“It is the weak who are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.” –Leo Roskin
People with unhealthy character impose guilt messages in an effort to control and manipulate others.
These people are angry , lack self-control, and live with many fears.
Regardless of the negative person’s real problems, if I let the negative remarks affect my thinking and my choices, I am a victim as well. God designed us to be victorious no matter our life circumstances. God wants our thinking to be centered around Him because He knows that is how we can live victoriously, regardless of our nitty-gritty details. If we allow the negative attitudes and remarks of others to control our thinking and actions, we are slaves to that negative, and our thinking is not centered around God. This is sin, and in it we will not live victoriously. We are not only designed to live victoriously, but we are designed to be free from the chains of sin. It has no power over us unless we allow it. We can choose to remain centered around God and speak life to the person who is spewing anger and death.
In response to attacks from others, we can scrap and scrounge to fight for ourselves, or we can call for help from a much more reliable power source than ourselves. When David fled King Saul and hid in a cave to stay alive, he praised God. Psalm 57 shows how David felt in his situation, and it shows his powerful response.
King Saul was full of pride and power. When he said jump, strong men jumped. When he set out to have someone murdered, he could consider it accomplished. But he didn’t count on his scare tactics and mental manipulation to fail in his pursuit of David. He counted on tripping up a scared, panicky David. But David had trust in God and prior training to keep his mind focused on where his strength came from. As a young shepherd, he had slain many wild animals responsible for killing livestock and men alike. Then he took down and cut off the head of Goliath, the mighty Philistine whose size, reputation and use of fear tactics were enough to cause all the mighty warriors in the Hebrew army to cower with knees knocking.
“Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast. I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me. He shall send from heaven, and save me from the reproach of him that would swallow me up. Selah. God shall send forth his mercy and his truth. My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; Let thy glory be above all the earth. They have prepared a net for my steps; My soul is bowed down: They have digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves. My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early. I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people; I will sing unto thee among the nations. For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, And thy truth unto the clouds. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: Let thy glory be above all the earth” (Psalm 57:1-11).
David was under attack and had to flee for his life. He was scared and knew he was in danger. His response to his situation no doubt comforted him with God’s presence and strengthened his resolve to stay focused and clear-headed as to not become an emotional and mental victim as well as having to preserve his physical life by hiding in the cave.
Just as David chose a powerful, empowering response to his situation, we can choose this power as well.
King Saul was angry, lacked self-control and lived with many fears. He knew that David was appointed by God to be the next king of Israel. King Saul was jealous of David’s relationship with God. What if David had responded differently to King Saul’s tactics and attacks? What if David had not turned to God and praised God as he did? Do you think the outcome would have been the same?
Think of a situation in your life that is troubling you right now. Identify what the problem is, or the stimulus, if you will. Then consider several options of how you can respond to that problem, and predict to the best of your ability what would be the outcome of each possible response. You likely have prior experience to pull from to help you accurately predict the outcomes of your possible responses.
I learned a powerful concept from Stephen R. Covey’s teachings that he came across in a book in a university library: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” This concept greatly shifted my paradigm of life, just as it did for Covey. I realized the complete power I had over any response I gave in any situation. I employed this in my relationships as a parent, spouse, daughter, sister, aunt, teacher, coworker, and friend. It was empowering to realize the liberty I had in how I choose to respond to any comment and any situation.
The human endowments that reside in the space between stimulus and response, according to Covey, are self-awareness, conscience, independent will, and creative imagination. According to Covey, the synergy of these endowments is necessary for quality of life.
Self-awareness is defined as “our capacity to stand apart from ourselves and examine our thinking, our motives, our history, our scripts, our actions, and our habits and tendencies.”
Conscience is defined as what “allows us to sense when we act or even contemplate acting in a way that’s contrary to principle.”
Independent will is defined as “our capacity to act.” Covey further says this regarding independent will: “While environmental or genetic influences may be very powerful, they do not control us. We’re not victims. We’re not the product of our choices. We are ‘response-able’—able to respond beyond our moods and tendencies.”
Creative imagination is defined as “the power to envision a future state, to create something in our mind, and to solve problems synergistically. It’s the endowment that enables us to see ourselves and others differently and better than we are now.”
It’s important that we use the creative imagination God gave us to speak life and truth to ourselves.
When George Foreman was training to regain his title as Heavyweight Champion of the World 20 years after he lost the title to Muhammad Ali, he learned to not even hear the negatives anymore. He focused on his goal and worked hard to make it happen. He promised himself that in time he would be the champ of the world. After recapturing his title in 1994, Foreman said when he looked in the mirror he still saw the same old guy turning 50, but he also saw a guy who was able to seize and conquer. He said, “I could never see someone who could not do it.”
The synergy of these four endowments is what produces optimum results. One endowment without the others is out of balance and unable to produce positive fruit. According to Covey, “the development of each of the four endowments and the synergy between them is the core of personal leadership” (59-61, Covey, Merrill, Merrill).
Our responses to people speak as loudly if not more loudly than our original actions. We need to be able to objectively evaluate our attitudes and behaviors and be honest with ourselves as to whether we need to change our paradigms. We need to see if our words and actions align with our principles. We need to recognize our ability to respond beyond our own moods and tendencies. We need to be able to envision and work toward good outcomes, not only for ourselves, but also for others. Clearly we need a lot to be effective communicators seeking win-win outcomes not only for ourselves but for everyone involved. Clearly, it is very possible for us to have, do, and be what is needed. Remind yourself of the example of David or of George Foreman when you feel discouraged or helpless to change the direction of a conversation or relationship. Next week, we will look deeper into how our words drive our attitudes and accomplishments.
What is peace?
Oxford dictionary defines peace as freedom from disturbance; tranquility and a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended.
According to www.encyclopedia.com, spiritual peace “includes notions of totality or completeness, success, fulfillment, wholeness, harmony, security and well-being.”
According to www.biblestudytools.com, the biblical concept of peace is “larger than [the English definition of peace] and rests heavily on the Hebrew root slm, which means ‘to be complete’ or ‘to be sound.’ The verb conveys both a dynamic and a static meaning ‘to be complete or whole’ or ‘to live well.’”
According to www.biblestudytools.com, peace, or salom, can be grouped into four categories:
To those with whom God establishes a covenant of perfect peace, it is ensured by His presence. We see this in my motto verse, Isaiah 26:3, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth thee.” As long as we trust God and keep our minds fixed on Him, we enjoy perfect peace, no matter what is going on around us. It’s an internal anchor that steadies us in difficult times.
God gave me this verse during a very difficult time in my life, and it has strengthened and re-centered me countless times. For years, I have had a sign in my kitchen that defines peace (shalom) as “complete fulfillment as a result of God’s presence.”
In Pursuit of Peace
We cannot have complete fulfillment without God’s direction and blessing.
We can run here and there, accomplish this and that, get all kinds of awards, degrees, and certifications, and rise to the top of our field and still not be fulfilled.
Look at Hollywood for worldly success without peace. Billionaires and beloved stars commit suicide as often as do regular people.
They also struggle as much with addictions of all kinds, just as the rest of us.
We all try to fill the inborn void with what we think will make us happy, but we are never fulfilled without God’s presence.
Some people chase success to finally obtain it and find they still feel unfulfilled.
I believe God defines success as peace, or shalom: our complete fulfillment as a result of His presence.
This means an intimate relationship seeking God above all else. It means a life in which prayer is a way of life as much as breathing. Not just talking to God but also listening, seeking His wisdom for every decision we will encounter. It includes interceding for others continuously. It means thanking God and asking Him to open our eyes to see the blessings we have taken for granted. It is constant communion and communication with God. The result is a life of peace and fulfillment in which God is honored above all.
What if we believe in and trust God and try to follow His leading but still feel unfulfilled, numb, struggle with addiction, or still sometimes contemplate suicide?
We live in an imperfect world full of imperfect people. It’s easiest to think of it this way: everything and everyone here is messed up. We all suffer, we all get it wrong sometimes, and we all struggle.
So what’s the difference?
The difference is the anchor and lifeboat that is the close intimacy with our Maker, God. Satan attacks every person. He is no respecter of persons, and seeks to kill, steal, and destroy as much as possible because he hates God. He attacks individuals, families, churches, institutions, governments, and more. There is no one or nothing satan doesn’t attempt to intrude and apply his thumbprint.
Turn the Table on Satan
We are empowered to accept that we are attacked, then recognize where and how satan is attacking us. We already know the basic why—because He hates God. Recognizing where we are weak enables us to strengthen that area. But beware if you are confident of your strength in an area; it is likely that there is a weakness of which you aren’t aware, and satan will sneak in to destroy you in that very area of life.
One example of how to turn the table on satan is if you have a momentary sexual impulse not toward your spouse, you know that you need to strengthen your love and commitment toward your spouse. This in turn will strengthen your marriage. How to do this is to pray for your marriage, your spouse, and your affection and commitment to your spouse. You also must walk away from the temptation, taking every thought captive under the authority of Jesus Christ, and remind yourself of your spouse’s qualities that attracted you to him or her. You can also recognize if there’s been a lack of affection and connection between you and your spouse, and then have a spontaneous or planned time of intimacy to rekindle those sparks.
If we don’t recognize the attack and render it useless, it causes division within us and separates us from peace.
The Mind Is a Battlefield
It’s important to guard our minds. That is why we must recognize and remove impure thoughts as soon as they come.
Satan attacks our minds in more ways than just temptations. He attacks with vanity, pride, fears, and insecurities. He wants to steal our focus from God so he can inflate our pride or deflate our joy. He knows that either way leaves us weak and not focused on God. His goal is to distract and deceive us.
We cannot win someone else’s battle for them, but we can be there for them with Godly support and unconditional love, and we are to intercede on their behalf. And we can recognize satan’s attacks on us as we are close to this person.
I remember a long season when Satan was attacking my daughter in many ways. The battle was spiritual and also mental, emotional, and physical, but the decisive movements occurred in her mind. Satan tried hard to distract my prayers and vigilant parenting by attacking me also spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. He threw every fiery dart he could find to sling our way. I know God created my daughter with specific qualities to serve His purpose, and satan has attacked those same qualities all her life to oppress her and prevent God’s will from being done.
Our Power to Have Peace
We have an important role in whether or not God’s will is accomplished on earth. When we are oppressed by satan’s attacks, we aren’t able to know, much less pursue, God’s purpose for our lives.
We are in control of our own peace. No matter satan’s attacks, we have an invitation from God to have a close relationship with Him through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We then have His Holy Spirit within us to strengthen our resolve when our flesh is weak. And we have the mind-blowing opportunity to communicate directly with God, with no in-between. When Christ rent the veil, He made one-to-one communication with God our privilege and responsibility in order for us to live fulfilled lives, full of peace as a result of God’s presence.
If you lack peace or fulfillment, seek God continually. He doesn’t withhold peace from those who are near to Him. Just keep seeking God continually, no giving up and no turning back. A close relationship with God and dependence on Him is all it takes. The flesh is weak, but the Holy Spirit within one who believes and trusts God and knows Jesus Christ as the only mediator for sin, is strong. When we are weak and rely on Him, God’s strength in our life shines through and gives us the victory of peace in Him.
More on peace next week, but for now, here is an extensive list of bible verses and passages about peace:
Proverbs 3:13-18, 24
Jeremiah 29:7, 11-14
1 Corinthians 13:11
1 Corinthians 14:33
1 Thessalonians 5:3
1 Thessalonians 5:23
1 Thessalonians 5:15
2 Thessalonians 3:16
1 Timothy 2:1-2
2 Timothy 1:7
2 Timothy 2:22
1 Peter 1:2
1 Peter 3:9-11
1 Peter 5:6-7
2 John 3
When God gives us something to do, He expects us to do it. That is when good stuff gets done, when God’s people obey Him.
Gideon is best known for putting out a fleece and asking God to drench it, but there’s so much to learn from this valiant warrior.
When the angel of the Lord came to Gideon, he was hiding out in the winepress threshing wheat, hoping to not be detected by the Midianites, who like locusts, ravished all the food of the land, time and time again. They were a powerful gang of bullies who would come and take what was not theirs and leave nothing for the one who sowed and tended the crops.
At the time, the Israelites were living in the land of the Amorites and instructed by God to not fear the gods of the Amorites, but the Israelites disobeyed. Just as with our own disobedience, theirs was followed by oppression by their enemies.
The oppression reminded the Israelites to call out to their own God, the one, true God for help. God replied by sending a prophet to lay the facts straight regarding God’s deliverance in the past and their own disregard for His commandments. Then God sent the angel who appeared to Gideon.
Gideon questioned the angel, “Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? And where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? But now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites” (Judges 6:13).
God replied with a directive for Gideon. He did not engage in debate, nor did He communicate anything impertinent. He told Gideon to “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” (verse 14).
Gideon’s confidence was as weak as a wet noodle. He was full of questions and reasons why he was not the one for the job. After all, he was threshing wheat in a wine press at night to avoid trouble with them.
After waiting patiently for Gideon to voice his concerns, God said, “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man” (verse 16, emphasis added). The whole of them smited as simply and surely as one man: all these bullies that were more populous than grasshoppers; “for both they and their camels were without number” (verse 5).
I imagine Gideon was caught off guard, thankful God was really there and cared, and he was amazed that God wanted to use him—the weakest in his family from the weakest tribe.
Gideon respected God and wanted to offer thanks and sacrifice. He also needed to be sure he understood God’s directive clearly, so he asked the angel to stay put while he went to prepare a sacrifice: no quick, easy task. Verse 19 tells us that “Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought I tout unto him under the oak, and presented it.” That’s a lot of work anytime but especially in the dark of night. Still, it was important to Gideon to be sure.
The exchange continued between Gideon and the angel and God with directives for Gideon and his needing assurance. It’s important to note that even though it may have made absolutely no sense to Gideon, he obeyed God, and God honored that obedience.
When the angel of the Lord told Gideon to “throw down the altar of Baal that [his] father hath, and cut down the grove that [was] beside it: and build an altar unto the LORD thy God upon the top of [the] rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove,” Gideon obeyed. He and ten of his men servants worked hard for the next few hours to do exactly as God instructed.
When folks awoke to find Baal’s altar cast down and the grove cut, they wanted to kill Gideon. Thankfully Gideon’s father wisely rebuked them saying that if Baal was really a god that he could plead for and defend himself.
The visit from the angel of God was the pivot point in Gideon’s life as well as for the children of Israel. Gideon’s own family had left God. Gideon’s people left God, thinking wrongly that God had left them.
Gideon appeared to listen intently, engage, and obey God’s directives, thus building a strong, personal relationship with God and shaping his nation and their relationship with God.
Just as God gave Gideon the steps to accomplish as he needed them, and He provided assurance that Gideon wasn’t misunderstanding, God gives us what to do as we need to do it, and the next step won’t come if we don’t obey the one right ahead of us. As a teacher and parent, my motto was always, “Do what you should when you should how you should why you should, and you’ll be happy with the outcome.”
Gideon obeyed each step, and he was reverent to God. He wanted assurance he wasn’t misunderstanding God’s directives, but we never see that he doubted God after his encounter with the angel that night.
God prepared Gideon through several tasks. Upon obedience to each, God gave Gideon another directive.
Then we get to the big moment that all the preparation was leading up to: overtaking the Midianites. Gideon had not voiced concern to God, but just as God knows our own human emotions and tendency to fear such giant tasks, God gave Gideon the directive and also a step of preparation for his heart to be fully courageous. Judges 7:10 records that after God told Gideon the main directive to conquer the Midianites and Amalekites, He said, “But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host: and thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host."
God knew Gideon was such a conscientious person that this preparation would yield great results. God knows our needs and delivers right on time. If we trust and obey as He gives us steps to do, our tasks grow more important. We needn’t worry about preparation for the tasks. God handles that and lets us know what to do, just as He directed and prepared Gideon.
Sure enough, Gideon and Phurah sneaked down to hear what the enemy army was saying in their nighttime camp. One man told another of a dream he had. The other man interpreted it as God giving them over to Gideon’s hand (7:13-15).
Immediately upon hearing the interpretation of the dream, Gideon worshiped God.
Overhearing the dream and interpretation gave Gideon the confidence he needed to pursue this army that “lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude…and as the sand by the sea for multitude” (7:12).
God gives us directives every day, whether it is in His Word or as a direct result of our prayer time. Sometimes it may be a directive given to us by His Word and prayer, and confirmed by things in our lives, maybe even something someone says. Just like the assurance God gave Gideon by his overhearing the conversation at the enemy camp. God desires for us to obey, even when we don’t understand or see the next step. Often, as was the case for Gideon, God gave him the call, but then each step was given one at a time.
Gideon was told by the angel that night, “The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour” (Judges 6:12). By this Gideon was called by God to serve in a mighty way. Gideon was confused by the angel addressing him as a “mighty man of valour” since he didn’t see himself that way, and obviously his peers did not either. God doesn’t see us how we see ourselves or how others see us. God sees us as how He created us: mighty for His purpose. For us to live up to that vision, we must live in Him, seeking Him and obeying Him one step at a time.
The blessings I cherish most are those challenges that transform me and move me closer to God. A challenge is an opportunity for us to exercise our faith in God and to trust His love for us and others.
A challenge is a call to train for bigger things. If we don’t show up for training, we’ll never get stronger, and we’ll not be equipped to handle what comes next in life.
Let’s look at Elijah in 1 Kings 17-19. He trusted God when he prophesied there would be a drought and famine. God told him to run for his life after he prophesied the hard times ahead.
Elijah obeyed, and God honored his trust and obedience by taking care of Elijah through birds and a poor widow preparing to die.
Would you tell a powerful leader something so terrible that it jeopardized your life? Would you then trust God for protection to hide out for over three years in a ravine and trust His provision all that time? Elijah did so, and God had ravens bring him bread and meat, and he had water from the brook in the ravine until it dried up.
After the brook dried up, God instructed Elijah to go to a poor widow in Zaraphath. At the same time, this widow was preparing for herself and her young son to eat their last meal. With the drought and famine causing there to be no more food to be found, she was preparing to bake their last small cake.
But then Elijah came and instructed her to bake one for him first and then for herself and her son. Elijah may not have fully understood, but he had lived solely off the Lord’s divine provision for the past three years and trusted what God told him to do.
Would you use the last of your meal and oil for a stranger, trusting God for what came next? What if this widow had not obeyed? We see that God made her barrel of meal and crux of oil to be enough each day until the end of the famine and drought.
But neither Elijah nor the widow had a promise from God what would happen as a result of their obedience. They just knew to trust and obey the one, true God and leave the consequences to Him. They willingly placed their lives in His hands.
Often after we do something in faith, we soon experience a life-shattering event that Satan wants to use to shake our faith in and allegiance to God. The widow’s son fell ill and died. She was a basket case of emotions and was bitter toward Elijah and God, though God had preserved their lives for a long while after she thought they both would die.
Elijah took the boy and prayed over him three times, and God restored his life.
After this, Elijah met Obadiah, the governor of King Ahab’s house. Obadiah was scouting the land to find grass and water to keep livestock alive. Elijah requested Obadiah to go tell King Ahab he was there. Though Obadiah thought this was nuts, he finally agreed, and King Ahab met with Elijah.
Then we see the well-known account of God showing up and showing out to make it known that He is the only true God, that Baal was not alive, did not hear, and could not answer those who called on him.
After God brought fire to prove Himself to all watching Israelites and Elijah slayed all 450 prophets of Baal, God sent rain. Elijah prayed hard for the rain and went ahead and sent word to King Ahab that rain was coming, even when there was only a tiny cloud seen above the sea. Elijah had faith God would deliver. He had depended on God in the past and knew God would not fail.
We read in 1 Kings 18:46 that God’s hand was on Elijah. Elijah didn’t get to stop and rest in comfort after God sent the rain. Elijah ran ahead of King Ahab and saw that Jezebel threatened his life.
Just as he hid himself after he prophesied the coming drought and famine, Elijah ran to hide himself in the wilderness. God sent an angel to provide sustenance and minister to Elijah. Now Elijah was strengthened to make the 40 days and nights journey to Horeb, the mount of God.
This is where we see the familiar account of Elijah hiding in a cave. He felt misunderstood and alone and knew that his life was targeted because he had been faithful to God. God asked him, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” Elijah pouted woefully instead of directly answering God.
Then God directed Elijah to go out and stand upon the mountain before God. Elijah stayed in the cave while God sent the mighty wind, earthquake, and fire. After the fire, God came to Elijah in a still, small voice repeating His question. Elijah, still feeling misunderstood, targeted, and alone repeated his answer.
So then God instructed Elijah to go to Damascus and anoint the future kings of Syria and Israel, as well as his own successor as God’s chosen prophet. Elijah may not have understood right away, but God explained that there was a remnant of 7,000 in Israel who’d not worshiped Baal. The remnant would escape the swords of these two kings to come.
God used Elijah in mighty ways. In the entire account we are given of Elijah’s life and ministry, we learn that God expected full obedience without first having full understanding.
God expects no less from us. We are commanded to trust and obey. There is no promise of understanding before this. The understanding typically occurs as a result of obedience and is packaged with other blessings.
God uses all situations, challenges included, to draw us closer to Him and grow us stronger and wiser for His purpose. We read in Romans 8:28 that everything is promised to work for our good and His glory if we love God and live to honor Him.
I love the old hymn that goes, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus…” This truth will never change because God doesn’t change. He is the same as He was in Elijah’s time, and His modus operandi will not change.
When we fail to seize a God-given opportunity to step out on faith and prove God to the watching world and to strengthen our own understanding, we are miserable creatures, to say the least.
I cannot find the words to describe my personal misery I have suffered in not stepping out in faith when God has called me to do so. It was always more than an emotion. It was a disconnection from my Maker. It was physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, financial repercussions, broken relationships, and so much more. It was misery in its worst sense.
The good news is that we can avoid this misery by stepping out when God calls us to. And just as importantly, step out and DO what He calls us to do. Sometimes we want to just step out and do part of what God asks of us, maybe our own form of the task.
It’s like dipping our toes in at the water’s edge instead of diving in. God calls us to dive in. He doesn’t take excuses and bless us anyway. We can only get the blessings God tosses out there for us when we jump in and swim toward them even after we are exhausted, numb, and can no longer see the shore.
Is God calling you to step out in faith in something today? If so, just jump. Don’t look back. Just swim forward with all your might and then keep going well after your strength is gone. God will sustain you in what He calls you to do. Just obey and leave all the details to Him.
If you’re not sure of God’s leading, pray, pray, and pray more seeking His wisdom and His peace as confirmation. Live a life of prayer regardless. We cannot find our way to our destination without Him.
Imagine being a newly graduated nurse during the pandemic. You dream of working with cardiac patients, but your reality shifts quickly. You take a job on a dedicated COVID floor. You’re aptly introduced to circumstances for which nursing school did not prepare you: short staffing, inadequate equipment, treating needs that normally would be treated in ICU or on a step-down floor, and much more.
This is the COVID reality for one friend who says she never envisioned her work so greatly impacting her personal life. She developed a different awareness about herself and the job she was called to do. She realizes her vigilance to protect herself, her family, and others is vital.
This nurse was baptized by fire, so to speak, and quickly learned resilience, vigilance, compassion, patience, dedication, and adaptability. With deep conviction she says, “Each day I hope to be a light in my patients’ lives and show them Christ through my work. I will continue to do this work because I care about this field and want to do my best to add support during this time.”
This young nurse’s response to the pandemic shows the resilience of the human spirit. God gives us a fire deep within to survive and thrive. All humans have this burning desire, but we go about it in different ways. This nurse’s dependence on and trust in God brings forth the best fruit of this desire: glory to God, blessings to others, and peace within ourselves.
Even during chaos, we can have that inner peace that only a close dependence on God can bring. It comes with godly wisdom for living. We are all prone to human error, but we increase our odds of living wisely the more we seek and depend on God.
Some folks have exercised their faith in new ways as a direct result of the pandemic. Many have learned a new level of dependence on God for wisdom, peace, protection, and provision.
The pandemic has affected every aspect of life. Many more are grieving, poor, homeless, battling addiction and depression, and facing life challenges of survival that they never imagined possible.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as of August 9, 2021, nearly 20 million adults in the US live in households that did not get enough to eat, and 11.4 million adult renters are behind on rent, despite all the economic relief and recovery support given by the government in numerous forms (cbpp.org).
“During the pandemic, adults in households with job loss or lower incomes report higher rates of symptoms of mental illness than those without job or income loss (53% vs. 32%)” (kff.org). In a survey by the CDC just a few short months into the pandemic, 31% of US adults reported having anxiety or depression. 11% reported having serious thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days. These numbers are nearly double the rates expected pre-pandemic (nimh.nih.gov).
As a result of the pandemic, the number of US adults who reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder rose from one in ten from January to June 2019 to four in ten. 36% US adults reported difficulty sleeping, 32% reported difficulty eating, 12% reported an increase in alcohol consumption or substance abuse (kff.org).
According to chalkbeat.org, the pandemic slowed progress in math and reading for millions of US students; Black, Latino, and low-income students were hit hardest. NWEA released data showing that students in grades 3 through 8 were 3 to 6 percentile points behind in reading and 8 to 12 points behind in math. Even students in affluent schools dropped significantly—the typical fifth grader dropping from 71st percentile to the 64th. Students in low-income schools dropped significantly over the pandemic year from 35th to the 24th percentile. Another analysis based on a different test and released July 27, 2021 by the consulting firm McKinsey showed first through sixth graders being an average of five months behind in math and four months behind in reading.
Home school parents report increases in isolation and depression for themselves and their children not being able to co-op and go on fieldtrips. This year many are still trying to complete lessons behind on from last year and trying to regain normalcy with hopes of getting back to extracurricular and social activities.
From ghost town campuses and converting traditional to digital instruction, fees for not being being vaccinated, to housing plans for isolating those suspected of having COVID, higher education has undergone many changes as well (insidehighered.com). Some universities are waiving fees usually customary for those who want to live or dine off-campus. Others are trying to impose fees on students who are not vaccinated; those institutions say the fees are to cover testing costs and costs of quarantine, meal delivery and laundry facilities, and cleaning and sanitation efforts (insidehighered.com).
Gardening boomed at the beginning of COVID causing a national seed and canning supplies shortage. Some major changes in gardening resulting from the pandemic are that there are more first-time gardeners, more year-round gardening, more planting space, and more food preservation. Some folks planned bigger vegetable gardens and even planted fruit trees then lost them due to having COVID. Some folks found gardening to be their therapy.
The help and encouragement from veteran gardeners and food preservers to greenhorns has been one of the biggest victories in human helpfulness as a result of COVID.
One lady and her family cleared part of a pasture to grow more veggies. Her sister volunteered for meals on wheels during COVID and distributes extra produce to those meal recipients.
One lady lost her garden this summer after her sister passed away with COVID in March. Her attention shifted to getting her home ready for her sister’s four children to move in with her.
Curbside pickup, ordering everything from Amazon, overshopping, not eating out at favorite restaurants are some of the major changes reported in retail and food industries. One friend shared that she and her family haven’t eaten in a restaurant in over a year and a half. They do curbside pickup. Many folks discovered the quarks of at-home haircuts and styling. I have noticed more ladies donning natural looks and less makeup.
For some who have survived having the virus, their daily routines remain changed. One lady shared that her sense of smell hasn’t returned since having COVID six months ago. Another lady reported that she is still weak a year later and is very soon out of breath. She shared the struggle of her husband having to carry more of the load for gardening and household care.
For all of us, daily life has changed in many ways. COVID conversations are now a part of daily life. We seem to be realizing things about ourselves as a result of how we respond to the social isolation, federal and local mandates, and growing tension between those pro and anti vaccine and masks.
For those becoming new parents during the pandemic, they are learning new ways to share their bundles of joy with family without in-person contact. For those in hospitals, having medical procedures, or living in retirement homes, isolation is definite.
Satan is using the chaos to divide and conquer individuals, families, churches, communities, and nations. He is pitting us one against another, and we feel helpless to participate in his attacks. Regardless of the chaos around us, God’s Word instructs us to seek Him with our whole heart (Deut. 4:29, Jer. 29:13) and keep our minds on whatever is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtue, and praise (Phil 4:8).
Throughout scripture God promises peace as a result of holiness, and most intensively in Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah is known as the prophet of holiness. “In Isaianic literature the adjective ‘holy’ (gados) is used of God more frequently than in all the rest of the Old Testament taken together.” ‘Holy’ appears 33 times in Isaiah as compared to 26 times in all the rest of the Old Testament (Motyer, 17). Isaiah ministered during a time when it was “clear that Judah would have to make up its mind wherein its security lay in a day of threat” (Motyer, 19).
We are in a time where we must make up our minds wherein our security lies. 19th Century Scottish Theologian P.T. Forsyth said, “Unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us.” Regardless of our circumstances, we can benefit from God’s presence and gift of peace. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Tim 1:7). The gift is there already, but we must do our part to access and enjoy it. God calls us to holiness. His Word teaches us to cleanse ourselves from unrighteousness (Matt. 5:48, Romans 12:2, 1 Cor. 6:19, 2 Cor. 7:1).
No matter on which side of the current debate we stand, we are to seek God and ask Him to reveal any wicked way in us just as King David pleads in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
2 Chronicles 7:14 instructs: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” Notice the blessing can only be received after we do our part. Our part is to humble ourselves, pray, seek God, and turn from our wicked ways.
The newest federal mandate directs the Department of Labor to require companies with 100 or more employees to require vaccines or weekly testing and fines up to $14,000 per incident of incompliance. It also requires vaccines for most federal employees, federal contractors, and all healthcare workers (cnn.com).
Many who oppose the vaccine mandates are carefully considering their next steps. One woman asked prayer for her family, as her husband now is faced with what to do regarding his company with over 100 employees. This family is considering the option of folding up and moving. The impact on the entire world of this US mandate is not yet realized.
As earth-shattering as all this is, many of us have yet to face the persecution Christians around the world face, just for believing in Christ. While it’s natural to crave our lost creature comforts, we are wise to remember and thank God for our many blessings.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9).
18th Century Welsh poet, priest, and painter John Dyer said, “A person may go to heaven without health, without riches, without honors, without learning, without friends; but he can never go there without Christ.” No matter what we face during the pandemic or otherwise, our salvation depends on our relationship with Jesus Christ. Our peace depends on this same variable.
Barnum, Matt. “The Pandemic’s Toll: National Test Scores Show Progress Slowed, Gaps Widened.” Chalkbeat, 28 July 2021, 12:01 AM, www.chalkbeat.org/.
“Coronavirus Affects Higher Education.” Inside Higher Ed | Higher Education News, Events and Jobs, 2021, www.insidehighered.com/.
Liptak, Kevin, and Kaitlan Collins. “Biden Announces New Vaccine Mandates That Could Cover 100 Million Americans.” CNN Politics, 9 Sept. 2021, 9:01 PM EDT, www.cnn.com/2021/09/09/politics/joe-biden-covid-speech/index.html.
Motyer, J. Alec. The Prophecy Of ISAIAH: An Introduction & Commentary. InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Panchal, Nirmita, et al. “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use.” KFF, 10 Feb. 2021, www.kff.org/.
“Tracking the COVID-19 Economy's Effects on Food, Housing, and Employment Hardships.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 10 Sept. 2021, www.cbpp.org/.
The other day while flipping through some of my old journals, I came across an entry where I berated myself for not attaining the “abundant life.” In the journal, I acknowledged God’s grace and goodness and that it took faith and faithfulness to attain the abundant life. I defined the abundant life as a successful life. None of that has changed; however, the problem was how I defined the success. My definition was shaped by the expectations of others. As defined by the Christians surrounding me, success would mean that I had my life together, effectively accomplished meaningful tasks, and was reliable. My reality was that I was becoming less and less reliable as a result of compounding health problems.
Without controlling my health, I couldn’t figure out how to change my behaviors that appeared to be the antithesis to the abundant life. My body and my life as I knew it were crashing. The self-discipline that had always gotten me through suddenly wasn’t enough. To others, it seemed that I had stopped trying. Suddenly, I was a failure. Failures don’t live the abundant life. While hating who I was, I persevered still hoping for a change. I became more of a failure.
So many folks over the years had prayed over me, rebuked my faithlessness, and told me that if I only had the right faith, or enough of it, that I would be completely healed. Others told me the way to succeed was to ignore my health conditions and limitations. That’s like telling someone to run a marathon with a crushed foot.
Ignoring facts doesn’t change them. But I still tried. Eventually, the limitations outweighed my want-to, and the fact that I live with chronic, disabling illness is something I now give myself grace for. I realized that God allowed the sicknesses and loves me no less because of them. God gives grace, and we should, too.
We all have obstacles in the way of our success. Whether it’s a health condition, addiction, the past, obligations, or one of countless other limitations, nothing is too hard for God. Nothing has to stay in between us and our Maker. He designed us all for the abundant life and makes it easily accessible—no tricks, gimmicks, or trying to guess the secret code. It’s a free gift for us to accept just as it is given-simply, in love, with no strings attached.
The abundant life is the successful life. While this is true, our definition of success is critical. Success doesn’t mean getting done what others think we should.
I love Thelma (Mama T) Wells’s formula for success: B+E+E=S
B—Be aware of who you are. What is your mission? What is your vision? What is your passion?
E—Eliminate the negatives. Or, better said, ‘Eliminate the effects of negativity in your life.’
E—Eternal value. Only what you do for Christ will last.
S—Success. Everybody wants success; everybody’s looking for it. I love what Booker T. Washington said: ‘Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed’ (Wells, 116-123).
The abundant life means living in faith and with faithfulness. It’s important that we acknowledge our power of choice when it comes to our faith and faithfulness. Christian Rapper and Preacher Trip Lee said God “hasn’t called us to worldly success; He’s called us to faithfulness. We need to adjust our goals, and further, adjust our dreams” (Lee, 116). What or Who we have faith in and live for matters. Christian Evangelical Author Timothy Keller said, “It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.”
If we choose to have more than just a lip service faith in God, we will submit 100%, not holding anything back from Him. God gives us all a set of talents and expects us to be faithful to Him with each one. In the parable of the talents, Jesus shows that the servants given five and two talents worked and invested wisely, putting the talents to good use and returning to their master more than the initial sum they were given. The servant given only one talent chose to bury it instead of investing it wisely (Matthew 25:14-30). The lazy servant justified his choice with his flawed analysis of his master. Instead of obeying and putting the talent to good use, he analyzed and thought about it. This is always a mistake because God’s ways are not our own. His ways don’t always make sense to us at the time He instructs us to do something, but our obedience is always best. God tells us to do something. He doesn’t tell us to analyze to give our opinion about it. In Zechariah 4:6, God instructed King Zerubbabel to lead the people by His Spirit and not by power or might. In other words, King Zerubbabel was to put faith in God and not in common sense, and he was to faithfully rule the people God’s way instead of the common way of kings, with power or might.
Trip Lee describes the abundant life this way:
The good life doesn’t mean we get everything we want.
The good life is belief in God even when we don’t get what we want.
The good life doesn’t mean we live whatever way feels best to us.
It means we live how we were created to live.
The good life isn’t the high life.
The good life is the life that’s been laid down (Lee, 44)
God’s design in nature lends wisdom for putting life in perspective. In the oceans, there are tides and there are waves. The tide is “the rhythmic rise and fall of the water of the ocean which is caused by the strong gravitational pull on the Earth’s surface exerted by the sun and moon. Waves are formed because of the raging force exerted by the winds which blow over the ocean’s surface” (https://askanydifference.com). The tide in life can be seen as the expected ebb and flow, natural rise and fall, that occurs across stages and cycles in every life. The waves can be seen as the turbulence that comes to confuse our way. When the waves toss and turn a ship, it needs a way to find the right path again. We have the Holy Spirit available to us to keep us focused and on track, despite the waves. When General Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, encouraged his daughter in her endeavors for the Lord, “he urged her to keep her eyes on the tide and not on the waves” (Blackaby, Blackaby, and King, 230).
The abundant life means knowing God is with us and cares every moment. Sometimes we are tempted to think that God got too busy to love us, that He forgot about us, or that He stopped caring. These are never true. Suffering is a part of every life. “Suffering is not always the result of sin…Suffering, in fact, is sometimes the result of righteousness and of God’s eternal plan for our lives. Satan has his reasons for wanting us to suffer, but God has His reasons for allowing us to suffer, and His reasons will ultimately bring perfection out of our pain” (Stedman, 67-68).
The abundant life is led by God’s Holy Spirit and bears good fruit. Galatians 5:16-23 outlines that if we walk in the Spirit we will “not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” We are to avoid and walk away from such things as sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies. We learn that the good fruit we will live as a result of living in God’s Holy Spirit are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.”
The abundant life is humble. “Humility responds to failure with a sincere desire to grow, and sees itself as perpetually needy of divine forgiveness and empowerment” (Swindoll, 75). Psalm 51 is a prayer in complete humility.
Based on this prayer, Charles Spurgeon identifies four destructive flaws absent in complete humility as a result of God’s conviction:
Absence of self-importance. Any advantage you might feel over another is erased when you see yourself through the eyes of the omnipotent, holy God.
Absence of carelessness. A broken heart never tries to play tricks with God.
Absence of hypocrisy. A broken heart cannot bear hypocrisy, especially with itself.
Absence of secrecy. Broken, contrite hearts are remarkably transparent, almost inappropriately so, perhaps because they have nothing more to hide (Swindoll, 73-74).
The abundant life means abandoning sin. “Sin is its own worst punishment” (Blackaby, Blackaby, and King, 115). When we realize we have been in hot pursuit of a fraud, we can turn around. Abandoning sin grows us spiritually. But “spiritual growth is not automatic. It takes an intentional commitment” (Warren, 179).There are many examples in the Old Testament of God’s people repenting and turning from their self-centeredness back to God. King David, the only person God officially labeled as a man after His own heart, is a prime example of a man who got off track and quickly turned back to God once he realized his error. Look at Peter’s loss of focus in Luke 22. Jesus knew that Peter wasn’t as faithful as he should be, even though Peter himself didn’t know at the time. He told Peter that he would betray Jesus three times in the next few hours. Jesus warned Peter that satan wanted to ruin him. Jesus also showed His love for Peter in that He prayed for him and encouraged Peter to strengthen his brothers after he got things in proper perspective to live faithfully. All this before Peter denied him. God is the same today as He was then. He knows we will mess up, and He has already extended His invitation and helping hand for us to turn back to Him. Dr. Charles Stanley simplied it when he said, “We are never outside of God’s overarching plan. It may seem that we have taken a wrong turn, gotten off track, or that the sorrows of this life have caught up with us; but God is never surprised by our circumstances, and He is never out of control” (Stanley, 141).
The abundant life gives hope. God’s Word is a message and record of hope from the first to the last word. 1 Peter 1 speaks much of hope. I love verse 3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” We have hope because of God’s love and in that, Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. It is His mercy and grace that give us hope now and after this life is done. That hope invites us to exit what we have been chasing—the perfectionism and worldly success we may never attain—to pursue a life of faith in the God who makes the abundant life a reality for all those who put their trust in Him.
Blackaby, Henry, and Richard Blackaby. Fresh Encounter God's Pattern for Spiritual Awakening. B & H Books, 2009.
“Difference Between Tides and Waves (with Table).” Ask Any Difference, askanydifference.com/.
Lee, Trip, and Matt Chandler. The Good Life. Moody Publishers, 2012.
Stedman, Ray C., and Jim Denney. Let God Be God: Life-Changing Truths from the Book of Job. Discovery House, 2007.
Swindoll, Charles R. A Life Well Lived. T. Nelson, 2007.
WARREN, RICK. The Purpose Driven. ZONDERVAN, 2002.
Wells, Thelma. God, I'm Ready to Walk in Faith. Harvest House Publishers, 2011.
Distractions are powerful and sometimes play a major role in our lives.
What is a distraction?
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines a distraction as “the act of distracting or state of being distracted: especially mental confusion” and “something that distracts, especially amusement.” (emphasis added)
Since the definition of distraction relies heavily on the meaning of distract, we see that distract means:
How do we become distracted?
To have our attention diverted or pulled away, it must have been on something else prior. Whether you feel that you consciously exert effort to place your focus on something in particular or you go through life attending to fires that grab your attention, you can only become distracted if you are already focused on something and have your attention taken off it.
We all lose focus on a regular basis. It’s a daily part of life, but how long we are distracted is essential to our success, productivity, and peace within. Christopher Columbus said, “By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.”
Determining Necessary and Unnecessary Distractions
Distractions are a part of life, but they don’t have to become our downfall. Sometimes situations need our attention, and sometimes we should ignore them and carry on. Wisdom allows us to determine which distractions to attend and which to ignore. We need to give ourselves grace and understand that sometimes our attention and energy must go in a new direction.
I spoke with someone this week who didn’t work her garden this year as she had planned because after preparing the soil and setting seeds, her sister contracted COVID and suddenly passed away. This woman’s attention turned from her garden to preparing to share her home with her sister’s four children. God suddenly started a new chapter in her life cultivating young people instead of plants. Perhaps she and the children will soon be able to enjoy gardening together as a way of therapy while mourning the loss of their mother and sister. Regardless, this woman turned her attention to care for her nieces and nephews in an act of compassion that needed to happen for the sake of this family.
Sometimes things beyond our immediate control vie for our attention. Things such as injuries, illnesses, major life changes, and loss affect us all at some time. A lot of us find it difficult to stay focused because of health problems. We struggle to see how we can positively impact others when we feel that we have lost control of our own lives.
Sometimes our attention drifts to unimportant and even dangerous things because we aren’t as focused as we should be. We get distracted by our strengths and weaknesses, our passions and desires, and our fears.
We waste time with strangers on social media in heated political or religious debates, and then still in defense mode, we argue with our spouse over bills or dinner plans. We may not intend to neglect our 8 year old needing help with math or basketball, but we do so because we are determined to have our personal workout hour every day after we leave the office. Only after our children stop telling us about school at the dinner table, they quit the team, or get a D in math do we wonder where we went wrong.
The Danger of Distractions
Satan tries to use all distractions—necessary and unnecessary—against us. American Writer Bruce Sterling said, “One of the points about distractions is that everything that they do is destabilizing.” In the moment we let our guard down, we are affected by satan’s attacks. Whether we are on cloud nine because of good things or we are emotionally exhausted from trials we have been facing, satan attacks the unguarded areas in our lives.
Distraction Leads to Discouragement
Satan uses distractions to discourage us from completing a God-given task. He hopes to divert our attention to people who are gossiping behind the scenes, to numbers and statistics showing a lack of engagement, or to other things we could be doing instead, and the list goes on.
The fact is that if God gives you something to do, do it, no matter what. Don’t get distracted or discouraged. Distractions will always be there. Keep your heart fixed on God. Psalm 57:7 says, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise.” The repetition here seems to show the psalmist is encouraging his own focus and determination.
When satan uses other people to distract and discourage you, remember to “cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He will never suffer the righteous to be moved…Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days” (Psalm 55:22-23).
Safe from the Storm of Distraction
We are safe from satan’s attacks when we are praising God. He inhabits the praises of His people. (Psalm 22:3) Focusing on God, we don’t focus on the enemy, the battle or winning. We just focus on our High Commander in Heaven who also lives in our hearts guiding and strengthening us to win the war.
King David was a man of many sorrows. He had to flee and hide for his very life more than once. He remained focused on God instead of the many distractions before him. He earnestly and honestly petitioned God for His help. Psalm 56:9-13 is an example of his honest praise and petition. Notice that praise is where there is power to ignore life-threatening distractions.
When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back:
This I know; for God is for me.
In God will I praise His word:
In the Lord will I praise His word.
In God have I put my trust:
I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.
Thy vows are upon me, O God:
I will render praises unto thee.
For thou hast delivered my soul from death:
Wilt not Thou deliver my feet from falling,
That I may walk before God in the light of the living?
The Power of Disengagement
In traditional warfare, one strategy to win the battle is to not engage with distractions. Certainly there are distractions that demand our attention, but continuing to focus on the initiative, we will minimize unnecessary engagement with distractions. Remember that distractions are part of a strategy by the enemy to expose or create a weak spot to attack.
So even when you should divert your attention to something else, don’t forget your initiative. Our initiative should be to seek God’s leading and praise Him no matter our circumstances. By doing this, you destroy the enemy’s opportunity to turn a distraction into your disaster. James 4:7-8 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you.”
*For more on distractions, please read blog post for May 21, Dealing with Distractions.
In light of the current condition of our nation and our world, it’s easy for one to question if God has given up on us and left us to our follies and pitfalls.
God didn’t give up on the Israelites. They did suffer the consequences of their choices, but God never gave up on them. His relentless love was committed beyond their present rebellion and idolatry.
God doesn’t give up on us, either, individuals or nations. We suffer the consequences of our choices, but God never gives up on us.
Sometimes we feel alone and think that God must have given up and forgotten about us. It’s important to remember that feelings often don’t reflect reality. Feelings can confuse us and distort our perspective. This is one of satan’s most powerful tools.
God is the God of perpetual chances. He never disinvites us from a close relationship with Him. When we feel as though God left us, the reality is that we left Him.
Our past is not a deterrent to God’s invitation to us. Look at Jesus’ interactions with folks everywhere He went. He invited them to leave their old choices and live a better life in Him. He didn’t first consider if their past mistakes made them worthy. We are all unworthy. Even on the cross, Jesus forgave his accusers, his murderers, and the thief next to Him.
It takes more than Jesus’ forgiveness of our past and His invitation for us to live the abundant life in Him as He designed and desires. It takes our positive response—our trust and willingness to go His way and not our own. Though Jesus forgave those who spat on Him, beat Him, tore His clothes, and cast lots for them, His forgiveness didn’t give them a better life. They would have to choose that. God gives us the freedom of choice. We can live in Him or apart from Him.
From the examples in the Old Testament of God blessing those who chose Him and the examples in the New Testament of the blessing to those who chose Jesus, we know that we have the option to choose God and be blessed, or we can choose ourselves and suffer the consequences. We can love God because He first loved us. He loved every person before he or she was born, and He beckons each person to a close relationship with Him (John 3:16, 1 John 3:16-21, 1 John 4:19).
We can choose to love God or walk away. We can accept or reject (deny) the truth. All three chapters of 2 Thessalonians speak of the consequences to those who choose to walk away. 2 Thessalonians 2:10b-11 says of those that perish that they perish “because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
We see the same warnings in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 1:18-25)
According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word paradidomi, used in verse 24 to say that God “gave them up” means “to hand over, to give or deliver over, to betray. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon shows the uses of this word to mean “to give into the hands (of another); to give over into (one’s) power or use: to deliver to one something; to commit, to commend; to deliver verbally; to permit, allow.” God hands over or lets folks go toward their own desires after they continually refuse to turn to Him.
Some people say that God abandons us or gives up on us. He will give us up to our own desires, but He never gives up on us. It’s all about our freedom to choose God or something else. God never forces Himself on anyone, but He patiently extends an invitation to us all to know Him better. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promises, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
By nature, humans love to run. We try to run our own way. God puts a better option in our path. Sometimes we are so bent on our own desires that we ignore God’s beckoning and the better option He provides. The more we run from God, the easier running becomes. The farther away from God we run, the less distinctly we hear His still small voice leading us to the best life in Him.
If I were a cartoonist, I would sketch it in this way: God’s mighty hand holding back a man by the back of his pants while the googly-eyed man drooled and scrambled to reach a desire in front of him. God tries to prevent our calamity. He holds us back while showing us a better way—His way. But when we choose to focus on our own desires, we lose focus on Him, making it harder to know the choice He presents for us to walk away from our sinful desires.
When we continue to pull away from God so hard for so long to reach our own desires, He eventually lets us have what we want and what comes with it—negative consequences.
Our stubborn pride is our downfall. Throughout history, recorded in the Bible and otherwise, we see pride comes before the fall of any person or group of people. And now we live in a culture that celebrates pride. Lipstick on the pig doesn’t change it to something beautiful. It is what it is, and pride is a sin.
God’s Word is thick with promises of rewards to those who seek God with their whole heart and of punishments to those who chase their own desires. Seeking God earnestly, knowing that you need Him, is all it takes for Him to be closer to you.
Words drive our emotions. They drive us toward love and anger, to embrace or reject others. We judge others by their words and the actions behind them. We are formed by our own words and the actions that follow.
The only times I fought as a kid were when a bully was picking on me or others. It happened twice both ways—twice a new girl, bigger than all peers once, and bigger than most peers once, bullied a group of girls. Both times I attempted to end the verbal harassment by physical assault. Once I ended up in the hospital with a concussion after being kicked repeatedly almost the length of the gym. My only other two near fights were when I was being picked on by a boy for my size and annoyingly high-pitched voice. Not surprisingly, I never fought anyone my own size. Most small—bodied kids were smart enough not to fight, especially opponents much larger and stronger. In that way, I was a very slow learner.
I learned a valuable lesson years ago, that my interactions with others are more about my relationship with God than with that person. Yesterday after hanging up the phone from filling my mom in on my current car repair saga, that lesson evolved, causing a heaviness of guilt after I called someone a bad name. No matter how worthy I rationalize a person to be of that title, my name-calling shows my need for more self-control.
Admittedly, self-control has always been an issue when I feel an injustice has been done. It’s a vice that I consciously must walk away from. Injustice lit my fire as a feisty kid, and it still does. But I’m no longer an 8 year-old whose actions can be excused as spunky and plausible.
While right is right and wrong is wrong, it applies to the whole picture, including the unseen—our relationship with our Savior. We represent Him in all we do, good and bad.
Calling one person a bad name to one other person is a sin. When I called the person a derogatory title, I let those words leave my mouth and enter the ear and mind of the listener. We have no control over how our words affect those who hear them. Satan is crafty to drop little weed seeds like my derogatory comment to negatively affect a person’s connection with God and compassion for others.
Empowered by the wisdom gained years ago through Stephen R. Covey’s training--The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I still have to make a conscious effort to be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win-win, seek to understand, then to be understood, empathically listen, and seek creative cooperation. I learned these principles in an in-depth 8 week training course and realized though not explicitly, they all have the wisdom of scripture to back them up.
While vengeance is God’s business, rebuke is part of being a wise, compassionate Christian. Proverbs 27:5-7 shows the benefit of speaking the truth in love for rebuke, “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”
Prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus, and the Apostle Paul confronted sin. Confronting sin is not wrong. However, who we speak to and how are as important as about what and why we speak. God’s Word teaches us to speak wisely, informed, full of compassion, with civility.
I love Shakespeare’s words in All’s Well That Ends Well: “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” These words echo Biblical advice in how to conduct our behavior and speech.
The instructions for Christian living in Ephesians 4:17-32 include the command to “be ye angry and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil,” (verses 26-27). This applies to our thoughts, actions, and speech—our entire life.
Words and how they are used are powerful tools. Proverbs contains much advice regarding prudent speech:
Proverbs 11:9, “An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbor: But through knowledge shall the just be delivered.”
Proverbs 12:18, “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: But the tongue of the wise is health.”
Proverbs 15:2, “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: But the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.”
Proverbs 15:14, “The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: But the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.”
Proverbs 16:29, “A violent man enticeth his neighbor, And leadeth him into the way that is not good.”
Proverbs 18:7-8, “A fool’s mouth is his destruction, And his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.”
Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”
Proverbs 21:23, ‘Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.”
Proverbs 23:12, “Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.”
Proverbs 25:18, “A man that beareth false witness against his neighbor is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow.
These are only snippets of wisdom. The full chapters in Proverbs from which these verses are gleaned contain much more about the power of our words.
As I recognize that a problem with the tongue is a problem with self-control, I feel Proverbs 25:28 is also fitting, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.
Psalm 19:14 should be more than a verse we memorize as kids in Sunday school; it should be more than a hopeful mantra; it should be our sturdy determination with each choice we make with our words and actions: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. This in mind, the God who created us knows the battle we face trying to rule our tongue.
We have encouragement in James 3 to realize how unruly the tongue is and how helpless we are to change it without our first being changed by Christ’s love and our relationship with Him as our Savior.
This chapter discusses how the tongue is “an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (verse 8) but ends with how we can use our tongue for good with pure, peacable wisdom from above that is “gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (verse 17).
I hang my head in sorrow for my vileness as I surrender to God’s goodness and invitation to me: “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (verse 18).
Following is admonition from the New Testament to be careful of our words:
Matthew 12:36-37, “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Romans 14:12, “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
Ephesians 4:22, “Put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”
Titus 3:2, “Speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.”
A remarkable real-life story of how one man tamed his temper and became a life-saving pediatric neurosurgeon and great humanitarian is Ben Carson’s story, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. In it, Mr. Carson, says, “I came to realize that if people could make me angry they could control me. Why should I give someone else such power over my life?”
Often we lash out in frustration or disappointment because we feel we have lost control of a situation. As we lash out, our health pays the price. “‘There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,’ says Karen Swartz, M.D., director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health” (Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on It, hopkinsmedicine.org).
Swartz suggests the following steps can help one develop a more forgiving attitude:
Reflect and remember. The events, how you felt and reacted, and how the anger and hurt have since affected you.
Empathize with the other person. They may have past trauma that causes their current response.
Forgive deeply. This comes in part by understanding that no one is perfect. It also occurs whether the person deserves or asks for your forgiveness.
Let go of expectations. Don’t expect your forgiveness or your apology to elicit such from the other person. Also don’t expect it to improve your relationship.
Decide to forgive. A deliberate choice sealed with the action of doing so.
Forgive yourself. Realize that you aren’t responsible for the actions of another.
Though I have come a long way since taking upon myself the elementary school title of Justice Jeanie, I must determine to remain cool when thinking about the injustice, when interacting with the person who exacted the injustice, and if, when, and how I relate it to others.
Gossip is a sin. Always evaluate the purpose and possible outcomes of your sharing a personal experience or interaction. If the purpose and outcome aren’t purely edification, just don’t talk about it. This way, you’ll avoid gossip and the nasty harvest it brings.
It’s impossible to keep our cool when we focus primarily on the injustice. When we view the injustice in light of our relationship with God as a privilege and responsibility to show another person God’s way of not only love, but honesty, and doing what is right, we are blessed with peace as we plant a seed in the other person of what is right in God’s eyes. Remember, perspective dictates perception and purpose. Don’t view yourself as a victim but as an ambassador of God. You’ll be empowered to bring the light to the darkness.