Emotions are a confusing issue in the evangelical world. It seems we jump to one of two extremes: either we rely heavily on our emotions, sacrificing truth; or we relegate them to the flesh in suppressed denial. Neither extreme is healthy and I wonder if perhaps both lead to the same emotion–bitterness. Tuesday we discussed the problems with allowing wounds to fester. Our wounds fester when we rehash them again and again, working the perceived injustice in our mind until it consumes our every thought. But I believe suppressed denial follows a similar path, the traveler’s journey is just a bit quieter. For a time, anyway, until those swallowed-down, pent-up emotions grow to the point of explosion. Then, watch out! There she blows–only it normally isn’t the inciting incident that leads to explosion. It’s a pen that ran out of ink, a driver going too slow on the freeway, or an unsuspecting spouse who happens to glance right when they should have glanced left.

Because of this, many opt for a get-it-off-your-chest, tell-all approach. When we lived in California, I participated in a Mom’s Club. This was the approach they opted for, and every meeting ended the same–in increased anger and bitterness as each of us fueled one another’s furry. Normally one mom would start us off, launching into the latest injustice performed by her spouse. Before long, everyone joined in the vent-fest, matching one another story-for-story. Only problem, by the time we were done, everyone felt worse, not better. No resolutions had been reached and the venting that was supposed to “get things off our chest” only added kindling to the smoldering fire.

One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

According to this verse, there’s no room for venting…to one another. But we can and should vent to God.

This is the behavior I see demonstrated by David again and again. When you read through 1 Samuel, you’ll notice he didn’t spend his time bashing Saul. He could have, and likely would have found a sympathetic audience. Instead, David spoke well of Saul! Now that’s a tough one to swallow. If it had been me, sadly, I would have thrown a few pity parties, inviting everyone to come! But David didn’t do that. Instead, he turned to the only One who could truly help–God. Then, he held absolutely nothing back. He poured his heart out to God with raw, unhindered, unmasked honesty, openly acknowledging the depths of his pain, asking God to help him, hold him, carry him and strengthen him.

I believe a false notion has crept into Christianity. We believe faith is the absence of fear and praise is the absence of pain.

According to John C. Hutchison, author of Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong, rejoicing in sufferings isn’t celebrating the trial or pain, but instead, celebrating the God who carries you through it: “The biblical teaching of joy or rejoicing has more to do with a confidence in one’s convictions than it does with emotion…When we rejoice in suffering, it is an expression of faith, a conviction that God is in control and that He is doing something constructive and good through this experience. Our en-joy-ment as Christians is in the belief that God is at work in our midst.” (pg 60)

Throughout the psalms, this is what David did. He didn’t celebrate the pain or injustice. His praise centered on who God was, what He’d done in the past, and what David believed He would do in the future. There appears to be an oft repeated pattern to David’s prayers.

1. He openly and honestly vented to God:

Psalm 142:1-4 (NIV)

I cry aloud to the LORD;
I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.
2 I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble.

3 When my spirit grows faint within me,
it is you who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
people have hidden a snare for me.
4 Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.

Psalm 102:3-11

For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
5 In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.
6 I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
7 I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.
8 All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
9 For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears
10 because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
11 My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.

Psalm 109:1-5

My God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
2 for people who are wicked and deceitful
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
3 With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.
4 In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.
5 They repay me evil for good,
and hatred for my friendship.

Notice, these are not words of celebration. They are words of deep anguish and depression.

2. Next, David changes his focus, off the problem and placed it on God. This is when his pain turns to praise, not for the situation, but instead, for God’s steadfast, all-powerful, loving character:

Psalm 142:5

I cry to you, LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”

God is His refuge.

Psalm 102: 12-17

12 But you, LORD, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations.
13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favor to her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For her stones are dear to your servants;
her very dust moves them to pity.
15 The nations will fear the name of the LORD,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
16 For the LORD will rebuild Zion
and appear in his glory.
17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.

God is powerful, glorious and sovereign and listens to the prayers of His children.

3. Then he asks God for help. The psalms provide numerous examples of this, but in order to spare you another 1,000 or so words, I’ll let you look them up yourself. Read through the psalms and notice if you don’t see a similar pattern. God recorded David’s prayers for a reason. I believe they serve as models to us.

To recap, when David experienced deep emotional pain he:

1. Refused to vent to others

2. He shared his feelings openly and honestly with God

3. He focused on God’s character (who God is)

4. He asked God for help

I believe these steps allowed him to deal effectively with his emotions, enabling him to heal completely. I believe the same is possible for us, although I don’t think forgiveness is  always, nor a one-time event. I often use the term, “fighting to forgiveness” to describe this continual process. Come back Tuesday to learn the meaning of this phrase, why forgiveness often resembles a determined fight, and how we can stay in the ring until the victory bell chimes.

I pause with my hands on the steering wheel to suck in a few breaths of air, then scan the church parking lot. Daphni’s red Toyota sits a few stalls away, glimmering in the early evening sun. A wave of bitterness washes over me as our previous conversation comes to mind. I shake it off.

Forgive and forget. Love, joy, peace, patience.

And if not love, a steady dose of tolerance–or duck tape.

Yeah, I know. Not loving, but Lord, help me out here. You remember what she said. You’ve seen how many times she’s slammed on me, with that painted smile of hers and those narrowed eyes–as if she’s Your gift to the entire congregation.

A familiar passage fills my find, adding a twinge of guilt to my already heightened senses.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matthew 5:43-46 NIV)

I sigh, jump out and lock my van. Footsteps shuffle behind me. I turn and smile as Yana approaches with her three children.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” She smoothes a stray lock of hair in place.

“Absolutely lovely.” I lift my voice to hide the bitterness fermenting within and cast a glance to the metal door leading to the fellowship hall. Forgive and forget. Gentleness, patience…love. Good thing love is an action, not an emotion.

But then there is David from the Old Testament.

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Relax, that story was fictional. I’m not secretly seething every time I go to church, but I have struggled with bitterness and unforgiveness on occasion. And in those moments when my blood boils and negative thoughts fill my head, I console myself with the oft quote phrase, “Love is an action, not an emotion.” But then I read 2 Samuel 1.

For years, David served Saul faithfully, but Saul mistreated him again and again. Saul promised David his daughter’s hand in marriage if he killed the Philistine warrior, Goliath, but come time, he gave her to someone else. Even so, David remained faithful, playing music for Saul when agitation set in. Over time, Saul’s anger and jealousy grew, until he began to hunt his trusted servant. David fled, hiding in caves, among the Philistines, and where ever he could to flee Saul’s wrath. Again and again, he had the opportunity to slay Saul, but again and again he refused, vowing to never harm the Lord’s anointed.

Rationally, we can accept this. David doesn’t murder Saul because he’s trusted God to exact revenge. It’s easy to lay down your sword if you think someone else will pick it up. But then we get to 2 Samuel 1 and read about the moment David learns of Saul’s death.

Put yourself in David’s position. You’ve lived on the run for so long, you can’t remember what peace feels like. You’ve been slandered, cheated and mistreated, and now, after countless nights of anguished prayers, your enemy is dead. How would you feel? What would you do? Would you rejoice or mourn?

David mourned. Granted, much of his mourning was for the loss of Jonathan, his dearest friend, who was also killed. But he mourned for Saul as well. In fact, he didn’t just mourn. He composed a song. (You can read it here.)

In the NLT, he calls Saul Israel’s pride and joy. Does that sound like an embittered man?

As I read 2 Samuel 1 this morning, having followed the story from 1 Samuel 16, when David was anointed, to 1 Samuel 17 when David slew Goliath, to 1 Samuel 19 when Saul tried to kill him, and on and on, I was a bit taken aback to see David display such genuine love for his enemy. One question burned: How did he do it? How did he overcome the bitterness I know had to spark at least on one occasion.  What enabled him to forgive so deeply, so completely, that his bitterness turned to love?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could travel back in time and ask him ourselves? Unfortunately, we can’t. But we can compare and contrast his attitude and responses from other biblical characters, including Saul, who took the opposite approach, and allowed bitterness to consume them. But I’m not going to be able to do that in one post. (Otherwise I’d break the cardinal rule of blogging–never go over 1,000 words.  lol) Over the next week or so, we’ll talk about the effects of bitterness, and steps we can take to move past it.

Emotions are a funny thing. Often it seems they have a mind of their own, and we poor, emotionally-driven humans are helplessly carried along in their unpredictable current. But I don’t think that’s the case, at least, not entirely. Our emotions are largely triggered by our thought processes, and vice versa. As we align our thoughts with the truth of God’s word, and turn to Him in prayer, He begins to align our emotions to match. It’s not a get-happy-quick deal. Quite the contrary. It takes diligence and determination, but I believe bitterness free living is possible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions on this, and make sure to come back next post to discuss the destructiveness of bitterness. When we’re fueled by anger, we feel like we have the upper hand, but in truth, we are enslaved.

But Christ wants so much more for us. He died to set us free!



This is Edwina’s second devo to make it to my top 20 of 2010. You all loved her first one, and I am certain you will be equally refreshed by today’s. She has a lovely way with words and a tender heart for God.

Edwina’s devo reminds us where our true value and beauty lie. We are valuable because God says we are. He formed us in love, and continues to form us every day. If you are in Christ–if you have confessed your sins and turned from them, believing Jesus is God’s sinless Son who died and rose from the dead–for you, and have committed yourself to following Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life–then you are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.

I’ve heard it said, the closer you grow to Christ, the more you realize your need for Him. This is certainly true in my life. I know rationally that I have grown and changed in positive ways, but my sin is ever before me. Not a day goes by that I don’t do something, think something, say something, that sends me running to my Savior asking for forgiveness. Yet even then, there is a deep peace and comfort knowing He loves me deeply and has washed me clean. That is the profound mystery of the gospel–in Christ, a sinner such as me has been made clean, righteous, fit to stand before a holy God. Not because of anything I’ve done, but because of what Jesus Christ did for me. And because of the blood that was shed for me, when God the Father looks at me, He sees Christ. Thank you, Lord Jesus, and happy birthday!

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“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matt. 13:45-46 NIV)

Some time ago, I dreamt about a chest, similar to a pirate’s chest, which was sitting on a table.  The chest was stunning, made of rich mahogany wood and the hinges were shining, pure gold.  Upon opening the chest, I discovered jewels of every kind and color imaginable.  Deep red rubies, sky-blue aquamarines, sparkling diamonds, purple amethysts.  Multi-colored opals, tigers’ eyes, onyx.  Citrines, garnets, pearls and emeralds.  There were rings, necklaces, brooches, earrings, bracelets and loose gems.  The chest was so full that when I opened it, the jewels spilled out, cascading onto the table.  Rays of sunlight splashed onto the jewels, making their colors even richer and sending fragments of rainbow hues over the table. 

I believe this is how God looks at us – as a vessel, a chest, if you will – full of jewels.  He looks at our heart and sees a sparkling blood-red ruby.  Other than the diamond, the ruby is the hardest gem known to man.  Natural rubies have imperfections in them, just like our hearts do.  But when God looks at our heart, He doesn’t see the hardness or imperfections.  He sees the strength of the heart, the power of the beat, both of which come from Him.  He pours His love for us into our ruby hearts. 

God looks at our lungs and because He breathes His life into us, he sees sparkling diamonds that are clear and pure.  When diamonds are moved in the light, they become “alive” as the clarity – the clearness – refracts into multi-facets.  As we breathe and move in Him who is alive within us, our lives should be clear and transparent so others can see Jesus in us. 

When our Father looks into our eyes, He sees jewels of different colors – golden amber, brilliant aquamarine, emerald green, deep dark onyx.  If the eyes are truly the window to our souls, as some say, just imagine the beauty God sees as He looks at our souls through our eyes.

When God looks at you, He sees who He created you to be – not the person you see when you look into the mirror.  He doesn’t see the flaws you see – He sees your ruby heart of gentleness and kindness.  He doesn’t see the lackluster of your diamond lungs – He sees you sharing Him when you gave that homeless man money for a meal.  He doesn’t see the weaknesses in your soul – He sees His strength working in and through you.  He doesn’t remember that sin you confessed because He cast it into the depths of the sea, never to be remembered again.

God sees each of us as a jewel – we are jewels in His eyes.  And He considers us to be the Pearl of Great Price.(see Matt. 13:45-46 KJV)  God gave away His most precious possession, His Son, to purchase us – the Pearls of Great Price. He has placed a high price on you and on me because we are so valuable to Him.  Pearls shine with a luster and glow and our lives, even our countenance shines because of Who lives within us.

So when our Abba Father looks at us, He sees beauty, value and worth. He sees rubies, diamonds, emeralds and onyx.  He sees jewels and the Pearls of Great Price.   Because that is who we are to Him.

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Edwina has written numerous articles. Many have been published on various websites including the Houston Examiner and the Midsouth Diocese of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Her short story, “Katie’s Story: A Story of Redemption and Love” was published in 2009. A second short story, “The Front Porc” has just been published in Skinned Knees and Skate Keys. Edwina updates her blog three times a week.

She is a member of American Christian FictionWriters, Writers of Remarkable Design, and member of the Southside W.O.R.D. She is also a member of Christian Writers United, a writing group within her community.  Visit Monarch Ministries to find out more about Edwina and her heart for God and women.

To repeat my normal, too-oft repeated reminder, if you like this devotion fb share it, “like” it, tweet it or leave a comment. Come the end of the month, I’ll tally everything up and reveal our top three of 2010!

During the holidays, our stress levels mount and those little things that used to be easily overlooked suddenly weigh on us like heavily-decked barbells. Family members gather in closely confined areas, bringing with them their quirks, inconsiderate tendencies, and baggage–a recipe for disaster which is fueled to explosion if we bring with us even the slightest hint of unresolved anger. That comment Aunt Bertha made ten years back? Yep, out it pops, swirling through our memory, along with all those sarcastic jokes that fly off Uncle George’s tongue.

So, what can you do? Hide away in your nice, safe, non-confrontational closet. (Oh, that sounds so nice! J/K. Almost) How about you drop a few suitcases and make the effort to travel light? This season, add a dash of forgiveness to your plate. (You might also be interested in an article Bruce Hebel wrote for Reflections.)

Today’s devotion comes from Edwina Cowgill. As you read over her wise words, ask God to show you festering wounds that need amputating by the scalpel of forgiveness.

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A few weeks ago, a dear friend made a comment that caused me to stop and think. She said, “It’s a season of forgiveness, a season of friendship, a season of new starts. One act of forgiveness can change the outcome of a life.”

I believe there are certain “levels” of offense. Before you scream in protest “An offense is an offense is an offense…” let me say that this is not based on Scripture but on years of observing and counseling people:

Level 1: Offenses of No Significance: An example of this would be the “grocery cart bump,” where someone who is in a great hurry accidently bumps another person’s cart. The bumper says to the bumpee “excuse me” and most normal, sane people will answer “no problem” or some other acknowledgement and life goes on.

Level 2: Offenses of Minor Significance: After you have worked for hours and hours in your yard, your neighbor, who just happens to be married to the Chairperson of the Landscaping Committee for the homeowners association, wins the “Yard of the Month Award” and rubs your nose in that fact.

Level 3: Significant Offenses: Perhaps a significant offense would be when a dear friend, or a spouse makes an extremely unkind remark about you. Extremely unkind.

Level 4: Offenses of Major Significance: With this level, begin the wounds that usually change a person’s life. A spouse leaves his/her family for another person. A teenager rebels and begins a life of addiction.

Level 5: Offenses of Grave Significance: Wounds of grave significance are usually wounds that are inflicted on a person in their early years as a toddler or young school age child. These wounds are normally caused by a parent or a major caregiver in the life of a child. Sometimes, these wounds are buried by the child and forgotten until something later in life triggers the memory of that wound. For that adult, it is as if their entire body is being ripped in two and everything they thought was buried has been dug up. These types of wounds range from abuse to absentee parent(s) to never being accepted and loved unconditionally by one or both parents.

If there are levels of offense, then it would stand to reason that there are levels of forgiveness. Right? Wrong. Forgiveness is forgiveness. And as Christians, we are commanded to forgive. It’s not an option. And it’s serious business. Jesus said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

I don’t think the language can get much clearer than that! If we forgive people who offend and hurt us, God will forgive us our offenses. If we don’t forgive people who offend and hurt us, God will not forgive us our offenses.

There’s not a cap on the number of times we are to forgive. Again in the book of Matthew, we read this: Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Someone is probably thinking, “So if I forgive someone 490 times (70 x 7) and they offend me for the 491st time, I don’t have to forgive them? No. Jesus used those numbers to illustrate the fact that there is no limit on the number of times we must forgive those who offend us.

But what if the wound is one of those of grave significance? Must we forgive that person too? Absolutely. If we want our sins forgiven, we must forgive those who sinned against us. But how can one forgive the person who wounded them so deeply that their entire life was affected by that wound?

Many years ago, I heard an excellent teaching on forgiveness. The teacher had been wounded deeply. She shared that she had learned to pray “make me willing to be willing to forgive.” You see, she had learned an invaluable lesson on forgiveness. Sometimes we are not able to forgive on our own. Maybe it’s because the wound is too deep and the hurt is too great. Whatever the reason, we are not able to forgive. The Bible says that “God looks on the heart.” Even though this teacher was not able to forgive on her own, God heard her prayer of “make me willing to be willing to forgive.” He looked at her heart and knew she wanted to forgive. He had compassion and mercy on her and answered her prayer. Soon, she was able to pray, “Make me willing to forgive.” And God answered her prayer again and she reached the point of saying “I forgive….”

I’ve used this prayer myself many times in my life. I fully believe God understands and knows my heart when I pray this prayer. He knows I realize I must forgive that person but at that moment in time, I am unable to forgive on my own. Thus, I ask for His help and He answers. As I become more willing, forgiveness appears on the horizon and eventually becomes full blown in my heart.

If you have been wounded, at any level, I encourage you to begin to forgive. It may not be easy. It can be an uphill battle. Pray the “willingness” prayer. Begin to be willing to be willing to forgive. God will help you. He will walk with you every step of the way until forgiveness is full blown in your heart. With forgiveness comes healing.

Oh, yes. When is the season of forgiveness? Every day.

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Edwina has written numerous articles. Many have been published on various websites including the Houston Examiner and the Midsouth Diocese of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Her short story, “Katie’s Story: A Story of Redemption and Love” was published in 2009. A second short story, “The Front Porc” has just been published in Skinned Knees and Skate Keys. Edwina updates her blog three times a week.

She is a member of American Christian FictionWriters, Writers of Remarkable Design, and member of the Southside W.O.R.D. She is also a member f Christian Writers United, a writing group within her community.  Visit Monarch Ministries to find out more about Edwina and her heart for God and women.

To repeat my normal, too-oft repeated reminder, if you like this devotion fb share it, “like” it, tweet it or leave a comment.

About a month ago, I made a promise to you all that I would be authentic. No false superhuman Christianity acting like I had it all together. Well, today’s the day–the day when I don’t have it all together and the inside of my heart resembles a nasty old garbage can rather than the cleansed vessel it is designed to be. And as a result, my worship and prayer time has been dead. Cold. Emotionless and forced. And although I’m tempted to hide out in the shadows until this ugly monster is sufficiently tamed, authenticity and transparency doesn’t work on an agenda.

Last night at church we talked about how much deeper we feel things involving our children. We may give up our place in line or a new pair of shoes, but it feels like our world’s ended when our child is asked to do the same. Just watch the face of any parent whose seen their child drop an ice cream cone. Or even worse, watch a daddy who’s being told about a school bully. All talk of forgiveness and turning the other cheek goes flying out the window.

So that’s where I am, only God is starting to break through. He has a funny way of doing that. Of gently, yet consistently reminding me that I am the adult–the one He has chosen to train this child entrusted to my care. Not just how to make her bed or how to follow a budget, but how to live life. Most specifically, how to live the Christian life. And living the Christian life means forgiving the unforgivable, biting our tongue when we want to lash out, and demonstrating the unconditional, no-strings-attached, love of Christ.

It’s funny how much time we spend training our kids on so many inconsequentials. We’ll make sure they can catch a ball by three, can ride their bike by six, and can slam dunk by fourteen. And we’d never dream of handing them a calculus book, saying,  “Call me once you’ve figured it out.” But somehow when it comes to relationships, we think they’ve got it down. Like at twelve, thirteen–even sixteen, they’ll suddenly know how to make wise decisions and communicate effectively. But then thirty-five roles around and they’re throwing the same childish fits and pulling the same manipulative pranks we saw at twelve. But then again, if they’ve never been trained, should we really expect any different?

So that’s what I did today–I trained. And it wasn’t easy. Even though everything in me wanted to feed the bear, I fought it back and sought out my daughter. I think she’s grown to hate those, “We need to talk”, conversation starters. Almost as much as I hate starting them. Encouraging her to take the high road even if she didn’t want to, even if her heart fought against it, was even harder than fighting back my own dragon. But when she was done making that phone call we both dreaded, we were able to talk about it, with peace, knowing that God would take care of the rest.

In Kristen Heitzmann’s latest novel, Indivisible, one of the characters provides an interesting analogy. He equates our warring emotions to two wolves. One wolf is that of bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness. The other wolf is love, grace, and forgiveness. And, according to Jay, (the character who made the statement) the wolf that wins is the one you feed. How true that is! So starting today, I’m going to actively work on starving the wolf of bitterness so that my other wolf–my loving, gracious and forgiving wolf–will grow stronger. No matter how loud the mean wolf’s tummy growls. And even more importantly, I’m going to purposefully train my daughter to do the same.