By Mary Southerland, Crosswalk.com
My husband was a youth pastor for 13 years before becoming the lead teaching pastor of a church. I worked with the youth alongside Dan and loved every minute of it – well, most of the minutes. Part of Dan’s youth program was a yearly mission trip where high school students went to areas that needed help in some way. For example, some areas required physical labor to rebuild, remodel, or clean up the church building. We also went to places where we held vacation bible schools for children during the day and nightly concerts and worship services for the community. Every year was a different learning experience when faith was often discovered and certainly made stronger. A mission trip meant filling a Greyhound bus with teenagers, driving several hours each day until we stopped for the night at a hotel. A mission trip also presented a set of problems that had to be addressed by Dan. He was the youth pastor, and the buck did indeed stop with him.
One of those problems was the proverbial mission trip romance. Dan and I, along with several adult counselors, were all over that issue. We would discuss any potential concerns when we met each night after the kids were in bed. If we saw a possible problem, we would tell Dan that a hand check was in order. Dan had invented the hand check during our very first mission trip. Dan was and is a master at confronting problems with grace and humor. During each bus ride, Dan would randomly say, “Hand check!” from time to time, which meant every hand on that bus better immediately shoot straight up in the air, or there would be a shuffling of seat arrangements – girls sitting with girls and boys sitting with boys.
Over the years, I have often thought that a hand check would be a great Spiritual exercise. So would a heart check, a mind check, and an attitude check.
God created us with the need for touch. I know that is a sensitive subject in today’s world. And we certainly need to be aware of any touch that is harmful or destructive. But there is a touch that is healing. Medical experts and psychologists will testify that human touch is vital to the growth of the human mind. Babies that are held and lovingly touched thrive.
It took several years of marriage to learn that one of my husband’s love languages is touch. As a result, Dan will often sit down beside me and ask, “Honey, could you rub my back for a few minutes?” So admittedly, I can be a little slow when it comes to learning Spiritual truths. I thought Dan just liked to have his back rubbed and was always glad to do so. But one day, Dan looked at me while I was rubbing his back and said, “You don’t know that your touch is healing, do you?” I was floored. I had no idea what he was talking about. “I can be having a tough day, but your touch makes everything better. Your grandchildren always want to hug and snuggle with you wherever they get the chance. Even the older ones still do that. I don’t think they even know why they need your touch, but it really does make everything better,” Dan said. Hmm…
As I began to consider his words, I thought of my mother, a pediatric nurse. I can’t count the times I saw her calm a screaming baby with a whisper and just the touch of her hand. The louder the baby cried, the softer my mother’s touch and voice became. It was almost miraculous to watch. The touch of Jesus Christ is recorded throughout Scripture. He gave sight to the blind, made the lame to walk, restored the leper, and gave new life to those who were broken and desperate – often without a word, just his touch.
Maybe it is time for a hand check in your life. Who are you serving? Whose life are you touching with love, acceptance, and mercy?
How is your heart? I have learned a lot about the physical heart. In 2006 my husband went into cardiac arrest, and I enrolled in the “How to Take Care of Your Husband in AFib” school. Dan came out of the hospital with a defibrillator. The doctor told us the battery would need to be replaced in 7 or 8 years. That was forever – right? Until it wasn’t.
Dan and I were both exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep. As we lay in bed talking about our day, we heard a beeping sound. I dismissed it as a smoke detector in need of a new battery. Tomorrow. Dan came home from work with a mischievous smile on his face. “Everyone at work helped me figure out what the beeping sound was,” he said. “It’s my defibrillator battery.” After a quick call to the cardiologist, Dan was scheduled for surgery to replace the battery.
I shouldn’t be nervous. We both had been dealing with cardioversions and A-Fib for years. But for some reason, I was. I kissed Dan and told him to be a good patient as they wheeled him off to surgery. To date, Dan has had 51 cardioversions, two ablations, and one convergence procedure on his heart. So I shouldn’t be nervous. We ate procedures like this for breakfast. But I was. I found a corner of the waiting room to work and pray for Dan’s heart and the doctors working on it. But, unfortunately, God had a different plan in mind. “Mary, how is your heart?” I heard him say. What? My heart is fine. But I knew what he meant. I was burning the candle at both ends and had let my guard down. The enemy loves it when we do that because he can then draw us away from the light into the darkness of sin. My particular sin was bitterness and anger toward someone who had hurt me. It became a cherished sin that I refused to deal with and let go of. And that was the problem with my heart. In that moment – in that hospital waiting room – Jesus and I conducted some eternal business. I brought that hurt into the light of forgiveness and chose to let it go. For the first time in months, my heart felt free and right.
When the cardiologist came into the room, smiling, I took a deep breath of relief. Dan’s heart was good, and so was mine. Nevertheless, I have often thought of that day and have wished that my heart would “beep” when I am in Spiritual danger or need to take a time out to recharge.
The Holy Spirit immediately reminded me of the brilliant warning system God has given us – the Word of God. When we spend time each day in God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will alert us when we are on the verge of making the wrong choice or stepping off the cliff of obedience and faith into sin. It is the most powerful tool God has given us to guard our hearts and empower the way we live. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23, NIV). How’s your heart?
How is your thought life? If you have been a believer for very long, you have discovered just how hard it is to control your mind. Why? Because the mind is the front line of the battle for your Spiritual life. The enemy wants your thought life to reflect your old self, not the new life you received when you surrendered everything to Jesus. Satan knows how powerful your thought life is – if the Holy Spirit controls it. So, he will do whatever he can to gain control, stick his hairy toe (I’ve never seen it, but I think it is hairy) into the foothold created by the sinful choices we make. Proverbs 23:7 tells us, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (NASB). What we think about – we become. The enemy is delighted to bombard us with all the wrong thoughts and mask the bad choices we make as the best way out of whatever dark place we are in. Those wrong choices undermine the mind of Christ within us and make us easy targets for the enemy.
Our greatest weapon in the battle for control of our thought life is God’s Word. God’s truth provides the standard we need to put in place for the thoughts we entertain. It is like a Spiritual garbage disposal, and we need to use it. The Holy Spirit then takes truth and fights the battle for us.
“Think about the things that are good and worthy of praise; think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected.” (Philippians 4:8, NCV)
Every day we are presented with so many choices about what we allow to take up residence in our mind. But, unfortunately, I think we have been lulled into a monotonous routine and don’t take the time to examine what we watch, what we read, the conversations in which we participate … you get the idea. We need to fix our minds on Jesus Christ and his truth. Over the years, I have faced the reality that if the mind is not filled with the good things of God, the enemy will fill it with the bad things of his kingdom. The human mind is not passive. It will always set itself on something. Paul is challenging us to wisely choose that setting, taking charge of our thoughts by inviting the Holy Spirit to empower God’s standard for the mind.
My husband often says, “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair.” Yes, we will lose a skirmish here and there to control our thoughts, but all we need to do is check the source of the wrong ideas, eliminate it, confess those thoughts, and surrender once again to the Father. Then, he will honor that choice and empower us to think right so we can live right. How is your thought life?
I have to see my doctor every three months because of the pain medication I take for my back. At first, I didn’t mind the visits, but it is the same old routine every time. First, he checks my weight, blood pressure, heart rate and does blood work. Then he renews the prescription, and I am on my way. The last time I went in, I asked the doctor, “Do I really have to come every three months? Basically, everything is the same as it was the last time I came in.” Without even looking up from his computer where he was recording notes from the checkup, he said, “Only if you want to stay healthy.”
You may be thinking, do I need to check my heart, mind, and service? Only if you want to be a healthy Christian.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Pornpak Khunatorn
Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, Fit for Life, and 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.