Tag Archives: negative thoughts

Review: A Confident Heart Devotional, by Renee Swope

A Confident Heart Devotional, by Renee SwopeA Confident Heart Devotional, by Renee Swope (Revell, 2013)

Subtitled “60 Days to Stop Doubting Yourself,” this devotional book presents daily Scripture readings and encouraging messages to affirm women in their God-designed identities and to “help you take hold of truths that will unfold the plans and promises God has for your life.” [Kindle location 148]

The author shares candidly from her own experience as well as from other contemporary women and Bible characters. She is honest about the struggles many women face, and about the effort involved to retrain our thoughts to follow God’s truth instead of the self-doubt and insecurity that come so naturally.

Each day’s reading ends with “When I say… [whatever fear or negative thought we’ve looked at that day], God says… [a Scripture-based truth to counter it].” I found this a helpful way to reinforce the day’s lesson. A person could write these on index cards for easy reference, if there was a particular issue that required concentrated effort.

My favourite lines:

What if we stopped listening to our hearts when our feelings don’t tell us the truth and instead we chose to believe God’s words more than our own fears and doubts? [Kindle location 569]

Anytime we bury a hurt alive, it will keep rising from the dead to disturb us. [Kindle location 839]

This is a valuable book for any woman who struggles with self-doubt, even if only occasionally. It’s so easy to pick up wrong thoughts and allow them to diminish us, and taking time to restore our outlook can only be a good thing.

Renee Swope is a bestselling author and Proverbs 31 Ministries radio show co-host. Her mission is “Leading women to live confidently in Christ.” For more about the author and her ministry, visit reneeswope.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Thought Defense

There’s a scene in one of the first Harry Potter books that speaks to our daily thought life. It’s been a long time since I read it, but I can paraphrase.

Young Harry is at wizard school [please, let’s not get into an argument about the pros and cons of magic in fiction] and the lesson is on controlling another person’s thoughts. The aim of the class is to learn self-defense against such a thing, because there are villains on the loose.

When it’s Harry’s turn, he experiences a sudden desire to do something. I don’t remember what, so we’ll say it’s to stand on a chair. It makes perfect sense for him to stand on this chair, and he really wants to do it, even though, as in any other school, chairs are for sitting.

He’s really thinking about it, how important it is to stand on this chair.

He’s about to move when a puzzling thought strikes: why? Why should he stand on the chair? He doesn’t have to do that, and the professor, who hates him, would probably give him a detention. He doesn’t want to get up on the chair anyway.

So he doesn’t. The attack is broken.

As Christians, we’re to “take every thought captive to Christ.” Part of that is choosing not to contemplate what’s unwholesome or sinful. I think part of it is also realizing that we don’t have to accept those negative or hurtful thoughts that the devil – or our past – tries to make us believe.

Some of them are outright lies (“God’s holding out on you”) that we can refute with Scripture, out loud if necessary. “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19, NLT)”

Some of them are vague feelings or fears. It’s easy to believe them because feelings seem real, but “we live by faith, not by sight” – or by feel.

I’m finding the more I work at submitting my mind to Christ’s, and at speaking truth against the negatives that have ruled me in the past, the easier it is to recognize an attack in progress. And sometimes, before it takes hold, I notice the initial malaise and find that incisive why? rising in my thoughts. Not in defiance, but in curiosity. Why should I accept the idea to feel bad about myself because someone else is x, y, or z? Why compare? Let them be who they are. And let me look to God and find my sufficiency in Him.

Maybe if I live and practise long enough, this won’t be such a rare experience that it inspires a blog post!

In each of my Redemption’s Edge novels, at least one character ends up confronting negative thoughts or fears with truth. Maybe it’s because it’s something I need to learn personally, but I think it’s because a whole lot of people, Christians and non, are walking around believing lies they don’t have to accept.

What about you? Is this something you ever struggle with? Or do you know people who do?

Why accept negative thoughts and fears, when Jesus speaks truth?

Click image to tweet what it says.

Fixing Our Thoughts

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8b-9, NLT*

It’s so easy to dwell on the negatives. The hurts or injustices. Sometimes we do it because we’re sulking or just plain cantankerous, but I think it’s often out of fear (what’s this world coming to?) or discouragement. After all, we see so much, so often; it wears us down.

The Christians in Philippi were experiencing persecution, and their beloved Paul was in prison. His letter encouraged them to keep focused on Jesus as their help and their hope. With Christ as their anchor, they needed to keep their broader focus positive and filled with gratitude.

This verse doesn’t ask us to deny the bad things in our lives. The context of Paul’s letter makes that clear. But after acknowledging the circumstances, bringing our needs to God in grateful prayer that He cares and will help (Philippians 4:6) we’re not to stay focused on the needs or the waiting.

We’re to cultivate an awareness of the good, in the middle of the struggle. If we focus on the darkness, it swells to fill our vision. If we focus on the light, with our Saviour at its centre, the darkness reduces to its true size. A size which is smaller than God.

Mighty and compassionate God, protect and deliver us from spirits of discouragement, despair and hopelessness. Remind us that You are greater than our hardships, and that Your creative grace can take even the worst and bring something positive from it. Doubt would tell us that’s impossible, so please help our unbelief.

Hillsong’s song, “The Potter’s Hand,” is a lovely way to refocus our thoughts.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

What’s in the Heart

“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Matthew 12:34b, NKJV*

Other translations essentially say, “what’s in the heart is what comes out.” I like the imagery of abundance here, because we have good and bad and all manner of in-between things in our hearts.

As Christians, we work on guarding what comes out of our mouths. We’ve read the passages in James about controlling our tongues, and we understand the danger of harsh or inappropriate words.

Choosing our words with care isn’t about hypocrisy or pretending to be perfect. We’re saved, but we’re still being saved. Still in the process of being cleaned up. It’s a lifetime job that only God would ever dream of tackling.

If the pressure’s on, or if we’re tired or distracted, sometimes we slip. When we do, it reveals what’s inside.

  • Nothing ever goes my way.
  • Why should anything good happen, anyway?
  • I knew it was too good to be true.
  • I should have known it wouldn’t work out.

Ever said—or thought—anything like that? I have, and I’m learning that it reveals things I don’t want in my heart: doubt, lack of faith, negativity, discontent, a complaining attitude… and at the very root, a suspicion that God isn’t such a good Shepherd after all.

Nothing I’d espouse under ordinary circumstances, but when push comes to shove, the thoughts are there. Clamping my lips shut saves others from hearing it, but Jesus is right. It’s a heart matter.

We don’t have to believe the lies, the fear and the negatives. We can choose to believe God’s promises and rely on His love. But it takes work. It takes catching these unwanted thoughts and replacing them with truth. In New Testament language, it takes putting on the armour of God: especially the shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit and belt of truth to hold the breastplate in place.

And it takes speaking God’s truth aloud to replace the negatives we’ve whispered so long.

God our loving Father, You see our hearts and yet You work to save us. We rely on Your promise to forgive us when we confess, and to make a way for us to escape temptation’s power. Grant us faith to truly rely on You, to fully believe Your love and Your care, to live in such a way that others will see we do indeed have a Good Shepherd.

TobyMac‘s song, “Speak Life,” calls us to use our words for good for others, but I think speaking life is also good for our own faith. Enjoy.

*New King James Version (NKJV) The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 byThomas Nelson, Inc.

 

5 Links for Peace of Mind

Worried? Tired? Overwhelmed? Sometimes life is just too much. Here are some posts that blessed me this week, and I hope they’ll encourage you.

He leads us by quiet waters (Psalm 23)

He leads us by quiet waters (Psalm 23)

Margaret Feinberg writes: “When you’re at the end of your rope, wherever that may be, will you remember these powerful truths?” (Read 10 Things to Remember When You’re Having a Dirty Dog Bad Day — complete with photos and quotes.)

Carolyn Watts reassures us  about the one thing we need to hold onto. (Read When You Worry: The One Thing You Really Need to Know)

Mary Waind reminds us to stick close to the Father and not be distracted by wondering how He’ll work out the details. (Read Forget About the Donkeys)

Violet Nesdoly highlights the importance of guarding our thoughts. (Read The Fruit of Our Thoughts)

And Carolyn Arends shares some thoughts on awareness and gratitude. (Read Worship Con Queso)

[photo credit: Janet Sketchley]

 

Broken Chains

What do you wear for an author photo shoot? Mine would be outdoors among the trees, so I avoided browns and greens. After all, you’re supposed to be able to see me in the picture.

My favourite dress is blue with black. It’s fancier than my typical outdoor wear, but it makes me feel confident, like I look good. I ignored the faint whisper of “what if someone thinks it’s silly?” and chose the dress. And the Birkenstocks. Can’t smile if my feet hurt.

Since the picture would go on the back of Heaven’s Prey, a Christian novel, I wanted to wear a cross. My favourite is the one my husband gave me for our wedding. It’s almost 30 years old, and the chain’s getting a bit dark. I decided to polish it.

Perhaps too enthusiastically.

broken chain

“Look what you did!”

Yes, that’s what flashed across my mind, fast and instinctive, but here’s the gift: a tone I’ve never used on myself before. This time it was sympathetic, with an undertone of “we’ll find a way to fix it.”

Not even a trace of accusation or blame. No fear.

Even though I’d broken something special, even though it wouldn’t be in the photo now.

I wore another cross for the picture, but this one’s chain will be mended in time for the book launch.

And I have another bit of testimony: look what God has done!

What have you seen Him do in your life lately?

Review: The Merciful Scar, by Rebecca St. James and Nancy Rue

The Merciful Scar cover artThe Merciful Scar, by Rebecca St. James & Nancy Rue (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

This novel is life-changing. I almost didn’t read it, because emotionally-laden tales aren’t my thing. But the authors introduce us to Kirsten as her world falls apart, and the story isn’t about angst—it’s about healing.

Kirsten has been carrying a lot of pain for seven years now, hiding it from the world because that’s what she’s been taught. The pressure of post-graduate studies, and a boyfriend who won’t commit, only make things worse. Nobody knows that when the stress gets too much, Kirsten cuts her own flesh for relief. Her body is a map of scars.

Falling apart is the best thing to happen in her life, because now she can heal—if she’ll acknowledge the hurts. Despite parental objections, she chooses an unconventional sort of treatment centre: a remote sheep ranch run by a former nun, Sister Frankie.

Sister Frankie is amazing, and I wish we all had someone like her in our lives. May we become someone like her to those around us: present, listening, waiting, praying.

Other residents of the ranch include Emma, a young woman struggling with post-traumatic stress after a stint in Afghanistan, as well as Frankie’s Uncle Joseph and later her nephew, Andy. The daily work of caring for the animals bonds them into family and slowly allows Kirsten and Emma to begin the healing journey.

This is one of those richly-crafted stories with strong characters and a vivid sense of place. Kirsten, the hider, feels exposed on the vast Montana flatlands. In the sheep and in one of the sheepdogs, she sees much of herself. The authors don’t rush anything or over-explain, so readers can live the story too.

As we follow Kirsten’s self-discovery, there’s room for insights of our own. It’s not just Kirsten’s experiences and relationships that have damaged her, it’s the way she learned to handle them and what she began to believe about herself.

Like many of us, Kirsten has a snarky little voice in her head that’s quick with a snappy comeback or a self-criticism. She calls it the Nudnik. One of her assignments on the sheep ranch is to learn to hear the voice of God. Maybe, between the Nudnik and the Lord, she’ll discover her own true voice and find the courage to use it.

How do we handle our stresses? What lies do we believe about ourselves that impact how we live, that stifle who we were meant to be? Just like Kirsten sees herself in the farm animals, I see aspects of myself in her. And in her liberation, I find freedom for myself.

My favourite quotes:

“My soul chose that moment to do something it hadn’t done in longer ago than I could remember. It began to cry.” p. 41

“Finding that true self and embracing it is how anyone connects to God.” p. 167

“I already believed in God. Now I had to accept that God believed in me.” p. 169

The Merciful Scar is a gentle yet compelling story, well told, and it’s one of those rare books my heart felt safe to fall into. I highly recommend it to fans of women’s fiction, Christian fiction, anyone with insecurity or other stress issues, and to anyone who loves someone who practices non-suicidal self-injury (cutting).

About the authors: Rebecca St. James is a Christian recording artist as well as the author of a number of non-fiction books. Nancy Rue is a novelist and acclaimed teacher of the craft of writing fiction. This is their first collaboration, and I hope it won’t be their last. Twitter users can follow the conversation about the book under the hashtag #MercifulScar.

[A review copy was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was in no way compensated for this review.]

Review: A Better Way to Think, by H. Norman Wright

A Better Way to Think, by H. Norman WrightA Better Way to Think, by H. Norman Wright (Revell, 2011)

Our minds can be a scary place to dwell, but that’s where we live—and often not with the kinds of thoughts we were designed to entertain. A Better Way to Think does a good job of helping readers stop and notice our thoughts. When we notice, we can evaluate. When we evaluate, we can see where we need to intentionally change our thinking.

The book’s subtitle is “Using positive thoughts to change your life,” and it offers biblically-sound advice on how to do just that, with both thoughts and self-talk. One of the key points it raises is that we can’t change our thinking in our own strength. We need to rely on the power and help of God. And we need to give it time.

I was challenged by Dr. Wright’s statement that talking to ourselves is

“a habit you’ve cultivated… hundreds of statements you can play at will… The more these play, the more we begin to believe them. We think, This is reality! This is true!” (p.79)

The early chapters prompt us to pay more attention to our thoughts—our self-talk—to discover its origins, observe the damage it’s doing, and decide to change. The biblical mandate to “take every thought captive to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) is difficult at the best of times, but it’s impossible if we’re not aware of those thoughts.

I found these early chapters clinically sound, but I kept wanting to see faith-based strategies for addressing the problem. Those come later in the book, so if you have the same reaction, read on.

The author uses brief case studies to reinforce what he’s saying, and they make the concepts much easier to understand and remember. Just recently I was driving, late for an appointment, and I remembered his illustration of two men in the same traffic jam and how each one’s thoughts affected their individual experiences. That helped me choose calm thoughts instead of berating myself for not leaving earlier.

The case studies also reflect how one person’s negative thought life can affect his/her relationships. Later chapters focus on defusing this, specifically in marriages.

As the author points out, our negative self-talk has been building up for a long time, so it will take time to replace it with healthier thinking. Time and prayer.

This is one of those books I’m glad to keep on my shelf, and I’ve found myself talking about it in numerous conversations. God has been challenging me about my thinking, probably most of my life, but in the last year or so I’ve finally been ready to hear Him. A Better Way to Think is one of the tools He has used in my life for growth and healing, and I highly recommend it.

H. Norman Wright is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist and the author of more than 70 books. For more about the book, visit the Revell website, which includes a link to read an excerpt.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

On Dandelions and Sin

DandelionI guess I’d better start with a public declaration that I think dandelions are beautiful: fuzzy yellow suns, milky seed-puff moons… I’ll stop there, because I can’t think of anything nice to say about the bald caps and spiky fronds after the seeds have blown.

Those so inclined can eat dandelion greens, and apparently the roots when roasted and ground make a passable substitute for coffee.

In a field, dandelions are so pretty.

Too bad they don’t work so well in residential lawns. When mine grow, I always feel guilty about infecting my neighbours’ properties, like I’m harbouring an invasion force.

We have one of those long, green tools that lets you stand mostly upright and uproot the pesky plants one root at a time. I’ve tried it a few previous springs and given up, but this year I’ve bagged a few buckets-full of dandelions nearly every day.

A field of dandelions

My back yard, two years ago

I have no particular hope of eradicating all the dandelions that have encroached on our lawn over the past 20+ years, but there’s something about this daily activity that soothes me. And it’s an excuse for fresh air.

It’s also an excuse for a blog post.

I don’t think much while I’m on the daily hunt. Sometimes I count the harvest, sometimes I pray, sometimes I talk to the stubborn ones. Listeners would most likely hear me mutter “I can’t get you all, but I can get you.

My mantra has become “None to seed.” When I’m out of time and there are still plants un-dug, I pick off the dandelion heads.

After a couple weeks of the daily battle, I got thinking how dandelions are a bit like sin. Not necessarily the “evil action” kind of sin where we know we’re doing something wrong and choose to do it anyway, but the “missed God’s best for us” kind where we’ve gotten trapped in patterns of negative thinking, reactions or other behaviour that have really messed us up.

Some observations:

  • younger plants are easier to uproot than those that have grown for years
  • they produce fewer blossoms too
  • one blossom is enough to produce 40 to 100+ seeds (Source: howitworksdaily.com)
  • mature plants spread broad leaves and kill the grass near them
  • the roots go down a long way and are more likely to break than to come out cleanly
  • some plants require multiple grabs with the extractor
  • they’re sneaky: they’ll twist their stalks so the blossoms look like they come from somewhere other than the actual root
  • they’ll lie down until the mower is put away, then stand up defiant and straight
  • the plants will slip off my tool en route to the bucket
  • the blossoms will break off and fall out of the bucket, often face-down, to hide until they can turn into seeds
  • yellow blossoms will go to seed once they’ve opened, so don’t compost them
  • pulling them out leaves holes in the ground, and if there’s a big patch it’s unsightly
  • bald patches must be re-seeded with grass or more dandelions or other weeds will return (remember Jesus’ warning about the evil spirit and the clean house in Luke 11:24-26)
  • the worse the infestation (usually the longer it’s been growing) the longer it takes to fix
  • looking at the scope of the problem leads to discouragement and defeat
  • a little work each day will bring results
  • picking the heads off (=cheating or at least a short-cut) is better than letting them bloom and spread their seeds
  • they’re heavy – putting too many in my organics bin for pickup will make it too heavy for the workers

Dandelion season has passed its peak, and I think I’ll make it with none to seed. Yes, I may celebrate by baking my family a cake.

Janet Sketchley holding uprooted dandelion

Got this one, root and all!

Our Source of Strength

May [the God of peace] equip you with all you need
for doing his will.
May he produce in you,
through the power of Jesus Christ,
every good thing that is pleasing to him.
All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.
Hebrews 13:21, NLT*

The Christian life is about learning what it means to walk by faith, to let the Holy Spirit’s power in us be our source of strength.

This has become my quest in the past few weeks. I’ve realized part of the reason there’s been an invisible cloud over my head is that I’ve felt overwhelmed by the “stuff” of life. I’ve been trying to handle it on my own again.

The more I commit each day to God’s leading, including what goes or doesn’t go on the agenda, the more I pray “Lord, You direct me, strengthen and keep me focused,” the better it is.

I’ve been praying daily for protection from fearful and negative thoughts, and reminding myself in Whom I put my confidence.

Check out the credentials ascribed to God in the verse before our focus verse:

Now may the God of peace—who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— Hebrews 13:20, NLT*

This God, we can trust.

I don’t need to be anxious or to overcompensate. If there’s potential for something to go wrong, either God will help me do it right, or He’ll work within the fallout. If someone else is angry with me about it, God will still be with me.

And I don’t need to think ahead and try to hold everything together. My times are in His hands.

I’ve seen a few changes to my default reactions—all good! And my spirit, lined up with His Spirit, has more peace.

God of peace, You are so good to us. You rescue us when we can’t help ourselves, You prepare good works for us to do and give us people to love… and You provide the power to do it because on our own we can’t do much of value. Forgive us for the times we try life in our own strength, and help us learn to rely on Yours. Because of Jesus, Amen.

Here’s one of my favourite Cliff Richard songs, a worship song I remember singing many years ago to help me focus: “Be in My Heart.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.