The Difference Between Hearing and Listening

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Undeniable differences separate hearing and listening. One involves passively processing sounds; the other includes attention and activation.

During a family gathering, the roll of laughter and friendly bantering circled through the family. A young mother suddenly rose, leaving the gathering to tend to an almost imperceptible whimper among the children. Some of us heard the child’s faint cry; only one person listened and responded.

Depending on where we live, sounds vary, but we are all bombarded by noise — most of which we hear and disregard. Unfortunately, we often become so skilled at tuning out unnecessary sounds that we sometimes fail to respond to those in our homes and workplaces that deserve our attention.

Lately, God has been whispering “listen” to me. I first heard the nudge in my spirit during prayer. Then I heard it included in the prayers of others. During the last few days, when I open my Bible, that word seems to appear again, prompting me to pay attention. Even the author of a book I’m currently reading points out the importance of both hearing and listening.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
James 1:19

As always, I’m sharing not from my expertise in the matter, but out of a struggle to become better at listening. Technology appears to be substituting texting and email for the more basic communication skills of hearing and listening.

Some differentiate between hearing and listening as:

  • Hearing is the process, function, or power of perceiving sound. Listening is paying attention to a message in order to hear, understand, and physically or verbally respond to it.”
  • “The implication of hearing rather than listening is that it might be hard to feel connected to others.”

Connecting with Others

A small child might pull on her mother’s arm or her father’s leg to draw their attention in order to be heard. But the need to be heard doesn’t evaporate with age. When words go unnoticed, people eventually stop talking and we lose relational connection — sometimes permanently.

Because my mind races a mile a minute, I must focus my attention to become a better listener — setting down the book, turning off the device, tuning out the clutter, and looking people in the eyes as they speak. I need to develop and strengthen these skills if I want my relationships to improve. Connection with people is too important to ignore hearing and listening.

Setting a goal to improve and focusing attention forms the first steps to improve communication. Too often, we discount others through critical judgment even before they speak, thinking that what they have to say isn’t important or won’t benefit us. At other times, instead of listening, we are so eager to interject our own thoughts that we’ve lost an opportunity to hear theirs.

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
Proverbs 12:15

And …

“”Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.”
Proverbs 18:13

But when we see others as valuable, we will pay closer attention and listen to the things that interest and excite them, as well as to their struggles and conflicts. These skills are essential for developing authentic relationships.

Authentic Relationships

No relationship will thrive, let alone survive, without hearing and listening to each other. Listening and asking questions expand our understanding beyond mere words. It helps us to respond in thoughtful ways and gives opportunity to validate and encourage others. Giving premature advice, quoting Bible verses, or sharing personal expertise often quenches a conversation. Listening, however, enhances connection.

The silent contemplation of good listening creates a path for authentic relationships to grow — no quick fixes, no should-have-could-have advice, just genuine listening to and caring for others.

Listening applies not only to human relationships but also between us and God. Perhaps it is impossible to have authentic relationships with others if our relationship with Him is strained or stretched. The most important hearing and listening we can do is to Him — through reading the Bible, other Christians, and biblical counsel.

“My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words. Don’t lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart.”
Proverbs 4:20-21

Hearing and Listening

The most important hearing and listening applies to our relationship with God. We appreciate His attentive ear and quick response when we call to Him.

“In those days when you pray, I will listen.”
Jeremiah 29:12

The Bible gives so many illustrations of the consequences of failing to practice both hearing and listening. Sometimes, we cannot hear His voice, because we will not listen. Unintentionally, we may have tuned out His counsel or disregarded His instructions. Other times, pride or selfish ambition may have led us to disregard His ways.

Let’s pay Him and others the same respect we desire as we tune our ears to hear and hearts to listen. One dictionary defines listening as “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention, and to give consideration.” If anyone is worthy of our thoughtful attention and consideration, surely our heavenly Father tops the list.

Serve only the Lord your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him.
Deuteronomy 13:4 NLT

Prayer

Father, I am sorry for not listening well to You and to others. Help me, Lord, to not just hear words, but to truly listen and respond to those speaking to me. Replace my judgment with Your compassion and my selfishness with Your love. May I see in others someone You truly value and deeply cherish. May I listen in ways that validate and affirm them.

Forgive me for not responding to Your voice whether it is through Your Word or through the counsel of others. Open my ears to hear beyond words and perceive the thoughts of hearts. May I respond to everyone with compassionate care and loving grace. Thank You for patiently reminding me to listen with my heart to You and others. May I become increasingly responsive to Your voice as You speak through various ways.

I recognize that attentive listening is a valid form of loving those around me. Continue, Lord, to teach me Your ways so that all my relationships will strengthen and improve.
Amen.

Living Water! Clear Water Flows From Clear Wells

Living Water! Clear Water Flows From Clear Wells

Winter or summer, a cup of clear water stays within easy reach on my desk. It constantly reminds me of the Living Water dwelling within. Though others may prefer a cup of freshly brewed coffee or simmering tea, clear, clean water in my favorite glass cup is all I need.

During my life on the farm, our water supply came from a shallow well dug into an underground spring. The consistent quality satisfied the thirsts of four generations. During droughts when other wells went dry, people came from many miles around for the clear water from this little well and a similar one on my uncle’s property. Though the spring ebbed with the seasons, this well never ran dry.

Many times, I prayed over our well and thanked God for His abundant supply. Shortly after moving from the farm, the new owners tested the water again and deemed it inadequate. They dug a deeper well within the farmyard. Unfortunately, the alternate water source proved “hard” and loaded with excess minerals.

Jesus once met a woman beside a different country well and offered her living water.

“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 4:13-14

Living Water

The Samaritan woman in the story misunderstood Jesus. She struggled to understand the spiritual water Jesus offered to her. The “water” of His Holy Spirit revived not just bodies, but souls and spirits as well. Even without fully understanding, she welcomed his offer. She ran back to her village and shared the good news with everyone who would listen.

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
John 4:39-41

The interchange between this beautifully broken woman and Jesus is worthy of a full read in John 4. Jesus goes to the heart of her real thirst and her deepest need for Living Water — a thirst that only a personal relationship with Him would satisfy. Even though the scenario seemed intrusive and confusing, without hesitation she took Him up on His offer.

Clear Wells

Then and now, Jesus comes to supernaturally supply what we could never provide for ourselves — complete forgiveness and redemption. He becomes for us “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” How wonderful!

Our once polluted selves become clear wells through which He can flow, continually transforming us into His likeness. Rather than a destination, the Christian journey is a process of growth and change.

Everyone encounters Jesus differently. But most people have a tangible sense of their deep, spiritual thirst being quenched — unspoken longings satisfied and soul hungers filled.

The woman at the well experienced something more powerful than any intellectual conversation could give her. Through believing in Jesus, she received Living Water. Despite rejection and shame, she boldly shared this good news with everyone, welcoming them to the Source of true life.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
John 4:42

Clear Water

Periodically, our farm well needed extra work to maintain a healthy flow of water. Sometimes sand clogged the cribbing around the well. It needed to be cleaned to restore the flow of water into the well. Even though the spring still surged around the well, the water could not enter the well and become accessible. At other times, the well house needed minor repairs to protect the well from the contaminating elements. During winter, the warmth of a lightbulb kept the system from freezing over.

In the same way, our spiritual wells also need maintenance. Intentional and unintentional debris may clog the Holy Spirit’s flow. If we desire to be used by God and fulfil His call on our lives, we must guard the Living Water flowing within. Though He promises to never leave us, we may not be able to freely receive from Him?

“Garbage in; garbage out!” wisdom says. This means that whatever we allow into our hearts and minds — good or bad — will eventually work its way out through our actions, attitudes, and speech.

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Proverbs 4:23 ESV

Honestly, we cannot afford to allow anything to pollute these internal wells which Jesus paid such a high price to clean. “With all vigilance,” the proverb says. How true! Disturbing messages and images bombard us from every side. To maintain the purity of the “water” flowing from our Source, He calls us to guard our hearts and minds.

A Guard

The more we value what Jesus Christ has done for us, the easier it becomes to guard this Living Water. Then, temptations become unattractive and trivial. Reading the Bible and praying takes precedent as a way to maintain our wells.

When we maintained the old well house and everything within, we gave little thought to the critters and dangers lurking outside. We knew that clear water flows from clear wells.

We don’t need to fear contamination of our wells and hide in our secluded homes. Like the Samaritan woman, we go into our communities to share Jesus through actions and words. There is no shortage! He fills us with the fullness of all we need.

To guard our hearts, we protect our eyes and ears from spiritual pollution — intentional and unintentional, active and passive. If we leave the door open to this valuable well house of our hearts, all kinds of vermin will come in, bringing disease and contaminating the once pure water. The consequence may prove higher than we wish to bear.

Let’s bravely ask Jesus how our wells are doing. Does His Living Water flow freely into and through us? In what way do we need to tend to our wells, purging ourselves from harassing thoughts, recurring patterns, or destructive actions? It doesn’t take long to make sure that clear water flows from clear wells.

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Get Ready! We Have Something to Celebrate!

Get Ready! We Have Something to Celebrate!

Our granddaughter’s recent wedding reminded me not to wait for the big life events, but to celebrate the everyday moments as well. As family and friends, we all gathered to share their happiness at an outdoor ceremony under the vast prairie skies.

Our East India friends miss how their culture celebrates every occasion with feasts. Any measure of success becomes reason enough for them to congratulate and acknowledge God’s goodness. The birth of a baby, a new car, the purchase of a home, a promotion and many other successes present a worthy excuse to rejoice together.

Here in North America, marked by competition and comparison, we often withhold such back-slapping, hand-shaking applause of others. What would happen if we set aside our largely self-centered independence and showed admiration for each other, celebrating their accomplishments?

I often advise those I mentor to celebrate every win! Whether almost imperceptibly tiny or massive, a win is a win worth acknowledging. Celebrating confirms we are making progress and inspires us to keep moving ahead. Above all, our wonderful Lord, who brings us success, is most worthy of celebrating.

“Come, let’s shout praises to God, raise the roof for the Rock who saved us! Let’s march into his presence singing praises, lifting the rafters with our hymns!
Psalm 95:2 MSG

Celebrate Others

Let’s applaud the efforts of others even before we see the positive results.

While very young we learn to hide our hurts and mask disappointments. We are unaware of the load people carry under the surface — how many applications they have submitted before they landed a position, how many sleepless nights with a new baby or waiting for a teenager to return home, or how many failures it took to achieve even a minor success.

Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”
Luke 15:23-24

The Father in this story represents God and we are like His lost sons and daughters returning to Him. He saw the son’s return as an opportunity to celebrate with great liberty. The Father didn’t care how many mistakes his child made in the past. He made provision for everyone to share His joy!

May we see each other with the same grace and compassion, looking past weary faces and the stains of life. One act of kindness can turn someone’s day around. Let’s celebrate in tangible ways by

  • complimenting the person filling our tank with fuel
  • tipping the server with cash in hand, acknowledging something well done
  • telling our young children and aging parents how much we appreciate them
  • writing a note of encouragement to someone who has made a difference in our lives

There are hundreds of ways to celebrate those around us. It usually only takes a moment and a few sincerely spoken words. We always have something to celebrate.

Preparation

The greatest celebration on earth pales compared to what is occurring in Heaven.

Celebrate with me! … Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.” Luke 15:7

Reports from literally every nation around the world are declaring an increased spiritual hunger and receptivity to confess and repent of sin, turn to Jesus Christ and profess Him as Lord of their lives. The tumultuous times of recent years have only propelled God’s desire to reach the nations.

Can you feel the jubilation of Heaven or imagine the thunderous celebration every time someone gives their life to Jesus Christ? Our hearts are being tuned to the sound of this glorious celebration as sinners find their way to a Savior.

Armies can’t stop Him; borders can’t keep Him out. The mighty Name of Jesus resounds in streets and villages globally as He rescues and redeems. Oh, may the sound of jubilation resonate within us as we join Heaven’s joyous throng. Oh, my beautiful friends, we have something to celebrate.

 “Hallelujah!
Praise God in his holy house of worship,
    praise him under the open skies;
Praise him for his acts of power,
    praise him for his magnificent greatness;
Praise with a blast on the trumpet,
    praise by strumming soft strings;
Praise him with castanets and dance,
    praise him with banjo and flute;
Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,
    praise him with fiddles and mandolin.
Let every living, breathing creature praise God!
    Hallelujah!”

Psalm 150 MSG

Indeed, it is true! We have Someone and something to celebrate!

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John 14:27 — “Don’t be Troubled or Afraid”

John 14:27 — “Don’t be Troubled or Afraid”

When the Bible says, “Don’t be troubled or afraid” we already know it refers to someone who was both troubled and afraid. John remembers hearing Jesus speak these words to him and the rest of the disciples. They were all more than a little “troubled” by His insistence that He would soon leave them.

Summer storm season causes many people in our area to feel troubled and fearful — and for just cause. Almost daily, warnings and reports of storm activity, severe hail, and even funnel clouds fill our weather feeds.

Recently, a group of us ladies were sharing our responses to extreme weather. A couple of us appreciate a good thunder-banger (the prairie term for thunderstorms) and the extra nitrogen it infuses into the soil. Some ladies thought we were foolishly disregarding danger. Wisely, they preferred the take cover approach. Storm chasers go a step further, seeking the thrill of tracking super cells for the perfect photo. These uncontrollable beasts of the air cause me to tremble in awe at the all-powerful God who holds everything in the palm of His hand.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
John 14:27

I ponder these words, acknowledging the things that trouble my heart. Storms take many forms — unsaved loved ones, terminal illnesses, severed family relationships, and on the list goes.

What about you? What brings fear to your heart and mind?

Peace

We must remember the context of Jesus’ words. On the eve of His own cruel, undeserved death, and raging storm, He assures others. Hours before His arrest, trial, and execution, He gives those He loves a most precious gift — peace of mind and heart.

“The peace Christ leaves is power to hold the wildest fear in pause, to still a clamor or hush a cry — it is the coming of mercy to a sense of sin, of life to the fear of death.”
– Pulpit Commentary

We tend to more readily receive advice from those who have weathered similar circumstances and know the hazards we face. Jesus doesn’t just offer advice, He gives them (and us) exactly what they (and we) need to endure any and every trial — His perfect peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives…”
John 14:27 

The perfect peace Jesus offers is unlike peace found anywhere else or in anything else. No one but Jesus can give us lasting peace. Through Him and in Him, we never need to be troubled or afraid.

A Choice

My mom was terrified of storms. She would pull the drapes, unplug appliances, and refuse to allow anyone to use the telephone or run water in the house. Much to her frustration, my dad followed behind her pulling the curtains open again, waiting with a full coffee mug to watch the pending light show.

We tend toward one extreme or another when it comes to storms — tremble in fear or settle in our secure position. Dad had built our farmhouse to withstand the force of prairie storms. He wasn’t foolish, but he rested under the safety of a solid roof and strong walls. He also knew when wisdom called for a concrete basement to create the safest haven.

The peace Jesus gives protects us — not from danger, but during it. With His peace, we can rest when fierce winds come against us.

“…So don’t be troubled or afraid.
John 14:27

Another version says, “Do not let.” The words imply a choice on our part. Such admonish would be utterly cruel if He had not first given us provision. Trouble and afraid can also be translated as “disturb, agitate, stir up, to shrink, be fearful, timid, or cowardly.”

I have battled my own fears in response to various storms — when death came knocking, when pain denied rest day and night, when money was scarce and bills were plentiful …

Fearless

During Jesus’ trial and execution, fear overcame His disciples, too. Later, they stood unwavering in their devotion to Him. What changed? How did they fearlessly face life-threatening storms?

The Holy Spirit made all the difference in their lives! The Book of Acts records an almost perpetual infilling of the Spirit.

“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”
Acts 2:2-4

In Acts 4:31, they were filled again. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit came to others in Acts 8:14-17. Then again in Acts 10:44 and 19:5 we see the Holy Spirit coming on even more people. With the Spirit came a fearlessness.

The same holds true today. Jesus has not left us helpless, to be overwhelmed by fear. He has given His perfect peace to us as well. So, may we have confidence. May our hearts not be troubled or afraid no matter what storms come our way.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, I bring to You each weary warrior. Before one storm subsides another looms on the horizon — each one threatening more devastation than the one before. May Your gift of peace be more than words on a page, bringing enduring strength and hope. May we find true rest and comfort in the perfect peace You provide. In the words of Psalm 112:7, may we not fear any bad news, but may our hearts be steadfast, trusting, confidently relying, and believing in You, our Lord and God. We place our confidence and hope in You alone. Fill us, again and again, with the fullness of Your abiding presence. Lord, hold us secure during the storms ahead — never troubled or afraid. Amen.

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We All Need Wisdom for Life and Conduct

We All Need Wisdom for Life and Conduct

Because I struggle to know how to speak and act wisely in most situations. I often pray for wisdom to direct my life and conduct. Can you relate? The need for more wisdom never seems to grow old.

I laughed as I read these quotes of “wisdom” from the lips of children:

  • “If you want a kitten, start out by asking for a horse.”
  • “Never try to baptize a cat.”
  • “You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. A ceiling fan can hit a baseball a long way. The glass in windows doesn’t stop a baseball hit by a ceiling fan.”
  • “The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy. It will make cats dizzy.”
  • “Never trust a dog to watch your food.”
  • (Mother) “Son, your shoes are on the wrong feet.” (Son) “Don’t kid me, Mom. They’re the only feet I got!”

Most dictionaries define wisdom as “the capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct; a soundness of judgement in the choice of means and ends.” Even though these humorous quotes carry a tad of wisdom for any child, I’m reminded of Jesus’ words uttered long ago.

At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike.”
Matthew 11:25

Sometimes children show even more sound judgement than some adults. Let’s look at a few childlike qualities which may enable us to gain true wisdom that will serve us for a lifetime.

Humility

God called and anointed Moses to lead an entire nation — a position which required an extreme amount of godly wisdom. Yet, Moses was wearing himself thin, attempting to single-handedly meet the needs of the people and unable to think of a better solution.

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, immediately recognized the problem and boldly shared a solution.

What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?”
Exodus 18:14

We’ve all been like Moses at some point — too busy working to see our way around a difficulty. Moses needed someone to tell him about the benefits of delegated leadership.

Moses could have objected, pointing to his high and anointed calling. He could have disqualified Jethro’s advice as beneath him or become offended, refusing to change his leadership style. Thankfully, he humbly received Jethro’s advice and immediately trained several trustworthy men to help carry the load of responsibility. Humility opened the door for wisdom to enter — wisdom for life and conduct.

May we learn from Moses and be humble enough to receive wisdom from unexpected sources.

Desire

Picking her son up from school, a mother asked, “What did you learn today?”

“Not enough,” her child responded. “I have to go back tomorrow!”

No matter how much wisdom we have gained today, we need to go back tomorrow to learn more. When we desire and ask for wisdom with the openness of a young child, God will liberally grant our request.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.
James 1:5

Children ask unashamedly. If there is no response, they ask again. Often, they ask tenaciously and tearfully. They ask persuasively. They ask when it is convenient and when it isn’t.

Perhaps our Heavenly Father anxiously waits for us, His children, to ask far more than we presently do. He will allow us to wear ourselves out like Moses, spinning in the circles of human effort and reasoning.

Indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
Proverbs 2:3-5

This sounds a lot like the way a child asks — calling out, crying aloud, and looking for what we desire.

Go to the Source

I can relate to this child’s ask: “I’m not kidding! I’m not joking! I really, really, really NEED chocolate!” Another child expressed something similar, “All you need is a good friend who has chocolate.” I tend to agree.

Honestly, I’m not always wise enough to even know what I need much of the time. However, we can all know where to look to find wisdom.

For the Lord gives wisdom. Much learning and understanding come from His mouth.
Proverbs 2:6

The Bible shows us the heart and mind of our all-wise, all-knowing God. As we read and mediate on the content, we gain a heart of wisdom for life and conduct. We may not always find a direct verse addressing a specific situation, but we will discover precepts and concepts that apply to any and every circumstance we encounter.

The Law of the Lord is perfect, giving new strength to the soul. The Law He has made known is sure, making the child-like wise.
Psalm 19:7

Have you noticed how children not only know how to ask, they also know who to ask to have their needs met? As we develop a similar childlike trust in our Father, we look to His Word and seek His Presence to find the counsel and direction we need.

Always More

No matter how wise we become, God always has more available for us. Like children, let’s never quit asking Him for increased wisdom for life and conduct.

We started today with a laugh. Let’s end with humor as we consider additional “wisdom” from the young.

  • “Puppies still have bad breath even after eating a Tic Tac.”
  • “You can’t hide broccoli in a glass of milk.”
  • “Stay away from prunes.”
  • “If your dog doesn’t like someone, maybe you shouldn’t either.”
  • “Sometimes you just need to take a nap and get over it.”

These witty pieces of advice probably won’t come in handy for most adults, but wisdom, like so many other things, is a process, not a destination. May we enjoy our journey toward wisdom with a smile, even in our struggle. Moses, Jesus, and the wise among us notice the wisdom God plants even in the hearts of children. Since even they possess a measure of wisdom for life and conduct, we can trust that God has even more for us.

Happy, blessed day everyone, as we grow in wisdom together.

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The Importance of Apologies — Respect, Caring & Trust

The Importance of Apologies — Respect, Caring & Trust

More than ever before we see the importance of apologies to restore respect, caring, and trust where deep divisions once dominated. We hope such expressions are rooted with pure motives and the sincere desire to reconcile relationships. But has the presence of so many public expressions caused us to somehow become complacent toward the necessity of apologies?

In a dream, I saw a small machine shed. A small tractor that once fit neatly inside the shed now had to be disassembled into three parts in order to fit. The farmer thought it normal to reassemble the tractor before each use. The shed had been made to fit the tractor, but now the shed had become the storage space for various sized pieces of junk metal. One by one, the farmer had thrown each small piece on a pile in the shed, hiding them from public view, until the shed was rendered useless. He had considered each small piece insignificant and developed a habit of ignoring how huge the pile had grown, adjusting his life to accommodate the ever-expanding pile of scrap metal.

The Holy Spirit seemed to whisper to me, “Each small piece is an offense. Apologies remove offenses and keep the floor of your heart clean.”

When I awoke, I thought of the times when sincere apologies restored key relationships. Each apology brought deeper respect, caring, and trust, allowing the relationship to grow stronger than before. The Bible offers a clear guide on how to apologize and respond to apologies.

Repent

Repentance refers to the action of simultaneously turning toward God (or someone else) and away from hurtful actions and words to restore relationship.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”
James 5:16

James highlights the importance of taking personal responsibility for our wrongs, humbling ourselves, and confessing our failures. In one word, we call this an apology. After the apology comes healing — personally and relationally.

When we repent, we demonstrate regret for failing to value others (whether intentionally or unintentionally). Taking personal responsibility moves the relationship toward reconciliation and trust.

Acknowledge

An effective apology not only owns personal responsibility but also

  • shows a clear understanding of the hurtful, rude, or wrong behavior done through previous actions or words,
  • validates the depth of embarrassment or pain caused,
  • includes a statement of regret, such as “I am sorry,” and
  • contains a plan of action to change the behavior.

People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.”
Proverbs 28:13

As in my dream, hiding offenses never helps. Although we may try to function around the “inconveniences” we have caused, we will never prosper in our relationships when issues remain unresolved. But as we confess to each other and purposefully turn from our selfish and insensitive ways, we will be shown mercy and kindness. Honesty opens the door to deeper respect, caring, and trust.

Not every apology follows a carbon copy procedure. A wise pastor once told me that a public offense requires a public apology, while a private offense merits a private apology. May God give us wisdom for each situation.

Respond

Many factors may limit a person’s ability to offer a clear apology. Perhaps, they view the relationship as too divided or unworthy of making amends. The offender may be in a position of power and feel like an apology will undermine his/her position of authority. The offender may view an apology as a sign of weakness, rather than the strength it really demonstrates. None of these excuses warrant the serious consequences of leaving wounds unresolved.

However, when we value our relationships as significant, we will seek the path of reconciliation and forgiveness. The importance of apologies cannot be overstated.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Matthew 6:14-15

How we receive an apology is as important as the apology presented. Matthew shares this instruction from Jesus to forgive those who have offended us. Forgiveness is the first step to restoring relationships. The second way to respond would be to show appreciation for the apology, while asking for more time to heal from the offense. The third appropriate way to respond is to seek forgiveness for any offense on our part.

The main reason for and importance of apologies is to move relationships closer together. How we respond to the apology will effect that movement as much as the apology itself.

Don’t Wait

In my dream, the famer waited and waited and waited to seek forgiveness. Soon the pile of offenses had built so high he became oblivious to the negative impact it had on his life. Every delayed apology forfeits the opportunity for restoration and reconciliation.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
Matthew 5:23-24

Only when we make things right with each other will our relationship with God be in right standing. Let’s keep short accounts by quickly seeking forgiveness and showing honor to each other. Apologies demonstrate the highest level of humility, while proving respect, caring, and trust.

Oh, may we not forget the importance of apologies. A genuine apology expresses value to others and a sincere appreciation to God for how much He has forgiven us.

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If you find seeking and offering forgiveness difficult, perhaps these additional blogs may offer helpful tools and insight

5 Steps — Wisdom to Handle Insults and Accusations 

Mistakes Eat at Us: Dealing with our Faults and Flaws

Psalm 20:4 — May God Grant Your Heart’s Desires

Psalm 20:4 — May God Grant Your Heart’s Desires

The other morning, I read, “May he (God) grant your heart’s desires.” Scribbled in the margin was a date, “Nov 9/2014.” I paused for a moment, considering why I found this verse significant a decade earlier. In the subsequent years, many areas of my life have dramatically changed. What caused me to highlight the verse? What desires were stirring in my heart at that time?

I honestly couldn’t remember, and the notation revealed no clues. The verse stood alone. It needed no additional merit.

“May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed.”
Psalm 20:4

For much of my Christian life, I subconsciously included any fleeting desires of the moment. Good health, peace-filled home, and loving relationships usually topped the list. Periodically, new things would move to the forefront, but these remained.

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The Desires of Your Heart

Perhaps more often than I’d like to admit, my desires might resemble a young child in a candy shop — fleeting from one colorful treat to another. I find it interesting that in the original Hebrew the reference to “desires” is completely absent. Perhaps, the verse might more accurately be translated as, “May he (God) make your “inner man, mind, will, and heart full.”

What truly fills our inner man? What is it that makes our hearts “full”?

Years later, I realize that by removing the “me, myself, and I” from the quotation and replacing it with “Him and His,” my heart is more apt to become full in every sense.

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”
Psalm 37:4

In turning our focus and attention to Him, our heart’s desires are fulfilled.

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Your Plans Succeed

The scope of my plans on “Nov 9/2014” included very little of what I am experiencing today. My limited vision couldn’t see the things that are bringing the most success and fulfillment now.

Consider how your life has changed in the last decade. Are you livng the plan you formed ten years ago? Or have you, like me, experienced radical and unexpected shifts?

I am discovering that my greatest pleasure comes from a well within — set in place by the Master Craftsman, God Himself. Before I was born, He planted within my “inner man, mind, will, and heart” longings I have been largely unaware of. Only as they come to pass do I finally realize how intrinsic they are to living a satisfying and full life — not through “my” plans or “my” desires but His.

Only when our hearts become united with God, and we adopt His desires as our own may we enjoy the fullness of what we were created to be and to do. Until then, we experience a faint shadow of what could be.

Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed … We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”
Proverbs 16:3,9

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Heart’s Desires

The seeds of unknown desire
lay buried in each heart —
hidden in sacred seclusion.
Until He breathes each into existence,
reviving what we deemed dead,
restoring what we thought lost.
Gift, upon gift, upon gift,
until hearts sing and
joy leaps upon the
hills of desire,
meeting, at last, the Sower
of sacred seed..
The union of Creator with created
to the tune of heart’s desires,
blending color and dimension
inviting to dream, believe,
and trust in the Maker
of all things good.

https://pixabay.com/photos/sweets-heart-heart-candy-yummy-2087625/

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5 Steps — Wisdom to Handle Insults and Accusations

5 Steps — Wisdom to Handle Insults and Accusations

We all face insults or accusations — sometimes justified and at other times unjustified. How do we handle such situations?

I recently noticed two young children engaged in verbal combat. I’m not sure how the disagreement began, but these little preschoolers flung harsh words back and forth with stealth accuracy. Feelings were hurt. Tears flowed. Watchful adults intervened to ease the situation and calm the chaos. My heart ached for them to resolve the conflict.

Insults and accusations appear to naturally ooze from human brokenness. As much as I don’t like to admit it, often the afront aimed in my direction has been to some degree justifiable. But not always.

Either way, I struggle for wisdom to deal with these situations. The peacemaker side of me wants to overlook the conduct altogether, placing the higher value on the relationship. While the justice side on me demands righteousness and truth to prevail. One forces an eruption of words (much like the playground confrontation); the other compels me to retreat in silence, feeling victimized.

But what does God say about such matters?

Job

Most of us know Job’s story. After loosing his entire family and every source of security, Job sat in rags among the ashes, scraping the painful, oozing sores which covered his body. His friends sat with him, offering support. All too soon, their words turned into insults and accusations. They believed Job deserved punishment from God. One false claim led to another — each progressively worse. When he needed the comfort of good friends, he received critical judgment instead.

At first Job tried to reason with them.

Teach me, and I will keep quiet. Show me what I have done wrong. Honest words can be painful, but what do your criticisms amount to? Do you think your words are convincing when you disregard my cry of desperation?”
Job 6:24-26

Finally, he lashed back!

I will never concede that you are right; I will defend my integrity until I die. I will maintain my innocence without wavering. My conscience is clear for as long as I live.
Job 27:5-6

Joseph & David

For David and Joseph, the greatest insults and accusations came from their jealous brothers! Perhaps the old saying carries truth, “Hurting people hurt people!”

God had given Joseph dreams of one day ruling over his father and siblings (Genesis 37:5-10). In the same way, David’s brothers watched Samuel anoint him, the youngest son, king of their nation (1 Samuel 16:13). Rather, than applaud their younger brothers’ successes, they fumed with jealousy, desiring the favor and blessing for themselves (Genesis 37:17-20; 1 Samuel 17:28).

“Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?”
1 Samuel 17:29

Both Joseph and David attempted to speak up. Their words, however, landed on deaf ears. They both faced unbelievable insults and accusations from those closest to them. In fact, many years passed before God fulfilled His promise and brought these men to positions of honor. Eventually, Joseph became second only to pharaoh in Egypt and David did become king of Israel.

Jesus

We witness this pattern of insults and accusations toward God’s people throughout history. Jesus faced them both continually. He rebutted such conduct with truth — sometimes gently through a parable, sometimes through open rebuke. But somehow most advice we receive for our situations stems from Jesus’ final hours. As many lies and slander were hurled His way, He remained silent.

“Many testified falsely against him … some stood up and gave this false testimony … But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.”
Mark 14:56-61

Jesus warned His followers that they, too, would be despised and rejected for following Him. He predicted not just insults and accusations but imprisonment and death awaited them.

After Jesus’ resurrection, we see His followers defending both themselves and Jesus at the cost of their lives. Rarely, if ever do we see them stand before their accusers in silence. They took advantage of extremely tense situations to re-present Christ to even their accusers.

A Pattern

Throughout Scripture, many valiant men and women demonstrate wisdom by standing their ground in the face of insults and accusations. A familiar pattern emerges from their examples.

#1 – They all spoke the truth of God’s word to them and over them.
#2 – They used each opportunity to pray for and to seek the good of their accusers.
#3 – Each one forgave their adversaries.
#4 – As a result, they blessed their accusers and received a overflow of blessing themselves.
#5 – In an attitude of surrender to the Father’s will, their trust was completely in God for both present circumstances and future outcomes.

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing. because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
1 Peter 3:9

They never positioned themselves in silence as sulking victims. Rather, they challenged their accusers by their radical trust in the righteousness, justice, and faithfulness of God.

Oh! May this pattern become mine! May it become yours, also! May our Heavenly Father intervene in our disputes just as the parents of these two young children did during their playground conflict. May He show us His way — the way of wisdom — the way of truth, honor, forgiveness, and blessing as we continually trust in Him, our good, good Father.

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Avoid Distractions to Focus Our Attention — Devotion

Avoid Distractions to Focus Our Attention — Devotion

Our traffic laws forbid distractions while driving, Vehicles may quickly become lethal weapons under the control of distracted drivers. Distractions intrude from every angle, dividing our attention. For the most part the consequences of such interruptions are minor, but not always.

A couple weeks ago, one appointment ran into another with only a small break to run errands before the next meeting. My phone vibrated with yet another message just as I was entering the elevator to go to our fourth-floor condo. I pressed the elevator button while responding to the text. When the door opened, I followed the hallway around the corner, while simultaneously retrieving my keys and responding to the test message. At “my” door, I was surprised when the key refused to fit the lock. Looking up, I was horrified to realize I was on the wrong floor, attempting to open someone else’s door. Yikes!!! I quickly turned back to escape notice and embarrassment, correcting my steps. Distractions had led me down the wrong path, to the wrong door!

Later, I admitted my error to my adult children. “Mom, forget about distracted driving,” they laughed, “you can’t even do distracted walking!” They are right.

It is no wonder God calls us away from double-mindedness and into undivided loyalty.

 “But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”
James 1:6-8

Divided Hearts and Minds

The word for divided loyalty or double-mindedness, in Greek dipsychos, means to have “two souls, or two selves, to be wavering, two-spirited, or vacillating.

At times, we all waver between opinions and struggle to choose the best option. Usually, like my walking while texting experience, the consequences are minor. But at other times, such distractions result in something much more serious.

Psalm 12:2 tells us that “double-talk” flows from a “double heart.” Many relationships have been irreparably damaged by flattery and double talk. Double minds and double talk will always lead to trouble.

““These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their hearts aren’t in it. Because they act like they’re worshiping me but don’t mean it, I’m going to step in and shock them awake, astonish them, stand them on their ears. The wise ones who had it all figured out will be exposed as fools. The smart people who thought they knew everything will turn out to know nothing.”
Isaiah 29:13-14 MSG

In the New Testament, Paul advised Timothy to choose leadership who were not “double-tongued” (1 Timothy 3:8).

Distractions

Distractions of texting while walking caused me nothing more than embarrassment, inconvenience, and a waste valuable time. I recently read that people check their cell phones between 100-150 times a day. If each distraction averaged only one minute, that totals a staggering two hours of interruptions daily.

Long before the invention of cell phones, people were prone to distraction — especially the distraction from focused attention and devotion to God.

“Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people did not answer him a word.”
1 Kings 18:21

The divided focus of Elijah’s day included the worship of many other gods. Today perhaps, it is different things that draw us away from worshiping God with all our hearts. The distraction by many things takes various forms. Elijah asked, “How long will you hesitate…?” Every distraction creates a hesitation. We, like they, can’t find a reasonable excuse..

Do you feel the pull of distractions as much as I do?

When I go to pray — distractions! As I try to focus and read the Bible — more distractions! When I plan to serve God with my whole heart — even more distractions!

Throughout the ages, the battle for whole-hearted devotion with undivided hearts has remained the same.

Focused Love and Devotion

God knows and understands our struggle better than we do. He knows the enemy who tries to keep us from focused love and devotion to God. It’s a battle we will win by intentionally drawing close to God.

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you.”
James 4:7

As we acknowledge our weakness to the lure of distractions and seek God, He immediately comes to our rescue.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
James 4:10

God was teaching me a far greater lesson through my distracted walking. He doesn’t want me, or anyone else, to follow the wrong path and end up at the wrong eternal door. By avoiding distractions, we will each accomplish our full potential and reach our intended destination. May we not stand before Him speechless, but may He receive our full attention and undivided devotion.

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The Love of God — The Greatest Love — A Personal Testimony

The Love of God — The Greatest Love — A Personal Testimony

What compares to the love of God — the greatest love? Our lives are a journey, discovering and nurturing this love which comes from God. We all possess this most basic need to love and be loved. At the end of our lives, when we enter eternity, the only thing that will matter is who we loved and how well we loved. After all is said and done, the love of God reigns supreme.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:7-8

Lovelessness

For most of my life, a warped concept of love defined my relationships. Although, I grew up in a very loving and supportive family, I struggled to replicate that pattern of living and loving. A false self-identity labelled me as a misfit and insignificant. Due to a low value of myself, I found it impossible to truly love and value others.

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Matthew 22:37-39

My inability to love originated from that poor self-identity and feelings of worthlessness. I thought I could escape the realm of lovelessness and enter the domain of true love through marriage. This placed unrealistic expectations on my husband to fill the internal void made only for God.

The Encounter

I first encountered the love of God at a Bible camp as a preteen. Counselors explained through Scripture how Jesus was born the perfect Son of God, lived a sinless life, died on the cross as payment for my sins (which even then were many), and He rose from the grave to give me life.

My parents’ example of love made receiving God’s love an easy step. Though loving, they didn’t understand or believe in the need for confessing one’s faith in Jesus Christ or for salvation, however.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18

As a young girl, isolated in my faith and lacking other Christian support, I was unable to successful maneuver the opposition I felt. And as a result, I unfortunately made a deliberate choice to abandon faith in Jesus.

No Other Love

Almost immediately, addiction and mental illness opened it’s gaping mouth, devouring all hope and life from me. I was naive to believe that there could be love apart from God who is the very essence of true, enduring love. The battle with depression ravaged my mind and soul.

When one tastes the sweet love of God, no other love suffices. In denying the One who truly loves, nothing else satisfied my longing. The journey back to the Lord took ten long and pain-filled years.

Though I had abandoned Him, He never abandoned me. By His grace, He pursued me with the greatest love.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not of works, so that no one can boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 

First Love

Jesus’ words directly applied to me,

“Yet I hold this against you. You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first . . .”
Revelation 2:4,5

As I knelt in repentance and committed my life back to Jesus Christ, I uttered one additional prayer, “Lord, teach me to love!” For too long, I had failed to offer genuine, unconditional, and selfless love to those around me.

As God draws us into intimate relationship with Himself, through His love, we learn to love. Then, He renews our minds and transforms our hearts by the truth of the Bible. Then, the Holy Spirit fills us and leads us to the greatest love. We learn to love best through relationship with others who are themselves learning the lessons of love.

The Love of God

When we allow God to become our pre-eminent love everything else falls into place — not instantaneously, but as we consistently follow His example of love.

He begins to become the first One we talk to in the morning and the last One we spend time with at night. We increasingly value prayer, meditation of Scripture, and worship. And we learn to submit to His authority, allowing Him to interrupt and redirect us, as we prioritize time and focus for and with Him.

Not everyone will understand such devotion and commitment. Yet, we realize that we only have the capacity to give to others what we first receive in the presence of His love. As we embrace the greatest love from the One who is love, we gradually obtain the ability to love those around us.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
John 15:12

Oh! May we all learn to follow in the way of the love of God. Then our love for each other will become unhindered and unpolluted. The love of God, the greatest love, continues to make a huge difference in my life and in the lives of multiple others who experienced it. His love transforms us from the inside out.

This life-long process of learning to love as God loves brings life and fulfillment through authentic relationships with others. We all have a story — a personal testimony of learning how to walk in the love of God. What is your story?

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The full story of God’s grace and love over my life can be found here — Thursday’s Child Has Far to Go. Available on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

In MaryAnn Ward's  personal testimony through addictions, depression, and sexual molestation.