Friday, 31 October 2014

Meditations on Psalm 23

Dear Friends,

In church last Sunday morning Psalm 23 was mentioned, and as I continued to think about it during the rest of the day I decided that I wanted to meditate on it each morning this week to see what truths God had to show me.  Psalm 23 is one of the better known Psalms, and sometimes when I'm reading a more familiar bible passage I can find that without intentionally doing it my mind switches off because I've read it before and I "know" it.  However, the truth is that we can never fully know it all, because God still has more to teach us and if I am not careful I will miss what he has for me today, right now, in the season I am in. That's why I wanted to take another look at this Psalm this week, not just skim over it, but really meditate on it and also read it in other versions instead of just my usual one.

So, I'm sharing with you today some of the things God showed me and reminded me of this week. 

Psalm 23 (NLT)
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.  He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

"The Lord is my shepherd" this speaks to me of my relationship with God, the connection there is between us, he is my shepherd and I am his sheep.  He is the source of all I need, he provides me with nourishment, including my spiritual nourishment, he leads me, guides me, and protects me.

"He lets me rest" we live in a fast-paced world and sometimes we can feel guilty if we want to take a break, but God knows the value and importance of rest.  As I meditated on these words I felt God saying it's ok to have a rest, it's good to do so, and I'm actually giving you permission to incorporate rest into your life, so there's no need to be carrying a false sense of guilt around with you. 

You and I need this rest if we are to live a full, healthy and satisfactory life.  The version I'm more familiar with is the NIV which says "makes" rather than "lets".  I've found that's also been the case in my life, when I refused to live a balanced life which included rest amongst work, there came a time when my body could not take anymore and there was nothing I could do but rest.  God taught me (is still teaching me!) the value and necessity of periods of rest.  Without incorporating specific rest times (by that I mean resting both of the body and the mind) at various points of the day I am not able to function at a level that is right for me.

God is the one who "renews my strength", in my weakness he teaches me to depend on his strength on a daily basis.  He also gives me the inner strength that I need to keep going on the path he has set before me.  Not only does he renew me, he also refreshes and restores me, some very good reasons to set aside times to be alone with my shepherd who tends and cares for me.

God's presence with me, his closeness means I have no need to fear walking "through the darkest valley".  As my shepherd he has with him his rod and staff, and he uses them for my protection, for my comfort and to guide me.  The word "through" in that verse brings me great encouragement.  This means that when I'm in the middle of the darkest time,  I can have the reassurance, the comfort, that it will not last forever, I can keep walking with him, step by step and he will bring me through, I can depend on that!

"You honour me by anointing my head with oil."  Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  God has blessed me with the presence of his Spirit and he anoints me, making me fit for service, equipping me to do that which he's called me to do.  Ephesians 5:18 "Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit,"  that verse actually means to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.  On a daily basis I can ask God to fill me with his Spirit so that I can live in his power for that day.

"My cup overflows with blessings".  God has blessed me with so much, I have so much to be grateful for.  He is such a generous God that my life overflows with blessings.

I love that God's "goodness and unfailing love will pursue me".  God's love never fails me, never gives up on me, whatever I go through, whatever I do, God won't ever, ever stop loving me.  How amazing is that?!  Not only that, but because God loves me, he pursues me.  Even if I want nothing to do with him, when I rebel or turn my back on him, he's never going to turn his back on me, in fact he's going to keep moving towards me, he's committed to a relationship with me, he's constantly faithful, for all time.

"I will live in the house of the Lord forever."  Forever I have the blessing and the privilege of being in the presence of God, not just for here and now but for all eternity.

To Think About:
As you read today's devotional blog, which particular phrase or verse did you sense God drawing your attention to?  Why do you think this was?  What does this verse or phrase mean to you?

Over the coming week read and meditate daily on Psalm 23.  Consider using different bible translations.  Journal your thoughts and what God says to you.

If you would like to, leave a comment sharing something that God has said to you as you meditated on Psalm 23.  I would love to hear from you.


Friday, 24 October 2014

Removing the Mask and Being Real

Dear Friends,

Have you ever worn a mask?  The kind of mask you wear to hide who you really are, to pretend to be someone you're not, because you're afraid of being real and open with others.  I know there's been times in my life when I've firmly fixed my mask in place as I've left home and before meeting up with people.  With my mask on, I've said to people I'm ok, I'm fine thank you, but inside, the person who I really am, I'm struggling, I'm depressed, my poor health is getting me down.  I've kept the mask on in the past because I'm afraid of being judged, of being misunderstood, I'm afraid of letting myself be vulnerable, of people seeing the real me.

Wearing a mask for any length of time is hard work, it takes a lot of energy, it's exhausting and impossible to maintain.  It's certainly not a healthy way to live my life.

Perhaps you've worn a mask or are wearing a mask now to stop people getting too close to you, you may have been hurt by someone in the past, they may have let you down and you don't want it happening again, so you wear it to protect yourself. Do you wear it to keep up the illusion that your life is perfect, that you have no troubles.  Maybe you don't want to be seen as a failure or weak so you keep a mask in place.  Perhaps you wear it to make people believe you're the person you think they want you to be. Maybe you wear it because you fear being misunderstood or judged or criticised by others.  Or do you wear it so that people will believe that you are a very spiritual person who doesn't struggle with sin and temptation.

Two things have helped me to remove my mask and be real.  Firstly, it's about my relationship with God. He loves me as I am, unconditionally, and because he loves me and accepts me there is no fear of his rejection, his displeasure, or his judgement. It says in 1 John 4:10-18 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins...16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.  God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect... 18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear." (NLT)    He created me deliberately, he knows and understands the real me.   I can be completely honest with him, I don't need to hide who I am, hide how I'm really feeling, or pretend that I have no problems or struggles, I don't need to pretend that everything is ok when things are far from ok. "O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord." Psalm 139:1-4 (NLT) It is very freeing and liberating when I realise that with God there really is no need to pretend to be something I'm not, that I can be who I really am. "And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32 (NLT). You and I have the privilege of a relationship with Jesus in which he calls us his friends.  (John 15:15)

Secondly, it's about having real, intimate friendships with others.  Over the years I have learnt the value of these friendships and God has blessed me with some great friends.  The kind of friendship where there is no need for masks, where we can be real and honest with each other.  When we can share about how we're really feeling, the worries and concerns we have, the struggles that we go through, the mistakes we've made.  Friends who listen and show they care, who empathise with what we're going through, who encourage and offer support, who accept us for who we are and love us without judging or criticising.  The kind of friendship in which we can pray for one another, where God is at the centre, whose presence is felt when we meet together, a friendship which also encourages and challenges each other in our relationship with God.  In these friendships we "Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other." Romans 12:10 (NLT) These friendships are to mirror the relationship we have with God.  In John 15:12 Jesus says "This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you."  (NLT)

These genuine, intimate friendships take time to develop, they won't happen overnight, time needs to be put into them, and it's also about making these relationships a priority. I know I can sometimes caught up in the things I'm doing, the things I think need to be done, so much so that if I'm not careful I can miss out on valuable friendship time.  We can all fill our time with all kinds of things but it shouldn't at the expense of our time with friends.

I believe life is far more about relationships - our relationship with God and our relationships with others - than it is about our to-do list. We need God and we need one another if we are going to live the life God intended for us. 

To Think About:
Have there been times when you have worn a mask to hide who you really are?  What have been your reasons for doing so?

What's your relationship with God like?  Do you feel free to be your true self with him?

What value do you place on your friendships?  Do you have at least one or two friends who you can be real with?  What can you do to invest in these friendships, to nurture, strengthen and deepen them?  If you feel you are lacking in this area ask God to show you who is already in your life with whom you could develop this kind of friendship .


Friday, 17 October 2014

Choosing to Live for God Despite Our Limitations

Dear Friends,

I've been thinking lately about the Apostle Paul.  He strikes me as a man who liked being active, always on the go, always doing something.  As a result of God's call on him he went on 3 missionary journeys, planting churches in the places he visited, teaching, encouraging and supporting new Christians.

Later in his life he is placed under house arrest for approximately 2 years, his freedom is taken from him, he is no longer allowed to travel to do those things God had called him to do.

We read in Acts 28:16 "When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier." (NLT)  Even though he was in his home, he didn't have complete freedom within that setting, he was constantly chained to a soldier who guarded him.

That must have been so hard for Paul to adjust to, being chained and confined to his home, not able to do the things he enjoyed doing, not able to go where he wanted, visit who he wanted.  That's tough for anyone, but I think it must have been particularly so for someone like Paul.  It could have been so frustrating for him, he could have chafed at his imprisonment, he could have struggled with feelings of uselessness, he could have given in to feelings of self-pity, he could have resigned himself to the limitations and restrictions he's placed under, he could have become bitter and angry, or  upset and heart broken that he's no longer able to do that which he knows he's been made for.  He could have spent the time complaining about his circumstances, in despair over the way his life has turned out.

But Paul didn't do any of these things.  Instead, he continued to live his life, as he always had, on purpose.  Instead of focusing on the things he's not able to do any more he focused on what God was calling him to do in his present season of life. He chose to live for God despite the limitations imposed on him. Even while he was physically confined to his home, he was not useless, his physical freedom had been taken from him, but he was still free to make certain choices about his attitude and mind-set.  There was still a contribution he could make within the restrictions imposed on him.  He may not have been able to go travelling as he once had sharing the good news, teaching and encouraging, but while he was imprisoned God brought people to him, including the soldiers who guarded him, and Paul could still share the good news about Jesus with them.  "He welcomed all who visited him, 31 boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him." Acts 28:30b-31 (NLT)  Paul couldn't travel anymore to the churches he had planted, teaching and encouraging the people there, but the Holy Spirit inspired him to write letters to churches and individuals, such as Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. These letters have blessed and helped many over the years, not just those who were Paul's contemporaries, but also us today. Paul was also committed to praying for others during his own imprisonment.  Here's just one of his prayers for his fellow believers in Ephesus:  "16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God." Ephesians 3:16-19 (NLT)

Are you feeling that you are imprisoned and confined in some way?  Perhaps because of advancing age, poor health, unexpected additional responsibilities etc.?   Are there limitations and restrictions that you need to learn to live with at this present season of your life?  Do you feel like you're no longer able to make the contribution that you once made, are you feeling useless, wishing life was back how it used to be, that you were able to do more? 

There have been times when that's how it's been for me as I've struggled to come to terms with my poor health.  Times when I've felt so frustrated with the limitations and restrictions I'm living with.  The problem is I can let my mind dwell on all the things I would like to be doing, I wish for the freedom to say I'm going to do such and such today, to be able to make plans and see them through, to think about various ways I could be serving God.  When I allow my mind to go down that route I can become miserable and feel like I have no real contribution to make.  Over time I am learning to think differently, to see things as God does, to be open to his Holy Spirit showing me how to change my thinking and my attitude.

I can choose to be like Paul.  I have the freedom to choose and determine my own attitude and mind-set.  It does me no good to deny that I am living with certain limitations, to pretend they don't exist.  The reality is that this is how my life is right now and it's healthier to acknowledge that yes, I am restricted in what I can do and to accept the situation that I am in, rather than dwelling on it in a negative way.  But I can also know that with God's enabling I can still, like Paul, live for God on purpose and my limitations can't stop me from doing this.  What can stop me is me - what I mean by this is that by focusing on my circumstances, on the things I am not able to do, I am hindering myself from recognising what it is that God has for me to do, and this then hinders me from stepping into it.

God has shown me how I can still live for God despite my limitations, I can still choose to live purposefully for him within the confines of my present circumstances, for example, by being available for my kids as they grow from teenagers to young adults, supporting my husband, being a part of a life group where we study God's Word, share and pray together, and also continuing to write for God, and in doing so share Jesus with others without leaving my home.  If in this season I can't do as much as I would perhaps like or would hope to be able to do, I can still spend time with God in prayer, praying for my family, my friends, for fellow believers all over the world.

Each one of us, no matter what season of life we are in, can still be a part of God's big plan, we may need to readjust our thinking, to realise that while our contribution is different now, it is no less significant, no less fulfilling than it was in the past. It's about asking God what he wants for us now, he has the answer after all and it's about embracing his plan and being a part of it in the here and now.  Let's not waste any more time or energy on what was or what could have been, instead let's make the most of what we can do now, and with God's enabling, live purposefully for him.

At the end of my life I want to be able to say like Paul "But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God." Acts 20:24 (NLT) and "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful." 2 Timothy 4:7 (NLT) 

To Think About:
What may be the limitations or restrictions in your life at this present time?  Ask God to help you to come to terms with them.

Spend some time with God asking him how you can live purposefully for him in this season of your life.

What are some of the things you believe God is telling you to do?


Friday, 10 October 2014

Incorruptible Beauty

Dear Friends,

As a teenager I used to find it amusing when my Mum had to hold whatever she was reading further away from her face in order to see the words clearly.  I don't find it so amusing now that I'm needing to do the same!

I've recently found a few grey hairs and the wrinkles on my face are getting more noticeable.  (Although I like to think of them as laughter lines.)  What's also scary is when I sometimes look in the mirror I see my mum's face looking back at me.  When did I begin morphing into my mother?!

Society seems obsessed with body image, with being physically fit, with body size and shape and the way we look.  People can spend enormous amounts of money in order to feel good, look good and appear younger than they are.  Spending hours at the gym, perfecting a fake tan, injecting poisons into themselves and even going to the extreme of going under the knife.  All for the sake of trying to slow down the inevitable - the aging process.  The truth is that come tomorrow, you and I will be a day older than we are today, and nothing we can do can stop that from happening.  In 2 Corinthians 4:16 we are told that "our bodies are dying" (NLT)

I confess there are times when I spend too much time on my appearance, worrying about how my hair looks, if my make-up is just right, the clothes I'm wearing, and whether I've put on a pound or two recently.  When actually there are far more important things to be concerned about.

That's not to say that we shouldn't take care of our bodies, after all, God created us, he gave us the gift of life and we are not to abuse or neglect our bodies.  As it says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 "Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body." (NLT)

But God is more interested in what we are like on the inside, not our outward appearance. "The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel  16:7 (NLT)

I like what Peter has to say on the matter, he's talking to wives but I think it's applicable to all women and men too. "Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God." 1 Peter 3:3-4 (NKJV) 

God is more interested on who we are on the inside because whereas one day our physical bodies will be no more, the good news is that our souls will last forever.  Let's read the rest of the verse from 2 Corinthians 4:16 "Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day." (NLT)  Our bodies are wasting away, there's no denying that, over time our hair goes grey, our skin sags, our eyesight and hearing weaken.  But at the same time this is happening we are progressively being renewed day by day, and that to me is a tremendously encouraging truth.

We became a new creation the moment invited Jesus into our life, when we handed our life over to him and asked him to give us eternal life.  "This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

Although our new life began immediately we said yes to Jesus, renewal is also a process that happens daily, as we become more like him, and it's a process that continues until the day we are with him in heaven.

How does this work?  I believe that the renewing process is the role of the Holy Spirit.  "So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image."  2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT).  I also like how the Amplified Bible puts that verse: "And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendour and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit." 

I also believe that it pleases the Holy Spirit when we choose to partner with him in the process, when we are willing for him to have his way, however hard it may be, whatever the cost and whatever the pain that is involved.  He is the one who will renew our thoughts, our attitudes and behaviour, and he is the one who will work in us to make us look more like Jesus from the inside out, if only we will let him.  Colossians 3:1-17 and Ephesians 4 are great passages to read and study when it comes to the process of being renewed and what this inner beauty looks like.  As we are renewed daily we become more loving, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, thankful, peaceful, truthful and look out for each other rather than being focused on self etc

What is happening within us is so much better than what is happening to us on the outside (to our physical bodies).  This is where I want my focus to be.  I don't want to be wasting my time on being overly concerned about my appearance, after all, I can't take it with me.  I want to use my time wisely, spending it working side by side with the Holy Spirit, becoming more like Jesus, because this is what is lasting, this is what I shall be taking with me to my heavenly home.

To Think About:
Do you spend too much time thinking about and concerning yourself with your outward appearance?  If so, why does what's on the outside matter so much to you?

What does an inner beauty look like to you?

Are you willing to work alongside the Holy Spirit so that he can renew you from the inside?  Do you sense him wanting to renew a particular attitude or particular behaviour and if so will you give him your co-operation?


Friday, 3 October 2014

The Power of Words

Dear Friends,

Words can have such an impact for good or for bad on our lives if we allow them to.  Today I want  us to look at 3 different types of words:

1. Words of encouragement
I am blessed to have people around me who encourage me in my ministry and my life.  Some may never realise just how much their words mean to me.  Although I believe God has called me to my ministry, there are some days when I allow doubts, questions and fears in.  This happened one particular Sunday and at the end of the morning a lady came up to me and really encouraged me by the things she said to me.  Now, whether she knew it or not, I believe it was God giving me encouragement through her.  He was encouraging me to keep going, he was confirming me in what I was doing and he was with me.  

God knows just when we need encouragement and he gives it to us through a variety of means, such as via another person, as we read his word, as we listen to his word, as we seek him in prayer.  He encourages us to keep serving him, to seek to please him, to have pure motives for what we are doing so that we bring him glory.

Ephesians 4:29 "Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them." (NLT)  Or as the Amplified Version puts it: "Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk [ever] come out of your mouth, but only such [speech] as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it."

Encouragement can have a great influence for good on us, but we do need to be careful, we need to be aware that it can also have the opposite affect on us if we allow it. It can feed our pride so that we begin to believe that people are praising us because we are so amazing and skilled, and we forget that we are only able to do the things we do because God has given us the gift and ability in the first place and he is the one who is enabling us to do it.  Or it can change our motive from doing what we do to please God who has called us to serve him, to seeking the approval of others, serving to gain their encouragement in order to feel good about ourselves. 

How do we prevent encouragement from having a bad effect on us?  I think by keeping in a close relationship with God, recognising that we don't always understand our hearts ourselves, that our hearts can deceive us, ("The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?" Jeremiah 17:9 NIV) so we need to ask God to keep our hearts and motives pure.  David asked God to "Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a loyal spirit within me." Psalm 51:10 (NLT)  We also need to ask God to keep us humble, make ourselves available to be used by God as he sees fit, and seek always to give him the glory.  Living for him in such a way that pleases him, knowing we already have his approval so that we don't need approval from others.

2. Constructive criticism
Receiving encouragement can be a real blessing to each one of us.  Constructive criticism can also be a blessing to us, but is far harder to receive!

If I'm honest, I don't particularly enjoy these kind of conversations.  Just as there are people in my life who encourage me I also have some who will give me constructive criticism when it's needed.  It can be hard when someone sits you down and tells you that you could have done something differently or even better than you did.  I think I can find it hard because I always seek to do my best, I put a lot of effort into what I do, and then to be told that there are changes that can be made to improve it can hurt a little.  I have to remind myself that constructive criticism is not a personal attack on me, it's not done to belittle me or make me feel worthless.  That actually it is given because the person loves and cares about me, they want to encourage me to be all that God wants me to be.  I need to remind myself to always receive constructive criticism in the spirit in which it is given. 

Ephesians 4:15 "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." (NIV)

When someone close to us, who we respect and who we know loves us, gives us some constructive criticism we should always be willing to hear what they have to say.  It's always worth thinking on, perhaps doing this alone in the presence of God, asking him if there is anything in what has been said, if there is then as we implement it into our lives it will become a blessing to us.  If perhaps they have got it wrong, never hold it against them, they were doing what they believed was right, they were saying it from right motives and we need to remember that neither do we get things right all the time.  At the same time, choose to let go of what they have said. What we do with constructive criticism we are given is always our choice - we can choose to accept it or reject it.

3. Words of criticism
" Sometimes it (the tongue) praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!" James 3:9-10 (NLT)

We can probably all remember the hurtful things that have been said to us in the past. The terrible things people have said to us and about us can be incredibly painful not only at the time but also years later because they can be hard to forget.  If we have allowed them to take root in our minds then they can have such a bad impact on us, they can shape our identity, who we believe we are, and we can start to have a wrong view of ourselves. These words can stop us from doing all that God has intended for us to do and as a result we can live limited lives.

Only God can heal us of the past hurts that have been caused because of the things people have said.  Will you give him all your hurts and pain and ask for his healing in those areas? 

When we are criticised and judged wrongly we need to be deliberate about rejecting it.  We need to ask God to give us the power to reject it.  And not only to reject it but to fill our minds and hearts with what God says about us, who we are in Christ and what he wants for us.  We need to keep reminding ourselves of God's truth and reject the lies that the devil would have us believe because he wants to bring us down, he wants to make us miserable and keep us from living the life God has planned for us.

Don't allow criticisms, harsh words, unkind words, insults, words that cause you pain to even have a foot in the door, learn to recognise them for what they are, don't allow them to have any influence over you, instead keep immersing yourself in God's word which can have such an influence for good on you if you will just allow it.  Decide for yourself today, make the choice now to always listen and pay attention to God and to ignore and reject the words from others that can cause you so much harm.

We have an English saying "like water off a duck's back", the duck is protected from water because of it's oily feathers, so he is not effected by the wet, so too may criticisms, insults etc. be "like water off a duck's back" to us because we are protected by the power of the Holy Spirit in us and by the truth of God's word.

To Think About:
Think about the times when you have been encouraged by the words of others.  How have they been an influence for good on you?  How can you use your words to encourage others?

Are you able to receive constructive criticism so that it too can have a good effect on you?  What do you think stops you from accepting it?  Is there someone you care about who would benefit from some constructive criticism?  If so, what would be the best way to give it?  Ask God to help you even though it may be difficult to say.

Are you allowing criticisms, unfair words, insults, destructive words to shape who you are and what you do?  What do you need to do to help you reject these words?  Can you replace them with God's truth instead?