About mindyferguson

Mindy Ferguson is an author, bible teacher, and conference speaker. She is the author of four books, including the Eyewitness Bible Study series published by AMG Publishers. Her newest Bible study, Eyewitness to Glory: Moses, will be released in June, 2014. Mindy enjoys spending her spare time with her husband of twenty-six years and her two adult children.

Loving, Listening, and Writing

“The truth is that careful listening feels so much like love that most of us can hardly tell the difference.” –Dr. James Dobson

This quote was presented at a leadership meeting I attended last week and it has been on my mind ever since. February is known as the month of love. We Americans spend billions of dollars on flowers, candy, and jewelry every February 14th in an effort to communicate our love for our children, our spouses, or other significant people in our lives. Yet, according to Dr. Dobson, careful listening is one of the most loving gifts we can give to our friends and families.

My daughter Brianna communicated her need for my focused attention, even as a toddler.  If I attempted to do household chores or work on my computer while she was telling me a story, she would say, “Listen to me with your eyes, Mommy.”  She had a speech impediment at the time, so it sounded more like, “Lithen to me wiff your eyes, Mommy.” She was adorable. She was also correct in her assessment that her mother was not actually listening to what she was saying. Whenever possible, I would walk away from my computer or put down my dusting cloth, look her in the eyes, and give my storytelling toddler my full attention as she talked.

When asked what command in God’s Word is most important, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39 MSG).

We all like to know our thoughts have been heard. Carefully listening to the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of others makes them feel validated and lets them know we value their ideas. It occurs to me that, as writers, careful listening will not only communicate love to the people we care about and enhance those relationships, but it will also improve our writing.

what did you say

Writing requires inspiration and inspiration requires input. Listening—really listening—to the people God places in our lives is a great way to spur fresh ideas. Children often have an amusing, unfiltered way of describing our world. Older adults, if we’ll take the time to listen, offer a wealth of knowledge and wisdom gained through their many life experiences. A husband brings perspective to an emotional topic. A wife enhances historical facts with empathy and compassion. Carefully listening to humanity—even strangers in a busy city park—can provide fresh ideas for a blog post or inspire a new twist in plot for a novel.

This February—the month when we talk a lot about love—let’s love like Jesus said we should. Let’s love our God with our passion and our prayers and with the intellect He has given us. Let’s love people by carefully listening to their thoughts and feelings. Keep a pen handy to jot down a quote or a blog post idea (after the conversation is over!), but be fully present as you interact with the people God has placed in your life. Listen to them with your eyes as well as with your ears.

Our relationships will be richer and we may even discover that our writing takes on new depth.

How has careful listening enhanced your relationships or your writing?

Living More Renewed in 2013

Did you make any resolutions for 2013?  Okay, now the convicting question, are you keeping them? Whether 2012 was a fruitful year for you, a dry, challenging season, or somewhere in between, the new year offers a fresh start—a new beginning filled with a renewed sense of hope for the future. However, our 2013 won’t look much different from past years unless we make some changes. Resolutions are often our way of acknowledging the aspects of our lives that need a little tweaking.

This year, I made a resolution to live life more fully renewed and spiritually refreshed through a greater commitment to prayer. Would you consider joining me in my quest to become stronger and more fully devoted to Jesus than ever before?

DaffodilsI must caution you that is just the kind of commitment the apostle Peter claimed to have before he denied His Lord three times.

Check out this adapted excerpt from my new Bible study on Peter—Eyewitness  to Majesty: Abandoning Self for Christ:

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them…”But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” –Mark 14:27-30

Peter was claiming greater allegiance to Jesus than that of all the other disciples. Just like many of us, Peter desperately wanted to be strong and fully devoted to Jesus. His spirit was willing, but his flesh was overwhelmingly weak.

Peter didn’t realize a test of his commitment was coming. Satan had asked to sift him like wheat. Grain is purified by sifting. In Jesus’ day, the grain was placed into large sieves that were shaken vigorously, allowing the grain to pass through. Undesirable pieces or weeds were left behind.  I believe a sifting by Satan occurs when everything in our lives is shaken to the point where we have nothing to cling to except our faith, but trials of any kind can bring about some level of spiritual sifting. We come through those circumstances stronger and some weeds, such as discontentment or pride, have often been sifted away.

Just before Jesus was arrested and then crucified on the cross, the Son of God knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed to His Father in such agony that He was sweating blood.

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” –Mark 14:37-38

Jesus was not just informing Peter of his weakness. Jesus Himself was being tempted to flee the cross. His spirit was willing, but His flesh was weak. Jesus gained the strength He needed to overcome His flesh through prayer. If Jesus needed to pray to overcome temptation, don’t you think we should do the same?

Jesus’ sorrow overwhelmed Him to the point of death. Yet He was able to pray, “Not what I will, but what You will.” He got up from that prayer time strong and in total submission to God’s will. In contrast, Peter slept and rested while Jesus prayed. He had emphatically proclaimed he would not fall away. He wasn’t prepared for the sifting about to take place in his life. Jesus had warned him, yet Peter wasn’t listening. His spirit truly was willing, but his flesh was tragically weak.  Copyright © 2013 AMG Publishers, All Rights Reserved.

If Jesus needed to pray to overcome His flesh, we cannot possibly overcome temptation without prayer. Like Peter, our spirits may be willing, but our flesh is tragically weak.

To make prayer a priority this year, I’m setting two alarms to make sure I get up early enough to have my prayer time each morning. I’m also posting a prayer on my author Facebook page every Monday morning for accountability and to pray regularly with other believers. And finally, I’m meeting with three other women once a month for a time of focused prayer.

If you’re making a greater commitment to prayer, what are you doing to make that pledge a reality? Let’s live 2013 more fully renewed and spiritually refreshed—together.

The Written Word Changes Lives

The written word changes lives.

I had the distinct privilege of being a part of a missions organization that helped fund a project  through Pioneer Bible Translators to bring a written language to a remote tribe in Papau New Guinea. Once that language was established, a team worked diligently over many months to translate the New Testament into the language of that tribe.

As I learned about the tribe and their customs, I was struck by the fact that for years these people had spent the majority of their time trying to appease evil spirits. They lived in constant fear. Missionaries spent years working with the tribal people, teaching them about Jesus and then translating God’s Word into their language so they could pick up a New Testament Bible and read for themselves the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Just imagine with me for a moment what it must have been like for these people to read these words for the first time, after spending their entire lives trying to appease evil spirits on a daily basis and living in a constant state of fear:

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
-Romans 8:31-34 (NIV1984)

The written word changes lives.

As you write the messages God has placed upon your heart, you have the opportunity to share the message of hope through faith in Christ using your unique voice through your particular genre.

God is for us; who can be against us? May you find a greater sense of calling and purpose as you consider how your words can impact the lives of your readers. Writing is a calling. Be diligent. Seek God for strength and courage and inspiration.

The written word changes lives.

How have you seen people’s lives changed through the words God has inspired you to write? (It’s okay to boast, as long as we are boasting in the Lord! – See 1 Corinthians 1:31)

God’s Goodness in the Rearview Mirror

What a strange sticker, I thought to myself as I glanced at the rear window of a small car sitting in the lane next to me at a red light. At first glance, the sign was illegible because the words were backwards. The sticker had been applied on the inside of the window rather than the outside, as it was designed to be displayed. But as I focused more intently on the words and read in reverse, I realized the sign read, “God is Always Good.”

For a moment, I wondered why the petite, middle-aged woman driving the car would have applied the sticker improperly. Surely she recognized that other drivers would have a difficult time reading the awkwardly displayed sign. But as I gave the scenario more thought, I realized she hadn’t applied that sign to her window for other drivers. She had placed the sign there for herself. It was positioned slightly off center so it could be seen (and easily read) every time she glanced into her rearview mirror.

I felt an immediate sense of kinship with this unknown woman. I too have experienced seasons in my life when I needed visual reminders of God’s goodness. I taped “[God] works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11) on the dashboard of my car when I received a letter from yet another publishing house saying, “Your study is well written, but we aren’t accepting new Bible study authors at this time.” I wrote “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) on my bathroom mirror when my heart was broken over a tragic loss. I’ve even written Scripture passages on my hands when I was feeling particularly down or discouraged.  

As the traffic light changed from red to green and we drove in different directions, I lifted up a prayer for this mysterious woman who chooses to keep God’s goodness ever present in her rearview mirror. I would imagine her focus upon the goodness of our God will give her the strength she needs to make her way through whatever challenges she encounters on the road of life.

You may not want to paste a sign on the rear window of your car, but during seasons of disappointment or trial, I encourage you to write Scripture that testifies to God’s goodness and faithfulness in prominent places around your home, in your car, or at your workplace. You’ll find greater strength and courage for whatever lies ahead in your writing journey.

What passages of Scripture encourage you most when you are feeling discouraged?

Sitting and Receiving

How is your writing going?

I usually feel uncomfortable answering that question. However, I’ve discovered the answer is often linked to an even more intimidating question. How is your quiet time going?

Thankfully, I have people in my life who care enough to ask me that question. I must admit, there have been seasons when my quiet time wasn’t going well at all. There have even been periods of time when I yielded to the temptation to skip my time with the Lord all together.

At one point last year, after about a month of whispering arrow prayers to God as I rushed from one task to the next, I broke down in tears. I missed my connection with my Lord. I was exhausted and weary. I knew I desperately needed unstructured time with Him. I finally put my to-do list aside, opened my Bible, and just started reading. I longed to connect with God and sense His presence. I was hungry for His Word and thirsty for His Spirit. As I read in John chapter six, I came across the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand and noticed something unique about John’s description of the event.

Crowds of people were gathered, and they needed to eat. When one of Jesus’ disciples identified a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, Jesus said,

“Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place and the men sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish (John 6:10-11 NIV).

Our Lord told the people to sit down, and about five thousand men sat on that grassy mountainside, anxious to receive what Jesus had for them. He distributed to those who were seated. As I read and re-read the words, “to those who were seated,” it occurred to me that some of the people on that mountainside chose not to sit down. If you are familiar with the account of that amazing event, you know those five loaves of bread and two fish miraculously fed everyone who was seated, with twelve baskets of leftovers to spare.

As I questioned why some of the people would choose not to sit down and receive the sustenance Jesus was offering them, God’s tender conviction washed over me.  I realized I had been just like the people who chose to remain standing. I had been so busy writing and checking off tasks from my to-do list, I hadn’t taken time to sit and receive the spiritual food Jesus had to sustain me and strengthen me and inspire me.

Are you taking time to sit and receive the sustenance Jesus has for you? I can relate to a hectic schedule and deadlines that make setting aside time with our Lord seem difficult. However, if your writing isn’t going well, perhaps you need to have a seat on a grassy mountainside with your Lord. Whether you need inspiration or direction, or simply a few words of encouragement, Jesus has more than enough to sustain you with baskets full to spare. Sometimes, we have to sit in order to receive.

So, my fellow writing friends, how is your quiet time going?

A Gracious “No” and a Greater Glory

Do you have difficulty telling people “no” and setting good, healthy boundaries in order to stick to your writing schedule? I have to admit, sometimes I do. But in order to meet my current writing deadline, I have to be more diligent about protecting my time. I am a morning person, so my designated writing time is from eight in the morning to noon, four days a week.

Just after determining my weekly word count for the year and setting goals to meet my December deadline, some friends I hadn’t seen in awhile invited me to join them for a long lunch at one of our favorite restaurants.  I needed to say no. I stammered. I paused . . .  I caved. I went to lunch and thoroughly enjoyed catching up. However, as a result, I got behind and ended up spending Saturday at the office, missing family time, in order to stay on schedule.

I would venture to say, most Christian writers do what we do from a deep sense of mission. We feel “called” to write, and we want to glorify God with our work.  Jesus glorified God on earth by completing the work He was given to do (John 17:4). In order to complete His mission, Jesus had to stay focused, and there were times He had to say “no” to what appeared to be great opportunities.

One time, after teaching and performing miracles in the synagogue at Capernaum, word spread, and by evening the entire town gathered at Simon Peter’s house where Jesus “healed many” and “drove out many demons” (Mark 1:34). What happened next serves as a great example for those of us who need to stay focused and struggle to say “no.”

“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!’  Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:35-38 NIV).

Jesus said “no” because he needed to remain focused on his mission. If we want to complete the work God has given us to do, we also have to be willing to say “no” to wonderful, yet distracting opportunities.

So, I’d like to share a few tips I’ve found helpful in my effort to graciously say “no” and remain focused on my writing mission:

  1. Pray. Spend focused time in a solitary place, talking with your Father. Prayerfully plan your schedule; seek His guidance for your writing and the way you spend your time.  It is easier to say “no” without feeling guilty when you’ve prayed over your writing schedule.
  2. Protect your writing time. Set aside a specific time to write and schedule it in your calendar (or your phone) just as you would record a doctor’s appointment. When someone asks you about your availability, you can avoid facing a perplexed stare or wrinkled brow as you apologetically explain why you need to spend the time writing. Instead, you can simply say you are booked at that time.
  3. Present alternatives.  When an invitation interferes with your writing schedule, offer alternative times when you are available, or make an effort to arrange something at a later date. It’s easier to say “no” now when you are offering to say “yes” later.
  4. Plan some flexibility. Some interruptions are inevitable and necessary. There will be days when the urgent gains our attention. So, prepare for interruptions when you set your writing goals. For instance, my daughter graduates this May, and she will be going off to college in the fall. I’ve incorporated gaps in my writing calendar during the months of May and August. Plan some flexibility. Get ahead when you can. Catch up when you get behind.

What additional tips can you offer to help all of us graciously say “no” so we can stay focused and complete the great works God has placed upon our hearts to write for His glory?