does wisdom mean letting go? does forgivness mean starting over? does honesty thru mercy, forgiveness and grace mean life? does river of eternal life mean eternal forgiveness and mercy?
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Blessed [is] the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.
For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all: that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. People know neither love nor hatred by anything they see before them. 2 All things come alike to all:
One event happens to the righteous and the wicked;
To the good,[a] the clean, and the unclean;
To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice.
As is the good, so is the sinner;
He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath.
3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4 But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.
For the living know that they will die;
But the dead know nothing,
And they have no more reward,
For the memory of them is forgotten.
Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished;
Nevermore will they have a share
In anything done under the sun.
Go, eat your bread with joy,
And drink your wine with a merry heart;
For God has already accepted your works.
Let your garments always be white,
And let your head lack no oil.
9 Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun.
10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.
11 I returned and saw under the sun that—
The race is not to the swift,
Nor the battle to the strong,
Nor bread to the wise,
Nor riches to men of understanding,
Nor favor to men of skill;
But time and chance happen to them all.
For man also does not know his time:
Like fish taken in a cruel net,
Like birds caught in a snare,
So the sons of men are snared in an evil time,
When it falls suddenly upon them.
Practical wisdom, virtue of character and friendship
Process Spirituality: Trust, Gratitude, and Contentment
Wisdom, Knowledge, Righteousness, and Diligence
Friendship, practical wisdom, and diligence
10 Then I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of holiness, and they were forgotten[a] in the city where they had so done. This also is vanity. 11 Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. 12 Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him. 13 But it will not be well with the wicked; nor will he prolong his days, which are as a shadow, because he does not fear before God.
14 There is a vanity which occurs on earth, that there are just men to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity.
15 So I commended enjoyment, because a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry; for this will remain with him in his labor all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun.
16 When I applied my heart to know wisdom and to see the business that is done on earth, even though one sees no sleep day or night, 17 then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it.
3. Process Spirituality: Trust, Gratitude, and Contentment
Our culture teaches us that people are basically good and that their internal problems are the result of external circumstances. But Jesus taught that no outside-in program will rectify the human condition, since our fundamental problems stem from within (Mark 7:20-23). Holiness is never achieved by acting ourselves into a new way of being. Instead, it is a gift that God graciously implants within the core of those who have trusted in Christ. All holiness is the holiness of God within us—the indwelling life of Christ. Thus, the process of sanctification is the gradual diffusion of this life from the inside (being) to the outside (doing), so that we become in action what we already are in essence. Our efforts faithfully reveal what is within us, so that when we are dominated by the flesh we will do the deeds of the flesh, and when we walk by the Spirit we will bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).
A Process from the Inside to the Outside
Holiness is a new quality of life that progressively flows from the inside to the outside. As J. I. Packer outlines it in Keep in Step with the Spirit, the nature of holiness is transformation through consecration; the context of holiness is justification through Jesus Christ; the root of holiness is co-crucifixion and co-resurrection with Jesus Christ; the agent of holiness is the Holy Spirit; the experience of holiness is one of conflict; the rule of holiness is God’s revealed law; and the heart of holiness is the spirit of love. When we come to know Jesus we are destined for heaven because He has already implanted His heavenly life within us. The inside-out process of the spiritual life is the gradual outworking of this kingdom righteousness. This involves a divine-human synergism of dependence and discipline so that the power of the Spirit is manifested through the formation of holy habits. As Augustine put it, “Without God we cannot; without us, He will not.” Disciplined grace and graceful discipline go together in such a way that God-given holiness is expressed through the actions of obedience. Spiritual formation is not a matter of total passivity or of unaided moral endeavor, but of increasing responsiveness to God’s gracious initiatives. The holy habits of immersion in Scripture, acknowledging God in all things, and learned obedience make us more receptive to the influx of grace and purify our aspirations and actions.
“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (1 John 3:21). It is wise to form the habit of inviting God to search your heart and reveal “any hurtful way” (Psalm 139:23) within you. Sustained attention to the heart, the wellspring of action, is essential to the formative process. By inviting Jesus to examine our intentions and priorities, we open ourselves to His good but often painful work of exposing our manipulative and self-seeking strategies, our hardness of heart (often concealed in religious activities), our competitively-driven resentments, and our pride. “A humble understanding of yourself is a surer way to God than a profound searching after knowledge” (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ). Self-examining prayer or journaling in the presence of God will enable us to descend below the surface of our emotions and actions and to discern sinful patterns that require repentance and renewal. Since spiritual formation is a process, it is a good practice to compare yourself now with where you have been. Are you progressing in Christlike qualities like love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, understanding, servanthood, and hope? To assist you, here is a prayer sequence for examination and encouragement that incorporates the ten commandments, the Lord’s prayer, the beatitudes, the seven deadly sins, the four cardinal and three theological virtues, and the fruit of the Spirit. This can serve as a kind of spiritual diagnostic tool:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)
Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
The Ten Commandments
You shall have no other gods before Me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Poverty of spirit (nothing apart from God’s grace)
Gentleness (meekness, humility)
Hunger and thirst for righteousness
Merciful to others
Purity of heart (desiring Christ above all else)
Bearing persecution for the sake of righteousness
The Seven Deadly Sins
The Four Cardinal and Three Theological Virtues
Prudence (wisdom, discernment, clear thinking, common sense)
Temperance (moderation, self-control)
Justice (fairness, honesty, truthfulness, integrity)
Fortitude (courage, conviction)
Faith (belief and trust in God’s character and work)
Hope (anticipating God’s promises)
Love (willing the highest good for others, compassion)
The Fruit of the Spirit
Letting Loose of Control and Results
One of the great enemies of process spirituality is the craving to control our environment and the desire to determine the results of our endeavors. Many of us have a natural inclination to be manipulators, grabbers, owners, and controllers. The more we seek to rule our world, the more we will resist the rule of Christ; those who grasp are afraid of being grasped by God. But until we relinquish ownership of our lives, we will not experience the holy relief of surrender to God’s good and loving purposes. Thomas Merton put it this way in New Seeds of Contemplation:
This is one of the chief contradictions that sin has brought into our souls: we have to do violence to ourselves to keep from laboring uselessly for what is bitter and without joy, and we have to compel ourselves to take what is easy and full of happiness as though it were against our interests, because for us the line of least resistance leads in the way of greatest hardship and sometimes for us to do what is, in itself, most easy, can be the hardest thing in the world.
Our resistance to God’s rule even extends to our prayerful attempts to persuade the Lord to bless our plans and to meet our needs in the ways we deem best. Instead of seeking God’s will in prayer, we hope to induce Him to accomplish our will. Thus, even in our prayers, we can adopt the mentality of a consumer rather than a servant.
Perhaps the most painful lesson for believers to learn is the wisdom of being faithful to the process and letting loose of the results.
We have little control over opportunities we encounter and the outcomes of our efforts, but we can be obedient to the process.
Distorted dreams and selfish ambitions must die before we can know the way of resurrection. We cannot be responsive to God’s purposes until we abandon our strategies to control and acknowledge His exclusive ownership of our lives. At the front end, this surrender to the life of Christ in us appears to be the way of renunciation, but on the other side of renunciation we discover that it is actually the way of affirmation. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:24). The better we apprehend our spiritual poverty and weakness, the more we will be willing to invite Jesus to increase so that we may decrease (John 3:30).
Another key to staying in the process is learning to receive each day and whatever it brings as from the hand of God. Instead of viewing God’s character in light of our circumstances, we should view our circumstances in light of God’s character. Because God’s character is unchanging and good, whatever circumstances He allows in the life of His children are for their good, even though they may not seem so at the time. Since His will for us is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2), the trials, disappointments, setbacks, tasks, and adversities we encounter are, from an eternal vantage point, the place of God’s kingdom and blessing. This Romans 8:28-39 perspective can change the way we pray. Instead of asking the Lord to change our circumstances to suit us, we can ask Him to use our circumstances to change us. Realizing that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18), we can experience “the fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” through “the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). Thus, Blaise Pascal prayed in his Pensees:
With perfect consistency of mind, help me to receive all manner of events. For we know not what to ask, and we cannot ask for one event rather than another without presumption. We cannot desire a specific action without presuming to be a judge, and assuming responsibility for what in Your wisdom You may hide from me. O Lord, I know only one thing, and that is that it is good to follow You and wicked to offend You. Beyond this, I do not know what is good for me, whether health or sickness, riches or poverty, or anything else in this world. This knowledge surpasses both the wisdom of men and of angels. It lies hidden in the secrets of Your providence, which I adore, and will not dare to pry open.
We are essentially spiritual beings, and each “today” that is received with gratitude from God’s hand contributes to our preparation for our glorious and eternal destiny in His presence. In “the sacrament of the present moment” as Jean-Pierre de Caussade described it, “It is only right that if we are discontented with what God offers us every moment, we should be punished by finding nothing else that will content us” (Abandonment to Divine Providence). It is when we learn to love God’s will that we can embrace the present moment as a source of spiritual formation.
As we grow in dependence on Christ’s life and diminish in dependence on our own, the fulfillment of receiving His life gradually replaces the frustration of trying to create our own. It is in this place of conscious dependence that God shapes us into the image of His Son. Here we must trust Him for the outcome, because we cannot measure or quantify the spiritual life. We know that we are in a formative process and that God is not finished with us yet, but we must also remember that we cannot control or create the product. Furthermore, we cannot measure our ministry or impact on others in this life. If we forget this, we will be in a hurry to accomplish significant things by the world’s standard of reckoning. Francois Fenelon noted that “the soul, by the neglect of little things, becomes accustomed to unfaithfulness” (Christian Perfection). It is faithfulness in the little daily things that leads to faithfulness in much (Luke 16:10). Henri Nouwen used to ask God to get rid of his interruptions so he could get on with his ministry. “Then I realized that interruptions are my ministry.” As servants and ambassadors of the King, we must be obedient in the daily process even when we cannot see what difference our obedience makes.
Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude
A young man with a bandaged hand approached the clerk at the post office. “Sir, could you please address this post card for me?” The clerk did so gladly, and then agreed to write a message on the card.
He then asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” The young man looked at the card for a moment and then said, “Yes, add a PS: ‘Please excuse the handwriting.’”
We are an ungrateful people. Writing of man in Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky says, “If he is not stupid, he is monstrously ungrateful! Phenomenally ungrateful. In fact, I believe that the best definition of man is the ungrateful biped.” Luke’s account of the cleansing of the ten lepers underscores the human tendency to expect grace as our due and to forget to thank God for His benefits. “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18).
Remember: God’s Deliverance in the Past
Our calendar allocates one day to give thanks to God for His many benefits, and even that day is more consumed with gorging than with gratitude. Ancient Israel’s calendar included several annual festivals to remind the people of God’s acts of deliverance and provision so that they would renew their sense of gratitude and reliance upon the Lord.
In spite of this, they forgot: “they became disobedient and rebelled against You . . . . they did not remember Your abundant kindnesses . . . . they quickly forgot His works” (Nehemiah 9:26; Psalm 106:7, 13). The prophet Hosea captured the essence of this decline into ingratitude: “As they had their pasture, they became satisfied, and being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore, they forgot Me” (13:6). When we are doing well, we tend to think that our prosperity was self-made; this delusion leads us into the folly of pride; pride makes us forget God and prompts us to rely on ourselves in place of our Creator; this forgetfulness always leads to ingratitude.
Centuries earlier, Moses warned the children of Israel that they would be tempted to forget the Lord once they began to enjoy the blessings of the promised land. “Then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. . . . Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth’” (Deuteronomy 8:14, 17). The antidote to this spiritual poison is found in the next verse: “But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth” (8:18).
Our propensity to forget is a mark of our fallenness. Because of this, we should view remembering and gratitude as a discipline, a daily and intentional act, a conscious choice. If it is limited to spontaneous moments of emotional gratitude, it will gradually erode and we will forget all that God has done for us and take His grace for granted.
Remember: God’s Benefits in the Present
“Rebellion against God does not begin with the clenched fist of atheism but with the self-satisfied heart of the one for whom ‘thank you’ is redundant” (Os Guinness, In Two Minds). The apostle Paul exposes the error of this thinking when he asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Even as believers in Christ, it is quite natural to overlook the fact that all that we have and are—our health, our intelligence, our abilities, our very lives—are gifts from the hand of God, and not our own creation. We understand this, but few of us actively acknowledge our utter reliance upon the Lord throughout the course of the week. We rarely review the many benefits we enjoy in the present. And so we forget.
We tend toward two extremes when we forget to remember God’s benefits in our lives. The first extreme is presumption, and this is the error we have been discussing. When things are going “our way,” we may forget God or acknowledge Him in a shallow or mechanical manner. The other extreme is resentment and bitterness due to difficult circumstances. When we suffer setbacks or losses, we wonder why we are not doing as well as others and develop a mindset of murmuring and complaining. We may attribute it to “bad luck” or “misfortune” or not “getting the breaks,” but it really boils down to dissatisfaction with God’s provision and care. This lack of contentment and gratitude stems in part from our efforts to control the content of our lives in spite of what Christ may or may not desire for us to have. It also stems from our tendency to focus on what we do not possess rather than all the wonderful things we have already received.
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We cannot give thanks and complain at the same time. To give thanks is to remember the spiritual and material blessings we have received and to be content with what our loving Lord provides, even when it does not correspond to what we had in mind. Gratitude is a choice, not merely a feeling, and it requires effort especially in difficult times. But the more we choose to live in the discipline of conscious thanksgiving, the more natural it becomes, and the more our eyes are opened to the little things throughout the course of the day that we previously overlooked. G. K. Chesterton had a way of acknowledging these many little benefits: “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” Henri Nouwen observed that “every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another until, finally, even the most normal, obvious, and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace.”
Remember: God’s Promises for the Future
If we are not grateful for God’s deliverance in the past and His benefits in the present, we will not be grateful for His promises for the future. Scripture exhorts us to lay hold of our hope in Christ and to renew it frequently so that we will maintain God’s perspective on our present journey. His plans for His children exceed our imagination, and it is His intention to make all things new, to wipe away every tear, and to “show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” in the ages to come (Ephesians 2:7).
Make it a daily exercise, either at the beginning or the end of the day, to review God’s benefits in your past, present, and future. This discipline will be pleasing to God, because it will cultivate a heart of gratitude and ongoing thanksgiving.
The Secret of Contentment
“We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.” Uncle Screwtape’s diabolical counsel to his nephew Wormwood in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters is a reminder that most of us live more in the future than in the present. Somehow we think that the days ahead will make up for what we perceive to be our present lack. We think, “When I get this or when that happens, then I’ll be happy,” but this is an exercise in self-deception that overlooks the fact that even when we get what we want, it never delivers what it promised.
Most of us don’t know precisely what we want, but we are certain we don’t have it. Driven by dissatisfaction, we pursue the treasure at the end of the rainbow and rarely drink deeply at the well of the present moment, which is all we ever have. The truth is that if we are not satisfied with what we have, we will never be satisfied with what we want.
The real issue of contentment is whether it is Christ or ourselves who determine the content (e.g., money, position, family, circumstances) of our lives. When we seek to control the content, we inevitably turn to the criterion of comparison to measure what it should look like. The problem is that comparison is the enemy of contentment—there will always be people who possess a greater quality or quantity of what we think we should have. Because of this, comparison leads to covetousness. Instead of loving our neighbors, we find ourselves loving what they possess.
Covetousness in turn leads to a competitive spirit. We find ourselves competing with others for the limited resources to which we think we are entitled. Competition often becomes a vehicle through which we seek to authenticate our identity or prove our capability. This kind of competition tempts us to compromise our character. When we want something enough, we may be willing to steamroll our convictions in order to attain it. We find ourselves cutting corners, misrepresenting the truth, cheating, or using people as objects to accomplish our self-driven purposes.
It is only when we allow Christ to determine the content of our lives that we can discover the secret of contentment. Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we must realize that the Lord alone knows what is best for us and loves us enough to use our present circumstances to accomplish eternal good. We can be content when we put our hope in His character rather than our own concept of how our lives should appear.
Writing from prison to the believers in Philippi, Paul affirmed that “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Philippians 4:11-12). Contentment is not found in having everything, but in being satisfied with everything we have. As the Apostle told Timothy, “we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8). Paul acknowledged God’s right to determine his circumstances, even if it meant taking him down to nothing. His contentment was grounded not in how much he had but in the One who had him. Job understood this when he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). The more we release temporal possessions, the more we can grasp eternal treasures. There are times when God may take away our toys to force us to transfer our affections to Christ and His character.
A biblical understanding of contentment leads to a sense of our competency in Christ. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). As Peter put it, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). Contentment is not the fulfillment of what we want, but the realization of how much we already possess in Christ.
A vision of our competency in Christ enables us to respond to others with compassion rather than competition, because we understand that our fundamental needs are fulfilled in the security and significance we have found in Him. Since we are complete in Christ, we are free to serve others instead of using them in the quest to meet our needs. Thus we are liberated to pursue character rather than comfort and convictions rather than compromise.
Notice the contrast between the four horizontal pairs in this chart:
WHO DETERMINES THE CONTENT OF YOUR LIFE?
As we learn the secret of contentment, we will be less impressed by numbers, less driven to achieve, less hurried, and more alive to the grace of the present moment.
Psalm 17New King James Version (NKJV)
Hear a just cause, O Lord,
Attend to my cry;
Give ear to my prayer which is not from deceitful lips.
2 Let my vindication come from Your presence;
Let Your eyes look on the things that are upright.
3 You have tested my heart;
You have visited me in the night;
You have tried me and have found nothing;
I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.
4 Concerning the works of men,
By the word of Your lips,
I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer.
5 Uphold my steps in Your paths,
That my footsteps may not slip.
6 I have called upon You, for You will hear me, O God;
Incline Your ear to me, and hear my speech.
7 Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand,
O You who save those who trust in You
From those who rise up against them.
8 Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
Hide me under the shadow of Your wings,
9 From the wicked who oppress me,
From my deadly enemies who surround me.
10 They have closed up their fat hearts;
With their mouths they speak proudly.
11 They have now surrounded us in our steps;
They have set their eyes, crouching down to the earth,
12 As a lion is eager to tear his prey,
And like a young lion lurking in secret places.
13 Arise, O Lord,
Confront him, cast him down;
Deliver my life from the wicked with Your sword,
14 With Your hand from men, O Lord,
From men of the world who have their portion in this life,
And whose belly You fill with Your hidden treasure.
They are satisfied with children,
And leave the rest of their possession for their babes.
15 As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness;
I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.
What are the four levels of friendship?
Friendships are important to God because of the tremendous influence they hold over our lives. We often make many decisions based on the counsel of friends, and through friendship, we can significantly impact the lives of others. Therefore it is critical to follow God’s guidance in establishing friendships.
Every Christian is instructed to “be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. . . . [He is to] follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart”(II Timothy 2:22).
Discern the Four Levels of Friendship
Many people lack a clear understanding of the levels of friendship, which involve specific freedoms and responsibilities, depending on the closeness of the relationship. The four levels of friendship are (1) acquaintance, (2) casual friendship, (3) close friendship (fellowship), and (4) intimate friendship.
This level of friendship is characterized by occasional contacts. Regard each introduction to a new acquaintance as a divine appointment. Learn and remember his name and greet him by name during your next encounter.
Be prepared to ask him general questions that will provide “public” information. For example, you might ask a person, “Where do you work?” or “Where do you go to school?” Your questions will demonstrate your acceptance and sincere interest in him.
Questions can be like arrows in a hunter’s hands: Take a question out of your “quiver” and guide it to its destination. If you miss the target, that is, if your question does not help you get to know the person better, take another question out of your quiver and try again. When you are prepared to ask good questions, you are free to concentrate on what the other person says and then use additional questions to maintain the conversation. Be a good listener as your new acquaintance responds to your questions.
A casual friendship can develop quickly, even during your initial contact with an individual. As you discover common interests, activities, and concerns, you may be given freedom to ask more personal questions. For example, you could ask questions about his goals, wishes, or opinions.
As your casual friendship develops, it is important to discover your friend’s strengths and praise him for positive character traits that you observe. A good friendship will build Godly character in both your lives. Be honest about yourself and acknowledge your own weaknesses when appropriate.
Be a trustworthy friend. Learn about his hopes and goals in life; show interest and sincere concern if he shares problems with you. Pray for him.
Close Friendship (Fellowship)
A casual friendship involves oneness of the soul (the mind, will, and emotions), but a close friendship—fellowship—reflects oneness of spirit. We can have many acquaintances and casual friendships with both believers and non-believers. However, true fellowship requires that both persons share the same life goals.
The Lord instructs us to “consider [observe fully] one another to provoke [incite] unto love and to good works”(Hebrews 10:24). This third level of friendship carries with it the responsibility to picture true achievement for one another, exhorting “one another daily . . . lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin”(Hebrews 3:13). Discuss specific goals in your lives; identify potential hindrances to achieving those goals; creatively design projects to help you reach your goals.
Fellowship is “walking in the Light.” “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. . . . If we walk in the light, as he [Christ] is in the light, we have fellowship one with another . . .”(I John 1:5, 7). Your fellowship should include investments in projects that will equip you to achieve your life goals.
The fourth, and deepest, level of friendship should be based on a commitment to generously invest in one another’s lives with the goal of helping each other mature in Godly character. Honesty, humility, and discretion are requirements of an intimate friendship. Comfort one another through trials and sorrows; pray diligently for one another.
At this level, friends have freedom to correct one another and point out each other’s blind spots. Don’t simply point out character deficiencies; discern their causes and suggest solutions. Search the Scriptures for keys to solutions, and be a faithful, loyal friend as you encourage one another to pursue spiritual maturity.
Decide to Seek God Concerning Friendship
Friends influence our lives daily, encouraging us to pursue a closer walk with God or discouraging us from following Christ. Every believer should make three basic decisions about friendships:
- Let God choose your friends based on their desire for God’s best, your ability to share with them, and their ability to share with you. “Exhort one another daily . . . lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin”(Hebrews 3:13). True friends exhort and encourage one another.
- Purpose to verbally identify with Christ whenever you are asked to compromise. Learn to “stand alone” against evil. With a loving and meek spirit, be quick to explain, “I have given my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, and I am not able to do that.”
- Realize that those who reject Christ should reject you. You can have casual friendships with non-believers, but you should not have intimate friendships with non-believers, because you do not share the same goals. (See Proverbs 13:20.)
Discover Biblical Insights About Friendship
Does God have anything to say about your friendships? He sure does! The Bible shares a lot of instruction on this subject. Here are a few examples of what God has to say about friendship:
- “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend”(Proverbs 27:17).
- “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul”(Proverbs 22:24-25).
- “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity”(Proverbs 17:17).
- “. . . A whisperer separateth chief friends”(Proverbs 16:28).
- “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother”(Proverbs 18:24).
- “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful”(Proverbs 27:6).
- “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed”(Proverbs 13:20).
- “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel”(Proverbs 27:9).
- “Henceforth I [Jesus] call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you”(John 15:15).
Ecclesiastes 7 • The Practical Application of Wisdom
How do you measure wisdom? Wisdom is not necessarily the same thing as intelligence and other attributes associated with creativity and brain power. Is wisdom proved by credentials or achievements or a minimum score on an IQ test? The biblical definition of wisdom is, believe it or not, extremely measurable both by God and man. The proof is in the teaching of this chapter in which we are presented with the tangible proofs of the existence of biblical wisdom in any given life. These are the visible results of the practical application of biblical wisdom in our life—or the absence of same.
|1A good name is better than a good ointment,
And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.
2It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
3Sorrow is better than laughter,
For when a face is sad a heart may be happy.
4The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,
While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.
5It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man
Than for one to listen to the song of fools.
6For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot,
So is the laughter of the fool;
And this too is futility.
7For oppression makes a wise man mad,
And a bribe corrupts the heart.
8The end of a matter is better than its beginning;
Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.
9Do not be eager in your heart to be angry,
For anger resides in the bosom of fools.
10Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?”
For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.
11Wisdom along with an inheritance is good
And an advantage to those who see the sun.
12For wisdom is protection just as money is protection,
But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.
13Consider the work of God,
For who is able to straighten what He has bent?
14In the day of prosperity be happy,
But in the day of adversity consider—
God has made the one as well as the other
So that man will not discover anything that will be after him.
Q: Examples are given to show what specific form the application of biblical wisdom should take in life. List and re-state each characteristic in your own way. Provide a brief explanation of why each particular quality may be important. (Let the group discuss; these are provided to help facilitate discussion.)
Q: Do these sound like unrealistic, “lofty” goals of wisdom that only a unique knowledge or extraordinary intelligence can possess?
A: No. They all have in common obedience to God’s Word and its foremost commands to love God and love our neighbor.
Point: By the examples of its practical application, the definition of biblical wisdom is to live faithfully according to God’s Word. Note how there is no insistence that proof of the existence of biblical wisdom is the ability to decipher prophecy, discern difficult mysteries, or speak new revelations. Biblical wisdom is the antithesis of worldly wisdom because it is wholly based on the degree to which one puts God’s Word into practice in their life.
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
|15I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness. 16Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? 17Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.||[Read v.15-18]
Q: What is the message of v.15 in the apparent discrepancy between a righteous man and a wicked man as observed here?
A: There is no guarantee in this life that being righteous automatically extends this life and wickedness automatically cuts it short. Final judgment comes after this life, which we must be prepared to acknowledge is not always fair and equitable during its short span.
Q: It’s probably easy to envision what it means to be “excessively wicked” (v.17), but how is it possible to be “excessively righteous and…overly wise”? (v.16)
A: Think of the example of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. They had elevated earthly “righteousness” to the point that they added hundreds and thousands of additions to God’s Law, what Jesus termed “traditions of men”. Their pursuit of “righteousness” became a thing unto itself, its own institution that was worshiped in place of the One True God the original Torah pointed to.
Application: Do you know someone that seems to be more concerned about the rules than the heart? What are some of the cults and false teachings you’ve observed which in the end replace God with the burden of rules and institutions and traditions?
Q: What is the antidote? What ensures that we maintain the right path to God?
A: According to v.18, the fear of God. To the same degree that we fear God enough to voluntarily refrain from engaging in sin and wickedness, so our fear of Him is greater than the traditions of men that they try to impose on us.
Diligence is investing my time and energy to complete each task assigned to me.
Diligence is accepting each task as a special assignment from the Lord
and using all my energies to do it quickly and skillfully.
Two Examples of Diligence:
The Proverbs 31 Woman and Epaphras — Colossians 4:12-13
By Margaret Garner
Senior Associate, Worldwide Discipleship Association, Fayetteville, GA
God values diligence in His people, as evidenced by the numerous references to diligence in the book of Proverbs. Here are a few examples:
Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor. (12:24)
All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. (14:2)3
The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. (13:4)
- TWO EXAMPLES OF DILIGENCE
- The Proverbs 31 Woman
In the last chapter of Proverbs, King Lemuel describes a godly woman whose life is characterized by diligence as well as other qualities. This is a description of a type of woman and not necessarily a specific individual. Many of the descriptors refer directly to her investment of her time and energies.
She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. (13)
She gets up while it is still dark…(15)
She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. (17)
She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. (27)
There are many other people in Scripture who exhibit diligence. One such person is Epaphras. Epaphras is mentioned only two times in Scripture. He probably started the church in Colossae. At the end of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he writes this about Epaphras:
Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. (4:12-13)
In these two brief sentences the diligence of Epaphras, including his diligence in prayer, was spoken of twice. He did not just pray, but he “always wrestled in prayer”. And what is there that requires more work, focus and energy than prayer?! Paul also testified that Epaphras was “working hard” for the believers at the young churches. Epaphras’ diligence was making an eternal difference in the lives of believers in that time!
- The Proverbs 31 Woman
- DILIGENCE IN OUR LIVES
Diligence needs to be more than a theoretical concept we discuss. For it to become an ingrained character quality it must be practiced daily. That means we must will and strive to be diligent. Some practical evidences of diligence we can see in our lives today are seen in the following “I will” statements:
- I will finish my projects.
- I will do a job right.
- I will follow instructions.
- I will concentrate on my work.
- I will not be lazy.
Divide into pairs and discuss:
- Think of a person you know who is diligent. Describe what you observe in this person that causes you to call them diligent.
- What are some of the benefits of being diligent?
(Some possible answers: pleases God, thoughtful and considerate of others, meets deadlines, good team player)
- What factors in our lives sometimes make it difficult to be diligent?
(Some possible answers: Schedule too busy, our culture wants “instant” results, too many distractions—TV, videos, etc., )
- DILIGENCE IN MY LIFE THIS WEEK
Spend a few minutes in personal reflection:
- How has a lack of diligence negatively affected your life in the past month? (It can be your own lack of diligence or another person’s lack of diligence.)
- If it was your lack of diligence, what will you do to remedy the situation? Who will help you?
- If it was not your lack of diligence, reflect on the “I will” statements. Which one is the easiest for you to follow? Which one is the most difficult? Why? What will you do to improve? Who will help you?
Ecclesiastes 7New King James Version (NKJV)
The Value of Practical Wisdom
7 A good name is better than precious ointment,
And the day of death than the day of one’s birth;
2 Better to go to the house of mourning
Than to go to the house of feasting,
For that is the end of all men;
And the living will take it to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
For by a sad countenance the heart is made better.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise
Than for a man to hear the song of fools.
6 For like the crackling of thorns under a pot,
So is the laughter of the fool.
This also is vanity.
7 Surely oppression destroys a wise man’s reason,
And a bribe debases the heart.
8 The end of a thing is better than its beginning;
The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
9 Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry,
For anger rests in the bosom of fools.
10 Do not say,
“Why were the former days better than these?”
For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
And profitable to those who see the sun.
12 For wisdom is a defense as money is a defense,
But the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it.
13 Consider the work of God;
For who can make straight what He has made crooked?
14 In the day of prosperity be joyful,
But in the day of adversity consider:
Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other,
So that man can find out nothing that will come after him.
15 I have seen everything in my days of vanity:
There is a just man who perishes in his righteousness,
And there is a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness.
16 Do not be overly righteous,
Nor be overly wise:
Why should you destroy yourself?
17 Do not be overly wicked,
Nor be foolish:
Why should you die before your time?
18 It is good that you grasp this,
And also not remove your hand from the other;
For he who fears God will escape them all.
19 Wisdom strengthens the wise
More than ten rulers of the city.
20 For there is not a just man on earth who does good
And does not sin.
21 Also do not take to heart everything people say,
Lest you hear your servant cursing you.
22 For many times, also, your own heart has known
That even you have cursed others.
23 All this I have proved by wisdom.
I said, “I will be wise”;
But it was far from me.
24 As for that which is far off and exceedingly deep,
Who can find it out?
25 I applied my heart to know,
To search and seek out wisdom and the reason of things,
To know the wickedness of folly,
Even of foolishness and madness.
26 And I find more bitter than death
The woman whose heart is snares and nets,
Whose hands are fetters.
He who pleases God shall escape from her,
But the sinner shall be trapped by her.
27 Here is what I have found,” says the Preacher,
“Adding one thing to the other to find out the reason,
28 Which my soul still seeks but I cannot find:
One man among a thousand I have found,
But a woman among all these I have not found.
29 Truly, this only I have found:
That God made man upright,
But they have sought out many schemes.”
Ecclesiastes 8New King James Version (NKJV)
8 Who is like a wise man?
And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
A man’s wisdom makes his face shine,
And the sternness of his face is changed.
Obey Authorities for God’s Sake
2 I say, “Keep the king’s commandment for the sake of your oath to God. 3 Do not be hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand for an evil thing, for he does whatever pleases him.”
4 Where the word of a king is, there is power;
And who may say to him, “What are you doing?”
5 He who keeps his command will experience nothing harmful;
And a wise man’s heart discerns both time and judgment,
6 Because for every matter there is a time and judgment,
Though the misery of man increases greatly.
7 For he does not know what will happen;
So who can tell him when it will occur?
8 No one has power over the spirit to retain the spirit,
And no one has power in the day of death.
There is no release from that war,
And wickedness will not deliver those who are given to it.
9 All this I have seen, and applied my heart to every work that is done under the sun: There is a time in which one man rules over another to his own hurt.
Psalm 150New King James Version (NKJV)
Let All Things Praise the Lord
150 Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
2 Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
3 Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the lute and harp!
4 Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
5 Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.