Month: July 2016
“God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard.” – CS Lewis
I find solace in these words by CS Lewis in that as a Christ follower and as a church leader I desire to hear God, I want to know I am in His will.
Sometimes this means I carve out solitude time, time with no list, no agenda, no pressure and no distractions.
But over many years of climbing up mountains, getting onto quiet stretches of beach or finding a secluded spot in the hills and valleys of KwaZulu Natal I have discovered that God doesn’t speak when I want Him to and I can’t change God.
This used to get me all wound up, I’ve come here full of passion, I need to hear You God and then in those solitude moments there is just myself and…………………………….silence.
God’s not on my timeframe, doesn’t always pick up the ‘phone’ when I’ve decided to call.
Just yesterday I had set time aside for solitude, I had my venue planned, had my camping chair, had some snacks (I’ve found solitude with food way more effective than solitude with fasting) and as I was packing to go found myself saying this to God…
“I know You probably won’t speak to me while I am there and I just want you to know that’s totally cool. I’m going anyway because I know You love it when I do seek you and I love it too!”
What seems to matter most to Him is that I came, that I sought Him, that I want to hear Him. He wants relationship – we often want results, an outcome, a decision or direction.
And slowly I’ve learnt that I can’t change God, so I better change and I’m so much the better for it. My Father will speak to me, what matters is that I seek Him. He will speak in unexpected ways that surprise and thrill me, sometimes He keeps me waiting till the final hour but He will speak to those who seek Him.
Resolving this has helped me grow in my love for God and my understanding of Him. It’s also helped me enjoy times of solitude more and more knowing that what really matters is that I came, that I sought Him out.
By Gareth Bowley
I can not think of an area of life in which men of all ages seem to battle more in. No other thing seems harder for men to choose God’s way of wisdom in, than the area of women, relationships & sex.
There are guys everywhere, who have literally ruined their lives & the lives of others because they have not feared God enough, have not been wise enough to embrace God’s wisdom with regard to sex & relationships.
Proverbs 5 is written from the perspective of a father speaking to his son. As a father he knows how beautiful, powerful & yet potentially destructive sex can be and so he is wanting to impart wisdom to his son regarding this area of life that is so full of pleasures yet can lead to so much pain & ruinous consequences if God’s instructions are not followed.
1 My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
incline your ear to my understanding,
2 that you may keep discretion,
and your lips may guard knowledge.
It’s wise to learn from life experience but it’s even wiser to learn from the experience of others. Had this father messed up in this area of sex & relationships? Are there painful personal experiences informing his exhortations to his son?
Often the problem for men in this area is that our desires are so strong that men often aren’t guided by their heads, but rather close their ears to wisdom regarding these matters and simply follow their desires.
3 For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey…
What does the ESV translation mean by ‘forbidden woman’?
It’s important to say that there is NOTHING about women that makes them any more or less capable of evil than men are. Although both Proverbs 5-7 do warn men of certain women whom they will encounter in life, women who will be a temptation to them, the phrase translated ‘forbidden woman’ does not communicate that women are evil in some general way.
So what does this phrase communicate? ‘Forbidden woman’ is especially helpful when one considers that it describes the relationship of all women towards those men who are not their husbands.
The wise advice here to the son is that any woman who is not his wife, or is not his wife yet or is in fact someone else’s wife – all such women are forbidden to him in terms of any sexual intimacy or arousal of any kind.
3 For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,and her speech is smoother than oil,
4 but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death;
her steps follow the path to Sheol;
6 she does not ponder the path of life;
her ways wander, and she does not know it.
All sexually tempting situations promise much (with smooth talk and sweet honey), however in the end are bitter in reality and lead to ruin, even death itself!
What a contrast! Pleasure, delight promised, pain and death delivered.
7 And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
8 Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
The father’s plea to be attentive is repeated and broadened to include other sons too. The father’s advice is keep away, far away! Don’t mess around, don’t even go close to this type of temptation and sin, steer well clear.
Don’t put yourself in compromising situations, don’t kid yourself that you’re strong enough, that you can handle the temptation. Don’t even go close.
I remember in our long days of courtship, how Nadine and I needed to make some decisions, needed to resolve to avoid certain situations, to not even go near to them in order to remain sexually pure leading up to our wedding day.
We loved driving around the beautifully romantic Cape Town peninsular, spending hours talking and just enjoying the sights and lights of Cape Town.
But we didn’t want to go even near to temptation, so we resolved to not stop the car after dark! After-all, if I was driving that meant at least ¾ of my limbs had to be involved in driving the car.
I have been to Zambia and seen the mighty Zambezi river in flood pouring over the 108m high Victoria Falls. It is 1.7km wide at the Victoria Falls with 6million litres of water per second flowing over it when it is in flood! The column of spray from that waterfall can be 400m high and seen over 40km away. I have been in a boat on that river while it was in flood about 10km upstream, with two 90hp motors struggling to keep us from being washed downstream towards the falls…
I think that the whole area of sex is a little bit like this mighty river and it’s waterfall. If going over the edge of the falls is sexual sin then dipping your toe in the river upstream of the falls or even going for a swim or a paddle is like dabbling with sexual temptation and arousal, going near the door of her house.
Far too many men have told themselves they are strong swimmers or paddlers, told themselves that they can handle paddling on this river! Only to be swept away in a moment of passion and swept over the falls of sexual sin.
Men like to think they are in control. We like to think we can handle situations, wisdom says, this river of sexual arousal is SO strong you’re kidding yourself if you think you can paddle around in it and not be swept over the falls which leads to great pain, shame or even death.
So, work it out, work out how not to even go NEAR the door of her house, whether that is a literal door or a metaphorical door some action/activity your should avoid, steer clear of.
9 lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
10 lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
11 and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
12 and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
13 I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
14 I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.”
Vs9-14 reveal where temptation ultimately leads us. We end up giving ourselves to others who take our honour, life and strength from us so that in the end of our life we are left groaning and our bodies even are consumed. These verses reveal the true consequences of forbidden sexual arousal and sin; regret (vs12-13), ruin (vs14) and shame in the community (vs14).
15 Drink water from your own cistern,
flowing water from your own well.
16 Should your springs be scattered abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
17 Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you.
Satisfy yourself within your own marriage, keep your love exclusively for your spouse, don’t spread yourself around like cheap water flowing in the gutters. And if you’re not married yet, keep yourself for that day, for that one relationship so that you won’t ruin what you want before the time and end up damaging the very relationship God intends to satisfy you with.
18 Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19 a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
I love God, and I love the bible! I love how God is not anti-fun, not anti-sex or anti-pleasure but totally for it. In fact it was God who designed us for pleasure, God who invented sex and gave it to us. However, God gave it with specific instructions for use so that it would be for building lives and marriage and not tearing down life.
Vs18-20 ends with a section of exhortation about sexual fulfilment in marriage, it’s sex as God intends it for you and for me! God’s plan for you is that you be fulfilled with amazing sex in marriage with your wife/husband! There’s a hint here even that God’s plan is even for you to get married while you are still young (vs18) so you can enjoy youth together with your spouse.
If this is God’s plan for you, if God’s plan for you is fulfilment in marriage then wisdom says, God says – don’t be intoxicated, don’t embrace any forbidden woman (vs20)! Dipping your toe in that river which leads to death and regret and destruction of marriage is to poison yourself and poison your marriage or your future marriage.
If you’re married, known this, that there is nothing like satisfied sexual intimacy in marriage to protect you from external sexual temptations! In this Proverb we are instructed to rejoice in sexual intimacy with our own wives, captivated by her beauty, delight in her breasts continually and be intoxicated (drunk) with her love and our mutual lovemaking…
When you are truly fulfilled and satisfied as God intends you to be as a married man, you are fortified against the allure of the forbidden woman. After all, why would you sin against God, sin against this one you love, why would you damage this most precious person and the relationship that you already have, why risk all that which is truly good and God-given? Temptation looses it’s power when marriage is good and godly.
21 For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD,
and he ponders all his paths.
22 The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
23 He dies for lack of discipline,
and because of his great folly he is led astray.
(Proverbs 5 in ESV translation)
Lastly, remember, in all these things, just in case you think you’re hiding something, thinking that no one will know about it – don’t kid yourself thinking that what you do with a forbidden woman is secret or unseen. A man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he, God ponders all man’s paths.
Wisdom as the bible defines it had nothing to do with cleverness, skill, ability or age, even though personal experience is a valuable potential contributor to wisdom if interpreted in light of revealed truth. Wisdom is a matter of heart orientation to God, out of which flows the desire to please God by our choices and actions.
And here’s the thing, when we are wise, when we fear God as we ought, when we desire to please God with our lives – we end up being the one’s who are blessed because God is a good God and His desires for us are good. So be wise in this area of sex.
By Gareth Bowley
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom and whatever you get, get insight. (Proverbs 4:7)
Wisdom starts with a conviction that you need it. Foolishness is to think the opposite, to think your knowledge or perspective is enough. Wisdom therefore requires not just knowledge applied correctly but a heart orientated correctly, for wisdom requires humility.
The context of this particular proverb is vs1-6 of the same chapter where a son is being exhorted by his father to “hear…a father’s instruction”, to “be attentive…that you may gain insight”, to “not forsake my teaching”, to “hold fast my words” & “keep my commandments and live”…
Wisdom starts with a humility that opens the ears, opens the heart to others in this life, who are further down the journey of following and serving God or who might have a perspective you don’t have but need.
Wisdom starts by getting it, from others. “Get wisdom” is not a command you can heed without the help of others, it’s not like a command like “be self-controlled/patient” where we can work harder at obeying.
So the question surely is twofold;
- How is your heart? Are you humble, teachable, willing to learn from others?
- Who are you learning from?
By Gareth Bowley
These guidelines below are based on chapter 12 from the book; “How to Read the Bible for all its worth” by Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart.
- The Proverbs are often short pithy memorable statements of truth that do not state/teach everything there is to know about an issue but point towards the fuller truth regarding that thing. An example in English is the saying; “Look before you leap”. That is easier to remember than “Before you commit yourself to a course of action you should always consider all the circumstances, consequences and options. The second statement says it much more completely, the first points to the general idea/truth/teaching.
- Proverbs are not specific legal guarantees from God of cause and effect so avoid extreme literalistic interpretations but look for the meaning that applies in your life situation. For example Proverbs 15:25 says; “The Lord tears down the house of the proud but maintains the widow’s boundaries”. We would have no neighbourhoods left if this was a cause and effect specific statement, no the idea is that God is opposed to pride and the protector of the vulnerable. So, don’t be proud!
- Proverbs must be read as a collection that balance each other and in the context of the whole bible.
- Some Proverbs need to be “translated” to be appreciated. Many of the proverbs express their truths according to practices of everyday life that no longer exist. Therefore, unless you think of these proverbs in terms of their modern day equivalents they may seem irrelevant to your life.
- Proverbs are often figurative and or even exaggerated to make their point, they are also intensely practical statements that are not meant to be technically or theologically precise or complete.
- Used right, Proverbs will provide practical life-advise for how to live in such a way that pleases God and results in a life that is blessed.
By Gareth Bowley