Daniel, a prophet of God

Of all the books of the prophets in the Old Testament, I think Daniel is undoubtedly the one most told in Sunday School. Jonah comes next and we know why. Ezekiel saw the wheel is sometimes taught as a song. Other than these 3, I can’t remember I ever taught any story from the books of the prophets especially to young children.

Reviewing the stories of Daniel, I am inspired and amazed at how God revealed Himself through Daniel and his 3 friends to a pagan nation who did not know Him. It’s amazing to read the miracles, visions and dreams that happened in the first 6 chapters of Daniel.

Chapter 1: Healthy vegetarians

Daniel and his 3 friends decided to distinguished themselves as exiles by abstaining from taking food – good food from the king’s provisions. God granted them favour with the F&B manager of the king’s palace. After 10 days of testing, the 4 young men were found to be more healthy-looking than the rest of the exiles.

When God’s children determine to be different from the world, He sustains them and helps them to be better – not through the ordinary path of man.

Chapter 2: Dream interpreter

Can you interpret dreams? How about interpreting the dream without being told what the dream actually was? Daniel was called upon to interpret a dream of King Nebuchadnezzar – a dream the king himself forgot. Imagine telling the king what his dream meant on top of telling him what he dreamed about. More amazing is that the king believed what Daniel told him and even praised his God for it.

Chapter 3: Walking Alive (not Walking dead) in a blazing fire

For disobeying the king’s order to bow down to a golden statue, Daniel’s 3 friends were thrown into an oven of blazing furnace which killed even the guards who threw them in. And out they came without even a hair singed! What impressed me is these 3 brave souls were determined to bow only to their God at all costs.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (vv.16-18)

God did not disappoint them. They were not put to shame. God sent an angel to be with them in the furnace.

Chapter 4: Dream # 2: mad king living with wild animals and eating grass

King Nebuchadnezzar sure was a dreamer. It’s good that he remembered his dream this time. Daniel told and warned the king that because of his arrogance, he would become mad and live with the animals and eat grass like the cow for seven years until he acknowledged that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.

Indeed, the interpretation came to pass.

Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. 30 The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’ 31 While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you,32 and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time (7 years) will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes. 33 Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.

At the end of 7 years, the king raised his eyes towards heaven and acknowledged and honoured God. He praised God with a doxology.

For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
But He does according to His will in the host of heaven
And among the inhabitants of earth;
And no one can ward off His hand
Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’

God rejects the proud and exalts the humble.

 

 

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The Green-eyed Monster

Jealousy personified. William Shakespeare coined ‘green-eyed monster’ in Othello and ‘green-eyed jealousy’ in the Merchant of Venice. Why did he use green to describe this emotion? “Green is a colour associated with sickness, possibly because people’s skin sometimes takes on a slightly yellow/green tinge when they are seriously ill. Green is also the colour of many unripe foods that cause stomach pains.” Origin of the Green-eyed monster .

Why are people jealous? Jealousy is often associated with insecure love. A husband or a wife is jealous when he/she sees his/her spouse getting close to another person. One who is confident and trust his/her spouse enough has no need for jealousy. When a husband/wife is securely loved, when he/she is faithfully committed to the marriage, there is no place for jealousy in the relationship.

Green with envy. Envy and jealousy might be synonymous but there is a difference. Envy is coveting or longing to have what others have that you do not. Jealousy is fear of what you have will be taken from you. At the root of jealousy is insecurity. At the heart of envy is discontentment. The grass is greener on the other side of the fence. An envious person compares himself to another. He thinks about his traits and his resources: all that he is and all that he has and finds them lacking. Napoleon observed: “Envy is a declaration of inferiority.”

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The hymn, Count your blessings by Johnson Oatman reminds us:

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

Refrain:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
*Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
[*And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.]

The antidote to envy is contentment. The way to contentment is gratitude. The means to gratitude is counting blessings – not comparing blessings. Happiness is found when we stop comparing ourselves with other people. There is much wisdom in the Chinese proverb: 比上不足,比下有移 (Compare with the more, there is not enough. Compare with the less, there is more than enough.) Life is a matter of perspective. We can choose to live joyfully in grateful contentment or we can choose to covet miserably in ungrateful greed.

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Another cause for envy is superiority.  He does not deserve it. She is not as good as people think she is. At the root of envy is the notion of self-righteousness. I am better than her. I deserve more. Envy could be hidden beneath the righteous anger for injustice – undeserved fortune. The antidote? How about being happy for the good fortune of another?

There is no room for envy in a heart of unselfish love. There is no room for jealousy in a heart of self-worth. Love your neighbour as yourself. A heart of love is the cure for envy and strife.

Let me end with an example. I have a younger sister who is an achiever. Since we were young, she is the more popular one. I used to be asked all the time: Are you Marian? The actress? She used to be involved a lot in plays – she played lead roles in Chancel Repertory – a Christian theatre group whose mission is to spread the gospel through the stage. She graduated valedictorian in both her English and Chinese class in high school. My dad used to tell people she was awarded “Diamond of La Salle” upon graduation from De La Salle University. He was proud of her first job in a big company associated with National Bookstore – the biggest bookstore in our country at that time.

Perhaps it is easier for me because I am a person of lesser ambition. I am basically an introvert. I do not seek much attention. On the other hand, I believe at the heart of it all, I was not jealous of my sister because I was secure in my father’s love. I am assured of my self-worth. My sister and I – we are different and unique. We each have our gifts and talents. I also love my sister. I am proud of her and her achievements. I do not covet for what she has because I am happy and content with what I have.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, (1 Corinthians 13:4)

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But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For 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 Tim. 6:6-7)

Kill the green-eyed monster. Be secure in God’s love. Be content and grateful for who you are. God loves you because he created you. Count your blessings name them one by one.

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Humble Beginnings… Proud endings

King Saul started obscure and lowly. He’s first mentioned as the son of Kish and his first mission was to look for his father’s lost donkeys (1 Sam 9:1-3). Not a really challenging job. He knew he was the least among people when Samuel told him he was to be king of Israel. He said: “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” (9:21) When his uncle asked him what Samuel told him, he didn’t reveal he was anointed as king (10:16). When people wanted to make him king, he was nowhere to be found coz he was hiding (10:21-22). When some men didn’t approve of him as king and scorned him, he was silent (10:27).

Saul started small in spite of his big exterior – tall and handsome (9:2,10:23). He didn’t think much of himself. He was not proud. He seemed timid and meek – hidden and silent.

God changed Saul’s heart v.9 Saul prophesied when the spirit of God came powerfully upon him v.10 God rallied valiant men to follow Saul. v. 26

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How did Saul end? His pride started his downfall. He disobeyed Samuel’s instructions for him to wait 7 days (9:8). His fear of losing the war, his fear of the people’s fear, compelled him to offer sacrifice himself (13:11-12). He went on to do things by himself for himself. He was impatient. 7 days came and still no sign of Samuel. But Samuel came right after he offered the sacrifice. If only he waited a bit longer…

Saul forgot how God led him to victory in Jabesh Gilead (1 Sam 11). He thought he could start doing things on his own. He disobeyed not once but twice. The 2nd time he spared King Agag and the best of the bounty when God specifically told him to kill everyone and everything (15:1-3, 9). Saul even justified himself – they saved the best to sacrifice to the Lord. He pointed fingers at the people. They were the ones who told him to keep the best (15, 20-21).

Lessons to learn:
God calls and chooses people with humble beginnings. He used Joseph – from the pit to the prison to the palace, to bring salvation to starving people. He called Moses while he was tending flocks to deliver Israelites from oppression. Saul was just looking for lost donkeys.

Whom God calls, He enables. God changed Saul’s heart. His spirit enabled him to prophesy. He touched people’s heart to follow Saul. He gave Saul victory to rescue Jabesh Gilead.

God only requires our obedience to trust his leading – to follow his instructions. When circumstances tell us otherwise, we need to remember how God led us in the past. Saul forgot. He was impatient. He wanted to solve the problem himself. He started small and wanted to end big.

How about me? Am I impatient waiting for God? Do I let my circumstances or people around me to waver in my dependence on God? Do I take things into my own hand rather than ask God and wait on him? Am i self-reliant rather than God-dependent?

Let me beware of proud ending and remember my humble beginnings.

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Pride and Prejudice

What makes you happy? What pleases you most? Does being praised make you feel good? Ask any person receiving an award, being applauded if he is happy. Of course he is. And nothing wrong about that either. It is just human nature to feel good when the ego is gratified. American psychologist, Abraham Maslow formulated the human hierarchy of needs and near the top of the pyramid is esteem.

Esteem needs are ego or status needs. It has to do with getting recognition and respect from others. We need respect namely self-esteem and self-respect. It is typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others. People with low self-esteem often need respect from others; they may feel the need to seek fame or glory. (Here’s more on What Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is about.)

People are happy when they are accepted. Especially so when they are valued and esteemed by those who matter, isn’t it? So here is the story of Haman. He was the leader of all Persian princes during the rule of King Ahasuerus. The king promoted him to such position that “all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman; for so the king had commanded concerning him.” (Esther 3:2)

Haman typically models the phenomenon of esteem fulfilled and esteem failed – on the pendulum swinging from ecstasy to anger. Why? Because one Jew named Mordecai did not bow down to him. A foreigner! A captive from a lesser country – a lower subject… How dared he? So Haman was consumed with anger that he planned to kill off the entire Jewish race. (3:5-6)

And the story continues…

Then Haman went out that day glad and pleased of heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate and that he did not stand up or tremble before him, Haman was filled with anger against Mordecai.  (Esther 5:9)

So why was Haman glad and pleased of heart that day? He just spent an evening having dinner with the king and queen as their one and only “esteemed” guest! And after leaving the place, he came out and saw his mortal enemy, Mordecai who ignored him as usual. Haman was so mad he had to assuage his self-esteem by narrating to his friends and his wife all “the glory of his riches, and the number of his sons, and every instance where the king had magnified him and how he had promoted him above the princes and servants of the king. Haman also said, “Even Esther the queen let no one but me come with the king to the banquet which she had prepared; and tomorrow also I am invited by her with the king.” (5:11-12)

13 Yet all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” 14 Then Zeresh his wife and all his friends said to him, “Have a gallows fifty cubits high made and in the morning ask the king to have Mordecai hanged on it; then go joyfully with the king to the banquet.” And the advice pleased Haman, so he had the gallows made.”

The ‘rivalry’ between Haman and Mordecai gets more interesting as the story continues.  One night, the king could not sleep and he got up to read records of events in his reign. He found that Mordecai once saved him from an assassination attempt. When the king learned that Mordecai was not recognised and rewarded for his effort, he asked Haman who happened to be visiting, what should be done for the man the king wished to honour? (6:6)

It is funny that Haman went to see the king to propose a plan to kill Mordecai and here is the king who wanted to honour Mordecai. Haman as usual with his big egoistic tendency thought Whom would the king desire to honour more than me?

Then Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king desires to honour, let them bring a royal robe which the king has worn, and the horse on which the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown has been placed; and let the robe and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble princes and let them array the man whom the king desires to honour and lead him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him, ‘Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honour.’

Then the king said to Haman, “Take quickly the robes and the horse as you have said, and do so for Mordecai the Jew, who is sitting at the king’s gate; do not fall short in anything of all that you have said.” 11 So Haman took the robe and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city square, and proclaimed before him, “Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor.” 12 Then Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman hurried home, mourning, with his head covered. 13 Haman recounted to Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him. 

This is hilarious, isn’t it? Do you see a pattern here? Swinging from pride to humiliation! To make the long story short, Haman was hanged on the same gallows that he intended for his enemy. Why? Because the queen was a Jew. Queen Esther pleaded for her people and for herself. Esther was the cousin of Mordecai who told her to keep her Jewish identity a secret when she was chosen queen in a beauty contest in the king’s search for a queen. The former queen was dethroned when she disobeyed the king’s order to appear in a party to show off her beauty to all the people.

Haman did not know that the race he sought to exterminate is that of his queen. His need for self-esteem was so great – his pride was his downfall.

The story of Haman, Mordecai and Esther teaches us so many lessons: about humility and pride; about provision and protection of the providential God; about paradoxes of strength in weakness and esteem in humility.

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Self-esteem and self-respect: these are the two forms of esteem needs. Self-respect is the higher form. It is something internal – it stems from a sense of self-awareness – knowing the value of oneself in the value of God. It does not seek the affirmation of other people. It is enough to know that God loves me for who I am.

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God often chooses the lowly to elevate them for his purpose. Esther was a Jew – a captive from Israel under the rule of the Persian empire. She was so far away from home. She was chosen to be queen out of anonymity – put in a position of power to save her people. As Mordecai wisely said to her:

“Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (4:13-14)

So Queen Esther asked the king to help save her people. The king issued an order that all the Jews “who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them, including children and women, and to plunder their spoil,” (8:11)

Mordecai was nobody but Esther’s guardian. He was from the tribe of Benjamin – the smallest of the 12 tribes of Israel. He too was a Jew captive. He was tasked to take care of his orphaned cousin, Esther. He just happened to be at the gate and he heard of a plot to kill the king. He did not seek for reward or recognition. He was not afraid to stand for his belief. He did not bow to Haman. Mordecai was lifted to a high position and esteemed among the land. (Esther 8:1, 15)

Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a large crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple; and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. 16 For the Jews there was light and gladness and joy and honor. 17 In each and every province and in each and every city, wherever the king’s commandment and his decree arrived, there was gladness and joy for the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many among the peoples of the land became Jews, for the dread of the Jews had fallen on them. (8:15-17)

And so all is well that ends well? No. When everything seems to fall apart, it is when God works to put everything back together again.

Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

 

 

Ask what you want… what to pray for?

If God were to tell you: Ask whatever you want me to give you, what would you say? How would you feel? What would you think? Wow, really? I can ask whatever I want? You will give whatever I ask for? What would you ask for? Perhaps, tough question, right? It seems to me I need to ask wisely – think carefully what to ask for. It’s not like the genie’s 3 wishes. There is no number to it. It’s an infinite question from the infinite God for you to ask in infinity.

King Solomon was asked the very question: Ask whatever you want me to give you. (2 Chron. 1:7)

Read 2 Chronicles 1:1-12, 1 Kings 3:1-15

The background of the story was that Solomon, son of David was crowned king of Israel. He went to Gibeon, where the tabernacle of God was to offer a thousand offerings on the bronze altar. All Israel was with Solomon – the commanders of soldiers, the judges, the leaders and all the heads of families and they worshipped at Gibeon.

That night, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and told him to ask whatever he wants. How did Solomon reply?

“You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.”

God’s Character. Solomon acknowledged God. His first response was to affirm who God is and what God did. He knew God to be very kind. God showed great kindness to his father David. How so? God promised David to have his son, Solomon to be king. Now that promise is fulfilled. Solomon is king after his father.

God’s Promise. Solomon claimed and remembered once more God’s promise and what God’s plan for him was: That he is to be king over his people. What kind of people? People who are as numerous as dust of the earth. This was God’s promise to their forefather Abraham – that Israel would become a nation as numerous as the sand on earth.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

God’s Purpose: Solomon asked for wisdom so that he may fulfil God’s purpose for him – to be a leader to God’s people.

Implications to Solomon’s prayer:

  1. Great task: Solomon knew his calling. He is to be a good king to his people. He needs to be wise to lead wisely.
  2. Great people: Solomon knew the object of his calling. He is to lead a group of great people – God’s chosen people – as the dust of the earth and stars of the sky, too numerous to count.
  3. Great humility: Solomon knew his limitations. He knew he was young and inexperienced. He would need help from God to be a good king – to know how to rule with justice and righteousness. To be just and righteous is to be able to differentiate right from wrong.

For who is able to govern this great people of yours? This question is one great concern for one great responsibility! Solomon knew the great task, great people and great God he has. Solomon recognised all these in relation to his own self. His own self-worth – that God was kind to his father and kind to him – to give such honour – putting him as king. Yet this humbled him – instead of making him proud – thinking he must be capable enough as God made him king. His humility pleased God. His love and desire to be a good king to God’s people pleased God. His acknowledgement of God’s kindness and promise pleased God. So how did God respond to his prayer?

11 God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honour, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, 12 therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honour, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.”

What a wise Solomon to ask wisely for wisdom to know right from wrong – to do what God wants him to do.

What can we learn from his prayer?

In prayer, we acknowledge who God is and what He has done for us. We remember his past deeds of grace and mercy. We claim his promise to us. We call on him to help us do rightly and wisely what he has called us to do.

The heart of prayer and prayer of the heart – this is important to God. God sees the motivation of our asking. God calls us to ask what we want. He longs for us to seek him with our concerns. God knows all our needs even before we ask him. Just as He gave to Solomon, he gives more than what we ask or need.

In the daily grind of life, we too need wisdom to know right from wrong. To do right and be right… It is getting harder in today’s world of gray: right and wrong is no longer absolute. What is right in God’s eyes is not popular with the world now. What is wrong has become rightly justified – explained with human reasons and perspectives. The world value system is turning upside down. Or rather, God’s kingdom has really turned upside down – the world has become right side up!  More than ever, Christians need wisdom to discern and differentiate right from wrong.

I believe that the prayer for wisdom to be right and do right is one prayer God will surely answer.

Lord, teach us to number our days so that we may present unto you a heart of wisdom. Amen.

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How to be wise

Do u want to be wise? Here’s the secret…

Proverbs 1

1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: 2 for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight; 3 for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
doing what is right and just and fair; 4 for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young—
5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance— 6 for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.

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7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

As Psalms are mostly credited to King David, Proverbs are to his son, King Solomon.

Solomon was known to be very wise because he asked God for it for the purpose of ruling wisely over God’s people. God granted his prayer and gave him more than wisdom, riches and glory.

As reading Psalms enlighten the soul, reading Proverbs enlighten the mind. Let us learn from the wise king whose wisdom came from the all-wise God. The secret to being wise: start with the fear of the Lord. When I fear God, I will be prudent in behavior; doing what is right and just and fair (v. 3). What is prudence? It is the quality of being cautious and having good judgment. Its synonyms: wisdom, common sense, sense, sagacity, shrewdness.

Proverbs 1:4 The word ‘simple’ in Hebrew denotes a person who is gullible, without moral direction and inclined to evil. To be gullible is to be easily persuaded to believe something. It is being naïve like a child – overly trusting and easily deceived. This is further supported when in the second half of verse 4: giving knowledge and discretion to the young. What is discretion? It is the quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offense or revealing private information. Its
synonyms: carefulness, caution.

Proverbs are not only for the simple and the young. They are also for the wise. v. 5 says let the wise listen and be wiser even. Let the discerning get guidance. What does it mean to discern?

It is to judge well. (in Christian contexts) Discernment is the perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.

The fear of the Lord is equal to knowledge, wisdom, discretion, discernment, guidance. The fear of the Lord is not about being afraid of the Lord for His punishment and wrath. It is more about honoring God and wanting to be right with Him – to love him in true obedience and to obey him in sincere love.

Fools despise wisdom and instruction. (To despise is to feel contempt or a deep resentment. Its synonyms: detest, hate, dislike). Proverbs 1:7 The Hebrew word for fool in Proverbs, and often elsewhere in the Old Testament, denotes a person who is morally deficient. To be a fool is one who does not care to be right with God. A morally deficient person is not afraid to sin because does not have the fear of the Lord.

Applications:

We all need wisdom to live well in this world. Biblical wisdom is different from the worldly wisdom.

The Bible teaches us to fear God (v. 7) and love him with our whole being. This is the beginning of wisdom – to discern (differentiate right from wrong).

How do we do that?

We need to be teachable – willing to receive instructions in the ways of the wise so we become wiser. (v.3)

We need to become like children – simple and young, willing to admit that we are lacking in prudence, knowledge and discernment. (v.4)

We need to listen well – to constantly seek wisdom and discernment. (v.5) This is an attitude of continuously learning to be wiser. Beware of being self-righteous and complacent – thinking that we are already wise or that we know enough already.

Final warning, beware of despising wisdom. Such is the foolish person – one who does not seek wisdom. Only the fools dislike to be wise. They foolishly think they do not need wisdom. Fools are fools because they are ignorant of their own foolishness.

Musings on the 32nd…

There are at most 31 days in a month. In the Filipino-Chinese community, we used to say when one reaches 31 years old that he/she’s getting off the calendar. It seems to be a transition period from youth into adulthood. The next number would be the max limit of the thermometer – 40! Hi fever to reach 40, isn’t it?  But life is said to begin at 40.  What about marriage? What’s the magic number for the promise to love, to cherish and to hold  – in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, till death do us part?

On FB, there are often professions and confessions of love and devotion, through thick and thin, cheesy and warm declarations and greetings of anniversary celebrations filled with smiles, seemingly all things bright and beautiful. Indeed wedding anniversaries are a milestone to be happily and thankfully celebrated. Yet behind each marital journey, there are always tears and heartaches along the way. Life is not a bed of roses. Even as there are roses, roses have thorns. It would be unreal to just see all sunshine without the rain. Even when the rain does not fall, black clouds loom in the horizon that threaten to dampen the way.

Hubby and I are entering our 32nd year of the journey called holy matrimony. Looking back the 31 years of being together, there was certainly much sunshine as there were storms. There were tears as there was laughter. Going through the marital path is about seeing both sides of the coin not just fuzzy idealistic lenses but also with a bare and clear realistic perspective: that man does not love perfectly. We are flawed no matter how much we love. And no matter how much we strive to be the ideal partner, we often fail. Honeymoon does not end after the first few months or even the first year or in spite of the kids’ arrival.

Is there a formula to a joyfully strong and ideal marriage? Hubby being good at Math, came up with a simple equation for our special dates. My birthday is the sum of his birthday and our anniversary. We are both born on the same year in the same month – only 17 days apart. Today is our anniversary. Basic algebra will give you the answer to our birthdays. It so happened that in the year we got married, 17 was a Sunday. But our love story is more than just numbers on the calendar.

Long story short, there is a simple formula that seems simple and yet profound. It does not take two to tango. Ours is a love triangle. Perhaps I could borrow some geometry to describe our marriage. It’s like a pyramid with God as the base and God as the peak. It’s God that holds us together by His grace and mercy. If there is one thing that is more important or just as important as our love for each other, it is our common faith – we both have Jesus as our Savior and Lord. We both receive God’s gift of salvation and eternal life to be lived on earth as it is in heaven.

Let me give practical illustrations on having a dual lens of the marital adventure. It’s like some paradoxical mystery with God as the puzzle mastermind.

Two but One

First, it is a fact that women are from Venus and men are from Mars. A man and a woman are different even as God created Eve from Adam. They are called to be one flesh from two bodies. And so my first dual lens is that we need to affirm our individuality yet find our way to be one. It is more than just about me eating ice cream and hubby having hot soup together. It is also not about him trying to fix things and find solutions each time I tell him a problem. It does not have to end with him feeling helplessly frustrated at finding  a solution. Why? Because more than a fix, I just need a listening ear or bluntly a sounding board. So how do we traverse this paradoxical issue? We need to accept one another. It is easier said than done. It takes lots of practice on self-awareness and other-thoughtfulness. And this leads me to the next paradoxical secret.

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Head and Heart

There are many truths about love and marriage that we know in our head. We can get so theoretical, rational and logical – we reason and argue with this and that – how right we are or how wronged we are. The head needs to be balanced with the heart. Sometimes the distance between the head and the heart can either be very short and near or long and far or even boundlessly unreachable! So how then do we deal with head and heart thing? We need to read God’s Word and practice what we read from it. James speaks of looking at the mirror and not doing anything about what you see in the mirror. Reading the Bible is like looking at the mirror to see that your hair is not in order. Not practicing what you read is like going out of the house without combing your hair. Love is not a thing of the heart. It is more than just warm fuzzy happy feeling that you have – when your spouse is so lovable and thoughtful and doing all the things right and serving you in the way that you expect him/her to do.

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Love is being kind and serving hubby food even when I do not feel like it – even I think that he does not deserve it… even when I feel like letting him starve or even when I wanted to storm out of the house and not appear again for a day or two to let him taste what it would be like to go a day without me! Love is a decision in the head – a choice to make to do what the Bible teaches me to do. It is thinking of myself less and more of what God wants more. The Bible teaches me to submit to my husband. It is not about being a slave – oppressed and depressed either. It is about making a choice to be humble and patient. Again it is easier said than done. Where is the line between humility and inferiority complex? How do I get past these obstacles of hurt, pain, wrath, frustration and disappointment?

Forgive and not Forget

What to do then? I practice to let the sun go down and not holding on to the wrong, the hurt, the pain etc. How am I doing with this lesson? Perhaps just a little higher than the passing mark or sometimes even way below the borderline. It is hard to let go of the pain. It is not easy to hold my tongue and not justify myself or defend myself. If I hold my tongue, I need to let the tears fall. It’s my way of coping. But again practice makes perfect even if perfection seems to take practicing forever. And it’s not about forgetting either. It is perhaps about remembering less and less the wrong. Love does not keep a record of wrong. How to remember less the wrong? How about remembering more the good? I need to remember the good words that hubby said, the good traits that he has, the good deeds that he does.

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And before this piece gets too long, I need to stop and practice some more. 1, 4, 17, 21, 31 or 32 or more… these are just numbers. Many things in marriage cannot be counted – they are abstract and difficult to appraise. Yet these priceless stuffs are what count.

As husband and wife, we need lots of practice – to be different yet united, (through acceptance), to be rational and yet emotional too (in our loving), to let go and to hold on (in our forgiving/appreciating). Let God be the base and the peak.

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As man and wife, pray this prayer together… Together, we can do it – you, me and God!