A New Habit for a New Year

Happy New Year, and welcome to the first InSights & OutBursts after our Christmas blogging break. I had intended to write and post this last week, but The Flu got Jo and, since we were driving down in the motorhome she couldn’t help but share it with me, so we were both “out of it” for over a week.

A New Line in My Diary
Although I have been writing a daily diary of some sort for over half a century, this time I added a new emphasis.

Five years ago, Jo and I started writing down special things that we were grateful for that happened during the previous week or so. We usually do this as part of our shared devotional time. The result is a list of well over a hundred items each year that have moved us to give thanks to God.

This year, however, I was impressed with the large amount of negativity in world news. Politics, personalities, and problems of every kind, all of them negative and leading me to think negative thoughts. So, I wanted to discipline myself to notice even more things in the world, and in my personal life, for which to praise and thank God. I, therefore, added a ‘Gratitude:’ tickler line to my diary template to remind me every day to think through the previous twenty-four hours to search for something, somewhere that would be praise worthy.

The First Two Weeks Beta Test
New Year’s Day we packed up our 22-year-old motorhome and started driving to California to visit our American family as well as some financial and prayer partners. Naturally getting out of the snow and ice and into green grass and T-shirt weather later that week, was the filler for one Gratitude line! So was a day when we made good progress, without any problems.

But the next day a half a dozen nasty surprises jumped out at us. As I was writing up that day’s negative events that happened to us personally, I wondered if there would be anything at all for which to be grateful. But it jumped right out at me from my own writings! Twice, we had to deal with a dead battery in the car we were towing, and twice men appeared, within minutes, who were happy to bring their vehicles around to boost the battery.

The Satisfying Results
Since “God’s compassions are new every morning” (Lam. 3:22-23), I committed myself to think of something new to be grateful for every day, and not mention something I had already written up earlier, even though I was still thankful for it.

Based on my experience of the past couple of weeks, I am already sensing some differences in my thought life. I tend to more readily follow the apostle Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Our Focus: The ruined trailer or the brilliant rainbow?

Although there are terrible things happening in the world all around us, I keep focusing on the positive aspects. There may be a horrible disaster, but God’s love remains steadfast  and no matter what the negative circumstance is, He can “replace a spirit of despair with a garment of praise” (Isa 61:3) And, as my general thinking grows more positive, my faith in God’s power, love and wisdom grows stronger. Being grateful for something specific and new is probably a good, new habit to develop at the start of a new year!

What good, new thing are you starting this new year?

When Must We Peel the Tape Off?

Last week’s post A Talker Learns to Listen brought a greater than usual response. I discovered that many, surprisingly many, of my blog readers confessed to struggling with the same tendency to talk first, listen later, and sometimes, to not listen at all.

All this focus on keeping our mouths shut and listening seemed to call for a companion piece—focusing on occasions we should speak but often don’t. Here is an attempt at bringing balance.

The first occasion that popped into my mind is mentioned in James 5:16. “Confess your sins to each other. . .” We are not very good at confessing our sins, are we? Yes, we confess them to God in prayer, but what about confessing them to our spouse, a family member or a friend?

Tape offObviously if we have sinned against someone—like lying to them—we need to confess to that person and ask for forgiveness. But what if our sin was hidden? Like covetous, greedy thoughts, wanting what someone else has.

Even though internal and hidden, it is sin, and we need to confess, first to God, and then to someone we are close to, someone we can trust. Think of a time you confessed your sin to someone. Was it easy? Probably not. Staying silent would have been much easier. Yet when we have something to confess, is exactly the time to rip the tape off our mouths and talk. It is God’s command.

James goes on to say, “. . . pray for each other . . .” Another occasion to remove the tape.

Proverbs 31:28 tells of the virtuous wife and mother whose children and husband rip the tape off their mouths to call her blessed and praise her. Yes. We are already used to praising God and thanking Him for all He is and does for us, but we also need express our gratitude in words of praise and thanks to the people in our life for who they are and what they do for us.

And, speaking of praising God, the Psalms are full of encouragement to take off the tape and tell others what God has done for us. Ps. 73:28, “I will tell of all Your deeds.” Ps. 107:2, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” I call these God-stories and do workshops helping people to recognize, remember, repeat and record them.

One of my correspondents warned me not to blithely come to her and launch into a God-story of what He had done for me without finding out if, perhaps, she had a story about herself that she needed to tell. Excellent advice! We need to become aware of the personal needs of the potential listener, as well as the time, the situation, and the environment.

According to Job 16:5, and 1 Thess. 5:11 we need to rip off the tape and use our mouths to encourage one another, comfort others, and build each other up.

Then there is admonishing. It seems a lot of people have no problem admonishing others, but are rather resistant to receiving reprimands. It makes me chuckle to read the instructions in Colossians 3:16, “. . .  admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit . . .” It sounds like our rebukes are to be sung, not spoken. We have all had well-meaning people wag their finger in our face to reprimand us. Next time, maybe we could suggest they sing their rebuke—it’s biblical!

Writers like me invite knowledgeable people to read our stories and critique them. Authors even pay editors to go through their books and tell us all that is wrong, and give instructions on how to fix the problems. The Bible is packed with examples of people instructing others. We need to open our mouths to instruct, but only if the person we are coaching is open to learn from us.

Note that nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to tell stories about ourselves that make us look good. Yet, those come the most easily to mind, don’t they? When we are the heroes of our stories, the tape needs to be applied. “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth,”Proverbs 27:2.

Which of these verbs in the paragraph headings do you find the most difficult to activate in your life?