Slippery Slopes

by Kathy Howard @KathyHHoward

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.   Proverbs 4:23 NIV

I did it to myself. I chose the wrong path. I saw the sign with the little black diamond and thought I could handle it. After all, I reasoned, I’m a decent skier. (If you aren’t laughing yet, you should be.) After just a few yards, I realized I had made a terribly dangerous decision. The hard-packed snow felt slick as ice. If I fell, I wouldn’t stop until I hit bottom. I envisioned my body lying broken and bleeding at the bottom of this precipitous slope. So, I did the only thing I could. I carefully – and prayerfully – began to sidestep back up to the top of the run. I didn’t care what people around me thought. My life was at stake!

Sadly, I don’t always ski smart and safe. Once, I was skiing on a wide, well-groomed trail that ran right under one of the chair lifts. The level of difficulty matched my skill, and I felt confident in my ability. I could see the people still on the lift watching the skiers below. My confidence turned into pride, and I began to show off. I let my guard down. Just a little, but a little was enough. The next thing I knew I was falling. Skis over head over skis, tumbling down the slope, directly under all those watching skiers on the lift above. Yes, pride does indeed go before a fall.

Sin in our lives is like that black diamond ski run – a slippery, dangerous slope. Sometimes all it takes is one small compromise to put us on a wrong path. The author of Hebrews used the term “drift away” to help us understand this truth. “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1, ESV). The image of drifting portrays a shifting from the intended course. Picture a ship drifting off course in strong currents or wind. Even a small fraction off course can cause a ship to miss the harbor.

The threat of sin in a Christian’s life also requires constant awareness of the Spirit’s leading and purposeful effort to follow. If we let down our guard for a moment we could fall, like I did on that nicely groomed ski trail.

If we aren’t actively pursuing holiness, we are in danger of drifting off course. If we aren’t purposefully and continually choosing to reject the sinful ways of the world and follow Christ, we are at risk of falling.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11). We must carefully guard our hearts and minds because the world constantly clamors for our attention and devotion.

No compromise. Careful attention. If we don’t, we just may end up at the bottom of the slope.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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Slippery Slopes – encouragement on #FollowingGod from @KathyHHoward on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Kathy Howard

About the Author: A former “cultural Christian,” Bible teacher and speaker Kathy Howard now lives an unshakable faith for life and encourages women to stand firm on our rock-solid God. The author of eight books, Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education. She and her retired husband live outside the Dallas/Ft Worth area with their miscellaneous assortment of dogs. Find free discipleship resources on her website, www.kathyhoward.org and connect with Kathy on FacebookInstagram, or Pinterest. Kathy’s latest book, “30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents” combines Scripture, biblical insight, personal experience, reflection questions, and prayer prompts to provide spiritual and practical encouragement to those caring for aging or ill parents.

Join the conversation: How do you guard your heart?

Guarding our Hearts When Hurt

by Jennifer Slattery @JenSlattery

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 NASB

The heart is a fragile yet powerful organ. Nurture and feed it well, and life and health follows. Neglecting it allows hurts to sink deep and fester. Bitterness begins to invade, which strangles our joy and peace. Suppressing or denying our hurts only leads to decay.

Instead, we need to feel with Jesus.

Perhaps that’s the difference between those who find healing and those who remain stuck, not only in their wounds, but also the byproducts of unresolved, and often fed, hurts. 

A while back, after a powerful women’s event proclaiming the freedom of forgiveness and emotional release, I talked to a woman who’d been struggling for years. Someone hurt her deeply. They betrayed her trust, abandoned her, and treated her unjustly. She had every right to feel angry, and she was.

After nearly a decade, her anger was destroying her, imprisoning her, only it didn’t show up as anger. Instead, those deep wounds presented as anxiety, depression, sorrow, and distrust. I encouraged her to grieve with Jesus, following His lead in full surrender. But she couldn’t.

No. She wouldn’t. Her injustice felt too unjust for her to let go. I suppose she thought releasing the offense would absolve her offender of guilt. She couldn’t see how she was continuously allowing him to hurt her over and over again.

She was letting him snuff out her candle. Her inner spark. What made her her. She was robbing herself of the life Christ had died to give her.

Consider the converse. Years ago, a friend called me. “Pray for my heart,” she said, explaining how she’d been wounded pretty deeply. She didn’t tell me how or by whom, nor did she need to. Instead, she asked me to help guard her candle, her inner spark, with prayer. She grieved the hurt, absolutely. But because she invited Jesus into her pain, bitterness never took root.

Some say anger is often a secondary emotion, arising from fear or pain. It’s so easy to bypass the hurt, which can make us feel weak, and jump straight to the anger, which can give the illusion of strength. But Scripture tells us, “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord” (Psalm 4:4-5, ESV).

Before we react, God invites us to pause. To ponder. And trust.

What hurts lie beneath our anger? Why do those hurts hurt so deeply?

What lies have we attached to them? We almost always do this. We’re not simply hurt because someone snubs us. No. The hurt often comes when we assign motive—“they don’t value me.”—and then a falsehood—”I’m annoying.”

Pause to prayerfully consider how that’s been true for you. Invite God to unpack your anger, your hurts, to show you everything entangled in them. Then ask Him to replace every falsehood He reveals with truth.

This is how, in part, we guard our hearts above all else, so that the well springs of life might first fill them then flow from them (Proverbs 4:23).

Is there something you need to grieve? An offense you need to let go? Will you have the courage to release it? Will you guard your candle, your inner spark, knowing all God has for you is good?

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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Guarding our Hearts When Hurt – insight from @JenSlattery on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Jennifer Slattery

About the author: Jennifer Slattery is a multi-published author, ministry, and the host of the Faith Over Fear Podcast. Find her online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com, find her ministry at WhollyLoved.com, and find her podcast at LifeAudio.com and other popular podcasting sites.

In her new podcast, Faith Over Fear, Jennifer helps us see different areas of life where fear has a foothold, and how our identity as children of God can help us move from fear to faithful, bold living. You can listen by clicking on the link below or by visiting LifeAudio.com.

Join the conversation: How do you guard your heart?

Are you Pliable?

by Sharon Tedford @61things

There was no way he was going to leave. She had brought him to the best playground in town. It had a sandpit and a slide with a tunnel. I mean, what more could a 3 year-old want? But it was time to go. His mum had tried all the usual tricks to prepare him to be ready to leave. There was the “5 minute warning”, and the “time’s nearly up”, as well as the, “say goodbye to your new friends. We will see them next time.” But he was having none of it.

An hour ago he was so happy when she said they’d head to the park for a while. But imagine his greater joy when they pulled up to this park, instead of their normal destination. This park gets top marks from all the kids in daycare! So why on earth did they have to leave already?

His mum was so embarrassed by his behavior. If you’ve ever looked after a vivaciously vigorous toddler, you will know the pain of this poor mum. Her sweet and lovable toddler turned on the “disagreeable” and made enough noise for the whole town to hear.

He seemed to have a switch where he could magnify the gravitational pull below him, and he became 40 pounds heavier when she tried to scoop him up. The soft, supple body, which had moments before been maneuvering its way through tiny tunnels and tight holes, became inflexible as he turned himself into a solid mass of straight-as-a-board kid.

And, as a child of God, I have done this too. My life was fun and successful in a certain location, and it seemed ludicrous to move on. I have felt disappointed my Father would take me out of the best place I’d ever been, and all seemingly without good reason. I have made myself stiff-necked and hard-hearted in order to ignore what my Father wanted to do, because I was sure He was mistaken.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4, ESV)

Some recent research led me to find the Hebrew word for “delight” could mean: “to be soft, delicate and pliable”. Put that implication into the verse above and it might read like this:

“Be soft and pliable before the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

If this small, feisty human had been pliable, he would have found out his mum had planned a second surprise for him. They were off to get ice cream, and in order to get ice cream, they had to leave the park! Did you hear me people? ICE CREAM! The only way to get his chubby little fingers on the creamy treat was to leave where he was. He had no idea where they were headed together, but his mum’s plans were pretty incredible!

If he had chosen to have a soft heart, he would have walked into this next part of his day much sooner and with a better attitude.

I have lived in good places filled with wonderful people and great experiences, and God has called me out. I have been this cranky child who complained, and cried, and wailed, only to be surprised once again by His goodness when He brings me to the wonder of the next adventure.

Our God is kind, faithful, and always good (Jeremiah 29:11). Let’s be pliable Jesus followers, choosing to live with soft hearts. Let’s allow Him to give us the desires of our delicate hearts.

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.   Proverbs 4:23 NASB

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Learning the blessing of being “Pliable” with God – insight from Sharon Tedford, @61Things on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Sharon tedfordAbout the author: Sharon Tedford is an experienced British storyteller who uses her gifts as a singer, author, worship leader, and speaker to connect with her listeners, inviting them into a revitalized relationship with God.  Her humorous stories always end with an invitation to action. Mother to three teenagers and the wife of an Irishman, Sharon encourages people to live a God-focused life. You can connect with her at www.61-things.com.

Sharon’s book, Stand, is a devotional based on the stories behind her songs. Readers will be drawn into a deeper personal experience with God and learn how to stand on the truth of a Heavenly Father who loves them. 

Join the conversation: How do you keep yourself soft and pliable?

 

Building Redemptive Relationships

by Jennifer Slattery @JenSlattery

I’m forty-four, and I’m still learning how to maintain healthy relationships. God recently sparked a major mind-shift in me on this, one that arose smack in the middle of tension, confusion, and heartache.

But in the end, the situation resulted in incredible hope and peace.

My two most important relationships are with my husband and daughter. Naturally, I am motivated to love them well, in a way that deepens intimacy, creates wholeness, and builds trust. I’ve discovered that being purposeful in those things long term has a greater impact than a quick solution for an immediate problem.

As the saying goes, we can win the battle but lose the heart.

This past week, my daughter has been dealing with some hard stuff. It’s been crazy-difficult to watch her struggle. My instinct is to want to immediately “fix” the situation. Whenever I give in to that tendency, however, not only am I getting in God’s way, but I miss out on opportunities to participate in His transformational work.

When I seek His heart and will, not for the problem, but for the person, my vision becomes clearer. More Christ-like. God is much more concerned with His work within us than external problems.

But our natural inclination is to focus on the now. We want solutions, to alleviate the pain of today. It’s easy to forget how often God uses our struggles to bring about His greatest and deepest work. This was my mind shift—to focus on growth rather than behavior. In short, to reach, protect, and equip the heart.

Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” To the ancient Jew, the heart involved much more than a person’s emotions. It was the core of their being and encompassed their will and intellect as well.

My daughter is facing the prospect of merging two families from different cultures. As her mom, I was tempted to center on the small, immediate solutions. But God impressed on me: This conflict is a good thing. You have an opportunity to show her what healthy dialogue looks like and how to communicate with others who may not share her perspective.

So, setting aside my “fix-it” tool belt, I chose a mentorship role. I planned a picnic for her, her future fiancé, and my husband. Together, we simply talked. We addressed tough issues, shared thoughts and feelings, and honestly…solved nothing.

But something greater was built that afternoon. A foundation of trust was laid, hopefully one that that will enable a lifetime of good communication. They got a chance to experience healthy discussion and learned how to persevere through hard conversations with a balance of love and truth. This will have a much greater impact on her future marriage than any decisions she and her boyfriend make today.

It’s easy to believe the immediate problem is the problem. But God’s vision goes so much deeper. Scripture says He uses all things for our good (Rom. 8:38)—to mold us into the likeness of His Son (Rom. 8:39).

God’s goal is never merely behavior modification. He works toward our transformation. The process is more important to Him than any quick fix. I’m learning to keep the big picture in mind. I want to trust in His wisdom, know He has a plan, and is even now working that out in those I love.

Resting in who He is frees me to love well, focusing on long-term growth.  This is what it means to develop redemptive relationships.

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Building Redemptive Relationships – insight on #GodsLove on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Jennifer SlatteryAbout the author: Jennifer Slattery is a multi-published writer, editor, and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s also a Crosswalk featured blogger and maintains a devotional blog found at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. She has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she and her team partner with churches to facilitate events that help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. (They just released their first Bible study, Becoming His Princess, which you can grab for free HERE.) When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.

Jennifer’s latest book is Restoring Her FaithShe left belief behind…but could this family change her mind?

With two boys to raise, a fledgling contracting business to run and a family ranch to keep afloat, widower Drake Owens finds that his hands aren’t just full, they’re overflowing. When Faith Nichols is hired to help him renovate the church, he’s drawn to the beautiful artist, but he can’t fall for a woman who isn’t a believer. Can love restore her faith and his heart?

Join the conversation: Have you ever had a role in someone’s long-term development?

 

Distractions and Pickpockets

by Linda Evans Shepherd

One sunny December day in New York, my friend Eva and I were in town to explore the city. I was ready for anything, especially with my huge, blue tote bag I’d stuffed with everything I might need; an umbrella, my coat, snacks, bottles of water, all piled high on top of my wallet.

I slung my bag over my shoulder and Eva and I caught the subway from our hotel so that we could walk down Canal Street to take in the sights. We browsed through the faux designer purses and fingered the bright wool scarves and smirked at the fake Rolexes on display. As we strolled, we were caught in a throng of tourists who flowed down the street like a slow moving river.

As I walked along gawking at the sights around me, a pretty, young woman appeared beside me. She turned to face me and with her arms opened wide, she side-skipped to my steps as if she was trying to block me from turning right and walking past her. What in the world is she doing? I wondered. I craned my neck for a better look and she seemed to disappear. Where’d she go?

Suddenly I snapped my head to the left, and there she was, her arm rammed deep into my tote bag as her fingers groped for my pocket book. I instinctively jerked my tote away from her and instantly she disappeared into the crowd.

It seemed I’d just encountered a New York City pickpocket. But what struck me about the experience was the pickpocket’s maneuver to distract me–to cause me to not only take my attention away from my tote, but to place my focus in the opposite direction so that she would be free to snatch my wallet, something I’d wanted to hang onto throughout my New York adventure.

As I thought about it, I could see that distraction is exactly how the enemy tries to steal from me in an effort to keep me from living my life with joy, peace and the presence of God.

Distractions can zing toward me like fiery arrows of worry, stress, offenses, and frustration as the enemy takes aim at my peace.

I may not be able to stop the fiery arrows, but if I focus on trusting God, then the enemy’s arrows will not stick but will bounce off of me.  Otherwise, the enemy’s arrows can wound my heart.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it.” To live distraction free means I must guard my heart, trusting God as I let go of offenses and open my soul to more of God’s peace.

When I do that, God’s peace will shield my heart so that the enemy cannot steal my joy or wound me with worry so God’s spirit will continually flow into my life.

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3 NKJV

Linda ShepherdAbout the author: Linda Evans Shepherd is the author of 33 books including When You Don’t Know What to Pray and Winning Your Daily Spiritual Battles.  She is the CEO of Right to the Heart Ministries, and the founder of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association.  She’s the publisher of Leading Hearts Magazine and Arise Daily.

Linda has been married over thirty years and has two grown kids.  She loves to travel and bring the word to groups and events across North America.  You can read more about Linda at Arise Speakers.

Join the conversation: What distractions are stealing your peace?