Courage to Change: A Quint of Quotes

Fellow travelers,

Here is another “Quint of Quotes” from my collection, on the theme of personal responsibility and development.  Please don’t take the last one literally.

When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.” – Proverbs 19:3

“People could survive their natural trouble all right if it weren’t for the trouble they make for themselves.” – Ogden Nash

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Common prayer adapted from Reinhold Niebuhr

“Millions of people die every year of something they could cure themselves: lack of wisdom and lack of ability to control their impulses.” -Irving Kahn, investor who died at 109 of natural causes in 2015

And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.” – Matthew 18:8

Grandpa Solomon’s Retirement Advice

Have you ever asked yourself what Solomon, son of David, king of Israel, and author of much Biblical wisdom, would have to say about modern retirement?  Probably not, but I’m going to write about it anyway, because Solomon actually had some relevant advice.

Since this blog is not a source of income, I have a day job which happens to involve helping companies help their employees save and invest for retirement.  In American culture, retirement has in some ways replaced heaven as the future we hope for.  Advertisements promise retirees can do all the things they dreamed of doing during their working years.  Travel.  Relax.  Read those books you’ve been putting off reading.  If you can, buy a yacht.  After all, if you’ve worked so hard for it, you deserve it, they say.  Like many marketing schemes, something good and prudent (saving for retirement) is wrapped in a lot of gloss to get you to do something you might not do otherwise.  Sacrifices made now are worthwhile because of a later reward.

A photo I took from a Florida beach over the Atlantic near sunrise. I’d like to retire here, but heaven is better.

A guest at church this morning inspired me to write this post, since he was working with a ministry to grandparents.  The ministry is called Legacy Coalition (website link).  While talking with him, I made a connection and wanted to share it here.  That connection is that Solomon[1] when writing Ecclesiastes was acting in the role of a wise, Godly grandfather in a way that offers a sharp contrast to the story of retirement that goes unchallenged in our culture.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon lays out an argument that he lived almost the exact life pictured in our retirement ads but learned to regret it.  While still a very young man, he had the power and wealth to try anything he wanted.  He planted vineyards and drank a lot of wine.  He built gardens and pools and acquired many servants and property.  He also had 700 wives and 300 concubines.[2]  He could have everything he desired – everything the retirement ads would show you if they could be R-rated – but he ended up disappointed.  Ecclesiastes is his advice to those who come after to not repeat his mistakes.

While a blog post can’t cover all of Ecclesiastes, I must add that Solomon did encourage us to invest for the future, but also not to place all our bets on one specific vision of the future: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.  Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.”  (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2).  A long, healthy and prosperous retirement is one possible future among many, but eternity with God is a future certainty.  Earlier in the book, Solomon writes: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)  God gives us a sense of what He has planned for us, but not many of the details.  We should not foolishly ignore the future, but we should not cling to one future we desire at the cost of the present God has given us and the future He already knows everything about.

Solomon encourages everyone – young and old – to live more in their own moment, enjoying the gifts God has given them and sharing those gifts with the people around them.  While Solomon is encouraging the young to not repeat his own mistakes, he is also encouraging the old to share their perspective.  In both cases, Solomon is telling us not to stress too much about what may or may not happen, but to invest what we have in light of what will be meaningful in eternity.  Joy comes from enjoying the relationships and things God has blessed us with now, not from sacrificing the now in light of a false vision of retirement.

Solomon recommends joy in God’s provision, and so I close with this quote, and pray that we all experience joy and thankfulness in the gifts God has given us today.  Don’t keep them to yourself.

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.  Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.  Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” – Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

[This Rewind Wednesday post was originally posted in March 2022]

[1] I’m going to proceed for the sake of argument that Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes, although I know some debate that and it’s not explicitly stated.
[2] 1 Kings 11:3

Listening & Understanding: A Quint of Quotes

Fellow travelers,

Here is another “Quint of Quotes” from my collection.  I hope you find these five somewhat related sayings interesting and thought-provoking.

Photo by Paule Knete on Unsplash

“Very few people would listen if they didn’t know it was their turn next.” – Robert Conklin, Entrepreneur, Motivational Speaker (1921 – 1998)

“Checking the truth of something should come well before getting agitated about it” – Prof. John Staddon of Duke University

“He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that” – John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873)

“I have often repented of having spoken, but never of having kept silent.” – Saint Arsenius the Deacon (350 – 445 A.D.)

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,            but only in expressing his opinion.” – Proverbs 18:2

The Desires He Delights to Give 2.0

Does God give us what we desire, or does He decide what we desire?  Some of my earliest prayers I remember (I was probably about 6) are ones asking to wake up the next day with my room full of all the toys I wanted.  Naturally, I never woke up to a room full of toys.  God probably knew I would only ask for more, and if I kept up that attitude toward prayer, there would never be enough.  That doesn’t mean I only prayed that prayer once…I learn slowly, but He is patient.

This sort of prayer isn’t limited to minor things like toys, nor do I think it is unusual.  While his mother was suffering from cancer, a nine-year-old C.S. Lewis prayed earnestly for her to be healed.  When she wasn’t, and cancer took her from him, his faith was shaken for years.

In my case, in later life, after understanding Christianity somewhat better, one of the first Bible verses I set out to memorize was Psalm 37:4, which says:

Delight yourself in the LORD,
       and he will give you the desires of your heart.

But I still wondered: are the desires what He gives us, or is the fulfillment of desires what He gives us?  I now believe it is both.  In the times I genuinely seek Him, I find that He molds my desires, so they become more aligned with His character.  I also find that He directs those desires toward what will fulfill them.  While that fulfillment is not always immediate, I learn to trust from what He does fulfill that all will be made right in eternity, and I also learn patience and peace.

When we truly delight in Him, we end up finding out that what we desire is righteousness; we also find out that He provides all the righteousness we desire and need.  We find those desires fulfilling rather than frustrating, we find that fulfillment durable rather than fleeting, and therefore find ourselves content rather than anxious.

However, we don’t always delight in Him, or seek to desire what He desires, and we find ourselves conflicted and unfulfilled.  Reflecting on his prayers for his mother’s healing, C.S. Lewis later wrote what he had wrong:

“I had approached God, or my idea of God, without love, without awe, even without fear. He was, in my mental picture of this miracle, to appear neither as Savior nor as Judge, but merely as a magician; and when He had done what was required of Him I supposed He would simply – well, go away.”[1]

Elsewhere Lewis wrote: “God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way.”  By experiencing disappointment and death in this world, perhaps He is teaching us that death and disappointment are all that this world has to offer.  Sometimes this is the only way to get us to let go of the world and embrace eternity with Him, even while we sojourn here. Sometimes He lets us down easy when the toys do not appear; sometimes He lets us experience significant pain.  All in His wisdom.

Therefore, since He is both Savior and Judge, as well as all-wise:

“Commit your way to the LORD;
         trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
         and your justice as the noonday.” – Psalm 37:5-6

Keep Driving Toward Morning, dear fellow travelers, and today, pray we will find our delight in Him.

[Version 1.0 of this was posted 4/19/22]

[1] Lewis, C.S.  Surprised by Joy (1955).  P. 21

God Has a Plan for Your Life

In a commonly quoted Bible verse, the prophet Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  But who was Jeremiah talking to and what were God’s plans at that time?  God was about to exile Israel from the Promised Land and take away all of their cherished (and God-given) political and religious institutions.  Jerusalem and the temple would be torn down and burned by the Babylonians, while God would tell the Jews to love their brutal enemy, and to be a blessing to them[1], contributing to the prosperity of the Babylonian kingdom.  After 70 years of exile, Jerusalem and the temple would be rebuilt, but disappointing: “many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid”.[2]

This is not the plan I would wish on any of us, but it was God’s will at the time, to discipline His people.  Clearly, God has different plans for each one of us – specific to us and not a photocopy of specific Biblical people or situations.

The prophet Isaiah provides an excellent picture of how God cares for individuals.  Right after declaring that God would lay a new cornerstone, a new foundation, in Zion[3] (later revealed to be Jesus), he declares in Isaiah 28:23-26:

Give ear, and hear my voice;
         give attention, and hear my speech.
Does he who plows for sowing plow continually?
         Does he continually open and harrow his ground?
When he has leveled its surface,
         does he not scatter dill, sow cumin,
and put in wheat in rows
         and barley in its proper place,
         and emmer as the border?
For he is rightly instructed;
         his God teaches him.

Isaiah describes how a farmer works diligently with God-given wisdom to plant his crops.  The farmer does things step by step, plowing, then sowing each plant according to its kind.  Some crops grow best in rows, and some are suitable as borders.  Everything is in its time and place.  Isaiah then continues with verses 27-29:

“Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
         nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin,
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
         and cumin with a rod.
Does one crush grain for bread?
         No, he does not thresh it forever;
when he drives his cart wheel over it
         with his horses, he does not crush it.
This also comes from the LORD of hosts;
         he is wonderful in counsel
         and excellent in wisdom.

Here, some crops need to be threshed or even crushed, but other crops do not.  All of the farmer’s work is done with God’s wisdom.  Yet is Isaiah only concerned with crops?  No, because the context in Isaiah is a story of Judah’s discipline, followed by a restoration. Just as a farmer’s wisdom in dealing with crops is from God, in the same way God knows how to deal with His people skillfully, to each as needed.

The Reformation Study Bible notes on verse 29: “Yet the Lord is wiser than any good farmer…and knows exactly the methods to use to cultivate His harvest—when to judge and when to restore His people.”  As different grains need to be planted and treated differently, so God treats each person according to His own intentions for them and to their own needs.  After laying the cornerstone of Jesus Christ, God, like a farmer, knows how to deal with each of His people individually, giving each exactly what they need when they need it, building His family diligently, step by step, and with infinite wisdom.

Therefore, when Jeremiah says: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope,” he declares the general principle that for each of us, God has a plan, a future, and a hope.  The Lord delivers us from evil and provides for our welfare in eternity for all time, after our sojourn in this world is complete.

For every meal, thank a farmer, but for every opportunity to grow in Christ, in good times and in bad, thank the Lord for His wisdom in dealing with you as an individual.  Only He, as Creator, knows best how we are broken and how we are intended to be.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

[1] Jeremiah 29:7
[2] Ezra 3:12
[3] Isaiah 28:16