Archive for the ‘Self- Knowledge’ Category

A few days ago, I was motivated to call a Christian leader to encourage him in a difficult ministry that he had. As I thought through what I was going to say, I realized that in addition to trying to encourage him, I wanted him to welcome my counsel, something I didn’t think God wanted me to give. So, I eventually decided, I would write a letter telling him of my prayer support, which would give me less of an opportunity to use him to meet my needs.

This is an example of how subtle and deceptive we really are deep inside. We may do good things for bad reasons. As I began to probe my heart in seminary to find out why I did what I did, I was often shocked at what God revealed. Little did I realize how I had used people to determine what I thought of myself. Also, how I sought the approval of others to feel loved, bypassing the true way to a good self-image and being loved by accepting what God thought of me.

Why Get to Know Our Self Better

So, why get to know our self better? Isn’t that self-centered and egotistical? Wouldn’t it be a better use of our time to get to know God better through increasing our Bible knowledge?

The answer is “No.”

Certainly, knowing more Bible enables us to know more about God and can lead to knowing God better. But so can knowing our self lead to experiencing God in deeper ways.

If we don’t know our self very well, we can do right things for wrong reasons and cling to idols that hinder our growth in experiencing God’s grace and power.

We are great deceivers and the one we fool the most is our self.

Isaiah described the human heart as feeding “on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?’” (Isaiah 44:20). The human heart in Isaiah’s day couldn’t discern how foolish and futile worshipping a block of wood was to success in life!

We often focus on outward behavior in trying to live like Jesus. We often ignore what is going on deep inside of us. And yet, our motives are what God focuses on.

‘“Are you so dull?’ Jesus asked his disciples. ‘Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body (No harm, no foul). But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man sinful. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man sinful; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him sinful” (Matthew 15:16-18, paraphrased).

Getting to know what is going on deep inside of us and what motivates us is critical to cooperating with God in being freed from our bondage to sin.

And one of the biggest sin bondages is our reliance on the collection of idols we use instead of relying on God’s promises for worth, love, and acceptance. Did you know that your reliance on that position of respect to feel important could be an idol?

How to Get to Know Our Self Better

So, how do we get to know our self better?

One thing we do is to look to God to reveal to us who we are and what we rely on. We too easily fool our self and can’t be depended upon to know our self. “The heart is deceitful above all else and is beyond cure, who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

But God can.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). I pray this often to know myself and to be transformed into the person God had in mind when he willed me to exist.

But you may say. “But God may reject me if he knew how sinful I am deep within. I don’t know if I should air my dirty laundry to him.”

But God says, ‘”I already know what is going on deep within you “and never will I leave you; never will I forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), I will love you no matter what you are deep within (Jeremiah 31:3, paraphrased), and you will always be precious to Me, no matter what’” (Isaiah 43:4, paraphrased).

So let’s get to know our self better so that we can cooperate with God in becoming free of our bondages and increasingly live the wonderful life that God has planned for us!

 

 

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I was scared of the facts. I could feel the fear whelming up inside me. I had an appointment with my vascular surgeon later that morning in which he was going to give me the results of a battery of tests that I had been through the prior week. I already knew I had one abdominal aortic aneurism, but did I have any more? Did I have any artery blockages?

Unlike other times in my life, I wanted to face the facts. Although I was still scared, I didn’t want to have an unknown problem that could later kill me without warning. Bad news now was better than living in ignorant bliss. I could at least try to deal with a problem that I knew I had, rather than ignoring the problem out of wishful thinking.

And the facts were good! No new problems. Just a non-invasive procedure to correct the one aneurism next week remains. Hopefully, then, I will be good for another 20,000 miles.

Why We Are Scared of the Facts

We are often scared of the facts because they can make us feel bad. We tend to want to cling to our fantasies that all is well and avoid the pain of reality (Proverbs 14:6).

Sometimes this strategy works well for us. Nothing really bad happens because we refuse to face the facts.

Other times, we can actually die by not facing the facts. My brother almost died three months ago due to an unknown abdominal aneurism. He had no warning it was coming.

Because of his experience, I did have warning and I would have been foolish if I had not been tested for one, since they run in our family.

Why We Should Face the Facts Anyway

Just as we should face the facts about our physical condition, we should also face the facts of our spiritual condition.

But we often don’t want to. We hate to be corrected. We want to hang on to our self-image of being a pretty good person and not needing much change. In fact, we hate change!

But God says, “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening–it’s painful! But afterwards there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:11, NLT).

Facing facts is a major way that we are transformed. When we run from the reality of our sins and false dependencies, we fail to deal with the problems that could kill our souls.

The spiritual sins of idols and false beliefs need to be confronted before they ruin our lives. That is why Paul said, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

And the facts about us are a mixed bag. On the one hand, we are precious, loved, and special to God all the time. These facts never change although our performance does.

But on the other hand, the facts of what we really depend on to make it through a day can be disturbing to us as we allow the Holy Spirit to reveal them to us.

So, what facts are you scared to face? Are you ready to go to heaven today? Find out if you are by making sure you have depended upon God’s promise in John 1:12, which says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.”

Or, are you scared to face the fact that you may be largely wasting your life, not experiencing the intimate love relationship that God offers you? If so, tell the Lord of your desire to face facts and cooperate with him to take steps to experience this powerful, intimate relationship with him.

May we all choose to face the facts and not deceive our self any longer. May we trust God to give us the strength to face the facts, no matter how scared we are (Philippians 4:13).

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Are You Okay?

There was a popular book in the 70’s called,  I’m Okay, You’re Okay. I never read the book but understood the message to be that we needed to accept one another, even if we were different.

But are we okay? This week a magazine did not think my article that sought to correct some misconceptions they had about spiritual formation was okay. I felt that they not only did not think that my article was okay, but also felt like they didn’t think I was okay.

Later in the week I failed to meet my performance standards in an area of weakness. I did not feel that I was okay as I was going through the experience.

However, in each instance I turned to God and thanked him that I was okay to him. I thanked him that “He has perfected [me] for all time” (Hebrews 10:14).

So, even when others or myself did not think I was okay, I turned to God to get my acceptance.

Then, why do so many of us fail to regard ourselves as okay?

One reason is that we believe that we need to meet the standards of others or ourselves to be okay. It is a rat race in which our being okay is on the line every day. We think that we are only okay if others or ourselves regard us as okay. We fail to rely on God’s acceptance of us as a gift of salvation.

Another reason we doubt that we are okay is our pride. We would rather earn being okay rather than accept it as a gift. Being okay to God is not good enough for us. We have to be okay to everybody–which is impossible without driving ourselves crazy.

A third reason that we question if we are okay is that we have been programmed all our lives to get our acceptance from others and ourselves. We have not been trained to look to God. And yet this is the only reliable place to go to be okay.

Then, how do we live in the reality that we are okay–not necessarily to others or ourselves, but to God?

How do we accept the fact that only God’s viewpoint counts?

How do we live in the reality that we are not only okay to get into heaven, but also okay to boldly and confidently enter his presence at anytime (Ephesians 3:12)?

One thing we can do is to deeply understand the full meaning of the Christmas story for Christians. Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection not only made us okay for heaven, but also okay in the face of rejection from others and ourselves.

A second thing we can do is to reject the old ways we regarded ourselves as okay-meeting others and our standards. “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16, NIV).

Instead, we ask God to help us believe that “we are accepted in the beloved”  (Ephesians 1:6, KJV). We are okay because God thinks we are okay!

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I am currently having published a book I have written called Transforming Love. In the book I indicate that none of us were raised in a perfect environment of unconditional love, acceptance and worth. In addition, we have an old nature that often misinterprets and disregards receiving love and worth as free gifts from first our parents and later from God.

Because these needs were so important to us as children, we devised many strategies to earn love and worth because we couldn’t depend on having these needs met by our parents by just being  “little old me.”

Recently, the editor of my book objected to the bold statement I made that we all have devised false ways to be important and be loved that leave God out of our lives. He thought that I was projecting my experience onto others. He implied that some of us have few, if any, false ways to be loved and important.

Certainly he would agree that if we have come from a dysfunctional home, we probably have devised many false ways to get our needs met. These false ways will hinder us from accepting God’s love and worth as gifts.

However, even those of us who have been raised in loving homes struggle to receive God’s love and worth as gifts. Our nature is to work for love and worth. Maybe we do not struggle as much as others, but we still struggle.

For example, my wife grew up in a loving Christian home. She felt loved, accepted, and approved of to a large extent by both her parents and later God.

Yet, her parents’ and God’s approval were not enough for her. She needed more. She also believed that she needed the approval of others to deeply believe that she was loved and accepted.

As a result she became overly dependent on making people happy with her- even if it resulted in disobeying God. Eventually, she became so stressed about trying to get approval from so many people, she chose to learn to rest in God’s unchanging approval, no matter what others thought.

We often have a hard time recognizing our false dependencies. When I went to seminary and began to dig deep within myself through the leading of the Spirit, I was shocked!

I became convicted that I was often doing my own thing for God, largely in my power, for my glory much of the time.

Only the Spirit can reveal this stuff to us. Too often we think we are doing pretty good because we measure ourselves by ourselves and are without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12). But only God can cut through our defenses and reveal what we are really like deep within. “The heart is deceitful above all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Why in our right minds would we want to know our hearts? It sounds like it could result in a lot of bad news. Wouldn’t it be better to deceive ourselves into being good moralists that try to follow biblical principles in our own strength?

The biggest reason to know the truth about ourselves is that it can open us up to receive the grace of God in our lives. “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). We can then better experience an intimate love relationship with God and receive the power to live the Christian life.

Jesus says “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). When we stay dependent on getting promotions, receiving people’s approval at all cost, and protecting a false image of ourselves, we are not free. We are not depending on God to meet our needs to be loved and important.

I challenge you to ask God today to reveal any false way that you are using to regard yourself as loved and important. Ask God to show you any person or thing you depend on for importance and love instead of what God has provided you to show his love and value for you. What did he say?

 

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I was talking to a friend the other day and asked him to imagine how his life would be different if he believed that he was always important. He immediately responded and said that he would be more of a risk-taker. He would be more honest with himself about the condition of his business and be willing to fail in trying to grow it.

You see my friend did not view himself as always being important. He felt that his worth was on the line everyday. He was not living in the reality that he will never be more or less important than he is today (Isaiah 43:4).

He is like a lot of us Christians. We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9), and yet we live like we still need to prove ourselves everyday. Can we imagine how our lives could be different if we saw ourselves the way God sees us?

If we were to imagine it, here are some examples of how our lives could be different:

  • We could better stand up to bullies knowing that they can’t lay a glove on us as to our worth.
  • We would have much less fear in our lives living in the presence of God’s loving gaze.
  • We would be free to fail knowing that our worth will never decrease.
  • We would be free to lose control knowing that he is carefully watching out for us.

Yet, most of us live like paupers when we could live like royalty. We refuse to see ourselves as God sees us. Why is this so?

There are several reasons. May I suggest three:

One is that we have failed to reckon that a lot more changed at salvation than just going to heaven someday. God also gave us the challenge of seeing ourselves as having great worth and being deeply loved. It is ours for the living. But most of us won’t live it. We are lazy. It takes too much work to see ourselves differently.

We are also afraid. This business of never losing worth no matter how many times we fail seems too “pie in the sky.” It is scary. So, we refuse to follow God into the Promised Land and fight the giants that resist our living like royalty.

A third reason is that we are fooled. “There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). We think that our collection of idols will do a better job of making us feel loved and important than accepting God’s gift of love and worth. The great Deceiver has fooled us along with the rest of the world (Revelations 12:9).

So, if we do not want to be like the rest of the world, how can we better see ourselves as God sees us? One thing we can do is to start with a vision. “Without a vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). We can be motivated to seek living in this reality, as we can imagine it. Imagining and then living in the reality of always being loved, valued, and accepted will change the way we do life.

Another thing we can do is to wage war over the habits and spiritual forces that hold us in bondage to our low self-esteem. We are royalty! We need to live that way.

We need to ask God to take away our self-image that needs to succeed and always be approved of. We then need to ask him to replace it with living in the reality of always being loved, special and forever accepted. “If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).

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Dare to Be You!

I was trained as a child not to be me.

Being me did not seem to meet by needs as well as being who my parents wanted me to be. So, I learned to perform and be someone else.

I emerged from childhood equipped to be whatever would earn me the most worth, acceptance and love.

One of the results was studying engineering instead of something I really was interested in. Another result was seeking responsibilities in jobs that were way over-my-head that sometimes led to demotions, and once being fired.

However, I did change when I was 26. I became a new me when I became a Christian. “Therefore, if any [person] is in Christ, [they] are a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But did new things come? Did I dare to be me?

No, I did not. I continued to strive to earn worth through job success, love through pleasing people, and acceptance by conforming to others’ expectations. I still did not depend on it being okay to be me.

Why?

The power to be me comes from knowing and living in the reality that I will never be rejected. Oh sure, people will reject me from time to time, but never God. “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

In recent years, I have learned more to be me.

God tested me last year when I could have been accepted on a board if I were not me. All I would have to do is to pretend that I subscribed to their approach to helping people grow spiritually.

However, I did not subscribe to their approach. So, I dared to be me and was rejected. I was comforted  by God’s acceptance of me, which I considered to be more important.

But growing in daring to be me is slow business.

This summer I have struggled with being me in the face of low ministry results. To some extent, I still let ministry results dictate my worth. I forget that I am always precious, honored and loved (Isaiah 43:4), even when ministry results scream otherwise.

So, how are you doing in daring to be you?

Two of the biggest reasons we often fail to be ourself is our lifelong training and our pride.

We often have not been trained to regard ourself as fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We have not been trained in regarding ourself as God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). We fail to live in the reality of the uniquely wonderful person that God has made us to be.

And we don’t want to. “What? That sounds crazy,” you may say.

No. We don’t want to admit that we need God to give us our worth, love, and acceptance as gifts. Instead, we have been trained to look to others and things we do to get these needs met by our own efforts (John 12:42-43).

Daring to be ourself requires us to admit our desperate need for God. And we don’t want to do that!

So, we don’t dare be ourself.

Ask God to help you identify an area of your life in which you are not being you. Picture how your life would be different if you dared to be  you in this area.

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Facing the truth is scary business. It often hurts. So, we often run from truth by pretending that the truth is not the truth. We also try to kill the pain of truth through food, alcohol, and entertainment; we can also suppress the truth from our awareness.

But God wants us to face the truth, down to the core of our being. “You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part, You will make me know wisdom” (Psalm 51:6).

But how?  How do we face and live painful truth about life and ourselves?

As Christians, we know that no matter how bad we have failed God still loves and accepts us (Romans 8:37-39). Many of us do not really believe this, but meditating on passages like Psalm 23, Psalm 91, Psalm 131, and Psalm 139 can help this truth percolate from our head to our heart.

This awareness that we will never be diminished in God’s eyes by facing the truth about us, gives us the power to face it.

For example, this week I faced a major shortcoming I had in my relationship with my wife. As I am seeking to deal with this shortcoming, it helps me to know that God still loves, accepts, and values me the same. I do not need to beat myself up over admitting this truth. I know I am a flawed but a loved person (Romans 5:8).

Another challenge to facing the truth is our life-long habits of repressing truth we do not like. We unconsciously do this. One thing that we can do to make conscious what is unconscious is to pay attention to our feelings.

Our feelings often are tied closely to what we really believe. By identifying how we feel about certain people, things, and events, we can begin to determine what we really believe about them. This can be shocking!

We then can take the lies that our feelings show we are depending on to God for his help. He will help us to face the truth about ourselves, so that we can live his truth. He wants us to quit hiding and running from the truth and instead, rely on it (Ephesians 4:22-24).

The hardest part of facing the truth is relying on the truth. Knowing the truth is not enough. Good news! God lavishly promises to give us the courage and wisdom to live it.

  • “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)
  • “As your days are, so shall your strength be” (Deuteronomy 33:25)
  • “Do not fear, for I am with you… I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

So, we do not need to be terrified by the truth. We have what it takes to face it and live it.

Ask God what truth he wants you to face and his help in facing it. Ask him what he wants you to do to cooperate and then do as he leads. He will give you the power to live that truth!

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A reader wanted me to write more on “Can You Handle the Truth?”

Let me start with an example of how I have struggled to handle the truth. In recent years, I have often chosen to hide from myself the fact that I am balding in the back of my head. This deception makes me feel more worthwhile and acceptable.

However, my wife happened to take a picture of the back of my head recently. I was faced with a choice. Do I believe my feelings or God’s truth that my worth is based on being his son?

I chose to believe God’s truth, and thanked him that he would never reject me. I will never be diminished in any way by a failure to have hair.

I resist the truth that I am balding because my worth is still tied to looks deep within me. I am not handling the truth when I look to hair instead of God’s head-over-heals love for me for my worth. I am rejecting the truth that how much hair I have has nothing to do with my worth.

However, if we want a successful life, we must be committed to knowing and living truth.  “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). But as Pilate asked, “What is truth?”

One place to look for truth is the Bible. It is loaded with truth. In fact, any “truth” that conflicts with the Bible is not truth (John 17:17).

From the Bible we learn the truth of how God sees us. How he sees us is wonderfully different from how we often see ourselves. He is head-over-heals in love with us (Ephesians 3:18). Can you handle this truth?

Another important place to look for truth is in knowing ourselves. This helps us to know when we are not handling the truth. This helps me to know that I am putting too much importance on having hair.

So, why is truth so hard for us to handle? Why do many of us choose to live in darkness in so many areas of our lives?

One reason is that we came from darkness. We lived in this darkness until we accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior. Until we came into the light, we accepted many lies as truths. Even now, many of these lies still control us.

Also, we have been trained by our homes, schools, and the culture in general to live many lies. One big lie is that we can make it on our own. We do not need God for we can do a better job of making life work without him.

This training makes it difficult to handle the truth. When we are used to muscling our way through life making things happen, we will have a difficult time handling the truth that “apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) This means that we can do nothing that will stand the test of time unless God leads the way (I Corinthians 3:10-15).

Ask God to show you a truth that you are finding difficult to handle. Why do you think that this truth is so difficult for you to handle?

Next week we will talk more about why it is important to handle the truth and how to do it.

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Let’s Be Real!

Being authentic seems to be important to us today. And it should be! It is spiritually healthy to be real with others and God (Psalm 51:6). Yet, so much of life seems to block us from opening up and being real. We often do not know what being real is.

Real for us is living in the reality of being who God is creating us to be (Ephesians 2:10). Being real comes as we live in the reality that though we are flawed and limited, we are still deeply loved, valued, and accepted by God.

Nevertheless, we fear rejection when we are real. We think we need to impress and receive people’s approval in order to be okay. Because our parents and other important influences did not perfectly meet these deep needs in our development years, we have become skilled at using the world around us to get our deep needs met.

For example, I used school to gain worth and acceptance from my parents. I did not study to be equipped to better function in this world, but to get good grades so that I could feel important and accepted.

The Challenge

What happens over time is that we lose track of who we really are. We forget what our true interests and abilities are, and the grace that makes us special and loved. Instead, we substitute a frantic pursuit of not being real so that we can better get our needs met.

So, we become an engineer because we think that then Dad will give us worth. We may become “nice” because people will think well of us. We leave behind the fact that we may hate engineering, and that our being loved (by God) is not affected by not being liked by everybody.

We become afraid to be real. Instead, we often give power to others to love us, value us, accept us, and keep us safe. But this is not always safe to do. This often requires us to hide and not be real. We choose to present a false self to get our need for approval met from man, rather than from God (John 12:42-43).

However, if we were living in true reality, we would know that God already knows our flaws and sin, and still accepts us. Relying on our acceptance by God is the key to being real with others.

One way we can tell the extent that we are being real is how sensitive we are to the praise and criticism from others. This helps us assess to what extent we have allowed others to define how important, acceptable, and loved we are. Certainly, God uses people to help us realize how much we mean to him. However, people are not a reliable gauge to always depend on to communicate to us our intrinsic worth and acceptance by God.

However, experiencing who we are to God, and being real with others is a process. We are profoundly influenced by how people treat and react to us. All of us have become skilled at leaving God out of our lives. This leads us to use people and things to get our great needs for worth, love and acceptance met.

Becoming a Christian and growing in faith does not automatically cause this over-dependence on people and things to get our needs met to disappear. It is a daily battle to rest in the security of a warm, loving, abiding relationship with God. And it is a daily battle to be real with others.

Nevertheless, being real with others is worth seeking. The alternative is to stay in the turbulent and scary world of using people and other things to give us our importance, acceptability, and safety. Relying on the Spirit enables us to experience a loving relationship with God (Romans 8:13). This reality gives us the power to be real!

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What Makes Us Tick?

There are many important things about ourselves that we just do not know about. Why not? One reason is that the stuff that makes us tick is often unconscious and buried deep within us. Jeremiah pondered this when he asked the rhetorical question about the heart, “Who can understand it?”

One reason is that from the day we were born, we have been trained to live life in ungodly ways. The reasons why we did what we did made sense to us as children. But now, they often do not. Now, we often do not understand what makes us tick.

For example, I was trained as a child to get good grades to feel important and loved. I got praise, avoided being criticized, and got respectful looks from my dad when I brought home a good report card.

As a result, I was trained to pursue achievement to feel worth and love. Some of this I brought into my adult world. Except the adult world did not always reward me the way I got rewarded as a child. Often in the adult world no good deed goes unpunished. Also, “The race does not always go to the swiftest” (Eccl. 9:11).

Nevertheless, I had been trained to find worth and love in doing good deeds and winning races. If I had continued in not knowing what made me tick, I would have likely beat my brains out trying to do good and win races for all the wrong reasons. Knowing that I tend to be this way has helped me to avoid the pitfalls of despair and workaholism.

We may find it hard to believe that what we thought was true as a child is what we still think is true as an adult. Even when the Bible clearly teaches otherwise, we can stubbornly cling to childish dependencies and “truths.” They do not automatically go away even when we become Christians. They have become so much a part of us that we are largely unaware of them.

This is dangerous. Someone once said, “It is not my problems I know about that scare me. It’s the ones I don’t know about.“ You and I have many lies we believe and wrong dependencies that rob us of living the abundant life that God promises (John 10:10).

Many times I have heard people dismiss the value of knowing themselves as “psychobabble” or “navel-gazing.” Yet, we cannot cooperate with God to solve a problem that we do not know exists. Knowing what makes us tick is a vital step in living in the glorious truths of God’s Word and not just knowing them (James 1:22)

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