November 23: The Games We Play

2 Kings 11:1–12:21; Galatians 3:1–29; Proverbs 7:10–20

We live in the age of online résumés, with pages dedicated to us and our faces. We can broadcast our thoughts in seconds and republish ideas that make us look smart by association. And we do it all in an effort to earn recognition or acceptance. We want to be heard in the midst of the noise—to earn a spot in the spotlight. The works of the law that drove Judaism in the first century ad weren’t much different; they were pitched as a way to obtain God’s favor as well as the favor of others.

Paul responds to the ideals of his age: “Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as having been crucified? I want only to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal 3:1–2). Paul’s questions are rhetorical. We’re not saved by works, but by the graciousness of God. It is not through works that the Spirit dwells among us, but through God’s goodness shown in sending His Son to earth to die for humanity and then rise again.

We struggle to admit that we’re looking for recognition—both from God and others. We know we can’t earn our way into heaven, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. We still think that if we can be good enough, smart enough, or successful enough, God and others will accept us. It’s a game we play that is for naught—we cannot earn what God offers.

What are you fooling yourself into thinking is important?

John D. Barry

November 24: The Ties that Bind

2 Kings 13:1–14:29; Galatians 4:1–31; Proverbs 7:21–27

We don’t often consider our former lives as enslavement. We characterize our lives before Christ by bad decisions and sinful patterns, but not bondage. We like to think of ourselves as neutral beings. But Paul paints another picture. The things or people we once put our trust in were the things that enslaved us. Paul asks the Galatians why they would ever want to return to bondage.

“But at that time when you did not know God, you were enslaved to the things which by nature are not gods. But now, because you have come to know God, or rather have come to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and miserable elemental spirits? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again?” (Gal 4:8–9).

Paul tells the Galatians that turning back to the things they trusted formerly—whether the law for the Jews or spiritual beings for the Gentiles—is choosing enslavement. For us, it could be anything from thought patterns, greed, habits, people—anything we used to find value, comfort, or worth that is not God.

Before, we were subject to these things, which ruthlessly dictated our fate. Yet God didn’t leave us in this state. Paul says we “have come to know God, or rather have come to be known by God” (Gal 4:9). While we were still sinners, He broke into our spiritual bondage and broke the chains, giving us freedom and life in Christ.

We are no longer slaves with no freedom to make decisions; we are adopted as sons and daughters—we are heirs (Gal 4:7). By making this association, Paul shows the Galatians that Christ has paid the price. He also pushes them to grow up. They can’t just continue on in spiritual immaturity. Rather than trusting in the former things, they must continue in faith by being transformed by the Spirit.

What things from your life before Christ tempt you to return to spiritual bondage?

Rebecca Van Noord

November 25: You Have to Mean It

2 Kings 15:1–17:5; Galatians 5:1–6:18; Proverbs 8:1–8

Wisdom really isn’t all that difficult to find. We think of this attribute as hidden or fleeting, but the book of Proverbs portrays Wisdom calling out to us: “Does not wisdom call, and understanding raise its voice? Atop the heights beside the road, at the crossroads she stands. Beside gates, before towns, at the entrance of doors” (Prov 8:1–3). When we seek Wisdom, she shows up. She’s everywhere. She’s waiting—not to be found, but to be embraced.

The intelligence of Wisdom, the prudence she teaches, is at our fingertips. In Proverbs 8:3–5, Wisdom cries out, “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to the children of humankind. Learn prudence, O simple ones; fools, learn intelligence.” Maybe the real problem is that few of us are wise enough to be what Wisdom requires us to be. The folly of humankind may not be in a lack of seeking, but a lack of doing. If we really want something, we work for it. Wisdom requires sacrificing what we want for what she desires.

And the key to knowing what Wisdom desires—identifying the wise decision—is right in front of us as well. As Wisdom says in Proverbs, “My mouth will utter truth, and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All sayings of my mouth are in righteousness; none of them are twisted and crooked” (Prov 8:7–8). The wise decision is the opposite of what’s “twisted” and “crooked.” If it feels wrong, it is wrong. If our conscience is aligned with God’s, we will know what’s right. The rest will seem like an “abomination.” If we want Wisdom, she’s ours for the having—ours for the living (Jas 1:5–8).

For what decision do you need wisdom? How should you be seeking it?

John D. Barry

November 26: A Moment to Reflect

2 Kings 17:6–18:12; Ephesians 1:1–23; Proverbs 8:9–18

Anyone will admit that wisdom is more than just knowledge. We think of wisdom as thoughtful insight acquired with life experience. However, Paul and the author of Proverbs tell us that it is not something we gain with a little age and some good direction. Wisdom is inseparable from the fear of God.

The author of Proverbs tells us wisdom is “knowledge and discretion”; it’s associated with the desire to fear God, and it is a reward to those who seek it out. “I love those who love me,” says Wisdom personified. “Those who seek me diligently shall find me” (Prov 8:17). Paul speaks of wisdom in light of understanding the grand story of salvation we’re part of. When writing to the Ephesians, Paul prays that they will receive a certain type of spirit so they can grow in faith—“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him (the eyes of your hearts having been enlightened), so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance among the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Eph 1:17–19).

The Ephesian believers were brought into this family of faith through the work of Christ as part of God’s plan (Eph 1:3–14). Paul prays for them to understand what it means for them to live as a hope-filled community that has been adopted—a treasured inheritance in God’s great plan of salvation. The Ephesians will receive this type of wisdom and revelation as it is given by God, not on their own accord. Understanding their place in this story will, in turn, shape their entire existence.

Both Paul and the author of Proverbs note this need to seek out wisdom, which God will give if we ask. Stop to consider your place in God’s redemptive work on your behalf. Pray for a spirit of wisdom to understand His work in your life.

Do you pray for wisdom? What type of response do you offer because of God’s work on your behalf?

Rebecca Van Noord

November 27: When Hezekiah Gave Away the Farm

2 Kings 18:13–19:37; Ephesians 2:1–3:21; Proverbs 8:19–26

After the announcement that Hezekiah “did right in the eyes of Yahweh,” the next description comes as a surprise: “At that time, Hezekiah cut off the doors of the temple of Yahweh and the doorposts which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and he gave them to the king of Assyria” (2 Kgs 18:3, 16).

For a moment Hezekiah was a strong king over Israel—he abolished idolatry and refused to obey the king of Assyria (2 Kgs 18:4, 7). As 2 Kings 18:6 describes, “He held on to Yahweh; he did not depart from following him, and he kept his commands that Yahweh had commanded Moses.” But Hezekiah did not possess fortitude (see 2 Kgs 18:13–18). In an attempt to gain peace, he gave away not only treasures, but even pieces of Yahweh’s temple itself (2 Kgs 18:15–16).

We’ve all been in situations where it’s tempting to do anything for peace. Perhaps we’ve even compromised our ethics or values in these moments. But no matter the situation, giving away the farm like Hezekiah did is never the answer. Politicians often talk about “peace at all costs,” but our world is full of dilemmas that don’t allow for that option.

When desperate situations arise, we must have fortitude. We must seek solace in God and His will instead of giving in. If we make a decision based on the circumstances, it will be the wrong one. If we make our decisions based on prayer, we will make the correct moves.

Hezekiah could have relied on God when Sennacherib came knocking on his door and knocking down the cities of Judah, but he didn’t. He paid a high price for his decision; the cost was his relationship with Yahweh. Even death is preferable to that.

Sometimes our decisions are more important than we realize because they may involve our relationship with God. We must let that relationship drive our decision-making. Rather than being distracted by fear, anxiety, pressure, or even concern for anyone else, we must focus on God and His will; He alone will look out for us and others. We must give Him the opportunity to act.

What decisions do you need God’s intercession for?

John D. Barry

November 28: The Unity of Believers

2 Kings 20:1–21:26; Ephesians 4:1–32; Proverbs 8:27–36

It’s easy to sort believers in a community based on the quantity of their service. Most of us could roll out the masking tape and divide those who contribute their time and efforts from those who don’t. If we’re honest, the topic itself easily divides us—it makes us feel used, overtasked, and resentful. But that’s not the picture of unity of purpose that Paul presents in Ephesians. He describes the church as a body—one in which “each single part” is needed for the growth of the whole.

“But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow into him with reference to all things, who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined together and held together by every supporting ligament, according to the working by measure of each single part, the growth of the body makes for the building up of itself in love” (Eph 4:15–16).

We are each given unique abilities for the growth of the body, and “each single part” is necessary to grow the body of Christ. God gives gifts to each supporting ligament—each person—in order to build up the community. But it is Christ who joins and holds the church together.

Because of Christ’s unifying role, a key aspect of growth as a community and as individuals includes speaking the truth in love—helping others grow to spiritual maturity in the truth of the gospel. Instead of chiding, we can remind others of God’s goodness to them through Christ. Instead of further ostracizing them, we can invite them in by speaking the truth with love, realizing that God has blessed them with special abilities that will soon be realized.

How can you use your gifts to serve your community? How can you lovingly help others recognize theirs?

Rebecca Van Noord

November 29: Revitalization: Moving Beyond the Catch Word

2 Kings 22:1–23:27; Ephesians 5:1–33; Proverbs 9:1–12

Ideally, spiritual renewal wouldn’t be necessary—we would continually grow closer to God. But that’s not the case. There are ups and downs in our walk with Yahweh. We experience times of intimacy and times of distance. We lose focus, energy, or the desire to obey. These highs and lows could be the result of our fallen world or our taking God for granted, but whatever the reason, we need renewal. Spiritual revitalization is essential. We can always grow closer to God.

During his reign, King Josiah launches a reformation—a revitalization of the way God’s people think and act. He even changes the people’s understanding of God Himself. After finding a scroll (likely of Deuteronomy), Josiah tears his clothes in remorse and repentance and instructs the priests to inquire of Yahweh on behalf of the people (2 Kgs 22:8–13). Yahweh is aware of their misdeeds. Then Josiah immediately does what needs to be done: He reforms the land (2 Kgs 23:1–20).

Josiah makes the difficult choice to do what God requires. He ignites God’s work among His people again. He restores obedience. The work is challenging and exhausting—it means changing the way people live.

If we were faced with an opportunity like this, would we have the strength and dedication to take it? Would we be willing to change what must be changed? Would we be willing to proclaim the word of Yahweh to people who are not ready to hear it—who may resist the change? Would we carry out Yahweh’s work despite its unpopularity? These are issues we face every day.

The time of hypothetical speculation must end, and the time of igniting real renewal and real reform must begin. It starts with us, and it doesn’t end until all the lives around us are renewed, changed, and transformed.

In what area is God asking you to lead change?

John D. Barry

November 30: Do Not Turn to Folly

2 Kings 23:28–25:30; Ephesians 6:1–24; Proverbs 9:13–18

I have a problem with criticism. Being one of the youngest in a large, opinionated family, I quickly learned how to stand up for myself and get my way as a young child. I learned to deflect teasing. I also learned I had a knack for ignoring reprimands—punishment free (there are certain, inalienable rights that shouldn’t be bestowed on the youngest). The louder I projected my voice, the better; the more stubborn my stance, the more respect I earned. I wish I could say it was a phase that I quickly grew out of.

When we’re challenged by others, we often interpret the wisdom offered as criticism instead. We defensively deflect feedback like beams of light, hoping they’ll land in their rightful place (our neighbor’s darkness, and not our own). This type of reaction can become second nature to us. Soon, even messages in church are meant for others: “I wish [insert person who is currently annoying us] was here. He or she really needs to hear this.”

Proverbs tells us that we don’t just deflect criticism to the detriment of others. Although we might shock people with our strong reactions, or scandalize them with our biting comments, we ignore their advice to our own detriment: “If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, and if you scoff, alone you shall bear it” (Prov 9:12).

Wisdom offered and received is part of God’s intention for community. It’s a means through which God builds us up—a theme found throughout the book of Ephesians. We don’t grow as individuals—the helpful conflict provided by community (the truth in love) helps us know ourselves better. But when we deflect criticism, we rush headlong into the peril we’ve created for ourselves. Proverbs has startling words for this type of peril. When the young man chooses to listen to the words of Folly personified, his fate is sealed: “Whoever is simple, may he turn here!” (Prov 9:16) she cries. “But he does not know that the dead are there, in the depths of Sheol are her guests” (Prov 9:18).

The next time someone offers you criticism and you’re tempted to react, choose to examine your heart and motives. Ask God for the wisdom you need to respond to criticism offered in love.

Think back to the last time you received criticism. How did you react? How should you react?

Rebecca Van Noord[1]

 


[1] John D. Barry and Rebecca Kruyswijk, Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).