If the devil can’t make you bad…

When I returned from Israel almost 2 months ago, my summer calendar was relatively clear.  I was so excited.  I was going to take my time, go through all my notes, all my pictures, all my memories, and put together a wonderful scrapbook of one of the greatest times in my life.  SCRATCH!  Within one week of my return, my calendar showed very few unmarked squares for the next 11 weeks!  I’m  just coming up now for a few brief moments of air before going back under. 

There’s an old saying bouncing around in my head right now, leaving behind a dent of conviction with every hit:

If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy!

Bad or busy:  One is as deadly as the other.  Both  keep us out of in-depth, intimate communion with God; both keep us from being filled with His Presence; both keep us from walking in His transcendent peace; both keep us from being fountains of living water refreshing other sojourners. 

As we drive down the highway of life, lots of things are stuffed into our “cars”: a spouse, children, parents, job, church, hobbies, quiet time, community clubs, service projects, exercise, Bible study, sleep, appointments — the list goes on and on!  And when time gets crunched, as it often does, what gets flung out the window?  Usually the important things; they always seem to get trumped by the urgent things.  Charles Hummel labeled this “the tyranny of the urgent.”  What’s amazing is that the important things are rarely urgent, and the urgent things are rarely important.  Yet the urgent things not only sit in the front seat of our “cars,” they oftentimes grab the wheel, while the important things sit patiently in the back seat. 

So how do you differentiate between the two?  How do you know if something is important or just urgent?  You must learn to look at each activity with an eternal eye.  Do so by asking a few questions: 

  • Will this activity have lasting results? 
  • What will be the effect of not doing it?  
  • Would God prefer I spend my time on this or something else?
  • Will this activity affect others and, if so, how? 
  • Will this action convert into a heavenly treasure or an earthly pile of rust?

I think you get the picture. 

FixThe activities that fill our lists fit into 1 of the 4 categories on the chart at left.  So take a piece of paper and divide it into 4 quadrants and label them like the chart.  Look at each item on your list , determine its importance-to-urgency ratio, and write the activity in the corresponding box.  Then start at the top right, using the following guide as much as possible:
  • Important and urgent — Do it first!
  • Important but not urgent — Delay it — but not for long!
  • Not important but urgent — Delegate it, if you can!
  • Not important and not urgent — Dump it when possible!

Yes, it takes time to analyze the eternal significance of your activities, but it’s well worth the effort and you’ll get faster as it becomes a habit.  In the end, some urgent things will still have to be done — or so your boss says!   And quality time with your spouse and children? Almost 100% important and urgent!

If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy?  Well, the truth is the devil can’t really make a believer do anything he/she does not want to do.  We have total power over him. ** We can try to blame him for our badness or our busyness but they’re really the result of our own choices.  So begin today training yourself to focus on the important things in life.  The results are out of this world!

Command them to do go, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age,

so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

1 Timothy 6:18-19

**1 John 4:4

Deal with it or let it go!

Months ago I saw an old schoolmate in a local restaurant. Beth Green** was a grade ahead of me in our small little high school, where everybody knew everybody — and everybody’s business!  Seeing her again after all these years brought back an unpleasant memory.

I remember being in the 7th grade and you know how 7th and 8th grade girls can be: drama queens, every one of them!  Just after school was out one afternoon, I was walking around the corner of the building, heading to a water fountain outside the school office, when I heard two girls giving Beth “down in the country,” as my mom would say.   

“She said…Then I said…”

“Yeah, but she’s just…”

And so on it went.

As I finished drinking the water and straightened up, the talking stopped and both girls looked at me.  In an pitiful attempt to be funny, I said, “What is this? The I-hate-Beth-Green Club?”  They both cracked up laughing and said, “Yeah!  Wan’na join?”  I just laughed, shook my head, and walked off, in a hurry to catch my bus.

The next afternoon when we got home, my brother let me have it.  He was in Beth’s class and she had told him that I had formed the I-hate-Beth-Green Club.  “I can’t believe you’d do such a thing, Donna.  You know better!  Beth may not like you too much but this is certainly no way to treat her — and it’s surely no way to get her to like you!”

I couldn’t believe my ears!  Apparently one (or both) of the two girls who were actually gossiping about her told her that I was the culprit!  I didn’t recall anyone else being within earshot. I told my brother how the whole thing really went down.   “I’ll straighten it out with Beth tomorrow,” I sighed.

“Wait a minute,” my brother said.  “If you tell her that the other two were actually the ones talking about her, then they’ll just deny it.  And who do you think Beth will believe?  She already doesn’t like you too much.  And if you do tell her, then instead of just 1 person, you’ll have 3 people mad at you.  My advice is to just let it go; it’ll blow over after a while.”

I took my brother’s advice and said nothing.  Beth and I were never bossom buddies, but we did get along a lot better as we grew older.  We never talked about the incident, but I never forgot it; and it hurt to think that she didn’t know the truth. 

That was over 35 years ago.  Seeing Beth again brought it all back to me, including the pain of being unjustly maligned and never being able to set the record straight.

A few weeks ago, I saw Beth again in Wal-Mart.  We talked and talked while waiting in a long, slow cashier’s line.  She was so kind and jovial; she even invited me to join her and some of our other schoolmates who occassionally get together.  All of a sudden, the reins on my tongue that I had held tightly for so long were loosed. 

“Beth, I’ve always wanted to right something that happened way back in school.  I got blamed for starting the I-hate-Beth-Green Club but it wasn’t me…blah, blah, blah.”  (Just so you know I’m not all bad, I never revealed the names of the 2 other girls.)

“There was an I-hate-Beth-Green Club?” she asked.  “Hmmm, I didn’t know that.  You learn something new every day.”  She looked hurt and wasn’t quite as pleasant as she was before my mouth spewed forth like a pent-up geyser.

I felt sick as I walked to my car. I couldn’t believe I did that.  More amazingly, I couldn’t believe she didn’t remember.  I mean, this unjust event tore at my gut for over 35 years — and she didn’t even remember it!  Then it hit me why I felt the need to blurt out my vindication: pride and anger. 

My pride (which was quite large) had been injured.  And although I had held my tongue all these years, I had harbored anger against the two other girls.  Instead of swallowing my pride and holding my tongue like I did back when I was young, I let my anger spill out as I attempted to restore my so-called dignity.  The result?  I re-hurt her and put a stumbling block in the way of our renewed friendship. 

So what have I learned? Either deal with an issue while it’s fresh and then deal with the consequences that follow; or, swallow your pride, extinuish any anger, and let things heal (or, in my case, let it remain healed).

Where was that brother when I needed him this time?  Oh, wait.  I’m supposed to be a big girl now.

A fool gives full vent to his anger,

but a wise man keeps himself under control.

Proverbs 29:11

**Not her real name.

LORD, shut my mouth!

“Don’t even bring up her name!  The mere mention of it makes  my blood boil!”

“I can’t believe he went behind my back like that!  I’m so angry I could spit!”

“Girl, I haven’t spoken to her in years!  Let me tell you what she did to me…”

“I know he didn’t mean it that way, but it still hurts.”

Ever been guilty of saying those words or something like them? Hurt feelings. A wounded heart. A broken confidence. We’ve all experienced them — and caused them. 

I remember years ago when a woman confronted me with an illustration I used in a Bible study. It was an inspiring story involving a mutual friend. She felt I was wrong in sharing it and called to tell me so. Even though I told her I had our friend’s permission to use the story, I couldn’t quite get her to see my side, so I gave the old “we’ll just have to agree to disagree” response. She wasn’t satisfied with that. She called another mutual friend and had her call me about my error. 

Now, I hadn’t known the first caller very long; I had known the second much longer.  We were very good friends and I was hurt that she had taken a side against me. After I explained the situation from my viewpoint, she became confused. She agreed that what I had done was not wrong but still was “disappointed” in me.  For what, I had no clue.

I confess to you that this was one of those times when God took over. I believe he literally put His hand over my mouth and kept it shut.  This was certainly not something my flesh did on its own! I found out later that the underlying problem was not with me.  The woman who initiated all this actually did not like the friend in the story and did not want her to get any accolades for Christian love and service! But the damage was done: my good friend (the second caller) and I were never as close as we were before that time. 

Though my heart was wounded, I refused to nurse any bitterness toward these two women.  One was a new Christian who was still living in the flesh; I knew she’d grow out of it with time, Bible study, and prayer.  The other was being deceived and I had to trust God to open her eyes.  Again, it was God who put this attitude in me. A few years later, just before she moved away, my friend confessed to me that she had been deceived by the other woman, that she’d been told things that simply were not true, and she apologized to me. She mourned over her mistake; I mourned over the years we had lost as intimate friends. 

In this story, God supernaturally kept my mouth shut, kept things from escalating, and put in my heart the desire to pray rather than retaliate. Oh, I could have shared a story about when I didn’t keep my mouth shut and things really blew up — but there were just too many of those stories to choose from! But I wanted to show you (and to remind myself) how faithful God is to fight our battles for us and to heal our wounded hearts.

Let me just say that James was absolutely right when he wrote that the tongue “is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts…”(3:8). The tongue is such a minor part of your body but it can do major damage to the Body. How much stronger the Body of Christ would be if all its tongues were kept under the control of the Spirit!

Author Kate McVeigh has said, “When you have a wounded heart, don’t nurse it or rehearse it, but curse it and disburse it, then God will reverse it!” That is so true!  It is also true that it’s easy to say but hard to do!  So I think I’ll just continue to seek God’s help, regularly praying, “Lord, please shut my mouth!” David put it much more eloquently when he wrote:

Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD;

keep watch over the door of my lips.

Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil…

Psalm 141:3-4a