Thoughtful and Self-Sacrificing

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She opens her hands to the poor,

and reaches out her hands to the needy.”

Proverbs 31:20

Thoughtful and self-sacrificing.  This lady does not just focus on herself or her family, but finds ways to minister to those in need.  This takes observation on her part and a willingness to sacrifice her wants and desires for those who have nothing to give in return.

Thoughtful and self-sacrificing.  This lady uses her hands often.  In Proverbs 31:10-31 the word hands is used seven times and appears twice.  These hands are not idle, nor are they busy doing meaningless tasks.  They are open which means to disperse or scatter, and they reach which means to send away.  The picture of these hands is one of giving and openness without any thought of return or keeping selfishly for herself.

Thoughtful and self-sacrificing.  The poor and needy are two different groups of people.  The poor are those that are afflicted by their circumstances.  They have had difficult blows in the area of their finances, such as loss of job, unforeseen medical bills, or major car repairs.  These are things that happen in our lives but are difficult to plan for.  These poor are trying to make wise choices but the unforeseen has them struggling to provide for the daily needs of their families.  These people are not making unwise choices by spending money on frivolous things like vacations they cannot afford, eating out, or getting their nails done.

Thoughtful and self-sacrificing.  The needy are those that also have difficult circumstances but these circumstances are ones that are emotionally troubling.  The above physical difficulties of life are also emotionally challenging as we get bogged down with daily living.  Other emotional struggles can be related to difficult relationships with others that can tear at our heart strings.  This wise lady goes out of her way to be a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, and a heart to sympathize and provide compassion.  It takes someone special who is attentive to the needs of others and knows when to speak and when to sit quietly by and listen.  Sometimes the difficult words must be said, but before she opens her mouth she prayerfully considers the words she will say.

Thoughtful and self-sacrificing.  We must be willing to get dirty when we are involved in the lives of others.  Their burdens become ours to share thus lightening the load for the poor and needy.  We must be discerning and wise as we get involved in other’s lives.  Unfortunately, there are people who have no intention of healing themselves, but rather have a taker mindset.  “Whoever is slack in his work, is a brother to him who destroys.” (Proverbs 18:9).

Thoughtful and self-sacrificing.  We must be aware of the people and the needs around us.  We never know when God will provide a Good Samaritan experience (Luke 10:25-37).  As we look for opportunities of service, we must make sure there are margins in our lives to allow for gracious service.  As we listen to God and look for ways to serve, He will provide these opportunities and the blessings we receive will far outweigh the blessings we give.

Questions:

  1. Find the seven places the word hands is used in Proverbs 31:10-31 and record these uses.
  1. How are these seven different uses applicable to your life?
  1. Read the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. As you read it think about opportunities that you have had in your life where you have stopped and helped those in need.
  1. Now think back over the times that you did not stop to help. What prevented you from helping?
  1. Read Luke 8:40-48. Did Jesus appear to have gone out of His way to heal this woman?
  1. As we struggle with balance, we must remember that Jesus, while on earth, did not heal everyone. Taking this thought and the story of the Good Samaritan into account how should we balance our ministry to the poor and needy?
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Diligence in our Homes

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“She puts her hand to the distaff,

and her hands hold the spindle.”

Proverbs 31:19

Hard work.  How many of us like the sound of those two words?  Do we cherish the thought of waking up in the morning knowing our day is going to be full of hard work?  Do we feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of a day when a job is completed and completed well?  Or do we spend more time looking forward to the week-end when we will not have to work and can spend time entertaining or amusing ourselves doing the things we want to do.  Perhaps work provides no real sense of satisfaction.

In Proverbs 31:10-31, there are nine verses out of twenty-one related to work.  This lady is not afraid of hard work, does not shun hard work, nor does she sit around waiting for things to get accomplished.  She is willing to work, and seems to not only accomplish many tasks but also enjoys the work that is before her.

She knows how to use her hands with skill in providing clothing for her family and perhaps others.  This verse describes a very ancient method of spinning used in the days before the spinning wheel even existed.  The distaff was a staff used for holding the flax or wool which would be spun into thread by means of the spindle.  The spindle would turn and twist the fibers into threads.  The spindle was a round stick with tapered ends used to form and twist the yarn in hand spinning.

Most women today do not use a distaff or a spindle to make the cloth needed to sew their clothes.  Generally, we would see a spindle and a distaff at a place like Henry Ford Village where they have recreated parts of our American history and way of life.  This verse is not antiquated as we can take the principles seen in this verse and apply them to our lives.

  1. Work – this lady is not afraid of hard or tedious work. She is willing to do the job that needs to be done in order to provide for the needs for her family.
  2. Details – it can be tedious and meticulous work to take the flax or wool from the distaff and make it onto string that is placed on the spindle. There are jobs in our homes that seem tedious or require meticulous attention in order to be completed.  We must not shy away from them or think ourselves overqualified to pay attention to the details of our homes.
  3. Diligent/Perseverance – in order for the wool or flax to be made into string/thread/yarn that is used to make the cloth that would then be sewn to make clothing, diligence is a must. This job needs to be completed in a timely manner.
  4. Humility – this lady had servants that could do some of the menial tasks, yet she willingly did this rather mundane job. This requires a sense of humility in whatever projects we take on.  We are not too good to perform the menial tasks that need to be accomplished.
  5. Skill – whatever she asked anyone in her household to do, she had the skill to perform it and teach it to others.

We can learn much from this verse if we take the time to glean from it the truths hidden amongst the flax and wool.  We must not be afraid of mundane tasks, but rather we must seek to perform the job that is before us with joy in our hearts.  We must do the dishes or clean the toilets or whatever other task needs to be accomplished with a deep sense of responsibility and love for our families.  They will see this lived out in our lives, and it will provide for them a security and an example to follow as they move out into the world.

Questions:

  1. Re-read Proverbs 31:10-31 and find the nine verses related to work. As you find them write down each verse and what it says about work.
  1. As the verses today may not seem as applicable since we do not spin flax or wool to make our clothes, what is applicable from the nine verses related to work to your life?
  1. Do you struggle with staying focused on a project? Are there many undone projects at your home?  Why?
  1. What must you do in order to get some of these projects completed? Who will you talk with to keep you accountable in completing these tasks?

Profitable Merchandise

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“She perceives that her merchandise is profitable,

her lamp does not go out at night.”

Proverbs 31:18

As we continue our study through Proverbs 31, we are continually reminded of the industriousness of this well rounded lady.  She is diligent in her tasks and a hard worker.  There is not an ounce of laziness in her well-cared for body.

The Hebrew word for perceive, taam, translated elsewhere in the Old Testament is taste.  Each time it is used as taste it is referring to tasting food. The only time this Hebrew word taam is translated perceive is in this verse.  What does perceiving profitable merchandise have to do with tasting food?  The definition of perceive according to Webster (1984) is “to become aware of directly through the senses, to take notice of, observe, to achieve understanding.”  When we taste our food, we are more than just putting food into our mouths to satisfy our stomachs, we are experiencing the food through our taste buds.  We are enjoying and experiencing the variety of flavors and textures of the food.  The lady described here uses her experiences and the experiences of others to provide or make profitable merchandise.  She learns through her successes and failures.  She is astute in taking her experiences and applying them to her business so that her merchandise is profitable.

When we carefully consider what needs to be done to provide valuable merchandise, we take our past experiences and apply them for future gains.  She is not insane: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” as Albert Einstein said, but rather she takes what she knows and applies it to what she does not know.  She uses past experiences as a stepping stone for future success no matter whether the past experience was positive or negative.

Many who read this passage grumble about how little sleep it appears this industrious woman seems to get.  “She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household.” (Proverbs 31:15).  Now it appears she does not even go to bed, “her lamp does not go out at night.” (Proverbs 31:18).  No woman can function without any sleep.  God made all of us need sleep in order to rejuvenate our bodies so they are energized for the next day.

There are two ways we can dissect this part of the verse.  This woman is not staying up all night working on her various projects, but rather she is willing to work as hard and as long as needed to get the job done.  She is industrious, and understands that at times in order to accomplish a task certain sacrifices are needed.  The key here is her willingness to sacrifice her needs for something that is greater than she.

The second meaning of this verse comes through cross referencing the word lamp.  We see this same Hebrew word, hiyr, in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”  This lady knows God’s Word and it influences every part of her life.  There is no part of her day or night that is not influenced by God’s powerful Word.  God’s Word influences every business decision she makes, and since God is the giver of wisdom, she relies heavily on Him and His Word to guide every aspect of her business.  She does not make unethical decisions just to make a few extra dollars.  She walks in the light of God’s Word, which helps her perceive what wise business decisions she needs to make in order to be profitable.

What can we take away from this verse?  We must be industrious and use our experiences as stepping stones for future decisions.  We must be willing to sacrifice our needs for others and for important projects that need to be finished, but we must also balance this with taking proper care of ourselves.  As we use God’s Word as a lamp, it will guide us into making proper decisions that will benefit us and our families, and give glory to God.
Questions:

  1. Do you learn from your past or do you continue to do the same thing over and over again hoping for different results?
  1. Relate some things you have learned that have been positive and relate some things that you continue to do over and over again hoping for different results.
  1. Read James 1:22-25. Relate the applicable verses to the positives and negatives that you mentioned above.
  1. What has caused you to remember what you saw in the mirror and change you actions?
  1. What has caused you to forget what you saw in the mirror and continue on the path you are on?
  1. James 1:25 has the key. What is the key?  What will you do with this key?

Prepare to be Strong

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“She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.”

Proverbs 31:17

Life is challenging.  There are people that can cope with challenges.  There are others who see a challenge and turn and run from it, or they cower in the corner hoping it will go away.  Do you know which description fits your reaction to a challenge?  Do we meet the challenges head on knowing that whatever God has put in the path of our lives, He has also equipped us to face it with courage and strength?

It is important for us to be intentional in what we do.  Our Proverbs 31 lady dresses herself which means that she prepares for what is to come.  The word strong at the end of the verse does not mean just physical strength.  It also means to be alert both physically and mentally and to be courageous.  If we are not prepared for the challenges that come our way, we will certainly feel inadequate.  We should intentionally seek to strengthen ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Thus we will be better equipped to serve our Lord, our families, and others.

  1. Physical strength is an easy one to gauge and work on if we take the time to work out and watch what we eat. This should be something that is part of our daily routine.  I like to walk every day and do some exercises at home that help strengthen my core and help keep my shoulder (which I have had surgery on in the past) functioning at its maximum capacity.  The struggle many people have with a daily exercise routine is discipline and priority.  If we do not make it a priority and make sure we include it into the schedule of our day, we will not have strong bodies.  Sometimes the conditions outside in Michigan when I walk are not ideal.  It is cold, snowy, rainy, windy…but I try to not let these conditions get in the way of my daily walk.  We must evaluate our lives and decide what could be exchanged for a regular exercise routine.  Then when we are called on to help someone, we are prepared with strong arms.
  1. Mental strength can be viewed in a few different ways. As we age, we struggle with our memories.  We all have seen ourselves forget things we did not used to forget, or not pick up on something that normally would not escape us.  The studies have shown that besides regular exercise and a healthy diet, mental exercises and challenges assist in warding off dementia and Alzheimer’s.  So if we learn a new skill, a new language, or a new way to do things then our brains will keep active which keeps our minds functioning at a higher level.

Mental strength is also our ability to exercise, “mind over matter.”  Those individuals that run marathons, do Iron Man races, climb Mount Everest, etc. definitely practice this.  In life we are challenged with overwhelming situations that are equivalent to an Iron Man competition.  Do we turn from these situations or do we face them head on with mental strength which is built on past situations?  Mental strength is like preparing for a race.  Runners do not run an Iron Man competition without any training, rather they spend months preparing for the actual day of the race.  If we do not meet the challenges in life as they come, and instead turn from them, we are not preparing ourselves for the bigger “races” that are to come.

  1. Emotional strength is the last strength we will look at. I have not always had emotional strength.  As I write this and evaluate what has caused me to be  emotionally weak, I think part of it has to do with selfishness.  If things were not all about me or did not go my way, I would cry.  Maybe not for the world to see, but inside I was crying.  I have been through more events that have chiseled away at my emotional weakness, and now situations do not send me to the corner looking for a Kleenex box.  God has brought me through some tough situations that have strengthened me emotionally.  I still cry…ask my daughters, but I do not cry over me but rather over others and their difficult situations, a sad movie, my children, a book I am reading, etc.  We must not let every situation turn us into an emotional wreck, rather we must be strong emotionally while maintaining a sensitivity to others and their needs.

Take some time and figure out your weakness in these areas and be courageous enough to change that weakness into a strength.  Discipline in any area is not easy, but the easy things have little rewards.  Go ahead and be courageous, you just might surprise yourself.

“And at the end of your life you groan,

when your flesh and body are consumed, and you say,

‘How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof!’”

(Proverbs 5:11, 12)

Questions:

  1. How does the above verses, Proverbs 5:11, 12, apply to Proverbs 31:17?
  1. Which of the three strengths do you struggle with the most? Why?
  1. What is keeping you from being disciplined?
  1. What steps will you take to become better in your area of weakness?