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EMBRACING YOUR STRENGTHSWHO AM I IN GOD'S EYES (AND WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT?)
By Patsy Clairmont
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2009 Thomas Nelson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIntellectual Strength
Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind."
We have each been given a precious gift, more valuable than jewelry from Tiffany & Co. or a luxury vacation to the French Riviera. That gift is our minds. Our ability to reason sets us apart from the rest of creation. Because of our intellect we are able to choose favorite songs, create art, organize messy closets, calculate which box of diapers gives us the best value, and carry on a conversation with a friend. And, because we are women of faith, we are also called to evaluate all those things in light of our beliefs-another aspect of our intellect.
"A mind is a terrible thing to waste" has been the slogan for the United Negro College Fund for more than three decades, and its truth is so pervasive that it has become a common American saying. We should care for our minds the same way we should maintain our homes, nurture our children, and exercise our bodies. We wouldn't let piles of junkline the halls of our homes, so why should we allow negative thoughts and old resentments to gather in the recesses of our minds? We wouldn't ignore our children, letting them fend for themselves in a fallen world without care and guidance, so why do we think we can make it through life without the guidance of those with more experience? We know we should exercise our bodies and eat healthy foods, so we should do the same for our minds-challenging ourselves mentally through brain exercises like crossword puzzles as well as sharpening our intellect through deep, thoughtful conversation.
1. Describe your idea of an intelligent woman. Consider 1 Samuel 25:3, 2 Chronicles 2:12, Daniel 5:14, and Acts 13:7 in your response.
2. While the Bible promises that we are intelligent people, created in God's own image, it also tells us that we are limited in our ability to understand God and the world. Describe the way God limits and expands our understanding of Himself in light of Isaiah 44:18 and Luke 24:45.
As Christians, we must understand the law God gives us in his Word. It is a gift to us, and if we fail to learn it we won't be able to follow it. Some of us are able to memorize huge portions of Scripture; others read it so often that it becomes instinct.
3. Fill in the blanks in these two verses, then explain the significance of the difference between the two passages.
In the Old Testament God commands, "Therefore you shall lay up these ______________ of mine in your ___________ and in your ________________, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your ____________" (Deuteronomy 11:18).
In the New Testament He promises, "For this is the covenant that ______________ will make ... says the Lord: ____________ will put My laws in their ______________ and write them on their ___________; and I will be their __________, and they shall be My people" (Hebrews 8:10).
Our intellect allows us to function in this world-to do business, decorate a home, raise children, maintain relationships, and more. But it is also, in many ways, the seat of our spiritual life. We must know God to love God. Without an understanding of who He is, there can be no relationship.
Likewise, our thoughts in many ways influence and determine our actions. Millions of people have purchased the New Age self-help book The Secret in recent years in an attempt to understand the power their minds have over their circumstances. But the connection is ages old. In Matthew 12:34-35 Jesus said, "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him" (NIV). If we let our intellect fade and numb our minds with useless things, that is what will come out of us in the form of words, ideas, or actions.
4. Why is it important for us to have a sharp mind and intellect? See Romans 12:2.
5. What will happen to us if we ignore the knowledge God allows us to share in? See Romans 1:28.
6. God tells us that He will search our minds and know our deepest thoughts. How does this make you feel? Match up the verses with the promises below.
Although God has graciously given us the ability to think for ourselves, that gift comes with a price. We have free will to make our own choices in this life-to choose God or reject Him. We cannot be ignorant of the consequences of our choices. And it's crucial that we understand the precarious position we hold in this world.
7. Paul tells us that our minds are weak-that they are able to be deceived and need to be protected. What must we do to protect our minds?
1 Corinthians 14:15
2 Corinthians 10:5
8. What is the benefit of exercising our minds in the things of God? See Philippians 4:7.
If intellect is one of your strengths, you're probably hyper-aware of the failings of yourself and others. Protect yourself from being overly critical by thinking daily on the promises that we are all God's creation and live for His glory, not our own. Read Isaiah 43:7 each morning this week.
Ponder and Pray
Focus your prayers this week on the things you know to be true about God. In what ways is He the greatest Intellect? As you are made in His image, how does that intelligence flow down to you? And what will you do about it? Ask God to show you His will for your life when it comes to your mind. How are you to use your thoughts to glorify God-in big ways or small? How will you use your intellect to make a difference in this world?
Pick a Bible verse to memorize this week. It may be the theme verse for this chapter, Matthew 22:37. Or it could be a favorite verse you turn to often. It can be long or short. Memorization boosts your mental strength, so practice it often!
Chapter TwoRelational Strength
As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
There is nothing so comforting as a friend who knows how to love you. She knows when you need words of encouragement and when you just need a quiet place to speak your troubles freely. She knows how to make you laugh and what makes you cry. A good friend is one of the best parts of life.
When things are going well in our relationships, we're generally doing well also. And when there are problems in those relationships, it's usually quite obvious. Our friends can hurt us as well as heal, and it's important to understand the inner workings of our relationships so we can avoid creating painful emotions for those we love. God has given us each other to walk with in our spiritual journeys. But relationships are hard, and many marriages and friendships break down over time. If we hold onto the baggage of our life instead of trusting in the forgiveness and grace of God in our relationships, we have no chance of growing as a friend.
A good friend is one who trusts, understands, gives space, and is willing to speak honestly into your life. And if we can get to the place where we can truly serve others in love, as the Bible commands, we'll escape the traps of jealousy, betrayal, and anger that plague so many relationships.
1. What makes a person a good friend? Proverbs 17:9, 17; 18:24; 27:6, 9; and 27:10 each give us great insight into friendship. List some thoughts in the space below.
2. As we move through the various stages of our lives-childhood, teenage years, single life, newlywed years, parenthood, and empty nesting-we meet and develop friendships with people whom we relate to at those particular times. What advice does Scripture give about making new friends?
1 Corinthians 15:33
3. True friends are loyal to each other in good times and bad. That can be the most challenging aspect of a relationship-expressing happiness for your joyous friend when you're suffering heartache, or finding compassion and tact for a hurting friend when you're bubbling over with excitement in your own life. How does Mark 5:19 instruct those in each of these situations?
4. Words are like weapons-they can wound a friend deeply and permanently. We must remember that we walk around armed with dangerous tools that can hurt and destroy. Likewise, God's Word is like a double-edged sword, penetrating deep in a healing way (Hebrews 4:12). Speaking the truth of God into a friend's life can be a uniting act or a divisive one, depending on the way you approach it. Read the following verses and jot down what they have to say about the power of words in relationships.
Proverbs 27:6, 9
3 John 14
Our lives have become incredibly fast paced. We're racing from work to practice to dinner with friends and back home to finish up chores and check e-mail while watching TV before hitting the bed much later than we had planned. We're exhausted, and we're too tired to do anything about it. But think back fifteen years ago-before cell phones, online social networks, e-mail, and a dozen blogs to check daily. When you spoke to people face to face rather than online, did you feel a deeper connection?
It's easy to feel isolated in the "communication age" because we've become so accustomed to communicating with people that we have little relationship with. As we spread ourselves thin relationally, even our deepest friendships can feel the strain.
5. How do you build relationships in a fast-paced world? What specific actions can you take to deepen the intimacy level of a few friendships to intentionally make them more significant? (See what Exodus 33:11, Proverbs 17:17, and Galatians 5:13 have to say.)
6. The Bible is full of stories of faithless friends, yet they are still identified as "friends" not "enemies." Match the Scripture passage below with the act of betrayal.
Why do you think God refers to these people as friends? What does this imply for us? See 2 Timothy 2:13.
7. What must we do to be friends of God? And how does that influence our human friendships? Read 1 John 3:1a and John 15:14 for insight.
Becoming a good friend takes practice, honesty, and time. This week, get together with a friend just to visit-listen to her heart, speak into her life, or just laugh together over life's hilarious events. Get real with a friend this week. Ask someone you know and trust to identify one area of your relationship that you could improve-do you regularly call at a really inconvenient time of day, or do you have a terrible habit of asking a question and then not waiting for an answer? Prepare yourself to hear this without feeling defensive, knowing that the counsel of a good friend is healing. And then relax and be patient, knowing that building a relationship is not an overnight process but a lifetime of give and take.
Ponder and Pray
Ask God to show you who in your life needs extra love and care this week. It may be your mom, your husband, a dear friend, or a child. Or it may be you. If you need the support of those in your life, don't be afraid to ask for it. And if you know of someone who could benefit from your time and attention, don't be too shy or selfish to give it.
What is the most convenient way for you to connect with friends? Online, by phone, at the coffee shop, or in the pick-up line at school? This week find a new way to connect with a friend and see if you enjoy your new mode of communication.
Chapter ThreeProfessional Strength
Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV
Most great success stories contain some similarities to a roller-coaster ride. Consider the résumé of Joseph. His chronological job descriptions would read something like this: Favored son. Slave. First assistant to a high-ranking government official. Convicted felon. Chief Operating Officer of Egypt. Quite an up-and-down professional life, don't you think? Joseph was hired, fired, forgotten, and then went on to become the most powerful man in the nation of Egypt, second only to the pharaoh.
In our professional lives, we will always face challenges and setbacks, but if we choose to focus on them, we will miss out on the grand opportunities that also come our way. Joseph's life was full of God-ordained ups and downs, but through it all he was able to maintain integrity, perseverance, and kindness in all these situations.
1. Think of someone whose professional life you have a high regard for. What about him or her do you most admire? How does he or she inspire you?
After Joseph's jealous brothers sold him into slavery, he ended up in the house of Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's guards. Before long, Joseph's work was so excellent that Potiphar entrusted Joseph with control of his whole household. What an amazing compliment to the integrity of his work! Of course, not everyone appreciated his integrity-Potiphar's wife took notice of young, handsome Joseph and decided that she liked what she saw. She pursued him and wouldn't take no for an answer. Joseph's continued refusal of her advances made her angry, so she claimed Joseph attacked her and had him sent to prison.
2. Read Genesis 39: 4-6. Would your employer say that he or she is blessed to have you as an employee? What traits might Joseph have displayed in order to receive such a glowing report?
3. When propositioned by Potiphar's wife, Joseph didn't say, "No way! Can you imagine what would happen if Potiphar found out?" Instead, he said, "'How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?'" (Genesis 39: 9 niv). Joseph knew that he was ultimately in the service of the Lord, not Potiphar.
How can Joseph's perspective-that we are ultimately working for the Lord-influence our perspective of work?
4. How might this perspective of working for God, and not man, influence the integrity of your work?
Lingering in prison, serving time for a false accusation, Joseph had plenty of opportunity to become bitter and cynical. But instead, we see that Joseph's integrity was once again recognized and he was put in a position of power over other prisoners (Genesis 39:20-23).
Using his God-given talent of interpreting dreams, he was able to gain the favor of another prisoner, the pharaoh's butler, who promised to remember Joseph when he was released from prison. But the butler forgot and Joseph lingered in prison for two more years.
5. Joseph lost his job and his freedom because of someone else's dishonesty. In your professional life, have you ever suffered an injustice because of someone else's mistake or deception? How did that incident make you feel? How are you encouraged by Joseph's response to his unfair treatment?
6. Joseph sat in a prison cell for over two years of his life, seemingly wasting his God-given talents. Have you ever felt stuck in a job that was going nowhere? That your talents and ambitions were wasting away? Read 1 Corinthians 10:31. How does this verse dictate how we are to respond to a situation in which we feel stuck?
Excerpted from EMBRACING YOUR STRENGTHS by Patsy Clairmont Copyright © 2009 by Thomas Nelson. Excerpted by permission.
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