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Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Dena Johnson Martin

Crosswalk.com blogspot for Dena Johnson of Dena's Devos

Survive or thrive: The power of mindset

When I began the journey of walking through my divorce, I was terrified. I felt as if my entire world had collapsed around me, and I had not future. Everything I knew was gone in an instant.

Somehow, in the midst of the pain and devastation, I made a decision:

I would not survive. I would thrive.

My kids would not survive. They would thrive.

It was a conscious decision I made early in the process, one that colored my every thought, my every action. It was the mindset I chose instead of the one I allowed to simply overtake me.

You see, mindset is essential to our well-being. We are told in Romans 12:2 not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Renewing our minds is a conscious decision to think on things that are lovely and noble and true and right and excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:9). It is the decision to control our thoughts instead of allowing our thoughts (our human inclinations) to control us. It is the process of deliberately identifying wrong thinking and replacing those thoughts with the truths of scripture.

Where do we see an example in scripture of someone who allowed his mindset to guide his future?

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Daniel 1:8

Daniel was a young teenager, likely of royal descent. He had been stripped of everything he had known and led away into captivity in a foreign land. Yet, he was firmly convinced of what he believed about the God of Israel.

As a young Jew, Daniel had learned the importance of scripture. I am certain he had recited the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) twice daily for many years. The Word was burned deep within his mind—and his heart.

When Daniel was captive in Babylon, he was determined not to defile himself, not to be brainwashed by his Babylonian captors. Instead, he determined to follow the way of his God, the God of Israel. He resolved to keep his mind firmly fixed on God so as to live in a way that is pleasing to His Father.

How did it turn out for Daniel?

It was not an easy journey. Along the way, he was hated and maligned by those around him. He was thrown into the lions’ den. He suffered much at the hands of his captors.

But, it was also obvious that God’s hand of blessing and protection was upon him. He was honored and respected by the kings he served. His countenance shone brighter than those around him. He was called upon when the wise men of the country were baffled and unable to discern dreams. He was elevated to a position of honor.

And why?

Because he made a decision from the beginning to be obedient no matter the cost.

Because he decided circumstances would not control his attitude.

Because he determined in his heart he would not sin against God.

Because Daniel had been transformed by the renewing of his mind so he would not conform to this world.

One of the most consistent questions I am asked is what does it look like (practically) to be transformed by the renewing of one’s mind?

I think there are several important ideas that must be addressed to answer that question.

Make the decision. The first thing we must do is make up our minds that we will not allow this world to control us, decide we want to be transformed rather than conform to this world. Whether it is making the decision to thrive in the midst of difficult circumstances or being firmly convicted that we won’t be defiled by the riches of this life as Daniel did, we must start by making the decision of what we want.

There is a small book called Lose 40 Pounds in One Day. The premise of the book is that it is about mindset. We must start by making the decision of what we truly want. And, it may be a decision we have to make every single day. But we have to start by setting our mind on what we want one time.

If we don’t make the decision, the circumstances of life will continue to control us.

Control our thoughts. It’s not so much about giving up certain thoughts, such as those of anxiety, depression, or hopelessness. Instead, it’s about changing our thoughts.

A lot of people think they will give up something—maybe alcohol or porn—but the truth is you need to replace that something with something else. My weakness is Diet Coke. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t smoke. I don’t have any “bad” habits…other than Diet Coke. When I am stressed, I tend to reach for a Diet Coke. When it has been a bad day at work, I grab a Diet Coke. But if I want to successfully give up Diet Coke, I would do well to replace it with something that has a little flavor.

It’s the same with our thoughts. We don’t just stop thinking negative thoughts; we must replace negative thoughts with the truth of scripture. We don’t just stop wrong thinking; we replace it with right thinking.

Controlling our thoughts starts with hiding (memorizing) his word in our hearts. It’s about recognizing wrong thinking and changing those thoughts to something that is true (scripture). It’s about choosing to think on His word rather than wrongs done against us. It’s about learning to think on things that are lovely and noble and true and right and excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:9).

That’s when His perfect peace that surpasses all understanding takes over our lives.

Recognize we needs God’s help. Alcoholics who have been in 12-step programs recognize it. Drug addicts recognize it. Porn addicts recognize it.

But do we?

We cannot successfully be transformed without God’s help. When we are in a battle for our mind, we must admit our helplessness and seek His help. We must remember that in our weakness His strength is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9). We must remember that when we are tempted, there is always a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13).

What about you? How are you doing in the transformation process? Maybe you are in a great place, reveling in His love. Maybe you feel like depression and anxiety are getting the best of you. Can we decide together—today, right now—they we will begin the process of transformation together?

I’m willing to make the commitment. Will you join me?

After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ Acts 13:22

David was known as a man after God’s own heart.

The man who lusted after Bathsheba. Committed adultery. Murdered the husband of her lover.

And yet this man, with all of his failures, is known as a man after God’s own heart.

My first question becomes how does this apply to us as believers today? It means that no matter what the failures in our past, our futures are unlimited with God. He doesn’t see the multitude of sins. He doesn’t label us with our failures. He looks at our hearts. He knows our intentions. He knows how we long to serve Him, even if we mess up. We should never let our past mistakes color our futures when we are with God.

My next question is what characteristics did David possess that made him a man after God’s own heart? Whatever they are, I want to possess them too. I want my heart to be pure, fully devoted to God. I want God to one day say, “Dena was a woman after my own heart.”

Here are a few characteristics that I see in God’s life that I pray will characterize my life.

Repentance.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Psalm 51:1-4

David messed up when he took Bathsheba. He was a wretched sinner, just like you and me. But what made David pure is his brokenness over his sin, his devastation over his failures before God.

The entire 51st Psalm is one of repentance, of brokenness over David’s sin. I can just see him as he sits down before God and begins to pour out his heart. The words fall from his mouth as the tears stream down his face. He is completely torn up over his actions, over the fact he failed the One who has elevated him to a place of honor before man.

I know I have seen the ugliness of my heart, and I find myself on my face before God seeking His forgiveness—a gift He is always willing to give. Perhaps we all need to take the time to allow God to search us and try us and see if there be any wickedness within us a little more often—just so we can have the sweet gift of having His mercy poured out over us.

Mercy on his enemies

The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders. 2 Samuel 18:5

David was a warrior. He knew how to fight a battle and utterly destroy his enemies. He had done it often, always with God’s direction.

But he also knew how to show mercy to his enemies. David’s son, Absalom, attempted to overthrow his father’s kingdom. It would have been justifiable under the circumstances for David to destroy his enemy, but he begged his men to show mercy on Absalom.

It wasn’t just his son, however. Remember when Saul was hunting down David, attempting to kill him to protect the kingdom for his own dynasty? David had multiple opportunities to kill Saul, and yet he respected the office. He respected that God had placed Saul in command, and he refused to hurt King Saul.

It stands to reason that David understood everything He had came from God. He trusted God to keep His word, in His time. He did not allow anger and bitterness to eat away at His heart. Instead, he left it all in God’s hands.

Humility.

David sent out his troops, a third under the command of Joab, a third under Joab’s brother Abishai son of Zeruiah, and a third under Ittai the Gittite. The king told the troops, “I myself will surely march out with you.”

But the men said, “You must not go out; if we are forced to flee, they won’t care about us. Even if half of us die, they won’t care; but you are worth ten thousand of us.[a] It would be better now for you to give us support from the city.” 2 Samuel 18:2-3

David knew his position and everything he had was a direct gift, a blessing, from the God of Israel. He didn’t allow his fame or his success or his wealth to become a source of pride. He knew that God could—at any given time—rip everything away from him and give the blessings to someone else.

And because of this truth, David was a humble man.

David could go directly to God and find direction. David could rely on his own wisdom to lead the nation of Israel. He could have done anything he wanted.

Yet, he knew that the best thing he could do was seek the advice of godly advisors—and follow it. He listened to the men of wisdom who surrounded him. He allowed humility to be a trait that oozed from his heart, a hear that was fully devoted to God.

Undivided heart.

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. Psalm 84:10

David’s heart was fully devoted to God in all he said and in all he did. Serving God—no matter how lowly the position—was the best gift he could imagine. There was no place he wanted to be more than in the presence of the Father.

What about you? Is being in your Father’s presence your favorite place to be? Does your heart thrill as you walk into a room filled with praises lifted to Him? Do you find yourself longing to lift your heart and hands to Him? Is He your greatest love?

I’ve definitely had times in my life where I could answer those questions a resounding yes without a moment’s hesitation. Other times, I can’t honestly say His presence is my greatest desire. I want it to be, but there are times when life has just overwhelmed me, sucked the joy out of my relationship with Him. But I want it to be my greatest joy. I want my heart to leap within me when I hear praises lifted to Him. I want to have an undivided heart just like David did.

I don’t know about you, but I long to be a woman after God’s own heart. I pray He searches me and knows my thoughts and leads me in the way everlasting. I pray He replaces my heart of stone with a heart of flesh. I pray He makes me more like Him each and every day.

I am divorced, and it’s all to God’s glory!

Before you start throwing the stones in your hands, please hear me out.

I grew up with a firm foundation in Jesus Christ and a conservative denomination. I gave my heart and life to Christ at the age of six and vowed never to date anyone who didn’t make God his number one priority. When I felt a call to full-time ministry at the age of ten, I knew the path my life was on--and I never looked back.

As I grew, I watched in horror—with stones in my hands—as well-known Christians announced their divorces. I vowed never to listen to their music or sermons again. How could they ever break their vow and humiliate the name of Christ, especially while serving in full-time ministry?

In my last years of college, God brought a man into my life. I knew without a doubt that God had sent him, that God had told me this was the man with whom I was to spend the rest of my life. I entered my marriage with a solemn vow before God and man. Divorce was never an option in my mind

Through 15 years of marriage and three precious children, we had seen our share of ups and downs. I had devoted myself to being his helpmate, a co-minister at our church, a mother. Although our marriage was not perfect, it was good. He would counsel couples having marital problems and come home to tell me how blessed we were to have such a solid marriage.

On September 9, 2008, my life shattered when my husband was caught in an affair with a woman in our church. After my fair share of yelling, screaming, and crying, my heart began to soften. I began to see this situation as an opportunity for God to be glorified, for Him to take a good marriage and make it a great marriage. I set my heart on forgiveness and reconciliation, and I prayed that God would open the doors to a new ministry.

For nearly a year, I worked and prayed. I endured untold pain and fear and hardship. I did everything within my power to keep the marriage together. In the end, I discovered that while it only takes one to walk away from a marriage, it takes two to keep it together. I could not save my marriage alone.

Now I was the object of scorn and condemnation. I was the one facing the angry mob holding the stones. I was the one who had humiliated Christ through a divorce.

I’ve asked God many times why He would tell me to marry a man who would cheat on me and not repent. I’ve reminded Him that I could have certainly found a man on my own who would do that. I’ve wondered why I should continue to walk in obedience if divorce was the blessing I received.

Although I know that God’s perfect will was for my marriage to survive, I have learned to factor in man’s free will. You see, God had a plan for my husband and I to have a great ministry, a great marriage. When my husband chose to walk in disobedience, God had a plan for reconciliation, a plan to receive the glory for a marriage repaired by the grace of God.

And, when my husband continued to walk in disobedience, God adjusted His plan once more. You see, now He wants to get the glory through my divorce.

I in no way argue that God wanted me to divorce. However, He did give me permission to divorce (Matthew 5:32). The important fact is that my response to my situation—even though it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to—can bring God glory. You see, God has taken my life and redeemed it. I went through a time of death, depression, and despair when I lost my marriage. But, through God’s love and faithfulness, He has restored me to life. I have truly become a new person! My faith has grown immensely through the trials and tribulations of this life! I have a new hunger and thirst for Him that is beyond my greatest dream! He has taken the hurt and pain that I have suffered, and He is now leveraging them for His glory—as He opens doors for me to share the hope of a life renewed.

In John 11, we read the story of Jesus’s good friend Lazarus. Lazarus’s sisters sent Jesus an urgent message, telling him to come quickly.

When Jesus heard it, He said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. John 11:4-6

Did you see that? When Jesus was called to heal his good friend, he didn’t rush to Lazarus’s side; instead, He stayed where He was for two more days. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb for four days. Surely if Jesus had shown up in a timely manner, Lazarus would have never died!

But, Jesus said, “This is for the glory of God.”

You see, God could have shown up in my marriage. He could have prevented my divorce. He could have heard my relentless pleas. But, He allowed my husband to exert free will.

What did Jesus do when Mary, Lazarus’s sister, came to Him and fell at His feet? Jesus wept (John 11:35). He experienced the emotions of the situation, the pain of losing a dear friend.

What did my Savior do when my marriage crumbled? He wept with me. He cried over the hurt, the pain, the devastation. He cried for the lives impacted by our divorce. He cried over the broken vows.

Then, as only Jesus could do, He called for the stone over Lazarus’ tomb to be removed. His sister, Martha, protested. “But, Lord, his body is decaying! He stinks! We can’t do that!”

When I filed for divorce, people around me began to pick up their stones and accuse me of breaking my covenant, of humiliating the name of Christ. I walked in shame and condemnation. I had a heavy burden of guilt. I felt as if there was an overwhelming stench that surrounded me.

As the people obeyed Jesus and removed the stone from Lazarus’s grave, Jesus gave the command.

Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard Me. I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so they may believe You sent Me.” After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him and let him go.” John 11:41-44

After Jesus’ wept with me over the death of my dreams, He called me—the dead woman—to come forth. He proclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life!” (John 11:25). He told me that He would resurrect my life, that He would take the death I had experienced and give me a new life. He told me that He would replace my heart of stone with one of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). He told me that He would do something new (Isaiah 43:18-19). He told me that He would do something amazing in me so that He could do something amazing through me. He commanded me to remove the graveclothes of guilt and condemnation and to put them behind me.

As I continue to walk this path, I am amazed at the new life I have. My trials and tribulations have worked into me a new compassion for hurting people. While I certainly don’t recommend divorce, I am the first in line to offer a word of hope and encouragement to anyone walking through the pain. I no longer pick up my stones because I realize there’s always more to the story. My heart has a burning passion for purity and encouraging those whose lives have been ravaged by the storms of this life. My purpose in this life has become proclaiming the restoration that only God can bring!

It doesn’t matter what life throws at you: divorce, adultery, medical problems, financial ruin, addiction. It doesn’t matter whether the storm was heaped on you by someone else or by your own acts of disobedience. The only thing that matters is what you do with what life gives you. No matter what the situation, God can—and will—redeem it for His glory. You must simply choose to surrender to the Resurrection and the Life.

While divorce was not God’s perfect will for my life, I choose to let it be for His glory!

Thank you, Lord, for taking my life from the depths of the grave and breathing new life into me. Thank you for taking the failures of my past and using them to encourage others. Thank you for taking my divorce and using it for your glory!

 

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