2 Samuel 18, Daniel 8, Psalms 114-116

Read 2 Samuel 18, Daniel 8, and Psalms 114-116.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 18.

Of all the battles David fought in his life, none created as much anxiety for him as this one must have. His anxiety had nothing to do with fear of losing; God had made an eternal covenant with David, so David could be confident that God would be with him.

David also had an impressive army with him (v. 1) led by Joab, his experienced, successful field general (v. 2). Although David expressed his willingness to enter the battle personally (v. 2f), his soldiers convinced him to stay in the fortified city of Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:24 compare to 2 Samuel 2:8) while they fought on his behalf (18:3-6).

As expected, God gave David’s troops this victory (vv. 7-8). Absalom certainly believed he was a capable judge (remember 15:1-4); apparently he also believed he was a mighty warrior. There is no mention of him fighting in Israel’s army because he probably wasn’t needed in David’s army . Alhough Jonathan fought in his father, King Saul’s army, David’s kingdom and army were more highly developed than Saul’s. It seems unlikely to me, therefore, that Absalom had ever fought in any battle prior to this battle here in 2 Samuel 18.

Though the Bible does not accuse Absalom of arrogance, its description of him suggests an arrogant man. He had hired men to go before his chariots and horsemen to announce his arrival (15:1). Most men have receding hairlines or some type of balding problem, but Absalom had a thick head of hair that he allowed to grow long (14:26), maybe to stand out in a crowd and draw attention to himself. Our passage today told us that Absalom built a monument to himself so that he would not be forgotten, since he had no son (v. 18). Despite his great self-confidence, Absalom’s army was no match for his father’s and his thick hair was instrumental in bringing him to a humiliating defeat (vv. 9-17).

Unlike his father, David, who was chosen and anointed king by God and who waited until Saul was dead and Israel was ready for him to become king, Absalom anointed himself king and tried to take David’s kingdom from him by force, despite what God had promised to David.

Absalom’s life and death illustrate the truth Jesus taught in Luke 14:11: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” May the Lord protect us from the high risk foolishness of arrogance.

I think that we are especially susceptible to arrogance when we are young. I know that I, as a younger man, thought I saw things more clearly at times than the leaders I followed. I remember thinking that I could do better and agitating for more authority. Now that I am older and have struggled with the realities of the adult world and spiritual /church leadership, I have a much lower view of my own abilities.

If you are young, take a lesson from Absalom: There is great virtue in following your leaders as your leaders do their best to follow and obey the Lord. Don’t let arrogance put you into a self-destructive place.

2 Samuel 14, Daniel 4, Mark 14

Read 2 Samuel 14, Daniel 4, and Mark 14.

This devotional is about Daniel 4.

People who have been highly successful face the temptation of taking too much credit for their success. That person may assume that people pretty much get what they deserve so, since that person is successful he must deserve it.

The opposite is often believed, too; namely, that the unsuccessful deserve their failures so the successful and powerful should feel no pity toward the “losers” of life, nor should they feel bad if they oppress them. If they weren’t such losers, they’d figure out how to avoid being oppressed, the successful oppressor thinks.

What does the successful person think he has that gives him such a large advantage over others? Often, he believes in the superiority of his own intellect.

Here in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar is warned about becoming proud of his success. His warning came at a time when he was “contented and prosperous” (v. 4b). The good feeling he had about his life faded quickly, however, after he had a disturbing dream that he did not understand (vv. 5-7). God gave Daniel the interpretation (vv. 8-26) and Daniel delivered the Lord’s message that the dream was a warning against Nebuchadnezzar’s sins (v. 27). 

A full year later, the fulfillment came and Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and, temporarily, his kingdom (vv. 28-33). This experience humbled Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 34-35) just as God said (v. 32, 37). The ultimate lesson is that God hates pride and often chooses to humble the proud in order to demonstrate his sovereignty and lordship.

But notice what Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar to do after he received the vision but before it was fulfilled. In verse 27 Daniel told him, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

Did you notice that phrase, “by being kind to the oppressed”? Remember I stated earlier that the successful, the proud, often think they deserve their success because they believe that people get what they deserve? That feeling of entitlement causes the powerful to oppress the weak.

Daniel’s advice, then, was to show true repentance by showing kindness to the oppressed. When one is truly humble, that person treats everyone with dignity. He doesn’t “kiss up and kick down” as the saying goes. Instead, he is kind to everyone, especially those who need kindness the most.

Do you believe that you deserve the life that you have? Is it impossible to believe that you could be homeless, family-less, unloved and living on the streets? I have been told that many people who live that way are mentally ill, just as Nebuchadnezzar was in verse 33. Yet how often do we see people begging and wonder if they really “deserve” our help?

1 Samuel 31, Ezekiel 40, Mark 6

Read 1 Samuel 31, Ezekiel 40, and Mark 6.

This devotional is about Mark 6.

If you live long enough, at some point someone whose birth and childhood you remember becomes someone important–a judge, a doctor, a professor, your governor, maybe even your pastor. Some people have a hard time respecting the accomplishments of someone they knew as a younger person. It might be hard to let someone take out your appendix if you remember changing that kid’s diapers.

Jesus faced this kind of credibility crisis here in Mark 6 when he returned to his hometown of Nazareth.

On one hand, the wisdom Jesus had was undeniable. As they said in verse 2, “What’s this wisdom that has been given him?” They never saw him apprentice with a rabbi, so how could they trust the things that he said? Likewise, his miracles were impressive. Again, verse 2 recorded the question, “What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?” Some of these people might have remembered that time he got lost, as a child, in Jerusalem. How was that kid now capable of restoring people’s limbs and returning sight to their blind eyes? He was just a simple carpenter and they knew his whole family (v. 3), so it was difficult to accept that God’s power was on him so clearly. Verse 3 ended by saying, “…they took offense at him.”

Of course, this is all an expression of unbelief. To believe that Jesus was the Messiah or even a great spiritual leader would require some humility. It’s a lot easier to retain your pride and cast doubt on Jesus’ legitimacy than it is to humbly accept that little Jesus, now grown, was really being used by God.

The result of their faithlessness was, according to verse 5 that “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” The people who should have been most proud of him were his biggest skeptics. Their skepticism–aka their unbelief–meant that God’s power in their village was restrained. When verse 5 says that “He could not do any miracles there” it isn’t saying that it was impossible for him to do miracles. Jesus had the same power that he always had. The point is that he couldn’t do miracles because people who needed healing would not come to him for it. They would rather keep their dignity in place than admit they needed Mary’s kid for anything. Verse 6 says, “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

Faith, of course, is a response to God’s word, a positive reception of God’s promises and revelation. Although Christ is not physically here to do miracles for us, he has made many promises to us. I wonder how many times our unbelief keeps us from asking God to save someone we love, or to turn a wayward friend to repentance.

I wonder what God would do in our church if we came to him more often for help and asked him to work in our lives or the lives of others. I wonder how much our Lord wants to do for us and in us and through us if we would just show our faith and ask him.

What do you want to ask him for today?

1 Samuel 18, Ezekiel 29, Philippians 1

Read 1 Samuel 18, Ezekiel 29, and Philippians 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 18.

First Samuel 18 presents us with a study in contrasts. Saul was king but David has been anointed his successor. Saul was jealous of David, but David was not jealous of Jonathan, even though Jonathan would be the natural human successor to Saul. David had the Spirit of God on his life; Saul has lost the Spirit’s anointing and was, instead, troubled by an evil spirit. Saul wanted to kill David but David was so humble that he did not consider himself worthy of marrying Saul’s daughter.

Remember that David had already been anointed king by Samuel and had received the anointing power of the Spirit that kings and judges received. There was inevitability about David’s becoming king and, as you would expect, he was ascending in the ranks of the military.

Remember that being king, at this point in Israel, was mostly about fighting battles. That’s what the Israelites said they wanted: “We want a king over us…  to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19b-20). So the fact that David “was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army” (18:5), and “…in everything he did he had great success” (18:14) and “…all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns” (18:16) showed how Samuel’s prophecy about David was becoming a reality.

Yet David showed no sense of entitlement. He knew that the kingdom will be his and he saw the fulfillment of that prophecy developing day after day, but he did not assassinate Saul, not even in self-defense (18:11) Also, Saul had promised his daughter to the man who defeated Goliath (17:25) so David was entitled to become Saul’s son-in-law. But David did not demand what was promised to him and even declined the opportunity to marry Saul’s daughter twice (18:18-19, 23) until he finally felt worthy to marry Michal after “skinning” a hundred Philistines (vv. 25-27).

If anyone could have felt entitled–SHOULD have felt entitled–it was David but all we see is humility, humility, humility. That humility was shown in service—fighting Saul’s battles even in far-flung places (v. 13) and playing the harp on demand whenever Saul wanted (v. 10). Why was David so humble and why did he live like a servant? Because he trusted the Lord and walked with him.

Entitlement is one of the most subtle sins that tries to seduce us. I know that the word “entitlement” does not appear in any sin lists in the Bible, but entitlement is simply one manifestation of pride.

An entitled person is one who thinks he deserves whatever he has now, gets in the present and future, and usually thinks he deserves even more. A person who feels entitled usually shows a (1) a lack of gratitude for the things he has and (2) anger about the things he is not getting. A disgruntled employee is often one who suffers from entitlement. Church conflicts are often caused when someone feels entitled. Bratty children and spousal unrest are often the result of entitlement.

The best antidote to entitlement is to realize that everything we have was given to us by God, so we should be grateful for what God gives and wait for what God has promised. If you are suffering from ingratitude and conflict, check your heart. Are you walking with God, thanking him for what he’s given you and seeking to serve him and his children? Or is your mind and heart focused on what you think you deserve that you are not getting?

An entitled person will never live up to his potential because he thinks he deserves things, so he won’t work hard to get them. Consequently, an entitled person is constantly disappointed.

We see that in Saul when the women were praising David more than Saul, the “mighty king” who was too cowardly to fight Goliath (16:6-8).

If you find yourself disappointed, you need to focus on what you’re not giving instead of what you aren’t getting. Maybe your disappointment, your anger, and your ingratitude are the poisonous fruits of self-entitled pride.

1 Samuel 11, Ezekiel 22, Colossians 1

Read 1 Samuel 11, Ezekiel 22, and Colossians 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 11.

Considering what became of Saul later in life, it is surprising how powerfully he began as a leader. After being identified as king in chapter 10, Saul may have wondered, “Now what do I do?” Samuel, when he told Saul privately that he would become king, told him, “Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you“ (1 Sam 10:7). Not much to go on there, if you were looking for what to do next as king.

Here in chapter 11, however, a crisis jump started Saul’s career as king. The people of Jabesh Gilead were under siege from Nahash the Ammonite. Although they offered to surrender, the terms Nahash said he would accept were inhumane (vv. 1-2). Given how unreasonable his demands were, it is quite surprising that he was willing to give the people of Jabesh Gilead time to seek someone to rescue them, but he did (v. 3).

When Saul heard of this, God guided him just as he had promised to do, and Saul acted quickly. First, he creatively compelled the Israelites to join him as his army (vv. 6-10). Then he attacked the Ammonite army with strategic skill and was effective in defeating them (v. 11). His actions united Israel around him as king to the point that they wanted to execute his detractors (v. 12), but Saul wisely decreed no retaliation against those who had opposed him. Instead, he deflected the attention to God who had chosen and empowered him (v. 13). God used this incident and Saul’s wise leadership throughout it to solidify his kingdom and unify the people under his leadership (vv. 14-15).

This incident illustrates and proves the importance of humility in leadership. Sometimes you need to leverage your position as a leader to get people to move quickly in the right direction as Saul did in verses 7-8. But a leader who is constantly overbearing, who demands respect instead of earning through skillful leadership, and who retaliates against those who question him will eventually weaken his leadership and, probably, lose his position altogether. If you can learn to live with humility, to lead people in the right direction, for the right reasons, to the glory of God, you won’t have to pound on the table and insist that people follow you. You won’t have to humiliate and punish your critics. Instead, people will voluntarily follow you because this kind of leadership is so rare.

Where do you serve as a leader now? In your workplace, your ministry here at Calvary, your home as a parent, or somewhere else, someone looks to you for leadership. At times you may need to be bold and dramatic, but if you are godly and effective at what you do, God will reward you. Your reputation and your following will grow because you will be a leader who serves. Think about how these truths can impact your life in your leadership role today.

Judges 10:1-11:11, Lamentations 4, Proverbs 18:1-12

Read Judges 10:1-11:11, Lamentations 4, Proverbs 18:1-12.

This devotional is about Proverbs 18:2.

Within in each of us there is a feeling that we “get” some things. Most of us will admit that there are areas where we know very little or not enough to have an informed opinion. On many topics, however, we are very confident that our opinion is right and that we know the truth.

But, has your mind ever changed about something you once thought you knew? Have you ever said something with great boldness, only to have to take it back later when more information came to light?

Here in Proverbs 18:2 we are warned about that kind of thing.

The first part of the verse says, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding….” Remember that in Proverbs the “fool” is not a stupid person; rather, a fool is someone who has rejected God and, as a result, has embraced a wicked way of life. Because wickedness is deceptive, fools make bad choices and suffer painful consequences. The warnings Proverbs gives us about fools is designed to protect us from the self-confidence that thinks we can reason or intuit our way to truth. So when Proverbs 18:2a says, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding….” we are to learn that those who have rejected God are not really on a quest for truth. They think they know what is good and bad, right and wrong, wise and unwise.

So if you see a fool doing something foolish or saying something foolish and try to instruct him, you will get nowhere. The reason is that fools “find no pleasure in understanding.” They don’t want to know the truth because that would require humility.

A humble person is a teachable person. He knows that he doesn’t know it all, is susceptible to error, and could learn a thing (or thirty) from someone who is wise, knowledgable, and skillful in areas where the teachable man is ignorant. Fools are too proud to admit that they need help, need knowledge, so they have no real interest in understanding.

Instead of trying to understand a thing, verse 2 tells us that fools “delight in airing their own opinions.” They speak self-confidently about areas where they are ignorant and know nothing. I’ve found that, the more confident a person sounds, the more suspicious I should be about trusting that person’s opinions. Plenty of people bloviate about things they no nothing about. The Bible says that is a characteristic of a fool. He doesn’t really want to understand something; he wants you to understand how great or smart or wise he is. That’s his objective, which is why he speaks the way that he does.

Do you have a teachable spirit? When you speak beyond what you really know (which many of us do, myself included), do you have the humility to be corrected by someone who knows better? Most importantly–are you willing to allow Scripture and godly counselors to help you understand things you think you know? In other words, are you humble enough to be corrected when the teaching of God’s word confronts what you believe, or want to believe?

Fools are self-confident; they love to tell anyone who will listen what they think. As a result of their self-confidence, they will be led astray. Choose the wisdom of humility. Learn to crave understanding. Don’t be afraid of being exposed as ignorant–everyone is ignorant in many areas. Instead, let the realization of your ignorance become the gateway to understanding by humbling yourself to accept truth and knowledge. This is a wise way to live and will lead you to a life that glorifies God.

Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, Psalms 54-56

Read Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, and Psalms 54-56.

This devotional is about Isaiah 37.

Yesterday’s reading from Isaiah 36 described how the Assyrian king Sennacherib attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and put the city of Jerusalem under siege. Having successfully stopped the flow of water into the city, the Assyrians invited the people of Jerusalem to surrender before they died of dehydration and starvation.

Here in Isaiah 37, Hezekiah, the king of Judah, showed great spiritual leadership. Instead of mustering his army and trying to fire them up with a rousing speech, Hezekiah recognized that God was the only possible route to deliverance.

Hezekiah began his demonstration of spiritual leadership by humbling himself, personally before the Lord by putting on the garments of humility and going to the Lord’s temple (v. 1). Then he sent some of his deputies, themselves clothed in humble sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet (v. 2). Their message to Isaiah, in verse 3, was not “Get us out of this!” or even “Pray for us!” Instead, they acknowledged how desperate their situation and need for God was (v. 3) and pointed out to Isaiah that the Assyrians had spoken words of ridicule against the one true God, the God of Israel (v. 4a). As a result, they asked Isaiah to pray that God would preserve his people from this dangerous moment in their history (v. 5).

Isaiah responded by assuring Hezekiah’s officials that God would fight for Israel and repay the Assyrians for their blasphemy (vv. 5-7).

Meanwhile, Sennacherib sent a personal letter to Hezekiah once again denying that God would deliver them and calling on Hezekiah to surrender (vv. 9-13). Hezekiah took the letter he received and brought it before the Lord (v. 14). He prayed and began by praising God for who He is (v. 15-16) and calling on God to deliver his people (vv. 18-20).

At the end of Hezekiah’s prayer, he said the words that God always wants to hear: “…deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.” As he called on God to fight for his people, Hezekiah tied his request to the demonstration of God’s glory (v. 20).

God answered Hezekiah’s prayer (vv. 21-38) and here we are thousands of years later reading about what God did and praising God in our hearts for his almighty power and defense of his people.

When we ask God for something in prayer, do we ever think about what God would get out of answering our prayers? The biggest human need we think we have is insignificant compared to the importance of magnifying the glory of God and calling people to surrender to him.

God is loving and compassionate toward his people but his main objective in this world is to spread the knowledge of himself throughout the world. Do we ask God to use our weaknesses, our needs, and the answers to prayer that we seek from him in ways that help spread the knowledge of God and bring worship to him? Or is our praying self-seeking, concerned mostly (or only) with getting what we want from God for our own relief or our own life-enhancement?

The kind of prayer God loves to answer is the one that recognizes God’s purposes in this world and aligns the answer we seek with the advancement of God’s agenda in some way.

If God were to give you today the answer you’ve been asking him for in prayer, how would that answer spread his knowledge in the world? Tying our requests to what God is concerned about—his kingdom—is important for an encouraging answer to our requests.

Think about what you find yourself asking from God in prayer. Is the answer you want really just a way to make yourself comfortable? Or do you see how answering your prayer might have an impact on the real reasons Christ came into the human race? Do you see how God is glorified when he answers in such “difficult” situations? When you pray, connect your prayers to the promises of God and his mission to reach his chosen ones and see if God does not answer more quickly, more completely and thoroughly in your life.

Numbers 5, Isaiah 30, Psalms 51-53

Read Numbers 5, Isaiah 30, Psalms 51-53.

This devotional is about Isaiah 30.

Judgment was coming to Judah because of idolatry and disobedience to God’s law. Isaiah and others had delivered prophecies to tell God’s people of their coming exile. How would God’s people respond?

One way they responded was by contacting Egypt and attempting to form an alliance with the Egyptians (v. 2). Their solution to the growing storm clouds of trouble was completely human and tactical. They wanted to fight fire with more fire power. But, as verse 1 said, this was only evidence that they were “obstinate children.” God was not in their plans (“…forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,” v. 1d) so their plans were destined to fail.

If a political solution was not the answer, then what was the answer? Verse 15: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength….” The threat was human but both the problem and the solution were spiritual. Come to God in repentance; walk in his ways and the Babylonians will go bye-bye.

The end of this chapter holds forth the blessings God wanted his people to have. God “longs to be gracious to you” (v. 18). Specifically:

  • “How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you” (v. 19b).
  • “He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful” (v. 23).
  • “The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted” (v. 26).

We don’t deal with invading armies and national alliances, but we do look for human answers to spiritual problems. Churches look for programs and gimmicks when attendance is weak instead of crying out for God’s Spirit to work and reaching out in genuine evangelism. Believers try psychology and self-help to manage their problems instead of humbling ourselves before the Lord, seeking his forgiveness and help. Parents try to change their kids’ friends or activities instead of asking God to change their children’s hearts.

Is there any area in your life where you are looking for human solutions to spiritual problems? Do you see how gracious God wants to be to you (vv. 18-26) if you come to him in repentance and faith (v. 19)?

Then what are you waiting for, exactly?

Leviticus 26, Isaiah 24, Acts 9

Read Leviticus 26, Isaiah 24, and Acts 9.

This devotional is about Leviticus 26.

Great blessings continued to be promised here in Leviticus 26. If only Israel had believed God (vv. 1-3), they would have:

  • abundant rain in season yielding fruitful harvests (v. 4).
  • a consistent supply of food (vv. 5, 10).
  • peace and security from wild animals and invading armies (v. 6)
  • military victory if war did break out (vv. 7-8)
  • growing population base (v. 9)
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: fellowship with God, who would live among them (vv. 11-13).

Following those positive promises were promises that there would be consequences if they disobeyed God’s word (vv. 14-39). This is what Israel actually got, for the most part, because they disobeyed God.

But notice that God described these consequences in verse 23 as “my correction” and he said that the purpose of these punishments was to “break down your stubborn pride.” This is what God does for those he loves. He blesses us when we follow him in obedience and he brings correction, painful though it may be, to humble us and teach us to follow him.

Here in the church age, God’s blessings to us are not necessarily the material prosperity he promised to Israel. We will enjoy that when his kingdom comes to earth, but that is not always his will for his elect in this age.

We can, however, enjoy God’s fellowship (vv. 11-13) in this life while we wait for the kingdom to fulfill all the other promises he made. We can also enjoy the conviction that God will not forsake us when we sin against him but that his correction is designed to humble us and to turn our hearts in confession and repentance to him.

How is this working out in your walk with God these days? Are you enjoying the comfort of his fellowship even if you may be experiencing some trials? Or are you stubbornly living in disobedience and, maybe, experiencing his correction in your life? If you are walking with God and not harboring any sin, then keep going. Don’t allow the lies that sin tells us to rob you of the blessings of God’s fellowship.

If you need to repent, though, claim God’s promised forgiveness and have your walk with him restored.

Leviticus 1, Song of Songs 5, Proverbs 9

Read Leviticus 1, Song of Songs 5, and Proverbs 9.

This devotional is about Proverbs 9.

This chapter in Proverbs continues comparing wisdom to a woman and folly is also compared to a woman. You remember from high school, maybe, that this is a literary device called “personification.” Solomon has already “personified” wisdom as a woman; now folly is also personified as a woman. I will refer to them as “Wendy Wisdom” and “Polly Folly.”

Both of these women call out to people “from the highest point of the city” (v. 3b, 14b). This means that their invitations are broadcast and can be heard from far away.

They both invite people to come in to their homes and eat. Wendy Wisdom offers her own nourishment (vv. 4-5). It is the nourishment of a godly life (v. 10) which results in a disciplined life. Like healthy food, it isn’t always the most tasty, but it is healthy and will extend your life (vv. 6, 11).

By contrast, Polly Folly offers “stolen water… and food eaten in secret” (v. 17). This is a reference to sin. It is immediately enjoyable, even addictive, but like all addictions, it will kill you (v. 18).

In between the contrasts offered by these two women, Solomon talked about correction. There are two kinds of people: those who reject correction (vv. 7a, 8a) and those who accept correction (v. 8b).

Those who reject correction will turn and attack the person who tries to give it to them. If you’ve ever tried to show someone a problem in their life and they turn and accuse you of being unloving, unkind, critical, judgmental or the bad guy, this is the kind of person you’re dealing with. Of course, there are some people in the world who are unloving, unkind, critical, judgmental, and bad guys. The difference is in the motivation and delivery of the person bringing correction. A loving person cares about you; they want to see you avoid sin or help you get unstuck from a sinful situation, habit, or temptation. They speak up because they want to help you not to hurt you. Those who are unloving, unkind, critical, etc. just want to hurt you. It is the difference between a surgeon who cuts you open with a scalpel and a solder who cuts you open with a sword. Both of them are cutting–which wounds you–but they have very different motivations and results.

The person who accepts correction is wise (v. 8b) and is on a pathway to greater wisdom (v. 9). On one level he may love the sin you are correcting him for, but as a believer, he will recognize his sin is wrong and that it will bring pain and destruction if he persists in it. So your correction will help him grow and he “will love you” as a result (v. 8b). All of this points again to the importance of humility. People resist correction out of pride but those who are too proud to accept correction will eventually pay a much more painful price than wounded pride.

If you want to be wise, you have to start by being humble. Humility calls us to fear the Lord (v. 10) which “is the beginning of wisdom” but we progress down that path by continuing to accepting the truth in humility. That truth may come from the correction of God’s word or the correction of another person but if it is true, we should receive it even though it hurts.

Did you receive any correction this week–any criticism from your boss or a complaint about your actions or character? Criticism delivered lovingly is easier to take, but even our harshest critic can still help us onward toward wisdom if we have the humility to accept the criticism and change accordingly.

Exodus 40, Song of Songs 4, Luke 18

Read Exodus 40, Song of Songs 4, and Luke 18.

This devotional is about Luke 18.

The major theme of this chapter is humility. That theme comes out more clearly in some of the paragraphs of this chapter than in others. But consider this:

  • In verses 1-8 Jesus commanded us to pray persistently, like a woman who kept badgering a judge for justice. It takes humility to pray. It also takes humility to keep praying without giving up.
  • In verses 9-14 the tax collector was justified instead of the Pharisee because “those who humble themselves will be exalted” (v. 14c).
  • In verses 15-17 you have to become helpless like a child in order to enter the kingdom. Verse 17: “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
  • In verses 18-30 the rich man refused the kingdom of heaven because Jesus told him to sell everything. Selling everything would have humbled him, making him dependent on God.
  • Verses 31-34 doesn’t seem to fit the theme of humility except that Jesus’ death required him to humble himself, so maybe that’s why Luke included this passage in this spot.
  • In verses 35-43 the beggar was not too proud to stop calling out to Jesus asking for his sight. His personal dignity and reputation among others were less important to him than receiving this healing from Jesus.

Let’s focus on verses 9-14 for this devotional.

This is a parable about two men–a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both men went to the temple (v. 10a). Both had a purpose for going to the temple–“to pray” (v. 10a).

The similarities end there. The Pharisee intended to pray, but what he really did was praise himself in the presence of God. Sure, he started his prayer with, “God, I thank you….” But the things he “thanked” God for were all action-based: that he was “not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (v. 11). Instead, he “thanked” God that he fasted twice a week and paid his tithes scrupulously (v. 12). In other words, he wasn’t really thanking God for God’s blessings. He was bragging to God about what a blessing he had made of himself.

These days, we call this “the humblebrag.” For example, “I can’t believe I aced that math test. I didn’t study for it at all!” The implication is that the test-taker is so good at math and so brilliant that he can outperform his class without even trying.

The other man had no reason to brag. He had no reason to believe that God would do anything for him. He was a sinful man and he knew it. He was so smitten by his sin that he called himself a sinner and cried out for God’s mercy (v. 13). Jesus said that the truly humble man–the sinning tax collector–“went home justified before God” (v. 14c). He was justified because God is a merciful God and his mercy is extended to the humble. “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Are you a humble person?

Really?

When you sin against another person, do you seek that person’s forgiveness, in addition to God’s forgiveness? Or, do you avoid owning up to your sin?

When you make a bad decision in your life, do you confess it to your spouse or your boss or whoever is in a position to help you and forgive you? Or do you blame someone else or say, “At least what I didn’t isn’t as bad as what he did.”

Humility is required for salvation. It takes an act of God on your stubborn will to turn us in repentance and faith.

But many blessings in life can be had with some humility:

  • Admitting to your math teacher that you don’t understand and need some extra help.
  • Admitting to your boss when you make a mistake or bad decision and need help correcting it.
  • Admitting to your parents that you were a rebellious (or sneaky) teenager who broke the rules and put your life on a wicked path.
  • Confessing your sins to a friend that you alienated and seeking his or her forgiveness.

My favorite jazz artist, Wynton Marsalis, says, “The humble improve.” In his context, that means a humble musician realizes that he has a lot to learn and a long way to go. So, he keeps practicing, keeps taking lessons, keeps listening to his teachers.

Compared to God, none of us is very virtuous, forgiving, kind, generous, or pure. When we remain aware of our sinfulness, we will not brag to God or others about our spiritual lives; instead, we’ll keep crying out for God’s mercy and help. And God will answer, forgiving us and helping us find new levels of growth.

Where do you need to humble yourself today in order to grow?

Exodus 15, Job 33, James 4

Read Exodus 15, Job 33, James 4.

This devotional is about James 4.

Conflict is part of human life. It may manifest as sibling rivalry, office politics, negative political campaigns, first degree murder, or in some other way, but within humanity, someone is always struggling against someone else.

James 4:1-2b tells us that all conflict comes from “your desires that battle within you.” It is the impulses of our sinful nature—envy, jealousy, lust, hatred, and others—that create every disagreement, every conflict, every war. Verse 2c reminds us as believers that God is the source of everything and that, instead of striving with others to get what we want, we should bring our desires before the Lord through prayer.

It is our prayer-less striving that keeps us from finding satisfaction in this life because God prevents the accomplishment of our goals when we pursue them as Christians without asking him to provide them to us.

But, verse 3 reminds us that asking God for something in prayer is not like buying from a vending machine, as if prayer goes up then goodies come out. No, sometimes we ask God for things and don’t get them because we “ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (v. 3b).

Our biggest problem is not in our strategy—ask for what you want instead of fighting for it. No, our problem is that we want the wrong things. We want things for our own satisfaction instead of giving glory to God through our spiritual growth or the advancement of God’s kingdom in evangelism.

James accuses us of spiritual adultery in verse 4. We made a commitment to God but we’re friending and flirting with all the same desires and goals that unbelievers have. Like a jealous husband, our partner in adultery, the world, is the object of God’s anger; if we choose to have an affair with this world, we put ourselves on the wrong side of God’s wrath (v. 4b).

Except for one thing: God knows how intensely we struggle with affection for success, recognition, materialism, and pleasure. Instead of sending us away in divorce, he placed his Holy Spirit in us to give us a competing desire to love and serve him (v. 5).

But this calls for humility; when we’re frustrated for not getting the thing(s) we want in life, we need to honestly assess whether our desire for those things comes from a desire to serve and glorify God or from our own selfishness. If we turn to God in those moments of struggle, he gives us the power to resist sin and draw closer to him in holiness (vv. 7-10).

What is going on in your life that is causing you frustration? Is it something in your personal life, your family, or friendships? Is it a professional or financial setback or just stagnation in your job? If you find yourself arguing and fighting with others day after day, it is time to assess whether you’re cheating God. Instead, allow him to lead you where he wants and provide you with what he wants you to have. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (4:10).