized person while the other is a bit sloppy.  You get the picture. That can lead to some interesting situations.

Some people erroneously believe they can change their spouse after marriage.  People do change as they grow older, but expecting a certain change in someone leads to inevitable disappointment. Even as we grow, our temperaments remain the same. An introverted child remains introverted as an adult and an extroverted child remains extroverted as an adult.  The difference comes in learning to harness the strengths of a temperament and control the weaknesses.  However, only an individual can do this for himself. No one else can do it for him.

Men and women think differently and react differently to circumstances.  This results in a gender culture shock after marriage.  Other cultural differences such as race, nationality, age and faith can further complicate the relationship. Differences that are so attractive before marriage often become conflict after marriage.

Once a person plans to marry or is married, the first “A” is to accept his partner just the way she is.  Different is not necessarily wrong – it is often just another point of view – distinct from the other person’s.  Different is often just . . . different.

Accepting another person is only possible if one has a proper view of oneself.  In order to accept someone else, you have to accept yourself. Sometime that takes more work than accepting your spouse. Examine the wording of Mark 12:28-31. Jesus said that you should love your neighbor as you love yourself.

ADAPT

Adjustments are necessary in the marriage relationship.  You must adapt to the differences you have accepted in the other person. The primary adjustment is the relationship itself: Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

Both Paul and Peter, apostles of Jesus, had important things to say about the roles of a husband and wife. Adapting to these roles takes a lot of work for both parties.

After the apostle Paul instructed believers to walk in love . . . be filled with the Spirit . . . and [submit] to one another in the fear of God (Ephesians 5:2, 18, 21), he addressed marriage partners. Knowing that adaption is a hard process, the Bible has some specific helps about how to make the adjustment.

Scripture and Questions for Reflection:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.  Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:22-24).

  • These verses have been misinterpreted, misunderstood and avoided.  There is no indication here or elsewhere in Scripture, of women being inferior.  Do these verses state that women are to be subject to men? See verse 21.
  • A hierarchy exists in business with the President being followed by a Vice President, etc.  Opinions of other leadership figures are often consulted, but the responsibility for a decision lies with the President.  There cannot be two Presidents.  Nothing would ever be decided on. Is there a correlation between the roles of husband and wife and President/Vice President?
  • Every Christian is to be subject to Christ.  Paul here states that the wife’s submission to her husband is similar to their submission to the Lord.  It has been said that where there is no responsibility, there is no accountability. If a decision is made according to these standards and it is wrong, who is responsible?
  • Compare 1 Peter 3:1-6 with these verses in Ephesians.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).

  • Christ died for His Bride, the Church. What is the standard that Christ sets for the role of the husband?

So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church (Ephesians 5:28-29).

  • How does these verses relate to Mark 12:28-31?

This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband  (Ephesians 5:32-33).

  • What does a woman generally want most from her husband?
  • How does respect express a wife’s love for her husband?
  • Compare Ephesians 5:25-33 with 1 Peter 3:7.  What does Scripture say can hinder the prayers of a man?

How can spouses accept each other’s differences and adapt to them? Scripture gives the criteria for true love: Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged.  It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT).

  • Often it is the little things of life that cause constant irritation in a couple’s relationship.  Have you ever known a spouse who “kept a record of wrongs” and was ready to relate it at any moment?
  • Do you need to change anything in order to apply this standard of love to your marriage relationship?

AIM

Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine  linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints (Revelation 19:7-8).

Remembering that this study is structured for Christians, it is easy to understand that the AIM of a Christian marriage is to put Christ first.  If a Christian understands and accepts God’s love for her in her own life, she will be able to love her spouse with a greater love than a non-believer. The Bible has a lot to say about marriage on earth and in heaven.  From Genesis to Revelation, marriage is mentioned, sometimes in context of an earthly marriage, but many times with a future spiritual application.

Examine the following passages with the thought that marriage on earth is preparation for marriage of eternity.

  • The Lamb in Revelation is Jesus.  Compare Revelation 19:7-8 with Ephesians 5:25-27 and reflect on the husband’s role in marriage.
  • Believers are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  They are the only ones who will be with Jesus, the Bridegroom, for eternity. See Revelation 3:5. What is the symbolism of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2, 9-10) and who gets to enter there (21:27)?
  • Read Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14. The king in the parable cast out the person who did not have the proper wedding garment (11-14).  Compare this parable to Revelation 3:5 and 21:27. Who wears the proper wedding garment to the wedding and what color is it?
  • No one has really been pure except Christ. How can His Bride come to the wedding feast with a white garment? See Revelation 7:14.

Life on earth is preparation for life eternally.  Paul tells believers to set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth (Colossians 3:2) and whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17).  Further on in that chapter, he repeats whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:23-24).  Wedged in between verses 17 and 23, he again addresses believers who are in a marriage relationship.

Believers are to be holy, set apart, from those who do not believe. They are to put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do (Colossians 3:12-13). The primary goal or aim of Christ’s life was to bring people to God through His sacrificial love. As He served, He asks His followers to serve (John 13:1-17), stating “A servant is not greater than his master, nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” 

Christians can know [the] things [that honor God in a marriage]. Blessed are you if you do them. The world is watching closely for evidence that faith in God makes a difference in a marriage relationship.

© Stephanie B. Blake

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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Ancient Wisdom

As a study of the book of Proverbs, he next three Bible studies are designed to go together.

Ancient Wisdom for Today: Reliable Advice

Ancient Wisdom for Today: Relating to God

Ancient Wisdom for Today: Relating to Others

Ancient Wisdom for Today: Reliable Advice

In the second half of the 20th century, there were two very popular newspaper advice columns. Ask Ann Landers lasted the longest. Using the fictional pen name of Ann Landers, Ruth Crowley started writing the column in 1943. It was picked up by Eppie Lederer in 1955 and lasted until 2002. Eppie’s twin sister, Pauline Phillips, introduced Dear Abby in 1955. That column ran until 1995.

Readers of these columns were so loyal they continued to ask newspapers to run the columns even after the writers had retired. The archives of these advice columnists can be found online. Query quotes from these columnists and you will find many.

These ladies may have done considerable research in order to respond to the letters they received, but in the end, the advice they gave was personal opinion. Some of the advice resulted in controversy and an occasional loss of a sponsoring newspaper. The clamor for continued columns, however, reveals that people are looking for answers to life’s issues and a credible source for those answers.

The only reliable source of guidance lies in the one place where advice is totally trustworthy – God’s word. An online search of the word proverb will reveal excerpts from the Bible accredited as a societal proverb. Some people are not even aware they are quoting from scripture. Although all of scripture has relevancy to how a person lives, perhaps the most quoted portion of the Bible is Proverbs.

Perhaps this is true because most societies have their own proverbs – short sayings that contain some traditionally held belief. The Touchpoint Bible notes that a biblical proverb is

not a law of God (which must be followed) or a promise of God (which guarantees a certain result). A proverb is a general principle that, if followed, applies to most people in most situations. While the desired result may not always occur in your life, the course of action suggested in the proverb is always the right thing to do.

The key to understanding the difference between a proverb of a people and the proverbs of the Bible are “traditionally held” beliefs. Noted above, a biblical proverb suggests a course of action that is always the right thing to do. In a societal proverb, the principles are traditional, but not necessarily correct – such as a watched pot never boils; all’s fair in love and war and children should be seen and not heard. Some people even believe they are quoting scripture when they are actually quoting a traditional saying, such as God helps those who help themselves.

And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding…He spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were one thousand and five (1 Kings 4:29, 32).

Known as the wisest man that ever lived, King Solomon wrote most of the book of Proverbs – around eight hundred of them. Before he became king, God told him He would grant any wish he had. Solomon asked for wisdom to rule God’s people. Not only was he known for his wisdom and his more than three thousand proverbs, there was also total peace during his reign.

Solomon did not always take his own advice. He did not stay true to his own promise to be wholly devoted to the Lord (he allowed his many wives to lead him into idolatry) and his reign ended the golden days of Israel. After his death, the kingdom was divided and the glory days were over.

Nevertheless, Solomon’s proverbs were inspired by God. His proverbs and those of the others who contributed to the biblical book of Proverbs still lead us to contrast the differences between wise people and foolish people. The principles contained in the proverbs apply to every area of life – political, ethical, business, familial and personal. God centered wisdom is the best source for advice.

Although Proverbs is not a book of manners, it has a great deal to say about how to be gracious in your speech and your actions dealing with all relationships: strangers, neighbors, friends and family.

Proverbs deals with aspects of a person’s relationship to God and others. Many themes are scattered throughout the book. In a detailed search of my own, eight common themes were discovered. Four themes relate to our vertical relationship to God and four others pertain to our horizontal relationships with others.

  • The Wise Person Fears God
  • The Wise Person Strives to Understand
  • The Wise Person Obeys the Commandments
  • The Wise Person Accepts Discipline
  • The Wise Person Stands Upright
  • The Wise Person Watches His Words
  • The Wise Person Cares for Others
  • The Wise Person Works but Leaves the Results to God

Answers to life’s questions are found in God’s word. A reliable source for advice can be found in Proverbs.

© Stephanie B. Blake

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Ancient Wisdom for Today: Relating to God

The Wise Person Fears God 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7).

The word fear has two very distinct definitions. The most common use is that of anxious concern or dread – being afraid. The other is to venerate – to have reverential awe.

These two forms of the word fear occur throughout the Bible and frequently in the book of Proverbs. The foundational principle for Proverbs is the fear of God. Proverbs 1:1-6 tells why the book was written. The next verse describes how all wisdom begins – with the fear of God.

Although God deserves our reverential awe, disrespect toward Him abounds. As if He is on call to do our bidding and supply our every desire, He is often referred to as the Man Upstairs or the Great Father in the Sky. Worse still, His name often comes in front of a curse word.

A.W. Tozer, who wrote The Knowledge of the Holy, states, “the essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts that are unworthy of Him.”

Anyone visiting the President of the United States, the Queen of England or any other national head of state would first be taught the proper protocol to exercise while in their presence. This would include how to dress, what to say and what not to say. No one would expect otherwise.

Yet many argue that God’s protocol is unjust. Anyone wanting to stand in His presence must come with clean hands and a pure heart – obtained only through Jesus Christ. In His parable of the wedding feast, the man without the proper wedding garment was cast away into darkness. Access to God came at a high price – the price of His Son. Jesus provided the pure white garments for us.

God knows our hearts and whether we respect Him. By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy and before all the people I will be honored (Leviticus 10:3 NAS).

The wonder of a proper fear of God is that it results in removing fear of everything else. If you fear God, you need fear nothing else. John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace, put it this way, “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”

For further study:

Underline “fear of the Lord” throughout Proverbs and discuss the verses.

Compare the two types of fear in the following verses: Psalm 27:1, Proverbs 3:24, Philippians 4:6-7, 1 Peter 5:7, 1 John 4:1

The Wise Person Strives to Understand 

The knowledge of the Holy is understanding (Proverbs 9:10).

Knowledge without understanding is like a car without gas. The possibility is great, but the missing element is essential.

At some point in every person’s life, there are questions to be answered. Who is God? Who am I? What is the purpose of my life?

The wisdom book of Proverbs states its purpose from the very beginning. In the first six verses of chapter one, the word understanding appears three times. There are only five chapters in the book (Proverbs has thirty one chapters) where understand or understanding does not appear. In the chapters where it does appear, many have multiple entries.

Understand or understanding is used either in the positive as a wise person who understands or the negative as in a foolish person who lacks understanding. It is clear that it takes work to understand life. The easy, lazy way of life leads to a lack of understanding.

Ordinarily, we associate understanding with our mind – our intellectual discernment. However, God examines our hearts, knows our hearts and judges our hearts. In the Bible, the heart is equal to the seat of our emotions, our inner being, who we really are. Often in Proverbs, the wise person is instructed to apply your heart to understanding. If our understanding were only intellectual, we might not apply the principles we have learned for service.

In order to answer the questions of life, we must get to know the one who created us. We need to get to know God. There is no one like Him.

There are some excellent resources to help us understand the nature of God and His attributes. My favorites are The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer and Knowing God by J. I. Packer.

The primary source is God’s Word itself. Tozer advises us to throw away every comparison word like trait, characteristic or quality when we think of God. We cannot know everything about God, but we can discover those things He has chosen to reveal about Himself. Then, and only then, can we answer the questions, “Who am I” and “What is my purpose?” Those answers are tied to who God is, what He has done for us and what His plan is.

For further study highlight every time “understand” or “understanding” appears in Proverbs discussing the positive and negative implications.

The Wise Person Obeys God 

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

One of the first words most children learn is “no.” Human nature resists rules. For his own good, however, parents need to set limits for their child. Playing in the fenced yard is OK. Playing in the street is not.

A parent’s responsibility is to help God mold the character of his child. A compassionate parent is also one that is in control. Even when a child does not yet understand the rules set by his parents (never touch a stovetop, don’t run with scissors), he should be confident that there is good reason for them.

The child can trust his father to know what is best.  Rules are boundaries for character development and protection.

Laws in society are similarly put in place for protection. When they are no longer in place, human nature often takes over with disastrous results. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans gave us a glimpse of what that was like.

Jesus is the only human being who obeyed His Father’s commandments completely. He willingly submitted Himself to our human limitations. As a Man, He learned obedience (Hebrews 5:8) and set an example for us.

His perfect life and sacrificial death released us from the bondage of the law. The law itself is good, but since we are incapable of obeying it perfectly, it was a bondage to us. Jesus’ gift of grace made reconciliation to God possible.

As Christians, we should trust God. We see in His laws His hand of guidance and protection. Jesus fulfilled the law for us and summarized all that it represented in His new commandment to love one another as He loves us.

Believers are to be in submission, not under bondage. There is a difference. We are free in Christ. Submission is voluntary. Bondage is not.

We should look at the commandments of God like a child views the instruction of his parents. The boundaries and guidelines are for our protection and our growth.

For further study, highlight all the passages in Proverbs concerning law and commandments. Compare the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) with these passages in Proverbs. Examine how disobeying the commandments can harm your Christian life and witness.

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2)

The Wise Person Accepts Discipline 

For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights (Proverbs 3:12).

Discipline and punishment are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. When someone sees a child acting rudely in a public place, you might hear her say, “I wish his parents would discipline that child.” What she often means is that she expects the parent to punish them for their bad behavior.

Punishment carries the idea of inflecting a penalty for an offense. Discipline is training someone to obey a code of behavior. Discipline may include a spanking after an infraction if that is needed, but never with the intent of harm or with anger. Correction and instruction are the goals. Depending on the child’s personality, a conversation about the offense or removal from the store may have the same effect as a spanking would for another child.

The root of discipline is also the word for a follower of Christ: disciple. Aids to spiritual growth are often called spiritual disciplines. Discipline is the voluntary mental and active submission to God’s will. A disciplined Christian can disciple other believers.

Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline, the Path to Spiritual Growth says, “The classical disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths.” He lists spiritual disciplines as: inward disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting, study); outward disciplines (simplicity, solitude, submission, service) and corporate disciplines (confession, worship, guidance, celebration). He carefully warns against turning any spiritual discipline into law.

Spiritual discipline is connected with the idea of guidance and correction. Just as a loving father corrects his child in order for him to develop a good character, God lovingly guides, corrects and instructs, knowing that when one of his children has willingly received his correction, he is able to help others.

The disciplined believer is:

  • Loved of God (Proverbs 3:11-12, 13-13).
  • Living according to God’s standards (Proverbs 6:20-23).
  • Listening to God speak (Proverbs 1:1-7; 13:1; 15:5, 31; 25:12)
  • Learning every day (Proverbs 9:8-9; 10:8; 12:1; 13:18; 15:32; 25:12)
  • Leading others to do the same. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching (2 Timothy 4:2 NLT).

Hear counsel, receive instruction, and accept correction that you may be wise in the time to come (Proverbs 19:20 Amplified).

© Stephanie B. Blake

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Ancient Wisdom for Today: Relating to Others

His secret counsel is with the upright (Proverbs 3:32 NKJV).

His confidential communion and secret counsel are with the [uncompromisingly] righteous [those that are upright and in right standing with Him] (Proverbs 3:32 Amplified).

Many a mother has counseled her daughter to stand up straight. To improve posture, a young girl might walk through her home with a stack of books on her head. In that upright position, it is impossible to look down or to the left or to the right without toppling the books. Her gaze must be forward. Her concentration is straight ahead.

Standing erect is not only good for your posture. It is imperative for your spiritual life. Those who are upright are disciplined in righteousness, justice and integrity.

The definition of upright is an object that is vertical or erect or a person that is honorable or honest. In the Amplified Bible, the word upright is often translated as consistently or uncompromisingly righteous, one who walks uprightly, in right standing with God or moral and spiritual rectitude in every area and relation.

An upright person is not perfect, but focused. Occasionally the books will fall. The posture of a focused Christian will improve with time and practice. The more determined one is to love God and please Him, the more disciplined he will be.

Every failure or sin is a lesson learned. Don’t go there again. When you are down, look up at God. Ask for His forgiveness and accept it. Mary Pickford, 1873-1979, said, “You may have a fresh start any time you chose, for this thing we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

After a Christian has sinned and asked for forgiveness, Satan loves to keep him wallowing in guilt, refusing to feel forgiven. God knows we will fall yet He is righteous and just to forgive us our sin – through His Son.

The upright godly person walks with wisdom, looking forward, considering the steps of the path before him and is determined not to let distractions turn him aside from the path God has chosen for him.

With eyes forward, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2 NIV).

For further study, highlight every passage in Proverbs with relevant meanings of “upright.” Compare these with the New Testament armor found in Ephesians 6:10-13 – focusing on the breastplate of righteousness.

The Wise Person Watches His Speech

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11).

Quarreling children on a playground sometimes say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That saying is not true. Relationships have been crushed and lives have been destroyed because of words. Even in America, where the law clearly declares one innocent until proven guilty, the mere accusation of a crime can ruin a life.

Scripture is full of admonition to be careful with our words. It is a recurrent theme in such books as Proverbs in the Old Testament and James in the New.

One of the best examples of a godly man who did not sin with his mouth was Job. At the end of his trials and the conclusion of the book of Job, God addresses the so-called friends who gave Job advice throughout his experiences. He was angry at them because they did not speak of Him what was right, as His servant Job had. Those friends were saved only through the prayers of Job, a righteous man before God.

Isaiah’s vision convicted him that he and his people were guilty of unclean lips. Jesus said that what a man says comes out of the overflow of his heart. Paul advised the Ephesian church to refrain from unwholesome speech and only say those things that would build others up. James warned Christians to be slow to speak and slow to anger.

The contrasts between proper and improper speech are plentiful in the book of Proverbs. For instance:

  • When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is not wise (10:19)
  • He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity (22:23).
  • Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue (17:28)

These verses might lead those who are naturally quiet to think that being godly is easier because they don’t talk a lot. However, the Bible does not say that God is pleased only with silence. He wants us to use our tongues to witness (Romans 10:14), confess Jesus as Lord (Philippians 2:11), give God thanks (Colossians 3:17), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

For further study, search through Proverbs for the contrasts of good and evil speech. There are seven sets of these in chapter 10 alone.

Two of the Ten Commandments deal directly with speech. Compare these with other verses about the tongue.

The Wise Person Cares for Others 

A body of water with no inlet or outlet becomes a stagnant, insect-infested pond. Without living water flowing in and out, the result is not only unattractive and uncomfortable but unhealthy as well.

A healthy Christian life includes service to others. Jesus not only said that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything you are, but to love others as you love yourself. He gave His closest disciples a new commandment to love each other just as He had loved them.

There is no place for a self-absorbed Christian in God’s family. Jesus warned against keeping your light under a bushel or neglecting to become salt in a world that desperately needs it. Vital, living Christianity flows with the Living Water of the One who gave His life for ours.

Satan does not care how much you theorize about Christianity or how much you profess to know Christ. What he opposes vigorously is the way you live for Christ – the way you become an instrument of mercy, compassion, and love through which He manifests Himself to the world.

Mother Teresa said, “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have been done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.’”

Throughout the book of Proverbs, a common theme is caring for others. It described gracious, merciful, generous people who are concerned about the needs of others and extend their hands to help them. The old saying, “What goes around comes around” can be applied in the positive sense as well as the negative. The unexpected consequence of helping others is the blessings you receive when you do. Proverbs says that a caring person attains honor, does himself good, will be prosperous, happy, blessed, and will himself be watered and kindness and truth will come to him.

Paul instructed the church in Rome to receive Phoebe and assist her for “she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (Romans 16:1-2). Name the ways God has cared for you. Can you model that same kind of care to others?

For further study examine these verses in Proverbs about caring for others.

  • Family and close friends: See 11:16, 11:17, 11:25, 11:26, 14:21, 14:22, 22:9, 24:23-25.
  • Neighbors: Proverbs 11:9, 11:12, 14:21a, 24:29, 25:8-10, 26:17-19, 29:5
  • Poor: 4:21b, 14:31; 17:5, 19:17, 21:13, 22:9, 22:22, 24:29, 28:27, 29:7, 29:14, 31:8-9, 31:20
  • Enemies: 6:7, 20:22, 24:17, 24:19, 24:23-25, 25:19-21

The Wise Person Works and Leaves the Results to God 

…He who has begun a good work in you will complete it…We are God’s fellow workers, you are God’s field, you are God’s building (Philippians 1:6, 1 Corinthians 3:9).

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. That is how Proverbs begins. It ends with a description of a godly woman. Because she fears God, this woman will bear fruit and her own works will praise her in the gates. In Old Testament times, the men gathered in the gates for daily conversation. This woman’s husband was well known and sat with the other leaders in the city gate. His wife made him proud.

This truth is carried out in Jesus’ teaching. When you reflect His light, others will see your good works and the Father will be glorified. A child of God who makes the Father proud is someone who trusts Him in every area of life. His life and his work testify that He loves God and fears Him.

The universal human questions: who is God, who am I, what is my purpose are answered in this context. God is all in all and deserves my respect. I am His creation and His child (if I am a believer). My purpose is to do His will and glorify His name.

Some confuse work with their vocation or the job they have. Whatever a believer does, he should do well, for he serves the Lord Jesus. A Christian should be the best employee in a company. A vocation is only part of your life, however. Your work encompasses not only your profession but every area of life.

How to approach work is a common thread throughout the book of Proverbs. It addresses the need to be diligent in your work or to pay steady, constant attention to what you are called to do.

A book of contrasts, Proverbs instructs sluggards to consider the ways of ants. Consider this humorous comparison between these small creatures: ants and slugs. Ants are instinctively productive workers. People have a choice.

For further study, see Proverbs 10:4-5, 12:11, 12:24, 12:27, 13:4, 21:5, 22:29, 24:27, 28:19 in conjunction with Colossians 3:17-24 and Ephesians 6:7-8 in light of being diligent in your work.

To contrast diligence and laziness, see Proverbs 6:6-9; 10:26, 19:15, 19:24, 20:4, 20:13, 21:17, 21:25,22:13, 24:30-34, 26:14-16, 30:24-28.

Examine these verses in light of honoring the Lord and sowing righteousness with your lifestyle and productivity: Proverbs 3:9, 10:16, 11:18, 11:28, 12:12, 16:8, 31:20-31

Summary of Ancient Wisdom for Today 

He who gains wisdom loves his own life (Proverbs 19:8 Amplified). 

The wise person accepts God’s love.

He fears God, strives to understand, obeys the commandments and accepts discipline.

The wise person reflects God’s love.

He stands upright, watches his words, cares for others and works according to God’s plan for his life.

The wise person trusts in God and leaves the results to Him.

God judges our attitude and our work. He rewards the wise person who honors Him and does His will. The rewards are earthly and eternal.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord… So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom (Psalm 90:12, 1 Corinthians 15:58).

© Stephanie B. Blake

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Christmas Word Focus – A Scripture Christmas Tree

Cut a Christmas tree from green poster board.   For the ornaments, use white and colored paper. Use white poster board to make the star and the candles. Gifts at the base of the tree can be wrapped or just placed underneath.

Have members of your Bible study group (or family members) decorate the tree and talk about how Jesus really is “the reason for the season.” 

White ornaments:

The white Scripture balls are verses that tell about Jesus. They form the trunk of the tree (Jesus is the True Vine – John 15:1).  The last four fill in the second branch (2 on each side) forming a cross in the middle of the tree. Start at the bottom of the tree and go up with the scriptures as you explain them:

1.  The Savior-yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David (Luke 2:11)

2.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

3.  Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel (meaning God is with us) (Matthew 1:23).

4.  Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29).

5.  Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6a).

6.  Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25a).

7.  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

8.  “Yes, I am the gate.  Those who come in through me will be saved” (John 10:9a).

9.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

10.  “Take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b).

11.  He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised from the dead to make us right with God (Romans 4:25).

12.  But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).

After making the cross in the tree with the twelve white ornaments, place the star on top of the tree, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

White candles:

The first Christmas trees were decorated with candles on the ends of the branches.  There are nine candles for our Scripture tree, each one “lit” with a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Place “love” at the base of the tree for Jesus said, “I command you to love each other in the same way that I love you. And here is how to measure it – the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends” (John 15:12-13).

Place the other eight candles on the tips of the branches citing examples of how Jesus demonstrated joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in His lifetime.

The first twelve ornaments, the star and the candles are white to represent the purity of Jesus who knew no sin (1 Peter 2: 

Colored ornaments:

The colored ornaments are some of Jesus’ words to His followers.  Although Jesus said “You are the light of the world” and “Let your shine before men” (Matthew 5:14, 16), we must always remember that we have been stained with sin and are reflective light. We can only shine when we are “plugged in” to the Source of Light. Fill in the rest of the tree with these ornaments, reading each as you put them on, reflecting on Jesus’ words to us.

  1. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness . . .” (Matthew 6:33).
  2. You are the salt of the earth . . .” (Matthew 5:13).
  3. “You are my friends, if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).
  4. “You will know them by their fruits . . .” (Matthew 7:16).
  5. I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail . . .” (Luke 22:32).
  6. “You are the light of the world . . .” (Matthew 5:14).
  7. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth . . .” (Matthew 28:18).
  8. “By this all men will know that you My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
  9. “Let your light shine before men . . .” (Matthew 5:16).
  10. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . .” (Matthew 6:20).
  11. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God . . .” (Matthew 5:8).
  12. “My sheep hear My voice . . . and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

The Scripture references for the colored ornaments are taken from the New American Standard.

At the base of the tree, place the gifts that Jesus gives to those who trust Him:

  • ETERNAL LIFE: The greatest gift of all is the gift of eternal life – Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • THE HOLY SPIRIT: He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide and instruct us – John 14:16: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you.”
  • SPIRITUAL GIFTS: To each Christian is given at least one spiritual gift – 1 Corinthians 12:7:  A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church.
  • PEACE:  Only through Christ can we know true peace – John 14:27: I am leaving you with a gift-peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
  • WISDOM: We have only to ask for wisdom, in faith believing, and He promises to give it to us. James 1:5: If you need wisdom – if you want to know what God wants you to do – ask him, and he will gladly tell you.  He will not resent your asking.
  • FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: We can cope with the trials of life because God gives us the fruit of Jesus’ Spirit – Galatians 5:22, 23: But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
  • GLORY: Jesus shares His glory with His believers. John 17:22: “I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one as we are.”
  • POWER, LOVE, SOUND MIND: 2 Timothy 1:7:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (NKJV).

  • THE MIND OF CHRIST: 1 Corinthians 2:16: . . . But we have the mind of Christ (NKJV).

The tree may be draped with garlands or red yarn or rick-rack to represent the shed blood of Jesu

Note:

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Something extra:

With the remnants from the green poster board, you can make stars with descriptions of Jesus.  On one side you would put the description, on the other the Scripture.  Punch hole in the top of the star, place ornament hanger in the hole and hang on your regular Christmas tree. Below you will find just a few of the descriptions of Jesus.

  • Only begotten – John 1:14
  • First and Last – Revelation 1:17
  • Cornerstone – Ephesians 2:20
  • Prince of Peace – Isaiah 9:6
  • Emmanuel – Isaiah 7:14
  • Bread of Life – John 6:48
  • Governor – Matthew 2:6
  • Judge – Acts 10:42
  • Rock – 1 Corinthians 10:4
  • Vine – John 15:1
  • Unspeakable Gift – 2 Corinthians 9:15
  • Teacher – John 3:2
  • King – Matthew 21:5
  • Shepherd – Hebrews 13:20
  • I AM – John 858
  • Lamb – Revelation 5:6
  • High Priest – Hebrews 4:14
  • Advocate – 1 John 2:1
  • Good Shepherd – John 10:11
  • Morning Star – Revelation 22:16

It is my prayer that this tree will represent the true meaning of Christmas that we, as believers, celebrate.

© Stephanie B. Blake

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Elements of Powerful Praying: The Person, the Prayer, the Power

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results (James 5:16 NLT).

THE PERSON

The best definition of prayer is conversation with God. The person talking with God and God Himself are participants in the conversation — the prayer.

What kind of person has such access to God that he feels at ease talking with Him at any time, in any place and about anything?  According to Scripture, a righteous person has such access.

What makes a person righteous?  There is no natural righteousness in man (Isaiah 64:6, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Romans 3:23).  The righteous man is righteous only because Christ’s righteousness has been transferred to him through faith (Isaiah 53:11, 1 Peter 3:18).

David said the person with clean hands and a pure heart is allowed to stand in God’s holy place (Psalm 24:3-4). The writer of Hebrews tells us that we can enter God’s holy place with confidence by the blood of Jesus (10:19).

Once a person is washed clean, however, access to God is unlimited.  Abraham, who walked and talked with God, was considered righteous because of his faith (Romans 4). God called Abraham His friend (James 2:23).  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers. . .(1 Peter 3:12).

Recently on a beautiful bright sunny day, my husband and I were out for a walk. I observed a driver round a corner in front of us very slowly.  She was driving through a deep puddle left from a heavy rain the day before.  Her van was spotlessly clean.  It was obvious to me that she was trying to keep it that way, so she was taking much care to keep dirt off her clean vehicle.

Christians need to take that same care with their spiritual lives.  Although it is true that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7), as long as we are on earth, there is the need for constant cleansing. There are spiritual mud puddles all around us.  It takes work to go around them and stay clean.  When, not if (1 John 1:8-10), we do get dirty again, we must go back to the wash and remove the road dirt. Satan loves to put obstacles in our path and get us dirty and distracted.  He knows that the dirt can obscure our spiritual vision. Sometimes we are so lazy that we do not want to take the time to clean up.  Our communication with God can be interrupted during those times.

Jesus promised that He and the Father would make their home with the one who loves Him and keeps His word (John 14:23).  In the discourse about the true vine, He put home in terms of abiding with one another (John 15:4).  The righteous person who abides in Jesus is a person of prayer who pleases God. The person of faith who seeks God is rewarded (Hebrews 11:6).

The righteous person lives by faith (Romans 1:7, Galatians 3:11). That person of faith is rewarded and pleases God (Hebrews 11:6). An essential element of a powerful prayer is the person: a righteous person.

THE PRAYER

What is an earnest prayer?  For the answer, let’s look at the what, where, when, why and how of prayer itself.  Using James 5:16 as our guide, note “the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (NLT).

WHAT

An earnest prayer is one in which the person praying is serious about his prayer.  He is not flippant.  He doesn’t pray just to say he prayed.  He doesn’t pray to appear to be righteous.  He prays because he is righteous.  However, he is only righteous through a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ.

Earnest praying comes from the heart. The person praying honestly wants to hear from God.  He wants God’s will to be done. He wants God to be glorified in his life.

WHERE

A relationship with God is unlike any other relationship.  He is always with you.  An earnest prayer can be made anywhere.  It is good to have a prayer closet, but a certain location is not necessary in order to pray.  Even if you have a special place of prayer, when you leave that place, your prayer life should go with you.

WHEN

You can talk to God at any time: upon rising in the morning, driving, cooking a meal, before making an important decision at work, and at home. His word tells us to be in an attitude of prayer at all times. He is always ready to listen and respond.

WHY

Prayer is not necessary to tell God anything He does not already know.  He knows who you are and what you need. Prayer is the opportunity to get to know God better.  You need God: His salvation, His forgiveness, His guidance, His comfort, His healing, His strength, His Spirit in your life.  You get to know God better through earnest prayer.

HOW

There are three types of prayers.  Since God can hear your thoughts, you can talk to Him in your mind: silent prayer. It is possible to have a conversation with God at any time and in any place because He is always listening.

Spoken prayer is out loud: during a worship service, a fellowship meeting, before meals, etc. Voiced prayers can be either individual or group prayers. When you pray in public, it is possible for others to join you silently as well.

Written prayers of Scripture contain a treasure trove of information about God and His relationship to His children. Examine the prayers of David, Abraham and Paul.  Many other faithful men and women of the ages have recorded their prayers.

Using a prayer journal has made a big difference in my own prayer life.  Recording my prayers helps me see God’s hand in the details of my life. Sometimes God said no to something that I did not need or that would not have been good for me.  Many times I have recorded a request, but been guilty of forgetting to say “thank you” for the answer. Having a journal helps remedy that neglect.

An essential element of a powerful prayer is the prayer itself: an earnest prayer.

The Power

There is energy in the prayer of a righteous person.  It is powerful, not because of the person praying, but because of the relationship he has with the Father through the Son.  Family members who live (abide) together and have a good relationship with each other, are comfortable when they are home together.  What an incredible thought that Jesus said He and the Father would make their home with us! The opportunities for conversation (prayer) are unlimited because we live together. At any time, day or night, a child of God has access to the Father, even calling him “Abba,” the equivalent of our “Daddy.” The Christian who stays clean knows that his prayers will not be hindered by sin in his life.  If our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God (1 John 3:21).  It is with this confidence that a righteous man can approach God with his fervent request. That prayer will be powerful and effective (1 John 3:22). Jesus reminded those with an earnest request to never give up (Matthew 7:7, Luke 18:3-5).

The New Century Version renders James 5:16 this way: When a believing person prays, great things happen. 

For further study, examine the following: 2 Chronicles 7:12-15; Psalm 62:5, 109:4; Proverbs 15:8; Matthew 21:22; Acts 6:4; Philippians 4:6

© Stephanie B. Blake

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Focus on the Fullness of Joy

Have you ever been filled with joy? What would it feel like to have complete joy? Do you equate joy with being happy? With being satisfied? With having all that you could possible want?  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines joy:

  1. a. the emotion evoked by well-being, success or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires, b. the expression or exhibition of such emotion
  2.  A state of happiness or felicity
  3.  A source or cause of delight.

Jesus referred to joy in the context of His relationship to His believers. In His discourse about the vine and the branches in John 15, He concludes with “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” Later on in His prayer for His followers in John 17, He tells the Father, “But now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” The writer of Hebrews tells us Jesus. . . for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). It is hard to imagine that Jesus felt joy on the way to the cross. Can we possibly know what He meant by My joy?

Jesus may have a given us a clue in His parable of the talents.  In Matthew 25, He tells the story of three servants who were given the responsibility of watching over their master’s possessions while he was away.  One was entrusted with five talents, one was entrusted with two, and the last was entrusted with one.  Upon his return, the master discovered that the first two servants had not only taken good care of what he had given them, but had gained a profit on his behalf.  To those two servants, he made the same statement, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.” 

There have been many sermons delivered on the cowardly attitude of the third slave, who was afraid and buried the one talent, resulting in great displeasure of the master.  In this parable, the master is Jesus and we are represented by those whose stewardship of the treasures was commended or condemned.  The reward for the first two was more responsibility and entering into the joy of the master. The faithfulness of the first two servants not only brought joy to the master. It was his joy. A master is only a master if he has servants.  The master had joy because his servants cared enough about him to take their assignment seriously and produce something for his sake.

This also may help us understand Hebrews 12:2.  The joy that set before Him was the accomplishment of salvation for those who would believe in Him.  We are the reason He came. We are His joy. Jesus not only has joy because of those who trust in Him, but He wants to share His joy with His followers: that they may have My joy made full in themselves (John 17:13).

The apostles Paul and John made similar statements when they said:

  • make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose (Philippians 2:2)
  • even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You, too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me (Philippians 2:17-18)
  • These things we write to you that your joy may be full (1 John 1:4).

One of Paul’s favorite expressions was “in Christ.” Our joy will never be complete without being “in” Christ.  Notice that Jesus said, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11), “that they may have My joy made full in themselves” (John 17:13) and “enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23).

Jesus said, “Abide in Me and I in you” (John 15:4).  It is only possible for us to have the fullness of joy that He describes when we abide in Him.  We know that these are spiritual references, but it helps to think of entering into the joy of the Master and abiding in Jesus in physical terms.

Where do you live? Where is your home? This is the place where you abide. Inhabit, dwell, live and lodge are all synonyms of abide. Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23).  The NKJV translates the last part of this verse “make Our home with him.”

When I return from a trip, I enter into my home. My home is the place where I abide.  Joy is not just an emotion, a feeling, or a wish.  It is a place of residence for the Christian. Abiding in Jesus is the place of joy.

If we understand joy as a spiritual “place,” then it is somewhere we can “go to” and “leave from.”  David asked God to restore the joy of his salvation (Psalm 51:12).  A person who has trusted Jesus as His Savior and Lord has a permanent home with Him that can never be lost.  However, when focus is placed on anything other than abiding in Jesus, a Christian can temporarily forget that his residence is a place of joy.  The remedy is to maintain or restore a clean heart (Psalm 51:10).

It is not always sin that robs our joy.  It can be trials and circumstances.  James tells us that remaining in Christ’s joy is a choice.  It is a decision of the will. Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:3-4).

Corrie ten Boom, a holocaust survivor, shared her story in her books, The Hiding Place and Tramp for the Lord. In Tramp for the Lord, she recounts visiting a prison in Ruanda, Africa, which was the dreariest, darkest prison she had ever seen. As she looked into the faces of the prisoners, all she saw was unhappiness, despair, hopelessness and anger.  She asked the Lord how she could possibly share the gospel with these men. He told her to tell them about His promise of joy, placing in her mind joy as part of the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) and Nehemiah’s statement, “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). 

So she told them of a time in Ravensbruck, a Nazi concentration camp, when she nearly gave in to despair.  Roll call was such a degrading experience that even repeating a favorite scripture, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Romans 8:35), no longer brought her comfort.  On a day when she thought all hope was lost, a skylark started to sing in the sky.  God then brought to her mind, For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is [God’s] mercy toward them that fear Him (Psalms 103:11).  Corrie said, “Every morning for the next three weeks, just at the time of roll call, the skylark appeared. In his sweet song I heard the call of God to turn my eyes away from the cruelty of men to the ocean of God’s love.”

When Corrie gave these men the opportunity to accept Christ as Savior, every one of them did so.  The missionary who had interpreted for Corrie confessed she had thought the prison was too dark for the light of the gospel.  After witnessing the salvation of these men, she said, “I have seen what the Holy Spirit can do.  The joy of the Lord is available, even for such a place as this.”  Months later, Corrie received a letter from this missionary in which she said, “The fear is gone. The joy remains.”

Do you live in this place of joy?

For further study:

  • In a psalm of thanksgiving, David said, Splendor and majesty are before Him. Strength and joy are in His place (1 Chronicles 16:27).  Turn to 1 Chronicles 16 and read the entire prayer (verses 8-36). Make note of the many ways a follower of Christ can experience joy in His place.
  • Read the book of Nehemiah.  It is a remarkable account of a man who would not be deterred from experiencing the joy of knowing God and doing His will, no matter what the obstacles were. He could say, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
  • David, a man after God’s own heart, was able to say, “In Your presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).  Does fullness of joy sound familiar? See John 15:11 and John 17:13. Read the entire Psalm to see the context of this statement.
  • When David did not “feel” the joy of his salvation, he asked God to restore it. Read Psalm 51, especially verse 12.
  • How does John the Baptist describe the fulfillment of his joy? Read John 3:22-30, especially verse 29.
  • Jesus told His disciples that no one would be able to steal their joy. Read John 16:19-24. Are you allowing anyone or anything to steal your joy?
  • Paul describes the kingdom of God as righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).  Do you think that the “kingdom of God” is in the future only or do you believe you reside in the kingdom of God today? If you are a believer, your permanent residence in the kingdom of God began the day you accepted Christ.
  • Read Galatians 5:22-23.  The fruit of the Spirit is a gift to each believer.  Even if you don’t “feel” love, joy and peace, it is yours.  Is there something that you need to do to make the fruit of the Spirit evident in your life?

Focus on the fullness of joy that Jesus has promised.  The price He paid for your fullness of joy was His sinless life and sacrificial death.  Don’t let Satan rob you of that incredible gift.

©Stephanie B. Blake

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Illustration from Tramp for the Lord, Christian Literature Crusade and Fleming Revell Company, 1974, chapter 11.

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Focus on the Shepherd’s Voice

“The sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4b).

When reading John 10, we are captivated with Jesus’ description of Himself as the Door to the sheepfold and the Good Shepherd.  The focus is and should be on Him.  However, the Shepherd’s life revolves around His sheep.  That same passage gives the sheep’s perspective as well.

Throughout Scripture, mankind is often compared to sheep. All of us like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). The Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 23:1). We are His people and the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3). Preachers often remind us that sheep are not very smart. It is true that if the lead sheep steps off a cliff, the rest of the flock is likely to follow. It is also true that a single sheep can get so preoccupied that he can wander off and get lost, unable to find his way home.  Sheep definitely need a shepherd.

However, Jesus did not compare us to sheep on order to make us feel dumb.  He made the comparison because He wants us to know Him as the Good Shepherd and trust His voice.  Sheep are a perfect description of what believers should be because they do trust their shepherd. Maybe sheep aren’t so dumb after all. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, tells us:

  • The sheep hear his voice (John 10:3).
  • They listen for their names (v. 3).
  • The sheep know his voice (v. 4).
  • The sheep follow him (v. 4).
  • They will not follow a stranger (v. 5).
  • They will flee from a stranger (v. 5).
  • They do not know the voice of a stranger (v. 5).
  • They do not hear the strangers (v. 8).
  • They know the Good Shepherd (v. 14).
  • They are part of One Flock (v. 16).
  • They hear his voice and follow him (v. 27).
  • They are eternally secure (v. 28-29).

Recognizing the frail nature of sheep, Jesus warned His disciples that as He was sending them out as sheep in the midst of wolves, [they needed to be] shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). The sheep that truly belong to His flock need to be aware of strangers, thieves and hirelings who work to make them go astray (John 10). The strangers and hirelings do not know the sheep nor do they care about them.

When Jesus describes His sheep, He is talking about those who believe in Him (John 10:26). James 2:19 states it is not head knowledge that saves you, for even the demons believe in God. Being a true believer, or part of His flock, involves your whole being.  Paul describes that as believing in your heart (Romans 10:9). Matthew 25:31-33 describes a day when Jesus will divide the true believers from those who might appear to be part of the flock, but are not. He describes this time as a separation of the sheep and the goats. He will have to tell some who claimed to be part of His flock, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23).  He said, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My own and My own know Me” (John 10:14).

When people are trained to recognize counterfeit money, they do not study counterfeit bills.  They are taught to examine every detail of real money so that when the counterfeit appears, they can see the difference.  Jesus’ sheep will not follow a stranger because they do not recognize the voice of strangers (John 10:5).  See also 1 John 4:1.  Jesus’ sheep know the real Shepherd is the One who died on their behalf.

My children were part of a church family from infancy and were only acquainted with family and friends that they could trust. When they started elementary school, they were understandably upset when they came home from school telling me that they had attended a meeting about “red light, green light” people.  The school officials were warning my children about those in society who could do them harm (red light people).  They were instructed to only listen to and go with “green light people” (family members or friends who had been identified as those they could trust).  There were even signs given out to families to place in their windows indicating that they were “green light people” in case a child needed to find a safe haven on their walk home. As disturbing as it was to have to discuss this with my sons, it was necessary for their safety. Jesus’ sheep know to flee from strangers (John 10:5). James tells us to resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7).  Jesus is the Door to our safe haven.

Jesus’ sheep hear His voice. Jesus often said, “Those who have ears to hear, let him hear.” He was not talking about people who were physically deaf, but those who were spiritually deaf.  There were many who saw Him with their own eyes and heard Him with their own ears, but did not accept Him as Savior and Lord. Jesus’ sheep have “ears to hear” the Shepherd’s voice. They recognize His voice because they belong to Him.

Jesus’ sheep follow Him.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).  The commandments are for the welfare of believers (the sheep).  Just as loving parents give boundaries to their children for their protection, benefit and growth, our Good Shepherd does the same for us.  Psalm 23 is a beautiful description of the safety and security of following the shepherd.  The shepherd’s rod was a guide for the sheep while the staff helped pull them back on to the correct path when they strayed. To follow the shepherd was not complicated.  The sheep just had to keep their eyes on him and follow him.  Jesus’ commandments are not complex.  He demonstrated them with His life and His death. He puts all the commandments into one simple statement: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

The gospel of John was written by one who understood Jesus’ love.  In fact, he describes himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 21:20).  He wrote four more books of the New Testament.  In 1 John, one of the recurring themes of that letter was the certainty of knowing Jesus.  Jesus’ sheep know Him.  “I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me” (John 10:14).

Reflections for further study:

Study John 10 and 1 John side by side.  It is as if John took Jesus’ words in John 10 and reflected on them and wrote 1 John.  How does 1 John help you understand that you know the Good Shepherd?

Highlight the number of times the word “know” or “knows” appears in 1 John.  In the New American Standard version, the word “know” or “knows” appears thirty-nine times. With few exceptions, the reference is to a believer knowing about his relationship to God.

After highlighting “know” and “knows” in your Bible, look through these verses to list the ways that a believer can (there may be more than one verse which applies):

  • Know the love of God
  • Know what truth is
  • Know how to tell you are born of God
  • Know that you shall be like Jesus
  • Know that Jesus came to take away your sins
  • Know that you have passed from death to life
  • Know that Jesus abides in you and you abide in Him
  • Know His Spirit
  • Know that you have eternal life
  • Know that He hears you when you pray
  • Know that He can help you stop sinning
  • Know that the Son of God has come into the world

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30).

. . . having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end (John 13:1).

Focus on the Shepherd’s voice. He only has good for you. He will comfort you, guide you, protect you, and lead you home.

© Stephanie B. Blake

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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