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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Proverbs 16:24 - The Blessing of Pleasant Words

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Proverbs 16:24 - Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. 

Inner dialogue is comprised of the constant stream of thoughts that goes through our mind on a daily basis. It is how we think, what we think and what we tell ourselves about ourselves 24 hours a day. Our inner dialogue has a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves, how high our confidence level is, how anxious we are or how hopeful we are. That constant stream of thought often goes by unnoticed to the conscious mind, but it is highly noticeable to the unconscious mind. It is always there, either encouraging us or discouraging us.

I have a friend who decided to evaluate his inner dialogue, so over a specified period of time, he wrote down as much of what he thought as possible. When he reviewed what he had written down, he was amazed at how negative it was. Interestingly enough, my friend is a pretty positive person so this was surprising. As a result, he decided to change the negativity and found it required some concentrated discipline. Our thought processes are habitual and they come from pretty deep seated belief systems. There is a portion of scripture that says, "out of the treasure of the heart, the mouth speaks." What this means is, the way we speak has a lot to do with the way we think.


Because I work with many clients who have anxiety issues, I often ask them to evaluate what is going through their minds when they get anxious. Invariably, they report that their minds start racing with questions.....what if I don't get this done..... what if this happens..... what if that happens... how can I possibly... what will I do if....why did that can I prevent it from happening again...oh I'm so stupid....why did I do that...and on and on. This kind of thought racing produces anxiety if you let your mind run away with you. My best advice to these individuals is.....wait for it.....ANSWER THE QUESTIONS. Yes, that's right, answer the questions. What WILL happen if you don't get your project done, why DID you do that, what will you do if this DOES happen again? If a person will take the time to answer the questions that are causing the anxiety, it moves them to a pro-active state. They begin goal setting rather than sitting back, letting life happen to them.

If you move into being pro-active, you move from a defensive position to an offensive position. You begin to set goals, plan out what you will do in certain situations and that makes you feel more powerful. Chip Conley, in his book Emotional Equations gives us a formula for anxiety. It is:
uncertainty x powerlessness = anxiety
If you remember your high school algebra when dealing with equations, changing one side of the equation also changes the other side of the equation. As we look at this particular equation, answering the questions that race through our minds eliminates the uncertainty portion of the equation, which also tends to effect the level of powerlessness that we feel in any given situation. Therefore, it changes the result, as in bringing down or eliminating the anxiety level.
Self - Worth
Another way our inner dialogue can affect us is how our thoughts turn inward and either criticize or encourage us personally. Imagine how your child would react if s/he consistently heard from you how they can't do anything right, how worthless they are, how stupid they are, how they don't measure up, how they will never amount to anything etc. What kind of attitude do you believe that child would have by the time they reached adulthood? Probably not very positive. Yet, if your own thoughts consistently degrade and demean yourself personally, how do you think you will escape the same fate? You listen to your thoughts 24/7/365 - there isn't any way you won't be effected by that amount of negativity.
The field of Positive Psychology has proven that negativity steals from us. Studies show that happy people, more positive people are more productive, healthier and live longer. Proverbs 16:24 says, "pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones." Sweetness to the soul would mean more peace and less anxiety, health to the bones refers to our physical health. Our bones are the strength of our body, they also produce blood cells that circulate and nourish our bodies. Imagine....thinking and speaking positively makes us happy and healthy! How simple!
Evaluate what you are telling yourself, about yourself consistently. Do you often call yourself stupid? Do harshly criticize yourself? If you do, it is time to re-evaluate. It is time to develop a larger vocabulary and a more realistic response to yourself. If you are just repeating what your parents told you all your life, you may want to evaluate your life and decide if you want to keep agreeing with their assessment. More than likely it wasn't accurate to begin with, so why keep agreeing with it? This requires discipline, but once you start to change that inner habit, you will find that it becomes easier over time.
Challenge your thoughts as you are aware of them. Determine whether they are accurate or if there may be another way of looking at yourself and at life. Most of the time people are not stupid, they are either misinformed or uninformed. If you tell yourself that you don't do things well, a better response might be to take a class or practice the behavior more so that you get better at what you want to do. You might also begin to evaluate if what you are doing is within your skill set. Some people just aren't good at certain things. Rather than criticize yourself for not doing something well, decide whether you have the skill set to accomplish it at all. If it is important to you to become skilled at whatever you are doing, then improve your skills. If it isn't, just admit it is something you are not good at and move on. Social skills are the same way. They can be practiced just like behavioral skills can be practiced. If you don't have effective social skills, you may want to read some books or get around people who have good social skills and observe them. If you find yourself without friends, or not invited to social events then you may need to evaluate what is going on and fix that, rather than remaining hyper-critical of yourself.
Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things.  (NKJ)
We must begin to look at our quality of life and determine how we want to live. Life is too short not to do that. If you want a more peaceful existence, it is important to look at how you are thinking. Do you focus more on what is true, or do you focus on things that are not true? Do you tend to spend your life thinking about what is honorable and just or do you tend to focus on the injustices of the world and the negative things that people do? Do you have a clean thought life or are you more prone to think thoughts that are less pure? Is your speech gracious and praiseworthy or do you tend to use more colorful and negative language? Your speech will tend to belie your thought processes. Therefore, as you pay attention to your thoughts, also pay attention to your conversation. What do you talk about? Are you filled with fear and anxiety or do you tend to look at solutions to solve problems? The more positive you are, the better effect that will have on your opinion of yourself and others.
Now, here is the disclaimer - In saying that we must become more positive, I don't mean to imply that we never look at the negative. We must be wise when it comes to life and wisdom says that it is important to view ourselves, our neighbors and life with reality. Negative thoughts and actions tend to cause something called "catastrophizing". When we catastrophize, we blow things out of proportion. We say, "everything is horrible" or "I can never please my spouse" or "he just totally destroyed me". If we look at these situations in truth and reality, we can see that using extreme speech like always, never, everything and nothing....or...extreme words like horrible, total destruction etc. are not good descriptors of our situations. This kind of language doesn't allow for change and it labels people or situations with inaccurate labels. Living in truth means changing our language as well as the measures we use to describe ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in. It is only when we accurately describe the problem that we can find the appropriate solutions.
Determine today that you will begin to challenge and eradicate the inner critic. Begin to look at your life in terms of what you do well, what strengths you have and what goes right. Yes, it may be difficult because negative thought patterns may be very deeply ingrained. However, you can just have to discipline yourself to do it. The benefit of being positive is that people tend to like being around positive and encouraging people. You may find that your social life improves, you think of yourself in a more positive and realistic light, and your family is happier. Those are worthy goals to pursue.
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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gossip Has Consequences

He who belittles and despises his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding keeps quiet....He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy and faithful in spirit keeps the matter hidden.  Proverbs 11:12-13 (amp)

Most of us have heard a teaching or two on gossip and how it affects our relationships with other people.  The rule of thumb tends to be "if someone talks to you about other people, they are talking to other people about you."  Understanding this helps us decide whether we want to share information with someone else.  But how many of us understand that gossip is a character issue?  If we listen to John Wesley , he gives us some comments with regard to two of the words in these verses.  In verse 12 he says that the word despises is shown by using contemptuous or reproachful expressions about another person.  He goes on to say in verse 13 that the word secrets refers to things that are committed to a persons trust with a charge of secrecy.

As we look at the definition of gossip, it runs the gamut from idle chatter or light conversation about another person to conversation involving malicious chatter or rumours about other people. Often times, gossip is a mixture of both of these conditions.  Gossip can come from a desire to warn others if they are about to enter into a relationship with someone another person knows something positive or negative about.  It can also come from self esteem issues in someone who gets their value by dispensing information that others don't know.  The most negative type of gossip comes from a vengeful person who has been hurt or wounded by someone and they want to get back at them.  Overall, the common denominator about gossip is that it consists of disparaging remarks about another person expressed as personal opinions about the information that has been revealed about that person.  

If we understand the above verse correctly, it seems to be saying that individuals who are wise don't gossip because they have certain value systems in their character that discourage them from doing so.  These values are trustworthiness and faithfulness.  Faithfulness can also be defined as loyalty.  Trustworthiness and faithfulness can also be found as components of being honorable

Please don't misunderstand.  I am not saying that people who inadvertently talk about another person have gaping holes in their character.  We all do that from time to time.  The thing to understand about gossip is that it is a heart issue overall.  If we have revealed something that we know the other person doesn't want us to talk about, we need to examine our hearts and determine why we did that.  If it was a mistake, we ask forgiveness of the person we told it to, and then watch our mouths the next time.  However if we are in the habit of talking about other people, that is a different story.  In this case, it would be most helpful to find the root of the habit and begin to deal with it.

In Luke 6:45 (NKJV) it says, "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."  This verse says exactly why gossip is a heart issue.  We carry hurts and wounds in our heart and out of that wounding we speak.  Knowing this, it then becomes our responsibility, as mature and responsible adults, to do what we can to heal these wounds so we are not tempted to speak about others in a negative way.

Looking at this issue in light of its consequences, they are few, but they are serious.  Most importantly to understand, gossiping breaks trust and breaking trust is serious business.  When friends speak to each other in a one on one conversation, there is an unspoken expectation of privacy.  Sometimes people remind each other that what they have said, they spoke in confidence.  But even if they don't, that expectation is there.  Talking about a person breaks trust with them. 

Secondly, it reflects back on the person who is gossiping and taints their character.  Someone who talks negatively about other people is not usually someone who is trusted with confidential information, or sought out to talk to when a person needs emotional support. 

Thirdly, a person who gossips sometimes doesn't have a clear understanding of, or doesn't remember exactly what has been told to them so when they repeat it, it is repeated with errors in the information.  The results of this can be illustrated by the old game, "telephone", where a group of people repeat something to each other around the room and the last person reveals what was told to him or her.  Without fail, when the information gets to the end of the line, it is different information than what was started with.  The game can be lots of fun, but in real life this kind of thing can damage someones reputation beyond repair.  It also has the effect of being very hurtful to people, because they often feel betrayed.  Additionally, they don't know what is being said about them so they can correct it. 

In closing, gossip can take the form of problem solving, in the event that problems are not discussed correctly.  To keep this from happening, if you have a problem with someone, discuss it with them, not someone else.  If you need advice from another person about how to solve the problem, go to that person in the spirit of finding a solution, not to get them on your side.   Problems are NEVER solved unless you do this.  Talking to Mary about your problem with Joyce is not going to solve your problem with Joyce, simply because you aren't speaking with the person who can solve the issue, Joyce.  

In the Christian community, gossip can take the form of asking for prayer for someone.  If someone comes to you with information about someone, saying we need to pray for them, stop right there and pray for them.  You don't need to know all the intimate details because God does.  Take the person's hand and begin to pray.  That will stop the gossip in its tracks, and if you continue to respond that way, it will stop gossipers from coming to you.  This is a good strategy if you are trying to eliminate this habit from your own life.

If we consistently seek to honor ourselves and others, we will behave in ways that move us out of the realm of gossip into things like encouragement and motivation.  This is what we really want to do.  Become an encourager of your friends and you will gain more friends.  Encouragers motivate others to become better than they think they can be.  This is a very positive and beneficial trait.  Ask yourself this question, "Who would I rather be around?  Someone who motivates me to be better or someone who talks negatively about my friends?"  This is a personal decision and one that we need to address on the road to becoming more Christlike.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Reputations Are Important

Child 1
Child 1 (Photo credit: Tony Trần)
Even a child is known by his acts, whether or not what he does is pure and right.  The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made both of them.  Proverbs 20:11-12

These days, we don't hear much about the worth of a reputation.  However throughout scripture, we find portions that talk to us about how our life and what we do with it gives others the ability to determine our character and trust us.  Often, I tell my clients that if they behave in a way that is consistent with who they are, if they are accused of something they didn't do, the people who know them will dismiss the accusation almost immediately.  Have you ever heard something about a good friend and said, "that doesn't sound like Mike, you must have misunderstood."  People who truly know us are quick to dismiss information that is inconsistent with what they know to be true about us.

If we teach our children how important it is to have a good reputation, it will be a valuable asset to them as they grow up.  They will learn that what they do is often seen by people they don't even know are watching.  If a child behaves well, makes good decisions and treats people with respect whether they are being watched or not, it speaks directly to who they are.

Once they understand this, the next lesson they will learn is that their behavior must stay consistent whether their acts are seen or unseen.  What a person does when they believe no one is watching speaks more about their character than what they do in front of others.  Having the type of character that is consistently honorable breeds trust with others and shows responsibility.  A pattern of behavior that is fraught with dishonesty and inconsistent behavior tends to speak negatively about a person.

In our present day and age, the concept of reputation has become very important in terms of the internet.  There are several companies who have become successful because they search the internet to determine what is being said about specific individuals who have purchased their service.  These individuals understand that if someone is saying something about a person negatively, who may have the same name or business as they do, that needs to be corrected.  They don't want another person's negative activity to reflect badly on them.

Our children need to understand that this is a scriptural principle.  Our lives must be consistent with who we say we are if we are to be found people of good reputation.  Our speech, our behavior and even the people we associate ourselves with must all be congruent with the person we believe we are and the person we promote ourselves to be.  Otherwise our integrity is found wanting.  This is not just a suggestion.  As a spiritual principle, it always works this way whether we agree with it or not. 

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Being Calm Has Its Advantages

Brain, computer artImage via WikipediaA calm and undisturbed mind and heart are the life and health of the body, but envy, jealousy and wrath are as rottenness of the bones.  Proverbs 14:30

It is interesting to note that there are many references in the bible to remaining calm.  As a matter of health, stress and anxiety are very destructive to our physical well being.  But one thing I find interesting here, beyond the idea of the effects of these emotions, is that the scripture makes a differentiation between having a calm and undisturbed mind as well as a calm and undisturbed heart.

If we look at the research that the HeartMath Institute has provided regarding the heart and mind, they found it very clear that the heart and mind are separate in function.  They also have indicated that the heart has a "mini brain".  It contains at least 40,000 neurons.  It also has the capacity to control the brain rather than the brain controlling the heart.  Electromagnetically speaking, the heart is much more powerful than the brain.  This is one of the reasons that we find we can change our mind rather easily, but deep, heartfelt belief systems are much more difficult to change.

As this scripture tells us to make sure that we not only calm our stress levels with regard to our minds and hearts, it also tells us several emotions that have an effect on our bones.  Envy, jealousy and anger have detrimental effects on our physical well being.  Why?  Dr. A.F. Beddoe states in his book "Biologic Ionization As Applied to Human Nutrition" that 80% of all illness begins with holding on to negative emotion.  Negative emotion tends to create a more acidic environment in the body which leads to disease and the breakdown of healthy physical functioning.  In this case, the Word specifies the bones.

We must always remember that we were created by a wise and compassionate Creator.  In His instruction book, he would not leave out instructions pertaining to the health and functioning of the wonderful and complex physical bodies that he provided us with.