Showing posts with label Proverbs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Proverbs. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Proclamation of Mortal Man



I am weary, O God.1
I am weary, O God, but I can persevere.
Indeed, I am too dull of a man to discern.
For I have reached my limit and I don't even have the understanding of Adam.
I have not yet learned wisdom, but I know it can be attained.

Who on earth has gone up to you to bring wisdom down to us?
Who has walked the recesses of the deep?
Who has comprehended every detail of land?
Who has entered the storehouses of snow and hail?
What is his name, and what is his son's name?
Surely You know!

Our lives are filled with various trials and dangers.
And so You say, "Take refuge in Me."
Even if we don't consider every word of Yours to be true.
Even if You rebuke us when we add words to the invitation.
Every word proves true.
Our lies are found out.

Oh God, please consider helping me by granting two things before I die. 
I need deliverance from my most basic temptations--those of falsehood and lying. 
If I only had daily bread, the bread sufficient for each day.
I wouldn't be tempted to suppress You or transgress Your law in times of poverty or wealth.

I wouldn't be tempted to slander your servants to their employers. 
I have done that before, and ultimately to my shame.
Every generation seems to act shamefully as I have.
There is cursing of fathers and mothers.
There is hypocrisy in how they view others while not seeing their own filth.
There is great audacity and condemnation in their eyes.
There is a relentless disregard for even the poorest of souls.
As long as that is what it takes to remain wise in their own eyes,
They're like the blood sucking leech and their spawn, crying out, "Give! Give!"

I ponder this vast domain of Yours, and the way they strive for satisfaction without You.
They're insatiable, like the grave or the womb which can't even produce life.
They're like parched land or an entire valley on fire.
Their eyes lead them into shameful desolation.
They could look for the wisdom from above, but they won't.
This mortal existence, and all its wisdom down here, is the only viewing they take pleasure in.

Many more things astonish me, and I don't understand how they can continue living as they do.
They rationalize their adulteries away, as though they have done no wrong.
They feast on violence and then wipe the blood off their lips, leaving no trail behind.
Like an eagle in the sky, or a snake slithering across a rock.
Like a ship in the heart of the ocean, or the way of a successful man with an impressionable woman.

The whole land trembles over such disordered desires.
The weight of it all cannot be sustained forever.
Consider the slave who finally becomes Emperor.
Or the senseless fool, filled with food at the celebration of his coronation. 
Or the servant-girl who, somehow, some way, displaces her Queen.
Or the lady whom we all thought would never get married because of how insufferable she often is.
Do you think she will magically change overnight in her wisdom once she receives a husband?

Even many frail animals serve as lessons of wisdom for us mortals.
The ants prepare for bad times during good times.
The rock badgers provide security for each other.
The locusts cooperate together. 
The geckos are defenseless, but they live in well-fortified palaces.

There is also a proper grandeur which God has given to His creation.
The lion, mightiest of beasts, retreats before nothing.
The rooster walks bravely among female hens.
The hunting-dog is another, as well as the king whose army is with him.
As long as mortals remain wise in their own eyes, foolishly exalting themselves above others,
Instead of being exalted by others,
We can only hope that they cover their mouths while talking.
Raging against others will only provoke further strife, of which we have plenty already.

Rules and prescriptions alone are not able to fix the brokenness all around us.2 
Libraries of law won't suffice for the healing of generations either.
Only the wisdom from above can come down and save us.
The wisdom from below is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.
If any of us lacks wisdom from above, ask God for it.
He gives generously to all those who do so, and without rebuke or disapproval.
But be sure to ask in loyal trust of the One you're asking,
With no doubting about what you receive as being from the Lord.
If you remain double-minded in your loyalty, don't presume that you'll receive anything from Him.
Let the lowly brother boast in being exalted by Him.
And the rich brother boast in being humbled by Him.
Because like a flower of the field, each will pass away.










1. The inspiration for this comes directly from my reflections upon the Book of Proverbs, chapter 30, and the Book of Wisdom, chapter 2.
2. The inspiration for this comes from the book of James.






Thursday, April 10, 2014

Feasting vs Fasting



In 9:9-17, Matthew contrasts two types of disciples who are given a choice to follow Jesus, except this time they’re not known merely by their “denomination.” Rather, they’re known by whom they’re willing to eat with.   
First, Matthew writes that Jesus was “reclining at table” (ἀνακειμένου). Then he continues, saying that “many tax collectors and sinners” sat and ate next to him, and that Pharisees didn’t like this. After that, the disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus, asking why his disciples don’t fast as the Pharisees and themselves do. This is especially obvious when compared with Mark and Luke. Through all of this, we aren’t told about any trouble that was raised, but we are told how Jesus responded, and the impression left is that the disciples of John and the Pharisees had come to disrupt table fellowship. They're in Matthew's home not to feast, but to fast, and to question the appropriateness of this great feast. A sign of those who wish to follow Jesus is that they recline at table with him (a theme that returns in chapters 14—16).  
According to Matthew, feasting and table-fellowship provides a framework for partnership that promotes peace among “denominational” lines and party lines. If attempts of table fellowship across denominational lines don’t produce peace, then the root of remaining disunity and factions runs much deeper than mere denominational distinctives. A sign of those who don’t wish to follow Jesus is that they disrupt table fellowship and sow seeds of discord among brethren (Prov. 6:19; Rom. 16:17-18). Those who recline at table with Jesus are the peacemakers, and it is they who shall be called sons of God (Matt. 5:9).


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Prayer that shapes us





Let’s face it. People pray most often when they either want something from God or when their ritualistic family traditions kick in—like praying before a meal. The way they often pray is also predictable. They express their thanks to God for nice weather, good food, and friends to enjoy it with, and they ask God to bless them with more good things to enjoy, amen. This isn’t automatically a bad thing, nor should it be discouraged. But how and why someone prays is indicative of some thing, and therefore that thing, if it is not good, will need some healthy changes. Let me explain some ways in which these indicators can become more obvious to us.

For the Christian, prayer is not merely a ritual. It is a way of life. It is a tradition that shapes our life, molding the way we think and behave into godliness, working in us to show a greater family resemblance with our Heavenly Father. When the Christian prays for nice weather, good food, and friends to enjoy it with, he (or she) should be doing it as heartfelt communion with and love for their Heavenly Father, who cares about why they enjoy it. It should not be prayer for the sake of prayer, any more than it  should be ritual for the sake of ritual. But often times it is. This is because a life of prayer is unavoidably ritualistic, and some people don't incorporate an appreciation of what God cares about into their daily rituals. Whether they reflect self-consciously upon God's feelings or not, their rituals are shaping their life. Their rituals are shaping their complacency. Their prayer-life is shaping their dependence upon self and their dependence upon God.

Proverbs 28:6-9 speaks a little about this way in God shapes our life, even through prayer: 

A)  Better is a poor man who walks with integrity than a rich man who twists two paths together
  B)  The one who keeps the Law is a discerning son, 
    C)  but a companion of gluttons shames his father.
A')  Whoever augments his wealth by profiteering and exacting interest gathers it up for him who has pity on the poor
   B')  The one who turns away his ear from hearing the Law, 
      C')  even his prayer is completely detestable.

When it says that “Better is a poor man who walks with integrity than a rich man who twists two paths together,” the comparison is between those who are financially poor and those who are wealthy, and Wisdom says one path is better for both of them; and that path is the way of integrity, the way of keeping God's instructions. Only a fool would earnestly desire to become completely impoverished, choosing to sleep on wet sidewalks and beg for crumbs out of dumpsters, especially when given plenty of opportunities to gain an honest amount of wealth through productive labor instead. Therefore the wisdom of this proverb takes for granted that kind of foolishness in order to focus upon what is better for both, whether one is, incidentally, the poorest of beggars or richest of merchants. If the poor man is better for walking with integrity, how much better would a rich man be if he too walked with integrity, keeping God's laws in all of his business? This proverb, therefore, is contrasting more than just a lifestyle of poverty with a lifestyle of riches. It’s contrasting lifestyles which attempt to have fellowship with God. One lifestyle walks self-consciously with integrity in God’s sight, and one does not. One desires to twist two paths together, a path of blessing and wealth with a path of profiteering and usury. One desires to keep God’s instructions, while the other does not.

The parallel between keeping God’s instructions and walking with integrity is even more obvious from the proverbs that follow. The very next proverb refers to a glutton and the fact that such a sinfully selfish disposition is a shame to one’s father, but “the one who keeps the Law is a discerning son” (v. 7). From this we learn that the ritual formality of law-keeping cannot merely be a checklist of commandments to obey or ignore. Rather, it’s a way of thinking about God’s involvement in your life, and His desire for your relationship with Him to be evident in the sight of others who, like you, are also made in God’s image. Otherwise, why would the proverb contrast shaming a father with being a discerning son, or gluttony with law-keeping? It seems that the author of this proverb considered the two parallel illustrations as one unified concept. 


Understanding how to be a son who honors his father comes from learning how to keep the Law as our Heavenly Father intended it to be kept. By learning our Heavenly Father’s Law, we learn how to be a gloriously discerning son—a son who understands the glory of God manifested in honoring one's father. The son who dishonors his father is the glutton. The glutton is the one whose desires are focused upon satisfying the self far more than others. The gluttonous son shames his father because the son’s desire is not to glorify and honor his father; the glutton's desire is to glorify and honor himself, plundering others—even his own father—to fill his own coffers. If the son’s desire were to honor and glorify his father, he would be self-sacrificial and other-oriented in his lifestyle. This is what God’s Law endorses; gluttony is not. 

Since gluttony and plundering the goods of others is not what God’s Law endorses as a way of life, how do you suppose one of those lifestyles would impact one’s prayers? Do you suppose that a life like that—a life of disobedience or neglect of obedience to God—filled with an abundance of traditional prayers at dinner time, is going to please God? The next two verses give us the answer.
Whoever augments his wealth by profiteering and exacting interest gathers it up for him who has pity on the poor. The one who turns away his ear from hearing the Law, even his prayer is completely detestable.

If a Christian multiplies his wealth in a gluttonous manner, that will not keep God from exacting justice for the poor. God will ensure that such sinful deeds  ultimately accumulate toward the greater good of the oppressed. Because gluttonous gain does not honor God, God promises that He will give that wealth to another who will be generous to the poor. The glutton's sinful gain will become the reward of those who pity the poor. God will judge between those who plunder and those who are plundered. 

This revelation of God's character leads us to the sobering reality that even if a Christian were to pray for greater blessings, greater wealth, greater prosperity—as people often do—God promises to shape our lives through such prayers. If they honor their Heavenly Father by hearing and praying according to His Law, those prayers will please Him. But if they turn their ear away from hearing His Law, even their prayers will be detestable in His sight. Either way, God shapes their life through prayer. For many people, a God like this, who detests all haters of His Law but yet allows plundering of others to exist, might seem capricious and ungracious. But for those who take God's holy character seriously, and consider His revelation of wisdom greater than their own, they know that He knows what is best for all men, and they trust in Him when  He speaks to them. They even trust in what He has to say about their prayer life because they want Him to be the one who shapes them through it. They know God's not capricious. They know God is very reliable. That's why they don't want to turn their ears away from hearing His infinitely wise Law--because God has revealed himself as their Father therein, a Father is who is first and foremost merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth (Exodus 34:6). They don't want to turn their ears away from hearing His instructions because in doing so, even their prayers are detestable to His ears.

If you have concerns about your prayer life, and you want to know if some healthy changes need to be made to your prayer life, let me encourage you to consider the following exercise and apply these questions to your own prayers from this past week (or month):

Within the past week (or month) did you ask God to bless you (e.g. your food, your time with friends, your job, etc.)? If so, why did you ask for thatWhat was your motive in desiring his blessing? Did you ask because you always ask for that at prayer-time? Did you put much thought into that request? Did you consider what pleased God before you asked Him for a blessing? 

What about your thankfulness too? Did you thank God in prayer for certain things this week? What were they and why did you thank Him for those specific things? Did you thank Him merely because that’s the ritual you often perform at prayer time? Did you thank Him because without thanking Him you would feel awkward (or selfish) while asking Him for stuff afterward? At any time did you thank Him because His provision helped you serve Him more faithfully? At any time did you thank God for His provision because it helped you glorify Him as you provided for others in need? 

And what about unanswered prayers? Have any of your prayers recently seemed to be unheard by God? At any time did you thank Him for answering prayer by not giving you what you initially wanted? Or have you been presuming that God wants what you want?

As I mentioned at the beginning, the way in which people pray is indicative of some thing, either good or bad, and if that thing is not good, some healthy changes to one's prayer life are unquestionably in order. Thankfully, in Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church, we catch a glimpse of what some healthy habits of change ought to look like. In Philippians 4:6-9 Paul writes: 
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

For Paul, prayers and supplications to God are supposed to dwell upon certain things, and by dwelling on certain things and then offering them back up to God in prayers and supplications, our lives are shaped into a vessel fit for his honor and glory. For us to be molded into glorious vessels, we must learn pray in a way that is lawful; and for it to be lawful it has to be thoughtful; and for it to be thoughtful it has to be conditioned through a focus upon what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, and worthy of praise. Thankfully Scripture is replete with examples of such God-honoring lifestyles of prayer. Paul prayed three times for the Lord to remove a "thorn in his flesh," and he stopped praying for it's removal once he realized the Lord wanted that thorn to remain in order to keep him from exalting himself (II Cor. 12:7-10). Likewise, in Luke 18, Jesus tells a series of parables about prayer, and among them we find a tax collector who humbles himself, and even beats his breast praying, "God be propitious to me, a sinner." Because of his humility, the Lord hears and exalts him (Luke 18:9-14). 

We also find a widow who won't stop petitioning her judge for justice (Luke 18:1-8), and so the judge answers her because of her persistence; and that persistence is likened unto the "elect who cry to God day and night." Such likening with the prayers of the elect is appropriate because it reminds us that God is a judge who listens to our cries because He cares about justice. According to James, God cares about justice so much that when brethren confess their sins toward one another and pray for one another, He brings healing (James 5:16). Have you ever felt miserable because your prayers weren't being answered by God? When was the last time you confessed your sinful, damaging attitude about your brother to your brother? When was the last time you confessed your sins of dishonoring your wife to your wife? In first Peter 3:7, the apostle Peter says that if a husband doesn't dwell with his wife in an understanding way, giving her the honor she deserves, then his prayers will be hindered and God will not hear. And if God does not hear, the husband ought to fear.

The wise life of prayer takes all of this to heart, giving it to our God and Father because, like Paul's example, it is teachable and submissive to the will of the Lord, even when it's not exalted. The wise life of prayer is also persistent like the widow seeking justice, and also confessional, not only with God, but toward their neighbor as well, which openly demonstrates trust in a judge who hates the injustice of sin but is compassionate enough to forgive all those who walk with integrity, keeping His Law. The wise life of prayer is what brings true peace of mind, the kind of peace which the gluttonous heart cannot discern, the kind of peace which surpasses all worldly comprehension. The wise life of prayer is, ultimately, Father-honoring prayer. When wise Christians express their thankfulness to God for the mundane—the nice weather, good food, and friends to enjoy it with—they ask for God's blessing so that they will honor their Heavenly Father. When they pray to enjoy His honor, He remembers and honors their prayers. Amen.





Saturday, July 27, 2013

Wisdom prepares a feast



Commenting on Proverbs 9:1-6, Saint Ambrose of Milan teaches an interesting connection between the feast which "Wisdom" prepares in her house and the feast which the Church of Christ prepares in her house:
You wish to eat, you wish to drink. Come to the feast of Wisdom which invites all men by a great proclamation, saying: 'Come, eat my bread and drink my wine that I have mingled.' Do not fear that in the Feast of the Church you will lack either pleasant perfumes, or agreeable food, or varied drink, or fitting servants. There you will gather myrrh, that is to say, the burial of Christ, in such a way that, buried with Him by Baptism, you also will arise from the dead as He Himself is arisen. There you will eat the bread that strengthens the heart of man, you will drink the wine so that you may grow to the full stature of Christ.1





1.  Jean Danielou, S.J., The Bible and the Liturgy [Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press; reprint 2011] p. 158