Is Guarding Your Heart for Girls?

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”- Proverbs 4:23 (NIV 1984)

As a single woman, I recently reflected on this verse which I have often heard used in the context of dating relationships. It is usually addressed to young women in purity talks as a kind of feminine counterpart to telling young men to guard their eyes.

However, Solomon wrote this passage, not to women, but specifically to his son. Maybe we need to look at this passage a little closer before applying it to modern situations. In the ancient Hebrew context, the heart was not just the seat of emotions, it was the very being of a person, the source of emotion, will, character, etc. Solomon says that the instruction to guard your heart is “above all else”. This is not a gentle encouragement to be careful about emotional intimacy; this is a vital command. How can we effectively guard our heart (being)?

Wisdom– Looking at the context, Solomon is talking about the importance of wisdom. He also gives specific instructions to his son for avoiding what is evil and doing what is good. Following these wise instructions will protect us. Note that in other passages in Proverbs (7:25 and 23:26), the son is warned not to let his heart be inclined toward an adulteress. This is technically a relationship, but I do not think Solomon is forbidding his son from feeling affection for a woman. He clearly wants him to stand firm against temptation (sexual temptation being a good example because it is so powerful).

Armor– I have recently been studying the armor of God as described in Ephesians 6. Which part of the armor covers the heart (your being)? The breastplate of righteousness. Doing what is right will guard our character and our conscience. How can we do what is right and keep a pure heart? By guarding it according to the Word of God (Psalm 119). Notice again the imagery of guarding or protecting. We can only effectively guard something when we are alert to what is attacking it. Ephesians tells us we are fighting against (and guarding against) the spiritual forces of evil. Be prepared!

Prayer– Philippians 4:7 tells us that when we pray, the peace of God will guard our hearts (and minds). We can seek God’s help in living a pure life.  We can pray for wisdom, we can pray for a better understanding of the Word and the battle we are facing, and we can pray for spiritual protection.

Repentance– Even when we have not kept a good guard up, and the enemy has broken in, God is able to restore our hearts.  After David committed adultery and murder, he wrote Psalm 51 and prays to God to give him a clean heart. We know God answered this prayer and David was still called a man after God’s own heart.

As a single woman, I do want to guard my heart, not against emotional attachment, but against sin. (And yes, for those considering the typical interpretation of this passage, I do see the wisdom in being careful in intimacy and I do want to have self-control over my emotions. I simply do not want to limit the passage.) I definitely want the men around me to be guarding their hearts. I want it to be said of the man I marry “young man, … you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (1 John 2:14) Stand strong, brothers and sisters in Christ. Put a vigilant guard over your heart, that the enemy cannot sneak in and destroy you.

 

Photo by Henry Hustava on Unsplash

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Maintenance Prayer

I have been especially reminded this week that the enemy does not want us to be fruitful and effective. Yes, I know I talked about spiritual warfare in my last post, but last month’s attacks were overt and this week, I am seeing more subtle but devastating work. God is able to triumph, but we ourselves often give the enemy a foothold. In our English Bible study (which is such a refreshment even though I love the Spanish Bible study and church service I go to), we have been reading the two letters by Peter. We are in the middle of the second one now and it is rather ominous. It gives warnings about false teachers and the destruction for which they are headed. The enemy can attack from the outside, but he also works from the inside, looking for the seeds of pride, greed, and lust to turn an effective servant into a self-serving, power hungry leader.

This past week, I found myself crying quite a bit about things not even related to leaving Mexico (things related to leaving Mexico have also been making me cry). I have cried for a family I love and am worried about.  I have cried for my university and spent a lot time thinking about its situation. I have a regular habit of prayer, but even with that, I realized I had neglected to pray for my alma mater like I had intended to when I graduated. I wrote in my prayer journal… “Continue to use CIU as a powerful place for training those serious about making disciples of the nations. Please bless them financially, guide their decision-making, and help the entire bodies of students, faculty, and staff keep their eyes on you and your work.”  I have prayed this often, but not with much urgency. I felt like my university was on track and I think that affected how I prayed. I think I viewed it as maintenance prayer, just keeping up the good momentum that was already going. I only graduated three years ago anyway. How much could go wrong? That was a mistake. The people and churches and organizations that are the most effective have the strongest attacks launched against them.

All that is human is fallible. All that is human is broken. Confidence cannot be put in friends, pastors, local churches, missions agencies, Christian schools, or godly marriages. By that, I am not saying not to trust them. I am saying that they are not our source of life. 2 Peter uses the analogy of waterless springs. What is more useless than a waterless spring? Christ is our source and we cannot live without Him, even though sometimes we might be deceived into thinking it is His blessing or other believers sustaining us, rather than Himself. The bride of Christ (The Church) perseveres by His Spirit, not by human will or past legacy. The most faithful would fall, but for his grace.

So, this week, I can say I was a little shaken and very saddened. However, it has been a reminder to turn to the Lord in prayer because I’m relying on Him after all, and not anything else.

Image from unsplash.com

Spiritual Forces Must Bow

The past week has been an exciting time. The weekend was a whirlwind trip to Mexico City, I bought my plane ticket home, and I have been preparing for the last major unit of the year (Charlotte’s Web is absolutely the perfect 3rd grade book). Best of all, we were looking forward to Margarita’s baptism.

However, there have been some… strange things going. Wednesday, we experienced a 4.8 earthquake that shook the house. None of us were hurt and the only city wide damage was one partially collapsed house, but it was frightening. Later that night, we all woke up to a fierce thunder storm. Thursday morning, Margarita asked me if I had been in one of the empty rooms where no one lives now. She saw the light on for a while and then it went off. Neither Kelly nor I had been in that room, but we went up to check and the light was on again. We turned it off, and while we were away at school someone checked it and didn’t see any problems with the connection. Later on Thursday, a transformer in our neighborhood blew and we had a kind of “brown out”, which was difficult for Margarita as well. On top of this, she had been having bad dreams all week.

This has all been a very powerful reminder of both the reality of spiritual warfare and the importance of baptism. There may be natural causes for all of the odd or frightening things that have happened in the past few days, but I do not doubt they are controlled by spiritual forces. However, it has been wonderful to see Margarita trusting in the Lord and believing Him to be powerful. On Thursday, the day before the baptism, the missionary who is discipling Margarita came. They walked through the house together praying for each room, even the empty ones. Ellen said she had seen this kind of spiritual attack many times during the week before a baptism.

It makes me wonder why baptism doesn’t seem to be surrounded by spiritual warfare in the United States (from what I have seen). Maybe it should be. Repentance from sin and reliance on Christ gives salvation. But baptism is like the birth a disciple, someone who is really serious about obeying Christ and following his commands. It is publicly disowning all else in favor of Christ. Maybe that is why faith and baptism were rarely separated in the New Testament by any significant time. Faith and commitment went together instead of a personal faith being allowed to be caught in a self focused stage before committing to service.

The baptism was held on Friday night. All three of Margarita’s children were able to be there and I think it was the first time for two of them to come to one of the Bible studies. Margarita shared about her life before she met Christ and how she came to know him. She told about how her life is incredibly different now, full of peace and love for others. Two other men were also baptized, one whom Margarita had invited to the Bible study a month or so ago. He is the clerk in a corner store near us and she noticed that he’d play Christian music on his shift. He was a Christian, but didn’t have a group of believers to meet with until he started joining us. As soon as the testimonies started, it started to rain (unusual for this time of year) and a baby started crying. More attacks, but God was still honored. After an explanation of the symbolism of baptism, we stepped out from under the patio (it has stopped raining for a few minutes) and I was able to help baptize Margarita in a small inflatable pool, along with Ellen. I am so thankful for this opportunity and expectantly waiting to see just what it is in Margarita that the enemy was afraid of and wanted to intimidate.

For more of Margarita’s story Faithfulness Springs Up from the Ground- November 2014

When Life Gives You Boredom-March 2015

He Is Alive-April 2015

Photo is mine.

A New Year, a New Prayer

After doing some initial, decluttering journaling to reflect on the past year, the most prevalent theme I discovered was the power of prayer.

I am so impressed by how God has answered so much prayer this year. Last year, my landlady was interested in the church and just starting to read her Bible, now, she is actively involved in two Bible studies, is meeting with another believing lady for discipleship, and is praying for and reaching out to her family and our neighbors. Last January, I was just getting to know my church and now I feel at home there and have been blessed with opportunities to serve and minister to them, including at their annual ladies’ retreat. I am praying for continued influence there for my remaining time. Back in June, I prayed for a close friend who would spiritually spur me on. In October, my dear friend Emma moved in and we have enjoyed such conversations and times of prayer, not to mention hosting together and enjoying dancing with our friends.

I also love seeing how God has stretched my understanding of ministry and obeying the Great Commission. I have gotten better about being intentional with my relationships and even though I sometimes find difficult to get to the point (Jesus!), I am also learning about faithful prayer and patience. I am encouraged in this because I am seeing the fruit from other Christians who lived out their faith and then had to move on without seeing the end result. It is such a blessing for me to enjoy this time of seeing the fruit, though I know my future may also hold seasons of planting and watering seemingly without effect. I have personally witnessed how one plants, another waters, but God brings in the harvest. It is all about him anyway, isn’t it?

Looking forward to the year to come, I am excited to see what other opportunities I have for learning and serving. On my break, I was also able to prepare mentally for going home in July and am excited about some possible job and ministry opportunities back in my home town. My prayer for this year: Keep bringing in the harvest! I am ready and expecting an abundance.

Photo is my own of the gorgeous poinsettias (nochebuena) that are flourishing this time of year.

A Change in Schedule

Many people have asked me how I feel about being in Guadalajara another year. Honestly, if feels right. Yes, I miss things at home, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to put more effort into improving my teaching and the opportunity to invest in my relationships here for a while longer. However, I knew that there were going to be some things I would need to change right away. Last year, I had a lot of stuff going on, including tutoring every day after school. This year, I am setting boundaries and only tutoring on Mondays and Wednesdays. I think it will be beneficial for the students to have tutoring in a group and also for me so that I have time after school on the other days to prepare for classes before resources and the printing room close.  See my other blog post. =)

Last year, I tried to have my personal time reading the Bible and praying in the morning before school. It just did not work for me. I like having that time in the morning…at about 9, not 6:30. Then, I would come home from school exhausted and get online. Now I am coming home from school and just resting in my upstairs room and spending time with God before I even turn on the computer. It has been so refreshing. So thankful we are not bound to a certain time or way of worshipping God. I am also thankful that rest is a good and biblical activity.

Giving Away Rights

Thank you to everyone who welcomed me home this summer and caught up with me. I also want to thank everyone who was praying for me as I travelled back. Despite a stressful period trying and failing to do early check-in, all of my airport transitions were smooth, I got through immigration easily, and I arrived at my house in Las Fuentes when I had expected. I had the rest of Sunday and Monday to prepare my classroom for school starting on Tuesday. Sunday and Monday were a whirlwind of mixed emotions.

Oh rats, I was expecting more to be done already.

I’ve got this.

I’m feeling behind!

Almost caught up.

Nope not really, ahh!

But, at the end of the story, I was able to start school confidently and be okay that not everything was perfectly in place yet. I am so thankful for wonderfully behaved students and for how I have been able to use what I learned last year to make sure I am clearly expressing my expectations right from the beginning. Things have been running smoothly and I have already completed most of the individual reading assessments and taught two of the four reading stations we will be using on a regular basis. I have 14 students and my new co teacher, who has already been a great source of fresh ideas, has 13. I have a few more students than I had been expecting, but so far they have all been able to fit into the class okay without too many problems.

My biggest struggle since I have been back has been has been adjusting back to limited resources. It was really frustrating to open up my classroom two days before school started and realize I was still missing several chairs for my group table and the large book shelf to hold all of the awesome books I was able to collect while I was at home. I had requested and gotten permission for both of these things before I left for break. When I e-mailed about it, it was frustrating to hear that I needed to wait and I might not get them at all because other teachers who had come to the work week were still waiting on their requests. I felt like I was being punished for not coming to the work week even though I had gotten permission for those things a couple months before. I wanted to bring to their attention that Lincoln was going to be paying quite a bit to reimburse me for the extra suitcase of books I had brought so it would be in their interest to make sure I got the shelving I needed to actually utilize the books. I felt that I as a teacher had a right to certain materials that were necessary for effective teaching. I fortunately refrained from replying, but went home discouraged that day with a couple boxes still unpacked just for lack of space and my suitcase of books still sitting at the house.

The Lord is always faithful to provide a way out of temptation. Sure enough, the next day I was reading I Corinthians 8. He reminds the Corinthians of their freedom, but cautions them not to allow their rights to cause someone weaker to trip. Paul says he would be willing to give up eating meat entirely if that were necessary for looking out for someone else. I guess when we think about rights, we are usually looking out for ourselves more than anyone else.

The next day, I read chapter 9 and the theme continued. It was really sobering to think of the apostle Paul choosing to give up the right to be supported by the churches and instead working for a living as he ministered. That is pretty big deal! He makes it very clear that he did have that right to support, but that he would “endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” If I have all of the supplies I need to teach reading, but do not have the humility or patience to wait, the friction I cause will be a bigger hindrance to the gospel than the lack of materials. A few days later, another opportunity came to put in my request and my coordinator made sure something was special ordered to meet my specifications. I am still waiting to receive it and am hopeful it will provide enough space.

Later in the week, I had another frustration with the teacher’s lounge (our only access to printing) being closed at 3pm every day. I again was tempted to dwell on the fact, “if we were in the states this would never be an issue!” I had to again remember that Christians give up rights for the gospel, not hold onto them. If I want to make an effort to live in unity with the Mexican Christian who is in charge of closing the teacher’s lounge, I cannot let my rights or my frustration at the system get in the way of treating him as I should. I Corinthians 10:24 says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”

I am happy to be back and excited to get into teaching content next week. I will keep you posted.

Living United

This week, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to live in unity, specifically the unity of mind and purpose which followers of Christ should have with one another. It honestly seems really hard to me right now. This last week, with the murders of nine African-American Christ followers in Charleston, the debate over the Confederate flag, and the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states, I have seen quite a variety of opinions and debates on social media and not a lot of unity. Some of these opinions have been wisely and gently stated, some have been very honest and raw, some have been rude or hurtful, and some have been well-intentioned, but patronizing. To me, the internet did not seem like a safe place for a few brief words which might, unknown to me, have hurt a friend or almost definitely caused dissension and arguments.

I have certainly been thinking about these recent events and what my personal response should be as a Christian, but even more so I have been thinking about how to preserve the unity of the body of Christ, even when opinions differ to the extremes (or not so extremes). How do I live in unity with someone who has decided to follow Christ and relies on His grace, yet behaves in the way I would not expect a believer to behave? That different behavior might be a hotly debated issue like sexuality, extra-marital sex, or drug abuse though honestly, I also find myself confused and uncomfortable around Christians who consistently complain, gossip, joke crudely, or find pleasure in entertainment that glorifies something wrong. I often feel like I am being judged for not joining in or supporting a certain activity even when I am not judging them, just abstaining for the benefit of my own conscience. I want to be united with these believers because we are told to be united, yet it sometimes feels like our purpose is not the same, as if we are no longer on the same track. We are supposed to be one-minded in following Christ’s example and obeying his command to make disciples from all nations. What do I do in that case? Do I ignore what they are doing and act like I do not have a problem with it?  Do I point out to them where I have been convicted in a certain area in which they might have to check themselves (only in certain situations with certain people after much prayer)? Do I acknowledge to myself that they are off track, but fight to see their good points and exhort them? Do I move on and try to find more like-minded friends? That seems like the easiest thing to do at times. Maybe my response would be different in each instance?

I do not know how it is supposed to work yet. I do know that it is the Spirit’s job to convict and draw together and that I also somehow have a part in encouraging and exhorting the church. But wow, isn’t the Spirit sweet when you can really sense it emanating from another human being? That is what helps us live in unity, the One Spirit. I Corinthians 12:13- “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all were made to drink the one Spirit”. Let’s stay full of the Spirit, always striving for unity, willing to overlook personal offenses, thinking about how Christ is appearing to the world through us. Romans 8:5b- “but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit”.  (Actually, all of Romans 8 talks about this)