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.

Love is… forgiveness and grace

steveand-i-christmas2016I am sharing this post today to commemorate National Marriage Week as well as Valentine’s Day. I know that the latter is an over-commercialised event, but my husband and I grab it as an opportunity to take time out to spend with one another. I also wanted to share this post as it my story of grace – which is the subject of my friend James’ new book, Mosaic of Grace, released yesterday (you can check it out here). What I share below is taken from my own book, which will be published later this year. I first wrote this for Amy Boucher Pye’s Forgiveness Fridays blog, but feel it is an appropriate way to celebrate my own marriage today. If it weren’t for my husband’s forgiveness and grace extended towards me there is no way we would still be journeying together today…

 

Our lives were shattered – lying about in little pieces on the floor. And the worst thing was that it was pretty much all down to me. I had chosen to believe the lies, especially the one that whispered that my husband didn’t care about me. I believed it because he worked around the clock in a recording studio and there was little left of him when he was at home. I believed it because my heart was hurting and I was lonely…

Vulnerable and foolish

As a woman who had grown up with self-esteem issues, I didn’t deal well with feeling abandoned. When I came before God with my feelings that I didn’t matter to my husband, His answer was that He wanted to take care of me and show me how to lean on Him completely. But I threw it back in His face. I needed someone who could hug me – and God just didn’t seem physical enough at the time.

But this put me in danger of allowing my emotional needs to be fed by other sources. Eventually, a friendship with another man in my church, which had started innocently enough, resulted with us deciding to leave everything behind and to start a new life together. With our actions we devastated the lives of my husband, the man’s wife and all the other members of our close-knit church community.

Lost

Two weeks later he chose to go back to his wife. I was left reeling, feeling totally deserted – but also knowing I deserved it all. Tellingly, it was my husband whom I rang once the other guy left. After all, my husband had been my best friend since I was a teenager so it seemed natural and I called him without thinking. How hard it must have been for him to take me back home, watch me huddled in the foetal position, sobbing endlessly. The next day he moved me, and a lot of my belongings, to my parents’ home where I was to stay until I had healed enough to discover what was next for my life.

I had lost everything by wrongfully pinning my hopes on another human being rather than God. And I was like a wounded animal at times – licking my wounds, lashing out, wanting to be left alone. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my husband going home, getting up for work each day and not knowing whether our marriage was salvageable.

Of course, we had deep issues that needed dealing with within our marriage. But I had to get to a place, first, of believing there was a future there. That I could look past all the years of hurt and misunderstanding and repent as well as forgive, and move on.

A taste of real love

When my husband visited me, at times I felt a little suffocated, as I knew he was trying his best to win me back. But, most of the time, he was gracious, gentle and loving, knowing also when to give me space. How he responded to me during that horrific time of limbo taught me what real love is. He showed me Jesus’ love for me in a very tangible way.

I had used him terribly – basically turned my back on him – and all our friends knew about it. And yet he was there, whenever I felt I could see him, a solid anchor who remained firm. He showed me that, even though I had done the worst thing I could to him, his love for me hadn’t faltered. He proved, over and over again, that he wanted our marriage to work.

Yes, we had counselling. And yes, we both had to face up to our failings, to understand the responsibility we had for one another and the changes that needed to occur. But his gentle patience during that time melted my hardened, broken heart. Even after I was back home, there would be moments when I would be wracked with emotional pain all over again and he would just hold me, caring for me through the tears.

Salvation through sacrifice

I know it must have been so, so excruciatingly difficult for him, and he certainly laid down his life for me. He also spoke to his bosses about what was going on, and the result was a miracle: studios always work around the clock but they agreed to put into practise the unheard of rule that the studio my husband ran would close by 8pm. Yes, his sacrifice saved our marriage – and revealed another layer of God’s love to me in such a powerful way.

Although this period of time was more than 16 years ago now, I can’t help but think of my husband’s loving sacrifice anytime I ponder the concept of forgiveness. You can read more of our story, and the passion for authentic openness that it birthed inside of me, in my forthcoming book: Taking off the mask: learning to live authentically.

The ultimate encourager

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Reflections based on John 14:15–29.

‘the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.’

As we saw last time, it is vital to remember that God is the one who offers us comfort and encouragement. Psalm 10:17 says: ‘You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry’. I can’t imagine how the disciples must have been feeling during this, their final meal shared with Jesus, but I think I would probably have been feeling pretty lost when He explained that He would soon be leaving. However, Jesus reveals that it is actually better for Him to go in order that the ultimate paraclete (comforter, encourager, helper) could be sent to dwell with believers for all time (indeed earlier in the chapter Jesus said that anyone who believes in Him would do greater things than Him because He was going to the Father (v12)!).

It is an amazing truth that the Holy Spirit is the promised comforter who reveals the truth of God to our hearts and encourages us from within, even in the midst of difficulties. In this passage Jesus unveils the wonderful mystery of what life as a believer truly means: the Holy Spirit lives within us, so is with us constantly, Jesus is in the Father, we are in Jesus and Jesus, by His Spirit, is within us. Just spending time focusing on the truths contained in His words can really encourage our spirits! If we are honest, there are times when we all feel alone, lost, despairing. And yet, we have the reminder here that the Spirit of Jesus dwells within us and His specific reason for being there is to be that advisor, reminder of God’s words, to provide us with peace and to be our ultimate encourager.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, how amazing it is to have Your constant encouragement coming from within. Help me to be attentive to Your whisperings.

Encouraged in order to encourage

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Reflections based on 2 Corinthians 1:1–11.

‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.’

I believe this passage provides an immensely helpful, rounded picture of the role of encouragement in our lives. Paul begins his letter by offering praise to the ‘God of all comfort’. The word comfort comes from the Greek paraklēseōs, which means providing aid, including encouragement.

Paul explains that, just as our suffering can sometimes be because of our faith, so our comfort comes from the Source of that faith too. He explains that both he and his companions have suffered greatly, and yet it has taught them how to rely on God alone for their hope. I think that’s a lesson that we can continue to learn throughout our lives. I can be exceedingly quick to get into self-sufficiency mode when faced with pressures and difficulties. Leaning on God can sometimes only happen once I’ve exhausted my own resources, which is not how God intends us to live.

This latest season in my life has included some fairly big difficulties, which threatened to floor me, but I’ve really experienced God’s care and comfort. And, already, just sharing with others has opened up that sense of encouragement and support – not only for myself but I have been able to offer it too. That is how God wants us to live: coming to Him for our encouragement and then reaching out to those around us. When we allow Him to fashion and mould us through our difficulties we can reach out to others that we find come across our paths at a later date who are going through a similar thing. Just being able to shout encouragement from the sidelines, revealing that we’ve been able to get through to the other side of something they are struggling with is such a gift – both for the recipient and the one who gives the support.

Prayer: Have you considered the cycle of encouragement before today? Thank God that He ministers His comfort to us and gives us opportunities to give out what we receive to others.