Dr. Beverly Smallwood

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

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MOTIVES MATTER

motives

Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart.  (I Samuel 16: 7)

All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord. (Proverbs 16: 2)

It’s not just what you do, but it’s why you do it. It’s not just what you say, but it’s why you say it.  It’s not only what you portray, but it’s what’s deep in your heart of hearts.

Motives matter. 

Plenty of believers and unbelievers) are running around in circles, either “working for God” or “doing good deeds.” If the goal of that is just to chalk up heavenly points, hoping that they will impress God and earn His approval, these folks are misguided.  You can’t earn your way into God’s favor.  Your blessings come in deep and loving covenant relationship with Him.  They are delivered by His grace.

Motives matter.

Other folks crave to earn the accolades of people.  Scroll through their Facebook pages, which are full of selfies about all the good deeds they are doing.  The Bible states that if you do your deeds for the purpose of being seen by men, they count for nothing.  Also, after a while, people are likely to sense that something is just not quite right. Frenetic activity is no substitute for the foundation of a heart that is truly connected to God’s purposes – for HIS glory.

Motives matter.

Others have little discernment about their God-given assignments, and they take it all on because even with good intentions, they don’t know how to say no.  They say yes, not because they have sought God, or the Holy Spirit has given them a clear signal.  They can’t say no because if they did, someone might disapprove of them.  They have to “keep people pleased” (lotsa luck on that one), or else they feel anxious and out-of-sorts.

Motives matter.

The scripture says that motives matter much. Frenetic activity, no matter how good it looks, amounts to nothing of eternal significance if it is not inspired and empowered by the Spirit of God. At the end, the source of your good works will be tested, and if they are not fueled by the right motives, they will be “burned up” like “wood, hay, and straw.” Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. (I Corinthians 3: 10-14)

A pure, faith-filled, God-surrendered heart gives birth to good deeds. Don’t waste your energy without it.

God, I pray with David, create in me a clean heart.  Prompt me often to check my motives.  May I always be serving people for Your glory and not my own.  

 

THE PRIVILEGE OF SERVING

serve-others

Life – it’s not all about you!  Or me! It’s about the privilege of serving others.

We are here for a purpose, and that purpose extends well beyond the familiar “WIIFM” principle (What’s in it for me?).  You’ve been given talents, learned abilities, and experiences that uniquely prepare you for each new assignment.  Your assignments may be professions, projects, or certain people, but all of it begins and ends with serving God and serving people.

Of one thing you can be sure.  God never intended for you to waste anything in your life – including traumatic experiences.  God can transform even those into special tools to equip you to make a difference to others.  Somebody needs you and what you possess, empowered by the direction and the power of God’s Spirit.  A spirit of service is the calling of every believer in Jesus Christ.

I came across a beautiful prayer of Mother Teresa that captures the spirit of service that I so desire to have and that I pray for us all.
___

“Make us worthy, Lord,
To serve our fellow men throughout the world
Who live and die in poverty and hunger.

Give them, through our hands, this day
Their daily bread,
And by our understanding love, give Peace and Joy.

Lord, make me a channel of Thy peace,
That where there is hatred I may bring love;
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
That where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
That where there is error, I may bring truth;
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
That where there is despair, I may bring hope;
That where there are shadows, I may bring light;
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;
To understand than to be understood;
To love than to be loved.
For it is by forgetting self that one finds;
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.”
___

I am humbled and challenged by Mother Teresa’s prayer; are you? To live this is beyond the scope of human capacity. Such is the work of God’s Spirit within a surrendered heart.

Lord, please ignite a burning spirit of service within me and please powerfully touch others through me. Amen and amen!

YIKES!

overslept_woman

Well, the alarm clock did not overpower the fatigue this morning!  I’ve overslept, and I have an early dentist appointment.  Sorry!  Be blessed today! See you in the morning!

Bev

HOW TO CHANGE A HABIT

time_for_change

I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world, but be (being) transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove (act out) the good and perfect will of God.  (Romans 12: 1-2)

When it comes to both spiritual and psychological wholeness, some changes are progressive and not instantaneous.  Spiritually, at an experiential point in time, you receive salvation through faith in Christ.  However, becoming conformed to the image of Christ is a process.  Renewing the mind is a process, as is being transformed. God usually doesn’t just zap you with the luxury of instanteous habit change.  The Holy Spirit points out the current area for work in your life, and He empowers you one step at a time for the transition to a better way. But what do those steps look like?

Some of the most respected and quoted research in our psychological profession comes from Prochaska, DiClemente, and colleagues, who broadly studied successful habit-changers.  They interviewed people who had been able to get rid of bad habits and replace them with better ones and who had been able to maintain their success over time.  The vehicles of their change ranged from religious conversion to counseling/therapy to 12-step groups to independent cold turkey – and a variety of others.  The researchers were able to identify what successful changers had in common.  Interestingly, they delineated 6 stages necessary for successful change (and the 6th is a little controversial).  Leave out a stage, and you diminish your chances of changing for good.

So I tell you in advance, this message will be a little longer than usual, but I believe the time invested will be worth it – IF you apply it.  Ready for a little self-examination and insight about your past problems with habit change and for some tools for right now?  Here goes.

Stages of Change graphic

 

  1.  Pre-contemplation.  People in the Pre-contemplation stage are not even thinking about changing because they do not see a problem.  They are oblivious and clueless.  Oh, yes, others may see it and feel it because they are being affected by it or care about the person’s welfare.  But at this point, this individual is in the “ignorance is bliss” (not really) arena.  Denial makes possible some powerful self-delusion.  But if the given habit is unhealthy and problematic, eventually the negative consequences will accumulate until they cannot be ignored.
  2.  Contemplation. In the Contemplation stage, the potential changer is “thinking about it,” and successful changers do that systematically.  They are paying attention to the current or potential consequences of what they are doing. They intentionally begin to observe when, where, how, and with whom they are likely to give in to the problematic thoughts or behaviors.  They take written notes on their observations.  This gets them ready to make a plan that really works for them. Don’t rush it!  Pay attention and learn about yourself.  This knowledge is essential raw material for change.
  3.  Preparation. It’s been said, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Diving into some kind of frantic action with grand promises to yourself won’t get it.  Successful habit changers take what they have learned in Stage 2, and they create a realistic and specific plan of action.  They figure out when they will do “it,” and how.  They get honest about what they will need to stop doing to make the time or make the room.  They enlist positive support.  What is your detailed and realistic plan for change?
  4. Action.  Phew!  We’re finally at that point where most (evenutally frustrated) folks jump right in without going through Stages 2 and 3.  This is the motivating and energizing part.  You’re actively working on making the change.  Sure, you have some better days than others, but you learn from the struggles, work your plan, and persist intentionally.  Finally, the habit comes under conscious control; you can do it right when you keep yourself aware.  At last, that wonderful place in which you do it the new way unconsciously – you’ve formed a new habit!
  5. Maintenance.  Groan! It’s a whole lot easier to lose weight than to keep it off.  You stop smoking, but then stress or exposure to other smokers invites you to light up again.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, you’ve become a lot more patient – but then he insists on getting on your last nerve.  This is on place the info you’ve gathered in the Contemplation stage comes in handy.  Knowing your high-risk situations and preparing for them can keep you on your toes.  When you feel yourself slipping, pull away and pray and think.  Take a deep breath, and choose rather than just impulsively reacting.  When you slip a little, find out how that happened and correct it.  Don’t let it get out of hand before you do something.  Address a setback immediately – and come back!
  6. Termination. This is the stage I told you earlier was controversial among clinicians and any spiritually-attuned person.  If a habit has entrapped you before, I have observed from personal experience and decades of client work, you can never say, “Whew!  I’m glad that’s over!”  Sure, you don’t have to be thinking about it all the time.  Absolutely, if you fill your mind and activities with positive things, your tendency to relapse is greatly reduced.  However, my opinion is that you can’t become overly confident in your infallibiity in this area of vulnerability.  The scripture warns us to watch, because we have an enemy who lurks about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Satan and his cohorts love to take advantage of any chink in your armor.  Walking out victory in your life and in your habits is a work of daily surrender to God’s Spirit.

Has this been helpful to you?  Where do you see yourself in the process of change on a troublesome habit?

O Lord, save me from myself!  Even after all the changes You’ve led me through, I still have so much work to do on me! I can’t do this on my own, my God.  Show me myself.  Guide me into the right plan for me.  Empower me with Your strength and persistence. I want to be more like You, Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EMBRACE WISDOM! YOU’LL BE GLAD YOU DID!

way-of-wisdom

For wisdom’s profit is better than the profit of silver,
And her gain is better than fine gold. (Proverbs 3: 14)

My son, let them not escape from your sight,
But keep sound wisdom and discretion,
And they will be life to your soul (your inner self)
And a gracious adornment to your neck (your outer self).
Then you will walk on your way [of life] securely
And your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Do not be afraid of sudden fear
Nor of the storm of the wicked when it comes [since you will be blameless];
For the Lord will be your confidence, firm and strong,
And will keep your foot from being caught [in a trap).

(Proverbs 3: 23-26, The Amplified Bible)

I heard about a humorous conversation.

“How can you know how to make wise decisions?”

“Well, that comes from experience.”

“How do you get experience?”

“Well, that comes from making stupid decisions.”

Folks who embrace God’s instruction book (the Bible) and who are willing to learn from their mistakes gradually acquire wisdom.  So also do individuals who surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives; He gives a word of wisdom at just the right time.

And trust me, a person who has sometimes chosen foolishly, the exercise of God’s freely-given wisdom is definitely the best plan!  Impulsivity usually doesn’t get you there.  Seeking God, thinking long-term, and having the courage to do the right thing does. The above scripture in the Proverbs lays out a sample of the benefits of praying about and thinking through your choices. Weigh these benefits against any momentary pleasure, the temporary escape, or the ego trip.

  1.  Your soul will feel alive. If you’ve ever been through a season of feeling dull and even dead inside, this benefit will be gold. What a contrast is the energy from the God kind of life that arises within you when you choose the ways He has prepared for you.
  2.  You will actually look better. (That’s what “adorning the neck” means.) Go to your 40th high school class reunion and observe the degree of visual aging among people who have made wise life choices and those who have not.  Check out the wrinkles, the splotchy skin, the puffy eyes, and the graying hair in the latter.  A life pattern of foolishness is tough on the looks.
  3.  You’ll walk without stumbling. How much time have you and I wasted, falling down and trying to get up again?  How many skinned knees and bruised feelings? Oh, there are obstacles in the path, surely enough.  However, wisdom urges you to plan your way to avoid them, to keep your eyes open, and to step over or go around those big rocks.
  4.  Anxiety won’t keep you up at night; you’ll sleep well. Do you ever have difficulty shutting down your brain when your head hits the pillow?  The same dire predictions or fears  and the attempts to figure a problem out are rolling over and over through your thoughts or your nightmares.  The divinely-imparted ability to know what to do and to have the courage to take action is better than Melatonin.
  5.  You won’t be taken out by surprise. You might be taken by surprise, but you won’t be taken out by surprise.  You know that God is never blindsided, and His Spirit is within you.  He will tell you what to do next because, as a person of wisdom, you are willing to listen.
  6.  The Lord will keep you confident and strong.  When you’re walking in the wisdom of the Lord, you’ don’t have to be constantly looking over your shoulder.  Even when your circumstances are difficult, you can be confident that you’ve done the right thing and that you can stand strong because you’ve followed timeless principles.  You know that God will cause all things to work together and to come out for your good in the end.
  7.  You’ll avoid getting trapped in your poor choices. Oh, what a tangled web we weave! Little acts become habits, and habits morph into addictions.  Or, a  “little white lie” paves the way for a bigger one.  First thing you know, you can’t remember what you’ve told what person.  You procrastinate on taking care of business until the mess is a mountain.  If only you’d made wise choices at the outset!

Wisdom is a lot greater than knowledge.  Some really intellectual people are not wise.  It’s entirely possible to know facts without knowing how to apply them in practical situations.

Wisdom is knowledge in work clothes!

Get wisdom.  Change those entrapping, dis-empowering habits that are sabotaging you.  More on that tomorrow.

Lord, King Solomon asked you above all else to give him wisdom.  I come with that same request, God.  Help me to think before I act, to pray before I jump, and to yield myself always to the work of Your wise Spirit within me!

 

 

 

 

 

3 SURE-FIRE METHODS TO SABOTAGE WISE DECISIONS

owl-14
For wisdom’s profit is better than the profit of silver,
And her gain is better than fine gold. (Proverbs 3: 14)

My son, let them not escape from your sight,
But keep sound wisdom and discretion,
And they will be life to your soul (your inner self)
And a gracious adornment to your neck (your outer self).
Then you will walk on your way [of life] securely
And your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Do not be afraid of sudden fear
Nor of the storm of the wicked when it comes [since you will be blameless];
For the Lord will be your confidence, firm and strong,
And will keep your foot from being caught [in a trap].

(Proverbs 3: 23-26, The Amplified Bible)

Have you ever made choices that were – ah – “less-than-wise?”  (Well, that’s a stupid question right there.)  Maybe your insistent urges told you “that” would solve it, relieve it.  Perhaps “it” seemed like the thing to do at the time.  Or maybe everyone else was doing “it,” and you allowed yourself to get caught up in the moment.  But we’ve all had those experiences after which we looked back on our choices and said, “If only…”

How does a person develop wisdom?  Years alone don’t do it.  Lectures from others can’t accomplish it.  Unfortunately, personal blindness can cause repeated stumbles over the same rocks.  Denial can result in springing the same traps over and over. So to understand how to obtain wisdom, first we must understand what supports and maintains the lack of wisdom. These 3 barriers (among a few others) have to gradually be “busted.”

  1.  Pride.  This one is #1 for good reason.  I’m convinced this pride the root of just about everything spiritually unhealthy.  In fact, pride was at the core of original sin, for Adam and Eve “bit” on the idea that they could do it their way.  “And you shall be as gods.”  Confidence in the Lord is one thing.  Out-of-balance SELF-confidence involves the belief that you have nothing to learn, and your way is the right way. To become wiser, you have to settle it.  God’s way is the right way; and godly, experienced others may know a thing or two.  There is a God, and you are not Him.
  2.  Refusal to learn. Number 2 is a cousin to Number 1.  Some fail to learn from their mistakes, much less actively seeking to study and understand God’s principles.  An active, open mind and a spiritually hungry, open heart clears  the path to all kinds of benefits (which we will talk about tomorrow).
  3. Habit. Habits can be enemies or friends, depending on the degree of wisdom in them. We tend to keep doing what we’ve been doing.  Without conscious and intentional intervention, learned negative patterns continue to guide thoughts and behaviors.  And yes, ways of thinking are habits, too. However, habits can be changed with some work. The mind can be “renewed” by feeding it a steady diet of God’s Word (Romans 12: 2).  Behavioral habits can be changed with concentrated awareness and effort.  (Maybe I’ll tackle “how to change a habit” here soon.)

The presence or absence of wisdom in your choices absolutely determines the trajectory of the rest of your life, despite past dumb decisions.  Learning to choose more wisely is so worth the effort.  Tomorrow, we will find out why.

God, I crave Your wisdom for my life.  Holy Spirit, don’t let up on me in areas in which my patterns are sabotaging Your best for me, my relationships to others, and my service in Your Kingdom. I choose to put You and Your ways ahead of me and my foolish ways.  Help me, Lord, to become more wise!

 

 

 

ONE DAY AT A TIME, SWEET JESUS

calendar

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry abut itelf. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  (Matthew 6: 34)

I’ve heard it said that any time you see the word “therefore” in the Bible, you should look to see what it’s there for.  Something preceded that statement on which the assertion rests.  In this case, Jesus has just enumerated examples from the animal kingdom and the plant world, pointing out how God takes care of all of them down to the last minute detail.  If He does all of that for the plants and animals- “therefore,” He will certainly take care of you and me, human beings who are His highest creations.  And “further therefore,” because we embrace His Lordship and His watchful care, worry is totally unnecessary.

Worry about tomorrow is a useless waste of today’s energy and brain power.  God’s got this! His time is not our time.  He sees the beginning from the end.  Nothing can take Him by surprise, and He already has His plans in place to help you and to bring you through anything life throws at you.  He is Jehovah Jireh, your Provider; Jehovah Rapha, your Healer; Jehovah Rohi, your God Who sees.  His Spirit guides, protects, instructs, comforts,  sustains, and “smartens” you.  His mighty Hand of power and authority intervenes where you can’t.

God supplies our needs similarly to the way He sent food for the Israelites in the wilderness.  He sent manna for ONE day’s food.

So, trust Him for tomorrow, and focus right now on today.  What can you do this day? What do you have to work with today? 

Here’s another thought about today.  What would you do with this day if you knew it were your last?  Then even if you have plenty of days left, focus on what’s most important during this 24-hour span.

Matthew recorded Jesus’ reminder that each day has enough troubles of its own.  Do you want to go into your imagined and feared tomorrow and borrow some more difficulties?  When you do, you overwhelm yourself.  You are not able to tune into God’s solutions and use your own divinely-inspired mind to generate creative ideas and actions for this complete turn of the earth on its axis.

Bill Keane expressed it profoundly:  “Yesterday is history.  Tomorrow’s a mystery.  Today is a gift of God; that’s why we call it the present.”

Lord, I choose not to worry about tomorrow.  I deeply believe that whatever happens in my life, You will bring good out of it.  You will teach me how to grow from it.  You are never caught by surprise, and You have all the resources I could ever possibly need.  When I trust You, You supply just what I need, right on time.  You lead me safely through today.

 

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