My Sanctified Addiction

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We’re only a couple of weeks into it but the new year is not off to a great start.
It could be worse of course, but it could also be better. The problem with the new year is that it follows Christmas. We’re pressured to make resolutions right after a time of uninhibited gluttony and drunkenness. Which begs the question. Why must the season of excess be immediately followed by a time of gut-wrenching restraint?

I had almost gotten my coke addiction under wraps. But then Christmas came along bringing its annual barrage of stress. I can’t drink beer anymore. Wine is out of the picture. Liquor and I never did mix well, no pun intended. Some would say that I could drink beer or liquor if I wanted too because we’re not under law but under grace. My current attitude to alcohol is best summed up in a quote by William Shakespeare: “Oh thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou has no name to be known by, let us call thee devil.”

The truth is, I have no desire to drink the stuff. I never did like the taste of it. The taste of coke or pepsi is another matter entirely. I actually read somewhere that this drink was originally concocted by a doctor. Such a discovery gave me hope that perhaps the drink is not as unhealthy as we are sometimes led to believe. I could wish it were the healthiest drink on earth. It would be better for my conscience and also my stomach. But alas I fear that some of the scientific studies are correct.

Can I then judge smokers? What is the sin with tobacco smoking? A. It’s unhealthy. B. It’s addicting. The trouble I’m having is that those two criteria can probably be applied to my favourite carbonated soda. Ouch. A case could be made as to the difference in degrees. Yes, coke is unhealthy but probably not nearly as unhealthy as smoking. Yes, people get addicted to coke but don’t they also get addicted to food in general. I absolutely refuse to give up food. I simply will not do it. I know people who have and it didn’t end well for them. I can’t believe it’s possible to be addicted to salads. Must I restrict my diet to food that is green and leafy and tasteless? As Job said, “Can flavourless food be eaten without salt, or is there any taste in the white of an egg?” (Job 6:6) Thanks Job. Now I’m craving bacon.

My problem is that I carry two labels that constantly tempt me toward perfectionism. Firstly, I am a Christian. Secondly, I am a pastor. Should I not then have victory, even over the slightest of temptations? Shouldn’t I be praying instead of watching the hockey game while sipping on a cold glass of coke and munching on a bag of chips? Should a man who preaches God’s Word every Sunday indulge in a second bowl of ice cream or spend his hard earned money on a chocolate bar? The money for the chocolate bar could have been given to the poor. It almost sounds like something Judas would say doesn’t it? Many people in the  world don’t have the bare necessities much less a chocolate chip cookie and a pound of bacon.

Perhaps I am dodging the issue. The real problem is sugar. I love it. I can scarcely get enough of it. I consider it my sanctified addiction. I’m not yet to the point where I stash sugary treats away in hidden corners of the house. There’s really no need for that. My wife likes it too, which is a great relief. She can appreciate the thrill of a sugar rush. I probably won’t start carrying around a bottle of coke in a brown paper bag stuffed inside my jacket. I trust it won’t come to that.

I’m not sure it matters much in terms of my Christian witness. John the Baptist fasted frequently and barely ate enough to keep a bird alive and people thought he was demon possessed. Jesus ate and drank freely and they called Him a glutton and a winebibber. Therein lies one of the many paradoxes of being a Christian. It matters greatly what you say and do and yet it doesn’t matter at all. What really matters is what Jesus said and did.

A couple of paragraphs ago I said that the real problem was sugar. I now relent. Sugar is not the problem. The real problem is sin. Hence, I give myself permission to quit focussing on minor issues. How’s that for a New Year’s resolution? If I was addicted to frequent outbursts of wrath that frightened my wife and freaked out my kid then I’d have something to worry about. But an affinity for sweets? Nah. I’m not sure it’s even worth the mental energy required to overcome it.

But I could be wrong. It doesn’t happen often but I must allow for the possibility. Of course, the only One who was never wrong was Jesus. Which brings me to the long awaited summary. Sin is the problem and Jesus is the answer. There’s the gospel in a chocolate covered nutshell. In the new year I intend to focus more on spreading it, like raspberry jam on a slice of toast. Will I follow through? I hope so. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I feel a craving coming on. I have only two choices. Deny it or satisfy it? Hmmm.

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Naturally Negative: 4 Steps to a Negative Life

freely-6193I have to say up front that I have a bit of an advantage over most people when it comes to the subject matter at hand. At the risk of bragging, I really don’t have to work at being negative. I’ve never had to train my mind to take on a negative bent. Negative thoughts just seem to come naturally to me.

I guess you could say, “I’m naturally negative.” It just sounds so arrogant of me to say it out loud. Anyway, if you’re struggling with positivity let me encourage you. You can change. You can become a poster boy (or girl) for negativity if you follow my simple 4 step program.

1. Think Negative Thoughts
If you find it difficult to conjure up negative thoughts then you’re probably not watching enough news, or you’re just not trying hard enough. We can learn what not to do from the life of Joseph as recorded in Genesis. He kept a positive attitude despite the negatives that had occurred in his life. His brothers planned to kill him. But they eventually settled for selling him as a slave. Then he was falsely accused of sexually assaulting his bosses wife. Even though it was really the bosses wife who was trying to seduce him, he still wound up in prison. Yet, Joseph refused to focus on the negatives. Instead, he made the tragic mistake of staying positive by keeping His eyes fixed on God and by continuing to serve Him. Which brings us to the next step.

2. Speak Negative Words.
Again, Joseph is a terrible example in this regard. Despite the bumpy road that marked the journey of his life the scriptures do not record a single negative word that proceeded from his mouth. Obviously Joseph had not been properly instructed in the power of negativity. Perhaps his father Jacob spent too much time talking about God. The problem with God is well stated by the Apostle John: “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) If you get too close to God you run the risk of eliminating darkness from your life. And that darkness would certainly include negative thought patterns that lead to negative conversation.

As Proverbs 18:21 says: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” According to this saying of Solomon you will eat the fruit of whatever you love most, whether it be life or death. If you want death then you must speak death. You must love death. Which brings us to the third point.

3. Read the Bible Less and Pray Less.
If you read the bible too much you’re going to come across men like the one discussed above. Don’t let the seemingly negative stuff of scripture fool you. The book is actually the most positive piece of literature on the planet. It brings life instead of death. And don’t be fooled about prayer either. Consistent pray-ers have been known to experience drops in anxiety and depression levels along with corresponding spikes in peace and joy. Reading the bible increases the risk of believing it. And if you believe its message you might actually wind up in heaven one day. Is that what you really want? Wouldn’t you rather spend eternity in the most negative place in the universe?

4. Hang-out with Negative People.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this step. Negativity is like a contagious disease. You can catch it just by spending time in the company of people infected by it. Spending an inordinate amount of time around them allows you to bask under the shadow of the dark cloud that follows them everywhere they go.

Scripture bears this out. “Evil company corrupts good habits.” So says the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:33. So what are you waiting for? Go and get yourself some evil company. Put down the bible and start binge watching netflix. Get up off your knees and start hopping down the broad road that leads to destruction. Pollute the atmosphere of your home with verbal filth. Fill your mind with all things dark and dreary. In short, commit moral and spiritual suicide.

Then and only then will you truly know the power of negativity.

The Dark Side of Prayer

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I’m sure we’ve all heard it. Pastors and ministers railing on about the benefits of prayer. And we can’t deny it. Prayer has the potential to change the world. But shouldn’t we also consider the dark side of prayer? Thankfully, I have personally considered it and you can now benefit from my consideration. (Don’t mean to brag but apparently I have a gift for considering the negative side of things.)

1. Prayer can be time consuming. 
For instance, more time spent in prayer means less time for other more important activities like watching TV, surfing the net, or cleaning the house. You can’t find out what somebody had for supper while kneeling in prayer. You need Facebook for that. You can’t watch a TV that isn’t covered in dust by making supplication before the Father. You need to clean the house in order for such a situation to occur. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Prayer is hard work.
To pray effectively you really need to concentrate and focus your attention on God alone. If you think this is easy then just try it sometime. It’s not easy. It can be hard. Almost like work, especially when it comes to intense intercessory prayer. And who really wants to work? Don’t we all want the easy way out of everything? Checking your Facebook feed is much easier. It can be hard on the fingers but other than that it doesn’t require a great deal of energy.

3. God may say no.
When you ask God for something in prayer there’s no guarantee that He’s going to say yes. He may actually say no and who wants to hear that awful word?

For instance, a young man was once overheard having a conversation with God:
Young Man: “Dear God, please let me marry that gorgeous lady who works at my office.”
God: “But son, she doesn’t believe in Me, she’s immoral, and at times she can be downright nasty.”
Young Man: “But she’s beautiful and I think I can change her.”
God: “No you can’t.”
Young Man: “Please……..”
God: “Sorry son, the answer is no. Besides, I have someone much better for you if you’re willing to wait just a little bit longer.”

Let’s take a moment and examine this mythical conversation (I know it’s mythical because I just made it up in my head). God utters two words here that are hard to bear. Firstly, he says “no”. Then he says “wait.” Which brings me to my next point.

4. God may say wait. 
We all hate waiting don’t we? Think long, slow, line-ups at a drive-thru window. Or Christmas shopping with your wife. Or shopping any time of year with your wife for that matter. It’s like ordering a camcorder on e-bay from a seller based in China. The reason I know this is because I have actually done it. Yes, I did eventually get the camera. It was cheap and it worked fine. But I had to wait several weeks to get it. You can only imagine how devastating it was for me to check the mail week in and week out only to find bills and charity pledge forms, but no camera. The fact I have the camera now and might possibly enjoy using it for years to come doesn’t change the fact I had to spend a few weeks without it.
​5. You could end up with sore knees. 
Tradition says that the apostle James earned the nickname “camel knees” because he spent so much time in prayer that his knees became swollen. Who wants swollen knees? Knees that resemble those of a camel can be an eyesore for others, especially during the summer. The best away to avoid camel-like knees is to spend less time on them. Of course, you could use a cushion. But then you run the risk of damaging or dirtying the cushion.

The only safe way to avoid both dirty cushions and swollen knees is to forsake prayer. Of course you don’t have to kneel to pray. Rumour has it some people have prayed while standing, sitting and even walking. But there’s no need for such radical spirituality. The safest route is not to pray at all. Now if you’ll excuse I have to go and fill the rest of my day with useless busyness.

 

5 Benefits of Sexual Immorality

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If you feel constrained by the chains of moral purity, fear not. I’m here to help. Most people have already found freedom from the clutches of commitment based living. But not everybody. Apparently, the world still has a few prudes who think sex is about something other than unbridled passion. If you’re a prude (as in excessively proper or modest in speech, conduct or dress) I have good news. You can change. You can overcome your prudishness. You too can hop on the bandwagon of moral filth. To that end I’ve compiled a brief list of some of the benefits of living like a libertine.

​(For those of you who don’t spend a lot of time on dictionary.com, a libertine is “a person who is morally or sexually unrestrained”.) And now the list.

1. It feels good.
God created sex to be a pleasurable experience. His original intention was for the pleasure to be enjoyed within the bonds of matrimony. Humanity has since discovered, however, that the matrimony part is totally optional. You can still enjoy the pleasure of the act without the commitment and baggage of being hitched to the same person for life.

2. You may not get a sexually transmitted disease.
Studies prove that not everybody who is sexually immoral winds up with Venereal diseases like HIV/AIDS, Hepatitus, Herpes, or Gonorrhea. Some escape it. That said, there is a possibility you still may get one of these diseases but isn’t it worth the risk though? If you’re still worried about this just keep focussing on point 1 above.

3. The gospel could be a farce and you might not wind up in hell afterall.
Many “intelligent” people still believe the gospel is a myth. Even if they’re wrong and you wind up tormented in the lake of fire for all of eternity, at least you got to enjoy a few years of uninhibited pleasure. To be sure, eternity is an awfully long time but if you just block it out of your mind somewhow then it need not interfere with your current hedonistic lifestyle. Which really brings me to my next point.

4. You have an excuse to drink more and do more drugs.
Sexually immorality still carries an element of guilt and shame for many. No worries. This is precisely why we have drugs and alcohol. Both help numb the effects of guilt, at least temporarily. Admittedly, no long term solution outside the gospel has yet been found for the guilt problem but what of it? I mean, who really cares about long-term stuff. Remember point 1 above.

5. You can make money from it. 
If you really enjoy fornication then you might want to consider one of many exciting career options that pay really well: prostitute, stripper, porn star. You may very well destroy your soul in the process but at least you’re getting rich. But if you’re still not convinced, I refer you again to point 1 above.

So throw off the shackles. Chances are your peers are already doing it so what’s stopping you? And if you’re concerned that moral looseness might mess with your marriage let me further encourage you. Some psychiatrists teach that an adulterous affair or two is actually good for your marriage. But if the “professionals” are wrong they are wrong. Isn’t it worth the risk? I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? A broken marriage? Messed up kids? A lost eternity?

Please, if you’re not going to focus exclusively on point 1 above then I see no point in carrying on this discussion. Just because Moses choose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoying the passing pleasures of sin doesn’t mean we all have to follow his example? (see Hebrews 11:25 for more about that) Remember, Moses was an example of faith, not fun. Of course, having faith doesn’t mean you can’t have fun but we can’t discuss that now because it doesn’t really support my overall thesis. In fact, it has the potential to blow my entire argument to the moon and back. Speaking of the moon, have you ever tried worshipping it? Never mind, I’ll save that idea for another blog.

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5 Benefits of Social Drinking for Christians

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They say confession is good for the soul. Therefore, I have one to make right now. I do not drink alcohol. Neither socially nor anti-socially. Nor drunkenly. Nor in any other way. Nevertheless, I cannot deny the obvious benefits to social drinking. They are “plastered” all across the minds of thoughtful people like myself. For the present discussion I will list five of these benefits, though I admit there are possibly several others.

1. You get to be social.
The very phrase “social drinking” indicates that drinking socially means you’re being social. That’s why it’s called “social” drinking. The implication is that if you’re not drinking alcohol you’re some kind of anti-social weirdo. Everybody knows this, even if it’s not widely discussed.

Dictionary.com defines social as “seeking or enjoying the companionship of others; friendly; sociable; gregarious.” I mean, who doesn’t want to be gregarious? And how can you be gregarious while chugging spring water? Or even coca-cola? You cannot properly enjoy the company of others who drink unless you yourself are also drinking a similar type of alcoholic beverage.

2. You get to drink.
Beer commercials tell us that everybody really wants to drink alcohol, especially beer. More specifically they want to drink that particular brand of beer currently being advertised. Social drinking gives you that opportunity to partake of a questionable activity that the bible does not specifically forbid. As an added benefit you get to drink a beverage that tastes really horrible, even worse than coffee.

3. You may accidentally get drunk.
Let’s face it, the ultimate goal of drinking is to get drunk, or at least to get a “buzz on,” which means you’re not completely sloshed but at least you’re feeling the effects of the booze. You feel slightly relaxed. Perhaps a bit light-headed. More comfortable talking to strangers. The buzz might even help you flirt more effectively with members of the opposite sex. This is really helpful for Christians and pastors who might otherwise feel inhibited in their desire to push the boundaries of marital fidelity.

Let’s face it. Some people are still prudish when it comes to adultery. They’re not really sure if they should commit it. Alcohol helps remove some of these hang-ups, at least temporality, before the guilt comes rushing in like a flood.

4. You may inspire others to drink.
There could be someone you know who is hesitant to take that first sip. But if they see you doing it they will be encouraged to do it themselves. This is a great way to get your kids started on the sauce. I highly recommend that you drink at home, in front of the kids. It’s much more difficult to inspire your kids to drink if they don’t actually see you doing it. So no more closet drinking. It’s time to come out. Get it out in the open. Drink at the dinner table if you have too. Start with a little wine. Then some beer. Before you know it the entire family will be lining up for liquor and doing shots together at the basement bar.

5. You could lead someone to become an alcoholic.
Studies show that every alcoholic started with just one drink, namely their first one. That first one led to a second and then a third and so on. But nobody becomes an alcoholic overnight. They have to start somewhere. And just think, you can have the privilege of being the one to get them started down a road of self-destruction, where they could eventually lose their jobs, their families, their sanity, possibly their lives and eventually their very souls.

So don’t put if off any longer. Become a “sipping saint.” Start today. And stay tuned for my upcoming post on the benefits of sexual immorality.

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Evangelism in 3 Easy Steps!

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I just want to say up front that my thoughts on evangelism are not just random ones. They’ve been birthed in the crucible of my long and gruelling history of failure in the enterprise at hand. Having failed miserably on many occasions to achieve anything close to an evangelistic encounter I have certainly earned the right to speak on this subject.

Because the gospel itself is simple and straight forward, I have sought to keep my thoughts on the subject simple and straight forward as well. Evangelism need not be as difficult as people like myself have sometimes made it. All you have to do is follow the three steps outlined below.

1. Open your mouth.
Studies show that it’s easier to get words out of an open mouth than a closed one, unless you’re a ventriloquist. Even then, the mouth is usually partially open as long as the lips don’t move. Of course, if you’re far enough away from your audience the lips can move slightly. If you would like more information on how to speak without moving your lips I’m sure there are many quality ventriloquistic courses available on the web. In evangelism it doesn’t really matter if the lips move or not. And you certainly don’t need a dummy sitting on your lap. The important thing is that the mouth is open wide enough for words to get out of it. So the first step in effective evangelism is to open your trap.

When the Apostle Paul spoke before the Sanhedrin the high priest ordered someone to smack Paul in the mouth (see Acts 23). Why? Because the high priest didn’t like the words coming out of it (Paul’s mouth). He understood that an open mouth often leads to talking, which could include words you don’t want to hear. Which brings me to the next step.

2. Say something.
Once the mouth is open, the second step is to actually say something. Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with saying: “Preach the gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” With all due respect to Saint Francis, evangelism implies, dare we say requires, the speaking of actual words. I suppose you could communicate the gospel through body language but the potential for misunderstanding is enormous. You might think you’re communicating your excitement for the gospel when in fact you’re really telling someone that you need to use the bathroom. Such are the difficulties in reading body language.

3. Say something about Jesus.
Talking about the weather or the Blue Jays or even Donald Trump doesn’t qualify as evangelism. Sometimes even atheists use their mouths for talking. There are even reports of talking Hindus and Buddhists. In fact, there are unbelievers who can’t shut up.

In order to evangelize someone you must talk about Jesus (see Philip the Evangelist in Acts 8). This is the difficult part of the process. Most people are fairly capable of enacting steps one and two. It’s this pesky step three that really causes the most problems. Some would argue that it doesn’t really matter what you say because “God knows your heart.” You might be talking about the colour of your hair or the tattoo on your arm but God knows that you really want to communicate the gospel so He is able to transmit that information directly from your heart into the head of your unbelieving communication partner. No need for the info to come out through your mouth and into their ears because God is able to work a miracle.

To date, however, there have been no confirmed reports of anyone receiving the gospel through osmosis. Most people hear the gospel through the open mouth of a Christian. Yes, occasionally God speaks to people in dreams and visions but even then the subject usually seeks further explanation from a seasoned believer. Again, that further explanation would require an open mouth saying something about Jesus.

To recap then, the process is indeed a simple one:
Open your mouth
Say something
Say something about Jesus

If you’re not comfortable with these steps then simply do what most other Christians do; leave it to the professionals, which would include pretty much anybody whose last name is Graham.

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5 Keys to Keeping Your Sanity

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Life can be tough. Technological advancements, as wonderful as they are, have done little to take the sting out of life. We still get hurt. We still suffer setback, depression, discouragement and a host of other personal, financial, relational and health problems. The question is: How do we survive it without losing our marbles?

Assuming other people have also asked the same question I’ve decided to list a few things that have helped me “through” life. Not that I have mastered these by any stretch. All I can really claim is that I’m leaning into them and plucking away at them. Bit by bit. Inch by inch. Anyway, here’s my little list. They all begin with the letter H. Not just to make them easy to remember, but mainly because I’m addicted to alliteration.

Humility
By listing this key I fear giving the wrong impression. Namely, that I have already scaled the heights of success with this particular virtue. Little or nothing could be further from the truth. The tricky thing about humility is this: just when you think you have it, you don’t. In other words, if you think you’re humble you’re probably proud. Hence, I try to think of myself as a proud sort of fellow.

But it’s freeing to realize that you don’t have to be the best-looking, brightest, swiftest, slickest, fastest, or leanest kid on the block. As a preacher I sincerely try to think of others as better than myself, even if my reasons for doing so are partially selfish. The fact is, it takes the pressure off. I don’t have to try and meet some faulty expectations set by myself or someone else. Rather, I try to imagine that there are no expectations at all. Therefore, I have nothing to lose. If I succeed it’s a pleasant surprise. If I fail, well then I just did what was expected. It’s no big deal. I will simply try to do better next time. The wonderful thing about preaching every week is that you have a chance to redeem yourself every seven days. If my last message was a flop, it’s okay, In just a few days I’ll be back at the grind ready for a second shot, same time, same place.

Humour
Abraham Lincoln once said: “With the fearful strain that is on me day and night, if I did not laugh I should die.” Lincoln understood what many people still don’t get. Laughter helps reduce stress. Wise old Solomon said there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) Sometimes we mourn over stuff we should laugh at, and make fun of things that should cause us to cry. We make mountains out of molehills, straining out knats and swallowing camels.

Some things in life should be taken seriously. God. His Word. His will. His call on our lives. But even in these things there must be a healthy dose of joy, because there is such a thing as spiritual exhaustion and even burnout. I believe it happens when we no longer enjoy serving God but serve Him only out of a sense of duty. We serve Him because we have too, not because we want too. There’s one big (or little) thing that should not be taken too seriously. YOU. It’s good to laugh at yourself once in a while. I do it fairly regularly and I never seem to run out of funny material. Anyway, if you’re dealing with difficult circumstances and/or difficult people let me encourage you to keep a sense of humour about it. It will help. Trust me.

Happiness
There is another quote attributed to Lincoln which says: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” It’s another way of saying: “Happiness is a choice.” We can choose to be happy right where we are. Or we can choose to be unhappy. It has much to do with our mental attitude but that’s another blog. Unhappy people do bad things. An extreme example would be those who strap bombs to themselves, and then blow themselves up in crowds of people. Generally speaking, such evil works are the domain of the depressed.

We have to find a way to be happy in the will of God. Notice I said, “in the will of God.” Pursuing happiness for its own sake is a dead end street. It has led some down the dark and dreary path of marital infidelity. A proverb comes to mind: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12) We need to trust God that He will bless us (make us happy) as we seek to follow Him.

Health
Studies have shown a connection between physical health and mental health. As I write this, my wife and I are on a five day walking streak. That means we have walked five days in a row. If you think that’s no big deal then you don’t know us at all. Five days straight is a considerable accomplishment for two people who have an unhealthy affinity for motorized transportation. Similarly, going a full day without sugar would be a monumental achievement for me personally, which might explain why I can’t remember ever doing it.

Suffice it to say, physical health has never really been a priority for me. The older I get, the more I regret that very fact. So I am taking baby steps. And if you saw me walking you’d realize that I mean “baby steps” quite literally.

Holiness
Regretfully, this one has not traditionally landed anywhere near the upper scale of my priority list. But in recent years things have changed. Somebody has well said that “sin is insanity.” Continuing to live with known sin is a sure fire way to ensure trouble upstairs (in the mind). In order to successfully navigate your way through this crazy world without going insane you simply must deal with sin.

The subject of sin is deep and wide. Too much to unpack in a single blog. So to simplify, we can say there are two things you must do with sin. You must confess it and you must forsake it. The good news is that God works with us. He doesn’t condemn us when we fail. He helps us in our struggles and strengthens us in our weakness. We simply must go to Him in prayer and bible reading and allow Him to work in our hearts and lives.

There are many other things we could mention here and they don’t all begin with H. If you have any other helpful ideas feel free to leave a comment below.

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