Category Archives: priorities

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

As we discussed last week, all of us have some issues with maintaining a clean heart.  So today we’re going to look at our hearts: where they start, the problems they face (and cause), and what God does (and wants) for our hearts.

Our hearts are naturally wicked.  They are naturally drawn to sin (selfishness), and, apart from God, they will remain in this state.

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?  (Jeremiah 17:9)

As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”  (Romans 3:10-12)

This problem with our hearts has consequences:

King Rehoboam established himself firmly in Jerusalem and continued as king. He was forty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city the LORD had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel in which to put his Name. His mother’s name was Naamah; she was an Ammonite.  He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the LORD.  (2 Chronicles 12:13-14)                                                                                                                                 

King Rehoboam’s heart was not set on seeking God – because of this, he did evil.  We simply cannot be good on our own.  Our goodness comes from setting our hearts on the One who is good.

Having selfish, unclean hearts causes a variety of problems for us and for those around us.  One way we can detect this problem is by recognizing the fruit our unclean hearts produce. 

One type of fruit we produce is our words.  Our hearts and our words have a very close relationship.  When our hearts are unclean, our words often reflect that.

Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.  (Luke 6:44-45)

The verse above reminds us that we can often tell by our words if our hearts are unclean.  I’m not talking here about specific “bad words.”  I’m speaking, instead, about whether or not our speech is full of love and directed towards God’s purposes.  We can use lots of very nice-sounding words and be directly opposed to God’s Will.  Likewise, some people whose speech is “rougher” are directly aligned with God’s Will.  I’m talking about motive, tone, purpose, and being aligned with God’s will – not about specific words –because nearly any word can be used to accomplish or oppose God’s purposes, and can come from a selfish or a God-serving heart.  Language is cultural; love and selfishness are not.  Are your words coming from the overflow of good or the overflow of evil in your heart?

While our words can indicate if our heart is clean or unclean, so can our actions.  The verse below reminds us what types of actions spring from an unclean heart.  (For specifics on some of these “fruits,” click on one of the underlined words in the verse.

He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’  For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and follyAll these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’” (Mark 7:20-23)

While many times our words and actions indicate the condition of our heart, Scripture also reminds us that not all the fruit of an unclean heart can be seen from the outside.  In fact, some people are able to hide their unclean hearts from the people around them for years.  [“The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.”  (1 Timothy 5:24)]  Most of us know these people.  They seem like such “good” people, but are later revealed not to be.  We’re surprised because they seemed “good” on the outside.  If you suspect you’re one of these people (that is, if you know you harbor envy, deceit, malice, hatred, etc., in your heart, and you aren’t allowing God to work on you in that area), remember the following: 

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.  But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.  (James 3:13-15)

Continuing to deny the truth about your heart will only lead to destruction.  Do not be proud that you have others fooled.  Turn to God in repentance and allow Him to begin His redemptive work.  Remember, even if you’ve fooled those around you, God is not fooled by people who pretend to love Him, but actually have unclean hearts:

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.   Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.  (1 Samuel16:7b)

We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.  (1 Thessalonians 2:4b)

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.  (Hebrews 4:12-13)

In addition to leading to problematic words, actions, thoughts, and attitudes towards others, an unclean heart separates us from God – especially unclean hearts that we are not repentant about:

The Lord says:

“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.

Their worship of me
is made up only of rules taught by men.  (Isaiah 29:13)

Again: God isn’t fooled by empty rituals or a strict following of church rules.  He sees through our attempts to whitewash our wicked hearts.  And He isn’t impressed by the fact that we say the “right” words in front of the “right” people.  And He certainly isn’t impressed when we try to earn our salvation by following church rules.

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.

Next week we’ll look more at this transformation.

 

Next Week: a heart that devises wicked schemes, part 3

Last Week: a heart that devises wicked schemes, part 1

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

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(becoming) a prayerful volunteer: the necessity of “no”

With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.  –Psalm 18:29

If, as we’ve been discussing, the needs around us are overwhelming and God wants us to use everything we have to serve Him and others, how do we avoid burnout?  How do I not get caught in the Martha trapFor some of you reading this, the willingness to serve God isn’t a problem.  Oftentimes many of us run into a different, though no less dangerous, obstacle to becoming the women God wants us to be: over-committing.

My instinct is to jump at opportunities, to come up with grand plans, basically to embody any number of clichéd warnings: Don’t put the cart before the horse, look before you leap, etc.  I would be a frazzled wreck (or worse), if I hadn’t had someone to remind me of God’s truths and promises in this area.

My husband has been my voice of reason in such instances.  What do you mean it’s not a good idea to volunteer to host 26 Brazilian teenagers for 10 days in our 2 bedroom house?  Why shouldn’t I volunteer to coordinate all Angel Tree gifts for our city when I’m a completely overwhelmed graduate student who won’t even be in town for the two weeks leading up to Christmas?  Why should I rethink committing to do a blog post every day during the Christmas season when we’re traveling and trying to see 879 family members?

My husband hasn’t told me not to do these things; he’s simply reminded me to check with God before I do.  I’ve been amazed by how many times I think I’m doing something for God when I haven’t even checked to see if it’s what He wants me to do. 

While it’s important to remember that with God we can move mountains, we can advance against a troop, we can scale a wall – we have to recognize that first part: with His helpGod doesn’t promise to bless plans He doesn’t make.  He doesn’t promise help for projects He didn’t approve.  In order to claim these promises of help that are all throughout the Bible, we have to be in God’s Will.

This, then, is how we avoid the Martha trap: we take our projects, our plans to God before we start on them.  This can be hard, especially when people want an answer right now and it seems like a good cause and you’re afraid you’ll look lazy or uninvolved or unhelpful or uncaring, etc., if you hesitate — or, worse yet, say no.  When you get concerned about this, think instead of looking unhelpful to God.  (“‘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)  Be concerned about not caring about what He wants.  He knows if the opportunity before you is the best use of your time.  Trust Him with that decision.  If the person asking for your help is also trying to follow God’s will, he/she should understand your need to pray about the commitment before you make it.  But, ultimately, what matters is putting God first – His desires for us, His jobs for us, His opinion of us.

While it seems easier to insult God by not consulting with Him than it does to disappoint someone standing in front of us, we have to consider the damage we’re doing to our relationship with God.  Willfully refusing to do what God has asked us to (“in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight,” Proverbs 3:6) puts us in a dangerous place.  Seeking God’s will, though, puts us right where God wants us – by His side.  A much better place to be – no matter what anyone else might think of us.

I’d encourage you to consult God before each decision – “in all your ways” – even ones that don’t seem “important.”  I think a lot of what we take for granted, because it’s our schedule or routine, can become dangerous stumbling blocks in our walks with God.  What aspects of your regular routine and schedule do you take for granted as things you’re going to do?  Going to work?  Running errands?  Getting the kids dressed?  What if all of these moments were seen as opportunities for God to get and keep us on His right path?  I’m not saying we shouldn’t have defaults.  Should you go to work each day unless God tells you differently?  Yes, of course.  But when was the last time you asked Him?

Consider: Are there troops you’ve tried to advance against or walls you’ve tried to climb without God’s help?  What did you learn from those experiences?  Has God ever asked you to say “no” to something you thought you should say “yes” to?  How did that affect your relationship with God?  With the person you said “no” to?  Has God ever asked you to say “yes” to an opportunity that seemed overwhelming?  How did God help you over that wall?  (Please feel free to share below.)

I pray that as you seek His will more and more, He shows Himself strong enough to lift you over all the troops He sends you against.

 

Want to read more?

Try last Monday’s post: (becoming) a good steward: the superwoman complex

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

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

(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

(becoming) joyful

We all know that we should be joyful during the Christmas season.

But what if you don’t always feel joyful?

[An important caveat: 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 do believe the Scriptures below offer joy (and peace and hope, etc.) even in the worst of circumstances, but I also know that the worst of circumstances can make that joy (etc.) hard to feel at times.  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.]

Consider what your Christmas preparations and celebrations are focused on.  We are bombarded from the time Halloween ends until the after-Christmas sales are over with images and commercials and people who try to get our focus off what actually matters.

Think about it: Even something seemingly innocent like Southern Living magazine (which I have a gift subscription to, and which I like) contains an overwhelming array of ways our houses need to be decorated and new foods we should prepare.  After looking at some of the pictures of meticulously decorated dinner tables, our centerpiece of jars and lights might look a little pathetic.  But: Does God want adorable place cards for everyone who comes to your house – or does He want you to be patient and kind and joyful?

And think about what our culture tells us matters in regards to gifts: More!  Bigger!  Newer!  We’re going to look at how to be a good gift-giver on Friday, and I’ll invite you to consider rethinking what constitutes a “good” gift.  I’ll say now that I love gifts.  I like getting them.  I like giving them.  I like picking them out.  I like wrapping them.  I like opening them.  I like watching people open them.  I am in no way anti-gifts.  It’s just that everything has to be put in its proper place – and gifts are one area that causes a lot of unnecessary stress for people.

Re-focusing our preparations and celebrations on what matters can make a big difference in our joy. 

Consider what God says about joy and how we might use His Words of wisdom to feel more joyful:    

Psalm 92:4-5:

4 For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD;
   I sing for joy at the works of your hands.
5 How great are your works, O LORD,
how profound your thoughts!

Consider the work of God’s hands.  Your husband, children, parents, siblings, friends.  They’ve all been crafted by God.  The snow, the birds, the Christmas trees.  All crafted by God.  The lights, the food, the decorations.  All crafted by God.  Whatever parts of Christmas we find joy in can help us find joy in God – because He created everything that brings us joy!

Proverbs 15:23:

23 A man finds joy in giving an apt reply—
and how good is a timely word!

We usually think of our words as a way to bring joy (or harm) to others.  In this verse, though, we’re told that words affect the speaker, too.  How might you use your words to lift someone else up AND increase your own joy?  Who in your life could use a timely word?


Jeremiah 15:16

16 When your words came, I ate them;
they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
O LORD God Almighty.

Here we’re told that joy comes from eating the words of God.  If you haven’t regularly been reading (and digesting) God’s Word, please start.   I know it may not seem like it at first, but God’s Word is an amazing and never-ending source of joy.

Proverbs 19:7-9:

7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.

God’s commands give joy to our hearts.  Which command might He be asking you to pay more attention to?

1 Peter 1:8-9:

8 Though you have not seen [Jesus], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

We are filled with joy as we love and believe in Jesus.  As we receive the salvation of our souls, we are filled with joy.  When was the last time you spent some time thinking about what an amazing gift salvation is?  It is the best and most important gift of the season.  Have you shown others how grateful you are for this gift?  Have you shown God?

3 John 1:3-4

3 It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

John is not speaking primarily of biological children here.  He’s talking about people in his spiritual heritage.  He finds joy in seeing others (especially those whom he’s influenced) live out their faith.  Consider who in your life has faith that brings you joy.

Psalm 16:11 (and Acts 2:28):

11 You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Note that these are not necessarily temporal pleasures.  These are eternal pleasures.  They are far better, but they may not look like we expect them to.  When looking for joy, remember to focus on the eternal.  How has God brought you closer to Himself in a way that prepares you to spend eternity with Him?  How has He helped you work on becoming holy, as He is holy?

John 10:10:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Jesus came to give us an abundant life.  If we aren’t living that life, then we’ve allowed something/someone else to steal part of that life from us.  What better time to allow God to take it back than during the celebration of His arrival!

John 4:10, 13-14:

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”  . . .

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinking this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give Him will never thirst.  Indeed, that water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

If you don’t feel joyful, ask God to fill you.  (Remember, joy is a fruit of the Spirit: Galatians 5:22-23.)

Romans 15:13:

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Joy (and peace) come from trusting in God.  Is there something you’re not trusting Him with?  Maybe some part of your holiday preparations or plans?  What worries have you not let go of?  I love this verse because we’re told that so many good things come from trusting in God: joy, peace, hope.  I pray all these things for you for Christmas.

 

 Ultimately, resting in and focusing on God is what restores our joy.  How can God be a more present part of your Christmas preparations and celebrations?  Please share your ideas in the comment section below!

Previous Christmas Post: (becoming) excited for the season

Next Christmas post (on Friday): (becoming) a good gift-giver

To read the fully submitted series, click here: (becoming) fully submitted

To read the wife series, click here:(becoming) a godly wife

To learn more about this blog, check out the About page or the first post.

(becoming) prepared for the season

John 1:1-5

The Word Became Flesh

1In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness,   but the darkness has not understood [or “overcome”] it.

Nehemiah 1:5-7 

5 Then I said:
“O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

Matthew 23:23-24

                        23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

As we welcome the Christmas season, I invite you to prepare to be filled with the light of Jesus – that we might let our light shine before men (Matthew 5:16) and point them to Jesus, the true Light (John 8:12).  While we might not like to think of ourselves as the wicked Israelites or the blind Pharisees mentioned in the verses at the start of this post, we are far too often a combination of the worst qualities of both – wicked while being self-righteous.   In preparation for the powerful ways God can use us during this season, we need to repent of any sins that may hinder our prayers and our witness during this time (1 Peter 3:7; also see Hebrews 12:1).

Although it can be a painful process, verbally confessing and repenting of sins has a two-fold blessing: God graciously offers His forgiveness (1 John 1:9), and when we actually confess them out loud, we’re often less likely to commit them in the future.  Hearing our pride or self-centeredness or jealousy or idol worship called what it is before the God of the universe often opens our eyes to our sinfulness in a more immediate way.

Perhaps you might spend part of your prayer time today focusing on what God may want do through you over the next month.  Ask Him also what is most likely to keep you from being involved in His work this Christmas season: What is most likely to draw your heart away from Him?  What are the weeds that threaten to choke out your fruit?  Busyness, forgetfulness, greed, laziness, anxiety, anger, sadness, loving the trappings of Christmas more than we love the Christ Whom we should be celebrating?  God wants to help with these barriers.  We can’t overcome them on our own.  Once we acknowledge this fact and hand them over to God, we’ll be amazed at the way God can remove barriers – or lift us over them.  Pray that God would deal with your barriers and continually fill you with His Holy Spirit, so that you can be a blessing to others – and a herald of the real joy of the season. 

 

Previous Christmas Post: (becoming) peaceful

Up next (on Friday): (becoming) excited for the season

To read the fully submitted series, click here: (becoming) fully submitted

To read the wife series, click here:(becoming) a godly wife

To learn more about this blog, check out the About page or the first post.

(becoming) peaceful

Proverbs 19:11: A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.

With the traffic, crowds, hustle, and rudeness that we often encounter at stores, malls, parking lots (and in our own houses!), it’s easy to get huffy.  “If everyone would just do things the right way,” I often find myself thinking, “then everything would run more smoothly.”

If that lady would get in the slow lane (since she apparently wants to go 5 miles an hour under the speed limit), then traffic could progress at a normal pace.

If people would actually count to see if they have 15 items before jumping into the express line (instead of counting those 10 boxes of cereal as one item), then the express line could function properly – as an express line!

But, alas.  This isn’t how it works.

Our challenge today: Decide to offer an additional measure of patience to those you encounter today (and preferably this whole season — and our whole lives, for that matter — but let’s start small).

Consider: Is the 3 minutes you’d save if you weren’t behind the slow driver (or if the express line was really an express line) really worth the anxiety and frustration you’re allowing it to create? 

Consider, too, what those people might be experiencing: Might the woman in the express line have a child to pick up at daycare?  Might the slow driver be nervous because she had an accident a couple of weeks ago, and has been overly cautious since?  Consider the stresses that your life doesn’t have, instead of the stresses it does. 

And consider the fact that we’ve all been that person – too slow, a terrible item-counter, etc., at some point.  When we were that person, one of two things happened: Either patience was extended to us – in which case we might not even realize what a blessing that was from someone.  Or we were met with impatience – and we all know that’s not pleasant (and it rarely makes things move any faster, anyway).

So, instead of reacting out of frustration, behave with wisdom, respond with patience.  (This is our part of “everyone just doing things the right way.”)  And, remember, patience isn’t something we can conjure up on our own; it involves remaining in God, and being filled with His patience.  Maybe, with God’s help, you could even throw the “offender” a smile….

 

Up next (on Monday): (becoming) prepared for the season

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

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

(unsolicited) suggestion friday: make a cake (and eat it, too!)

So, today I didn’t know what to write about.  As I was lamenting this fact to my husband (Dan), he said: “It’s unsolicited suggested Friday, right?  Why don’t you suggest that people take a break from things now and then?”  Brilliant!

So, that’s my suggestion: Remember to pause — and enjoy what’s happening at that moment.  In the spirit of this advice, I decided to not worry about the blog.  Instead, I made a cake for company we were expecting.

Tonight we had a lovely dinner with one of Dan’s cousins, her husband, and their little boy, and then we all came back to our house for cake and ice cream.  When we got here, I was dishing out the cake and Dan’s cousin’s husband said to me: “Why do you have cake?”  “Because you were coming over,” I replied.  “You just made it for us?” he asked.  “Yup,” I said.

While the cake wasn’t anything amazing, I was glad that it demonstrated that I thought their visit was special, worth making a cake over.  Had I said, “Sorry I don’t have dessert, but would you like to read this blog post I wrote?” I’m not sure they would have felt as welcome in our home.

The point of this is not that cake is important or that taking time to blog is bad (obviously I don’t think that, since that’s what I’m doing right now).  The point is that sometimes taking a break from what you normally do can be a good thing.  Getting so caught up in schedules and routines (especially those we impose upon ourselves) can cause us to miss opportunities to connect with others.

In case you’re interested, I’ve included the recipe for the cake below.  Let me repeat: There isn’t anything special about this cake.  The main reason I like it so much is that I didn’t realize I could make cake from scratch (I knew it was possible, of course, I just didn’t think I had the time or the patience), until I saw my mom make this.  It was so fast and yummy.  And it makes a 9×9 cake, which means it doesn’t take as long to bake!  So, thanks Mom!

 

Do you have a fast and tasty recipe?  Please feel free to share in the comment section!

 

Quick and Yummy Chocolate Cake

1½ c. flour

1 c. sugar

½ c. cocoa

1 c. water

½ t. salt

1 t. baking soda

½ c. oil

2 t. vanilla

2 T. vinegar

Combine all ingredients, adding vinegar last and mixing well.  Bake in square or round pan (8 or 9 inch) for 25 minutes at 350.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar. (Really good the next day, too!)

Quick and Yummy Chocolate CakeChocolate Cake

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church: Sunday, November 13

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) is this Sunday.  It’s held each year on the second Sunday of November.

In honor of this day, I’d like to mention The Voice of the Martyrs organization (VOM).  They work to aid Christians being persecuted for their beliefs around the world. 

In America, it’s easy to forget that real persecution is still happening to Christians, that people are actually still being tortured and killed for their beliefs.  While Christians in America may feel marginalized at times and/or may be unfairly (and even illegally) censored, we rarely face the persecution these people face (and most of us, thank God, never will).

However, the fact that we don’t face the same dangers as Christians in other countries, doesn’t mean we get to ignore the problem.  These are our brothers and sisters.  These are members of the body of Christ who are risking their lives when they practice and/or share their faith.   We are told to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15).  We’re also told to remember our brothers and sisters in chains, as though we were suffering with them (Hebrews 13:3). 

Sometimes people want to avoid these issues because these stories are often heartbreaking and hard to hear (I have, sadly, been part of this group), but we have to remember that people are living these stories.  From our place of luxury (at the very least, relative luxury) we can raise awareness and we can pray.  And remember: Raising awareness of such issues and praying in groups are two of the very things Christians are killed for in other countries.

To learn about the restrictions on Christianity around the world, see this map: http://www.persecution.com/public/restrictednations.aspx?clickfrom=bWFpbl9tZW51.

To learn more about the couple who started this ministry, click here: http://www.persecution.com/public/40years.aspx?clickfrom=c2lkZWJhcg%3d%3d.

There are other ways to help as well.  On the left-hand side of the homepage, you’ll see a list of links that give specific tangible ways to get involved: www.persecution.com.  And here are some other ways: http://www.persecution.com/public/ministryoutreach.aspx?clickfrom=c2lkZWJhcg%3d%3d

If you want to start sharing some of this information with your child, their partner website would be helpful: http://www.kidsofcourage.com/.  You and God know best how much of this type of information your child can handle.  Please pray for guidance to share as much as you should, but not more. 

And finally, in honor of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church this Sunday (November 13), please consider sharing some of this information with your Sunday School classes this weekend (or a weekend in the near future, if this Sunday).

VOM has put together a power point presentation highlighting some of the issues Christians face around the world.  The PPP is towards the bottom of this page: http://www.persecution.com/idop.   They also have materials you can buy, but the PPP is free.

If you’re interested in having your Sunday School class commit to pray regularly for our persecuted brothers and sisters, you might consider getting the prayer cards.  You get 160 (20 sheets of 8 cards) of them for $2.  These cards highlight specific prayer needs from specific regions, and can be useful reminders to pray for the body of Christ.

To those of you who will pray or get involved: Thank you so much.  Though we may never meet these persecuted brothers and sisters in this life, we will meet them in heaven.  What a glorious day that will be!

Please feel free to link to this post and/or share this information on your blog or website or twitter account or facebook page, etc.  (You can do some of those things by clicking on the “share” buttons at the bottom of this post.)  How amazing that in America, we have the freedom and ability to spread the word about this sort of issue to literally thousands of people using social media.  So often social media is used for negative purposes (bullying, slander, gossip) – but we have to remember that it can also be used for positive purpose (raising awareness, sharing prayer requests, encouraging each other).

Even if it isn’t about this issue (though it would be awesome if it was), please consider using whatever social media you regularly use for something that will specifically build and/or encourage the Body of Christ today.

Thanks, y’all!

Christian Stone Cross

Image by freefotouk via Flickr

To read this week’s wife post, click here: wife.

To read the wife series from the beginning, click here: wife series.

To read the fully submitted series, click here: becoming fully submitted.

To learn more about this blog, please see the About page or the first post.

(becoming) a godly wife: how to welcome satan into your marriage (part 1)

Le Lau, France - Three women talking, gossipin...

Image by Samuel Stocker via Flickr

Last Monday we talked about nagging and the damage it does.  One of the biggest problems with nagging is what it often leads to: complaining to others about our husbands.

Do you want to usher satan into your marriage, roll out the red carpet, offer him a warm beverage, ask him to make himself at home?  Complain about your husband to other people.

[As has become my habit, I’ll give a caveat here: if you need professional help in your marriage, by all means, seek it from your pastor or from a Christian counselor.  That’s not complaining.  That’s trying to strengthen your marriage.  If you need advice or a safe place to express your feelings (and you aren’t using “advice” or “expressing your feelings” as a cover for complaining), then I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to seek it from another Christian woman.  (A group of women becomes more problematic because it’s unlikely all of them will be strong Christians).  And this should be a strong Christian woman.  One who won’t let your advice-seeking turn into a husband-bashing session.  And we know the difference when we think about it for a minute.  And remember: “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord” (Proverbs 16:2).  God knows what our motive is.  He knows if we’re truly seeking godly counsel or if we’re using that as a cover for gossip.  He cannot be fooled (Galatians 6:7).]

But the type of communication covered in the caveat above isn’t most of what we see.  What we see are wives complaining about their husbands to other women.  Because he can’t wrangle the kid correctly.  Because he still hasn’t gotten the oil changed.  Because he acts like a child.  Because he’s just so clueless.  These are throwaway comments to so many women.  They aren’t thought about; they’re just saidThere’s no moment of reflection: Will this build my husband up or tear him down?  Will this honor God’s plan for marriage or dishonor it?

We laugh about how hapless our husbands are.  We top each other with stories of the ridiculous things our husbands have done.  Ways they’ve failed us.  As with nagging, we focus on the negative.  And then we wonder why we’re dissatisfied in our marriages.

A few things I think we need to think about:

1. Why would we want other women to think our husbands are incompetent morons?  Why would we want other women to think our husbands are children, incapable of leading?  (What is motivating us when we complain?)

2. What the Bible says about this:

a. Proverbs 11:12: A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.  [And our relationship with our husband should be far closer than our relationship with our neighbor.]

b. Proverbs 12:18: Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  [Our husbands are pierced by this badmouthing, even if they never say anything.  It’s painful to see the woman who is supposed to be your closest companion belittle you to others.  We need to be the tongue of the wise.  Our words need to heal, not pierce.  If our tongues aren’t the ones healing our husbands, they may drive them to others for that healing.]

c. Proverbs 14:1: The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.  [Why are we trying to destroy our own homes?]

d. Proverbs 15:28: The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes folly.  [This one is hard for me.  Not regarding complaining about my husband, but regarding almost anything else.  In so many situations, I know what I want to say, and I know the tone in which I want to say it.  I don’t want to weigh my answer because I know that God will often change my words, my tone, or keep me silent altogether.  I’d much rather gush than weigh when it comes to words.  Ultimately, though, I know I have to learn how to keep a reign on my tongue.  The Bible is full of verses that tell me that.  (Such as James 1:26: If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.)  This takes an act of will, though.  This isn’t something that’s going to magically (or even easily) happen.]

e. 1 Peter 4:11: If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.  Amen.  [Is what you’re about to say going to bring praise and glory to God?  Does what you’re about to say line up with the Word of God?  Sometimes I don’t like answering these questions, but this is what we’re called to.]

3. If the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, then what we are doing is akin to the Church walking around telling people: listen to how Jesus failed me.  Listen to how He keeps messing up.  Listen to how incompetent He is.  We wouldn’t think this was okay.  And I understand the difference: Jesus is perfect, our husbands aren’t.  But we aren’t told that the perfect husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church — just that the husband is.  We aren’t let off the hook because our husbands aren’t perfect.

4. Why do we think talking negatively about our husbands will make anything better?  Honestly, has anyone ever talked about her husband behind his back, gotten it off her chest, and never done it again because that one session of complaining met her needs?  Nope.  Because those sessions of complaining can’t meet our needs.  They may make us feel better short-term, but we’ll find that we have to keep coming back to them to get that short-term feeling.  Complaining about our husbands doesn’t fix anything.  It’s an empty “solution” that has to always be repeated.  It’s similar to the sacrifices that had to be offered year after year in the Old Testament.  Those sacrifices were not a permanent solution.  They “fixed” the problem for a time, but had to be repeated because the same problem kept coming back.  Similarly, complaining “fixes” our problem temporarily (because we’ve vented), but we haven’t actually SOLVED the problem.  We’ve just put a band-aid on it.  And this wound will reopen.

The only solution to the yearly sacrifices was Jesus.  He was the only way those sacrifices could stop because He was the only thing that actually FIXED the problem of our sinfulness.  In the same way, He is the only solution to problems in our marriage.  He is the only thing that can FIX our marriages.  He is the solution that never runs out.  He is the only One who can heal our wounds.

So, what does this mean in practical terms?  It means we turn to Jesus (and our husbands), not to others, when we’ve run out of patience with our husbands.

Jesus is the only permanent solution.  This doesn’t mean, though, that you can use Him once and be done with Him.  The exact opposite in fact.  [He told us to take up our crosses daily (Luke 9:23).]  He commanded us to remain in Him, and said that we could do nothing apart from Him (John 15:4-5).  It does mean, however, that in Christ, you’re on “the Way” to permanently improving your marriage.

What I said last week about nagging holds true here as well:  Like any bad habit, this one will take time (and God’s help) to break.  It’s a process of being intentional about trying, leaning on God’s power, and apologizing when we mess up – to our husbands, to the women we complained to (or whoever else who may have heard it, children, etc.), to God.

Start now.  Tell God you’re sorry.  Ask Him to draw you closer to Him.  Tell Him you know He is sufficient for you — and that His way is sufficient for you.

Start today.  Tell your husband you’re sorry.  Tell him that keeping a rein on your tongue is hard for you – women just are verbal; we process things by talking about them – and ask if he’ll help by being more willing to talk through things when they come up.  This does not mean we nag our husbands more when problems come up.  This means we talk kindly (in ways that honor our husbands and our God) and calmly (prayerfully weighing our words).  And that we stay more focused on how we can improve in the situation than how he can. 

Under conviction from God, I made the decision before we were married that I would not complain about my husband to other people.  (As I said last week, it’s easier to not start a habit than it is to break one, so I’m grateful that God was so firm with me about this early on.)  This is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  And let me be clear: I don’t feel isolated.  I don’t feel like I have to bottle up my emotions.  In fact, I feel far closer to my husband because of it.  We solve our skirmishes.  We work through our issues.  [More about conflict resolution in future posts.]  And it draws me closer to God – because let’s be honest: HE solves our skirmishes.  HE enables us to work through whatever the issue is. 

If I have sacrificed anything in this decision, it is the false intimacy women feel with one another when they complain about their husbands.  I’m willing, however, to trade false intimacy with a friend for true intimacy with my husband.  I’ll make that trade every time.

And please understand: I’ve made plenty of bad decisions.  I’ve had to unlearn LOTS of bad habits.  I know how hard it is to give up something that you’ve always done.  Something you’re comfortable with.  Something you feel nervous without.  So, even though this isn’t my struggle, I do know what it’s like to have similar struggles.

So, here’s the challenge: Stop complaining about your husband to other people.  Start stopping today.  (As always, I’d love to hear your insights below!)

Next Week: Okay, I’m willing to stop complaining, but do I have to stop listening to other women complain?  (aka: being the light, but not fueling the fire)

To read the wife series from the beginning, click here: wife, part 1

To read the fully submitted series, click here: fully submitted, part 1

To learn more about this blog, check out the About page or the first post.

(becoming) a godly wife: nagging = (marriage) sabotage

Marriage

Image by jcoterhals via Flickr

Our culture has accepted that wives nag.  We see it on commercials, TV shows (think Debra from Everybody Loves Raymond, Carrie from King of Queens), many of us heard our mothers do it, many of us do it ourselves.

Nagging is one of the most culturally embedded problems in our marriages.  And the tragedy of it is that nagging has become expected, accepted as “the way marriage works” – and nagging paves the way for huge problems in marriages.

Think about the cliché for a minute: “paves the way.”  Nagging smoothes out the road for other problems, welcomes other problems, makes it easy for other problems to enter our marriages – and the marriages of millions of Americans.  Once we get into a habit of nagging, we’re more likely to be unsatisfied in our marriages.  And why wouldn’t we be?  If our focus is constantly on what our husbands are doing wrong, what they aren’t doing, why they aren’t doing it, etc., how do we expect to feel satisfied in our marriages?  And if we aren’t satisfied, that can lead to many, many problems: seeking male attention outside of marriage, griping to our friends, etc.

So, here’s my advice: Don’t let a TV show or even the dominant cultural norms define who you are in your marriage.  Yes, nagging is normal in this world.  Yes, short term, it feels kinda good to “get it off our chests.”  But, no, it’s not God’s Will for our marriages.  It is not God’s best for our lives.

Like any bad habit this one will take time (and God’s help) to break.  It’s a process of being intentional about trying, leaning on God’s power, and apologizing when we mess up (to our husbands and to God).

The fact is, nagging is not just seen as something women do, but it’s often seen as actually part of a woman’s nature.  And while it certainly wasn’t part of our nature in the paradise God created, it does seem to be part of the corruption of femininity – a temptation common to fallen daughters of Eve.  And God, in His infinite wisdom, knew this was an issue we’d struggle with.  He knew this aspect of our sin nature would conflict with His Spirit Who lives in us.

Galatians 5:16-18: 16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

And consider this: 5 times in Proverbs a “quarrelsome wife” is referred to.  While this can certainly be seen as a warning for men (Don’t marry this type of woman!), I think this can also be seen as a reminder for women (Don’t be this type of woman!).

Proverbs 19:13b — a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping.  [Think about that: Drip, drip, drip, drip……same sound over and over and over……gets annoying after awhile.]

Proverbs 21:9 — Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

Proverbs 21:19 — Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife.

Proverbs 25:24 — Better to live on the corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.  [Identical to Proverbs 21:9]

Proverbs 27:15 — A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day.  [This calls to mind “adding insult to injury.”  It’s already raining, and a quarrelsome wife makes things worse for her husband, instead of making them better.]

Consider what these verses are telling us: Terrible living conditions are better than living with a quarrelsome wife.  We make our homes less welcoming than a desert, when they should be sanctuaries for our husbands.  We make even embarrassment and exposure to the elements preferable to being in a house with us, when our homes should welcome our husbands with open arms.

I think the “living on a corner of the roof” imagery is interesting.  The typical Israelite house at this time would likely have a flat roof made of mud and twigs (which required a lot of upkeep).  Even living on that would be better than living with a quarrelsome wife.

I wonder – and I can’t prove this, but I wonder – if there was also an element of embarrassment to this image.  Bear with me here: Patriarchs were incredibly important in this society, and housing arrangements were often designed around this familial structure.  For instance, a father (and his wife), his sons (and their wives and children) would often all live in a closely networked series of structures.  If you were living on your roof, it seems like everyone in the family would know.  And if the head of the household was living on the roof, it would seem pretty obvious that something was wrong in the husband-wife relationship.  That, I imagine, would be embarrassing for a man.  BUT, from these verses, it sounds like that embarrassment of living on your roof would be better than having to live in the house with your quarrelsome wife.  Again, this interpretation in not explicitly stated in Scripture.  I think it follows, though, from what we know about the time period and the family structure.

And make no mistake, quarrelsome wives are still embarrassing today; even if their husbands don’t end up on the roof, often their husbands end up trying to avoid them in other ways.  They may not retreat to the roof or the desert, but usually they’ll try to retreat to somewhere else.  I’m not saying this is the correct response from the man; on the contrary, I think men retreating instead of leading the household is one of the biggest problems in modern marriages.  But I’m also saying that as women, this retreating is partly our fault.  We often make it harder for our men to lead, and we make it easier (and more tempting) to retreat. 

We nag.  We degrade.  We embarrass.  They feel disrespected.  So they retreat.  They close us out.

They retreat.  They close us out.  We feel unloved.  So we nag.  We degrade.  We embarrass.

You get the picture.

The cycle has to stop somewhere.  Why not with us?  Why not today?  I know a lot of you have heard this song, but give this video a listen.  Anytime he says “city,” substitute “marriage.”  There’s no reason to wait — start here.  Start now.

So, what’s the challenge today?  Stop nagging.  Why wait?  Start here.  Start now. (And if you’re a younger woman reading this — maybe just married or not married yet — please remember, it’s hard to break these habits.  It’s much easier not to form them in the first place.)

Comments?  Questions?  Suggestions?  Strategies?  Failures?  Successes?  Leave a comment below!

Next Monday: Want to make your husband resent you?  Want to make his friends pity him?  Want to swing the door to your marriage wide open for SatanFind out how next Monday!

Click here to start reading the wife series from the beginning.

Click here to read the fully submitted series.

To find out more about this blog, check out the About page and the first post.

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