Faith-Filled Self Talk

When we’re under pressure, we have to monitor our self-talk. Because the difficulties and challenges we face may well turn our minds onto a negative track. That’s why the apostle Paul wrote, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV).

If we fail to take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ, we’ll find ourselves coping with pressure by blaming others, or getting frustrated and flying off the handle, or putting ourselves down. Thanks to our sinful nature, negativity takes over and we begin to take our pessimistic point of view as reality.

The Hebrew Christians were under a lot of pressure. They were being persecuted from two different sides — the Romans and the Jews. Their friends were leaving Christianity. Their property and possessions were on the line — as were their businesses and employment. Their personal freedom was no longer a given. Their very lives were in danger.

Samuel Johnson once said, “It is more necessary to be reminded than it is to be instructed.” Long before Samuel Johnson, the author of the book of Hebrews seems to intuitively understand this, and he reminds the Hebrew Christians what their self-talk should sound like.

These are the things that we still need to remind ourselves of. And we need to do this frequently. Inside our own minds, we have to make sure that we say true things to ourselves — that we say faith-filled things to ourselves — things that are based fully on God’s gracious words and promises.

What are the things I can tell myself when I’m under pressure? Take a look:

  • The Lord is my helper, so I can put aside anxiety and be fearless.
  • Because the Lord is my strength, and death is already defeated, mere mortals can not really damage me.
  • God has give me leaders here on earth who can coach me and mentor me. In other words, I have allies. I need to remember them. If they’re still around, I can find them and learn more from them. And I need to imitate their successful way of life.
  • Jesus doesn’t change. That means his love for me doesn’t change. His promises don’t change. His forgiveness doesn’t change. His patience doesn’t change. His offer of strength and hope doesn’t change. His gift of eternal life doesn’t change.
  • Jesus doesn’t change, so that also means his teaching doesn’t change. What he taught people in Bible times still applies to my life today. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise or tries to introduce strange new teachings.
  • There is nothing better than God’s grace. That grace is mine. Truly mine. And that is a good thing for straightening and strengthening my heart.

“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’ Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:6-9a, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me to speak faith-filled words to myself. I am sorry when pressures in my life cause me to respond sinfully and with negativity, rather than with faith and hope. Forgive me. And remind me of your words and promises, so that I can remind myself of those same words and promises. I want to take every thought captive and make it obedient to you.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 16, is Ezekiel 30:1 – 31:18, Hebrews 13:1-25 and Proverbs 27:23 – 28:6.

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Follow Your Heart?

From Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computers, to Steve Kerr, head coach of the NBA world champion Golden State Warriors, from R&B singer Patti LaBelle to country singer Conway Twitty, the one piece of advice that you’ll hear in common between them all is, “Follow your heart.”

This piece of wisdom is embedded firmly in our culture. Few, if any, would ever dispute that this is the right thing to do. After all, isn’t your heart the place where you discover your true self, your deepest motives, and your most tightly-held values?

So, it’s kind of shocking to come upon the statement that we find in Jeremiah chapter 17. It’s about 600 B.C., and Jeremiah is writing a commentary on current events and issues amongst God’s people. There are a lot of things to comment on. And few of them are good or positive.

The root of the problem, Jeremiah states, is that the people of Israel have been following their heart. Unfortunately, their heart has been seriously deceiving them and misleading them. And there is no cure, no course correction, in sight.

The thing is, in our own day and age we still need to have a realistic view of where following our heart might lead us. We need to learn to take our heart with a huge grain of salt. Because, as Jeremiah tells us, our heart is not just deceitful. It’s “deceitful beyond cure.” Our heart, in other words, is desperately ill and dramatically dark. It is an unsolvable riddle.

And so, our heart is far from being the most reliable guide. In fact, just the opposite — it may actually be the worst possible choice for us to look to our hearts for leadership and guidance.

Instead, look to God’s heart. There is a heart that is fully trustworthy, faithful and true. There is a heart that is clear and steady. There is a heart that will always guide our steps into the right course.

And where do you find out what the thoughts and feelings of God’s heart are?

That’s not hard at all. Simply open your Bible and begin to read.

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

Our Bible reading for Thursday, October 8, is Jeremiah 16:1 – 17:27, Colossians 4:2-18 and Psalm 118:17-29.

Lord, send me your Holy Spirit and help me to follow your heart, not my own heart.

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Prayer: The Alternative to Spiritual Stumbling

It must have been something important, because Jesus said it not once, but twice.

He told the disciples to pray, so they would not fall into temptation. Jesus knew what was about to come. And he knew his disciples were already exhausted, and their hearts filled with sorrow.

Talk about a set-up for caving when it comes to temptation! But intriguingly, Jesus does not encourage them — in their exhausted state — to take a nap, or get more rest.

That’s the advice I give myself when I’m tired, and hurting, and can see temptation right around the corner: “You just need more rest.” But Jesus doesn’t say that. Instead, he says, “You just need more prayer.” There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting more rest. But it’s prayer that will keep you from falling.

God finds it extremely hard to resist the humble prayers of his hurting children. He is our Father, so it is in his very nature to protect us when we cry out to him.

“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed… When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation'” (Luke 22:39-41, 45-46, NIV).

Many years later, Paul echoes similar thoughts when he encourages Christians in Ephesus to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10-11, NIV). Paul closes out this section of his letter with the encouragement to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18, NIV).

So, do you mind if I ask you a quick question?

Do you have a time set aside sometime in the morning where you honestly face the temptations of the day ahead, calling them to mind one by one, and then asking God in prayer for his protection, trusting that it is in his very nature to protect you when you cry out to him?

If this is not something you have a habit of doing, let me highly recommend it. Because, just like the disciples, what most of us truly need (alongside some time hearing from God by reading our Bible) is simply more prayer time.

And when it comes to beating back temptation, it’s the very same thing… the word, the sacraments, and prayer. These are powerful, because the God we listen to, and the God who listens to us, is far more powerful than any temptation we might face!

Dear Father, hear my prayers. Listen to my cry for help. Beat back the daily temptations that beset me. Some of them are circumstantial and temporary, Lord — and you know which ones I’m talking about. Others are long-standing temptations that I’ve struggled to conquer for almost my entire life. Above all else, Lord, I ask you: Help me to guard my heart, for everything else flows from it (Proverbs 4:23).

Our Bible reading for Friday, April 24, is Joshua 5:13 – 7:26, Luke 22:39-62 and Psalm 50:16-23.

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Ability and Availability

There’s a big difference between ability and availability.

Sometimes we have the ability to do something, but we don’t have the availability that allows us to put our talents to work on a certain opportunity or issue. Or the exact opposite can occur. We might be available to assist with an opportunity, but our abilities don’t match up well with that opportunity.

The issue is not simply physical availability either. That’s what the children of Israel clearly demonstrated when the opportunity to build the tabernacle came along.

God was commanding the people to build the tabernacle as a portable worship structure, a place to express their gratitude to God as well as their trust in God. It would be the designated place where the Israelites could return to God a portion of what they had received from God.

They had the ability to do something about the work of constructing the tabernacle. God had given them great wealth upon their departure from Egypt. This was because he had opened up the Egyptians’ hearts to give away their possessions to the Israelites. God had also given the Israelite people just the right talents and strengths in the areas required so that the tabernacle could be constructed with skill and care.

The Israelites also had the physical availability to do the job. Think about it. They were in the middle of the Sinai desert with nowhere else to go.

But the big question—as it so often is—was their heart’s availability. In other words, would they be willing to give of their wealth for the tabernacle project? Would they be willing to invest the time and effort required to complete the work on the tabernacle?

In this instance, the Israelites took the attitude that everything they had comes from God. Whether they considered the wealth they had, or the talents and abilities they possessed, they saw them all as gifts from him. When the Israelites realized this truth, their hearts overflowed naturally with gratitude for the immensity of the blessings they had received.

This was God’s work they were about. So for the Israelites, this was a matter of joy. They had been given the ability to help. And they had willing hearts. So their availability was not in question either.

Doesn’t it strike you that this is exactly what Jesus did? The Son of God had the ability to remedy the world’s sin situation and reconcile us to God. He became a human being, and in so doing, made himself fully available to seize the opportunity and win the day.

What about me? And what about you? Are we able? And are we available to serve God for his purpose, and for his glory, right now?

“All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do… Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work” (Exodus 35:29 and 36:2, NIV).

Lord, you have given me abilities. Now, give me a willing heart so that I am always willing to take my abilities and make them available to you.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, February 24, is Exodus 35:1 – 36:38, Mark 7:31 – 8:13 and Psalm 25:16-22.

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Where Change Begins

January is the month when we try to make changes in our lives. New Year’s resolutions!

We’re going to work out more. We’re going to lose weight. We’re going to finally read that book. We’re going to fix that relationship.

Character qualities rise to the fore. I’m going to be a more hard-working person in 2015. And more honest. I’ll amp up the compassion. Get rid of the swear words. Stop the gossiping.

So we set up a “fine jar.” A dollar for every cuss word. Five dollars for every time I catch myself gossiping.

We write out our list of goals. We share it with our best friend, and ask him to keep us accountable.

None of those are bad things. In fact, they can be very, very good things. But they are not the place to start.

Jesus shows us that place. The starting line for life-change is not our neighbor or the list on our smartphone.

“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:18-19, NIV).

This is so important. Jesus tells us why our habits are broken. It’s because our hearts are broken.

The place to start is with healing the heart. And the place where healing the heart begins is the cross. The person who can change my habits permanently is not me. The person is Jesus.

That’s because change begins with hope, with strength, with love. Not with condemnation, with feeble attempts, with selfishness and shame.

And who is Jesus? He is hope. He is strength. He is love.

Ask him to heal your heart. And change your life.

Jesus, heal my heart through the good news of your forgiveness won for me at the cross. I want to change. Give me your hope, your strength, and your love.

Our reading for Thursday, January 22, is Genesis 43:1 -44:34, Matthew 15:10-39, and Psalm 13:1-6.

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