Dr. Beverly Smallwood

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New Morning Devotionals promotes deeper spiritual understanding, meaningful living, and practical Christianity at work and home

"This Wasn't Supposed to Happen to Me" Group Video Series

THE 3 BEST WAYS TO KEEP THE BODY PARTS IN LINE

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Pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words.
 Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet, and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4: 20-27)

The challenge of this scripture, to keep all the parts moving in the same direction, sounds daunting.  No, tying yourself up or putting tape over your mouth and ears is not the solution.  Growing into Christlikeness is a process, and even in the best of cases, it takes a lifetime.  In addition to the specific taming efforts for the ears, eyes, mouth, heart, and feet we discussed yesterday, implement these 3 principles to bring all parts of you together in His purposes.

  1.  Make a deep and conscious commitment to make Jesus the Head of your life. Do this, and other things begin to align.  It’s the top button that aligns all the buttons under it.  The scripture says that we are to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and that all other things will be added unto us.  My life changed when I truly began to put Him first.  He is the HEAD of all the body parts, and the brain controls all movement.  And, oh, believe me, God is the Brains behind anything good.  We get the privilege of participation. Give Him complete control, and everything is somehow different.  Your circumstances may not change, but you will.
  2.  Guard your thoughts, and only entertain those you want to take root in your heart.  Our thoughts are the nursery for our attitudes and actions.  Only entertain those that are going to take you in a direction your best self wants to go.  Like the familiar saying goes, “You can’t prevent a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep him from building a nest in your hair.”  Refuse to dwell on thoughts of fear, anger, worry, inappropriate relationships, various temptations, self-criticism, and the list goes on.  Philippians 4: 8 sums this one up for us: “Finally, brothers and sisters, 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.”
  3.   When you fall, get back up quickly. Notice that’s when, not if. However, if you follow the principle laid out in Proverbs to keep your feet from beginning to turn a little to the right or to the left, you’ll be less likely to get way off track.  When you feel yourself turning, and/or when you get that Holy Spirit nudge – STOP! Don’t go any further.  When your eyes begin to gaze on something that could be trouble, avert them! It’s easier to avoid temptation than to say no when you are over your head in it.  Prevention is always easier than the consequences and the cure.  But even when you have made a lollapalooza of a mistake, don’t lounge in it.  Don’t keep promising to get out of it “one day.”  Don’t hide from God because you just know (erroneously) that He is mad at you and wants nothing to do with you.  STOP!  Run to God! Dust off your lower backside body part.  Turn around.  Go in the opposite direction.  LEARN.  Keep moving!

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans that they were to present their bodies a living sacrifice, and the way they would be gradually transformed was by the renewing of their minds.  (Romans 12: 1-2)  I would say that’s a pretty timeless plan.

You are my Lord.  I surrender control of every part of me to You, my God. Transform me, Lord.

KEEPING THE BODY PARTS IN LINE

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Pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words.
 Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the[c] paths for your feet, and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4: 20-27)

Wow, there so much in that passage!

I still remember a little song we sang when I was a wee gal in the nursery at church:

(Pointing to our eyes) “Oh, be careful little eyes what you see; oh, be careful little eyes what you see; for the Father up above is looking down with love, so be careful little eyes what you see.”

(Then we’d point to our ears.)  “Oh, be careful little ears what you hear…”And we’d go on through “hands what you do,” “feet where you go,” and I’m not sure what all.  I just remember I loved that song, and I sang it at the top of my lungs.

This scripture reminds me of that little musical lesson. We’ll break it down today: ears, eyes, heart, mouth, and feet.  We’ll consider a few questions about each one of them that bring each of us challenges about our choices. We’re surrounded by all kinds of cultural and personal invitations, but they are always invitations with an RSVP. We decide what goes in and takes root, and we choose what we do as a result of it.

  1. Ears.  What do you allow to bombard your ear drums and eventually to make its way into your belief system?  What pundit spins?  What musical lyrics?  What positive or negative voices?  Are you listening to things that inspire you to become your best you? What you listen to begins to mold who you are.
  2. Eyes. What are you gazing on?  (Often when the scripture refers to “looking,” the word meaning is, “to gaze,” to look back after the glance, to look and keep on looking.) What are you meditating on with your mind’s eye?  What images are you feeding on?  (For instance, in my practice, I’m witnessing porn destroy lives and relationships.)  Here’s another aspect of this one.  When you look at a person, are you looking for what’s wrong with them or what’s right with them? Your eyes truly are a window to your soul.
  3. Heart.  Oooh, this one is critical!  It’s one thing to experience passing temptations, but it’s quite another to let them become conceived in your heart.  When that happens, you’re pregnant with it.  It’s a done deal waiting for an opportunity for expression.  That’s why the Word warns us over and over about guarding our hearts! So, what have you thought about so long that intention has begun to form?  (This could be positive or negative.) Have you allowed adversity to create anger that has deepened into bitterness in your heart?  Is your heart filled to overflowing with healthy love, or is it corroded with unclean residue? What’s in your heart?  It matters, because that’s what will eventually come out in your words and your actions.
  4. Mouth. The scripture says that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.  When words come spilling out, they didn’t materialize out of thin air.  In order to come out, they were “in there.”  James also wrote about how difficult it is to tame the tongue.  The keys are to constantly be focusing on positive things, listening to the Voice of the Lord over all other voices, and hiding His Word in our hearts.  When that happens, our speech reflects it.  So, reflect on these questions.  Do the words that come out of your mouth consistently build up, or do they tear down?  Does your speech in the privacy of your most intimate relationships match your public persona? Do your words habitually bless, or do they curse?
  5. Feet. “Oh, be careful little feet where you go!” In other words, what are you doing?  What paths (well-worn ways of traveling) are your go-to’s? When under stress, what “relievers” do you fall back on?  Are you getting out into your world in service, or are you afraid to walk out the doorsteps of your comfort zone? The steps you are choosing to take  today are setting you on a path that will have an effect on the rest of your life.

So all of this seems like a lot to juggle.  In fact, it feels almost seems impossible to keep it all operating together in a positive direction.  And it is, unless…

More tomorrow.

Lord, I want to serve You, and I want my life to count for what matters.  But sometimes I get off track. I need You every hour, God!  Help me, please!

 

 

 

SOMETIMES IT’S JUST BEST TO KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT

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The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly.  (Proverbs 12: 23)

Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.  (Proverbs 17:28)

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“Well, at least you always know where I stand.”

Translation:  “I’m entitled to say whatever I am thinking, no matter how it affects anyone else.” That attitude guarantees trouble in River City.

So why do some people feel they always have to add their “expertise” to any and every discussion? Several possibilities…

  1. They have something to prove.  Insecurity is the birth mother of many unwise words. The scripture talks about “quiet confidence.”  When you are truly confident, you don’t have to attempt to be front and center.  You know who you are in Christ, and you don’t have to prove it to others or yourself.
  2. They lack humility, truly holding the narcissistic belief that their opinion matters more than anyone else’s. Oh, don’t get me started on narcissism.  (I’ll exercise the control to hold that opinion to myself right now.) The Bible often references the dethroning of self, the enthroning of Christ, and the life of service to others.  ‘Nuf said!
  3. They are self-appointed to be the filler of every silence, which they perceive as uncomfortable. One of the first skills we learned back in the day in counseling training was the importance of letting silence “be.” People need space to process their thoughts.  Sometimes they are calling up the courage to say what needs to be said.  If you interrupt them, important work can be deleted on the spot.
  4.  They lack self-awareness, failing to recognize how others are reacting to their constant verbal barrage. One of the most valuable insights one can experience is, “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?”  Some folks are simply tone-deaf to the feelings and reactions of others. The cure? Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s instructions about when to speak and a big dose of divinely-infused compassion for the feelings of others..
  5. They lack the critical understanding of timing.  A sign of spiritual maturity is attunement to the timing of the Holy Spirit .  Wise people wait for The Nudge, and they have developed the discernment to know when it’s God’s prompting vs. the insistent voices of their own emotions. The Holy Spirit knows all about the hearts and the readiness of listeners.  Our Helper has just the right words.  He will let you know when it’s time.

A related quote has been attributed to Abraham Lincoln and to Mark Twain, but the “quote police” say this thought was around long before Lincoln.  It’s actually a paraphrase one of the Proverbs scriptures I shared above, and it deserves a final playful pass:  “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth  and remove all doubt.”

And just one more thought.  I used to have a sign hanging in my office that said, “Lord, let my words be gracious and tender today, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.”

Dear God, I pray with David, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer.” May the words I choose be helpful, healing, and productive. Give me Your timing, Lord.  

ONLY ONE PATH

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Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of Love, just as Christ Loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5: 1-2)

Yes, I watched the royal wedding.  I really didn’t intend to, but when I woke up Saturday morning, my phone invited me, “Watch live.”  Out of curiosity, I clicked.  I could not believe my eyes and ears.  Bishop Michael Curry was not holding back in that formal atmosphere, and he was sharing rousing, inspiring thoughts on LOVE. Various reactions in the room were slightly comical, but one thing was certain.  Not a person left that 13 minutes without being moved to ponder love – the Love of God and the awesome power of love among the humans on this planet. (By the way, some have questioned my use of capitals.  I always capitalize it when I’m talking about agape Love – the most powerful force in the universe and beyond.)

Beautiful thoughts, Bishop Curry.  Then you open Facebook or click the TV remote.  The divisions, the finger-pointing, the put-downs – anything but Love.  Yesterday’s interactions among some of my “friends” on FB were particularly disturbing to me.

We who are Christ-followers have a mandate, and that is to “walk in the way of Love, just as Christ Loved us and gave Himself up for us.” Getting caught up in personal hurt and lashing out? No similarity to the way of Christ’s Love.  Joining the polarizing political ranks (either side) and feeding on the latest news that totally ticks you off and spewing venomous words against “them” at each opportunity? Nope, not the way of Love.  Searching for ways to make yourself look good and “take back power” by making someone else look bad?  You guessed it.  Not Love.

God IS Love, and Jesus Christ came to earth in human body and showed us how Love-in- action looks.  He has ascended His heavenly throne, and here on earth, we are His Body.  Controlled by the Head, this body is designed to live out His kind of Love life right here, right now.  Believe it, people watch us.  Do they consistently see the Love of God in our faces, our attitudes, our words, and our acts of service to others?

O God, please fill me to overflowing with Your Love for each person I am privileged to touch.  Teach me to Love when I’m tempted to join in the bandwagon of hate. Show me how to Love when someone I trust disappoints me.  Remind me of how You have loved and forgiven me when I’ve gone astray.  Instruct me in the ways of Love when I encounter those the world sees as most unlovely.  Nudge me to break through each stressful situation with the power of Love.  Love through me, God.  I can’t do this without YOU! 

HAS YOUR LOVE GROWN COLD?

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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)

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  (Romans 12: 11)

The “cooling of love.”  It’s at the root of some of the most common complaints I hear in marital counseling sessions.  Or most likely it starts the other way around, with the root more accurately being defined in the accumulation of absence of caring behaviors.  Which comes first – your stop doing what you did when you “fell in love” and so you “fall out?” Or your love grows cold, and thus you cease those caring behaviors that produce the warmth of intimacy?  Probably a little of both in this self-reinforcing downward spiral. Either way, “it’s just not how it used to be.” Many wonder, “Am I where I’m supposed to be?”  And, “Is this all there is?”

The remedy is found not in trying to conjure up some false emotion but in changing what’s happening on a daily basis.  Emotions finally respond to how you think and what you choose to do.

As the scripture says, “Repent, turn around.  Do the things you did at first.”  I often ask a couple to tell me about when they met and fell in love.  What were they doing in their thoughts and interactions with each other? Were they dwelling on their partner’s positive attributes and strengths?  Were they looking for ways to get quality time with each other?  Were they thinking up little ways to please and impress the person who had captured their heart?  (It’s amazing how those blah or angry faces light up when they are talking about how it used to be.  They may even sneak a knowing smile at each other.) And – wha’ happened??  

At a time when they thought differently and behaved differently, they felt differently. Important principle!

The same thing happens in your walk with the Lord.  You begin with much zeal, but then your love begins to run cold.  Is it possible that how you are thinking has been a part of that decline? Have other aspects of your life assumed front-and-center place in your mind?  Those expressions of love that used to come so naturally to you – wha’ happened?  For example, are you making it a priority to experience quality time with God?  Are you remaining completely faithful to Him?  (Or are you flirting with “other lovers?”) Do you talk about Him to others any more, both as you go about your daily life and in gatherings of others who are in love with Him? Are you voraciously reading His Love letters to you? Are you passionately engaged in pleasing Him by serving others?

Do the things you did at first. Don’t tolerate the “loss of your first love” in any relationship of value – and especially in your relationship with God! In that relationship, you have the Perfect Partner.  He Loves you lavishly and provides for you faithfully.  Why would you allow yourself to drift away from Him?

My God, Lover of my soul, please forgive me when I’ve allowed other priorities to come between us.  Spirit of God within me, please keep drawing me back.  I say “yes” to Your overtures of intimacy.  You are my First Love.

 

 

 

PURPOSE FAQ’S

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Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He Who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10: 23)

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3: 22-23) 

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31: 6)

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 38-39)

Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”  I’d add a third day to that:  the day you’re born again.  However, I’m in total agreement with Twain about the life-changing importance of finding out why.

We’ve spent all week on this important topic. Today is the fifth and final (for now) in this series on your life purpose. I promised to respond today to your questions and those people have asked at the purpose retreat (Another one coming up June 15-16.  Can’t wait!) So here goes…

You don’t know me, and you don’t know all I’ve done. You don’t know all I was told about being worthless growing up.  It’s hard to believe what you’re saying about God giving me a special purpose to fulfill on this earth.  

The evil of speaking such words over a child makes me so mad.  Surely those adults have no comprehension of what they are doing to a child’s beliefs about herself or himself.  But may I tell you that the words God speaks over you are so different from those curses you heard?  God sees you as “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  His plans for you are “to give you hope and a future.”  He has placed gifts within you that are “irrevocable,” no matter what you’ve done.  You are precious in God’s sight, and He is totally ready to show you and empower you for a new life path of purpose.  If you say “yes” to learning to see yourself as God sees you, if you cooperate with Him to gradually “change your mind,” and if you tune in to what God placed within you long ago, your life will change.  It’s not too late.

My kids have left home, and they don’t seem to need me any more.  I’ve devoted my life to them.  They’ve been my purpose.  I just feel lost.

I would correct you and say that your work with your children has been purpose-ful.  However, no one life situation is your purpose.  You have expressed the purpose God placed within you in this season of raising kids through your love for and your investment in them.  Now that they are gone, you will need to adjust how you relate with them – and yes, they still need you.  Transitions can be discombobulating.  The opportunities for expression of your life purpose change over time.  Be assured that God is not done with you.  You’re still breathing, aren’t you?

I used to be active and full of life.  I would say I felt as if what I was doing mattered.  Now I’m having health problems that are severely limiting what I can do.  It’s hard to feel like I still have purpose.  I’m just here at home most of the time.

Hey, I have a little understanding of that.  I was debilitated for some time after the 2014 accident.  I recall being helpless in the hospital and on lots of pain medicine, but I was able to tell the nurse aide who came to bathe me how valuable what she was doing was to me.  There will be opportunities for purpose expression, no matter what your circumstances.  When God placed your unique talents and desires within you, He knew about this time you’d be facing right now.  You may grieve and be frustrated by your situational limitations, but I encourage you to look within your current situation for opportunities, electronic or otherwise, to make a difference in someone’s day.  As a person acquainted with pain, you are now a more credible witness to others who are hurting.  You never know what a note of encouragement or a phone call to check on someone can do, especially when you follow a nudge of the Holy Spirit.  You are going through a difficult season, but your God-given purpose has not been sabotaged.

I think my life purpose is changing over time. Is that possible?

Like I shared a moment ago, the expressions of your purpose can come in seasons.  May I share a personal example?  My purpose in life, which I learned through a process similar to the one I teach today, is “to bring out the best in people.”  There was a time when I did that with my elementary school students.  I worked hard to achieve that when I was raising my kids, then when I was spending time with my grandchildren.  Whether I’m sitting in the counseling office, conducting a seminar or retreat, coaching leaders, writing a devotional, or sharing time with a good friend, that deep, underlying motive does not change.  It’s what God hardwired me to do.  More effective and consistent ways of acting on what God put inside me have evolved as I have (hopefully!) matured. But my core “why” remains the same.  I challenge you to look for the commonality in all your life roles over time.  Learn from these two words:  “so that…”  Why do you do what you do?  Name the most meaningful experiences and actions in your life over time, and add the words, “so that…”  You’ll get some great clues to your purpose when you do that.  Another great question is, “What do I hope they would say about me at the end of my life?”  I believe you’ll begin to see the purpose threads that tie it all together.

Believe me, I’ve spent some time in my life “off purpose” and out of synch with God’s best for me.  But God (I love that phrase) is constantly on the job.  He lovingly woos us and works with us, as the scripture says, “to will and to do His good pleasure.” He plants His desires deep within our own motivations, and He is faithful even when we are not.  Your life purpose is consistent with and embedded in His overall purposes.  Identify it.  Live it!  Don’t miss it!

O God, thank You for Your faithfulness.  Thank You for the awesomeness of Your plans and how You created each of us for our unique contribution to Your Loving work on this earth. Holy Spirit, I am listening.  Show me this day the people and the opportunities You place in front of me to show God’s Love on this earth.  Thank You, Lord, that You gave each of us purpose.

P.S.  If you have any further questions about your own purpose in life, feel free to email me at Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. 

ARE YOU LIVING YOUR PURPOSE OUT LOUD ?

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From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.  What I have said, that I will bring about.  What I have planned, that I will do.  (Isaiah 46: 11)

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.  Before you were born, I set you apart.  I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1: 5)

I hope that by now you’ve been inspired and challenged to do the important personal work of becoming clear about your own God-given purpose in life.  Furthermore, I want your life to be powerfully enriched with meaning as you quietly or loudly move from opportunity to opportunity – on purpose.

Our Purpose Partners retreat grads will testify that once you go through the life review exercises, and you “get it,” your eyes will be opened to find purpose in everyday, formerly routine and boring tasks.  For instance, a young mom saw the ho-hum morning trip to meet the school bus come alive as she now viewed it as an opportunity to infuse into her children an awareness of their abilities and strengths. Our Purpose Partners alumni are not wasting the struggles they have gone through.  One woman became powerfully aware of how the horrific, senseless adversity she had experienced could now provide a stronger connection with others going through hard times and needing the support of someone who understands.  Still others have embraced the dreams that won’t release them and are taking realistic steps toward them. I could go on, but I’ll just sum it up by saying, “Knowing and living your purpose in life changes it all.”

Is this purpose thing some made-up pop psychology fad?  No.  I can tell you that I would not be devoting so much effort to helping others with purpose if it were not firmly rooted in the scripture and in the people examples God has provided us in His Word.

Allow me to give you my definition of purpose, which I believe is at least a beginning reflection on this beautiful gift from our God:

Your life purpose is God’s irrevocable calling on your life to use your unique talents and experiences to express His Love and thus to make a positive difference in your world.

Let’s break that down a little.  The scripture does say that “the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11: 29) Additionally, He calls and equips each of us for the assignments He chooses to placein front of us.  We’ve been prepared for each successive calling by our inborn talents sharpened into capabilities and by our life experiences. Every one of God’s callings are opportunities for us to fulfill His greatest commandment – that of LOVE.  Each and every assignment will be an opportunity to express God’s Love in our own special and unique way.  We are to leave His fragrance on each task and each person we touch.  And we will – when we are walking in covenant partnership with God and living out our purpose on this earth.

Your life purpose is the golden thread that runs through every God-honoring, meaningful experience of your life.  But as we’ve seen, your purpose is not a particular role, job, or act of service. However, in every single role, job, or act of service, you may be living on purpose.  Or not.

Purpose isn’t what you do.  It’s why you do it.  

The focus on your “why” will energize you in the most difficult circumstances.  Purpose will push you to persist when it would be easier to quit.  You’ll be willing to tackle and stay with the hard things in pursuit of the best things.  When your cells feel as if they’ve just come alive, it won’t be that you’ve just gotten purpose.  God gave you that long before you were born.  Your newly-discovered, keen awareness of the gifts with which God has entrusted you changes how you see it all.  The miracle is, your circumstances may remain the same, but you will be different.

Thus, purpose is not stymied when your situations change for the worse, even when they explode catastrophically. It’s not sabotaged when your health status or your occupational opportunities change.  Purpose is not even snatched away when you make that lollapalooza of a mistake.  Inspired by the Spirit of God, the Apostle Paul told the Romans that God’s gifts and His callings were irrevocable. What a relief that is!

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I’m interested in hearing from you about your questions, your insights, and your experiences with purpose. Email me at bev@drbevsmallwood.com, and I’ll try to respond to your questions along with other “frequently-asked” ones in tomorrow’s message.

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Lord, thank You that You loved each of us so much that You gave us the uniqueness of our imprint on this world through our personal purpose. God, as You have assigned me, I so want to be able to communicate this truth.  Open blind eyes, Lord.  Unstop deaf ears.  May the awareness of purpose and the determination to live it out loud come alive in every one of my readers.  And may I be diligent to stay on track with each calling You place on my life – until I breathe my last.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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