Archive for the ‘Self- Knowledge’ Category

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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It may sound strange, but for most of my life I didn’t know I had a heart. I knew I had a physical one. I could feel it beating. But I didn’t know many of my deep feelings, beliefs, and motives.

About thirteen years ago I began a journey in learning how to access my heart and discern what was going on down there. I discovered a messy world of conflicting thoughts and feelings. I thought I believed what I knew in my head, but I began to realize often this was not the case.

We all have a hidden heart that controls us more than we think. We carry into our relationship with God many lies and dependencies leftover from childhood. The world also molds us to live in wrong ways. These false dependencies and lies can still influence us. For example, we are taught to perform well so we can become important. We feel the need to be liked by certain people to be acceptable. We desire to impress to be liked and loved. As Christians, we should know these are lies. Yet, we often live as if they are true at the deep levels of our lives.

We feel confused because what we are believing conflicts with what God tells us in the Bible and what we know in our heads. He says we are important, even when we fail. He tells us we are adequate, even when we are rejected. And he reassures us we are loved, even when we don’t impress.

But because we often don’t examine ourselves, this unbelief is not detected and dealt with. Thus, with our words and actions we deceive ourselves into thinking we are living a transformed life of love and power, but in reality, we are still bogged down in the old ways.

How do we access our hearts to know what we believe and rely on?

One thing we need to do is to slow down daily to clear our minds and listen for the voice of God deep within. We can ask the Holy Spirit to “Search me, oh God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way (Psalm 139:23,24, NASB).

It is in being silent we may detect the thoughts and feeling we didn’t know we had. Our feelings are useful in discerning what we are relying on. If we feel fear, we are probably not believing God is protecting us. If we are feeling troubled, we may be heading in the wrong direction. If we feel depressed, we may have lost hope of deliverance from a painful situation.

It’s important to remember our feelings do not necessarily tell us what is true about life. But they can tell us a lot about ourselves. We may discover the reason we are fearful is we are relying too much on ourselves. However, the truth about life is God promises to enable us to endure and overcome the challenges. By discovering we are anxious, we can pray and be transformed as we shift our dependency off ourselves and onto God (Philippians 4:5-6).

May we not run from our hearts, but learn to access and know what is in them. This can be the first step in becoming more like Jesus. Let’s remember the condition of our hearts is what measures our spiritual maturity, not what we know.

 

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We all have been encouraged to dream big dreams- to stretch ourselves- to chase the impossible dream. Over the weekend, I saw the movie La La Land that stressed the importance of two people pursuing their career dreams at the expense of having a once-in-a lifetime romance and marriage.

As I reflected on the movie, I concluded that we need to be balanced in pursuing our dreams- because those dreams can keep us from attaining more important things. We have’t to accept the fact that we can’t do everything. Even with God’s help, we are limited.

Accepting our limits is an important step in developing emotional maturity. When we live in denial of our limits, we often overextend ourselves trying to go far beyond our energy, intelligence, or our abilities. This leads us to pursue illusions and fantasies that waste our potential and leaves us feeling discontent.

Through the years, I have used illusions and fantasies to sometimes live in a false reality of importance and acceptance. More than once I got myself into jobs that were overwhelming simply because I wouldn’t admit my limits and go a different direction.

For example, I once envisioned myself as a charismatic and successful military leader in the mold of a General Patton. Living this illusion got me to a significant level of responsibility in the Air Force. However, it was far beyond my abilities. Fortunately, God protected me from the consequences of pretending to be someone of greater abilities and commitment and I wasn’t fired. But we can’t always count of that happening.

Thus, it’s important to accept our limits. First, it is totally unnecessary to deny them. We falsely believe that unless we achieve a certain level of power, respect, and looks we aren’t worth much. But that’s a lie!

We don’t have to be great in our looks, abilities and achievements to be important and precious to God. We can afford to be real with ourselves because no limit will ever rob us of the respect and dignity that he gives (Isaiah 43:4).

As mentioned, another reason to accept our limits is to count the cost. With great career success, we will often encounter some family failure. With putting God first, we will probably not have as much career success. We need to make choices based on accepting our limits.

A third reason to accept our limits is to be able to receive God’s grace. Unless we accept our limited ability to be the smartest, best educated, and most influential, we will continue to strive to find greatness in ourselves- which will never happen. We will never be able to do enough, and impress enough to consistently feel important, loved, and safe. Only through accepting our limits will we become humble enough to accept the gift of worth and love from God. “Cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Let’s not live in La La Land but be honest with ourselves about our limits. It’s OK to have limits. They don’t change who we are. Let’s be true to who we are and together with God pursue maturity and fruitfulness in doing his work.

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Being Who We Are

Why That’s Difficult

It seems that being who we are would be simple. But it isn’t. Many of us have little idea of who we are. We have spent much of our lives being someone who others wanted us to be and ignoring who we really are.

For example, in my childhood home, it was dangerous to be who I was because I could fail to please. This could mean a loss of love, safety, and importance. This was too much to give up just to be myself. So, I focused on being who my parents wanted me to be.

We often are influence by others and the culture to be good-looking, smart, popular, and strong in order to be important and loved. So, we pretend to be these things even when we are not. We lose the sense of intrinsic worth and force ourselves to meet certain standards to earn it. We can lose being who we are in the process.

Why That’s Important

But it’s important to be ourselves. People can’t know, love and help us if all we are giving them is a façade; and we can’t help them. We also will never feel loved by God if we always hide our ugly parts from him. We will never experience his great love for us if we feel we have to earn it by being good.

I have tended to hide from God and myself my weaknesses. I grew up thinking that it wasn’t okay to be weak. I felt defective when I was weak. So, I have had trouble crying, and acknowledging feeling depressed and scared. God has impressed upon me lately that it’s okay to feel weak. His love and acceptance remains firm in spite of being who I am.

And who we are is awesome. We are royalty. We are special. God says that despite our weaknesses and limits he has made us a little lower than himself and has crowned us with glory and majesty (Psalm 8:4-5, paraphrased). He enjoys us! He died for us! 

How We Do It

So, how do we be who we are? It’s not easy. It probably requires separating from a number of idols that we have cultivated. Idols such as achievement, people’s approval, and control over circumstances. These are the things we have sought to meet our needs instead of resting in God’s opinion of us of being precious, honored and loved (Isaiah 43:4). In the process we have often failed to be who we really are.

We know how important it is to apply the Bible to our lives. But have we? Are we being ourselves because we are precious, honored and loved by God just the way we are? Or are we pretending and hiding because we reject ourselves and fear that others will too if they only knew.

Let’s be “doers of the Word and not hearers only” (James 1:22) by embracing who we are. Let’s be real. Let’s see ourselves through the eyes of God and rejoice in the marvelous creations that we are!

 

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Most of us have things from our past that we would like to forget about. So, we do. Or so we think. But our past often taints our present in surprising ways.

For example, in my childhood home, I was taught that I wasn’t very important, safe, or loved unless I was pleasing and achieving. When I lacked achievement and approval, I felt inadequate. But my feelings of inadequacy were not based on truth.

When I was 21, I left home and never fully faced these lies. I later learned that under God’s watchful care I am important, safe and loved by him all the time. But the past often leaked into my present as an adult and has made it difficult to receive God’s gift of importance, safety, and love. I still want to earn them. I still needed to face my past, put if off, and put on God’s love and grace.

Why The Past Needs to Be Faced

Our past is what has made us who we are today, both the good and the bad. The influences of family, friends, church, and society along with our choices have profoundly molded our beliefs, motives, and behaviors.

In some cases, our past and what it taught us clashes with God’s truth. For example, we may have been taught that it wasn’t okay to be who we are. But God says it is because we are his workmanship and that we are wonderful just the way we are.

Often this past leaks into our present and can affect how we feel about someone in our lives today, when we are actually responding to someone from the past that reminds us of this person. Several years ago I realized that part of my struggle working with a person in my church was that he reminded me of my dad, which was triggering unresolved father issues.

How Do We Face It?

Our goal needs to be to face our past, be healed where we need to be and to press on in being transformed and involved in God’s work in the world. To do this, we need to know ourselves well enough to determine what beliefs and habits need to be changed. For example, I felt good when someone bragged to the pastor about the group I led. I felt good because I thought I was more important because he would probably be impressed. But this thinking was from the past. The new thinking is that I am important because God tells me I am important, not because the pastor may think I am.

Our past powerfully influences us in many other subtle ways. These ways are so deep, we often need God’s help to detect false thinking and feelings. We can ask God to “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Without growing in our knowledge of God, we can’t know what part of our past needs to be changed. But this knowledge of God will need to go deep into experiencing the truth to grasp what the implications are. For example, I realized that a fear from my past of being rejected, no longer applied. Instead, of indulging an old habit and belief of fearing flaws, I rested in the truth that God would never reject me (Hebrews 13:5).

Probably the most important thing we can do to face our past is to recognize how important it is to do it. Most of us don’t do it and we suffer for it. Those of us who ignore our pasts are prone to repeat them. Trace your family tree and see how the same sins and dysfunctions seem to crop up generation after generation. One reason is that it takes a lot of courage to face the past and make the necessary changes.

One of my passions has been to pass on to my children and grandchildren a more emotionally healthy spirituality than I was handed. To a large extent this is happening. One thing that has helped me is the willingness to examine my past, compare it to biblical truth, and with God’s help, choose to act differently. May I encourage you to ask God to show you any beliefs or behaviors from your past that may be hurting the legacy that you are passing on to your family and allow him to guide you into becoming more like him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Being real with ourselves is not easy. Sometimes, it’s hard to admit our limits and being different from who we want to be.

I spent a good portion of my childhood focused on being who my parents and others wanted me to be. I loved the approval of others rather than being real. They wanted me to make a lot of money, be an engineer with the Caterpillar Tractor Company and to get married, have three kids and live in Illinois.

But that wasn’t who I was. It wasn’t until I got away from home and in the Air Force that I seriously looked at who I was. And then I became more real. But my parents and others didn’t like everything about the real me. Some didn’t like the fact that I became a born-again Christian and in their minds a religious fanatic. Others didn’t like my commitment to honesty, even when dishonesty would work. Still others didn’t like the fact that I wouldn’t put my job as top priority, ahead of God and family. At times, it was painful to be the real me.

Why It’s So Difficult

Being real with ourselves is difficult  because we often fool ourselves about ourselves. The Bible says, “Our hearts are deceitful above all else and are desperately sick, who can understand them?” (Jeremiah 17:9, paraphrased). For example, we may want to be a leader so we ignore the evidence about our weaknesses and over commitment ourselves. Deep within, we tend to distort reality to fit what we want it to be.

Another difficulty is that most of us don’t know ourselves enough to be real.  Because we often see ourselves through the eyes of others, we have denied desires, hopes, and characteristics that don’t meet with others approval. To be real is to discover what we have denied about ourselves, accept who we are, and be real, risking rejection from others.

Finally, our homes, schools, and society have taught us that our real selves are not that special. We are often trained unintentionally to view ourselves as largely inadequate, insignificant, and unlovable. But they are lies! Our real self is precious and greatly loved, just the way it is. God says to us, “You are precious, you are honored and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4). But we have a difficult time accepting these truths about ourselves, which pressures us not to be real.

Picturesque landscape, fenced ranch at sunrise

How to Be Real with Ourselves

Only if we are convinced that God won’t reject us if we are real, will we have the courage to face our real selves. As long as we feel compelled to pretend to be better than we are, will will continue to live in a false self and not be real. But God has accepted us for all time, even though we are flawed (Hebrews 10:14). Understanding his acceptance helps us to be real with ourselves, others, and God.

Godly people are another important way to be real with ourselves. God uses people to overcome our blind spots and to tell us the truth about ourselves. King David refused to accept the truth about himself that he was an adulterer and murderer until Nathan the prophet was used by God to bring the brutal truth home to David, so that he could be real with himself (2 Samuel 12). Our being real with ourselves is helped by regularly fellowshipping with Christians in a small group or one-on-one where they can speak the truth to us in love.

A third way we can become real with ourselves is to meditate on the Scriptures that tell us what God thinks of us. This is who we really are. We are not who we think others think we are (James 1:22-25). By meditating on the Scriptures and depending upon the Holy Spirit’s help, we can realize that:

  • God made us unique and wants us to be ourselves (Ephesians 2:10)
  • We are very important no matter how little we produce or impress (1 Peter 2:9; John 15:5)
  • We are safe in a dangerous world because God watches over us (Psalm 23)

God made us to be ourselves. We will need his help to discover who our real self is. As we do, may we ruthlessly reject pretending to be who we are not. Let’s come out of hiding and live in our true selves that we may be real with ourselves, God, and others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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