I wasn’t interested in discovering who I was growing up. I was more focused on figuring out who I needed to be to feel safe, respected, and loved by others. I knew being myself did not guarantee these needs would be met. So, I denied parts of me which were not approved of by others, such as weakness, and pretended to be the person who would be respected and approved of.

At twenty, I realized I tried to please others too much rather than myself. Who was I? What were my likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and priorities and values? I needed to know the real me so I could make wise decisions. I began to search for who I really was.

A few years later I received a new me when I became a Christian. The Bible describes this new self as follows: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But the old life still had influence and hindered me from experiencing the new person. I was a new person but the condition of my heart still reflected the sin of the old me. This condition is described in Romans 7:25 as, “So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

We are people who have been given a new life. A life which is becoming like Jesus in what we trust, what we do and how we feel. We are unique expressions of his life filtered through our personalities, experiences, strengths and weaknesses.

When people challenge us to be real, we can tell them we are children of God who are being transformed into being like Jesus. Being real includes sharing where we are at in living out this new person.

So, how do we discover if we are living in the new self or stuck in our old habits and thoughts? One useful exercise is to discover how we feel about the various issues in our lives. This is not easy for some of us because we are skilled at repressing our emotions. But with perseverance, we can learn to experience them better.

Feelings are closely tied to our hearts. And our hearts are the focus of God’s work for it drives our whole lives (Proverbs 4:23). If we experience fear, maybe we aren’t trusting in God’s love and care. If anger, perhaps someone is blocking our goal for respect. If we feel sad, we may be looking at the negative side of an issue too much.

The feelings are warning lights to consult the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what is going on. I pray nearly every day, “Search me, Oh God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way (Psalm 139:23-24). Because of the constant conflict between my new heart and the old, there is a lot of confusion in my soul. The Holy Spirit brings clarity and what I need to do to walk in the new life.

So, let’s be real – with God, ourselves and others. To be real, we need to maintain the perspective that we have been bestowed new selves that have great dignity, acceptance and love. Yet, our old selves which are selfish, proud, and rebellious still drag us down. We need to work with God to put to death this influence so we may experience the joy, peace and love of the new life (Romans 6:6). To be real, we also need to be honest about where God is in transforming us into our new identity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on Psalm 34

Many people think of me as brave. They think of me as a warrior and fearless. They may not know that my courage comes from relying on God and his faithful help.

I know it’s hard to turn our fears over to God. We think we know what is best. But God continues putting me in situations that perplex and scare me, making me realize how frail and needy I am.

When I keep my eyes on God, I realize what a great, good God he is. He can do anything and he loves me so much he helps me with all of my problems. When I trust in him, I become less fearful and more courageous.

But sometimes my focus is on the “worst-case scenarios” and I become overwhelmed with anxiety– like when Saul was trying to kill me and I was running for my life. My focus on God became blurred by a blizzard of fears.

When I cry out for help, he rescues me from danger, real or imagined, and enables me to thrive. Yet, I often don’t pray until I’m desperate – until my back is against the wall. But he is faithful to answer my prayers anyway. May I remember to give him credit for his rescues and not chock them up to good luck.

I encourage you to give your fears to him and discover how good he is. Let’s take refuge in him and we will experience radiant joy and blessings.

We all want a long life filled with satisfying things. Listen to me and I will tell you how we get it – by being truthful and doing good in God’s eyes, especially in showing love to others. God chose me to be the future king because I was a man after his own heart and did good.

God watches over us- which we realize when we keep our eyes on him. The Lord stands ready to help us in all the seasons of our lives, if we only continue to reach out to him. Sometimes I feel lazy and don’t want to put the effort in to trust him. And I suffer for it by being more afraid.

I have faced many troubles in my life so far. Yet, God has richly blessed me as I have looked to him instead of my circumstances for deliverance. I was able to overcome the strength of a lion and a bear in protecting my sheep. I successfully fought Goliath by focusing on God’s worthiness and power, not my dangerous circumstances. And God enabled me to do the impossible.

May we learn to look to God for our protection and help and not to good circumstances. He will reliably rescue us from being crushed. Let’s take refuge in God for he will help us through all our troubles.

 

 

Because of artery disease, I have to undergo yearly tests to make sure another aneurysm or other problem hasn’t developed. This year, a screening test showed there was bleeding from around a stent.

The doctor wanted to take a closer look to determine why there was bleeding. So, he ordered a more accurate test and wanted it done urgently. During the wait for the test and results, I entertained a number of “worst case scenarios” of what would need to be done.  These included “it couldn’t be fixed” to major surgery.

I tried to keep my focus and trust in God’s goodness and help, but tended to rely on a good outcome. As the day approached to receive the test results, I felt increasing fear and depression. I knew God could heal me, but would he?

My thoughts were riveted on getting bad outcomes.  The night before the appointment the doctor called and said he had the test results – and there was no bleeding. There was nothing wrong!

I was elated and knew God had healed me. Why was it so hard to trust God to be willing and able to work this miracle?

When we fail to consistently keep our eyes on God during threatening circumstances, we often experience fear and depression. Peter was able to walk on water when he kept his eyes on Jesus – but when he stared at the wind and choppy water, he started to sink. God manifests his reality and power to us as we look to him for support.

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By focusing on Jesus, we remember we aren’t facing life alone. Our confidence becomes his presence and not good circumstances. He will always be with us – but good circumstances come and go.

David was able to kill Goliath because he focused on God’s power and faithfulness. He saw life as it really is – under the complete control of God. He was not fixated on dangerous circumstances, but on God’s help – and he did the impossible.

So, how do we keep our focus on God and not become victims of our circumstances?

We can’t by ourselves. But we can “do all things through him who strengthens us” (Philippians 4:13). With God’s help, we can put our trust in God’s control of our circumstances and help in going through them. Otherwise, we will become dependent on the uncertainty of good circumstances – a sure way to feel anxious.

Another action to keep our focus on God is to control what we see and listen to. We are bombarded with the things of the world through TV, newspapers, conversations, our worldly thinking, and social media. But God wants us to set our minds on the things above (Colossians 3:2) – things like God controls our circumstances, loves us, and always works whatever happens for our good. We limit the input of the world and think about whatever is good, acceptable and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).

It helps to recognize how difficult it is to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:24) and to focus on God. We have many thinking habits and dependences leftover from our old life that drive us to depend on muscling our way through life. We resist depending on a supernatural God. I wanted to give glory to my body for the good test results. However, I knew my body had failed but God was the strength of my body and healed me.

We must work hard to change what we rely on. If we don’t, we will continue to be tossed to and fro by our circumstances. God says, “Be diligent to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11) – this rest sees God in all things and frees us from being controlled by scary circumstances. Where is your focus?

Waiting Patiently

Waiting is hard. Lately it seems God has me waiting for a number of things – the start of a new ministry, lab test results, an article being published, and growth in a couple of faith areas. I’m doing my part to cooperate with him, but I’m challenged to wait patiently for him to do his.

Recently, I had grown discouraged about the lack of results from my writing. Few were reading my blog, I had stopped receiving writing assignments from my church, and my book hadn’t sold in months.

So, I sought the Lord to determine if this was his way of telling me to give up writing, at least for a while. Through my desires, wise counsel, peace, and the Bible he said, “Wait patiently.”

But I didn’t have to wait long for some encouraging results. The next day, I was notified one of my devotionals written a year ago would be published  in an international magazine reaching nine million readers.

Why did he make me wait an extra day to receive the good news? Why didn’t he give me this encouragement the previous day to guide my decision to continue writing? My insight is he wanted me to persevere and do his will despite the lack of positive feedback. He regarded my obedience as more important than being successful.

One problem we often have is we believe our plan is better than God’s. When circumstances fail to meet our desires, we conclude we are getting second-best. But we’re not (John 10:10).

God has reasons why he makes us wait.

It could be we aren’t ready for the responsibility. Another possibility is others who are involved aren’t prepared yet to do their part.

The wait could be a future “no” we aren’t ready to accept now.

We often don’t know why he makes us wait. But God is in control and it’s from him. “Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen” (Job 37:13).This reality helps me to be patient with him, others, and myself.

We can probably recall times when we didn’t wait for God and suffered for it. In a couple of instances, I wanted a promotion so bad I wasn’t cautious and accepted the job, which became overwhelming. If only I had been willing to check the job requirements more carefully.

Learning to rest in who God made us to be can help us feel at peace even while waiting. Experiencing the benefits of our new identity as a Christian means we feel safe, respected, loved, and accepted, even when we aren’t getting what we want. We often are fooled into thinking our deepest needs are met when we get what we want, instead of by following God’s “good, acceptable and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

When we hit brick walls and are forced to pause, we have an opportunity to seek God for direction. He may want us to check our motives. “Search me, O God and know my heart; … and see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23, 24). Or, maybe he is waiting for us to take some action before he opens the door.

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Timing is important to God. What we want may be God’s future will, but not now. He is good and faithful. May we learn to “Humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6) and wait patiently for him to act.

Our Hidden Hearts

We all have a hidden heart. Much of what we actually trust and feel is unknown to us. This seems weird. Why would this be true? How could we not know what is going on deep inside us? We may think we have great worth because the Bible tells us so. But does our heart trust it’s true when we are treated with disrespect? Or, do we rely on the fact God loves and wants an intimate relationship with us? Then why are we so afraid of many things since experiencing his love drives out fears (1 John 4:18).

Deep within us, we harbor many false beliefs and evil desires which were formed in a sinful world. They don’t go away just because we become Christians. Only God can gradually free us from their power as we do our part.

One of our responsibilities is to seek the Holy Spirit to reveal what is going on deep inside. We can’t know our hearts without his help for they are too messy and deceitful to read accurately. That’s why David asked the Holy Spirit to “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). We need to know what’s in our hearts – the good, the bad, and the ugly – if we want transformation.

Many of us try to be important, adequate and loved in a variety of false ways to avoid having to trust God to meet them as a gift. We would rather earn them. Often we are not aware we are clinging to idols because we have trusted in them for many years to make life work and found some success. Now, God offers us a better way but we aren’t sure we want to take the leap of faith and embrace a whole new set of truths that conflicts with our past. So, we repress the conflict and hang on to the old ways.

We tolerate this hidden world because we don’t know it exists. We have never learned how important it is to assess and face this darken world. Yet, Proverbs 23:4 warns us to “Watch over your hearts with all diligence for from it flows the springs of life.”

We prefer to focus on behavior and knowledge that are easier to control and measure. The deeper things of the heart are easily ignored even though they determine our destiny. Like the Pharisees, we can “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24).

So how do we know and change our hidden hearts? We can’t. Our hearts are too messy, deceitful and evil to clearly understand and change. But the Holy Spirit can.

We can also look at the spiritual fruit in our lives. To what extent are we growing in experiencing peace, joy, and love? We are often deceived by looking at activities and credentials to assess spiritual health rather than the condition of our hearts.

The Holy Spirt must lead the way to close the gap between the condition of our hearts and one which reflects the life of Jesus. He identifies the gaps as we pray for revelation and then closes the gaps when we cooperate with him.

Going to deep places of our  hearts can be painful. There is trauma there and some bad memories and sin we have repressed. We will need courage and a firm belief it’s better to face our sins than to hide and refuse to follow God in developing an intimate love relationship with him. God loves us deeply and will not condemn us for the bad we discover. He knows already and still welcomes our fellowship.

Identifying what we feel can be useful in discovering what our hearts believe. We can ask ourselves, “What do I believe that causes me to feel so devastated for not getting promoted.” We may be shocked to discover what’s there. We may believe our worth is determined by what we achieve and not by being an adopted child of God Almighty. We may know this is false in our heads, but trust it in our hearts.

Let’s not be content with just knowing the Bible. May we also seek to trust it in our hidden hearts. Only then will we be transformed into having the beautiful life of Jesus living through us.

We all have suffered through disappointment from expecting a blessing and then having it taken away. What was that all about, God? Why did you allow me to get my hopes up then close the door?

Recently, I had a dream ministry offered to me to help out in. It has been my passion to see this ministry develop at our church for at least six years. Now, I was being offered an opportunity to assist in developing this ministry in a significant way. But there was no follow-through. No explanation as to why the delay – just silence. The only guidance from God was “Wait patiently” while feeling disappointed, bewildered, and sorrowful. I assumed there was a good reason for no action, but it still left me perplexed.

So why does God allow us to be offered something we have desired for a long time, and then apparently close the door?

Often, we will never know why for sure. It’s not because he is toying with us, for he’s not that way.

It may be to show us we wanted it too much, perhaps at the expense of an intimate relationship with  him. He loves us and will often keep us from receiving anything which will distract us from our relationship.

It may not be the right timing. It may seem right to us and others but God knows if we are ready to receive the blessing now or need to wait patiently for it (Psalm 40). I had to wait five long years before he fulfilled his promise of bringing me a wife if marriage was his choice for me. Looking back, there were many good reasons God closed the door on getting married sooner.

Other times, he may be teaching us obedience, even when we don’t understand. “Do it because you trust Me,” he says to us in Proverbs 3:5-6. God treats us as his children in gently teaching us to obey even when we don’t comprehend why. He wants us to know that sometimes we wouldn’t understand if he did explain.

Closed doors are always God’s doing. He either causes the door to close or allows it. “He rules over everything” (Psalm 103:19, NLT). We may rail against the person God uses to close the door, but ultimately our business is with God. I can trust God’s dealings with me a lot easier than people’s anyway.

Thus, we can say, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, NLT). We can turn away from such thoughts as, God, you closed the door on my dream job. You are robbing me of fulfilling my passion.We may feel like a fool thanking him for the closed door but it helps to remember he loves us more than we can imagine. Paul expresses this in Ephesians 3:18:

“And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of his love and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”

God greatly loves and delights in us. We belong to him. We are his possession. We exist for him and his purposes. Many times, our desires are his desires. But not always and when they’re not, when he closes a door, we are to pray as Jesus did when he said to God, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42,NLT).

 

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We may think, I don’t have distorted thinking. I’m rational. My thinking is biblical. But is it?

We should not be surprised if some of our thoughts are distorted, exaggerated, or based upon lies. This is because we live in a world dominated by Satan and his deceitful influences.  “The world around us is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19. NLT).

Distorted thinking is what occurs in our hearts. It’s not necessarily what we think in our heads. “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7, KJV). 

Satan has planted many lies in our hearts which will result in distorted thinking. We tend to stubbornly cling to these false beliefs even after becoming a Christian and learning the truth. Only by working hard with Jesus can reality proceed from our heads to our hearts. Then, our thinking becomes more rational as God transforms our hearts.

As we work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12) with Jesus, we begin to let go of false beliefs, such as people can rob us our dignity. Instead, we learn to trust we are precious to God, no matter how much human rejection we have to bear.

I have little problem knowing the thoughts of my head, but can be fooled about the beliefs of my heart. The thoughts of my head are usually rational, but the thinking of my heart is often distorted. Jeremiah warns us about the dangers of our hearts. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB).

How can we discover what our hearts are trusting in to make sure it’s truth, and allowing the Holy Spirit to change us if necessary?

One way that has been useful to me is to experience my feelings about various circumstances. I focus on situations which seem particularly emotional, knowing feelings are tied closely to my heart. In experiencing my emotions, I ask God to help me discern what thoughts are triggering these feelings. If not consistent with God’s perspective, they are brought to the Lord for change. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, ….as the heavens are higher than the earth, are My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV).

Another practice to be more rational has been to focus on an upsetting event and list the negative feelings tied to it. Then, I write down my automatic thoughts associated with the event. These would be thoughts like I will never get rid of this; This should not be; and No good will come from this. I then analyze the thoughts for different types of distorted thinking. These types include All or Nothing Reasoning, Ignoring the Positive, and Predicting a Negative Outcome without Facts. The last action is rewriting the thoughts eliminating the distorted thinking. For a full description of this practice, read The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns, M.D.

Overcoming faulty thinking that keeps us from reaching our full potential is part of the growth process Paul describes in Ephesians 4:22-24. It is putting off the old and putting on the new. We can’t be lazy and tolerate being dominated by distorted thinking if we are to become the people God created us to be. May we allow God to transformed us by the Holy Spirit to think like Jesus in all of life’s circumstances.