Discouragement comes from the Devil

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John 8:44 – You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

It happened again! And only 3 weeks since I wrote a post about this SAME struggle.

Monday morning.  Almost the end of October.  Questioning what I’m doing, still teaching French.  To middle-schoolers.  Driving almost an hour.  Dark when I leave. Away from home nearly 12 hours a day.

Feeling trapped.  And ineffective.  Maybe I’m too old to connect with squirmy middles-schoolers!?  But what else can I do for work?

That was my day.  And evening.

But God!  It took me 24 hours to spot the lies.  These were not MY dismal thoughts.  They were from Satan.  Again!

What opened my eyes?  God’s good and providential assigned scripture in our Chronological Bible reading plan. For He had appointed Chapters 7 and 8 of the Gospel of John for me for Tuesday!!!  I arrived at the verse cited above about the devil.  The darkness lifted.

These musings? NOT from me!  Satan had fired discouraging thoughts MEANT to drive me away. From where God has me assigned for ‘such a time as this‘.  (however LONG ‘this’ turns out to be).  I don’t have to believe them.  Or take them to heart.

Two other factors helped set me up to feel ‘hope-less’.  I was tired, having not slept well for several days. And I was having a few gastro problems.

Note to self:  when I am tired or not feeling well, expect discouragement.  Malaise can feel SO self-sourced.

This week’s skirmish did not involve any ally of Satan’s.  This experienced Liar used silent killer thoughts to drain both my energy and desire to continue teaching French.  In my secular school.  Where many of my colleagues need a listening ear.  Where I can drop Good News seeds of truth about the Living Hope who is available to all. All of a sudden God opened the eyes of my heart to SEE reality.

Sometimes Satan involves other humans to silence and stop us.  Like Sanballat who labored to stymie Nehemiah in order to halt the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. Neh 4:1 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews. But Nehemiah and his men did not cease their mission.  They did not succumb to discouraging and fear-inducing lies.

Father, awaken me immediately to future deception before it saps my peace, my contentment and confidence in You!

 

Those infernal lies that seem like my thoughts

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Mike and I have been talking about the number of lies we entertain in our thoughts. We usually assume they are true. In fact, they innocuously blend in with our other ruminations in a way that makes us actually believe they ARE our thoughts (and therefore true!).

I’m an expert at detecting these lies in Mike. They are easy to spot should he happen to speak one out loud –  these inner verdicts on reality. (analyze THAT Latin word! verus =true, dictum = statement).

I now understand this satanic tactic, a favorite of the ‘father of lies’.  He tends to whisper or suggest ideas and conclusions that feel SO much like our own. We think we are the source of the thoughts. There’s no warning sign or danger alert that they might be from someone other than us.

Here’s my most current example. I was experiencing a difficult time with some 7th-grade boys last week. They were distracting French class.  I started fantasizing about how pleasant it would be to teach adults who CHOOSE to learn French (or English) with me. (first mistake – discontent followed by coveting. How?  by imagining something other than what God has given me).  Within a few hours I was thinking:

  • Maybe I’m too old to be teaching middle schoolers.
  • Maybe this should be my last year.

I actually articulated those thoughts and conclusions 3 different times over the weekend.

Result?  I slid into a sulky, grumpy mood by Monday morning.

But God!

I actually WROTE down in my journal, “Father – HELP me!  Give me fresh ways and ideas to deal with these kids. Help my un-desire.”

And to my surprise, within 5 minutes of recording that need, a memory from several years ago arrived ‘front and center’.  At that particular time, I had written a pastor friend, asking him to pray during a VERY painful early year at my current school.  He immediately wrote back to encourage me.

He had exhorted me to keep in mind that one or more of these kids I was teaching might one day become a missionary in a French-speaking part of the world.  All because I had persisted in teaching students French.

Through this very memory, God infused my being with strength!  The hope-giving reminder of why I must continue teaching French vacuumed away the discouragement in a flash.  “I MUST persist,” I concluded.

What followed next was even more powerful.  Suddenly I saw that my feelings and thoughts of no longer belonging in the classroom were not MY notions, but planted FALSE ideas by my enemy, the devil.

That realization grew as I saw more clearly just why this ‘liar from old’ would not want me equipping someone to speak French.  Someone who might one day explain to a French speaker just who Christ was and what He has done.

So, I am reminded, how blind we are when it comes to spotting lies – in ourselves.  Therefore, brothers and sisters, we must help each other by engaging with others. We should:

  • CONFIDE our discouragement with brothers and sisters in Christ and ask them to pray!
  • ASK MORE THAN surface questions when we see others; press a bit deeper when we detect anxiety or heaviness in someone’s face and voice. We can offer to listen and pray.

We don’t know how close someone might be to throwing in the towel.  Discouragement is a real life-drainer.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

How God is changing my will

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Philippians 2:13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Lots of unholy churn and inward griping have colored my past 3 3/4 years teaching French to middle-schoolers.  I have prayed for God to open the door to other jobs that pay as much but

  • don’t include a commute of at least 1 hour 40 minutes on a traffic-free day
  • don’t place me in a sometimes hostile anti-Christian environment (secular school)
  • don’t require me to face the burdensome daily challenge of teaching French well and creatively to middle-schoolers

And in His good and wise providence, God has kept me in that job!  So I have prayed, very reluctantly, for Him to change my will, my desires.  Do you ever pray like this, a kind of ‘please God, but I’m not sure if I want you to‘ type request?  This is how I’ve been praying:

  • Father, if I have to continue to work THERE, then at least change my heart so that I more light-heartedly teach/work/serve at that school.  But, Father, I’m actually hesitant to ASK You to change my heart.  I don’t think I WANT to want that, to work contentedly there.  I just want OUT!

But God HAS changed my heart through a shift in my thinking that could ONLY have come about this way.

It was a combination of a Charles Spurgeon selection from his book Morning and Evening, a John Piper devotional one night, some scripture in a prayer I was praying through that my app Prayermate had fed me and a John Piper archived sermon the next morning.  All within about 11 hours.

One of my whiny refrains I kept replaying in my mind leading up to those 12 hours was, “My heart is just not in teaching French to middle-schoolers any more!  I’m tired of the burden. And besides, I’ll be 60 in a few months, maybe I don’t have what it takes to relate to them!”  I can get REAL good at excuse making.

By means of 3 verses, He had shifted my thoughts toward the end of the 11 hours (an evening, night and early morning), which gently but abruptly changed my desire:

  • Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
  • Ephesians 6:7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
  • Colossians 3:23 Whatever you are doing, let your hearts be in your work, as a thing done for the Lord and not for men.

And just like that, with the gentle Holy Spirit memory prompting, He brought those living facts and commands into my heart and mind and something occurred instantly.

In a flash, I saw how sinful AND LAME my whininess had been.  I pictured those sins as adding to the crushing weight of sin that Jesus willingly took on for me.

The next thought was:

  •  If I can’t teach whole-heartedly for THEM, those kids, I CAN do so for God.  By His power.
  •  In fact Maria, your Father created those works at this school right now for you to do as a new creation.  He has equipped and fitted you to do just that.  And that is why He has kept you there in that job.  It has been His intention all along.  He has purposes for you to serve Him in that environment.

That was a Wednesday.  I lived with new freedom and awareness throughout the day, actually enjoying myself.

Cautiously I embraced Thursday.  Same thought-altering feelings prevailed. And Friday as well.

It’s Spring Break this week.  The days are flying and soon Monday will come.  But I’m not dreading it.  With His help, I CAN do what He has willed for me, what He commands me to do.

Here’s the truth:  what God commands, He equips us to do and we have no reasonable defense to resist.  Thanks be to God!

Commands & promises that simplify life

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Parents mean well, but they can unwittingly burden their children.

My father was one of those ‘can-do’ men who had reduced life’s collective wisdom to short statements meant to both encourage and teach.  Some of this military man’s words of advice were:

  • Drive on all the way (Infantry motto)
  • Your wants won’t hurt you
  • Don’t borrow trouble
  • Do your best

That last one has caused me much grief.  Why?  Because I never knew what was my best. By what objective standard did one measure one’s best?  How would I know if I had reached ‘my best’?

There was one time in my life when I obsessively worked a side business while teaching school full-time and mothering 2 sons.  I almost wrecked our marriage, so driven was I for ‘success’ in that part-time fashion venture.

One week in particular stands out.  Push-push-push!  Striving to reach a sales goal in order to be recognized and applauded at the national sales conference one month later, I drove myself nuts (and probably the rest of the family!).  My dad’s motto about one’s BEST compelled me to keep making phone calls.  My goal consumed me.  I couldn’t rest.  That target named ‘MY BEST’ kept inching further away.

This past week, 2 verses have both grabbed my heart and resurrected painful memories of drivenness.

  1. Psalm 105:4   Seek the LORD and His strength, seek His presence continually
  2. Psalm 37:3  Trust in the LORD and do good

Yesterday was a difficult day teaching.  I dreaded one of my classes.  As I was walking up the stairs to the building, praying, I affirmed over and over again: All I need are the LORD’s strength and His presence.  God has commanded me to seek and pray for these things.  He must really want me to have them!

And He came through!  (why do I doubt????)

This morning, bracing for that same first-period class and sensing the familiar creeping dread, I recalled Pop’s adage about doing my best. I prayed for God’s strength and His presence; and the above verse from Psalm 34 came to mind.  Tim Keller in his devotional on the Psalms had reflected on that psalm the previous night.  And I had been encouraged by the simple command to ‘do good’ in the context of trusting/resting in God.

Far from being burdened by having to aim for my best, I felt relief flooding me.  One’s best might be the way of the world, the mantra of certain motivational speakers, but not the path that the Triune God teaches.

Prior to any effort or work God commands from us, He assures us in numerous places what He has already accomplished FOR us. (chose, created, sought, rescued, redeemed, and saved us). And in view of THOSE mercies, we are to TRUST HIM. For hasn’t He already proven to us that He is worthy of our trust?

How that command to trust Him relieved the burden of my dreaded class was in this way:

  • I don’t know what God is doing in the interactions between my class and me.  Most of the time I FEEL ineffective with them.
  • But I willed myself to trust Him, the all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful Sovereign of the universe.
  • And having committed myself to trust Him this day, I resolved to DO GOOD.

But what did ‘do good’ look like? For me, this morning, I taught French to my class in a way that was sensitive to their moods, abilities and comprehension and did not fret with what they gained from the class.  I did not take personally their bored 13-year-old faces or their chattiness about other topics IN FRENCH class!   I trusted God, did ‘good’ and let it rest.

This particular crop of students is weak. Their abilities probably don’t have as much to do with my skill as a teacher as I think. But God has placed me at that school with those children for His purposes. His plans are good and I will commit to being faithful in my assignment through the power the Holy Spirit gives me.  That is all He expects.

 

 

What makes you happy?

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We all want to be happy.  Even our birth announcement as a new sovereign nation enshrined the pursuit of happiness as one of the top 3 values of the former colonies.

Pursuit of happiness

But how do you define ‘happiness’?

If you look at our culture, that concept changes almost daily.  It used to be ‘choose your own sport or extra-curricular activity in school’ to ‘choose our own profession or college or place to live’.  Now it’s choosing your own definition of marriage, your own gender and even your own racial identity.

Since the definition of happiness seems to shift so frequently, are you and I even in a fixed position to judge what makes for lasting happiness?  The Bible asserts in multiple places, “No! Don’t trust your heart or your mind.”

Jeremiah, spokesman for God said, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick-who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9)

Therefore, in light of that truth,it makes good sense that the Book of Proverbs counsels us NOT to: “…lean on our own understanding” Prov 3:5  Rather we are to…Trust in the Lord (not us)..”

Here’s where God recently has shown me the truth of His Word.

For years I have taught French using a methodology called TPRS Here’s a link to a useful explanation.

I have worked on the skills which are more akin to improvisational theater than anything I’ve experienced.  Workshops, personal coaching, 7 national conferences, teaching blogs have all helped to train me to improve my teaching.

But early on, I absorbed ‘being a skilled TPRS teacher’ as a tool for measuring my worth.  I saw the professionals who could ‘do TPRS’ with such ease, enjoyment and results (aka – engaged students who participated without hesitation).

As a result, I instinctively started judging my school day as a ‘good day’ if the kids responded with their creative energy and focused attention.  And it was a ‘bad day’ if I didn’t feel them eating out of my hand, so to speak.  With that much self-imposed pressure, driving to school would cause me to get anxious and nervous.  My daily question quickly grew to be: Would I be able to ‘pull it off’ again?  My faithful husband prayed daily for me.

Yet, I never questioned the wisdom of this method of self-justification. And my happiness continued to wax and wane according to my ‘success’ with this skill.  And I measured success by my students’ responses to my teaching each day.  But then I realized something about my on-going ‘morning mood’ and connected it to the following truths from God’s Word.

Psalm 1a, 3a – “Happy is the man…..whose delight is in the Law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night” 

Psalm 41:1 – “Happy is the man who considers the weak/powerless/poor…..

What a different way to look at happiness!  So here is what occurred to prompt me to SEE these verses in a new light.

In the couple of months between spring break and the end of the school year, I began to notice that I actually FELT happy during my drive to school each day.  That sense of peaceful contentment had kind of snuck up on me.  As I began to analyze the WHY, I saw that I was no longer measuring my day, my worth as a teacher by how well I taught my French classes.  In other words, I had stopped evaluating my skills and my students’ response to how I taught.  That was part of it, for sure. More significant was the impact that change of focus had on my unconscious thoughts while commuting.

Bu there was another change. I don’t know when it started, but sometime I consciously decided NOT to check email or any social media before I arrived at school.  That meant from the time I arose I either listened to podcast sermons while feeding the cats, exercising, and driving to school or I was reading my Bible over breakfast.  I was feeding, meditating on Truth.  And what I took in not only made me feel happy; it also caused me to be more in tune with my colleagues and students at work. Many around us often feel weak, powerless and poor. It’s a feature of this world broken by sin that everyone is battered and suffers.  Hence, souls are more fragile than we realize.

Freed from the compulsion to ‘prove’ myself each day, I have apparently allowed myself actually to enjoy teaching students and interacting with my colleagues. Schooldays turn out NOT to be all about me and how well I teach.  I’ve stopped using my classes to measure my skills.

I do thank my good Father for this wiser and healthier perspective.  Furthermore, He has given me a contract to teach again in August.  And to top it off, this summer doesn’t quite feel like a temporary pass from the galleys, but a continuation of a life learning to put into practice George Mueller’s advice to all Christians.  That is – to make oneself happy in the Lord first thing in the morning. Link here about George Mueller.

Now if I can only transfer THAT revelation to other areas of my life where I’m still imprisoned by the need to calculate how well I am ‘doing’!

Question: What’s an area of your life where you have been ‘sprung’ from one of your former SUBTITLES and the burden of maintaining it?

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