A Properly Focused Desire

Are you focused this morning? Have you had your coffee and has it had a chance to begin working? Good.

Focused ambition and desire are powerful. Notice how focused the Apostle Paul was in these words: 

Philippians 3:13–14 NASB95

13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The focused man or woman pushes out all other thoughts, all other competing desires, all other weights or obstacles to achieving what he or she desires. This focus is part of life for everyone, although we all admit that some things in life don’t always capture our heart in the same ways. 

In Proverbs 18:1-2, Solomon writes, “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom. A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.” (NASB). Solomon speaks about the fool who is lead so strongly by his desire that he isolates himself from any sound counsel and only wants to talk about his own thoughts.

Sometimes we have to wonder what sparked these proverbs—what situation in life made them come to life in the words of the old man as he spoke them to his sons. Perhaps Solomon recalled the story of how David sinned with his mother Bathsheba,  and how badly that had turned out as God’s hand was heavy upon him. David had been so focused on his desire that he put everything outside of his mind until he had sinned against the Lord.

Or maybe Solomon was thinking of his brother Amnon, who desired his sister Tamar, and shamed her because his desire was so strong that he wouldn’t let anything stop him. Desire is a powerful thing, and our proverb reminds us that a strong desire accompanied with some poor choices can end in disaster.

Let’s learn from the fool and what he did that was wrong so that we can avoid making the same mistakes that might lead to our own destruction.

1. Separation From Wise Counsel (v. 1)

Here is the first major mistake that the foolish person makes in regard to their desire.  They pull away from wise counselors and those that might be a good influence and speak truth into their life. Notice two things about this intentional withdrawal from friends and counselors:  

His Separation Is Self Imposed (v. 1)

This isn’t speaking about forced separation over long distances, or from circumstances. And it is’t speaking about counselors abandoning him. Rather it says that the foolish person has isolated himself on purpose! Why would he do that? Read on!

His Separation Is Self-Focused (v. 1)

The foolish person separates himself from wise counsel because he doesn’t want to hear what he is being told that would get in the way of his desire. Desire isn’t  necessarily a bad thing, but the fool has taken his desire and promoted it to the level of an idol. So many good gifts given to us by the Lord for us to enjoy in life are in danger of being elevated to an idol in our heart.

We aren’t told what the desire is in our proverb, which is best, because it allows us to watch out for these desires that take over our heart and begin to control us, even to the point that we begin to do nothing but seek after them. 

“Quarrels Against All Sound Wisdom”

The word in the NASB translated “quarrels” means to expose or lay bare, and is probably speaking of what a dog does when it snarls.  The NKJV says he “rages against” all wise judgment. And what is so offensive? Sound or Effective wisdom—a word that is often used in reference of God’s Word. The desire has grown into a monster in the heart of the foolish person. So much so that they are raging against good, sound counsel! They won’t hear it because “the heart wants what it wants”-which poet Emily Dickinson wrote in 1862. The heart may want what it wants, but it is foolishness to let the heart have everything it want. But when idolatrous desire has gripped a heart, all sense and logic and biblical wisdom is chucked out in favor of pursuing this thing lusted after.

What sorts of things could grip someone’s heart like this? Well I’ve already mentioned David and his son Amnon. So, relationships, and particularly sexual immorality can be included. But people make idols out of almost anything. Marriage, a good job, education, material possessions, fame, even ministry aspirations can all become so large in our heart that they take over and drive us so much that we stop listening to anyone that doesn’t agree with our plan, and we snarl and become angry at anyone who wants to counsel against what we want. 

Added to the poor choice of separation can be…

2. Talking When We Should Be Listening (v. 2)

For the foolish person, there is no talking sense to him. He is certain that his path is the right one and no one can persuade him otherwise. This is evidenced in this verse.

Not Interested in Learning

The fool finds no pleasure in learning to discern. Have you ever noticed that some people’s pendulum swings in wide extremes when they want something badly? It’s either all or nothing! Discernment in the Bible often speaks of an appreciation for the appropriate application of wisdom for the circumstance. The old fashioned word “prudence” meant to exercise caution-not rushing madly into a situation with passions out of control. But we live in an age where prudence is prudish, and having a life filled with drama is seen as normal.

The fool doesn’t want a wise counselor to come alongside to help them consider the reality of their desires and where the desire has become inordinate and dangerous. I have counseled couples not to get married because of some major spiritual and moral issues they needed to deal with, but they often do not listen. My wife has counselled young women who are more interested in being married than who they marry—having made marriage–a beautiful thing, by the way when kept in its proper place—into an idol.

Instead he is…

Only Interested in Giving His Opinion

Jonathan Akin says, “The fool has a closed mind but an open mouth, a small mind and a big mouth. He does not listen, but he is quick to tell others what he thinks. Pride is alive and well in his soul. He is convinced that what he thinks is what everyone else ought to think. He is too clever and cute for his own good.” [Jonathan Akin, Exalting Jesus in Proverbs, ed. David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2017), Pr 18:2.]

I find that there is a sin that is most difficult to overcome by its nature—and that is the sin of being unteachable, a form of the sin of pride. The unteachable person is what the fool in vv. 1-2 has become. They have shut out the only possible help they have in favor of their own sinful counsel and the idol they are chasing after. Nothing can be said to them or done to them that will convince them unless they can come to see the way of their sin—and often times this only comes after they have been ruined by their sin and pride.

When David learned his lesson regarding his adultery with Bathsheba, he wrote two psalms. In Psalm 32:8-10 he wrote:

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. 9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you. 10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked, But he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness shall surround him.

So how can we combat this danger and have properly focused desires that aren’t in danger of taking over and bringing us to ruin? Well, I think there is much to be considered in avoiding the separation referred to in v. 1.

God has given us a community of Christ called the Church. He has surrounded us with believers—some more mature whom we need, and some less mature, who need us. Listen as Paul describes this wonderful reality in Eph 4:11-16:

11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

So much can be said from this passage, but for now, understand this: we need one another. We need each other to help us. We need the Word, we need the Spirit, we need Jesus and the Father, but we can never forget that there is no such thing as lone ranger Christians. We need one another.

And as we help guard one another, we will find that our desires will more easily find that they are properly focused for the glory of God and the blessing of one another.

The Blessed Refining Effect of Trials

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” (Proverbs 17:3)

Just as a crucible and a furnace are used to test the mixture of metals to bring the sludgy waste to the surface, so too the Lord uses adversity and trial to bring our sinful attitudes and actions to the surface to reveal our need for purification. This sanctifying process of being put through a trial is very hard and unpleasant, but is necessary if one wants to become purified. There is no shortcut to this process.

Sickness, disease, economic hardship, difficult relationship issues, and more all contribute to who we are as people. They shape us—sometimes for good, and sometimes for bad. For the Christian, trials and hardship are used by God to draw us closer to him and to show us those areas of our life that need spiritual attention. It is in these trials that we are forced to refocus and take account of the state of our heart. The problem is that sometimes we don’t take advantage of the lessons being taught, but instead we squander the opportunity that is afforded to us.

I remember two occasions when this was illustrated to me vividly. Both occasions were when loved ones were completely incapacitated by injury or illness. Lying on your back in a hospital has a way of getting your attention. For each of these people, it was a sobering time of contemplation. They were helpless and their forced stillness brought about a spiritual awareness of God’s presence. In those long days, the Lord did a work in their hearts, teaching lessons that each needed to hear, but couldn’t because of the busy noise of their everyday lives.

I learned this lesson myself when I too ended up in the emergency room, not on a pastoral visit, but as a patient. I was in excruciating pain and found that no matter what else may have been important before, everything stopped as my body screamed out for my attention. God was beginning his refining process with forcing me to look up to him.

Trials and difficulty are one way that the Lord clears our schedules and removes every other distractions so that he can whisper to our needs and speak to our heart. In these moments it is wise to listen.

Sometimes the trials of life don’t have the same effect. Instead of pointing them to God, they bring out the worst in people and shows what type of character that person truly is inside. They might be all shiny on the outside and look like “pure gold” to everyone when things go well, but a little heat applied through a trial might show a person to be only gold leaf over rusty tin.

The Coronavirus and the political issues on display every day in the news cycle, along with the normal wear and tear of life reveals the “stuff” people are made of. These trials and hardships put on display for all to see what is in their hearts. But instead of looking at your neighbor, I’d ask you to consider your own heart. What has the fire of these trials revealed to you about your own heart? Whatever it is, the Lord waits to hear from you. Go to him to thank him for the refining that he has brought through your trial. And then take some time to listen. He is not silent.

The Lying Allure of Desire

My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
her steps follow the path to Sheol;
she does not ponder the path of life;
her ways wander, and she does not know it.
” (Proverbs 5:1-6)

Although the context of Proverbs 5 clearly is a father’s warning to his son about the dangers of adultery, there is something more basic here that I think we all need to pay attention to if we are to continue walking in holiness.

This “forbidden woman” aligns not only with the tempter/temptress in the area of sex, but there is also a warning against chasing after anything forbidden. Eve desired the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, and before her, Lucifer sought to take the place of God by seeking to take the glory that belongs to God alone. Man also seeks to steal God’s glory through pride, and we seek to idolize our own desires, placing them above the will and commands of God.

And what should catch our eye in this section of Proverbs 5 is the desirability of the forbidden object that blinds us to the tragic end that comes when we seek after it. The forbidden woman’s lips drip honey—not only desirable, but speaking with sweet words that are entice us to overlook the wickedness in her words. Her speech is described as being smooth like oil, words which rationalize and clear the way for our sin, without which we might be stopped by a sensitive conscience. These “smooth words” give answers to objections, and resistance is overcome with cool reasoning. Like the neurotoxin of a spider’s sting, the desire numbs the conscience, drawing in its victim slowly and carefully so as not to awaken a sense of guilt.

The fruit looks desirable, and it only makes sense to take it, after all, it offers so many advantages—what fool would pass up the delights that are promised? The fruit may take on many forms and flavors, but the fruit and its poison always fools and the same pathway of promises are never kept.

Hidden under the tongue of honey and smooth oil is a dagger. And the fool who follows this path will find they will awaken from their poison-induced stupor when it is too late. The desire has conceived her deadly spawn within the soul of the fool and has birthed sin. And like tiny parasitoid wasp eggs that have hatched, and the larvae awaken to feast on their host, leading to its tortuous death.

Why would we ever chase the forbidden fruit of sin and its desires? Because we are children of Adam and follow in Adam’s footsteps. And the only hope we have of breaking free from this body of sin and death is to place our hope in the One who resisted every temptation to sin and paid for the penalties of our sins committed upon the cross Romans 7:24-25).

The good news is that Christ, the serpent crusher, has won the victory. And as God’s children, we have been set free to walk in holiness and righteousness. One day, the victory will be complete, the serpent will be cast away into eternal fire, and the temptations will all end. Until then, I pray that we would all take the warnings of Scripture seriously and not allow for sin—even baby sin—to find a hiding place in our hearts, any more than we would allow a poisonous spider to nest in our pillow.

When the Tempest Passes

“When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more,
but the righteous is established forever.” (Proverbs 10:25)

We have all had hard times in our lives, but sometimes it seems like wave after wave of bad news keeps crashing against us, giving us little time to catch our breath. This year has felt like that to many, maybe even you.

Sometimes, in the midst of that constant barrage, we can begin to feel like we are losing our grip, like the darkness will swallow us, and we will be lost. Can I point to some hope in these times? “When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever.” (Proverbs 10:25)

What a great verse to remember for 2020. Every tempest and storm in life passes. The question we need to answer is, will we be standing on the other side? For the follower of Christ, the answer is an exuberant “yes!”

The tempest in your life might not be a person, it might be sickness, or financial troubles. It could be heartbreak, or maybe loss of a loved one. These too will pass. The sin which has brought into our world death, destruction, disease, calamity, and wicked people has been defeated upon the cross.

One day soon, the Lord will return and the storm will pass. One day, all will be made right in this world and all evil, and every effect from the fall will be brought to perfect righteousness.

The tempest will pass. Cling to Jesus in the storm. But if you feel your grip begin to slip, don’t worry. He is holding you firmly in his hands. And nothing can snatch you away.

…While the Devil Just Sits Back and Laughs

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him:a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

(Proverbs 6:16, 19, ESV)

Social media is sometimes a dumpster fire and Christian social media is often worse. It grieves my heart when I see a “perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord” (Prov. 6:14), but especially when it comes from the keyboard, computers and microphones of those who should know better.

Yesterday I saw a post on Facebook that sought to destroy, discredit, and malign a servant of God. The comments were filled with venom and hatred. The arrogance and pride was astounding. The flesh was in full force and all of this was done supposedly in the name of “truth” and for the honor of God! I understand there may be issues and doctrines of which we might disagree, but where is the grace in all of this rage?

My fellow Christians, there is much wisdom in correcting, and even rebuking a brother when they have erred. But how we do it is just as important as the need to correct. Some people become keyboard commandos and hatchet men when they are on their computers–saying things that they would never say person to person, or even out loud.

Solomon’s warnings show that just as dangerous as the adulteress (Prov. 5), a foolish pledge (Prov. 6:1-5), and a lazy lifestyle (Prov. 6:6-11), are the crooked and perverse words that seek to destroy (Prov. 6:12-19).

In Revelation 12:10, Satan is called the “accuser of our brethren.” I pray that we have a clear understanding of the testimony of our words before the world and the Lord. Soemtimes I wonder if Satan is delighted to just let us go on and on with our destructive words tearing down the body of Christ with our own hands.

I leave you with these sobering words from James as a good reminder to us all:

but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

(James 3:8–12, ESV)