In a conversation with a respected friend, one remark flew right past the logic center of my brain and poked a hole in my heart. My friend had said one thing and somewhere between my ears and my soul it got twisted so that I heard something entirely different.
I heard blame: “XYZ’s unpleasant behavior is all your fault,” and I heard put-down: “You are a bad person, worthy of rejection.”
Aha! Rejection! There’s a mental stronghold where the enemy twists thoughts, shreds meanings, and shoots out his lies. I see other strongholds in my soul too, but what can I do?
Asking the Holy Spirit to show me the truth might help. He points out a foundation stone of pride—thinking life should work the way I want it to. So I could start with humbling myself before God and remembering that He’s God and I’m not.
I’ve let past rejections and hurt feelings build up instead of dealing with them God’s way. Now fortress walls guard a breeding ground for grief and misunderstanding. They ought to come down as I choose to repent of my bitterness and to quit focusing on myself.
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NIV).
(Picture by Colin Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13083522)
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). I wonder what kind of fear that is. It must not be the fear that He will reject me if I accidentally do something wrong or that He will give up on me if I fail too many times. No, it can’t be fears like that because that fear involves torment, and God’s perfect love casts that out (1 John 4:18).
Rather, surely that “fear of the Lord” recognizes His awesome power, might, intelligence, and total authority. It acknowledges that He is God, and I am not; that He is the potter, and I am clay; and that He is absolutely righteous, pure and true. It is fear that seeks to obey His commands and walk His way. And obeying Him and His laws always results in a better outcome than anything I or any other human being could plan or do. Thus, the fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of wisdom.
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3 NIV).
I didn’t do very well at this today when I ran up against a rule I didn’t like. The man I talked to said he didn’t make the rules; he just had to obey them. It was a state regulation. “Stupid rule! Grumble, grumble. How inconvenient!” Oops. That’s definitely not “what is above” thinking. Either I had forgotten to set my mind on heavenly things, or it had drifted off. I felt disappointed because I couldn’t do what I’d planned. But why was I so irritated? Maybe in pride and self-focus I think I have the right to say how things ought to be. Then I’m upset when they don’t go that way.
Next time, I hope I can do better at setting my mind on things of heaven and at remembering that I have died, and my life is now in Christ. I want to bring every thought captive to Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:5) and reorient my thinking back to its set point—things above.
(Set point=the level or point at which a variable physiological state (as body temperature or weight) tends to stabilize.
Luke 8:11, 15, “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. …15 [T]he ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”
I want to be “good ground,” so when Jesus plants seeds from God’s Word in my heart., I will humbly receive them (James 1:21). Jesus gives me living water—His Word and His Spirit—for watering the plants. As they start to grow. I can nurture them with the plant food of faith that results in obedience. (James 2:17, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”) I will diligently practice applying God’s Word to my life. I need to pull out weeds like anger, bitterness, jealousy, regret, strife, pride, haughtiness, and anything else that interferes with nourishing my soul.
Then these plants in my heart can mature and produce Holy Spirit fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
(Scripture quotes are New King James.)
According to forestry experts, small fires that clear the forest floor but don’t destroy the trees are beneficial. They leave nutrient-rich ash perfect for seeds to sprout and grow.
Like those purifying forest fires, the disappointments and difficulties of my life help me grow. They burn up my thorny pride and my tendency to look to self or others to make my life work (weeds). As I seek God amid the ashes in my heart, He grows seeds of humility and of love for Him and others. Fragrant flowers and fruitful shrubs develop from these seeds to replace the weeds and thorns.
Hebrews 12:11 “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Isaiah 61:1, 3 “’The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me…to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes….’” (Both New King James Version)
John 15:4-5, 7-8 NKJV “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. …7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit….”
If I live in Jesus and He in me, then His Spirit can produce much fruit in me. (The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—Galatians 5:22.) Without Christ I can’t produce these things in myself. In fact, it looks like (from John 15:5) I can’t do anything of lasting value without Christ’s abiding in me and I in Him.
Then John 15:7 says that if we abide in Christ, and His words live in us, we can ask what we desire, and it will be done. But as I look at verse 8 along with this one, I think that this “what we desire” is more about bearing fruit for God’s glory than about things we might want for ourselves or others Abiding in Christ and He in us and His Word living in us will help us stay on the right track.
Living in Jesus
Living in Your presence, Lord Jesus,
Your Word living in me—
Your blessed Holy Spirit
Breaking the chains—set this captive free.
Speaking Your Word to my spirit,
You opened my blinded eyes.
Your love and grace are amazing.
Your Word in our hearts makes us wise.
Your kindnesses outnumber my counting.
Your goodness outstretches our reach.
Oceans of love you pour on us.
Your good ways, to us You will teach.
Looking back over my Christian life so far, it looks like too much of it has been spent serving myself. I believed I served Christ. I knew all the right words and all the right Scriptures. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God. Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, strength—most important. Love others as self—2nd. Take up your cross and follow Jesus.” “Walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the desires of the flesh.” I could quote more.
But did I actually do those things? Many times, I was a hearer only. I didn’t ask, “How can I serve You, Lord, in this situation?” or “What do you want me to know and/or do and/or learn?” More often I asked (or said), “How can I get out of this difficulty?” “Please get me out of here!” “Help me through this.” “Please fix this, fix me, guide me, heal me, protect me” and on and on (or please do those things for friends or loved ones). It’s not that God doesn’t want to help with those things, but my focus was off. It appears that perhaps I thought Jesus should serve me instead of the other way around.
Lord Jesus, I want to truly love and serve You. Lord God, You alone are God. I repent of the many times I’ve served me instead of You. Holy Spirit, please work in me and change me as I yield to you and set the sail of my will to be an obedient servant of the Lord. Thank You, Lord for being so patient with me. Thank You for forgiveness for all of our sins because of the blood of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Luke 17:7-10 “And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘ Come at once and sit down to eat’? 8 But will he not rather say to him, ‘ Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘ We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'” New King James Version
Colossians 3:12-14 “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” [New Living Translation (NLT)]
Because I’m chosen, set apart, and loved by God, I can show mercy to others, act kindly, have a meek attitude, exercise patience, and think, behave, and speak humbly. In fact these attributes reflect Christ’s character, which I’m called to do, and which I want to do. I can and want to “cut some slack” for others and quickly forgive from my heart when others offend me, because I, myself, am forgiven because of Christ.
And most of all, I need to allow God’s unconditional love to flow through me to those with whom I interact.
Romans 13:12-14 also talks about the way I need to live as one of God’s people: “…Remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in darkness…. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.” (NLT)
How do I do this? Maybe I could set the sail of my will to quit responding to situations in my usual way—suspicion, anger, or self-focus. Instead I would decide to respond with trust in God, remembering His goodness, love and care. Maybe it would help to practice His presence all the time by remembering that He is here and then focusing on Him rather than things of earth. [Colossians 3:2 “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (New King James Version)
(Sailboat picture found by “GoodSearch.” Artist Berton Brown.)
Isaiah 55:2-3 “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. 3 Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you — the sure mercies of David.” (New King James)
Feeding on what I hear from God as I come humbly to Him and listen—this is true soul food. He gives wisdom abundantly. I’ll delight myself in what He says, and my soul will be refreshed and revived and will live. I’ll learn of Jesus and find rest for my soul (Matthew 11:28-30). I’ll receive the “sure mercies of David—pardon, blessings, and connection/fellowship with the almighty, totally just yet perfectly loving, only true God. (The New Living Translation says “all the unfailing love I promised to David” instead of “the sure mercies of David.”)
And what further delights my soul is that this very God has made me His child through His Son Jesus Christ! Indeed, as Isaiah 55:8-9 says, His ways and thoughts are higher than mine! They are more wonderful and marvelous than I can comprehend or imagine.
Psalm 37:3 “ Trust (lean on, rely on, and be confident) in the Lord and do good; so shall you dwell in the land and feed surely on His faithfulness, and truly you shall be fed.” Amplified Bible
“Lead us not into temptation….”
Lord, please lead me always away from self-focus. There regrets, blaming, anger, pride, and self-pity lurk. These funnel into a slippery slide that winds ever downward into depression.
Teach me to walk on the solid path of humility and gratitude. Peace and joy flourish like flowers at the edges of this road. In this place of thankfulness, my focus turns to You, Lord, and seeking Your glory and honor. There my heart desires that others experience Your love also. I turn my eyes away from what I can do, what I look like to others, my past poor choices, and what I think will make me happy. [Psalm 119:37—“Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word.” (New Living Translation)]
When I’m tempted to stray onto the me-focus trail, please open my ears to hear Your voice warning, “Wrong way! Come back to Me.” Amen.