Thursday, January 28, 2010

Proverbs 31: A Model for Today's Woman

You might be surprised at just how up-to-date the advice of an ancient king can be.

by Linda Elliott

Imagine a busy woman running a household, rushing to work, making business decisions, juggling meal planning and shopping, and volunteering her time for worthwhile causes, while radiating cheer to her children and charm to her husband.

Sounds like today's supermom, doesn't it? Actually, this wife, mother and pillar of the community was described nearly 3,000 years ago in the Bible. Women have been struggling with priorities and time management for millennia. The advice in the 31st chapter of the book of Proverbs, which talks about this supermom of old, is just as relevant today as it was then, because wisdom from God is timeless.

Years ago, when I was a young wife and mother, I read this chapter for the first time and thought: Who is this superwoman? I'm not like that!

I have since come to realize that this passage is not the description of a woman who has had it all together from the start, but of a woman who has grown in character and spiritual maturity through life's experiences. Wisdom is not just timeless; it takes time.

Timeless wisdom comes from God, not from talk shows and trash TV. To achieve happiness, right character and success, women need down-to-earth advice to help them learn concrete lessons; they don't need illusions. Charm and beauty tips abound, but to find real help-to be competent in home, community and business-there is no better place to look than the Word of God.

Applying wisdom

The ideal place to learn wisdom is the home. Whether we work outside the home or not, our home should be our haven, a place where we can practice what we learn in the company of those closest to us. (Of course, women learn wisdom from all aspects of life in and out of the home. Many women may have to manage a full-time career outside the home.)

Home and family have always been the foundation of civilization. Solid, successful, loving families build stable neighborhoods, towns and cities that in turn form strong nations. Yet in newspapers or television newscasts you will see evidence of the breakdown of society. Something is terribly wrong when divorce, family dysfunction and delinquency are so common that they make boring headlines. So what is the solution? Can government programs solve our problems?

The Bible shows that the answers lie closer to home.

Pick your priorities

We all have 24 hours in each day. But we have different talents. Some of our strengths are obvious; others lie hidden. Wisdom applied properly can help us maximize our abilities.

Becoming an effective woman takes focused effort. Proverbs 31 can be a fundamental part of this effort, offering guidance to females who are single or married, have children, careers, or any combination of these.

Proverbs 31 helps the process because it clarifies our priorities for us: God, family and career or community. These priorities may sound simple, but they are not always easy to follow. If we lose sight of them, our lives quickly get out of whack. To exercise wisdom is to make wise and consistent decisions and properly balance sensible priorities.

What should be on our list of priorities? Let's get specific and see what this chapter of Proverbs tells us.

God, our Designer and Creator, should come first in our lives. Indeed, without His revelation we cannot even understand our purpose for existing.

To fulfill that purpose, first seek to become a woman of conviction, strong in character, who is striving to attain moral excellence. In other words, know and do what is right, even when no one is looking. Put God first and ultimately all else will fall into place. Neglect God's wisdom and things go wrong.

Remember, knowledge is of little value except as it is put into practice.

Build your family

A marriage is built on trust, loyalty and support, not arguments, nagging and criticism. Strong marriages are based on God's principles of love, respect, cooperation and teamwork. Take the we-are-a-team approach rather than following the 50-50, give-and-take arrangement that keeps rekindling the battle of the sexes.

Serving as an asset to your husband should not be demeaning. Stand by him, remembering that he is standing by you. Sometimes that isn't easy, and the world around us doesn't make it any easier. Instead of "until death do us part," society pushes no-fault divorce. Instead of 100 percent commitment, Hollywood sells the fantasy of temporary bliss and self- satisfaction. But a happy, lifelong marriage is well worth the effort.

Verses 10 to 12, 23 and 28 of Proverbs 31 depict a situation in which a solid marriage leads to success in and outside the home.

Strive to be diligent and hardworking, and don't panic over trivial matters. When you have to burn the midnight oil, pace yourself. Don't burn out; find a routine and level that work for you. Tackle tough situations as they come up, and handle them without complaint or panic. Verses 13, 18 and 21 describe a woman who is motivated, industrious and confident in the face of challenges.

I remember a frigid winter morning when I awoke to find our sewer system had frozen solid and backed up. All the plumbers were busy, so my husband and I tackled the unpleasant job of thawing and flushing the pipes ourselves. What a mess, and what a smell! But the job had to be done. Our family was in trouble, so we had to do it. My husband later told me he gained new respect for me as I worked alongside him during that nasty emergency.

Abundant practical advice

Be a smart shopper. Bargain-hunt. Make ends meet by following a financial plan for the household. Avoid impulse buying, shop with a list, and don't buy groceries when you're hungry. Experiment. Maybe coupon clipping is a good idea, but perhaps a home-shopping channel is not. Principles that apply are discussed in verses 14 and 21.

Use your time wisely. The easiest way to add more time to the day is to rise early (verse 15). Start the day with prayer and Bible study to put things in proper perspective. Plan the day, and make a little time just for yourself. Recharge your batteries with some peace and quiet. Don't let interruptions rule your life. Solicit help from the rest of the family. When Mom is relaxed and in control, the whole family benefits.

Working outside the home is a reality for most women. Balancing a career and family makes for stressful living. That is why it is so important to remember our priorities and constantly review them. Business acumen is vital. A Proverbs 31 woman deserves praise in her own right, for her own value and accomplishments, not merely as an extension of her husband (verses 16, 24, 31).

Another vital key is also mentioned in this chapter: physical fitness (verse 17). It's easy to resist hard work and getting enough exercise, but we need to take care of ourselves. The best way is to fit exercise you enjoy into your routine.

Hobbies are good stress relievers. Be creative. Try out new, enjoyable activities, either with the family or by yourself.

Volunteer as you are able. You'll be surprised at how much you can accomplish with relatively little effort and time. Just as important, teach your children the value of showing concern for others and helping them take care of their needs (verse 20).

Don't be obsessed with clothes, but be neatly and appropriately dressed. Our appearance speaks volumes before we ever say a word (verse 22).

A good sense of humor helps. Life is short; enjoy it and cheerfully take things in stride (verse 25). Avoid idleness; don't be a couch potato (verse 27).

Formal education for all ages is much more widespread than it used to be. So continue educating yourself. Perhaps you need to read more, taking more interest in civic and volunteer activities. Practice helps us to speak with common sense and confidence, avoiding aggression or defensiveness (verse 26).

The next generation

Society influences our children, but it doesn't nurture them. That's our job. No one is a perfect parent, but we can all improve. Books such as James Dobson's Dare to Discipline can help us see the big picture and the importance of practical child rearing based on biblical principles (verse 28).

Wisdom dictates that we constantly review our priorities. Here's a case in point: I remember an ordinary day years ago when my boys came home from school and asked me to shoot basketball goals with them. I was tired and needed to dust the furniture before dinner guests arrived. Decisions, decisions, I thought. But then I decided: I'll always have dust. I won't always have the boys. So I took 15 minutes to shoot baskets with them.

I won't say that the reason our grown sons still call to ask our advice is because of that incident. But maybe it had an effect. I've learned one thing for sure: Each decision we make can have far-reaching consequences. Life is full of choices; wisdom helps us choose the better ones. I have constantly reminded the boys that if they don't learn from their mistakes, they are bound to repeat them.

Advantages of God's way

God's wisdom gives us insight many other people do not have. We learn from each other's example, so don't neglect advice from older women. We are known by the company we keep, so we need to surround ourselves with wise women of all ages. Let's share our hard-won gems of insight (verse 29).

It may seem difficult to maintain a high standard, but it's worth the effort. The instruction in this chapter in the Bible is priceless. It's universal, timeless advice that encompasses many of life's circumstances. God wants us to become the best we can be (verse 30).

Sound like a daunting task? Not necessarily, especially when we patiently move forward a step at a time. Proverbs 31 gives an outline of real priorities for becoming a complete, effective and successful woman. You may already have followed quite a few of the above principles; others may require major consideration and reorientation. Plenty of resources are available for in-depth study of this chapter, not to mention the rest of the book of Proverbs, but this brief review can get you started.

Who is the superwoman of Proverbs 31? With time and help from God, it could be you! GN

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