By: Jenni Walker
“That they may be encouraged in heart, knit together in love, and filled with the full riches of complete understanding, so that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3)
“If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness [and gloom] shall be as the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:10-11)
* * * * *
Have you ever heard someone say, “You can’t be your best for others until you take time for yourself”? This sentiment is extremely common in our culture right now. Harried moms are told to “take time for themselves” so as not to lose track of “who they really are.” Wives are reminded to “keep loving themselves” because “no one is ever going to love you more than you love yourself” (Ilana Donna Arazie, The Real Deal on Finding Love). College students are advised to take at least one course each semester that they personally enjoy even if it is not a part of their degree plan because “constantly struggling at courses that are very challenging saps your strength and can, over time, undermine your confidence” (Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman, 15 Ways to Boost Your Confidence at College). Employees today, no matter what age, are being told that they cannot truly be good for their employers or themselves unless they “discover their own identity and inner confidence so they can unleash their full potential“ (Glenn Llopis, 5 Workplace Dynamics That Fuel An Employee Identity Crisis).
But do these cultural mantras align with a Biblical worldview?
I would like to propose that the answer is both no and yes.
“No one is ever going to love you more than you love yourself” is not Biblical. As Christians, our source of love and identity is anchored in the love described here in 1 John 3:1, which says “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are!” Neither is it wrong to want to grow in confidence and in a sense of self that is rooted in our identity in Christ and His strength at work in us for His purposes and glory (Ephesians 1:3-6). But constantly seeking to discover your “own identity and inner confidence” just so you can hit the ever-moving, often ambiguous target of unleashing your “full potential” can quickly begin to feel fruitless and empty.
Something Much Deeper
So what is a girl to do? Does the Bible tell us to “just suck it up and deal with it” when we feel begin to feel consumed by the responsibilities of family or work or life, or when we begin to feel like we are losing heart or lacking purpose in what we are doing day-in, day-out? No, it does not! But neither does it tell us to focus on “loving ourselves” in order to be our “best selves” for others. It is not wrong to want to take time for ourselves, but the problem comes when “self” becomes our primary focus! What the Bible does talk about is cultivating an encouraged heart, which comes from something much deeper and greater than ourselves. Paul writes in Colossians 2:2-3 that he hopes the readers of his letter “may be encouraged in heart, knit together in love, and filled with the full riches of complete understanding, so that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3) Encouraged, knit together, filled, full riches, hidden treasures…these are words of refreshing and fulfillment according to God’s design.
As Colossians 2 shows us, the Bible talks a lot about receiving encouragement and strength from one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. But it also describes the importance of receiving encouragement, guidance, comfort, and inspiration directly from God Himself! Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” In Isaiah 41:10, God says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
As women, it can be so easy for our souls to become weary, to let negative emotions begin to steer the ship of our day, and to feel spent from giving out, giving out, giving out. While God’s power is “made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9), and we are to always choose to keep our eyes on the Lord (Psalm 16:8), it is also incredibly important to have intentional times to receive strength and refreshment directly from Him. God even set this example for us by resting on the seventh day of creation and by Jesus going away to the mountains to pray.
Now here comes the big question that I know you all are wondering…HOW? How do we cultivate an encouraged heart that is honoring to the Lord in our relationships, in the workplace, in our service to others, in our everyday responsibilities, and in our creative pursuits?
Ladies, it starts with TIME.
Time?! you might be moaning inwardly. How can I find time for one more thing?
I am so glad you asked that question! 🙂 The four areas we are about to explore that can help us to receive encouragement for our hearts directly from the Lord do not necessarily need to be penciled into your day planner. These are four things that can happen in lieu of, or simultaneously with, something else! They can happen during your regular prayer time, while doing the dishes, driving in the car, while the kids are taking a nap, while on a short walk, hanging laundry up in the closet, working in the garden, taking a shower, on your lunch hour, between classes, waiting in the lobby of the dentist office…these four things will require resourcefulness, intentionality, and a bit of creativity! And the results will be a bit different for each one of us because we are all uniquely created by God. But I believe you will find your heart encouraged with a holy encouragement from the Lord as you begin to just do these four things and see what He ministers to your heart and mind!
1) Time to Read
It was one paragraph in an entire U.S. history social studies book. But my classroom of fifth graders and I voraciously discussed it each year for at least an entire class period. It was a paragraph describing the life of Lowell Mill Girls who worked in factories in the mid-1800’s. Did it describe them working to make money for their families? Yes. Did it explain the difficult working conditions? A little. But what struck my fifth grade scholars the most (and me!) was what these young women did at the end of their often fourteen hour work days: They read avidly, wrote poetry, attended academic lectures, held intellectual discussions of what they were reading, and even published their own writings in “The Lowell Offering.”
A factory and boardinghouse environment may not sound conducive to having an “encouraged heart” or finding the time to “get away to read.” What is most inspiring to me is that these girls made time, not only at the end of the day but even during their long and demanding work days. “Defying factory rules, operatives would affix verses to their spinning frames, ‘to train their memories,’ and pin up mathematical problems in the rooms where they worked.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lowell_Mill_Girls#Working_Class_Intellectual_Culture)
This is just one of many example of how time is there, but it must be found and used! And, what one Lowell Mill Girl described as an “ardent desire for knowledge” must be stoked and intentionally hungered for. Not only that, but great beauty, inspiration, and delight can be found in keeping your phone put away and, instead, taking time to feed your intellect and your soul with a choice book. “I am sure few possessed a more ardent desire for knowledge than I did,” says the Lowell Mill Girl, “but such was the effect of the long hour system, that my chief delight was, after the evening meal, to place my aching feet in an easy position, and read a novel.”
In addition to reading your Bible and a devotional, find something to read, and then treat it like a tray of chocolate samplers by grabbing a few moments here and there like the Lowell Mill Girls during and after their work day: read a poem with a cup of coffee on the back step for a moment, an illustrated children’s book from the library that your children passed over, an actual recipe book without pictures in it, a nonfiction biography, informational text about a topic you have wanted to explore, or that coffee table book you own but have not really looked at with rich photos of artwork, national parks, specific historical events, or ways of life in other cultures. Romans 12:11 tells us to not be “lagging in diligence” but to be “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Taking time to read can be a beautiful, God-honoring way to keep a fervent spirit! Be intentional to grow in knowledge, to learn from others, to stir your passions, and to gain inspiration.
2) Time to Think
“The devil has made it his business to monopolize on three elements: noise, hurry, crowds. He will not allow quietness.” (Elisabeth Elliot) Do you ever feel as though you barely have time to even think? If we allow it, the pace of life can become so hurried and hectic that when we have a moment of down time, we immediately turn to something that distracts us from the stress, whether scrolling through Instagram, turning on Netflix, or turning on the radio as we search for that perfect song that will make us feel better. But what if you kept your phone in your purse while waiting in the dentist office lobby and, instead, just observed the people around you or pulled out your Bible to linger on a specific passage you were reading that morning? What if you kept the radio off in the car and instead, “tuned in” to the root of your thoughts and emotions that day and prayerfully asked God to search your heart? What if, at the end of a busy day when the house is finally quieting down, you pulled out a notebook instead of turning on Netflix and began to make a specific list of things you want to model to your children and to intentionally teach them such as patience, a thankful attitude, and doing all things as unto the Lord? And then not only stopped at making the list but asked God for specific ideas and insights?
Is God Lord of your thoughts? Do you give Him mental space for Him to guide you with wisdom and understanding? I remember my mom telling us as kids that she “couldn’t raise a flea without God’s help.” And my mom was a really good mom. But she made sure that we knew that she was dependent on the Lord not only for strength but for the specifics of mothering and raising each one of us as a stay-at-home mom (who also later went back to working as a nurse and even went back for more schooling!) I have memories of riding around in the car as kids with her listening to radio broadcasts about godly parenting. My brother and I came across a notebook on a shelf in the garage recently full of prayers written by my mom for us as children. Ladies, we have to take time to reflect, to think, to pray, to ask for, and then to receive, wisdom from the Holy Spirit! Some of the most powerful prayers and creative solutions happen when we are intentional to give ourselves time to ponder situations, to think deeply, to meditate on Scripture, and to not allow noise and hurry to clutter our minds in ways that inhibit the ability to think clearly! Proverbs 4:26 commands us, “Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.” Take time today to think quietly, to put away distractions, and to “give careful thought to the paths for your feet.”
3) Time to Listen
Another important way to receive encouragement for your heart from the Lord is to take time to listen! This can take on many forms such as listening to uplifting music, podcasts, or sermon messages while making dinner; creating a quiet space in which to hear your own thoughts (either with a quiet environment or in the way described in the “Time to Think” section); developing your listening skills as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter, as a friend, as a sister in Christ; and taking time to listen to the still small voice of God through His Word, prayer, and specific guidance from the Holy Spirit.
The Bible frequently reminds us as followers of Christ to take time to “hear.” Proverbs 4:1 is a beautiful example of this, saying “Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding.” Proverbs 5:1 gives a similar command to “pay attention to my wisdom” and to “lend your ear to my understanding.” As we have already looked at together, taking time to read and time to think are two important ways to receive godly encouragement, inspiration, and guidance for our hearts. But taking time to listen is a proactive practice that helps us know how to take specific action! How do we put into practice what we read in the Bible? How do we use the knowledge and insights we gain from what we read? And what do we do with those specific promptings and wisdom we receive from taking time to think unhurriedly? Wholehearted women of God, we must make a practice of taking time to listen.
One of the most powerful ways to do this that I have found is through the form of what Signa Bodishbaugh calls “listening prayer.” (I highly recommend her book entitled The Journey to Wholeness in Christ!) You will need your Bible, a journal or notebook and a pen, and an area as free of distraction as possible. The process involves reading a short passage of Scripture and “dialoguing with the Lord” in writing about it. For example, perhaps you read Psalm 119:132-133, which says, “Look upon me and be merciful to me, as Your custom is toward those who love Your name. Direct my steps by Your word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me.” From there, your listening prayer in your journal may look something like this:
Me: Lord, help me to quiet my heart and to listen to what You want me to hear through Your holy Word today. Father, thank you that no matter what is going on, you look upon me and are merciful to me. I do so love Your name, but lately I feel as though my attitude in response to small stressors throughout the day has been negative and not representative of my love for You. What is going on inside my heart in this area?
(At this point, you stop writing and listen. This takes discipline and trust, but the entrance of God’s Word gives light, and His Holy Spirit lives inside of you. He will speak to you as you allow Him to search your heart! Take a step, and begin to write God’s truth as His voice speaking directly to you.)
God: Jenni, I know your heart. I see every part of it, and I direct your steps by My Word. In those times when you find yourself responding with a harsh word or a resentful attitude, take those feelings to Me with a repentant heart for any selfishness, pride, or bitterness. And then courageously put Romans 12:2 into action by being “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Fill yourself with My truth about My unfailing love, about My light that shines in this world through you, and about My grace that is sufficient for you in all things!
Me: Father, I know Philippians 2:14-16 commands us to do everything without complaining or arguing. Help me to hold fast to Your Word in this area through Your strength. I cannot do this on my own, and I do not want any iniquity to have dominion over me. But I know that greater is He who is in me than He who is in the world, and You are the One who is sanctifying me by Your truth!
This practice of listening prayer does not need to be written as a dialogue like this. It can simply be in the form of a heart prayer and then a written Scripture, list, or specific application that God ministers directly to your heart. Beth and I have both used this regularly in different seasons of life and incorporated elements of it into our women’s study of Elisabeth Elliot’s Let Me Be a Woman, too. But I don’t have time! you may be thinking to yourself. Honestly, this sort of in-depth prayer journaling may not be a part of your quiet time every single day. But it something that should be prioritized! I love the description of Jesus getting away from the crowds to be alone and to pray in Mark 1;35-37: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed. Simon and His companions went to look for Him, and when they found Him, they exclaimed, ‘Everyone is looking for you!’” That solitary place may be sitting in your quiet car for lunch one day, slipping away for a walk around the neighborhood without your phone or headphones, picking one day of the week to wake up a half hour earlier, having an attitude of listening prayer in the shower, or if your children are old enough, simply telling them that this is mommy’s time with Jesus and that they can play by themselves for a half hour. Even if you feel like “everyone is looking for you!” entrust the details to the Lord and ask Him to help you take time to listen.
And finally, as we practice being listeners through God’s Word and receiving encouragement directly from Him, we will begin to find that our hearts are more buoyant, more grateful, and more attuned to our relationships with others and to the beauty right around us: music, podcasts, or sermons will hold an extra nugget of encouragement. The sound of your children’s laughter will delight your heart readily. You may glean extra inspiration from a professor’s lecture or that school project! The sound of your husband singing in the shower will bless your heart all the more. You will see that crabby stranger in line at the grocery store through God’s eyes as someone who needs His grace just like you. The rustling of the wind in the trees might draw your thoughts upward toward the vastness of our Heavenly Father’s creation and His intimate care for it. The crackle of the fireplace may even spark a God-given idea in you. When we take the time to listen, we begin to receive understanding that permeates every part of our lives and gives life to our souls (Proverbs 3:22)! As Psalm 119:130 puts it, “The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”
4) Time to Feel
Sally sat idly scrolling from post to post on her Facebook feed, smiling occasionally at the post of a family member’s new baby photos or viral video, eyes intrigued by a friend’s living room makeover or homemade gourmet meal, or furrowing her brow slightly at the titles of some of the dramatic news article links. After awhile, she sighs and looks around her bedroom. It is quiet, and she doesn’t like it. Life has felt mundane and even a little tumultuous lately. A recent death in the family. A close friend moving out of state. An unexpected doctor’s visit. Feeling a nagging worry that a specific desire of her heart may never actually come to pass. She picks up her phone again and sees a text from her out-of-state friend. “How are you?” “I’m doing fine! (Winking smiley face emoticon, confetti) My new little cousin is so cute, and I found a new recipe I want to try! (Excited smiley face emoticon, fork, sunshine) How are you? (Heart emoticon) Anything new?” Sally sighs again as she puts down the phone and turns on the television. At least Netflix can keep her company…
Did you know that God wants us to have watered hearts? He says in Isaiah 44:3, “For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring.” Our culture is crying out right now for something that is real. As wholehearted followers of Jesus Christ, it is so important that we live our faith authentically and be genuine with others. The final component of cultivating an encouraged heart from the Lord and for His purposes is taking the time to feel. This does not mean expressing every feeling or thought that comes our way, nor does it mean that we regularly act on our feelings. Rather, it means that we take the time to be honest about what is below the surface. Like Sally, many of us try to find little ways to feel happy or positive on the surface but underneath are carrying around unaddressed grief, heart wounds, uncertainties, shame, discontentment, and questions not yet answered. When we avoid them and do not honestly let ourselves feel them so that God can address those deep areas of our heart, it actually becomes difficult to experience deep joys, true beauty, and to live from a place of unwavering hope in the Lord.
So take time to let your heart be stirred deeply! One of the things I have had to address in my own heart is my desire for my husband and me to have children of our own. We started trying a few years ago, and the process has taken longer than we planned for. Off-and-on disappointment, lingering grief, and two minor out-patient surgeries later, my heart has been through a lot. It would be so easy to close up my heart, to stop hoping for fear of disappointment, or to grow resentful or embittered that I have not gotten pregnant yet. Tests look good, and there is every reason to expect that we will still be able to get pregnant in the near future. But the Bible talks about how “hope deferred makes the heart grow sick” (Proverbs 13:12). What is a wholehearted woman to do when her heart has suffered?
Remember how I said earlier that God wants to water our hearts? We must let Him do this relentlessly! Open up your heart to Him! Let Him be the One who ministers His hope, His peace, His truth, His assurance, His love directly to your heart, and then wait and see what He does. The second part of Proverbs 13:12 says that “a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” God will give you the strength to hope because our hope is in Him! He will encourage your heart with a sense of holy expectancy and help you delight in Him even in times of disappointment (Psalm 37:4)! He will cleanse the grief and the wounds of your heart and quiet you with His love (Zephaniah 3:17).
In 1 Samuel 1, a woman named Hannah who had no children went to the tabernacle of the Lord to pray. “And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish” (verse 11). Her expression of grief was so intense that when Eli the priest saw her there, he thought she was intoxicated. She responded to him saying, ”No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine no intoxicating drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord” (verse 15). Wholehearted women of God, we must take the time to feel, to be honest with what is going on in our hearts, and, like Hannah, to pour out our souls before the Lord! As I personally have walked through this season, I have found strength of heart directly from the Lord through passages such those about Hannah in 1 Samuel 1-2 and this one found in Psalm 31:7 and 24: “I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy, for You have considered my trouble; You have known my soul in adversities [and troubles]…Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”
The state of my heart right now is that of a watered garden waiting to bloom, and that is only because of the ongoing work of my loving and ever-gracious Heavenly Father! Though I have been walking through times of pain, and grief that is at times felt acutely, my heart is still open and receptive to beauty. All praise goes to Him as I intentionally take the time to feel the longing of this God-given desire when a certain song stirs my heart. Several in particular are from the Little Women soundtrack. They absolutely brings me to tears almost every time I hear it, but the tears are cleansing and stir a sense of anticipation inside of me. God can also use not only His Word but nature, art, close relationships, music, and so much more to water a heart placed unwaveringly into His loving hands. In addition to time in His Word, I choose to let my heart be watered and my soul stirred by the beauty and grace found in music, poetry, nature, the nostalgia of a particular hobby, a heart-to-heart talk with my husband, Facetimeing with family, a cup of coffee with a friend, watching a movie full of inspiration (a personal favorite is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), and so much more! Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the Lord, and He heart me, and delivered me from all my fears; they looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed.” God is glorified when we look to Him in all things! He wants to make us a radiant people who are a living testament to His faithfulness!
Springs of Water
There is one more “key ingredient” to an encouraged heart that enhances all the others which we have talked about. We have looked at four things that we as wholehearted women can take the time to do to have an encouraged heart rooted in the strength that comes directly from Him and the work of Christ in us. But our Heavenly Father calls us to not just stop there!
We began this post by asking if the statement “You can’t be your best for others until you take time for yourself” is a Biblical one. Jean Twenge, author of the book entitled Generation Me, points out that “young people have been consistently taught to put their own needs first and to focus on feeling good about themselves” (Generation Me, p. 7). The goal of an encouraged heart is not simply to “feel good” about ourselves. The “self” cannot become our main focus! Although God cares deeply about our individual hearts, cultivating an encouraged heart by God’s design does not stop with us! Do you want a watered heart? Keep the eyes of your heart fixed on Him and on how He wants to use you to be poured out for others! It is in this pouring out that we ourselves also receive strength! As we conclude, take the time to read, to think, to listen, and to feel the message of Isaiah 58:10-11: “If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness [and gloom] shall be as the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”
Beautiful and wholehearted women of God, let’s take time and make time to read, to think, to listen, and to feel as God cultivates an encouraged heart in each of us! May our hearts each be like the watered garden described in Isaiah 58:11 that springs forth with waters that do not fail. And remember that the source of our encouragement is both from, and for, something much deeper and Someone much greater than ourselves!
* * * * *