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When My Best Friend Told Me Off

Written By Debra Valley, Nigeria

I remember the day vividly. I was sitting in my brother’s room, cooling off after an argument with my best friend. I’ll never forget what my best friend said to me. She certainly hadn’t spared my feelings: the gist of her words had to do with me acting like a spoilt, selfish brat.

I was smarting badly and my first thought was to exact revenge in some way, or to just ignore what she had just said. But, like in several other times in the past, I took deep breaths to calm down, evaluated what she said, and reminded myself of this Bible verse: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. And the wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:5-6).

Even though I was upset with the way my friend had delivered her opinion, I knew her words had some truth in them. So I swallowed my pride and took the initiative to greet her when she walked past my brother’s bedroom to the adjacent room we shared. You see, my best friend was—and still is—my sister.

My attempt at reconciliation stopped my sister mid-stride. She redirected her steps and walked towards me. What she said next struck me—till this day. She said: “I admire you for one great quality you have. No matter what and how someone points out something wrong about you, and no matter how you act in the heat of the moment, you always listen, sift through the words and accept correction. You are also always willing and often the first to make peace and reconcile after a fight. Those are godly character traits you should never lose.”

She may not know how much those words impacted me that day, but what she said to me then always comes to mind whenever I find myself in a situation where a friend or even an enemy rebukes or criticizes me. Whenever someone finds fault with my behavior, I will retreat to a quiet place and ask for the Holy Spirit’s counsel, comfort, and advice.

Sometimes, verses will spring to mind, pointing to the fact that I do indeed need to accept correction. Other times, it becomes clear that the rebuke or criticism—though well intentioned—was unfounded. For instance, Job’s friends believed they were giving righteous criticism of their friend Job, only to be rebuked by God in Job 42:7-17. Therefore, I will always go to God to check if the rebuke is indeed from Him.

As a leader, writer, but most importantly, as a Christian, I have grown to embrace rebuke and criticism. Constructive criticism—and sometimes, not so constructive criticism from true friends—helps us grow and keeps us on the right track. I also believe it is essential if we want to become better individuals in all areas of our lives. After all, the Bible states in Psalm 141:5: “Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it”.

True friends will call us out; they won’t always be our cheerleaders. A person who really loves us and wants the best for us will let us know when we are taking the wrong path, because they want what’s best for us.

In my walk as a Christian, I have been blessed to have instances where I have been rebuked by genuine friends, whom the Bible describes as those who stick closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Ultimately, I believe that rebuke from God—whether it is through His word or others, such as our friends—should be welcomed and celebrated. In Revelation 3:19, the Bible states that “as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent”.

Will we be willing to be pruned so that we bear the best fruit?

When Your Heart is In the Right Place – Is it Enough?

Written By Debra Valley, Nigeria

“At the end of the day, what matters is whether your heart is in the right place.”

That was the gist of what I said to my friend Christy* a few days ago, when we were talking about life in general and how to honor God in our lifestyles. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that Christy was there to point out that good intentions are never enough.

Her comment reminded of what another friend had told me: “My heart tricked me”. Sometime before that, he called and I could hear from his voice that he was distraught. He had once more succumbed to the temptation of pre-marital sex; she was beautiful and tenacious, it was the perfect setting and before he knew it, the damage had been done.

He felt guilty after the act and knew he had to break all contact with her. He was particularly torn up inside because he didn’t want to hurt her feelings but he also knew he couldn’t live a life of sin. Breaking up with her and hurting her feelings was a terrible thing to do, but encouraging such a relationship was also not an option. He told me the only reason it had gone that far was that he believed he was falling in love with her.

However, she was not a Christian and did not believe in waiting for marriage; he had believed that his heart was in the right place when he slept with her. He wanted to make her happy, and he felt a natural extension of showing her he loved her was to give in to what she wanted. But he also admitted that a part of him did it because he wanted to.

It’s hard to rely on good intentions

Christy rightly pointed out that “our hearts being in the right place” does not necessarily equate to living a lifestyle that pleases God. Her words caused many verses from Scripture to come to mind. The Bible warns us that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), which is why it also teaches us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). Or as the New King James Version puts it, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life”.

Now, these two verses in conjunction do not necessarily mean that every intention from our heart is evil. Many saved and unsaved people alike have done great things stemming from a heart full of kindness. The former verse shows the fallen nature of man and the sin that ensues from that fallen nature, which is why so many of us, myself included, feel this inherent pull to things we know are sin. We lie, we cheat, we commit adultery, we get tangled in all sorts of vices and are continually perplexed as to why we keep on acting this way.

The main point to this is that we cannot trust our hearts to tell us if our intentions are purely good (Jeremiah 17:9). Fortunately, Jesus pointed us in the right direction, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). At first I always thought that this only meant I should keep my eyes heavenward and that’s my treasure. But it also means investing in the things of God and not in the things of the world.

 

What is your treasure?

I was reading an excerpt from American authors Allan Kelsey and Jimmy Evans’s book Strengths Based Marriage, where they highlighted the need for spouses to make their treasure a passionate relationship with their significant other. When something is your treasure, you prioritize it and all your energy is invested in making that venture a success. A good example is when a person falls in love. It is all-consuming—you are constantly thinking of them, calling, messaging.

On the other hand, I have a friend who is very goal-oriented. Whenever her exams come around, I know I won’t be hearing from her till it’s over. She goes off social media and she does not respond to messages or even return calls. She literally drops off the grid until her exams are over. Even though I know she hates to study, she constantly tells me, “No pain, no gain”. Her treasure is getting an A in her exams, and nothing comes between her and that goal.

My friend reminded me that it is important to ensure my environment is free from distraction and optimized to help me achieve my goal: to attain a life pleasing to God. I have noticed that whenever I get fully involved in church, volunteer, attend services and Bible study groups and hang out with Christian friends—that  I know keep me accountable to my faith—I find myself making progress in avoiding sin and living a more Godly life.

The more I pray and spend quality time with God, the less I get random thoughts that don’t glorify God, and the more I find it easier to love, to overlook offenses, to think of things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely,  admirable—anything that is excellent or praiseworthy. (Philippians 4:8)

I have developed a habit called “the heart check” by periodically asking myself, “Where is your treasure? In what are you investing most of your time?”

So I do believe that we can overcome vices by making sure our heart is in the right place. And as we draw closer to Him, I can testify by experience that we will slowly begin to lose our appetite for things that displease Him and start craving the things that please Him.

 

 

 *not her real name

When (Not) to Follow Your Feelings

Written By Debra Valley, USA

As Christians striving to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we will encounter instances that require us to battle our flesh. It could be moments where we have to deliberately choose to act against our emotions, such as choosing to forgive a person who has hurt us, being kind to someone who has been unkind to us, or refusing to let our anger lead us to violence.

More often than not, the struggle is tough. Though we know that our feelings are categorically wrong and acting on them may even lead us to take actions contrary to God’s will, we may find ourselves trying to justify our emotions.

A few years back, I found myself in such a situation. Yes, it was all about a boy. A boy I fell in love with, a boy that made me consider choosing this mister over the Master. I can almost see you shaking your head in disapproval. It seems as though there are far too many accounts of good Christian girls being “led astray” by their unbelieving boyfriends. But I am grateful for those stories, because they served as words of caution in my time of need.

I met him at work, and as they say, there was instant chemistry. I was attracted to him, not just to his looks, but to his character. He was funny, kind, thoughtful, hardworking, generous, and intelligent. Soon enough, I developed feelings for him. But there was one problem: he was an atheist and hated Christianity.

Every time he praised my work ethic or my generosity, I would tell him it wasn’t me—it was Christ in me. But he would have none of it; he called it “religious jargon”. He insisted that the good in me was because I was a decent person, not because of God. I tried to invite him to church but he would always reject the invitation, saying that religious people were “brainwashed and naïve”. He never gave the reason behind his dislike for God—or any religion for that matter. It was just one subject he would refuse to discuss, and soon enough I stopped asking. I just trusted (and still trust today) that God would reach his heart someday.

Though I knew fully well that the Bible instructs Christians not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14), my mind had all the “right” arguments. Like missionary dating, for instance. I thought that as long as I prayed for him and kept living out a good Christian witness, he would come to realize that it was Christ in me. My heart told me that I could change him. After all, how do we bring others to Christ if we don’t befriend them?

But my mind reminded me that it is only God who can change the heart, not man (Ezekiel 36:26). All I could do was to continue to bear witness through my life. Ultimately, it was his choice to make about whom he would serve.

With this realization, I knew that getting myself involved with someone who had fundamentally different standards and beliefs from me would only lead to heartache in the future. Through praying for him and praying for God’s will to be done in my life, I began to seriously consider some pertinent questions: What did I want from the relationship? He had already told me he didn’t believe in waiting till marriage for sex, so would I compromise my faith for him? Could I continue to withstand the pressure? Did I want to get married? Would our children be nurtured in a Christian background? Would we tithe? Would we be engaged in our local church? Would we base our values on God’s word? Would Christ be a part of our home? Would we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit of God?

The answer was obvious. It was a clear no.

So I prayed for grace to control my feelings. It was difficult avoiding him at work, but God gave me the grace to gradually steer my thoughts to only that of friendship. I did this by focusing more on the work itself, and developing closer ties with the other ladies at work. I took the opportunity to move to the opposite end of the office from him and restricted our conversations to strictly professional matters.

Was the decision to part with someone I fancied but didn’t share my faith difficult? Yes. Did I regret doing it? Absolutely not. I do not regret my decision because I knew all things work for good to those that love God (Romans 8:28). I also knew that God wanted to protect me from a relationship that could lead to harm in the future.

So while reining in my feelings hurt during that period, I believe that the experience strengthened my faith. Now, I am less prone to let my feelings wander beyond control, such as at times when I feel angry or resentful, or when I’m tempted to misplace my love and loyalty. Though it is not easy overcoming my own emotions, I know that God will not allow me to be tempted beyond what I can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). I have learned to wait on God and to guard my heart with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23). I have also learned to fully trust God and wait on His leading before making any decision in life (Proverbs 3:5-6).