Mindset: Key to Hope


It can be so easy to forget the powerhouse that sits above our neck encased in our skull can grow and change throughout our lifetimes. This powerhouse is often a field of battle between negative and positive thoughts that are often whispering quietly without our notice or at other times loudly screaming at us. Those thoughts have created a mindset that began developing from our earliest years of life. Unfortunately, not everything that goes into the brew is truth, but we didn’t realize it and took some of those lies as facts. Their impact can affect us for years to come.

Perhaps that is why so many books have been written about how to improve or change the habits of our minds, to spiritually war against the enemy’s taunts that he plays out there. Psychology also seeks to help us with cognitive-behavioral techniques that help us identify negative self-defeating thoughts and tools to help us replace them with truth. No quick fix appears to be listed in any of the resources available.

One of the challenges for us is that our mindset ultimately gravitates into one of two types. These affect how we view every mistake, disappointment, setback, and failure and either move us forward toward hope or cause us to halt forward movement and give up.

Angela Duckworth in her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, identifies these two mindsets as a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.


If we have a growth mindset, we believe we can do better, that it’s possible if we work harder, get additional support, and receive encouragement that we can get smarter and do better. And guess what? We get up and try again! Research shows that if you have a growth mindset, you’ll be more likely to do better in school, enjoy better emotional and physical health, and have stronger, more positive social relationships with other people. It doesn’t mean we don’t fail or face challenges. What matters is our response to those defeats.

If we have a fixed mindset, we believe that those failures, setbacks, disappointments, and mistakes mean we don’t have the “right stuff”, aren’t good enough. And guess what? We give up. That belief can be so strong that we don’t ask for support, we don’t risk trying, we become resolved to a sense of our inadequate performances. We decide we don’t have what it takes!

One of the keys to determining which mindset we develop is how those around us respond when we slip up and make mistakes. The more powerful the position of authority the person has in our lives, the greater the impact not just of what they say or don’t say but also by the facial expressions they exhibit.

If we struggle with a fixed mindset about our spiritual lives, the enemy is gleeful because he knows that he can defeat our hope over and over again as soon as we get up from praying or reading in the Bible. Too often our spiritual lives also get stalled because of how our brothers and sisters around us respond to our struggle. Instead of real encouragement, we might experience quite the opposite for any number of reasons. Sometimes the person isn’t really accurately listening to us to hear the nature of the struggle. Sometimes the person doesn’t know enough of our story to understand why we were defeated….again!!

All of this reminds me of what I love about Paul’s words to the Corinthians:


We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and  take every thought captive to obey Christ,” 2 Cor. 10:5 ESV

2 Corinthians 10:5 (ESV)

What we don’t always recognize is that eliminating negative patterns of thinking will not automatically bring about positive, “can do” patterns of thinking. We need to deliberately replace them with positive truth that we affirm to ourselves.

Archilbald Hart has written seven paraphrases of such truth based on scripture that gives a picture of what I mean so let me share them with you:

  • “God loves me more than I can ever imagine, and I can never travel beyond the reach of this great love.” (Rom. 8:39)
  • “No matter what my sin, God forgives me if I repent, confess, and return to Him.” (1 John 1:9)
  • “There is nothing I can do that will cause God to turn away from me.” (Heb. 13:5)
  • “Whatever I attempt to do, if it is God’s will for me He will give me the strength and wisdom I need to accomplish the task.” (Phil. 4:13)
  • “If I seem to fail because circumstances are against me. God will always give me another opportunity if I return to the starting point.” ((Psa. 37:24)
  • “God never wants me to give up. Never, never, never, never.” (Josh. 1:5,7,9)
  • “Hating myself doesn’t make God love me more; it just makes it harder for me to see his love.” (Psa. 103:10-12)

God has created our powerhouse brains to be resilient and adaptable. If we have had a fixed mindset, replacing lies and negativity with truth from God’s Word can change it. We also can choose to spend time with those who encourage us and believe in us even when we don’t believe in ourselves and remember that it is those very struggles that God can and does use to produce more endurance and resilience in us.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)
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Where Would You Be?

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As we quiet ourselves on Good Friday of Holy Week, pausing to consider that day that seemed anything but “good”, there is much for us to contemplate. We may move to the sacrifice and the horrors of what was being done to Jesus or be directed to reflect on this day by services at our church services. That is good. We need to pause far more often than we do.

This week one question has echoed in my heart and mind – where would you be?

As I reflect on the gospels that record the scene and the unfolding events of that day and reread portions of the Old Testament that spoke to what would occur, it stopped me to consider if I had been there, where would I be?

Could I put myself into the scene? Would I have been with Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary of Clopas and Mary Magdalene near the horrors unfolding? Would I have been racked with pain as I watched each nail pounded into his hands and feet and almost feel the pain that occurred as the cross was raised up to a vertical position with his body weight suspended there?

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Would I have been remembering the words He had spoken about how this would happen and that He would rise again? Would I be focused on my loss or gain, His pain or my own? Or would I be fearfully hiding with the other disciples in anguish, expecting I could be next if the goal was to blot out every evidence of Jesus and all He had done in the three years of his ministry?

Would I have been one of the spectators only? In ancient times, crucifixions and other forms of death routinely happened in the open forum of the time and were nearly a spectator sport for some.

The question of where I would have been is a sobering one that is not easily answered unless I allow Jesus to show me my own heart and consider what I have done with the words and truth He left for me to follow and whether I believe them. Am I believing them amid the cares and trials of this life, in the distractions of this world, or believing more easily as I sit in a service at church or attend a worship service that sets all those aside for a short period?

The question came to my heart with no condemnation but a reminder to consider without judgment those who were there that day. And with that came the reminder of how Jesus responded to those who were there. The thief on the cross who deserved punishment asked Jesus to remember Him and the response from Jesus was that he would be with Him in paradise that very day. He had no time to pursue religious disciplines, be baptized, or do good works and yet he was offered what Jesus gave Him without stipulation.

And that was not all. He looked at the centurion and Roman soldiers inflicting the punishment prescribed and pronounced by Pilate and asked God to forgive them because they did not know what they were doing. That day his witness caused the centurion who observed every one of the 6 hours Jesus hung there and then pronounced:

“When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Matthew 27:54 (NIV)
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The question I have pondered is most important because it causes me to look at the past scene and then consider where I am now and perhaps even more importantly, where do I see myself in what He promised about his return. Am I believing those words He spoke and living my life with intimacy and deep connection with Him or am I allowing the cares of this life to cloud the reality that a believer lives in two worlds – the one with the things I can see and touch like the chair I am sitting on and the keyboard I am typing on as well as the one that is unseen and yet is very real and isn’t limited by the address on my mail or any other thing I see with my natural eyes.

Yes, He is still alive and if I believe, He is alive within me by his Holy Spirit, but on this day we do not celebrate Easter. This day, Good Friday, we remember the cross where He chose to give his life so I could live with Him forever if I would just believe.

Where would you be in the scene we observe on Good Friday?

Where will you be in the scene He has told us to anticipate?

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These days it seems that more and more things we consume or use are filtered or need to be. From our water to our coffee, our air to our oil, and beyond and more, we use filters of every size, shape, and design. When I order coffee beans to take home at one of our local roasters, I am always asked what kind of filter I have so the beans are ground to match that filter. This was certainly not the case when my husband and I were first married and used an electric percolator to make our coffee.

We have filters for our digital cameras (if we use them much). There are filters for sound on nearly any device where it is needed as well. We seem to be on a quest for purity and yet most of us find our culture to be moving away from purity on every level of society.

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Why use filters? Because we believe we need a porous device for removing impurities or solid particles from nearly any liquid or gas passed through it. But do we wonder if those impurities are just increasing in recent years or if we never noticed them in the past and they were just as numerous as they are now? Maybe there are some we notice the need of more than others such as having good gas, air, and oil filters means our cars run more smoothly and for longer periods of time.

Are there other filters that you can think of? Do we filter our speech?

The answer to that last one about our speech might be “yes” or “no” depending on who we are, where we live, our personality, and more. Sometimes it seems our speech hurls through the air or onto a page without much thought about who is hit by it or how is impacts them. Days of being careful with our words seem to be out of fashion except on subjects that are currently taboo or too controversial to voice without fear of reprisal or censorship. The days where we considered the impact of our words on others has somehow slipped away in recent decades as we have fallen in love with the idea that freedom means we can say or do anything we please no matter the consequences to others.

We seem to have forgotten this axiom written some time ago by someone with more wisdom than we sometimes use. But have we turned this whole idea around in another context and used a filter where we perhaps should not have tried to make everything sound polished and more perfected?

Do we have the habit of filtering our words in religious or spiritual contexts to present a picture that we may be better than we are? Are we open and honest when we should be about our struggles?

Moving from Palm Sunday to Good Friday or celebrating Passover is a time we are encouraged to reflect on our own sins and confess them to God as the only One who can redeem us and help us to be better than we are.

Are our prayers filtered?

Most of us are familiar with many of the Psalms and recognize the ones written by David, that earthy man who faltered and failed and yet became a king and was called “a man after God’s own heart.” What were his prayers like?

“Most of us in suffering stop praying or put up a brief petition for help. Here the psalmist nearly shouts his pain, frustration and even anger to God, but the significance is that he does so before God, processing his grief in sustained prayer. God understands us so well that he permits, even encourages, us to speak to him with uncensored hearts.”

Tim Keller

Do our prayers sound like the psalmist who lays out his whole heart and mind over and over again in psalm after psalm or have we fallen into more ritualistic patterns and language that fails to acknowledge the condition of our own hearts, thoughts, and struggles praying with filtered words?

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What might be different about us and the condition of our hearts if we prayed unfiltered prayers?

Do we forget that what is going on within us is something God already knows but He wants us to see it and acknowledge it to Him so He can work in us what only He can do?

Our lives are a story unfolding day by day. Stories are made up of more than one theme (especially the good ones we enjoy.)

“But we’re in a story in which everything eventually comes together, a narrative in which all the puzzling parts finally fit, about which years later we exclaim, ‘Oh, so that’s what that meant!’ But being in a story means we mustn’t attempt to get ahead of the plot – skip the hard parts, erase the painful parts, detour the disappointment.”

Eugene Peterson

And guess what? David wasn’t the only model for unfiltered prayers.

This Holy Week reminds us of how Jesus knew He was in the midst of his story not only on Palm Sunday but each day before that and each day after that as He approached the cross and the agonizing death, He knew was waiting for Him. And the night before He was to be crucified, scripture shows us He is kneeling in agonizing prayer, unfiltered prayer before Father God.

“Then Jesus went with them to a garden called Gethsemane and told his disciples, “Stay here while I go over there and pray.” Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then he said, “This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”

Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?”

Matthew 26:36-39 (MSG)

“He then left them a second time. Again he prayed, “My Father, if there is no other way than this, drinking this cup to the dregs, I’m ready. Do it your way.”

Matthew 26:42 (MSG)
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The Long Game


Today I come to the end of this series on Nehemiah. I hope those of you who have taken this journey with me have been encouraged and blessed by not only a review of the stories, but hopefully a new insight here or there. I confess this has always been one of my favorite Old Testament books. As I finished reading it recently, I couldn’t resist this journey I have written about. One of the study resources I used made specific note about Nehemiah’s godly leadership, evidences of that and how it was broadened by experience. As I was reading and studying, those points were ones I especially wanted to share.

I think that in an era where it can be hard to identify faithful godly leadership in so many arenas, Nehemiah has much to teach us. Today I want to look at one final characteristic:

A godly leader keeps leading.

To gain a sense of that point, let me turn us to look at the story as we near the end of it.

The book of Nehemiah is at the end of Old Testament history even though Esther appears last canonically. So, in truth, Nehemiah is the last piece of Old Testament history we have. That gets my attention.

Throughout the story we have watched Nehemiah’s heart and actions respond to God in obedience. His leadership has been steady throughout. When we reach chapter 13, we see the Law is still being read, that same truth the exiles had committed to follow after hearing it read the first time and repenting. They were clearly hearing the people of God were to be separate from the people of other nations. Specifically, they were reminded the Ammonites and the Moabites were never to be living in their midst.

Once again, however, they were failing to be faithful. Tobiah was mixed up with the chief priest and had even allowed Tobiah to lodge in the temple. The chief priest’s grandson had also married Sanballat’s daughter. He had entered into a variety of alliances and ideas with the enemies of the people of God and instead of modeling what the Law taught, he was doing the exact opposite.


How did this happen? Read the text to see what you may discover, but one thing will be clear: Nehemiah was out of town when all this was taking place and now has returned. As governor of the city, he once again demonstrates his courage by throwing out the chief priest who had not followed the Law and defiled the temple. He also threw out everyone who belonged to him or was connected to him in any way.

Nehemiah was acutely aware that God’s house was never to be profaned so he was clear he had to go about doing a thorough house cleaning. He discovers a lot. He learns the Levites had not been receiving their portions as the chief priest was caught up with the enemies of the people of God. As a result,, they had fled into the area surrounding the city because the people were not providing for them as outlined by the Law. Nehemiah called the magistrates of the city to account for not administering the city as had been directed and outlined. He took note of how the Sabbath had been profaned as well and grieved and acted to restore that day as God had outlined to Moses.

It was clear in the absence of Nehemiah’s godly leadership, everyone else went astray from his or her commitment. He needed to constantly remind the people of their promises. The people were caught up in the same kinds of sins evident throughout all their history prior to the story of Nehemiah. His work of leading never ended. He was a shepherd to the people and they sorely needed one.

We have been blessed to have had the Living Word, Jesus, show us the way and shepherd us. He came to provide the ultimate sacrifice because He loved us and knew that we too would be unable to keep our promises and walk in pure obedience. His death and resurrection would give us the path to relationship with Him forever. He wanted His to be assured of His everlasting love through His grace and mercy.

Even so, Nehemiah demonstrated godly leadership before the Word came in the flesh and in this series, we saw the evidence of it in Nehemiah’s life.

  • A godly leader prays
  • A godly leader acts
  • A godly leader faces opposition
  • A godly leader cares
  • A godly leader turns people to God’s word
  • A godly leader confesses sin
  • A godly leader leads people in specific commitments
  • A godly leader keeps leading

Modeling Produces What is Modeled


A long time ago I learned that I might try to teach my children and others a great many things. If I was fortunate, they might learn some of the things I taught, but I could guarantee they would nearly always learn things they “caught” from me. It was what I was doing, saying, and modeling that really had the greatest impact and that was especially true when my words and behaviors did not match. They would be more likely to “catch” my behaviors even if I would have wished otherwise.

As I have been walking through Nehemiah with you the past several weeks, it has been clear that Nehemiah was demonstrating excellent evidences of leadership, godly leadership. Up until now, we have identified six qualities:

  • A godly leader prays
  • A godly leader acts
  • A godly leader faces opposition
  • A godly leader cares
  • A godly leader turns people to God’s Word
  • A godly leader confesses sins

It has also been clear that time and again Nehemiah’s choices and behaviors, his attitude and his strategies were consistent as evident of his godly character.

As we observe those in leadership over us in all arenas, we will discover if they live out what they would ask us to be and do. Their words and rhetoric may woo us and persuade us to follow them; but if we do that the inspiration they elicit will begin to fade when we do not detect those same principles lived out.

Modeling matters.

Throughout the book of Nehemiah, we have noted how well he has modeled the life of not only a godly leader, but first a godly person. By the time we near the end of the story and the people have confessed their sins, we see another aspect of godly leadership.

At the start of the story Nehemiah demonstrated a commitment to follow what he knew was significant as a godly man. He knew Jerusalem needed to be rebuilt so the exiles living there could be protected and be reminded of who they were and whose they were. From the time he arrived in Jerusalem, his commitment was on display for all to see. It was there when he assessed the condition of the walls and gates. It was there when he came up with a strategy to rebuild those walls and gates and to handle the opposition to those very plans. It was there when the physical rebuilding was done, and he recognized the need to hear the book of the Law opened so the exiles would be reminded of how they were to observe all God had laid out for them. It was there when he joined the community in the confession of sins and a heart of repentance.

Such godly leadership evoked a godly response from the people. After the confession they made, now they made an oath to keep God’s law. They not only said it, but they put it in writing and the leaders, Levites, and priests affixed their seals to it as well. They had heard the truth and they responded. After all, they had watched Nehemiah modeling this type of commitment from the beginning.

Their oath showed their seriousness as well because it included a curse if they would not follow their commitment to their pledges. Throughout the ninth chapter of Nehemiah their specific promises are outlined. These acted much like a covenant for the people.

Pledges and covenant are words not so common in our vernacular and neither is the word oath. When we do see those words or hear them, it is most often when someone is appearing in court or being sworn into office or being married.

Perhaps we no longer value such commitments.

Could it also be that too often we have observed that leaders we are submitting to do not make them, or keep them so we feel excused from doing so?

Modeling matters.

A godly leader leads people in specific commitments.