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Battling bitterness - SUNDAY MARCH 19

‘I had great bitterness; but You…delivered my soul.’     Isaiah 38:17 NKJV

At ninety-two, Jenny never missed a chance to recall how her sister refused to buy her a pair of shoes fifty years ago! All those years marinating ‘in the gall of bitterness’ (Acts 8:23 KJV). Anne Peterson says: ‘An offence burrows into our hearts. We replay it…creating ruts that’ll be hard to rebuild later…we enlist support, which pushes us further into resentment. We decipher the offence as intentional, and our offender as full of spite. As we find reasons, real or imagined, to dislike them…we form another layer of bitterness… Then like a beach ball we try to submerge…it pops up…splashing everyone.’ The Bible says, ‘Make sure…bitterness doesn’t take root and grow up to cause trouble that corrupts many’ (Hebrews 12:15 GWT). So remember:

1) Forgiveness isn’t optional. ‘If…possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’ (Romans 12:18 NIV 2011 Edition). It may not be possible to live in harmony with everyone, but God still requires you to forgive those who’ve hurt you.

2) As you forgive, you’re forgiven. The Bible says when you’re ‘full of bitterness’ you’re ‘captive to sin’ (Acts 8:23 NIV 2011 Edition). Don’t forget that Jesus didn’t just die for you, He died for those who offend you. Do they deserve forgiveness? No. But then again, do you?

3) Pray for your enemies. Ask God to bring to mind the people you need to forgive, and melt the bitterness in your heart towards them. It’s impossible to harbour resentment towards somebody you’re praying for. Yes, sometimes it’s hard to forgive; but you ‘can do all things through Christ’ (Philippians 4:13 KJV).

Good thinking - SATURDAY MARCH 18

‘We have the mind of Christ.’ 1 Corinthians 2:16 KJV

In his book Thinking for a Change, Dr John Maxwell gives us eleven different types of thinking; to each we’ve added a Scripture:

1) Big picture thinking. The ability to think beyond yourself is required in order to process ideas from a ‘faith’ perspective (Ephesians 3:20).

2) Focused thinking. The ability to think with clarity on issues by removing distractions and mental clutter (Philippians 3:13-14).

3) Creative thinking. The ability to break out of the box and explore ideas and options in order to experience a breakthrough (Isaiah 54:2-3).

4) Realistic thinking. The ability to build a solid foundation on facts, to think with certainty (Luke 14:28).

5) Strategic thinking. The ability to implement plans that give direction for today, and increase your potential for tomorrow (Proverbs 19:21).

6) Possibility thinking. The ability to unleash your enthusiasm and hope, to find solutions for even seemingly impossible situations (Matthew 19:26).

7) Reflective thinking. The ability to revisit the past in order to think with understanding (Psalm 1:1-3).

8) Questioning popular thinking. The ability to reject common thinking and accomplish uncommon results (Isaiah 55:8-9).

9) Shared thinking. The ability to include others who can help you think ‘over your head’ and achieve greater results (Psalm 133:1-3).

10) Unselfish thinking. The ability to consider others and their journey, to think with collaboration (Romans 12:10).

11) Bottom-line thinking. The ability to focus on results, in order to reap the full potential of your thinking (Matthew 25:14-30). Let’s add: Spiritual thinking. ‘We have the mind of Christ.’ One God-given thought can change your life!

Are you resisting a rest? - FRIDAY MARCH 17

‘Come away…and rest a while.’ Mark 6:31 NRSV

Following Jesus should energise you, not leave you feeling burned out. Jesus preached to farmers who used oxen to plough their fields. They also lived by religious rules that didn’t permit you to relax and experience God’s love and grace. So Jesus told them: ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT). Jesus had more to do than any of us, yet He never seemed to do it in a way that severed the life-giving connection with His Father, or interfered with His ability to show love when it was called for. He regularly withdrew from the rat race in order to pray.

Even when His disciples returned, flushed with success from a busy time of ministry, He told them, ‘Come away…and rest a while,’ because as Mark records, ‘Many people were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.’ Constant hurry is the mark of an un-prioritised life - a sure sign that second and third things have become first things. Not only did God command us to rest every seventh day, He told Jewish farmers to let their fields rest every seventh year so they’d produce better harvests. The problem is we want microwave maturity…to exchange wisdom for information and depth for breadth - but it doesn’t work. Depth comes slowly. Following Jesus can’t be done at a sprint; you can’t go faster than the One who’s leading.

Value your friends - THURSDAY MARCH 16

‘It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with his girls…in someone else’s field you might be harmed.’ Ruth 2:22 NIV (1984 edition)

One author writes: ‘If you have godly girlfriends, love and nurture those relationships as though your life depends on them - because it does. Everything is better when you “go with His girls”…Life is safer, more authentic, longer lasting, and just plain more fun. God created women to rely on other women. I’m blessed by girlfriends who lift me when I’m low, level me when I’m high, and show me the face of God on a daily basis through compassion, humour, strength, and unconditional love. May you cultivate and enjoy the same.’ And not only do women need friends, men do too. One of the first things God said in the Bible was, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’ (Genesis 2:18 KJV).

Solomon writes, ‘A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity’ (Proverbs 17:17 NKJV). Poet William Carlos Williams wrote: ‘When trouble comes your soul to try, you love the friend who just “stands by”. Perhaps there’s nothing he can do - the thing is strictly up to you. For there are troubles all your own, and paths the soul must tread alone. Times love cannot smooth the road, nor friendship lift the heavy load. But just to know you have a friend who will “stand by” until the end, whose sympathy through all endures, whose warm handclasp is always yours - it helps someway to pull you through, although there’s nothing he can do. And so with fervent heart you cry, God bless the friend who just “stands by”.’

Beware of pride! - WEDNESDAY MARCH 15

‘Pride goes before destruction.’ Proverbs 16:18 NKJV

Think about the things we become proud over: the home we live in, the car we drive, the diploma hanging on our wall, the people we mingle with, and the position we hold. When you’ve worked hard to get to where you are, look out for pride! Paul asks, ‘Who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?’ (1 Corinthians 4:7 NKJV). So what should you do?

1) Examine your belief system about who you are, what you have, and what you can do. Jesus said, ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5 NKJV). Remind yourself: ‘I’m just the glove; God’s the hand that fills it.’ That’ll help you to keep your perspective right!

2) Focus more on others than on yourself. The saying - ‘When a person is all wrapped up in themselves, they make a pretty small package’ - is true. ‘Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others’ (Philippians 2:4 NKJV).

3) Respect and value everyone you meet regardless of their social status, race, gender, or other distinguishing factors. When you walk in humility, people respect you and receive your input, and they don’t suspect you of having selfish motives.

The Bible says: ‘These…things the Lord hates…a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren’ (Proverbs 6:16-19 NKJV). Today, beware of pride.