Choose to speak and act positively

 

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‘For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit … Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.’

Reflections based on Romans 14:1–23.

When you act and speak, you make a series of (often subconscious) choices. This passage encourages us not to make ourselves a stumbling block to those who think differently to us (or are perhaps ‘weaker’ in their faith). Paul was referencing some of the inevitable disputes that occurred in the Early Church. Some believers, for example, felt free to eat anything whereas others did not want to unknowingly sin so ate only vegetables. They were possibly worried that they could unknowingly eat meat sacrificed to idols, as often the sacrifices were only partially burned and the rest of the meat was sent to market to be sold. While some believers knew idols were worthless and unreal anyway so were free from any sense of guilt, others (possibly those who had previously been idol worshippers) found it unhelpful. What I think we can learn from this is not to be judgemental or critical but rather to be aware that what we do and say affects those around us, and we should seek always to build people up.

Church is also the last place this should happen, but it can also be full of comparison. Try and keep a check on any subtle criticisms you may engage in as they are so unhelpful.

Of course we need to be honest – life is full of problems and as Christians we aren’t immune to them. And yet, if we aren’t careful, all we see are the problems. Even when we think we are empathising with someone, we can have a tendency to join in with negativity rather than lifting the conversation to more positive words of hope and encouragement. Proverbs 10:11 reminds us that ‘the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life’, so let’s use ours in that way.

Prayer: Lord help me not to be a stumbling block to anyone around me, but to be one that encourages and builds up. Teach me to keep a check on the words I say and the actions I take.

Developing a positive thought life

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‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.’

Reflections based on Philippians 4:4–9.

This passage is such a helpful key to living our lives well. In it we are told how important it is to have an attitude of rejoicing (and this from a man in prison!). He also says we should not worry but bring everything to God and that it is this process that will allow our minds and hearts to be full of his peace.

It is vital that we develop a positive thought life. We’ve already seen in this blog series how David did this. Immerse yourself in the Word and pray regularly. But it is of course a process, not an instant result. Just think what a minefield our minds can be, and often it is what we mull over that causes us to become discouraged. Romans 12:2 combats this, telling us that we should ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. How do we do that? Well in 2 Corinthians 10:5 we are told to ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’. It is a very active thing; we need to fight for our mind and boot out the thoughts that aren’t helpful. The start of that verse says: We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God’ – these are all things that can come against you in your mind.

I think the last few verses in our Philippians passage can be truly life-changing. I’d encourage you to write them out and post them where you will see the passage regularly. They are a great plumb line to use to stop and think every so often throughout your day about what you’ve allowed your thoughts to linger on. You’ll probably be shocked by some of things your mind entertains without you really noticing. I was when I tried it.

Prayer: Lord I am sorry that so often I can just allow any thought to linger in my mind. Help me to be proactive about throwing out the unhelpful thoughts, and replacing them with ones that do me good.

Words that bring life

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‘But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.’

Reflections based on Ephesians 2:1–22.

We have been focusing on the power of our words, and how we can give encouragement through them. Encouragements can simply be words of thanks when something goes well or when somebody’s actions were a real blessing to you. But, actually, the greatest words of encouragement that we can not only receive but give to others are the truths about our identity in Christ. A quick word to someone who is having a bad day, reminding them that they are God’s child, loved and accepted and full of His Spirit, can do wonders to affirm them.

I think it is important that we remind ourselves regularly of who we are in Christ too. That is why I picked out this passage in Ephesians. It is stuffed full of truth about what our identity is now that we are in Him. I’m going to quickly highlight some of them for you: we were once dead in our sin but we are now alive. God has seated us next to Jesus. We have this gift through grace – we don’t deserve it nor is it because of anything that we have done or need to do. We were once far away but are now near God. Jesus is our peace. We are now citizens of heaven and members of God’s household, part of His body in which the Holy Spirit dwells.

Isn’t that all amazing?!

To top it all off, the previous chapter of Ephesians reminds us that we are not just part of God’s household, but we are children of God: ‘In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will’ (v5). I don’t know about you, but soaking in those truths really lifts my spirit!

Prayer: Lord I thank You so much for the new life that I have in Jesus; for the standing and authority that You have lavished upon me because of Him. I stand in amazement before You today.

 

 

The power of the tongue

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‘the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire.’

Reflections based on James 3:3–12.

Firstly, apologies that this is a day later than usual. Yesterday I had the enormous pleasure of co-presenting a seminar with a counsellor I have co-authored three books with (the Insight Guides described on my writing page). It was a busy day, but hugely rewarding.

Let’s get stuck into the next instalment of our study on encouragement. Last time, we looked at how important it is to have those that spur us on. One of the obvious ways in which we can give encouragement is through what we say. But how often do we actively think about the ratio of positive and negative words that come out of our mouths? So often we can speak without thinking (I know I do!) and yet today’s passage reminds us about the power our words hold.

James uses incredibly vivid imagery, comparing the tongue to the rudder on a ship or the small spark of fire that destroys a forest. It might be a tiny part of our bodies, but it truly can control us. He ends with a challenge: our mouths should not be bringing forth both praise to God and negativity towards others.

We could feel condemned after reading what James has to say, and yet surely all of us can think of someone who is constantly negative and cutting – and what a terrible atmosphere they create in a room. We have a choice about what comes out of mouths. Yes the tongue is a powerful instrument but Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that it ‘has the power of life and death’. So not only can the words we say destroy a person, they can also build them up.

How important it is to use the tongue to speak out encouragement! We can assume that someone is doing so well at something that they don’t need our positive words. And yet RT Kendall talks in his book Your Words have Power about the fact that he still needs affirming each time he preaches – and he experienced first-hand the fact that the great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones needed it too! It is a universal truth that we all thrive under encouragement.

Challenge: If, like me, you find giving words of encouragement doesn’t come naturally to you, spend some time practicing today. Choose a couple of people and speak something encouraging to them.

How I found my voice

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Today I am delighted to welcome James Prescott to my blog. I have known James for quite a while; we conversed on social media for months before discovering that we live in the same town! We are also both part of the Association of Christian Writers, which provides great support.

 I was privileged to be a part of James’ book launch group and can honestly say I have found his new book invaluable; challenging yet full of grace. So many of the lessons God had been teaching him were ones that He had been speaking to me about too, so the book resonated with me a lot. So I was keen to get James to write a guest blog for me. Here he describes the process of writing his book, and how it helped him to find his voice…

For most writers, the writing of their first book is the culmination of them finding their voice. It comes at the end of that process. But for me, it was completely the opposite.

My first trade book Mosaic Of Grace: God’s Beautiful Reshaping Of Our Broken Lives was published in February. But the first draft was written in the summer of 2013. At that point I’d been writing for a long time – but I’d still not found my own unique creative voice. The idea for a book about grace had come along in the previous nine months, from reading, reflecting, listening to sermons and talking with friends.

In the process I realised there was a message about grace that hadn’t been shared. A new perspective that needed to be given voice. I’d written two e-books by then, so was ready to explore writing a book.

Starting the journey
I had no idea about how to plan, structure or write a book. I had no idea about the publishing world whatsoever. I wrote the book, not expecting it to ever be published. I had no reputation, no following and had no chance of a book contract. Self-publishing wasn’t an option financially. So I was writing merely for myself.

By complete chance, I connected with a book editor on social media. They offered to read my book, initially offering advice. This quickly evolved into them editing the whole book. They’d do private edits on their own time, then we’d do Skype calls working through the text together, editing, rewriting, improving.

Learning along the way
Because it was a very rough draft, with no plan, and I’d got no experience, the book needed a lot of work. There were a lot of rewrites and additions to be made. There were large sections to take out. And this all took time.

Even during this process, I had no idea if or how the book would be published. It was still just an idea, a promise, a dream. But the book was taking shape. And, in the meantime, I was getting a masterclass in how to write a book, and indeed, on writing itself, from my editor.

It took time, but, by mid 2016, we had a final draft to work from. And we were talking about her small publishing company putting the book out.

Finally, this thing was going to happen. And, ironically, I was still learning about grace. The truth of the book was being exposed to me all the time. I began seeing it in every area of my life. I came up with ideas for coaching, for other books, all of which began, in some way, with the simple idea that we’re enough, we belong, we’re loved. We’re accepted as we are, for who we are, not for what we do, what we own, our relationship status or social status.

Taking time out
It soon became clear that writing the book was just the beginning of the process. In 2014, about eight months after I wrote the first draft, I got to a point where I needed a break. My blogging had lost focus, direction and joy. I couldn’t go on. So I stopped public writing. I decided I would simply write privately, for myself, every day – for as long as it took. As long as it took to find my voice, to connect again with my true creative spirit.

It was liberating. I felt alive for the first time. And it was the most creative, fresh period of my life. New material and ideas were pouring out of me. It took time to get there, but, once I did, it was like a new spring of water bursting out of the ground…you couldn’t stop it.

And the irony I didn’t see at the time, was that it was by returning to myself, to my true self – the self which grace said was enough – that I found my voice.

I had written this book, and lived it, and, in the process, had found my authentic, honest writing voice. Grace had literally brought me (in particular my creative side) to life.

An increase of momentum
I wrote a short e-book, which is currently available on my blog for free, about this season of my creative journey, and some lessons I learned. This really launched my blog, and my subscriber list and following grew. Suddenly, I had people interested in my work, people who might buy a book I wrote. And I still had the book I was working on, which I really wanted to share with people.

Grace had helped me find my voice.

Mosaic Of Grace New Cover Black EdgeMeasuring success
When Mosaic Of Grace was finally published earlier this year, there was, naturally, a focus on numbers, on sales, on marketing and promoting the book and its ideas. But when I got people’s e-mails and messages with stories about how the book had changed their lives, how it had been healing and life-giving to them that reminded me again of where this all began. With grace. Those stories mattered, and still matter, way more than the sales figures.

The book’s success wasn’t dependent on sales figures – with just one message like that, I knew all those years of work were worth it.

From start to finish, this book, and everything about it – the writing, editing, publishing, promotion – had all been a process, teaching me about grace. It was a process that changed me, before it changed anyone else. A process that helped me find my voice.

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James Prescott is a writer, blogger, podcaster, writing coach and bestselling author of Mosaic Of Grace: God’s Beautiful Reshaping Of Our Broken Lives, available on Amazon here. He hosts the weekly ‘Poema Podcast’, and you can read his blog, get free e-books and find out more about his books and coaching at www.jamesprescott.co.uk. You can find him on Facebook and also follow him on Twitter & Instagram.

Be each other’s fan club!

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‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’

Reflections based on Ephesians 4:1–29.

This chapter in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is focused on unity, and every believer playing the part that God has called them to. It follows on from our last devotional reading about putting off the old self and living in the way of the Spirit. It is interesting that verse 29 zeros in on our speech and how we should use it intentionally for the building up of those around us. We certainly need the encouragement of one another – perhaps more so than at any other time in history. There are more people suffering from depression than ever before – 85,000 deaths worldwide occur each year due to depression. We each desperately need people who are rooting for us.

Dr Gary Chapman, renowned marriage counsellor and the author of the bestselling The Five Love Languages, recognises how much difference it makes in a person’s life. Indeed, in his book The Family You’ve Always Wanted he says, ‘‘From the smallest child to the oldest adult, when our fan club applauds us, we try harder.’

We do have a responsibility to live as children of God, not by our old sinful nature. We don’t have to strive to do it in our own strength, though, as we have the Holy Spirit’s help. This chapter reminds us that we are grafted into God’s family too, with his Son at the head. Verse 16 says that, ‘From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love…’ Note the imagery: we each make up a part of the supporting framework of the body. We need one another’s support and encouragement. We are not meant to journey in this life alone, but alongside others who will spur us on to be the best we can be.

Reflection: Do you have those in your life that encourage you? If so, find a way to thank them today. If not, ask God to bring encouragers into your life. Look out for ways you can encourage others today too.

Women being bold

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Today is that day when we specifically take time to celebrate all that women have achieved socially, economically, culturally and politically. Even in my lifetime so much has changed and I enjoy being able to celebrate that fact. I have been thrilled to see women who have, over many decades, helped to forge forward new discoveries and initiatives being celebrated too within the media (I think, for example, of recent films such as Hidden Figures).

However, there is so much still to be done. And so much inequality in so many areas too. I shudder when I think of the amount of gender violence that still occurs around the world. I feel sick when I think of young girls still being subjected to genital mutilation and women simply accepting daily violence from their husbands as they don’t see any way out. This year’s hashtag for IWD is #BeBoldForChange. Each one of us, in our own spheres of influence, can be courageous and bold. But can we punch above the line and stand up for what we know is right? Can we add our voices to all those saying enough is enough, it’s time for change? I try to write about such issues of inequality whenever I can, and am so grateful that I get to work for charities that are doing something practically, on the ground, to help women trapped in vicious cycles. But a day like today causes me to stop and ponder: am I doing enough? What else could I do?

As a Christian I firmly believe that God is for women. He champions us, loves us, cherishes us;  He shows us how we should be treated – and how we should treat others. May we always look to Him for guidance and openly receive His unending love, grace and mercy. May we listen when He prompts us to reach out, perhaps beyond our comfort zones, to help those who are unable to help themselves.

Becoming an encourager

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‘For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.’

Reflections based on Romans 8:1–30.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Traditionally, it is a time to soberly reflect on our frailty and sinfulness. I come from an evangelical background, so haven’t often been involved with particular set days in the Church calendar. However, I am learning more and more how certain traditions can enrich my faith. I love the fact that, on Ash Wednesday, there is a sense in which we can be honest about our need for repentance collectively. We don’t need to pretend.

I think this fits well with our current weekly devotional on encouragement. Today’s blog is about becoming an encourager, but I sense that many of us can struggle with that idea. If you do, be encouraged that you are not alone! There can be various reasons for this, and today try to be honest with yourself about why that is the case for you.

Some of us can have a natural tendency to be worriers, or to be quite negative. Others can be pretty insecure and so we find it difficult to lift our heads above our problems. It is so easy to accept these natural tendencies, saying to ourselves that it is simply the way we were born. However, although we can acknowledge where we are at today, we can also remember that Lent is a time for reflection – and of looking forward to what Jesus did for us on the cross. Let’s be honest if we struggle with being encouraging – but remind ourselves that God is the ultimate encourager.

Today’s scripture is full of great truth for any of us struggling with the concept of encouragement too. Firstly, there is no longer any condemnation for us (v1), so we don’t need to take on negative thinking about how badly we’ve given or received encouragement in the past. It also says we are set free in Christ; in fact the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are now children of God. We no longer have to live by our sinful nature.

I know that trying to put off your old nature and put on the new in your own strength can be frustrating and somewhat impossible, but the good news is we have the Holy Spirit’s help. With His help, we CAN change. Those of us who tend to be negative and critical CAN be encouraging and positive. Those who allow our thoughts to spiral downwards and end up being somewhat self-absorbed in the midst of difficulties CAN lift our heads and receive comfort and help from the Father. Our passage for today also includes the amazing promise that God is working for our good in all things (v28). What an encouragement to cling to!

Prayer: Lord I am sorry for the times when I seem to be more at home with my old nature. On this Ash Wednesday, I ask You to help me to set it aside and learn how to be an encourager. Give me opportunities to encourage others – and then be encouraged myself when I have done so. Amen.

 

Book news

me-with-contractI have interrupted my usual weekly devotional to bring you two pieces of exciting news! I can now officially share with you that my book, Taking off the mask: learning to live authentically, will be published in November by Authentic Media. This is the book I have had on my heart to write for a few years now. It starts with my own personal story (which I posted here recently), but then looks at the insights God has been teaching me over the last 12 years or so about why we seem to hide our real selves from those around us. I have learned a huge amount, about myself and others, and hope that it will be a blessing to all of you. I will of course keep you updated on any exclusive book-related news (including the finalised title, as it is a working one for now) in the coming months.

insightintoburnoutAs well as receiving my signed contract for Taking off the mask back, February has also seen the release of my latest co-written book for CWR’s Insight series: Insight into Burnout. Stress leading to burnout is sadly so rife in today’s busy and demanding culture, and this book takes a look at the reasons behind that, what it does to us physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, as well as offering effective ways of overcoming and/or avoiding burnout. We look at how to get more balance in our lives as we seek to serve God and those around us too. To purchase a copy, please click here (it is currently on sale!).

Encouraging yourself in God

 

Reflections based on 1 Samuel 30.

‘David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God.’

Encouragement gives us fresh hope, as well as the courage to carry on. David is a great biblical character to show us how to find encouragement in God. At this point in his story (covered by chapters 27, 29 and 30), he had decided to escape King Saul’s pursuit of him and went to live within the Philistines’ land. He ended up serving a Philistine king, which must have been bizarre for them all (as he had previously killed the Philistine giant Goliath)! Indeed, not all of the king’s men accept him and eventually David and his men are sent back to Ziklag, where their wives and children were. While they had been away, Amalekites had raided and taken their women and children captive.

At this point, David’s men begin to turn on him. What was David’s response? He didn’t despair, run or try to plead with them; we are told he ‘found strength in the Lord’ and then asked for the ephod so he could ask God what to do. How did he encourage himself in God? It isn’t spelt out in scripture but, given what is revealed about him in the psalms he penned, I think he probably brought to mind past examples of God’s faithfulness and stood firm on God’s promises. A look through psalms 34–41, for example, shows that David wasn’t afraid to be honest about his circumstances and emotions, and yet he always turned to praise, reminding himself how trustworthy and faithful God is. I love the tone of Psalm 37 – it is as if David is revealing what he has learned over the years: ‘I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken’ (v25). In other psalms he tells his downcast soul to look to God. I think we can learn a lot about how to encourage ourselves through reading the psalms he penned.

Meditation: Spend some time thinking about ways that you can encourage yourself in God today.