2 Kings 23, Zephaniah 3, Psalms 124-126

Read 2 Kings 23, Zephaniah 3, and Psalms 124-126 today. This devotional is about Psalm 126.

As with many Psalms, we don’t know who the songwriter was or what the circumstances around its writing were. Because verse 1 says, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” we know that some kind of calamity had come to Jerusalem and that this Psalm was written after that calamity was reversed. And whatever it was must have been major because even the nations were saying, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2c-d). The Psalmist agreed (v. 3) and God’s kindness to them seemed too good to be true (v. 1b) and caused them to rejoice (v. 2a, 3b).

Still, there must have been more restoration needed because the second half of the Psalm calls for God to “restore our fortunes” (v. 4a) even though verse 1 said that the Lord had “restored the fortunes of Zion.”

Verse 5 continues by saying, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” That indicates that there was still work to be done. Perhaps literal sowing was meant; maybe the farms around the areas had been left uncultivated and much more work than usual would need to be done to make the land productive again. The promise of this Psalm is that sowing may be done in sorrow (v. 4a, 5a) but harvest time will bring joy and songs (v. 5b, 6c-d). Nobody likes to rebuild something that has been wiped out be it your farm, your personal finances, your career, your relationship with your family, or whatever.

Starting over brings sorrow because it reminds you of how much you lost and where you would be if calamity hadn’t struck. But if you allow sorrow to overtake you and you don’t sow, you will never know the joy of reaping.

The point of the Psalm is that you should do the hard work you don’t want to do so that you can reap the benefits that only hard work can bring.

This is a good definition of self-discipline which I heard someone else define as “Doing what you don’t want to do so that you can have something (or be someone) that you want.” But note that the Psalm puts this call to hard work and self-discipline in the context of faith in God. The Psalmist has already seen God do great things (vv. 1, 3). Now, by faith, he was calling on God to keep restoring their fortunes (v. 4) while they sowed in tears.

God the creator made the world so that sowing predictably and normally brings reaping. Those who work hard get rewarded. Calamities happen–crop failures, drought, war, etc.–but those are exceptional events. Usually the person who believes that hard work will be rewarded gets the rewards of hard work. That’s because God the creator made the world to respond to the faithful efforts of humanity.

Are you trying to rebuild something that fell apart–your marriage, your career, your retirement, or something else?

Does the sorrow of loss tempt you not to try anymore?

This Psalm calls you to have faith in God and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it.

Even if you’re crying while you do the work (v. 5), the work will matter. The ground doesn’t care if you sow in tears or in joy. It doesn’t respond any better or worse based on your mood; it responds to faithful effort!

So let this song encourage you to keep doing the work despite how you feel and to pray over your efforts by saying, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”

Exodus 30, Proverbs 6, Psalm 78

Today’s readings are Exodus 30, Proverbs 6, and Psalm 78.

This devotional is about Proverbs 6:6-11.

Ants are disgusting creatures who have no business being in my house.

That said, they are remarkable workers. There are some time-lapse videos on youtube that show how hard they work to break down large food items for their colony. Some of the items, like a grapefruit, are huge compared to the size of one ant. Working together diligently, however, they can pick the whole thing apart in a few hours.

Here in Proverbs 6:6-11, Solomon encourages that “sluggard” to think about the hard work of ants. A sluggard is foolish because he his lazy. The first thing Solomon encourages the sluggard to notice about ants is that they don’t need a boss. Verse 7 says that it “has no commander, no overseer or ruler.” This sounds like a dream life to many people; a life with no boss, no authority. If a lazy person had no one in authority over him, he would do nothing productive all day, day after day (vv. 9-10). An ant, however, “stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” Each one works hard to provide for the colony even without a supervisor.

The point here is that the sluggard needs to learn how to be productive without external supervision or discipline. Many people will do nothing unless they are told to do it but a wise man will learn to work diligently without supervision to be profitable and prepared for the future. The foolish lazy man, by contrast, is warned that “poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.”

Many people are hardworking in most areas of life or lazy in most areas of life. Many of us, however, work hard in some areas while neglecting to work hard in other areas. We may be productive employees, even without much supervision, but we’re lazy about managing the money we make. Or perhaps we’re diligent about physical fitness but not about our spiritual lives. What area in your life should you apply wisdom to be more ant-like?

We would also be wise to teach our kids to be self-starters and diligent without supervision. These are essential skills for success in our world and very rare. Encourage your kids to work on that term paper for a little while every night instead of trying to do it all in one weekend or–worse–one caffeine-fueled all-nighter. It will serve them well all the days of their lives.

You might enjoy watching this brief video about ants: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dgtepw39NX4

Proverbs 21:1-14

Today’s reading is Proverbs 21:1-14.

“Get Rich Quick” schemes have a well-deserved bad reputation. If anyone gets rich from them, it is usually the one selling the scheme, not the one buying it or investing in it. In Proverbs 21:5, we read in these words in the last half of the verse, “…as surely as haste leads to poverty.” The first “as” completes a comparison, which we’ll get to in a minute. But notice that the verse teaches that “haste leads to poverty.” This haste can refer to the desire to get rich “quickly,” but the verse suggests that being in a hurry, generally, is poverty-inducing. When we are in too big of a hurry, we look for shortcuts, we may be tempted to be dishonest, we take foolish risks, we look for big scores through gambling instead of investing for the long-term.

That leads us to the first half of the verse, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit….” “Diligence” is a word that refers to deliberate, careful, conscious effort. It is a word that goes well with the word in the first part of the verse, “The plans” Diligent people make plans. They don’t take their life savings and give them to some guy who calls up offering to invest for them. They don’t make hasty decisions. Consequently, their plans “lead to profit.”

This verse, then, contrasts two diverging paths. The path that looks like a shortcut to wealth leads inevitably to “poverty” while the conscious, careful, deliberate strategy created by the diligent and followed step-by-step leads to profit. These verses are proverbs, of course, so they are not iron-clad promises but rather broad descriptions of what usually happens. Sometimes people put everything on one spin of the roulette table and win bigly but most of the time people who try to strike it rich fast lose everything. Likewise, sometimes people plan carefully, save diligently, invest wisely and still lose everything. It happens, but not usually.

Is there any area in your life where you are seeking a shortcut to success, a fast lane to easy street? Do you make plans and carry them out or are you in too big a hurry making a living that you never have time to design a life? Consider the warning and the encouragement in this proverb.

Also, remember the tortoise and the hare. You may feel like your plans are taking too long to develop and that you’re way behind. Don’t get hasty. Trust the process of diligence; it usually pays off in the end.

Proverbs 12:15-28

Today we’re reading Proverbs 12:15-28.

Two of the verses in today’s passage speak about laziness (vv. 24, 27). Verse 27 says that, “The lazy do not roast any game….” Picture the setting. A man goes out to hunt food for his family. He checks his bow, his arrows, his spear, his knife, and anything else he needs to be sure they are in good working order, sharpens all the blades and arrows, and repairs anything that needs to be repaired in his gear. He packs his clothes, blankets, and tent as well as plenty of bread and water. Then he sets out to hunt, walking out into the wilderness where he sets up camp. Each morning he rises early before the dawn to find a good place to hide and… he waits. Eventually he sees a nice large buck and, with a swift shot from his bow, takes it down. He then begins field dressing his kill, just like his father taught him to do. He drags the carcass home and then… it just rots. He never gets around to actually cooking the meat he worked so hard to get.

What a waste! But this is one way in which laziness costs us. We make money in our jobs but are undisciplined in how it is spent, so it doesn’t grow and nourish us financially; instead, it just fades away in frivolous spending. Or we advertise and find new prospects for our business, but don’t follow up on them. Or we take a class or a seminar and learn a bunch of new things but never implement any of them. These are just a few ways in which laziness–an inability to do something we don’t want to do even though it would help us achieve a result we want to get–costs us bigly. By contrast, verse 27b says, “…but the diligent feed on the riches of the hunt.” Sometimes just a little extra work is the difference between success and failure.

Why do we get lazy? Sometimes it is just the lure of the immediate pleasure of a nap or entertainment. Sometimes it is fear of failure or not really knowing how to do what needs to be done next. Regardless, laziness is something we identify in others but justify in ourselves. Justified or not, there is a high price to paid for laziness. According to verse 24, “Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor.” If you can’t manage yourself and push through your lazy inclinations, you’ll end up working for someone else who won’t care about your excuses.

Look, we all suffer from laziness at times and it’s easy to beat yourself up when you see the waste and loss that comes from it. These passages are about the long-term affects of laziness, not isolated incidents of it. Still, it is helpful for us to remember that part of being Christians is learning to be diligent managers of all that God has given us and enabled us to do. So think about areas where laziness may be costing you and change the way you work.