January 31, 2005
Encouragement for Today
How to Avoid the Pits of Life (part two)
Mary Southerland, Director of Networking, speaker, author, and columnist
"Don't use your mouth to tell lies; don't ever say things that are not true. Keep your eyes focused on what is right, and look straight ahead to what is good." Proverbs 4: 24-25 (NCV)
In a country church, an altar boy was serving the priest at Sunday mass. When he accidentally dropped the cruet of wine, the village priest slapped the boy and shouted, "Leave the church and don't come back!" That boy became Tito, the Communist leader. In the cathedral of a large, inner city church, the altar boy accidentally dropped the cruet of wine. With a twinkle in his eye, the Bishop told the boy, "One day you will be a priest." That boy grew up to be Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
To avoid the pits of life, we must guard our words. Words are power tools! In the right hands and used correctly, words can create. In the wrong hands and used incorrectly, words can destroy. The truth of Proverbs 13:3 is a haunting one, "Whoever controls his mouth protects his own life. Whoever has a big mouth comes to ruin." (GWT) If we do not learn to use and control our tongue, it will use and control us! If God is not in control of our mouths, He is not in control of our lives. James is brutally clear on this point, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." (James 1:26 NIV) Worthless! I shudder to think that what I count as Kingdom work is, in God's eyes, worthless, erased because of my uncontrolled tongue.
The simple fact is - we will be held accountable for every word we speak. "And I tell you that on the Judgment Day people will be responsible for every careless thing they have said." (Matthew 12:36 NCV) "Careless" literally means "ineffective or useless". The words we speak will either be effective and useful or they will be inadequate and useless. We need to choose the words we speak very carefully - and we need to make sure our words are truthful. Oh, how easy it is to nudge the truth aside to spare our pride or rationalize away some hidden sin. A story is better told with a few "juicy" words added. The phone rings, and we instruct the family to say, "She is not here." How often do we rush to share someone's mistake or failure under the guise of "praying for them"?
During a recent bout with the stomach flu, I went to the doctor who began his examination by asking me to stick out my tongue. Why? After all, the problem was in my stomach. What did my tongue have to do with my stomach? I had to ask. "Why do doctors always ask patients to stick out their tongues? Are they stalling for time or is there a surplus of tongue depressors?" The doctor laughed, then gave a surprising answer, "The health of the tongue is a strong indicator of the whole body's health!" The same can be said of our spiritual health. If there is something wrong with our words, there is something wrong with our hearts. Matthew puts it this way, "The mouth speaks the things that are in the heart." (Matthew 12:34 NCV) My mother often said, "What's down in the well comes up in the bucket." When Jesus Christ is Lord of the heart, He is Lord of the lips as well. We need to guard our mouths.
To avoid the pits of life, we must also guard our eyes. A study was done of concentration camp survivors to determine the common characteristics of those who did not die from disease or starvation. Victor Frankl was a living answer to that question. Before the Nazis threw him into a concentration camp, he was a successful psychiatrist. After his rescue, Victor Frankl traveled the world, sharing his story. "There is only one reason why I am here today. You kept me alive. Others gave up hope. I dreamed that someday I would be here telling you how I, Victor Frankl, had survived the Nazi concentration camps. I've never been here before, I've never seen any of you before, and I've never given this speech before. But in my dreams, oh, in my dreams, I have stood before you and said these words a thousand times."
Outlook determines outcome. Victor Frankl survived because he chose a right focus, keeping his eyes fixed on what was ahead. Proverbs 4:25 explains, "We need to keep our eyes focused on what is right and look straight ahead to what is good." The picture painted here is one of an "upright" life, a life of "moral purity". We serve a holy God who is very serious about sin - serious enough to send His son, Jesus Christ, as payment for that sin. We claim the miracle of blood-bought forgiveness while flirting with sin. We give lip-service to God's sacrifice while allowing impurity to negate its power in our lives. We point others to the cross when we are the ones in desperate need of its deliverance.
God is calling us to new spiritual discipline and a holy obedience. Our eyes should constantly be seeking out what is right and good. In reality, the right way is always in front of us - easy to see. Then why do we find ourselves at the bottom of a pit? We entertain distractions - distractions from the truth. We need to refuse anything or anyone who will keep us from setting our eyes on what is right because sin will either keep us from the truth or the truth will keep us from sin. Run the race for an audience of One. Ignore both the cheering crowds and the critics. Both are distractions from the race and adversaries of God's highest goals.
When it comes to having a right focus, not only do we turn away from what is worthless but we turn to what is worthy. In yesterday's devotion, we discovered that Satan knows if he can control the mind, then he has won the battle. Who wins that battle is up to us and hinges on the choices that we make. The battle of the mind is won by controlling and filtering what we set before our eyes. In Psalm 101:3, we find an important key to guarding our mind, "I will set before my eyes no vile thing." (NIV) "Vile" means "evil one or troublemaker". Anything that is not feeding and nourishing the soul is depleting the soul, originates with Satan himself and will bring nothing but trouble. If it is not of God, it will numb you to what is of God. Be very careful what you place before your eyes - books, movies, television, magazines. We foolishly believe the lie that we "can handle it". If we could handle our sin, Jesus came in vain. We are desperate for Him! We are lost without Him!
I live in a small, rural community where cows are familiar neighbors and lost cows a common occurrence. How does a cow get lost? It starts nibbling on a patch of green grass. When it finishes, the cow looks ahead to the next patch of green grass. That patch digested, the cow looks ahead to the next patch of green grass and starts nibbling on that one. Then it nibbles on a patch of grass right next to a hole in the fence. The cow then sees the green grass on the other side of the fence so it nibbles on that one and then goes on to the next one and the next one. The cow finally looks up to discover it has nibbled itself into being lost.
We do the same thing. We bury our heads in the patches of everyday living. We make a single wrong choice and instead of looking up for forgiveness, instead of looking straight ahead for new direction, we look around for another wrong choice. Soon, we find ourselves at the bottom of a pit wondering how we got there. We must learn to keep our glance on the circumstances and our gaze on Him. To avoid the pits of life, we must guard our eyes and our words.
My prayer for today:
Father, I am helpless to control my mouth and my eyes. I surrender both to you. I trust your Word to be my helper and defender against the lies of Satan. Help me to guard the words I speak and the things I see. Amen.
Today's devotion is taken from Mary's book, Coming Out of the Dark.
Pay attention to the words you speak today. Evaluate the affect they have on others. Make a list of the negative words you speak today. Choose to eliminate those words from your heart and mind. Screen your life for outside sources of wrong influence. Choose to eliminate them, one by one.
Who is my audience in life? How can my outlook best be described? Am I known to be a person of encouragement? Do people see me as a truth-teller? What changes do I need to make in my speech and my outlook on life?
"You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you!" Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)
"Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." Proverbs 16:24 (NIV)
Coming Out of the Dark by Mary Southerland
"Message of the Month Club" from Proverbs 31 Ministries
Originally published Monday, 31 January 2005.