Meditations on Proverbs 31 (Part Thirteen)

This is the thirteenth and final part of a series of reflections on the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. We finish the chapter with verses 30 and 31.

Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.

God is the author of beauty and loveliness. Just the other day, on the drive to worship in the evening, our family saw a breathtaking sunset over the mountains. The sky was filled with bright oranges and deep purples and the children marveled at God’s work of great beauty. As beautiful as that sunset was, it was only a few minutes before it faded into a dark, cloudy night. The Lord is the author of beauty, but some kinds of beauty lasts longer than others. God would want us women to understand that, of the many kinds of feminine beauty, none is more lasting and precious than piety and the fear of the Lord.

Writing in 1850, English minister Charles Bridges comments the following on this passage, bringing attention to the true beauty of the virtuous woman as described in this chapter:

The portrait, pencilled by Divine inspiration, begins with the touch of a virtuous woman, and fills up the sketch with the lineaments of a woman that earth the Lord. For the lovely features described–her fidelity to her husband; her active personal habits; her good management and diligence in her family; her consideration for the necessities and comforts of others; her watchfulness of conduct; her tenderness for the poor and afflicted; her kind and courteous behavior to all–this completeness of character and grace could only flow from that virtue, which is identified with vital godliness.

In contrast to this, the surface beauty and charm that so many women prize above godliness is fleeting. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look presentable or going to some small lengths to make ourselves look pleasing to our husbands, but our daily focus should be upon cultivating our holiness and devotion to God in all our thoughts, words, and deeds. God says focusing on true and lasting beauty is praiseworthy. The Scripture says the woman who focuses upon her piety will even be notable and respected in her community (in the gates).

However, what are we supposed to think when we look around and see that piety and virtue are not praised in our culture, but actually ridiculed? What are we supposed to think when it seems like the women who pursue godliness are thought of as unsophisticated and weak by the world? It can hurt to be thought of this way. However, I am comforted by God’s counsel. I also realize that, no matter what other people may say or how they treat me, their consciences must certainly bear witness to them that God’s ways are right.

We’ll end with the words of George Lawson (1749 – 1820) and his encouraging words for the virtuous woman who is looked-down upon by the world.

She is entitled to honour; and if no tongue should give it to her, the works of charity and wisdom, which she is constantly practising, will be a monument to her name. She is praised by all the wise that know her, and she shall have praise of God on the day when the seal shall be set to every character.

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Meditations on Proverbs 31 (Part Twelve)

This is part twelve of a series of reflections on the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. Today, the verses we will look at describe something truly excellent: the rewards the virtuous woman can expect for all her hard labor.

Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Proverbs 31:28-29

That’s it. Were you expecting more? Many women think they deserve much more than just the praise of their children and husband. You might hear them joke that being a housewife is the world’s most unappreciated job. You might hear them complain that if they were to be paid for the job they do as a homemaker, it would easily be a six-figure salary. These are ways discontentment is sown and a longing for more than the praise of one’s own family is coveted.

What if a woman’s husband and children are the only ones on the whole earth that know how faithfully she guides her home? How selflessly she pours herself into caring for everyone’s needs? What if the only reward on earth that a woman receives for all her labors is the admiration and gratitude of her children and husband?

Instead of thinking of this as a paltry thing, God would have us think of this as the best of rewards. If a virtuous woman’s whole life is devoted to serving others and meeting the needs of her household, what better reward could she look for than the fact that she truly pleases her family? The reward is right in keeping with the generous heart of the virtuous woman!

As believers, what is our highest aim in life? That we would please Christ. As believers, our great reward would be to hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:23). The virtuous woman knows that hearing this same sort of thing from her husband, “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all,” is a great delight and even a foretaste of what she hopes to hear from Christ. 

One final word on this. What if your children do not call you blessed? What if your husband is not grateful? What if, despite all your attempts to serve your family according to Proverbs 31, your labors are met with apathy, criticism, or even open hostility? If this is the case, God has called you to bear that painful cross and still do that which he has instructed in his word. It is still to be done for his glory and for the treasure that is stored up in heaven. As Christ says in Matthew 6, “And thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee.”

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Meditations on Proverbs 31 (Part Eleven)

This is part eleven of a series of reflections on the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. Today, we will take a closer look at the next three verses, which go together (verse 24 has already been considered here).

Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Proverbs 31:25-27

Today’s verses reveal three traits about the virtuous woman in succession. In a way, these three characteristics go together like the three legs of a stool and could be called Integrity, Propriety, and Industry. Take away just one of these three legs, and the stool will fall right over. Let’s consider each of these individually.

Integrity (“Strength and honor are her clothing,” v. 25). In other words, there’s something sturdy about her. A building with integrity is one that won’t collapse under strain and neither will the virtuous woman. The concept of a woman being a fragile and delicate flower that is crushed by adversity is foreign to what God says about the virtuous woman.

This integrity is not just a physical or mental characteristic, but something spiritual wherein she gains strength and honor from the Lord. This is why the verse says “she shall rejoice in time to come”. The believer will rejoice in all things, and most of all when the Lord returns.

Propriety (“She openeth her mouth with wisdom,” v. 26). This verse deals especially with propriety in speech. Women, we need to be reminded how easily we fall into sin in this area. In his commentary, George Lawson (1749 – 1820), does a much better job describing how we should be striving for propriety in speech, than I ever could.

As a sandy hill is to the feet of the aged, so is a wife full of words to a quiet man. But the virtuous woman plagues neither her husband nor any other man with her talk. She has learned that silence and subjection which the Apostle Paul recommends to wives. She does not lock up her lips in a sullen silence — but when she speaks it is a pleasure to hear her, for she opens her mouth with wisdom.

Besides her other labors already mentioned, she rises in the morning, and finds time to read the Bible, and other instructive books. She meditates and reflects, and receives instruction from what she hears, and prays to her heavenly Father. And so she improves daily in knowledge and prudence; and when she opens her mouth, she says nothing but what is well worthy of being heard. She says nothing that savors of levity, or deceit, nothing that is unseasonable, nothing to gain herself the reputation of wit. All her words are expressions of that wisdom which adorns her mind, and that virtue which warms her heart, and regulates her conduct.

There are some who gain a character for smartness at the expense of their reputation. They will speak the crudest things without provocation, and applaud themselves for it, as an evidence of their wit and boldness. But the virtuous woman abhors the thought of making any person uneasy. And when there is a necessity for reproving, and even then, she will be as gentle as can possibly consist with the efficacy of her admonitions.

Kindness is painted on her countenance, and flows from her tongue. For it possesses the throne of her heart, and gives law to all her words and actions. She is a living explication of that beautiful description of charity which the Spirit of God gives us by the pen of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.

Industry (“She eateth not the bread of idleness,” v. 27). A virtuous woman will always be looking to serve those around her. She makes sure that her husband and children are well taken care of. She does not let her housework pile up or get out of control by eating the bread of idleness. Long coffee breaks, watching daytime television, and endless scanning of the internet could all be examples of eating this poisoned bread. The virtuous woman stays on top of her tasks instead of first seeking “me-time”, as the world might instruct her to do. This is not always easy because her work in the home is usually unsupervised. While her husband is away at work, it is up to her to be disciplined and diligent with her time.

Also notice, her good industry is not just spread around for people in general, but God says it is to be focused directly upon “her household”. This is so tragically ignored by women who feel like God has called them to minister in the affairs of the world, turning their labors at home into a part-time endeavor. This is to have things totally backwards. The virtuous woman knows she is called to keep her home first.

To summarize, these three traits go together like the legs holding up a stool. A woman with two of these, but missing one, damages her household greatly. For example:

  • A woman who is both strong and industrious, but her mouth is always speaking folly, tears her household down. James would say she has set her house on fire with her words (James 3:5-6).
  • Another woman who is guarded in her speech and possesses fortitude, but her industry is spent mostly on a career outside of the home, is also damaging her household by typically giving them the scraps of her time and industry that is left over from other work.
  • A third woman who is industrious in her home and wise in her speech, but lacks strength of faith, may find herself easily thrown into despair when she meets with adversity. She may become dismayed and neglect her family in a time of difficulty. This is the kind of woman that may even turn her back on God and her family entirely, if things get to be too much for her.

Women, may God grant us the faith to put his fear before our eyes and endeavor to possess these traits and others. May it be for his glory and for the good of our families.

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Meditations on Proverbs 31 (Part Ten)

This is part ten of a series of reflections upon the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. Today’s segment is crucial in understanding the virtuous woman, even though it’s not specifically about her!

Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. Proverbs 31:23

This short verse says volumes about the virtuous woman, if you stop and think about it. Primarily, it tells us where she is not. She is not in the gates, because that’s where her husband is.

In ancient Israel, the gates of any city or village would be the typical place for the elders to meet and act like a sort of town council. They would make judgments on public affairs, settle disputes among the people, and rule on matters that came before them. This verse tells us the virtuous woman’s husband is not simply named among these honorable men, but that he is known among them. His reputation is enhanced by her godliness and her faithful keeping of the home.

He doesn’t feel the need to run home every now and then to check up on his irresponsible wife. He looks respectable because he is dressed in the quality clothing she has made for him. You can see on his face that he is cheerful. He isn’t weighed down, as so many men are by their contentious wives. So much of this is due to the virtuous woman understanding her place and her role, to do him good and not evil.

In our own, deviant times, many women feel it is right for them to have a seat “in the gates”. Whether this means becoming a public figure, a judge, a “female pastor”, or trying to teach men, women today believe it is their prerogative (even their calling from God) to be in all these spheres. The truth, as seen in this one verse of holy Scripture, is that these things are the domain of men. The true honor of women is to support their husbands (or fathers, brothers, sons, pastors) as these men sit “in the gates” of the world. Virtuous women do this best by adopting the godly and feminine traits prescribed for them in Proverbs 31.

What is behind the desire of so many women to be known in the gates themselves? When a woman looks at a man who does great things in the world, it’s easy to see how she may become jealous and discontented. God would remind us with this passage that there are different ways to be known in the world. For a woman to want to be known in the way a man is known, for skill in ruling and judging, is contrary to what God has prescribed. The virtuous woman is not found in the gates.

If she is godly, her desire is to be known in a very different way; for being a submissive, virtuous woman in her home. Thus, she greatly increases the honor of the men in her life. Bible commentator George Lawson (1749 – 1820) has this to say about how important our role in the home is to our husbands.

Women are for the most part jealous of their husband’s honour, and it lies in their power to procure them a great deal of respect; for it is a greater honour to have it said that a man has a virtuous wife, than to be admired for riches and titles.

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Meditations on Proverbs 31 (Part Nine)

This is part nine of a series of reflections on the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. Today, we will be examining two more verses.

She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. Proverbs 31:21-22

In some of our previous posts on the virtuous woman, we have remarked on her selflessness and the way she is entirely focused upon others. Verse 21 is further evidence of this. In her efforts to clothe her household, she is mindful of their comfort. They won’t get cold, even in the snow, nor will they look raggedy. The virtuous woman will work hard to ensure this.

What then, are we to make of verse 22? Is the virtuous woman stumbling here? Is she showing a measure of selfishness in making beautiful coverings for herself? I think to answer this question, we should ask another question: would it be right for a woman such as this to look disheveled and frumpy, discrediting herself, her family, and her household? No, she has an obligation to present herself in a way that matches her position. This is not vanity, but actually honoring those who look up to her and hold her in high regard.

Think for a moment about the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton). I have not seen her wear anything but modest and elegant attire. What message would it convey if she appeared at an official gathering wearing sweats and a hoodie? It would show disrespect for herself, her family, and for everyone who looks up to her.

This is why the virtuous woman is to wear clothing that is in keeping with her station. Clearly, the woman spoken of in Proverbs 31 has means and is part of a distinguished family, therefore she wears silk and purple clothing. However, even women of very low status have a responsibility to present themselves decently. This may not mean silk and purple, but thoughtfulness and dignity must go into how we dress ourselves.

In his commentary on Proverbs, George Lawson (1749 – 1820) reminds us that, even though the virtuous woman dresses with elegance, it is not for vanity, nor does it come at the expense of her family or the poor.

She does not starve her charity by her finery, nor spend upon her dress that which might support a poor family; and she does not reckon herself superior to the duties of a wife, nor exempted by wearing silk and purple, from using her spindle and distaff. From all this it appears, that the inspired writer allows the use of costly array to none but those that can afford it in a full consistency with the duties which they owe to their families, to the poor, and to all men.

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Meditations on Proverbs 31 (Part Eight)

This is part eight of a series of reflections on Proverbs 31. Today, we will consider the benevolence of the virtuous woman.

She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; Yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. Proverbs 31:20

We are greatly challenged by the selflessness of the virtuous woman. There’s an earnestness expressed here about her desire to stretch her hands to the poor, going out of her way, extending herself to come to the aid of those who are truly needy. She is zealous to help them in tangible ways. Consider some of the many ways that a virtuous woman could bless the poor: by taking them extra food that she has prepared, bringing extra clothing for them to wear, attending to people who are sick, or doing housework for those who are elderly. There are so many ways she can find to bless the poor and she takes great joy in doing what she can to bring them relief.

Do we see how little the virtuous woman thinks about her own wants and desires? Sometimes, I think we can obsess about nice things or luxuries we see that others have, and decide that we deserve all these and more. Also, if we did ever come into some extra money, so many of us would not hesitate to treat ourselves to whatever we have been obsessing over. The virtuous woman puts us to shame. Instead of thinking about the luxuries she might like, her heart is focused upon how she can address the needs of the poor. This is yet another example of her life being oriented toward serving others.

To put it more directly, the things of this world that we would like for ourselves are passing. Treasures on earth gather dust and are destroyed by moth, rust, and thieves. What is not passing is treasure stored up in heaven, which the virtuous woman seeks. She remembers the words of Psalm 41, “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth.”

George Lawson comments on the generosity of the virtuous woman and reminds us how her giving spirit actually brings the blessing of God upon her family, too.

The husband of the virtuous woman has no reason to find fault with her for her goodness to the poor; for she is serving her family as well as herself by it, and bringing down the blessing of God upon her labours, which could not be successful without it. They were happy women who had the opportunity to minister unto Christ of their substance; and they enjoy the like happiness who take delight in relieving the distresses of the indignant for Christ’s sake. Whatsoever is done unto the least of his brethren, in his name, he considers as if it were done to himself.

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Meditations on Proverbs 31 (Part Seven)

This is part seven of a series of reflections upon the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. Today’s installment will be two verses, but they are not in order (verse 19 has already been considered here).

She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: Her candle goeth not out by night. Proverbs 31:18

She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Proverbs 31:24

It is so easy to long for our beds and wish the day would be over at our first sign of weariness. Some days, I would love nothing more than to go to bed at 7 PM. However, the inspired example set by the virtuous woman is both convicting and encouraging. We should strive to make sure we accomplish all that needs to be done before we turn in for the night.

Are the dishes loaded in the dishwasher? The kitchen swept? Is there clutter that has been left out? Whatever can be cleaned and cared for in the evening helps us to start our day better the next morning.

Also, it is so important to end the day with our families in worship. Pray, praise the Lord, meditate on his Word, and close out the day with a heart of thankfulness. This can also be a struggle if you are physically tired, but the benefits far outweigh the sacrifice of a few minutes’ sleep.

Something else mentioned in this verse, another challenging example, is the idea of producing goods to sell. Our encouragement is to spend time in the evenings, after all the necessary chores are completed, working on some type of merchandise that would be a blessing to our families. Can you sew, knit, create stationary, make soaps, or bake goods? While we are certainly called to live cheerfully on whatever income our husband brings in, think how a side income from doing this kind of labor could bless our families. Higher-quality clothing for the children, family outings to nicer destinations, or being able to afford the groceries to host others for meals more frequently; all of these things are excellent goals for the virtuous woman who stays up late making beautiful things to sell. I myself have struggled in this area and would love to explore ways to make a start on this. Maybe this will be a future blog post.

Even though the virtuous woman rises early and stays up late working, this is not to say that she should neglect her own physical needs. Psalm 127 speaks about the vanity of rising early and keeping late from sleep due to anxiety, and reminds us that sleep is a good gift of God. I would like to leave us with this reminder from George Lawson (1749 – 1820) about balancing our work with the rest our body needs:

She denies not to herself the necessary refreshments of sleep and rest. This would be a piece of vanity. When the inspired moralist tells us that her candle goeth not out by night, her meaning is, that she never wearies of her labors, nor indulges herself… in sleep, beyond the call of reason and nature. In [the same] sense Paul speaks of warning people day and night; for no virtuous woman ever labored so diligently for the good of her family, as the great apostle for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ.

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Meditations on Proverbs 31 (Part Six)

This is part six of a series of reflections on Proverbs 31. Today, we’ll be looking at one short, but meaningful verse.

She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. Proverbs 31:17

This verse complements the entire passage by explaining that the work the virtuous woman does is to be done with vigor and strength. In case anyone thought she only did dainty things with her hands and never rolled up her sleeves to do difficult labor, this verse would show them that they are very wrong.

She girdeth her loins. Doing a quick search through the Bible for “girding your loins” will show that this is mostly in reference to men who are about to run, do battle, or serve in some strenuous way. Girding your loins means taking the ends of your robe or skirts and tucking them up so your legs can move more freely. Moses instructed the children of Israel to gird their loins as they ate the Passover meal to signify their readiness to go up out of the land of Egypt quickly (Exodus 12:11). Christ uses this expression in talking about servants who are prepared and ready to serve their master whenever he appears (Luke 12:35). Peter uses this phrase in a very interesting way, saying that the “loins” of the mind should be girded, meaning that we should be thoughtful in pleasing Christ as we wait for his coming again (1 Peter 1:13). As women, we are to “gird our loins” with strength, prepared for physical labor, ready to be at the disposal of others and, most importantly, always ready to do the will of our Lord.

George Lawson (1749 – 1820), a Scottish minister, writes the following concerning the woman’s bodily and mental strength.

The virtuous woman… declines not any part of her duty through aversion to toil; and by exerting her strength with a cheerful mind, she improves it. Her labours give her health and vigour, and alacrity for new labours; so that she can with great ease and tranquility go through those businesses which appear impossibilities to other women.

Women, if we are honest, we know we sometimes look at labor-intensive jobs and want to avoid them, put them off, or else wait until a man can come and do them for us. Our verse today would challenge us that the virtuous woman doesn’t shy away from hard work, but is ready to tackle it cheerfully, and becomes stronger by doing it.

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Meditations on Proverbs 31 (Part Five)

This is part five of a series of reflections on the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. Today’s verse is a source of some amount of controversy.

She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. Proverbs 31:16

This is generally used as a proof-text by women who work outside of the home. This type of woman will say, “See? She doesn’t stay inside the house all day long, but is out there working and making business decisions, just like a modern career woman.”

I see this kind of interpretation as a total mishandling of the Word, especially when you consider the larger context of Proverbs 31. The virtuous woman in this chapter is fixated upon the the things of her own home. Is this not the most obvious trait about her, that she loves to tend to her home? That she takes delight in making her home comfortable, beautiful, and productive? Nothing we know about this woman would make us think she is interested in laboring for money as a way of life.

First of all, no one said the virtuous woman always works within the walls of her house all day long. There are gardens to tend, animals to feed, wells to draw water from, streams to wash clothes in, and marketplaces to visit. We saw in the last few verses that the virtuous woman is like a merchant ship that goes out to bring the best foods for her family’s meals. The fact that her work takes her places outside the home is no proof at all that she labors for money as a way of life.

Second of all, no one said the virtuous woman can never buy or sell anything (she does sell her goods, v. 24). The income she makes from producing, selling, or from a vineyard can only be said to be a side-income. Stay at home mothers today do much the same with the various skills God has given them. The fact that her work is sometimes money-making is no proof at all that she labors for money as a way of life.

What cannot be forgotten is that all her work is for the sake of her husband and home. What sense would it make for her to neglect the smallest part of her duties in the home in order to bring in more money? The virtuous woman’s duties in the home are her greatest honor and delight, not things to rush through so she can go out and make more money. These side-incomes are not a way of life for her, but they are godly tools to assist her in her main pursuit: joyfully keeping the home.

Would any of the ventures mentioned in Proverbs 31 involve neglecting her duties in the home or neglecting her children? To the contrary, all of these things can be done while raising and instructing children at the same time. Would any of these ventures involve neglecting her husband’s needs, making her inaccessible to husband or family for large portions of the day? Of course not. She remains readily available to serve them at any time.

Anyone who would attempt to use this verse to justify the modern practice of women being employed outside of the home, laboring for money as a way of life, has already decided they are going to do what they think is right in their own eyes. They are grasping at straws in the Scripture to make themselves feel better. God’s plain wisdom is far superior. He would have wives and mothers filled with zeal to do his will. His will is that women would have the personal care of their homes first and foremost in all their labors, even in labors like the ones described in this verse.

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Meditations on Proverbs 31 (Part Four)

This is part four of a series of reflections on God’s wisdom for the virtuous woman described in Proverbs 31. Today, we’ll look at two verses that both deal with providing food for the home.

She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. Proverbs 31:14-15

The overall image we have of the virtuous woman from these verses is that she is someone who does nothing half-way. She is compared to a merchant ship because she goes in search of the best sources of food for her family. It might be easier for her to buy whatever is sold right down the road, just like it might be easier for us to shop at the gas station closest to our house. Yet, she is not looking for what is easiest. She is willing to go great distances to find a variety of fine foods to keep her family healthy and content.

This may offend some, but can a woman with a career outside of the home devote this kind of time and energy in how she feeds her family? Will she be able to go “the extra mile” to provide her family with the very best? Typically, no. Convenience and time-saving very often win out in meal planning when mothers are preoccupied by their careers.

Another way the virtuous woman goes the “extra mile” is by rising early. The virtuous woman realizes that the morning-time is a valuable opportunity to see to the needs of others. Her eagerness to rise early and address the needs of the people in her house sets the tone for everyone to be busy and productive, like her. She doesn’t do this begrudgingly, but with a cheerful heart, knowing it is the work God has given her to do.

I would like to share again from William Arnot, writing in 1858, on this topic.

She is an early riser. This is a great victory over a great enemy. Slothful habits make a family miserable. Early hours appointed, and appointed hours punctually kept, cause the economic arrangements to move softly and easily, like well oiled machinery, without noise and without jars.

Women, it’s easy to resent being the one who often gets the least sleep in the house. Especially if we are up in the night with babies and little ones! We do need sleep, but if we are resentful because we simply can’t have the sleep we think we need at a particular time in our lives, we may have made sleep into an idol. God can give the grace and strength to press on and manage our household cheerfully. If we hold back our cheerfulness until we get the rest and sleep we think we need, we end up holding our families hostage to our selfish desires. As Psalm 127 reminds us, “So he giveth his beloved sleep.”

Our encouragement from the Word of God is that we would wake up early, give our hearts to God in prayer, and look to the needs of others. When we are obedient to this admonition from God, he will certainly bless and strengthen us for this task.

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