Kite over Jamaica Beach - Galveston, TX

Why are you discouraged?

Last week was one of those weeks that makes you want to crawl into a corner and cry your eyes out. Have you ever had a week like that? Where just about everything goes wrong? And even in the moments where things go right, you’re afraid to trust it because you’re just waiting for the bottom to drop out from under you? Yeah. It was that kind of week. And, honestly, this week isn’t shaping up to be much better. I hope it is, but I’m not expecting much improvement.

So what do you do when you’re already discouraged and you’re trapped in disheartening circumstances? What do you do when none of it seems to make sense and every time you try to fix your life, you just seem to make it worse? What do you do?

Stop and praise God for it. 

Kite over Jamaica Beach - Galveston, TX

Kite over Jamaica Beach – Galveston, TX

Psalm 42 

As the deer longs for streams of water,
    so I long for you, O God.
I thirst for God, the living God.
    When can I go and stand before him?
Day and night I have only tears for food,
    while my enemies continually taunt me, saying,
    “Where is this God of yours?”

My heart is breaking
    as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers,
    leading a great procession to the house of God,
singing for joy and giving thanks
    amid the sound of a great celebration!

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

Now I am deeply discouraged,
    but I will remember you—
even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan,
    from the land of Mount Mizar.
I hear the tumult of the raging seas
    as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.
But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
    and through each night I sing his songs,
    praying to God who gives me life.

“O God my rock,” I cry,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I wander around in grief,
    oppressed by my enemies?”
Their taunts break my bones.
    They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

Perspective is one of the most important parts of living a Christian life. If you don’t keep a true perspective of who God is and who you are and what your purpose is, it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to get tripped up. And once you start tripping, it’s not too long before you take a tumble. But even if you have the right perspective, you can still end up in a place where all you can see is darkness. But even then, if you can keep your perspective and recognize it for what it is, you’ll still have joy, even if you aren’t necessarily happy about it.

Verses 5 and 11 out of Psalm 42 say the same thing:

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

It’s also repeated in Psalm 43:5. The Bible doesn’t just repeat things for lyrical value. Yes, the Psalms are songs, and this makes a wonderful little tune (remember the song “Why So Downcast, O My Soul”? Guess where that came from). But practically speaking, whenever you see something repeated in Scripture, you need to pay attention.

So when you start trying to get your perspective right, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself why you’re discouraged. Try to identify what it is that’s got you down. And then, once you’ve figured out, put your hope in God to straighten it out. Do what you can and let it go.

I love how the Message says this:

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
    Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
    soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
    He’s my God.

It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s okay to feel down. But it’s not okay to let your perspective slip.

When everything is going wrong, that’s the time to praise louder than before. When it feels like your world is falling apart, that’s the time to put your whole focus on God and what He is doing and what He can do and what He has done. When you’re so discouraged that you can barely function, that’s the moment to thank God for everything He has done for you. And if you can do all that, you’ll find something amazing happens.

Even though your circumstances haven’t necessarily changed, even though you still have all the same problems as before, you’ll be smiling about it. Not because you’re in denial and not because you’re childishly ignoring the facts, but because your heart will remember who God is and that no circumstance is bigger than He is.

If you’re going to say or write anything today, you’d better check this out.

Words are dangerous. They are powerful weapons that can build up or tear down people, organizations, families, companies, and relationships. And anyone who has the capability to wield words, spoken or written, has a great responsibility to use them in a way that is beneficial.

As a writer, I am always amazed at what words can do. English to me is one of the most fascinating languages in the world, mainly because it’s so weird. It has rules to follow that it only follows half the time. Its only standard of pronunciation is that there is no standard. Spelling is no less strange. And between denotation and connotation, it’s no wonder that native speakers have as much trouble understanding its depth and breadth as those who learn it later in life (those folks who have learned English as a second language, I applaud your efforts; it’s one of the hardest languages out there to learn to speak).

Anyone who speaks or writes, whether professionally or just for fun, should realize how powerful words are. In a single sentence–sometimes even a single word–you can either encourage or you can discourage. You can enrich or you can rob. You can heal or you can hurt. And before you wield the power of a word, you need to think it through very carefully.

In this modern age of Tweets and Facebook statuses and blogging and comment posting, people have become accustomed to writing or saying whatever they want whenever they want without the fear of repercussions. The Internet is the great equalizer, a source of anonymity where anyone can voice his or her opinion, no matter how hurtful, and have a captive audience.

That only means that today’s verse is truer than ever. Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:29.

29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

 As a Christ Follower who is also a writer, it’s my reponsibility to make sure that everything I write will be encouraging and enriching to others. Now, we need to make sure we understand what encouraging means there because it doesn’t mean to just say nice, sweet, feel-good things all the time. Encourage means to give someone courage. It means to tell the truth in love but not to pull punches when someone needs a good smack in the head.

The Amplified Version calls it speech that is “good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion.”

So I need to make sure that what I’m writing is true, first. And then I need to make sure that I’m presenting it in a way that will help people grow spiritually. I do believe that a blog is a good place to air out opinions, but at the same time just because I can use a blog as a place to say what I want to say doesn’t alleviate the responsibility I have to make sure what I’m writing is true and communicated in love.

But the responsibility to write and speak this way isn’t just for writers and speakers. It’s for everyone. Because everyone is going to speak today, and even those who don’t speak often are still going to write something. And in a culture where it’s so easy to be critical and even easier to say mean things to each other (even if they’re true), those who follow Christ need to live to a different standard. Even if what you have to say to others won’t make them happy, you can still communicate it in a way that is positive. If they take it negatively, that’s up to them, but you can still do your part and try to speak truth in love.

If it were impossible to do, God wouldn’t have told us to do it. Nothing is impossible with His help. Granted, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. And, boy, is it easy to say mean things. Easy and fulfilling sometimes, especially when someone else has been mean to you — but that road never pans out.

When you’re tempted to say or write something cruel, don’t. Say or write something encouraging instead. You never know where it might take you and you never know how you might help someone you didn’t even know was watching.

The dating habits of men and women (and why they make me want to write a book about it)

I find it interesting how men and women act around each other when they decide they’re interested in each other. It’s a fascinating dance to watch. Kind of like people watching at Wal-Mart. Everyone responds in different ways. Some guys strut. Some girls giggle. It varies completely from person to person, but it never fails to be a good show.

There are a few exceptions, though. Some folks don’t really change at all. Those are the couples I admire.

But the majority of the time, both the guy and the girl are totally absorbed with portraying the perfect image of themselves. The guy dresses nicer than normal. The girl wears more makeup. The guy listens when she yammers away about something he doesn’t care about. The girl doesn’t convince him to get his hair cut or to buy new clothes. The guy brings her flowers and chocolates and calls her all the time. The girl doesn’t nag. The guy holds her hand. The girl laughs at his jokes even if they aren’t really that funny.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

I’ve seen it happen so many times where a guy and a girl convince each other that they are different people than who they really are. And when they finally take the next step and get married, the images they’ve created to hook each other vanish, leaving them wondering where the person they fell in love with has gone.

The verse today is straightforward. So this will be brief. I actually mentioned it yesterday, as this verse is in the same chapter as yesterday’s verse.

Proverbs 31:30

 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
      but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.

Now, this does come out of Proverbs 31, which is usually applied to women. But every verse in the Bible is applicable to every person in the world, whether male or female. And the truth of this particular piece of Scripture is definitely universal.

You can charm each other all you want but, in all honesty, when it comes to relationships, you need to base your real attraction on something deeper than charm . . . or outside appearance. Because one is fake and the other won’t last.

Charm is great, but let’s get real, folks. It’s a tool we use to advance a relationship. We do it at work. We do it at school. We do it at home. We do it in relationships too. Some people have more of it than others do, but generally speaking, we don’t walk around charming everybody we run across. We only try to charm the people we want to invest in . . . and, being brutally honest here, we usually only charm the people who can do something for us in return.

And beauty? Yeah. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one because I will run out of room on this blog. Some day I’m going to write a book about beauty and what it actually is. I can honestly say I have never met a woman who needed to wear makeup, despite her age. Young or old doesn’t matter to me. I’ve never met a woman who needed to cover her face up. But society and culture tells us we need to look a certain way. And I’ve seen beautiful, absolutely stunning young women refuse to go outside because they haven’t got their makeup on yet. Where do we get the idea that beauty comes from what we put on our faces? No matter how we try to escape it, everyone gets old. Everyone goes gray. I’m not even 30 yet and I have more silver hairs than I care to admit (nobody ever believes me, but I finally convinced my dad the other day when he got a good look at my hair in the sunlight). And what the world defines as beauty is fleeting. It’s more than fleeting. It’s so brief that it’s more like a puff of smoke.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. Whatever measure of physical attractiveness you have will disappear. And have you noticed that the longer people try to keep themselves young, the stranger they end up looking by the time they get old?

Now . . . am I saying it’s wrong to want to look nice? No. Absolutely not. Somebody once told me that if you care enough about somebody else, you’ll devote the time to your appearance to demonstrate that fact. I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that . . . I can see dressing up for special occasions. But on a daily basis? Not so much. . . . But that’s me . . . and I’m still single . . . and that outlook might have something to do with that . . . =)

In any case, since charm isn’t real and beauty is going to disappear no matter how hard you hold on to it, we need to be looking at something deeper in people than what they look like or even how they act. Find out who they are inside. I know that’s something relationship gurus talk about all the time, but it’s a lot harder to put into practice than it is to just talk about.

If you can find someone who loves God and does what He says and doesn’t question His Word and wants to live for Him with everything He’s got, that’s what needs to be attractive to you. Because those qualities only get stronger as you get older. And those are drives and passions that will deepen farther than mere superficial charm. And when all the glamor of dating and courtship wears off and you realize that your wife has acne scars and hairy legs and is prone to whining . . . and your husband snores and tracks mud in the house and crunches tortilla chips loud enough to wake the dead . . . your mutual belief and desire to follow God will remain. And you can love each other for who you actually are and not for the facade you put up when you were dating.

Just be real with each other.