Proverbs 16:24 Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. NIV
We’ve all experienced the power of words. We know how destructive they can be, so as Christians we try to keep from hurting others with our speech. But what about the words we say to ourselves? Those hurtful, judgmental, condemning words we’d never say to a loved one, that we somehow feel justified in heaping on ourselves.
Have you ever told yourself you’re stupid? That you have no value? What about when you’ve done something wrong and hurt someone else? Do you turn and attack yourself with the most cutting remarks?
Well stop it.
God doesn’t feel that way about you. Or me. Or any of His creation. He loves you and wants to build you up. The enemy piles it on, supplying us with words we didn’t even think of. But he’s a liar. And we know it.
So why do we try to believe the best of everyone else, but torture ourselves with the things we know will hurt the most? I believe it has to do with humility. It’s good to be humble, to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but there’s a limit to the ugly things we need to have circling around in our brains. And believe it or not, what you say to yourself has as much, or more effect as something said by someone else.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t feel bad when we’ve hurt another person. We just need to temper the onslaught. God would not call you stupid. What He might say is “That wasn’t very uplifting,” or “you’re better than that.” But it wouldn’t be a hateful string of verbal abuse. And we shouldn’t be using that on ourselves either. Be aware of the things you tell yourself. It matters. Because what you allow to fester in your mind will eventually come out of your mouth. And it won’t be pretty. So lets practice being a little more gracious. Not only to the people in our lives, but let’s be gracious, kind and forgiving to ourselves.
I saw a bumper sticker a couple weeks ago that said “Man counts the seeds in the apple, but God counts the apples in the seed. It was taken from a quote by Robert Schuller. When I mentioned it to a friend, she said “wow, that’s deep.” I agree.
In our limited thinking, we may believe we have only a few gifts to bring to the world. A few seeds in our apple. When I looked it up, an apple can have 4 to 10 or more seeds. Each seed can grow into a tree, and a tree can produce over a thousand apples. So, one apple can produce 4,000 to 10,000 more apples, each with the ability to produce even more.
Suddenly, what seemed like such a small offering turns into a huge abundance. Don’t you love God’s math? His multiplication of our small seed is something we can’t get our head around. But what if we don’t cultivate the seed? What if we decide we don’t have anything to share? Our seed withers inside us and dies.
God is our gardener, and He knows the enormous potential in each of us. We don’t have to understand how He plans to use what we’ve given Him, only that He will. If we give Him our gifts to use as He sees fit, He can multiply them in ways we can’t even imagine. You have purpose. You have unique gifts that you bring to the world. Allow God to cultivate them in His way and His timing, and wonderful abundance will result.
We’ve all heard of hardening of the arteries. It’s when fat builds up on the inside walls of the arteries and hardens, restricting the flow of blood and oxygen. Spiritual hardening of the heart works in the same way. Anger or hurt builds up until there is little space for the Holy Spirit to flow through. Then our minds become narrow and our hearts become hard.
What hardens our Hearts? The Bible lists four ways our hearts can become hardened.
- Stubborn and Unyielding—The Egyptian Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he wouldn’t let Israel go, no matter what plagues God rained down on him. His stubbornness desecrated his country, and killed its citizens. If we pretend we don’t hear God, He won’t force us–he’ll just stop talking.
- Unsympathetic or a lack of mercy – The Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus for healing a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath. Their total lack of concern for their countryman grieved Jesus. When we’re jaded to another’s pain, we run the risk of becoming hard hearted.
- Unbelief –When the disciples seemed to forget Jesus’ feeding of the four thousand, and when they didn’t believe their friends had seen the risen Christ, Jesus called them hardhearted. We don’t want to be naive, but we need to believe God’s word, even if what it says is uncomfortable to hear.
- Pride – After interpreting the writing on the wall, Daniel told King Belshazzar that his father’s downfall was due to pride hardening his heart. Pride gives us a nice feeling for a few minutes, but it leads to a whole lot of hurt. When we think too highly of ourselves, we exhibit the result of a hard heart, and run the risk of having everything taken away.
The hardening process doesn’t happen overnight; it’s developed slowly, layer by layer. A hard heart many times is a defense mechanism – a way to keep ourselves from hurt. Our hearts get jaded or hardened every time we decide to close up. If we’ve been lied to we may choose not to believe anything unless we see it for ourselves. If we’ve been rejected, we may never let anyone get close enough to hurt us again. Maybe to see another’s pain hurts us too much, so we decide not to look. Or maybe we’re extra talented, and we overlook other’s accomplishments.
How can we change?
We have to consciously soften our hearts. It isn’t easy and it doesn’t come naturally. It takes prayer and work. Here are some steps we can take to soften our hearts.
- Don’t take offense. We have a choice how we take things. We can always find the negative…. or not. Our choice.
- When the thought comes to mind, “I’m not going to let them get by with that!” stop. Ask God how he wants you to react.
- Don’t rehearse what you should have said. This is really hard, but it just reinforces the negative feeling you have, and you’re more likely to take it out on someone else.
- Acknowledge that sometimes people lie, but not everyone does. If there is a question, ask God what He thinks and keep your heart open. He’ll tell you what to believe.
- Don’t assume that another’s pain is justified, that they brought it on themselves. Even if they have, mercy trumps judgment. Think of the times we’ve made mistakes and try to give that person the benefit of the doubt.
- Remember we aren’t the only ones with talent, and let others have their time to shine. It doesn’t diminish us, there’s room for everyone.
You have feelings, God knows that. You don’t have to be perfect, just let Him know you’re willing to open up. God knows you’ve been hurt, and He doesn’t want you to be hurt again, but sometimes we nurse it. And when we do, another layer forms making it harder for Him to get through to us. If we continue, layer upon layer builds until we are hard, bitter and miserable.
A soft heart isn’t a doormat, it’s freedom.
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
Have you ever been at a crossroads in your life without clearly understanding which direction to go? Of course you have. Life is full of crossroads. Or maybe you’re in a situation where it isn’t just a 50/50 choice. More than one option lies in front of you, confusing you even more. Or maybe it looks like there is no path at all. The above verse seems to be about trust. And it is. But there is so much more to it. I believe it is about direction. Here it is, broken down.
- Trust – Yes, the first step is trust. Do you ask a person you don’t trust for advice? Probably not, because you know you won’t take it. You don’t trust the source. You have to know that God loves you enough to want what’s best for you. We hear those words and think of broccoli. Or brussels sprouts. Or whatever yucky food your mother told you was good for you, and you stick out your tongue and turn away. The problem is, she was right. They are good for us. And if we could just eat it (or something like it) once in a while, our bodies will feel better.
- Lean not on your own understanding – There are certain things in life we think we understand. We have that one down, Lord, thanks anyway. The problem is usually short sightedness. We can’t see the whole picture, only the piece in front of us. Only God sees the whole picture. It’s like the bird in the cage. He sees the blue sky and the green trees outside the window, but he can’t get there. He cries and cries and forms a plan. He’s going to put a feather in the latch. And when his master leaves the room he’s going to fly right out of here. What he doesn’t see are the closed windows, and the cat lurking beneath the table.
- In all your ways acknowledge Him – We go to God when we want something important. When we’ve managed to slip out of our protective cage and we’re flapping wildly around the room with nowhere to go, nowhere to land, and a cat below us licking his chops. Then we’re ready to listen. Maybe. To acknowledge Him is to ask His opinion BEFORE we make our move. And to wait for an answer. Sometimes we need to stop talking and listen.
- He will direct your paths – If we ask, He will answer. We don’t always like the answer, or we’re not sure we heard Him at all. In those times, wait and listen. He heard us. He’s working on it from the minute we ask, if we ask in His will. So what if we don’t know we’re in His will? Again, ask. He wants to guide us – He’s waiting for the chance. And what better guidance could there be? But once He gives the answer…go. Do the thing He said to do. If we don’t follow, He can’t help us.
So the long and the short of it is, trust that God loves you and you’ll be better with His plan than you ever could be with yours. Don’t worry if you don’t quite understand where He’s taking you. He sees the big picture. Ask for directions and wait for the answer. And when you get it, go. Let Him lead you. If Moses hadn’t followed God, the Israelites would still be in Egypt. We trust Him to lead, but we have to follow.
It is my desire to walk in the Spirit, but I don’t always measure up. I try to be more like Jesus, and then get impatient with my geriatric dog, yell at the driver in front of me who doesn’t do what I want, and snap at the people in my life that I love most.
What makes me do that, and how do I stop? I believe the answer is to yield more of my life to the Holy Spirit. He has to have more space in my soul, and I have to have less. But it’s not something I can do by myself, I have to ask the Holy Spirit to help me.
I see in my mind a glass. When it’s full of dirty water, no matter how much clean water you add, it will still be dirty. But if you pour out the dirty water, it takes only a little clean water to fill it up. My desire to be Christ-like has to be stronger than the desire to be selfish.
Let me tell you, it doesn’t always work that way. But I want it to. Really bad. God deals with my tendency for selfishness gently, showing me how He wants me to behave, loving me even when I fail. And when I succeed, he celebrates my success with me. I can feel him smiling at me when I’m gentle with my dog, even when he does the unthinkable on my rug. Or when I smile at the guy who just cut me off in traffic. Okay, maybe I don’t smile yet, but hey, I’m working on it.
Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Hope. What an awesome thing. We are charged with trusting in God, which is impossible without the hope that He will hear us and intervene in our lives. If we ask for His help, then have no hope He heard, we’ll get discouraged and stop asking. That isn’t His will for us. He says in His Word that we are to be persistent in our asking and unshakeable in our faith, but we can’t unless he fills us with hope. Hope opens the door for joy, and joy brings faith, and faith brings peace. Then we’re set up for hope again.
How do we get hope? As with everything else, we ask for it. God wants a relationship with us, and he wants to give us good things. If He were to give us those things without our asking though, we wouldn’t appreciate them. We would take them for granted and forget where they came from.
There are many things I pray for on a daily basis, and some more desperate than others. Yes, it’s okay to tell God you’re desperate. (He can tell.) I know a family in a desperate situation, and I’m blown away by the strength of their faith and hope. Their family motto is ‘God’s got this.’ And He does. The faith and hope I see in them encourages me to continue fighting and praying until the breakthrough comes.
I have a cold. Again. It seems that every time I babysit my grandchildren, I catch a cold. Does that mean I avoid my grandchildren? Heavens, no! What it means is that I need to build up an immunity to the germs that inevitably swirl around a school or daycare. And so it is with trials. We want to avoid every trial because, let’s face it, they’re not any fun.
But if we did that, we’d lose out on the blessings that come after. If I didn’t have time with my grandkids, I might not catch as many colds, but I would miss getting to know their fun little personalities and their precious hearts. That Is Not Going to Happen.
Trials are not from God, just as colds are not from God, but he can use them to teach us something. We need to build our faith to the point that when those pesky little germy trials come our way, we don’t even notice. Our immunity to them is so strong that the fiery darts of the enemy bounce off, not even leaving a mark.
Satan uses the things that bug us the most to get under our skin. He tries to bypass our faith and go straight for the heart. And when he gets through, it hurts. That’s why we have the armor of God. We have the breastplate of righteousness to protect our heart. Not our righteousness, which is flimsy and full of holes, but God’s righteousness gifted to us when we accept His Son. When we wear that breastplate, the devil can’t find the tiniest weakness to exploit.
Trials, like germs, are a part of life. But reading the word, trusting in God’s goodness and plan for our lives, and talking to him are the vitamins we need to build our immunity. Let’s take our vitamins every day and see what happens.