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We become what we say

For reading & meditation - Proverbs 21:16-31

"He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity." (v.23)

Why is the tongue so important? Because the expression of a thing deepens the impression. A word uttered becomes a word made flesh - in us. We become the incarnation of what we express. Jesus said, "By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:37).

After I saw that a person becomes what he says, I have looked at this verse in a different light. If you tell a lie, you become a lie. I said earlier, when dealing more fully with the subject of integrity, that the deepest punishment of a lie is to be the one who tells the lie.

That person has to live with someone he cannot trust. Now look at what I am saying from the opposite perspective. When we express good things, positive things, loving things, scriptural things, these things go deeper into us.

Clear expression deepens impression. A brilliant young physicist tells how he often discusses complex issues relating to physics with his wife who doesn't know the first thing about the subject. He told a friend, "I describe in detail what I am doing and she doesn?t understand a word.

But sometimes when I'm through - I do." If it is true - and I believe it is - that we become the incarnation of what we express, then how careful we ought to be to ensure that what we say is guarded and governed by truth, integrity and kindness. Always remember: every word you utter becomes flesh - in you.

Prayer: O Father, how awesome is this thought - I become the incarnation of what I express. Cleanse me deep within so that I may be pure in soul as well as speech. I would be a clarified person. Grant it please, dear Father. In Jesus' Name. Amen.


The cause of most friction

For reading & meditation - Proverbs 16:21-33

"Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." (v.24)

Watch your tone of voice carefully. An old Chinese proverb says, "If you have a soft voice, you don't need a big stick." I am convinced that most of the friction in human relationships is caused not so much by the words we speak, as by the tone of voice in which we speak them.

Our speech conveys out thoughts; our tone of voice, however, conveys our mood. How easy it is to say, "I love you," in a tone that conveys the very opposite. Proverbs does not actually say we should focus on the right tone of voice but the implication is clearly there in the command to use words that are kind and gentle and tender.

Of course, you can say things in the right tone of voice without any real feelings of kindness at all. That is why the Bible urges us to do more than seek a change in behavior, but a change that goes right down to the core of our being.

Change must always come from the inside out, otherwise it will not be real change. Take once again the germ-free scalpel of the Spirit - the Word of God - and if necessary let it cauterise your tongue. Indeed, let it go deeper - into the "thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12, NKJV). What is our conclusion after meditating these past eight days on the subject of words?

Is it not this: the wise are those who understand how their words can impact another person, for good or for bad, and commit themselves to using words only as Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:29 - words that are "helpful for building others up."

Prayer: O God, I ask once more, help me to hold my tongue when I should and to speak when I should. I see so clearly that my tongue can have sourness or sweetness, but it cannot have both at the same time. Give me the wisdom of a right way with words. In Jesus' Name. Amen


Single soul in two bodies

For reading & meditation - Proverbs 22:10-16

"He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend." (v.11)

The next pillar of wisdom to occupy our attention is that of friendship.

The wise are those who know how to make friends. The book of Proverbs emphasizes the whole area of relationships - love and respect for parents, love for one's spouse and so on - but it pays particular attention to the matter of friendship. Why is friendship such an important theme in Proverbs?

What exactly is friendship? How do we go about the task of developing good friendships? These are some of the questions we must come to grips with over the next few days. First - what exactly is friendship? Many years ago a Christian magazine offered a prize for the best definition of friendship sent in by its readers.

Of the thousands of answers received the one that received first prize was this: "A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out." One way I describe friendship is this: "Friendship is the knitting of one soul with another so that both become stronger and better by virtue of their relationship."

Another definition of friendship by an ancient philosopher is "a single soul dwelling in two bodies." The word "friendship" is usually applied to non-sexual relationships between people of the same sex, but of course it can be applied equally to people of opposite sexes.

It goes without saying, I think, that romantic relationships like courtship and marriage ought to contain and demonstrate the qualities of friendship, and it is sad when married partners live together without also being the closest of friends. One's life partner ought to be one's best friend.

Father, teach me the art of making friends. Help me see at the very beginning that being a friend is more important than having a friend. Save me from getting the wrong perspective on this. In Jesus' Name I ask it. Amen.



For reading & meditation - Proverbs 17

"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." (v.17)

We continue further with the point we made yesterday that in friendship we find the creation of a new energy that was never there before. The word that is often used to describe this is "synergism."

It simply means that the whole is greater than the sum of its two parts. Synergy is seen everywhere in nature. If you put two plants close together, the roots mingle with one another and improve the quality of the soil so that both plants will grow better than they would if they had been separated.

When you put two pieces of wood together, they hold much more than the total of the weight held by each separately. One plus one equals three or more. Stephen Covey describes synergism in this way: "' the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself.

It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part." This is why, when understood correctly, friendship is quite frightening because you don't quite know what exactly is going to happen or where it will lead.

Christians, of course, who bring their friendships under the authority of God and His Word need not be frightened of anything that comes, for they have - or should have - an internal security which enables them to handle anything and everything.

A friendship can be frightening, exciting and at times exhausting. But it can also open up new possibilities, new trails, new adventures, new territories and new continents. We live deprived lives if we live without friends.

Prayer: Father, I see that I am made for relationships, not isolation. Help me understand this principle of synergism and how it can work to the extension of Your Kingdom. This I ask in Jesus' precious and incomparable Name. Amen


A friend with skin on

For reading & meditation - Proverbs 27:17-27

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." (v.17)

Sometimes I hear Christians say, "Why do I need friends? God is my friend - isn't that enough?" Such a statement demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of human relationships.

Yes, we need God as our Friend - our close and most intimate Friend - but, as I once heard a little boy put it, "We need friends with skin on also." You won't know who you are until you are in a relationship.

Paul Tillich, a well-known theologian, made the same point: "You don't really know yourself until you are put over against someone other than yourself." You see, if no one ever reflects to you how you come across, never challenges your views, never confronts you, never encourages you to talk out your problems, then parts of you remain undiscovered.

Others can do that, of course, who are not friends, but it is best done by someone who knows you best. My favorite definition of a friend is: "someone who knows all there is to know about you and loves you just the same."

Looking back on my life, I can see how valuable my friends have been to me. Because I have felt safe with them, I have been able to reveal myself and in the revealing I have come to know myself in a way that I could never have done with a mere acquaintance. Yes, we need God as our friend, but we need human friends also.

This might be difficult for some to accept, but the more effectively we relate on a horizontal level with our human friends, the more effectively we will relate on a vertical level with our heavenly Friend.

Prayer: Father, I see that my best friend is someone who brings out the best in me. Help me to be a best friend to someone - and bring out the best in that person. In Jesus' Name I ask it. Amen.


Steps to friendship

For reading & meditation - Proverbs 18

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (v.24)

Everyone needs a small circle of friends - even those who are married. I feel deeply sorry for anyone who does not have a friend. If friendship is so important, how do we go about making friends? The first step is - be friendly.

The King James Version of our text for today says: "A man that hath friends must show himself friendly." You should not, however, become friendly just in order to gain a friend. This is a wrong motive because you are more interested in gaining a friend than being a friend. Self-centeredness will get you nowhere.

Friendliness is the art of going out of yourself and appreciating others more than you appreciate yourself. It is really an attitude. Dale Carnegie in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, a secular approach to the subject but full of good sense nevertheless, said, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."

The main reason why people have no friends is because they demonstrate an unfriendly attitude. To have a friend - be one. The second step is - allow time for friendships to develop. Force no doors open in friendship but, like Christ in the book of Revelation, stand reverently at the door - and knock. Only if the door is opened from within should you go through. Some relationships you have with people may never develop into close friendships.

Don't be upset about that. If you are open and friendly, then God will guide you and show you where deep friendships are to be developed.

Prayer: Father, help me be a friend who does the knocking before I enter instead of knocking down after I have left. And show me not only how to sympathize with my friends' weaknesses, but summon up their strength. In Jesus' Name. Amen


When not a true friend

For reading & meditation - Proverbs 27

"Wounds from a friend can be trusted '" (v.6)

We continue looking at the steps we need to take in order to develop friendships. The third step is - be prepared to be hurt. No relationship is free from pain this side of eternity - so don't expect perfection in your friendships.

If your goal in life is to stay safe, then don't get involved in developing friendships. Friendships demand that you leave your comfort zone and confront an unknown wilderness. There will be times when your words or actions are misunderstood, but stay with it when this happens.

This is what friendship is all about - sticking closer than a brother. It is loving as you yourself are loved. Fourth - love your friend enough to confront him or her about anything you feel is not right. Ask yourself: Am I prepared to lose this friendship in the interest of truth?

If not, then you haven't got a true friendship. You are in it for your own reasons, not God's. You are not a true friend. Where you see wrong, confront it, but do it lovingly, gently and firmly. That?s what friends are for - to help us see what we might otherwise be missing. Fifth - allow your friend to have other friends also. Don't suffocate your friend by demanding that he or she maintain just your friendship and no one else's.

It is this attitude, more than any one thing, which is responsible for the death of friendships. Give your friend the freedom to move out into other relationships, make new contacts and see new people. You will desecrate a friendship if you try to dominate it.

Prayer: O Father, deliver me from being a suffocator in my relationships. Help me to have such a secure relationship with You that I can risk losing a friend if it is in the interest of that which is right. In Jesus' Name I pray. Amen


No one has a double

For reading & meditation - Proverbs 27:10-16

"Do not forsake your friend '" (v.10)

Stay loyal and loving to your friends as far as you possibly can. I say "as far as you possibly can" because they may commit and continue in some sin - such as adultery - and this demands action by the church as described in Matthew 18.

Discipline may have to be given and you have to be willing to be part of that by withdrawing from that friendship until repentance is demonstrated. Loyalty and love in this case would mean continuing in prayer for your friend - prayer, by the way, that may take hours, not minutes.

The opposite of friendship is - isolation. And how much emotional damage is the result of that? "The world is so empty," said Goethe, "if one thinks only of mountains, rivers, and cities, but to know someone here and there who thinks and feels with us and, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth an inhabited garden." God made us for relationships and it is His will and purpose that we cultivate a circle of friends. Every friend is different. No one has a double in friendship.

The more we have, the richer we are. Dr. Lawrence Crabb says, "Every day we ought to move out from our base in the home and say to ourselves: Lord, help me reach out and touch someone deep in their being today, not for the rewards it brings me in terms of good feelings, but for the blessing I can be to them." Jesus lived and acted like this. Perhaps this is why they called Him "the Friend of sinners." He hated sin, but loved the sinner.

Prayer: Father, one thing is clear - the wise are those who know how to make friends. Guide me in my future days so that in every relationship I may be able to apply some of the principles I have learned. In Jesus' Name. Amen.


Take another path

For reading & meditation - Proverbs 5

"Keep to a path far from her '" (v.8)

We look now at the seventh and final pillar of the seven pillars of wisdom - personal purity. This, too, is a major theme in Proverbs for throughout the book we come across statements that encourage us to be chaste, virtuous, self-disciplined and pure in our relationships, especially as they apply to the opposite sex. First, I want to deal with the subject of chastity, as Proverbs speaks particularly to this.

We live in an age which scoffs at the biblical teaching which enjoins us to keep sexual intercourse until marriage. Some sections of the Church now accept "the new morality" which says that sexual relationships outside marriage are fine providing they are conducted in a loving and a non-manipulative relationship.

I have no hesitation in condemning this, both as antibiblical and antirelationship. The passage before us today describes most clearly the destiny of sexual relationships outside marriage.

They are seen as fundamentally destructive. The second half of the chapter is given over to a description of how fulfilling the sexual relationship can be within marriage. The emphasis of Proverbs at this point is to avoid putting yourself in a position where too great a strain is placed on the sex impulse.

The words, "keep to a path from her," mean, "avoid an immoral woman as you would a plague." A man once went to the great preacher D. L. Moody with a tale of moral disaster and said, "Now, Mr. Moody, what would you have done if you had got into such a situation?" Moody replied, "Man, I would never have got into it." That's more than just common sense - that's wisdom!

Prayer: O God, help me to help myself. Show me how not to subject myself to conditions that make a fall almost inevitable. For I cannot ask You to help me out of situations unless I help myself not to get into them. Amen.


Don't go on his ground

For reading & meditation - Proverbs 4:10-27

"Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you." (v.25)

We continue looking at the issue of sexual experience and its need to be kept within marriage. Some temptations cannot be avoided; some, however, can. Anatole France has a story in which God and the devil are talking of a beautiful young girl.

God asks: "How dare you tempt such a lovely creature as that?" The devil replies: "Well, she came on to my ground." R. W. Everrood tells this story: A young man seeking his fortune was travelling across a desert when he came across an oasis at which a beautiful girl sat spinning on a loom.

He asked for a drink and she said, "Certainly, providing you let me put these threads around you that I am spinning." He agreed, thinking he could easily brush away the thin gossamer threads as one would brush away a spider's web.

After drinking the water, he fell asleep and awoke to find himself tied by thick, strong cords. And what was more, the beautiful young girl had changed into a disgusting and ugly hag. The best way to deal with temptation is not to go toward it.

Paul's advice to young Timothy was this: "Flee from all this" (1 Tim. 6:11). John Ruskin says: "No one can honestly ask to be delivered from temptation unless he has honestly and firmly determined to do the best he can to keep out of it." My advice to every unmarried man and woman reading these lines - and married people, too - is this: Keep out of the devil's territory. Don't go on to his ground.

O God, make me alert to the dangers that beset my path and when I move toward them unsuspectingly, grant that all the warning bells may ring within my heart. I know You will do Your part; help me do mine. In Jesus' Name I ask it. Amen.


Take it on faith!

For reading & meditation - Proverbs 6:16-26

"My son, keep your father's commands and do not forsake your mother?s teaching." (v.20)

The real truth about sex and sexual satisfaction is difficult to see or understand outside of marriage. Many young people say to me: "Why all these negatives in the Bible concerning sex before marriage?

Isn't sex a beautiful thing?" I say to them: God doesn't give His prohibitions because sex is a bad thing; they are there to protect us from doing the good and beautiful thing in the wrong context. Within marriage, sexual activity is the doing of the right thing in the right place.

It is only when you are within marriage that you begin to see the point and purpose of all those do's and don'ts. Christians are people, or should be people, who take God on trust. There's not much point in confessing to be a follower of Christ if you don't believe what He tells you in His Word and change it to suit your convenience.
Passion has always been a problem, but wisdom and passion must be properly related. You must become acquainted with the principle of deferred pleasure which is one of the first evidences that you are becoming a mature person.

An infant desires immediate gratification and will cry and howl until he gets what he wants. When he grows older, and becomes more mature, then the desire for gratification is brought under control. The concept of deferred satisfaction is a vital one for every young person to get hold of, for without it there can be no real maturity. You must learn to deny yourself now in order to experience the right thing in the right way in the future.

Father, You will have to take me by the hand lest I be lost in the jungle of immediate satisfaction. If I get off the track here, I will find myself in a jungle that gets more and more tangled every moment. Help me and hold me. In Jesus' Name. Amen.



For reading & meditation - Proverbs 6:1-11

"Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!" (v.6)

We continue looking at the vital principle of deferred satisfaction. We see this in the animal kingdom and it is brought out in the text that is before us today. The ant doesn't spend all its time eating.

It runs back and forth carrying food into the nest so that it may survive the winter when there will be no food. Keep this picture of the ant continually in your mind. It is one of those images put into the Word of God to bring instruction to the heart.

If you are young, prepare for the future in every way you can, not only by denying yourself to the things that God puts out of bounds, but also by giving yourself to the things you need to know about your chosen profession. Whatever you plan to do in life - prepare for it.

Prepare by study and also by prayer. Whatever your age, whenever you have to do anything in public, like speaking at a church meeting - prepare. Deny yourself pleasures, like watching television, and give yourself to the task in hand.

There are no short cuts to success. I prepared myself for years by filling my heart and mind with the Word of God, and then, when the time came, God called me to launch these Bible notes that you are now perusing. People say to me, "How can you continue to write year after year?" I know I would not be able to do so had I not, many years ago, denied myself many things so that I could prepare. Whatever God asks you to do, don't take His blessings for granted - prepare.

Father, Your knife cuts deep but Your cuts are always redemptive. Forgive me for taking so much for granted and for not giving myself to the task to which You have called me. Help me be a prepared person. In Jesus' Name I ask it. Amen.


Giving all to God

For reading & meditation - Proverbs 8

"Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold." (v.10)

Christians who struggle with the concept of deferred satisfaction ought to consider the contestants who prepare for such things as sports competitions - especially the Olympic Games.

Young men and women push themselves almost beyond endurance in order to gain a prize for themselves, their club or their country. I know that all the groaning and gasping that goes on as they train is not unmitigated pleasure.

Why are they doing it? They are demonstrating the principle of deferred satisfaction. They are willing to ensure suffering now in order to win in the future. The pressure, the denial of legitimate pleasures, the strong self-discipline, the rigorous training, are all outweighed by the hope of winning.

The idea of deferred satisfaction is not a uniquely Christian idea. It has been recognized by reflective people throughout history. Plato talks about it, and so does Socrates - and they lived more than two thousand years ago.

Greek philosophy talks about the control of the passions by self-discipline and encourages the development of virtue by self-denial. Christianity teaches that God has come to this world in the person of His Son in order to set up a rescue mission to save us from an everlasting hell.

We are saved, but not that we might sit back and indulge ourselves in the thought. We are saved to serve. If non-Christians can deny themselves present satisfaction for future gains and go to such lengths to win a prize, how much more ought we, who serve the risen Christ? Dare we stand by and watch them do for gold what we are not prepared to do for God?

Father, Your school is strict but the end is redemption. Your instructions, however hard and uncompromising, are in the end my salvation. Help me to see the end from the beginning and to use all my powers in reaching for the goal. Amen.


Sin Breaks God's Heart

For reading & meditation - Proverbs 6:27-35

"But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself." (v.32)

We have talked about chastity; let's talk now about faithfulness. Chastity is purity prior to marriage; faithfulness is virtue within marriage.

God wants everyone who enters into marriage to be loyal and true. When we say that God is love, we are also saying that God is faithful, because love cannot be love unless it has faithfulness in it.

Marriage is a covenant. A lot of people say, "It's just a piece of paper and fifteen minutes of someone's time." But hold on a minute. If life is based on relationships, then the only ethical relationship is love, and love is faithfulness, then the marriage covenant is the most precious thing in life.

The thing that constantly comes out in both Old and New Testaments is the covenant aspect of love. And when you study the covenants of Scripture you will find this - that God keeps His covenants even though they are broken from the other side.

The relationship between Jehovah and Israel is often pictured as that of a husband and a wife. Israel becomes the wayward, unfaithful wife who commits adultery. But God is still faithful to His covenant. God says, "I will never break my covenant. You can count on it. I am God." Young people don't want entangling relationships today. They want to be free to love. With all the conviction of my heart, I say to you that there is no such thing as "free love." only free exploitation.

Love is commitment and when men and women indulge in fornication or adultery, they have not just broken God's laws; they have broken His heart.

O Father, in an age when anything goes, help me be an exhibition to the world around of what it means to be a follower of You. Help me keep all my relationships pure. For Your own dear Name's sake. Amen.



For reading & meditation - Proverbs 9:10-18

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." (v.10)

I hope that what I set out to do in this study of Proverbs has been accomplished - namely, that from now on and as much as possible, you will steal, drink, lie and swear.

I mean, of course, that you will steal time out of your schedule to read continually from the book of Proverbs; that you will drink regularly from its clear refreshing waters; that you will lie on your bed at night and meditate on its great themes; and that you will swear by the grace of God to put its powerful principles into daily practice.

If you consider that I have not touched on some aspect of Proverbs, then I have served you well. It will stimulate you to deeper and further study. The "seven pillars of wisdom" I have suggested, you must remember, are the dominant themes I see in Proverbs.

Others will have different observations. Read them too - it will help you gain even more perspective. I am praying that these meditations will stimulate you to pursue that most glorious of all qualities - divine wisdom.

But remember, do not seek wisdom for its own sake. Seek it that you might more effectively represent the Lord Jesus Christ. And beware of legalism, that soul-destroying attitude that takes pleasure in principles more than in the Person who is behind them - our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

If you still don't know Him, then bow your head this very moment, repent of every sin you have committed and quietly surrender your heart and life into His hands. Committing your way to God is the beginning of wisdom; continual trust in Him will see it develop and grow.

Father, grant me this wisdom, not that I might have an advantage over others, nor to fulfil selfish needs, nor even to advance my fortunes. I seek it that I might know You better, love You more and do Your perfect will. In Jesus' Name. Amen.


Out of Weakness - Strength!

For reading & meditation - Hebrews 11:30-40

"... out of weakness were made strong ..." (v. 34, KJV)

When I first felt the urge to write on the theme: "Strong at the broken places," I had great difficulty in tracing its origin. Then someone wrote to me, quoting the full phrase from the writings of Ernest Hemingway, who said: "Life breaks us all ... but many are made strong at the broken places."

I felt this to be a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit, and began at once to put my thoughts together on this thrilling theme. It is a principle of life that the place in which a bone breaks and then heals will be so strong that, generally speaking, it will never break there again. In the same way, when the skin is cut and scar tissue forms, the healed part becomes tougher than the surrounding skin.

If this happens in the natural, why not in the spiritual? The writer to the Hebrews tells us, in the passage before us today, that God is expert at taking the weaknesses of His children and turning them into strength. What an encouraging truth!

A traveler in the Netherlands tells how his guide pointed out an historic site. "This is where the sea broke through," he said, "causing thousands to drown. But see - it is now so strongly reinforced that it will never break through there again."

Have you been broken by life to such an extent that you feel an overwhelming sense of weakness? Then take heart - God specializes in matching His ability to your disability. By His transforming grace, your frustration can become fruitful. You can be strong at the broken places.

O Father, this sounds fine as theory, but can it really become a fact? Your Word says it can. I am ready and eager to learn. Teach me, my Father. In Jesus' Name. Amen.


The "Inner-Stances"

For reading & meditation - 2 Corinthians 4

"We are handicapped on all sides ... we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out!" (vv. 8-9, J. B. Phillips)

Why is it that while the same things can happen to us all, they may not have the same effect upon us all? The same thing happening to two different people may have entirely different effects.

Why should this be so? It depends not so much on the circumstances, but on the "inner-stances" - or, in other words, our inner attitudes. As someone has said, "What life does to us in the long run depends on what life finds in us."

Life's blows can make some people querulous and bitter, others they sweeten and refine; the same events, but with opposite effects. The Gospels tell us that there were three crosses set up on Calvary on the first Good Friday.

The same event happened to three different people, but look at the different results. One thief complained and blamed Jesus for not saving Himself and them; the other thief recognized his own unworthiness, repented of it and found an open door to Paradise.

Jesus, of course, saw it as the climax of His earthly achievements and made it the fulcrum on which He moved the world. What counts, therefore, is not so much what happens to us, but what we do with it.

The same sunshine falling on two different plants can cause one to wither and die, while the other will blossom and flourish. And why? It all depends on the response the plants make. Although, of course, they both need water, one plant is more suited to hot sunshine than the other, and therefore responds with more life and growth, while the other shrivels up and dies.

Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, write this precept upon my heart so that I shall never forget it: it's not so much what happens to me, but what I do with it that is important. Thank You, Father. Amen


Are Christians Exempt?

For reading & meditation - Matthew 5:38-48

"... He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (v. 45)

We are meditating on the theme, "Strong at the broken places," and we are discovering that although life deals blows to us all, those who meet life with the right responses and the right inner attitudes are those who turn their weaknesses into strengths.

I know some Christians who believe that they ought to be exempt from the cruel blows of life. A young man who was stunned after failing his examination said, "I cannot understand. I prayed very hard before the examination, and I lived an exemplary life for the Lord. Why, oh why, should He fail me at this important moment?"

Later he confessed to a friend, "As a result of God letting me down, my faith in Him has been shattered." I can sympathize with the young man's feelings, of course, but I cannot agree with his conclusions. Suppose prayer alone could enable us to pass examinations - what would happen?

Prior to examination time, classrooms would be deserted, and everyone would flock to the churches for prayer and meditation. Not a bad situation, you might think. But what would happen to the minds of young people if prayer alone brought success? They would become blunted by lack of study. I suspect the young man I have just referred to was depending more on prayer than on diligent and painstaking study.

Now prayer and study make a good combination, but prayer without study never helped anyone pass an examination. Christians are not exempt from the natural laws that govern the universe. We may through prayer be able to overcome them, but we are not able to avoid them.

Prayer: Father, thank You for reminding me that even though I am a Christian, I am still governed by natural laws that apply equally to everyone. I cannot be exempt, but through You I can overcome. I am so grateful. Amen


How Do You Respond?

For reading & meditation - Hebrews 12:4-15

"Be careful that none of you fails to respond to the grace which God gives, for if he does there can ... spring up in him a bitter spirit ..." (v. 15, J. B. Phillips)

Today we must examine an issue that may be extremely challenging to us Christians, but we must face it nevertheless. Why is it that many non-Christians, though broken by life, succeed in becoming "strong at the broken places," while many Christians go through similar experiences and come out crippled and bitter? A few years ago I watched a television program in the United States in which a famous Jew, Victor Frankl, talked about his experiences in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.

When he was brought before the Gestapo, they stripped him naked and then, noticing that he was still wearing his gold wedding ring, one of the soldiers said, "Give it to me." As he removed his ring, this thought went through his mind: "They can take my ring, but there is one thing nobody can take from me - my freedom to choose how I will respond to what happens to me."

On the strength of that, he not only survived the Holocaust, but also developed his whole psychiatric system called Logotherapy, which states that "when you find meaning in everything, then you can face anything." Frankl, a non-Christian, survived the horrors of the Holocaust because he was sustained by an inner conviction that he would come through it, and be able to use the suffering to good effect.

His system of Logotherapy is now being used to help thousands who have mental and emotional problems. If a non-Christian, bereft of redemptive grace, can respond to life in this way, then how much more those of us who claim to be His children?

Prayer: O Father, whenever You corner me like this, You know my tendency to wriggle and try to get off the hook. Help me to face this issue and take my medicine, however bitter it tastes. For Jesus' sake. Amen.


Two Men - Different Reactions

For reading & meditation - 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

"... 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" (v. 9)

We must spend another day examining this very important issue of why it is that some non-Christians seem to respond better to life's problems than many Christians. Just recently I heard of two different people whose business ventures collapsed.

One was a Christian and the other an agnostic. The agnostic responded to the situation by saying, "I cannot determine what happens to me, but I can determine what it will do to me.

It will make me better and more useful." He struck out in another direction, and his new venture prospered to such a degree that he won an award. The Christian responded to the collapse of his business by saying, "Life is unjust.

What's the point of trying? I shall withdraw from the cutthroat world of business and concentrate on my garden." He had to undergo some in-depth counseling before he was on his feet again, and after six months he felt strong enough to rebuild a new and now prosperous business.

What can explain the different reactions of these two men? We could explain it in terms of temperament, upbringing, and so on, but there is one thing that must not be overlooked - the Christian had access to the grace of God which, if utilized, should have enabled him to view the situation even more positively than the non-Christian. As a counselor, I understand why people respond wrongly to life's situations.

However, my understanding of it does not prevent me from recognizing that the true biblical response to life's problems is to take full advantage of the grace of God and turn every setback into a springboard.

Gracious Father, help me to respond to everything in the way a Christian should. Help me to see that not only do You lift the standard high, but You also supply the strength for me to attain it. For Jesus' sake. Amen.