Category Archives: encouragement

(becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6, part 5c: a heart that devises wicked schemes

Hearts cascading into each other, gradient

As we discussed in the last post, the problems of an unclean heart are major – and we cannot solve them ourselves.  That doesn’t mean our situation is hopeless, however.  There is one (and only one) cure for unclean hearts: God’s love.  Only God is able to transform our selfish hearts into selfless hearts, hearts filled with love for Him and for others.

This week we’ll look at the effects of that transformation.

Some of the effects of this transformation are visible.  When we have God’s love in our hearts, we can see a difference in the way we treat others:

Through [Jesus] you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.  Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  (1 Peter 1:21-23)

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  (1 Peter 3:15-16)

The verses above show that our clean hearts are often evident in our actions.  We obey God’s truth and show active love for others.  We are prepared to talk to others about our faith – but we do so with gentleness and respect.

In the last post, we discussed the close relationship also between the condition of our hearts and our words – but mostly with a focus on the negative.  In contrast, we see the positive aspects of this relationship when we have God’s love in our heart.  When His love is in our hearts, our words reflect that:

I have set the LORD always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices (Psalm 16:8-9a)

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.  (Romans 15:5-7)

And, as these verses, suggest, while we are dependent on God’s grace in all of this, He does not intend for either our hearts or our mouths to be passive in this process.  The Bible regularly encourages its readers to actively employ their hearts and mouths – and all they are – in service to God:

Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Ephesians 5:19b-20)

In fact, the Bible teaches that both our hearts and our mouths play a part in our salvation.  Paul writes (referring to a passage from Deuteronomy),

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.  (Romans 10:8-10)

And while (as Paul reminds us elsewhere) salvation is a gift from God that we can never earn, we must decide how to respond to God’s gift.  The response God calls us to begins in our hearts – but it cannot end there.  It isn’t just a feeling we get one day, and it’s not a matter of completing a church ritual.  A true belief will affect the way we live.  (As Paul also said, “‘I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds’” (Acts 26:20).)  A heart that truly accepts the love of God will respond with loving words and actions.

Again, please don’t get caught up in rituals here, which vary from culture to culture.  What matters is that our response to God’s gift of salvation changes us inside AND outside.

And of course, the most important part of having God’s love in our hearts is the effect it has on our relationship with Him.  When we have God’s love in our hearts, we are closer to God:

LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?

He whose walk is blameless
and who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart
and has no slander on his tongue,
who does his neighbor no wrong
and casts no slur on his fellowman,
who despises a vile man
but honors those who fear the LORD,
who keeps his oath
even when it hurts,
who lends his money without usury
and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things
will never be shaken.  (Psalm 15)

As the passage above says, we can dwell with God when our hearts are right with Him.  And it is this relationship with God that provides us with assurance of our status as His beloved children:

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.  (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

Furthermore, it is in this loving relationship with God that we find His joy and peace:

Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Look to the LORD and his strength;
seek his face always.  (1 Chronicles 16:9-11)

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  (John 14:26-27)

Clean hearts – hearts transformed by God’s amazing love – are wonderful things.  However, as the last verse suggests, clean hearts can be hard to maintain.  So many things that can dirty our hearts beg for our attention.  Next week we’ll look at the problems our clean hearts face – and the resources God has provided for us in our struggle to keep our hearts clean.

Next Week: a heart that devises wicked schemes, part 4

Last Week: a heart that devises wicked schemes, part 2

Start of the Series: (becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6

 

Want to read more?

Can your marriage help the next generation?  I think so: why YOUR strong marriage matters to kids that aren’t yours

Is nagging our husbands really a problem?  Why I think it is: How culture is sabotaging our marriages

Feeling overwhelmed by all of your obligations?  Try: the superwoman complex or mary and martha

You know that annoying person you try to avoid?  Yeah, me too….: what to do about annoying people

Ready to ramp up your relationship with God?  Try: Quiet time OR Try: Constant Conversation

Start of the wisdom series: (becoming) wise, part one

Start of the fully submitted series: (becoming) fully submitted

(becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6, part 4: hands that shed innocent blood

There are six things the LORD hates,
   seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.  (Proverbs 6:16-19)

Hands that Shed Innocent Blood

Given that murder is the ultimate bloodshed, it’s important to remember John’s words: “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”  –1 John 3:15

This is a powerful statement, especially given the Biblical definitions of “love” and “hate.”  The rest of this post will be written with John’s definition of “murder” in mind.

I think the questions about this item can be broken into two categories.  First, do I actively participate in this sin:

1. Do I intentionally harm innocent people?

Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; he will take up their case against you.  (Proverbs 23:10-11)

Remember that God is the Defender of the innocent.  If you’re not the innocent in a given situation, who is your defender?

2. Do I seek to serve myself despite knowing that my actions will hurt others?

A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice.  (Proverbs 17:23)

Are you willing harm others for the right price?  And remember, the “price” isn’t necessarily money.  It could be attention, preferential treatment, accolades, etc.  What is your price?

3. Do I seek to serve myself without considering how this might affect others?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

It’s so easy for us to take action thoughtlessly.  We don’t set out to hurt others, we just don’t care if we do – at least not as much as we care about our own interests.  In the verse above, God asks us to “consider others” and to look “to the interests of others.”  He’s asking us to actively concern ourselves with how our actions affect those around us – and those far away.

The second category of questions deals with passively committing this sin:  Even if I’m not actively shedding innocent blood, am I doing anything to stop those who are?  And am I applying tourniquets to the wounded?  Some questions to consider in this regard:

4. Do I look for ways to help and protect the innocent?

It is not good to punish an innocent man, or to flog officials for their integrity.  (Proverbs 17:26)

Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent — the Lord detests them both.  (Proverbs 17:15)

Seeking to right injustices can seem like an incredibly daunting task – and no one person can take up every worthy cause.  However, we should be asking God what cause(s) He wants us involved in.  (For advice about how to help without becoming overwhelmed by the problems in our world, click here: avoiding the superwoman complex.)

5. Do I look for ways to help those who are hurting?

Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.  (Proverbs 25:25)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.  (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

While some people are certainly more gifted at offering comfort to those who are hurting, we’re all capable of genuinely showing an interest in and a concern for other people.  Do you shy away from those opportunities?  Most of us wouldn’t let a man bleed to death, but many of us will watch a man grieve to death.

6. Do I stand up for those who need an advocate?

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

As we discussed above, God is the ultimate defender of the innocent — but He wants us to be involved in this work.  In many situations, this means actively opposing their oppressors.  In such cases, there is a temptation to fool ourselves into thinking that we can remain neutral.  We can’t.  In such cases, remaining “neutral” is just a cowardly attempt to abandon the weak to their oppressors without making ourselves look bad.  God is not fooled:

 10 If you falter in times of trouble,
how small is your strength!

 11 Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?  (Proverbs 24:10-12)

God is not neutral in such situations, and when He calls us to advocate for the innocent, He has called us to His side.  We can accept His call or reject it, but we can’t stay neutral.  God has chosen His side.  Which side are you on?

Challenge: This week, go beyond not actively shedding innocent blood, and ask God how you He would have you protect the innocent and bandage the wounded.

Next Week: a heart that devises wicked schemes

Last Week: a lying tongue, part 3c

Start of the Series: (becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6

Want to read more?

You know that annoying person you try to avoid?  Yeah, me too….: what to do about annoying people

Ready to ramp up your relationship with God?  Try: Quiet time OR Try: Constant Conversation

Feeling overwhelmed by all of your obligations?  Try: the superwoman complex or mary and martha

Can your marriage help the next generation?  I think so: why YOUR strong marriage matters to kids that aren’t yours

Is nagging our husbands really a problem?  Why I think it is: How culture is sabotaging our marriages

Start of the wisdom series: (becoming) wise, part one

Start of the fully submitted series: (becoming) fully submitted

(becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6, part 3c: a lying tongue (continued again)

Last week we looked at some of the negative consequences of lying.  As we discussed, lying damages our relationships with others and our relationships with God. We ended, though, with a peek at the wonderful effects of honesty!  Today we’re going to look at some other blessings of honesty.  For instance:

The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.  (Proverbs 15:4)

Our tongues have great power, and a deceitful tongue can crush a spirit in a number of ways.  Clearly, lies told specifically to hurt someone can crush that person’s spirit.  But that’s not all.  As we discussed last week, our lies can also crush the precious spirits under our authority –/, by destroying our credibility, their trust and/or morale, and potentially their characters as well.  And our lies can also crush our own spirits, by quenching the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  But the opposite is also true: an honest, healing tongue gives life.  It gives life by rightly rewarding honesty and hard work in others.  It gives life by setting a strong example for those under our care.  And it gives life by bringing us closer to God and involving us in the life-giving work of His Holy Spirit in our lives.

An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.  (Proverbs 24:26)

I love this simile.  Just as “a lying tongue hates those it hurts,” so honesty can be a beautiful act of love.

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.  (Colossians 3:9-10)

Lying indicates a return to the old man.  Honesty, on the other hand, brings us closer to God and His good design for us and our relationships.  As new creations, we are being renewed in God’s image – and honesty is part of that process.

A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.  (Proverbs 22:1)

This proverb questions what we value.  Is gaining wealth (or privilege, or our way in some petty matter, or whatever we’re after) worth ruining our reputations over?  God says no.  And, ultimately, it’s God’s approval that we should seek.  Honesty doesn’t just improve our reputations in the eyes of others, but – far more importantly – in the eyes of God. 

And so, finally, it’s important to look again at how God feels about lying.  (As Jesus asked, “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44))  And while He tells us in Proverbs 6 that He hates lying, that’s certainly not the only place He mentions it.  Consider just a couple of examples:

The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.  (Proverbs 12:22) 

Truthfulness is a delight to the Lord.  Think about that.  Oftentimes we detach ourselves from Scripture by focusing on rules and forgetting their purpose: Our relationships with God.  Don’t make this mistake.  Your relationship with God is your most important relationship, on earth and for eternity.  Given that, shouldn’t you want to do things that delight Him, instead of things He detests?

Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth.  (Proverbs 16:13)

God, as the ultimate King, takes pleasure in us when we’re honest!

 So this week, consider your level of honesty in all of your interactions.  “Make it [y]our goal to please Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).  Prayerfully consider, too, how any damage you’ve caused by lying can be undone.

Next Week: hands that shed innocent blood

Last Week: a lying tongue, continued

Start of the Series: (becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6

Want to read more?

Start of the wisdom series: (becoming) wise, part one

Start of the role model series: (becoming) a role model, part one

Start of the stewardship series: (becoming) a good steward

Start of the wife series: (becoming) a godly wife

Start the fully submitted series: (becoming) fully submitted

(becoming) a role model, part 3

English: Detail - Inosculated (self-grafted) c...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ll start this post with a plea: If you are not in a God-centered marriage, please seek out godly counsel.  Your pastor may be able to recommend for a Christian counselor.  (Some churches, like the one my husband and I attend, will even pay for the first few sessions, if you can’t.)  If you are uncomfortable asking your pastor, Focus on the Family has a list of Christian counselors across the United States.  Obviously, they can’t guarantee the quality of each one, but having a vetted list to start with is a good first step.

And please: Seek out a woman who is in a joyful, God-centered marriage.  Talk to her.  Ask her questions.  Ask for advice.  If this woman is truly in a God-centered marriage, she isn’t going to judge you for struggling.  She knows how hard marriage can be.  And she’ll be thrilled to know that the example her marriage is setting is making a difference.  (But be careful who you turn to for this type of discussion and advice.  Read about potential problems here: (becoming) a godly wife: how to welcome Satan into your marriage.)

That said, the rest of this post is aimed at those of you who are in joyful, God-centered marriages — or hope to be soon (either because you’re engaged or because you’re planning to get counseling to move toward such a marriage).

If you do have a joyful, God-centered marriage, you’ve probably encountered this scenario:  Someone who observes your marriage thinks it’s too good to be true.  Thinks surely your husband must be oppressing and brainwashing you into submission.  Thinks surely there’s a problem that you’re just good at hiding.

The first time I encountered a situation like this, I was devastated.  I wanted our marriage to be a beacon of light for people.  I wanted people to notice our marriage was different and be drawn to God because of it.  I was upset that instead she saw our marriage as something negative.  What I didn’t realize then was that the reason this woman thought my husband must be forcing me into submission — that he was somehow treating me like a second-class citizen — was that she had likely never seen a God-centered marriageOur relationship seemed so foreign to her that she assumed something must be very wrong.  I tried to explain our relationship to her, but I don’t think she believed me.  She probably still doesn’t.

The next time I encountered this, I was more ready for it.  I wasn’t devastated.  I didn’t see it as a failure on my part to give an example of a God-centered marriage to someone.  I saw it for what it was: This dear friend really didn’t believe that a marriage could be that joyful.  I tried to explain things as best I could, but I also realized that this was a long-term mission.  She might not believe me now, but she would (hopefully) be in my life long enough to see that it was true: God is a God of joyful marriages.  (And keep in mind the difference between joy and happiness: Happiness comes and goes with circumstances.  Joy does not.  Joy stays.  Joy is a fruit of the Spirit of Christ (Galatians 5:22), and Christ’s joy remains in all circumstances, so long as we remain in Him (John 15:10-12).)

So here is my encouragement to those of you in joyful, Christ-centered marriages: Keep showing your love – God’s love – for one another.  Keep being a shining example that many people find baffling.  Keep giving an answer for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15) and encouraging other women in their own marriages with a positive example and a living testimony to the faithfulness of God.

And please, please, try to reach out to this next generation.  You don’t have to lecture them — trust me, they aren’t big fans of that, in the classroom or in “real” life.  Just be open to conversations.  Ask them questions about themselves (they usually love this topic) and watch where God might take the conversation.  (Remember, of course, to always be praying during these conversations.  I often ask God to help me say all and only what He wants me to.  This prayer tends to keep me out of trouble.)

I am often amazed by what students will reveal to me before they even know me.  On the first day of class, I ask them to spend 10 minutes or so writing about who they are.  A lot of them write about their families.  Most of them tell me if their parents are married or divorced.  Many of them will reveal a great deal of anger at one or both parents for abandoning them.  Many will tell me about how devastated they were when their parents got divorced.  Others will tell me about their girlfriends or boyfriends.  Or financial problems.  And I don’t even know these kids.  This is the first day of class.  These are the things that they think describe who they are.  My point is simply this: Talk to the kids in your life.  You might be surprised how much they’re willing share – and how desperate they are for someone to listen.  Especially someone whose life offers them some hope.

Read part one of this series: (becoming) a role model, part one

Read part two of this series: (becoming) a role model, part two

Want to read more?

 

Start of the wife series: (becoming) a godly wife

Start the fully submitted series: (becoming) fully submitted

Have trouble saying no?  Try: (becoming) a good volunteer: the necessity of “no”

Struggle with worry?  Try: (becoming) less of a worrier

Start of the stewardship series: (becoming) a good steward

Start of the wisdom series: (becoming) wise, part one

Start of the Proverbs 6 series: (becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6

Start of the Christmas series: (becoming) peaceful

 

(becoming) a role model, part 1

English: Teenagers in the Netherlands.

Image via Wikipedia

A note before I begin: These posts are directed at adults, not parents specifically.  I often say “parents” and talk about “families” because that’s a primary place for young people to interact with adults.  This is about far more than that, though.  This is about adults stepping up for the next generation.  For our own kids, for the kids in our extended families, and for the kids in our schools, communities, churches, and so on.  For many kids, your God-centered marriage may be the only one they ever see.  Many kids will never see that example from their parents – and even if they do, what kid couldn’t use a second example of a God-centered marriage to offset the hundreds of other negative examples he’ll see?  So consider: How can your life and your marriage influence the next generation – whether your kids or others’?

In some important external ways our world is a lot safer than it used to be.  There are safer plastics, safer foods, safer cars, vaccines, no mandatory draft.  Even zip lines and parachuting can be done with little risk.  But internally, I think things are far more dangerous.

The chemicals and addictions, the accidents and monsters that are killing us often aren’t outside — they’re inside us (even if we use external things in the process).  We’re eating ourselves to death, or starving ourselves to death.  Obesity and anorexia are inside problems with clear outside manifestations.  And our self-indulgence and self-deprivation are hardly limited to food.  Many of us are shells on the verge of collapse.

I can see this in the eyes of my students — the panic and despair.  Even male students regularly come into my office on the verge of tears – overwhelmed with the prospect of an exam, an essay, or a presentation; his grandfather’s funeral that he can’t find a ride to; his porn addiction; his tenuous connection to 1, 506 facebook friends; a girlfriend he can’t communicate with because his dad has always been a yeller, and he knows he doesn’t want to go down that path, but he knows no other way to relate to a woman; the feeling that he never has time for any of this, even though if he looked at his days, he’d find something like this:

2 hours=fantasy football

1.5 hours=facebook

2 hours=texting/talking on cell phone

1.5 hours=video games

2.5 hours=TV (while “doing” homework)

And when I think about one of these problems – his inability to communicate with his girlfriend, for instance – I think: What ever happened to reading about something if you don’t know how to do it (e.g., a book on communicating with the opposite sex).  And then I’m shocked by the fact that my default is to seek out a book (self-help or textbook) — because, what happened before books?

I mean, for solving a problem, my instinct is a solitary solution.  Not entirely for me, personally.  I tend to talk to my husband and one or two close friends.  However, my default advice would be to try to match a person with a problem with a written resource.  This is partially because I know that if a young person comes to me about such things, then he probably doesn’t have (or doesn’t think he has) a support system to talk to.  (You don’t usually pick your professor to confide in if you have a mom, dad, pastor, etc., whom you trust.)  But I start to wonder: What did we do before the myriad of web pages and books we use to self-diagnose, self-treat, and self-delude? 

We learned by example.  And we learned through conversations with the generations that preceded us.  And these are two areas (examples and conversations) so desperately absent in the lives of many teenagers and young adults today.

[One caveat here: You may provide a wonderful home full of support for your child.  You may be doing a wonderful job.  This post isn’t supposed to make you feel like you aren’t.  In your case, it’s meant to point out that your child’s situation is an anomaly.  Many of his friends won’t come from the same home situation — even if, at first, on the surface, they seem to.]

Sure, we have conversations with the younger generation.  Kids are micromanaged like never before by constant messages on facebook and texts from parents.  But they are often ignored in much bigger ways.  Sure, you might text your college student each morning to make sure he gets to class on time, but consider the other messages you’re sending with this action: the message that you don’t trust him to meet that responsibility, the message that he doesn’t have to meet that responsibility because you’ll do it for him, the message that you care more about him getting up and getting to class on time than about what would actually cause a 20 year-old boy to not be able to do this on his own.

When kids are nagged, but not really known by the adults in their lives, it becomes difficult for them to respect these adults.  And as we know, when kids don’t have adults in their lives that they respect, lots of things go wrong.

Until the next post, consider the kids in your sphere of influence: How do you interact with them?  Is it only on a surface (texting, nagging) level, or is it also on a deeper (talking, knowing themeven the parts you wish weren’t true) level? 

Want to read more?

Read part two: (becoming) a role model, part 2

Have trouble saying “no”?  Check out last week’s post: (becoming) a good steward: the necessity of “no”

Struggle with nagging?  You might be interested in: (becoming) a more godly wife: nagging=marriage sabotage

Want to go deeper in your walk with Christ?  Click here for the start of the Fully Submitted Series: (becoming) fully submitted

Want information about this blog?  Check out the About page or the first post.

(becoming) a good steward: the superwoman complex

Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.  –1 Chronicles 29:14b

 I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”  –Psalm 16:2

As promised, we’re using the same two verses from last week to continue our discussion this week.  One point of these verses, as we discussed, is to start acknowledging to a new degree that all of our gifts come from God —  and that loving God means using what He’s given us (tangible and intangible) for His glory, not our own. 

But these verses are also making a point about our limitations.  There will always be people you can’t help and needs you can’t meet.  If you spent every second of your time for the rest of your life working non-stop for others, you’d barely make a dent in even the local needs around you. 

Our response to this fact, however, shouldn’t be despair, shouldn’t be to throw up our hands and do nothing since we can’t do it all.  Instead, this fact should bring us to our knees.  We can’t handle all the problems around us, but God never intended us to. 

Oftentimes when we feel overwhelmed it’s either because we’ve taken on more than God wanted us to or because we’ve taken on the wrong things.  The number and scope of the needs around us shouldn’t paralyze us, but it also shouldn’t turn us into misguided Marthas

Instead, we should seek God’s guidance: Where is it, God, that you want to use me?  Maybe you’re not supposed to contribute a coat to this coat drive or give any food to the food pantry this week.  Maybe God is more interested in having you spend more time with your neighbors.  And maybe that’s because He wants you to find out what their materials needs are and help meet them – or maybe it’s because He knows that their real need is having someone to talk to.

I don’t know the specifics about what God wants from you.  But He does.  And I do know that He doesn’t want us making these decisions – in either direction – based on what we feel up to.

The needs around us are overwhelming and our instinct to help is good (and thus from God).  But God promises us His strength to do His will, not our will.  We shouldn’t be surprised when we make our own decisions and then don’t have His strength to meet our commitments.  (Or when we use all our strength to meet these commitments, and then, having used all our patience on others, snap at our kids and our husbands.)

This isn’t to say that what God asks us to do is never overwhelming; I think that, at first, most of what God asks us to do is overwhelming.  If it’s His will, though, He will equip us.  (But that’s a topic for next week!)

For today, ask God what it is He wants you to do with your time, talents, resources (all those things you listed last week).  You might be surprised by the needs He knows about that you never would have thought of!

Read the next post –> (becoming) a prayerful volunteer: the necessity of “no”

 

Want to read more?

Here’s the start of the stewardship series: (becoming) a good steward: “mine, mine, mine?”

Are you a worrier?  Then you might enjoy this post: (becoming) less of a worrier

Interested in discussions about how to be a godly wife?  Check out the Wife Series: (becoming) a more godly wife: why won’t he . . . . . . ?

Want to go deeper in your walk with Christ?  Click here for the start of the Fully Submitted Series: (becoming) fully submitted

Still basking in the glow of the Christmas season?  Click here for the start of the Christmas Posts: (becoming) peaceful

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(becoming) less of a worrier

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  –Philippians 4:6

The verse above is one many of us have often heard – and really tried to put into practice.  But how often do we try this before we’ve let our worries take root and grow – even bud, maybe even flourish?  God can, of course, overcome (and even root out) these worries; He’s bigger than any of our problems, even problems we’ve let get out-of-control.  But this process is often painful, and I’d encourage you to not let things get that far.  To rely on a cliché: I’d encourage you to nip your worries in the bud.  Or better yet, nip them in the roots.  Consider how much energy you’d save by letting go of worries as soon as they appear!

And I don’t think we should be flip about this issue: This verse doesn’t make light of our worries the way some people who quote it seem to think it does.  This verse doesn’t tell us to forget about our concerns.  It doesn’t tell us that our concerns are silly or not worth our time.  Instead, it tells us that the God of the Universe is concerned about these things too!  So concerned, in fact, that He’s offered to take them upon Himself.  To attend to them personally.  That, to me, shows that God does care, that He doesn’t take our anxieties lightly.  That He doesn’t think we’re silly or weak for worrying.

I don’t think the sin here is worry popping into our heads.  Worry is going to pop up in our heads as long as we’re concerned about others.  The sin here is holding on to this worry past its initial appearance.  Worry popping into our heads isn’t necessarily something we can control; but dwelling on it, rolling it around in our hearts and our heads – that is something we can control.

Our goal, then, needs to be to roll that worry to God as soon as it appears – to begin immediately speaking with Him, instead of ruminating about it on our own.  Whether we have any control of the situation or not, we ought to give it to God.  In situations when we do have some control, God can show us the best use of that control; He’s the one who knows what we should do, and He can enable us to do it.  In situations when we have no control, why not hand things over to God?  If we can’t do anything about them, it doesn’t seem smart to hold on to them ourselves.

The important thing, in either case, is immediately taking our worry to God, before it can take root and grow.  When we take it to God, our worry doesn’t disappear, and it doesn’t cease to matter – but it is attended to by Someone far more powerful, far better, and far smarter than us.  And this stronger, better, and smarter Person actually wants what’s best for us.  So, if we’re truly worried about a situation or truly concerned about a person, the only thing that makes sense is to hand the situation or the person over to God.  It’s better for the situation or person we’re concerned about (since God can actually help), it’s better for us (since it prevents us from sinning), and it’s better for God (since it frees us up to be used as He wants to use us).  Win-win-win. 

Consider: What do you find yourself worrying about over and over (maybe even though you’ve tried to hand it over to God)?  And how long do you usually worry about something before you try to hand it over to God?  I’d encourage you to set a challenge for yourself: How quickly can you present your worries to God?  And I’m talking here about actually handing them over – not just casually tossing them at Him: “I’m worried, here you go!”  I think such a careless approach often causes our worries to come back since, we haven’t really dealt seriously with them.

Instead, God asks us to have a conversation with Him about our anxieties.  A conversation in which several things happen: petition, thanksgiving, presentation (and, of course, listening throughout).  This isn’t some kind of “no-worry” spell.  God wants to talk with us about our concerns.  Tell God why you’re worried.  Then try telling Him why you don’t trust Him enough to hand over your worries.  I’m not being sarcastic here.  Verbalizing doubt can take away some of its power – and it gives God a chance to speak to you about the doubt you present.  When you verbalize your doubt, you might be able to hear how silly it is.  Or it might not be silly – in which case you might really need to deal with that doubt.  Listen for God to speak to you in either case.  He’s more than able to handle your doubt; give Him a chance to quiet your heart and help you trust Him more fully.

So, there’s the challenge: How quickly can you start your conversation with God when you start worrying?  5 minutes?  2 minutes?  10 seconds?  Post your best time below!

 

Want to read more?

Start of the fully submitted series: (becoming) fully submitted

Start of the wife series: (becoming) a godly wife

Start of the stewardship series: (becoming) a good steward

Start of the role model series: (becoming) a role model, part one

Start of the wisdom series: (becoming) wise, part one

Start of the Proverbs 6 series: (becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6

Start of the Christmas series: (becoming) peaceful

 

(being) joyful!

Baking, cleaning the house, buying presents, wrapping presents, transporting or sending presents, crowds, kids home on break, big gatherings, working, picking Christmas Eve outfits, shopping, working with charities, traveling . . . .

Honestly, it gets to be a lot.  My prayer is that focusing on God in the ways I’ve talked about over the last couple of weeks will bring some sanity and joy to your Christmas season.  (See this post, if you’re not feeling joyful: (becoming) joyful.)

Today, though, I want to talk a little more about joy – and why our joy so important not just for us, but also for those around us.

Even those of us who are very joyful about Christ’s birth, seeing family, buying presents, etc., can find December overwhelming.  I think this overwhelmed feeling is indicative of losing sight of the real point of all of this: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.  –Luke 2:11

This is good news of great joy!  And if we’ve lost the joy, we’ve probably lost sight of this good news.

[An important caveat: As I said in the previous post about joy, I’m not talking here about people who are truly grieving.  I’m not qualified to talk about what it’s like to go through a holiday season after the death of a loved one.  So please know that I’m not saying that if you’re grieving this December, then you’re doing something wrong.  I’m talking more, in this post, about those of us who often go through the typical activities of the season joylessly, without a clear reason and often without understanding why.]

With that caveat in mind, I’ll say it again: Jesus’s birth is good news of great joy!  And if we’ve lost the joy, we’ve probably also lost sight of this good news.

In these moments of feeling overwhelmed, I’ve found it helpful to ask myself a question: In what way is my concern about this thing/situation celebrating the good news of Jesus’s birth?

This is an especially good question for things like deciding what the family will wear for Christmas Eve services.  Is it honoring Jesus for all of us to go with a green color scheme?  Or, instead, is it satisfying some need I have to present my family in a certain way?  I’m not saying dressing up (coordinated or not) for Christmas Eve services is wrong.  (I usually dress up, too.)  I am saying, however, that if it starts to take much time or make me feel overwhelmed or make me less joyful, then I may need to walk away from it.  Jesus will still be born if we wear jeans.

And it’s important to remember that what we’re concerned about regarding Christmas lets other people know what aspect of the season is important to us.

If we make a big fuss about what we wear to Christmas Eve service and get cranky with our families, what message does that give them (and other people) about Jesus’s birth?  Probably that it’s a stuffy formal occasion, that pleasing God involves rules about clothes, and that Jesus’s birth makes people cranky and nervous.

I’d much rather people saw my celebration of Christmas and got the message that Christmas is about thanking God for and celebrating the arrival of the greatest gift of all time, that God cares more about our hearts than our clothes, and that Jesus’s birth makes people joyful!

What is your attitude telling people about Jesus’s birth?        

 

——————————————–

Previous Christmas Post — (becoming) more loving towards that annoying person you try to avoid

Start of the Christmas Series

 

Want to read more?

Want to read about wives?  Wife Series

Want to read about being a Christian?  Fully-submitted Series

Start of the stewardship series: (becoming) a good steward

Start of the role model series: (becoming) a role model, part one

Start of the wisdom series: (becoming) wise, part one

Start of the Proverbs 6 series: (becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6

Start of the Christmas series: (becoming) peaceful

Are you a worrier?  Try this post: (becoming) less of a worrier

Want to learn more about this blog?  About Page or First Post

(prayer) warrior (day after) wednesday :)

 

Blue-Red Hearts

Image via Wikipedia

 

Today we have some on-going requests — and some BIG praises!

1. First, is Henley.  Please continue to pray that ALL the disease would leave her body.  Big praise for Henley and her family: If things stay on schedule, then they’ll be able to be home for Christmas!  This has been a major prayer for them, so to see it answered is wonderful!  (Henley’s Website: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/bravebee)

2. Please continue to pray for Rachel.  Rachel is in her mid-30s has cancer in several areas.  The situation has progressed to the point where they can’t give her any more treatments, so she’s been put on hospice care (the doctors estimate that she may live up to a month).  Please pray for peace and comfort for Rachel, as she is concerned about leaving her husband and their 7-year-old son (who has autism).  Please pray for her husband and son, too, during this incredibly difficult time.  (We know God can perform miracles.  Please pray one for this family.)  Here is a link to Rachel’s CareCalendar: http://carecalendar.org; ID: 38500; Security code: donnyis6.

3. Please also pray for strength, healing, and a reduction of pain for my friend, Garland, who has been fighting bone cancer for almost 4 years now and has recently had some complications.  He has been such a great example of someone who loves God, loves God’s Word, and loves others for so many people throughout his 70+ years.  (Please also pray for his lovely wife, Pat.)

4. Update on Matthew‘s (age 12) heart surgery: The procedure went well and he’s doing well!  Praise God!  (They’ll be replacing the valve in June.)

5. Praise for my friend Erica and the good news on Emersyn!  If you haven’t read Erica’s story, you can do so here: Erica’s website.

 

(becoming) more loving towards that annoying person you try to avoid

If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  –Proverbs 25:21 (and Romans 12:20a)

My tendency is to glide over these verses that reference enemies.  I mean, I don’t have anyone I’d consider an enemy — and for that I am grateful.  Enemy seems like such a strong word; I picture duels and sabotage.  But, the word used here can also be passive and mean someone unloved or shunned. 

In Proverbs the word translated “enemy” means to hate, be an enemy; to be unloved; to be hated, be shunned; to be an adversary, be a foe.  “Hate” can be active, as an enemy or adversary; or be passive, as someone unloved or shunned.

I might have a couple of those types of people in my life….. Most of us have a few people who annoy us (some of you may be thinking, why, yes Brooke, we do) — people we avoid instead of seek out (even if we wouldn’t really call it shunning) because they talk too much or are too nosy or always need something or just rub us the wrong way.  They aren’t active enemies, but they aren’t friends – and we certainly don’t love them.

I think, in some ways, these people can be more challenging than true enemies.  At least if you love your true enemy you feel like you’re doing something.  With these people, just being around them is a drain.  You don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything, and you leave more annoyed than you were before you talked to them.

This begs the question, then: Why do we feel more drained?  If God tells us to love our enemies (in this case someone we don’t love or would prefer to avoid), and He tells us we can do all things through Him, why do we feel like we can’t?  Most of the time it’s probably because we aren’t doing this through HimWe’re trying, in our own strength, to like these people (or at least tolerate them) and to meet their overwhelming needs.  No wonder we feel drained.  We’re trying to use our own strength to love like God!

Remember: While God did tell us that we can do all things through Him, he also told us that we can do nothing apart from Him (John 15:5).  So, if we’re trying to meet the needs of people who annoy us, and we’re expecting this strength and goodness to come from within us, then we’re going to be terribly disappointed.  We’re going to try to do something good, we’re going to feel drained afterwards (or angry that our gesture didn’t seem to do any good), and we’re going to wonder why we bother at all.  We bother, of course, because God told us to.  We just have to resist the urge to get our marching orders and then try to complete them.  That isn’t what God had in mind.  He wants to do this together. 

So, today’s challenge: Think of someone you find annoying.  (If you’re like me, you’ve had certain people in mind the whole time you read this – but remember, this is more about you and God than it is about the people you find annoying).  Pray about how you might reach out to this person.  Don’t try to think of this idea on your own, and don’t try to implement it on your own.  God knows how to handle this situation far better than you do.  Simply commit to seeking out an opportunity to connect in the way God suggests – and remember to let Him be involved in every step, including when you’re actually talking with this person.

Finally, get excited about this experience with God – try to see it as an adventure, not an inconvenience.  G.K. Chesterton said: “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.  An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”  Rightly considered, letting God love someone supernaturally through us should be exciting.  So let this adventure with God be a reason to look forward to seeing this person. What amazing thing might God do with your surrender in this situation?

Previous Christmas Post: (becoming) creative

Next Christmas Post: (being) joyful

Start of Christmas Series: (becoming) peaceful

Start of Wife Series: why won’t he . . . . ?

Start of Fully Submitted Series: (becoming) fully submitted

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