Friday, 18 September 2015

Dealing with Setbacks

Dear Friends,

Last week I bought a present online for my Mum.  It was to be an early birthday present because I wanted her to have it when she went away on holiday.  I did leave it a bit late and the estimated dates of delivery went up to and included the day she was to leave.  I really hoped it would arrive before she left.  So when it came early, even before the dates given, I was so pleased.  I visited her feeing quite excited because I knew it was something she wanted.  However, when she tried it we disovered it was the wrong size.  I had been so sure I'd ordered the right one.  I was upset, frustrated, annoyed with myself and disappointed.  I'd bought a birthday present for Mum which was no good!  I was not in a good mood!

Thankfully, Jason came to the rescue and was able to order the correct size and even managed to get it delivered in time for Mum's holiday.  I was so relieved and happy that she had eventually got what she really wanted and that she'd even be able to start using it before she went away.

In the scheme of things, getting the wrong item was not a big setback.  But there are times when we do have to deal with big setacks in life - such as perhaps not getting the promotion we thought was a done deal, our health taking a turn for the worse, a relationship breakdown, a goal or dream hitting a road block, etc.

A setback is often unexpected and takes us by surprise.  How do you deal with these kinds of setbacks?  I'll be honest with you and say I tend to react in the same way as I did with the setback of getting the wrong gift for my Mum.  I get frustrated, upset, annoyed, disappointed. Why did this have to happen?  I thought I'd been doing the right thing.  Where did it all go wrong?  Maybe I should just give up.  What's the point of trying?

Now I know the way I react is not good and not right but sometimes God has to remind me of this.  Because although I know it, I often forget, especially in the heat of the moment.

What I would define as a setback I believe God sees as an opportunity for a learning moment. So how do I deal with it in a more positive way? The first thing I need to do is to take it to God and be honest with him as to how I'm feeling. 

Whilst a setback can take me by surprise, God is never taken by surprise.  A setback can remind me that I'm not the one in control and I'm not the one who's supposed to be in charge.  It reminds me that God is the one who's in control and that I need to relinquish my need to control and place him in his rightful place of being Lord of my life. "This is what the Lord says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God." Isaiah 44:6 (NIV).

Whereas I may look on a setback as a negative thing, God can actually use it to teach me some important truths. "True wisdom and real power belong to God; from him we learn how to live, and also what to live for." Job 12:13 (MSG). When everything is going well I can get too focused on what I'm doing and can begin to lose perspective.  God can use a setback to refocus my attention on him. The writer to the Hebrews says that we need to be "focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity]," Hebrews 12:2 (AMP).  When I'm refocused on him, then my outlook and perspective is right. It reminds me that my life is not all about me, and that it's actually all about God.  God can use the setback to teach me to rely and lean on him, rather than living independently.  It helps me to realign my priorities with God at the centre.

God can also use a setback to get me to pause and to encourage me to wait on him.  So he can use it to teach me more about myself, to change me, to grow and strengthen my faith, to develop certain aspects of my character etc.  God can use a setback to prepare me for my future.

God can use a setback to teach me to trust him more. "Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you." Psalm 37:5 (NLT).  It's relatively easy to say I trust God when everything is going my way.  It's quite another thing to express my trust in God when it seems like my life is falling apart or when I'm dealing with a setback.  I have found that it's in those times when life is difficult that my trust in God grows.

There are plenty of examples of people from the bible who experienced setbacks, but God used them for good in the ways I've just been describing.  For example, Jonah hit a setback when he expected God to do as he said and punish the people of Ninevah.  Instead God showed them grace.  It was an opportunity for God to reveal something more of his nature to Jonah and to teach Jonah that he was wrong in his attitude towards others. (The book of Jonah is only 4 chapters, you might like to read it for yourself.)  Another example is Esther (you can read about her in the book named after her in the bible) she experienced a setback when as queen she learnt that she and her people's lives were threatened.  This setback caused her to focus on God, to wait on him to give her the wisdom to know what action she should take.  Through her obedience and faith in God she was able to save the Jews from annihilation.

God can still work his purposes out, even through a setback.  He is Lord of time, and while we may fret and fume over setbacks and the time we may feel is wasted on them.  When we allow God to be in control of our life everything happens in his time.  With God, no time is ever wasted.  If we surrender to him and submit to his purposes for our lives, then we will see how he can use a setback for good.

To Think About:
What is your natural reaction to setbacks?

Can you look back and see how God actually used a setback for good in your life?

If you could view setbacks as learning moments from God what difference would that make in your life?


Friday, 11 September 2015

The Power of Words (Part 2)

Dear Friends,

Last week we looked at how our words have the power to cause hurt and damage to others.  This week I want us to focus on how our words have the power to bring blessing to others. 

"Sometimes it 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)

The following verses tell us how there is power in our words - that words can bring life and hope, encouragement, support, comfort, wise advice, blessing, etc.

"The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life and his words of wisdom are a source of blessing, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence and evil." Proverbs 10:11 (AMP)

"Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweet and delightful to the soul and healing to the body." Proverbs 16:24 (AMP)

“In the past you have encouraged many people; you have strengthened those who were weak. Your words have supported those who were falling; you encouraged those with shaky knees." Job 4:3-4 (NLT)

When I think back over my own life I see that there are many who have stood with me and by their words have given me encouragement, courage, support, comfort, affirmation, love, joy and much more.

Just recently I was encouraged by someone who had taken the time to send me a card of thanks.  It came at just the right time, because I'd been feeing a bit deflated.  She may not have known that, but God did and he knew what a blessing it would be to me.  So I believe he prompted her to send that note.  She may have felt it was a little thing to do, but the act itself meant a great deal to me.

My son, who's not particularly verbal when it comes to expressing his affection, sent me a precious text while he was away at camp.  I don't always keep the texts I receive but this one I have!  Again, I don't suppose he'll know quite how much that his words meant to me.

In today's world we have so many ways of expressing our words to another, we can do it in person (never underestimate the power of your words spoken with someone face to face), via email, cards, texts, phone calls, Skype etc.  I'm not talking about words that flatter or pander to a person's ego, I'm talking about the genuine words that people need to hear, such as words of appreciation, words which build them up, stir them on, encourage, teach, comfort, etc.

There is also great power in the words that God says to us.  There is life, hope, healing, comfort, encouragement, joy and peace to be found when we pay attention to the things that God says to us.  His words also teach us what we need to know, they give us guidance, counselling and direction.

I daily need God to speak to me because without him I easily become lost, disheartened and confused.   His words are timely.  He knows just what I need to hear and when I need to hear it.  Over the years the bible, God's Word, has become increasingly valuable to me.  Time and again he has given me encouragement, comfort, love, direction, peace of mind and so much more through his Word.

King Solomon wrote "My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words. 21 Don’t lose sight of them.  Let them penetrate deep into your heart, 22 for they bring life to those who find them, and healing to their whole body." Proverbs 4:20-22 (NLT) These words apply to you and me - God's Word has the power to brings us life and healing.  But first we need to pay attention to them, listen carefully, allow them to speak deep into our hearts and keep hold of them by reflecting and meditating on them.

By becoming more and more familiar with God's Word and as we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us so we become more like Jesus.  As we become more like Jesus, we imitate him more and more in our speech, the things we say and the way we say them. Just as God's Word gives us comfort, encouragement, counsel, support, truth etc. we will be able to also speak these things to others and our words will be a blessing to them. Our words will have a positive effect rather than causing hurt and damage. 

Have you ever thought about asking God to give you something to say to someone?  Something he knows they are in need of.  Sometimes it can be as simple as sharing a verse that you believe God has placed on your heart for that person.  Or sending a note of appreciation.  Or giving them comfort in their grief.

To Think About:
How have others given you encouragement, comfort, advice, support etc. by their words?

Think about the kinds of words that you speak to those closest to you, such as your family, your friends, your church family.  How can you use your words so that they are a blessing to them?

How can you be more deliberate about the words you speak this week so that you can give encouragement, comfort, support etc. when someone needs it?

How much do you value God's Word and the things God has said to you?


Friday, 4 September 2015

The Power of Words (Part 1)

Dear Friends,

I've been thinking recently about the power of our words.

How many of you remember when you were at school saying this playground chant: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me"?

The truth is that whilst being physically hurt causes physical pain, it's not true that words don't hurt us. Words can and do cause us much pain, they bruise our hearts, they can leave deep scars and cause all kinds of damage.

Words such as, "You're good...a failure...hopeless...etc"  cause so much harm, not only at the time, but also on in to the future if we don't do something about them.  So what can we do?

Step 1. Let go of the words that have damaged us - reject them and leave them with God.

Step 2. Ask God to heal us from the pain - he is our healer.  "He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds."  Psalm 147:3 (NLT)

Step 3. Fill our minds with the truth from God's word. Jesus said in John 6:63 "And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life." (NLT)   He is our creator, he has redeemed us, he has adopted us as his children, he has a purpose for our lives.     

Whilst not deliberately, I confess there have been times when I have spoken words that I know have caused pain.  Times when I've been frustrated with my children, over-reacted to something they've done and then responded with words of anger.  Times when I've snapped at Jason when he hasn't deserved it. The damage is done so quickly.  Unintentional damage, but damage just the same.

The tongue is a small, but dangerous part of the body.  James tells us how just as a tiny spark can start a fire and do a whole load of damage so too can the tongue. "A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell." James 3:5-6 (The Message)

Negative words, words spoken in anger, words that knock people down, words of critisicim, gossiping words are the kind of words I don't want on my lips.  Yes, I can seek forgiveness for them after the fact, but what can I do to prevent them from ever being spoken?

James goes on to say "People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison." James 3:7-8 (NLT)

Willpower on its own is just not enough.  Just try it and see how frustrated you become by your failure in this area.  Trying harder just doesn't work.  I don't have the strength or self-control to live this way.  This would be discouraging if we didn't have the answer to the problem with our tongue.  But we do have the answer, so what can we do?

1. It's true that no person can ever tame the tongue, but we have someone living in us who does have the power to tame the tongue.  He is the Holy Spirit and Ephesians 5:18 tells us that we are to "be filled with the Holy Spirit".  This is not a one off action, it actually means to be filled and keep on beng filled by the Holy Spirit, moment by moment, day by day.  This means that throughout my day I can keep going to him and ask for his help to tame my tongue.  As we daily, and moment by moment, seek to be filled with him he gives us the self-control we need (see Galatians 5:23).

2. The Holy Spirit living within you and me gives us spiritual wisdom and enables us to speak and act in a way that is pleasing to God.  "17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."  James 3:17-18 (ESV)

James has already written about wisdom earlier in his letter.  "If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you."  James 1:5 (NLT)  If I ask Him he will give me wisdom in the way I use my words and wisdom to know when to speak, what to say and when to stay silent.

3. James also says "Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry." James 1:19 (NLT)  If I practice listening more and being slower to speak then I'm less likely to say something I may regret and less likely to hurt someone by the things that I say.

This week I've written about The Power of Words - Taming the Tongue.  Next week I plan to look at The Power of Words - how we can use our words for good.

To Think About:
Have you been hurt in the past by the things that people have said to you?  Will you try working through those 3 steps I mentioned earlier?

Have you ever caused someone pain by the words you've spoken and how you've spoken them?  Have you tried in your own strength to tame your tongue?

What do you think will enable you to tame your tongue?  Will you do this?


(Image taken from <a href="" title="Image from"><img src="" width="350" alt="Taming The Tongue Clip Art | Clipart Panda - Free Clipart Images" /></a>)