Helping the Thief

burning-question-markThe other day I was reading Psalms 50:16-18a when I stopped short, feeling as if I’d been hit right between the eyes. Before I tell you why, I should confess a shortcoming. Occasionally, because I’m reading my Bible, praying, and not committing any heinous sins, I start feeling content in my own “righteousness.” As you know, a self-righteous person can be a real pain in the neck. Usually, a Scripture checks this type of irritating attitude before it gets out of control in my life. And that’s what happened the other day when I read Psalms 50:16-18a.

But God says to evil men: Recite my laws no longer and stop claiming my promises, for you have refused my discipline, disregarding my laws. . .”

At this point of my Bible reading, my self-righteous attitude kicked in. Almost without realizing it, I smiled smugly and mentally patted myself on the back for not being evil or disregarding God’s laws. I had just pictured myself as God’s “shining, over-achieving child” when I read the first part of verse 18.

“You see a thief and help him.”

cuffs-and-messageSuddenly, I felt as if I’d been struck by a bolt of lightning. Staring at the verse, I felt a wave of conviction from the Lord. Naturally—being me—I fought against the guilty feeling. Looking up at the ceiling, I protested loudly, “What are you talking about, Lord? Why am I feeling guilty? I’ve never helped a thief steal someone’s television set! As far as I know, I’ve never even met a thief!”

Instantly, John 10:10 came to mind: “The thief [the devil] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Immediately after I remembered the verse, I felt God speak deep down in my spirit. His voice wasn’t audible, but it was powerful. God simply said, “The devil has been stealing from you, and you have been helping him.”

thiefLeaning back in my chair, I gazed up at the ceiling. I felt stunned. Reviewing the last several weeks in my mind, I narrowed my eyes. I had been experiencing some difficulties, and when I prayed about them, I felt God’s peace assuring me that everything would be okay. But regardless of God’s assurances, I had been worrying about my circumstances. I had been running scenarios in my mind, trying to anticipate possible problems. I hadn’t been sleeping well, and I’d been spending my days feeling worried and tense.

God’s gentle voice said, “You’ve been helping the thief steal your peace.”

handcuffsFeeling ashamed, I had to admit it was true. My mind wandered to my recent diet. I felt myself blush. I had been losing weight and then gaining it back with alarming regularity. Every time I was few pounds down, I would start craving cookies. Eventually, I would cave and indulge in sweet treats. The break in my diet would signal a return to bad eating habits and lack of exercise. The pounds would creep back onto my frame—along with a feeling of guilt and defeat.

Again, God’s gentle voice came, “You’ve been helping the thief steal your health and victory.”

Biting my lip, I nodded. I knew it was true. Again my mind flashed back over the last several weeks. I realized that I’d allowed resentment toward an individual creep into my thinking. Although I knew bitterness was wrong, I’d been harboring hurt feelings.

God spoke, “You’ve been helping the thief destroy your relationship and steal your joy.”

truth-stonesHiding my face in my hands, I whispered, “I’m sorry, God. I know you’re right. I’ve been helping the thief steal from me. What do I do now?”

At this point, I expected God to give some wonderful piece of advice. I expected to be directed to another Scripture verse. I expected—well, I’m not exactly sure what I expected, but I certainly didn’t expect what He said next.

God simply said, “Snap out of it, and stop it.”

Sitting there with a stunned expression on my face, I had to laugh. “Snap out of it, and stop it,” may not have been exactly what I was expecting to hear, but I had to admit that it resonated.

Standing to my feet, I nodded. From that moment on, I resolved not to allow the thief to steal my peace. The next time I started worrying about things I knew God had under control, I decided that I would give myself a mental shake and sing a hymn. The next time I was tempted to break my diet and eat cookies, I decided that I would shake my head firmly and grab a bottle of mineral water. And the next time I was tempted to feel angry and resentful, I decided that I would sit down and write ten things that I appreciated about the person who had offended me.

holding-the-sunA wise person once said that the best way to fight the devil is to do the opposite of what the devil wants you to do, and to do it with gusto. I think that advice goes hand-in-hand with what I felt God telling me to do. When the devil comes in the form of a sneaky thief, rather than blindly helping him steal—snap out of it, and stop it!

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The Cranky Bathtub

bathroom 1I have a cranky bathtub. Seriously. The silly thing drives me crazy. My tub is sluggish, and it has a mind of its own. You see, about every eight months, it decides to clog. I can always tell the warning signs. When I shower, rather than disappearing, the water starts backing up. Days later, water is covering my toes. By the time the water level is up to my ankles, I know I have to do something.

Normally, a sluggish tub wouldn’t present a problem. All that’s needed to fix it is a chemical drain cleaner, right? Wrong. I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and I can’t use most chemicals—including drain cleaner. That means when the tub decides to go on strike, I have to get down on my knees and use a plunger.

I don’t really care for plungers. They aren’t exactly my favorite invention. They aren’t particularly thrilling or exciting to use, and I always end up getting splashed. I don’t approve of being splashed. I think it’s nasty.

The other day, I was down on my knees plunging my tub. It went something like this: plunge, plunge, plunge, plunge, plunge, plunge—wipe sweat from brow—plunge, plunge, plunge, plunge, plunge—notice there isn’t any change in water level—plunge, plunge, plunge…

After about ten minutes of steady work, I decided to remove my mind from the boring task and turn philosophical. I wasn’t sure if any wonderful, spiritual lesson could be gleaned from a clogged tub and a plunger, but I was determined to find one.

Plunge, plunge, plunge, plunge, plunge—I thought about salvation. I couldn’t find a connection…

Plunge, plunge, plunge, plunge, plunge—I thought about worship, but it didn’t seem to fit…

Plunge, plunge, plunge, plunge, plunge—water splashed my face—I thought about my wet head.

Ahhh……

drain 2Friends, you will be happy to know that there IS a spiritual lesson that can be gleaned from a cranky bathtub and a plunger. As I wiped water from my eyes, I realized that my brain is like my bathtub. Most of the time, the day’s events swirl down the drain and disappear, but every once in a while, something happens that sticks in my mind. An unkind word. A strange glance. A slighting gesture. When those things happen, if I’m not careful, they don’t disappear right away, and soon my mind is totally focused on hurtful things. When that happens, trouble always follows.

Jesus said in Luke 17:1 that opportunities to be offended are always going to come. In fact, Jesus said it was IMPOSSIBLE for offence not to come.

Proverbs 19:11 says, “A wise man restrains his anger and OVERLOOKS insults. This is to his credit.

Sometimes, I tend to be like a dog with a bone when something hurtful happens. I gnaw on it. I refuse to let it go. I analyze it. I try to figure out why it happened. I try to figure out what I could have done to prevent it. I try to figure out who was at fault. I try to figure out if I said the right thing. I try to come up with the brilliant things I SHOULD have said. Sometimes, I do everything but the things I’ve been instructed to do. The Bible says I should OVERLOOK the hurtful event and FORGET it. In essence, I should let the offense swirl down the drain and out of my mind.

frogs see hear speakThere was a time in my life when I was a very bitter person. I could remember every hurtful thing that was ever said to me–and I could remember those hurtful things in crystal clear detail. Soon, my angry, bitter thoughts started playing over and over in my mind. They were what I thought about before I went to sleep. They were what I thought about when I got up. They were what I thought about when I was washing the dishes or folding the clothes. My angry, bitter thoughts squeezed out any pleasant thoughts that tried to take root.

Was I happy living that way???

Are you kidding? I was miserable. Deep down, I knew that harboring grudges and holding onto hurtful memories was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I tried to justify my grudges by saying it was the other person’s fault—but I knew that wasn’t true. The other person wasn’t in control of my brain—I was. I was responsible for my own thoughts and attitudes.

Finally, I couldn’t stand the YUCK of my own mind. I knew I had to change my thinking. With God’s help, I began mentally singing a hymn every time a hurtful memory rose up to haunt me. I had to do it EVERY SINGLE TIME. I didn’t give myself any wiggle room. I did not allow any pity parties. I prayed every day for God to help me. I made cleaning up my mind a priority. It was incredibly hard, but after a year, hymns were playing in my mind rather than bitter thoughts.

Deliverance isn’t always easy or instantaneous. Deliverance sometimes takes hard work and determination.

I’ve been down the “Bitterness Road,” and I hate where it leads. It may seem harmless to rehash a hurtful conversation—it may seem okay to analyze a painful memory—but I’ve learned that it is incredibly dangerous. When rehashing becomes a habit, it always ends in slavery.

Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil.

daisy 1I’ve learned that anger turns into poison after twenty-four hours. I don’t like poison. I try to avoid it. I definitely don’t play around with it or ingest it. After winning my freedom from bitterness, I try very hard to let hurtful things go as quickly as possible. I’ve learned that waiting for apologies is a waste of time—so is rehashing hurtful events. I’m so glad that God helped me use the “holy hymn plunger” to clear away my bitterness. I still try to sing hymns every day. I think of it as “preventative” spiritual warfare.

You know what? I wonder if preventative plunging would work on my tub? Maybe I should start plunging my bathtub once a month. Two minutes of monthly plunging would certainly be easier than an hour of extreme effort every eight months. Prevention. Instant action. Yes. That’s the key.

Learning to be Content

swan blue“But Godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6

I used to HATE this verse—and when I say hate, I mean HATE. I didn’t just dislike it, I LOATHED it. Why? Because every time I read it, I felt like an utter failure. You see, when I was put in quarantine, I wasn’t content. I wasn’t even kinda-sorta, partway, maybe-a-little-bit content. I was miserable, angry, upset, and confused. If I had to use one word to describe myself it would have been DISCONTENT—hence my dislike of 1 Timothy 6:6.

I wanted to be a “good Christian,” but it was just so HARD!!! I’d struggle to be sweet and joyful, but I’d end up snarling. I’d try to be full of faith, but I’d end up doubting. And every time I would wrestle a little bit of contentment out of life, my illness would throw me a curveball, and I’d feel miserable again. Finally, I decided that I just wasn’t a very nice person, and I stopped struggling to change. I was nasty, and that was all there was to it. End of story. Amen.

I felt that I had my reasons for being surly; after all, it’s hard to be “Godly” and “content” when your hair is falling out and your teeth are loose. It’s hard to be hopeful when the prognosis isn’t bright, and you’re possibly facing a lifetime of illness. And it’s hard to be sweet when you’re in constant pain. As far as I was concerned, 1 Timothy 6:6 was just a bunch of hooey. It might apply to sweet, little saints with nice, cushy lives, but it certainly didn’t apply to me. In my opinion, Paul’s words to Timothy were a bunch of malarkey.

prairie dog 1During this time, I felt like a prairie dog with its feet trapped in a hole. I could see the world, but I couldn’t go out and join it. I was basically spinning in a fruitless circle looking at what I could not have, fearing danger I could not flee, and ALWAYS hating the fact that I was stuck. I was angry all of the time.

My lowest point came when my right arm went numb and I lost feeling in my right hand. I couldn’t lift a fork to feed myself. I tried to be “Godly” and “content” about it—I tried to tell myself that learning how to do everything left handed would be an adventure. Eventually, I got fairly good at being a “lefty.” I didn’t spill too much food and brushing my teeth became easy. Then the inevitable happened. The numbness spread to my left arm. I tried to ignore it. I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. But one day, when I sat down to eat, my left hand went dead. Neither one of my hands would work. I remember looking at my plate of food and trying not to cry. Feeling hungry, but not able to do anything about it, I went to my bedroom, covered my head with the blankets, and then I did a very “Godly” thing. I yelled at God. Actually, I screamed at Him. The gist of my rantings was, “Is this something to be ‘content’ about???”

My anger lasted for a long time. And the more I let it consume me, the worse I felt about myself and my life. I can remember holding my breath and hoping I could just stop breathing. Finally, I came to a point of desperation. I knew that I couldn’t exist in such turmoil. For some reason, I felt drawn to read 1 Timothy 6:6 again, and this time one single word stood out: “WITH.”

daises 3Every time I’d read 1 Timothy 6:6, I’d skipped right over the word “with.” It just didn’t seem important. But for some reason, this time it seemed to jump right off the page. Suddenly, I realized that part of my problem was that on some days, I’d try to be “Godly” and on other days I’d try to be “content.” But what I needed to do was try to be both at the same time. You see, if you’re keeping your temper in check and not being snotty, but inside you aren’t content with your situation—nothing works. On the other hand, if you aren’t stewing about your situation, but you’re allowing yourself to act like an angry jerk—you’re still in a pickle. You need both “Godliness” and “contentment” to be teamed together like two horses pulling a wagon.

Maybe that seems like splitting hairs—and maybe it is—but for me it was a revelation. I couldn’t control the fact that I was ill and in quarantine. But I could control how I reacted to it. I looked up the word “contentment” in the dictionary and found that it means “ease of mind.” When I allowed myself to stew, and fret, and worry, and spin around in the prairie dog hole—I wasn’t being content. And when I allowed myself to rant, and rave, and yell at God, and pitch a fit, and feel angry—I wasn’t being Godly.

I didn’t like my miserable existence, so I was willing to try anything to change it. I’m the type of person who likes plans of action—they make me feel more in control. So after praying for God’s help, I memorized Philippians 4:8 as a roadmap for my thinking.

Golden trees“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

If the thought that I was thinking wasn’t true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, or praiseworthy, I’d FORCE myself to stop thinking it.

This, of course, was BRUTALLY hard.

Maybe some people wouldn’t have a problem thinking nice thoughts, but my brain seemed hot wired for anger, distress, and misery. Trying to think like Little Miss Sunshine wasn’t exactly an easy task. I knew I’d never be able to give up angry thoughts cold turkey, so I devised a game. Whenever I would think a sad, depressing, angry, ugly thought, I would force myself to mentally sing a hymn.

Looking back on it, I have to laugh. My mental thoughts went something like this: “I’m never getting better…The joy of the Lord is my strength…I hate my life…Wonderful, wonderful, Jesus is to me…my life is over…Then sings my soul, my

For about a year, my mind was at war with itself. But eventually, the hymns won out over the angry grumbling. And once my mind was at peace, suddenly it was a lot easier to stop acting like an angry skunk and to start feeling content.

Life isn’t easy. Some things just aren’t fair. But trust me when I say that feeling angry, and miserable, and hopeless, and depressed makes everything much harder than it needs to be. I still have problems, and occasionally, I still have skunky days, but I’ve learned a key—“Godliness” needs to be paired WITH “contentment.” And the only way to have both is to CONTROL YOUR THOUGHTS. End of story. Amen.

sleeping cat