Joshua 1:8 - May I not let Your word depart from my mouth, but meditate on it day and night, so that I may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then I will make my way prosperous, and I will act wisely. (Ken Boa paraphrase)
This Verse is for You
This verse, from the first chapter of Joshua, has been paraphrased in the first person to remind us that God’s Word has application in our lives. It is, in a manner of speaking, addressed to us.
That’s relevant in light of the fact that this single verse is exhorting and instructing us to saturate ourselves in God’s Word. Why? Because that’s where we meet God, hear God, are confronted and instructed by God. In short, it is where we learn to “act wisely.”
But It’s Not Magic
Scripture encourages us to pursue wisdom on a daily basis. James puts it bluntly in the first chapter of the book that bears his name. Verse five reads,
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
It doesn’t get any plainer than that. Ask for wisdom and God will give it, generously. That seems simple enough. Yet what I have learned over the years of my spiritual pilgrimage is that this “formula” does not work like a magic genie in a lamp. You don’t rub the lamp and make a wish. It doesn’t operate like taking an aspirin for a headache. You don’t take two tablets and get wisdom in the morning.
Instead, our text from Joshua gives us a pretty good understanding about how to attain wisdom. If the wisdom we want is God’s wisdom, and God has revealed his wisdom to us in and through his Word, then it would behoove us to read, study, mediate upon, pray over, and apply that source of wisdom.
If we want God’s wisdom to rub off on us and get into our spiritual bloodstreams – into our hearts and minds – then we have to do the hard work of “not letting it depart from us.” We will want to “meditate on it day and night.” We will “be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” Only then will we become prosperous and begin to act wisely.
That’s the cost to this component of faithful discipleship. It’s not easy and it certainly does not come instantly. This is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. But wisdom is a pearl of great price that is worth more than we can possibly imagine.
Read through the Book of Proverbs and write down all the descriptions of wisdom you find. What is it about wisdom that makes it so important to acquire? How is wisdom different than knowledge? What are three things you can start doing today that will help you grow in wisdom? Write them down and then share your list with a friend.
John 8:23-24, 31-32 - But [Jesus] continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.  I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
To the Point
Jesus rarely, if ever, beat around the bush. Time was precious to him, so he usually cut straight to the chase. He knew how to get the attention of his hearers. In our Scripture, Jesus shares with those to whom he is speaking several important facts about them and the world in which they lived.
We Have to Show Our Pearly Whites
True, biblical, and God-glorifying faith in Christ has teeth to it. It’s got a practicality that demands to be noticed. It’s unlikely the early church was so heavily persecuted and martyred simply because they intellectually accepted particular truth-claims about Jesus and then told others they needed to do the same to go to heaven.
Instead, because they believed Jesus was who he claimed to be and thus loved and followed him, they therefore obeyed him. Put another way: They put their faith into practice.
As their faith in Christ permeated every sphere of their lives they began to be noticed by the worldlings around them. It was this authentic non-conformity to the world around them that led to their persecution. They refused to be “squeezed into the mold” of this world.
The Shape of Discipleship
If we would be people of the truth, we must be Christ’s disciples. If we would be his disciples, we must believe in him, trust him, and obey him. Nothing less is worthy of the One who is the true Lord and King of the universe, which includes this world.
The “Pretenders to the Throne” notwithstanding, (their reign, after all, is temporary), our allegiance must be to Christ alone. And that allegiance has a shape to it. It is not mere intellectual ascent of a few doctrinal propositions (though it includes that). It is not simply a warm-fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. It is far more. Allegiance to Christ is incarnational. It has skin on it. It has teeth to it. If we would be his, we must submit to his Lordship – his absolute authority – by obeying him in every sphere of our lives. Only then can we rightly claim to be his disciples.
In what areas of your life is it hardest to live faithfully as a Christian? Why do you think that is? What are three ways you can to equip yourself to more faithfully “hold to” Jesus’ teachings in every sphere of your life? What do you think such faithfulness looks like? Take a minute to pray right now and then share your ideas with a friend who will also pray for you and hold you accountable.
Grace and Truth,
A Tale of Two Ditches
Not too long ago a friend shared with me his struggle to faithfully teach grace to the folks he disciples. I certainly share that struggle. Faithful discipleship is a narrow path between the two ditches of legalism and licentiousness.
I didn’t come up with that distinction. The Apostle Paul dealt with the same issues. On the one hand he had to warn the Galatian Christians about the ditch of legalism espoused by the Judaizers. These were folks who claimed Jesus was great, but you still had to obey the Law of Moses to be saved. On the other hand, he had to give an emphatic “NO” to those in the other ditch whose philosophy was, “Let’s sin up a storm so we can experience more of God’s grace.” In their view, Christians don’t have to worry about obeying God, because they’re under God’s grace.
The path between the two ditches is hard and narrow indeed and Christian history is littered with examples of how individuals, (as well as groups of people), have fallen into one ditch or the other. Regardless of which ditch you fall into, you still end up dirty and smelly.
To my struggling friend, and as a reminder to myself, I offer some counsel I once heard. Take comfort in the struggle of the narrow path because the Apostle Paul experienced the same. Grace is a dangerous thing. If we faithfully and accurately teach the biblical doctrine of grace, there will always be the risk someone might distort it in a libertine direction, just as a faithful and accurate teaching of obedience might lead some into the legalistic ditch. We are called to be faithful in our message of grace, even though we can’t control what people will do with it.
Those who take the ministry of discipleship seriously will always struggle with this. However, we can use this struggle between the two ditches, the journey of the narrow path, to motivate us to be careful, loving, grace-filled, and faithful in our teaching, discipling, counseling, correcting, etc.
Remembering My Own Struggle
I know that walking the narrow path is hard for me, and I’ve been at it for some time now. I can still remember the early days of my walk with Christ. I often caught myself walking a little too closely to one side of the path or the other. Sadly, I sometimes found myself having to climb out of one ditch or the other. But in God’s goodness, he cleaned me up, disciplined me, and sent me along my way.
This reminder of my own history will hopefully encourage me (and you) to be patient with those whom I disciple, especially those who are just beginning their own way down the narrow path. Thank God for his ever-present grace!
Do you remember when you first became a Christian? Which ditch did you find yourself falling into in your early days? Now that you’ve been a Christian for a while, which tendency (or, ditch) do you find yourself struggling with? Why do you think Christians, regardless of how long they’ve been walking with Christ, find themselves struggling along the narrow path? Why do they get too close to one ditch or the other? What are three things you can begin doing today, with God’s wisdom and power, to help you stay on the straight and narrow?
Grace and Truth,
Luke 14:26-27 – “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:33 – In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
You Better Think About It First
It wasn’t the approach most wanted to take today back then nor is it so today. Jesus wasn’t very seeker-friendly, at least here. His message wasn’t a bait-and-switch tactic to get folks in the door. Instead, it was truth in advertising. The issue? That following Jesus requires everything, including one’s very life, so you better count the cost before signing on the dotted line.
In Matthew 7:13-14, after three challenging chapters, our Lord taught his disciples, and would-be disciples, that the gate by which they must enter, if they would follow him, is a narrow one only a few find. Furthermore, that gate opens onto a hard road. Nothing Pollyanna about this discipleship program. This way was not for those who were looking for something easy and non-committal.
However, there is a road to accommodate those who have such desires. It’s the only other option available and many find and travel it. But its destination is the City of Destruction. The narrow gate, however, which leads to the hard road is the only way that leads to life.
Standards of the Way
Disciples of this way must live a radically countercultural lifestyle. They are poor in spirit, mourn over sin (their own and the world’s), are meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, show mercy, are pure in heart, make peace and willingly accept persecution as the price for such convictions.
They are the salt of the earth and light of the world. They obey the commands of the Lord of the Narrow Way. In fact, their righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
Not only must they not actually murder anyone, but they must not be unrighteously angry with another. These followers of the King must not commit adultery and, moreover, must not even look at another person lustfully, which would be to commit adultery in their hearts. Faithfulness in marriage is expected and required. Truth-telling in all situations is the norm of this Kingdom. Humble submission characterizes those who would enter this gate and walk this road.
Love for both one’s neighbor and one’s enemy is a sign that one follows this way.
Followers of the Hard and Narrow Way give to those in need, do not pray to impress people, and fast in secret. They invest in eternity by storing up treasures in heaven and not on earth. Their trust in God enables them to avoid worrying about their circumstances in this life. Instead, they seek first the Kingdom of God and the righteousness that attends it, and they count on God to provide what is needed for living in this world.
Spiritual self-examination is another mark of these followers. And while they are called to discern between good and bad fruit, right and wrong, that which pleases God and that which doesn’t, they first investigate their own souls and remove that which hinders their pursuit of Christlikeness. Then and only then may they humbly approach a brother or sister to serve them in fighting sin in their life.
There are false prophets on the prowl who, like ferocious wolves in disguise, would lead many down the broad and easy road to the City of Destruction. The fruit they bear is bad which is in marked contrast to the fruit the Lord of the Way requires.
Carrying Our Cross Along the Way
So that leads us back to our text. The gate is narrow and the way is hard, but it leads to life. Furthermore, the cost is great and must be considered before entering through the gate and upon the road. Hatred of the world – even of one’s own family (in comparison to one’s love, allegiance, and submission to Christ) is absolutely required. We must pick up our cross and follow Christ wherever he may go. Becoming a disciple, and living as one, can be fulfilled along no other path. Everything must be given up to be Christ’s disciple. Complete surrender to his lordship is expected. This is normal Christianity, not super spirituality.
It’s not an accident that Jesus closes this thought with these words: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Supernatural ears are a must to truly heed what our Lord is saying. Joyfully obedient self-denial is the norm of the Kingdom of the Hard Road and Narrow Way. There is no room for one’s desire for autonomous freedom (which is really slavery in disguise). The extra baggage, sinful and unbridled love for self and the world, must be discarded at the beginning of the journey, for it will not fit through the narrow gate.
Jesus Is the Gate. Jesus Is the Way.
If all of this seems impossible to you, then you’ve understood perfectly. Left to ourselves, in our fallen, sinful natures with the corrupt mindset and behavior that goes along with it, we cannot enter through such a gate, nor will we even want to. But the good news is that Jesus is the gate through which we enter and the way upon which we walk. To begin that journey we must first kneel before Jesus as our Lord, trust in him alone as our Savior, turn our backs to the wide and easy road we once traveled, and walk along his path in complete dependence upon his Spirit and grace. Then and only then will we be able to experience the abundant and eternal life he has promised those who follow him.
Read through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). What’s your initial reaction to learning about the norms and expectations of the Kingdom found in Jesus’ words? In your own strength, do you think you could realistically expect to fulfill that standard? What “standards” have you heard from others regarding how we should live in this world? What is Christianity’s answer to our sinful condition, to our inability to meet the standard required by God? If you have never sought God’s forgiveness and placed your trust in the work of Christ alone, then humbly pray to the Lord and ask him to help you do just that. Talk to a trusted Christian friend and ask him or her to help you, if necessary.
Grace and Truth,
Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Proverbs 1:29 – Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord,
We Need the Book of Proverbs
Throughout Proverbs, we have some wonderful counsel from Solomon, the wisest man in the world, to his sons. It’s too bad Solomon didn’t always practice what he preached. But isn’t that true of all of us? We know the better course; we take the lesser.
I so desperately want knowledge, discernment, insight understanding, discipline, and wisdom. I pray for all of those things often. Imparting them is why Solomon wrote these words to his sons. The verses of Proverbs 1:1-6 express this,
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
 for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;
 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair;
 for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young–
 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance–
 for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
Who wouldn’t want all Solomon offers in these verses? God, through Solomon, tells us how to get such things. He writes,
Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
The Key to Knowledge and Wisdom
There is no separation of spiritual, volitional, emotional, intellectual, or moral categories in the Bible. They are all interrelated and interdependent.
To have the attributes on Solomon’s list (or at least, to move toward acquiring them), one must fear the Lord. People often bend over backwards to point out that such “fear” simply means “reverence.” And, of course, there’s some truth in that. But fear also means fear.
For example, when Isaiah stood before the throne of God in Isaiah 6, he immediately knew how sinful he was. He shrieked in terror and was beside himself with the overwhelming feelings of dread and unworthiness. That sounds like fear. Or, how about when Jesus calmed the sea and the disciples wanted him to depart because they felt the weight of their radical shamefulness. There’s something to that understanding of fear we shouldn’t immediately dismiss, simply because it makes us uncomfortable.
But, of course, fear means more than that.
A Covenantal Relationship
“Fear,” in our Scripture, also means covenantal submission to the Lordship of God. We show we properly fear God when we submit, reverentially, to who he is, and to what he has commanded us to do. We aren’t instructed to merely give him lip service. Our obedience must have hands and feet to it as well.
To know God is to know him covenantally and relationally, to know about him (his character, attributes, decrees, commands, etc.), and to humbly, gratefully, and joyfully live our lives in response to him. We can know we are approaching what it means to properly fear God when we are living in such a way.
And this, according to our text, is the beginning of knowledge. There are some who do not desire such knowledge nor fear God. They are spiritually, intellectually, morally, and emotionally numb to the things of God. The Bible calls them fools. Such people don’t desire God or his ways. And, sadly, Proverbs, reminds us that to such people God responds, “thy will be done.”
I love the book of Proverbs. Like Solomon, I want to pass such wisdom on to my children. And while there’s gold in the treasure chest for both boys and girls, there’s wisdom contained therein that our boys desperately need to be taught in this day and age. The average prime time TV program will run in complete antithesis to the pearls of wisdom Solomon communicates to his sons. Our boys need to ingest this wisdom long before they become men. Because, by then, it may be too late.
Have you read Proverbs lately? You may be interested to know there are 31 chapters, one for each day of the month. Doctor’s Prescription: A Proverb a day will help keep sin away. Of course, it will also help you live a wise and godly life. I would exhort you to read more than Proverbs, but you can’t go wrong by adding it to your spiritual diet.
Beginning the first day of next month, commit to reading one chapter from Proverbs a day. Use a journal to record lessons and insights you discover as you read. Jot down some key ideas you want to pass on to your children, grandchildren, or others you may be mentoring. Write a brief prayer at the end of each reading to incorporate what you learned from that chapter.
Grace and Truth,
Click the image above to learn more about my book for men.