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Don’t rush into this relationship - MONDAY FEBRUARY 20

‘He made…a woman, and…brought her to the man.’     Genesis 2:22 NKJV

Patience is a difficult skill to practise when it comes to relationships. This is particularly so when you feel lonely, empty, and incomplete. When that happens you can jump the gun, and make a choice based on your limited perspective rather than the larger picture that would emerge if only you had sought more information and waited patiently. To keep you from making a mistake that can negatively impact the rest of your life, here are three important steps you should take when it comes to forming a relationship:

1) You must ask the right questions. Be curious, inquisitive, and hungry for all the pieces of the puzzle. Always, always, ask!

2) You must find the answer to those questions. Sift through the surface impressions of what you see and hear and you’ll soon see a clearer picture emerging. This picture must harmonise with two things:

a) your participation in this particular relationship;

b) God’s will and purpose for your life.

3) You must act when the time is right, and know that you are acting on the best and most comprehensive information available. If it doesn’t work out, you can relax in the knowledge that you did everything possible to make a wise decision. Statistically, about half of all marriages today end in divorce. But if you take these three steps, you could finish up in the right half. And even if the relationship fails, you can carry into your next relationship the wisdom gleaned from the last one. ‘He made…a woman, and…brought her to the man.’ God knows just what you need, so seek His guidance.

Take the high road - SUNDAY FEBRUARY 19

‘Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate.’ 1 Peter 3:9 NLT

It’s been said that the depth of your hurt determines the width of your response. So it’s likely that when someone hurts you, your first impulse will be to get even. But any momentary satisfaction you experience will invariably be followed by a lingering sense of regret. Why is that? Because you know you’ve failed God by retaliating. We retaliate in two ways:

1) ‘Tit for tat.’ Before you make your offender suffer, carefully consider these words: ‘Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honourable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone…never take revenge. Leave that to…God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord’ (Romans 12:17-19 NLT).

2) By involving others. Not only do you not have the right to strike back, you don’t have the right to tear down your offender in front of others. Joseph not only refused to punish his brothers for their betrayal, he refused to publish the details to those who worked in his courts. Why? Because he saw God’s hand at work, and realised that what he’d suffered at his brothers’ hands had made him the man he was. Peter writes: ‘Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing’ (1 Peter 3:9 NLT). So if you want to walk in the blessing of God today, take the high road.

What kind of Christian are you? (3) - SATURDAY FEBRUARY 18

‘Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live…’     Matthew 11:30 MSG

Jesus said, ‘[The Pharisees] tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders’ (Matthew 23:4 NIV 1984 Edition). They imposed rules that people couldn’t keep, and on the rare occasion when they could keep them it brought them no joy. Stephen Mosley writes: ‘Our morality calls out rather feebly. It whines from the corner of a sanctuary; it awkwardly interrupts pleasures; it mumbles excuses at parties; it shuffles along out of step and slightly behind the times…It’s often regarded by our secular contemporaries as a narrow, even trivial, pursuit…Tragically, conventional religious goodness manages to be both intimidating and unchallenging at the same time.

Intimidating - because it may involve 101 different rules about so-called spirituality. Unchallenging - because we may exhaust ourselves trying to keep all these rules, yet never experience the true joy Jesus offers. That’s why people inside the church so often get weary. Conforming to such a religion is simply not a rewarding enough experience to fill the void in our hearts.’ Have you grown weary of pursuing spiritual growth? Could it be you’ve been pursuing the wrong thing, or going at it the wrong way?

If so, consider these words of Jesus: ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn how to live freely and lightly’ (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG).

What kind of Christian are you? (2) - FRIDAY FEBRUARY 17

‘I have come that they may have life…abundantly.’     John 10:10 NKJV

Here are some questions you should ask yourself regularly:

1) Am I approachable? Speaking of the Pharisees, Jesus said, ‘They love the place of honour…they love to…have men call them “Rabbi”’ (Matthew 23:6-7 NIVUK 1984 Edition). In Jesus’ day some rabbis had the idea that true spirituality required you to distance yourself from people. Ironically, the only Rabbi the outcasts could touch turned out to be God Himself. Jesus was the most approachable person they’d ever met.

2) Am I gracious? John Ortberg writes: ‘As soon as we start to pursue virtue, we begin to wonder why others aren’t as virtuous as we are. It reminds us of the reply Homer Simpson’s neighbours gave when Homer asked them where they’d been: “We went to a Christian camp; we were learning how to be more judgmental.” Have you been to that camp? Does a little voice inside you categorise people: “This one’s needy and dependent - stay away. That one’s bright and has much to offer - try to connect.” Why do we constantly find ourselves rating people, as though we were in some kind of contest?’

3) Am I real? A little boy in Sunday school knew the kind of answer he was supposed to give, so when the teacher asked, ‘What’s brown, furry, has a bushy tail and stores up nuts?’ He muttered, ‘I guess the right answer is Jesus - but it sounds like a squirrel to me!’ Often we try to say spiritual-sounding things to impress people, when they haven’t a clue what we are talking about. So let’s be real with ourselves - and others!   

What kind of Christian are you? (1) - THURSDAY FEBRUARY 16

‘They…recognised them as men who had been with Jesus.’     Acts 4:13 NLT

The Pharisees were self-appointed experts in matters of dietary laws, dress codes, etc. These practices allowed them to decide who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’. And what’s worse, the insiders became judgmental towards the outsiders. Dallas Willard writes, ‘How many people are repelled by Christians who are unfeeling, stiff, unapproachable, boringly lifeless, and dissatisfied? Yet such Christians are everywhere.’ The truth is, when our lives aren’t marked by genuine joy and devotion to Christ we start looking for superficial ways to distinguish ourselves from the people we classify as ‘worldly’. Jesus didn’t do that! When He was asked to identify what the law was all about, He simply replied, ‘Love God and love people’ (see Mark 12:29-31).

Paul writes, ‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal’ (1 Corinthians 13:1 NIV 1984 Edition). It’s possible to think you’re becoming more spiritual, when in fact you’re becoming what Mark Twain termed ‘a good man, in the worst sense of the word’. Winston Churchill had a political opponent called Cripps, an arrogant man who was widely disliked for his smug self-righteousness. The story goes that one day Churchill saw Cripps passing by and remarked, ‘There but for the grace of God, goes God.’ One of the greatest compliments ever paid to the apostles is that they were ‘recognised…as men who had been with Jesus’. The strongest argument for Christianity - is Christians drawing life from Christ. The strongest argument against Christianity - is Christians who are smug, judgmental, and complacent. So, what kind of Christian are you?