Trevor became a Christian two months ago. He regularly attends church, making new friends-but he is still struggling with anger.
"I can't stop my outbursts. I get really irritated at the way people treat me," he states. "Every day I pray to God, but every day people still make me angry." He also confided that he is constantly struggling with lustful thoughts.
Harry, 67 years old, has been a Christian all his adult life. He grew up with a father who verbally abused him. "I can still hear my father saying-you'll never amount to anything! You're good for nothing!" And the damage still hangs on even though Harry is now a grandfather and loves God.
The struggles may not be identical, but many Christians are caught up in major battles in their mind. The promise of 2 Corinthians 5:17 sounds great, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (NIV) But where reality hits the road-we fall short- especially in our thought life.
The old way of thinking has not gone away. Many still struggle with temptations in their mind, bitterness, depression, fear, hopelessness, frustrations, problems, and putting it bluntly-evil thoughts.
To be a successful Christian means to follow Jesus, to obey His teachings, to love others, to grow spiritually. But this battle still rages in the mind.
God's solution to this battle is not simply to pray more. Prayer is important-but we need to do more than pray. Romans 12:2 goes to the heart of the problem and offers God's solution-"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will." (NIV)
The promise is powerful-if I renew my mind, God has some awesome benefits and rewards.
God's Part vs. Our Part
Three significant scriptures talk about renewing your mind-Romans 12:1-2, Philippians 4:8-9, and Hebrews 3:1. All three of these scriptures say YOU must renew your mind. None say, "pray that God will renew your mind."
So when you pray, "Oh God, renew my mind," you are acting much like a child that says, "Mom, do my homework for me." Most responsible parents would say, "No!"
When it comes to renewing your mind, God will do His part, but not your part.
1. "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)
Three gifts are promised by God for every true Christian-a spirit of power, a spirit of love, and a spirit of self-discipline. God extends these gifts to His children-but are we taking them, and applying them in our lives?
Self discipline in our thoughts is a critical element of renewing our minds. God has promised to help.
2. When Jesus was preparing to leave earth and return to heaven, He specifically promised that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth.
John 16:13 says, "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come." (NIV)
Separating God's truth from the deceitful lies of Satan can be a challenge. God promises to help-He will guide you into all truth-but you have to be willing to take His help. Jesus did not say the Holy Spirit would give you all the truth-He said He would guide you into all the truth. This clearly indicates you must be seeking the truth if you want Him to guide you. It's the same as the child who says, "Mom, help me with my homework," versus "Mom, do my homework for me."
3. God promises to bring us from darkness into light.
"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.' " John 8:12 (NIV)
One of our students was in 5 secular drug rehab programs before coming to Teen Challenge.
After each of these programs, she would immediately return to her lifestyle of drug addiction. Her mother asked, "What are you learning in these programs?' The daughter's reply- "It's like they have given me a broom to sweep the floor, but the room is totally dark."
Jesus brings light into the darkness in our world. God's truth is light for us. One of the most important gifts that God has given us for renewing our mind is the Bible- His written word-a wealth of truth that clearly shows His way of thinking, and how He wants us to think. King David said in Psalm 119:105, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." (NIV)
God has given us an incredible tool for renewing our minds-His written word. Now what are we going to do with this treasure?
4. God promises to give wisdom to those who ask.
"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James 1:5 (NIV)
He will give generously to us- His wisdom! Another incredible tool for us to use!
When it comes to renewing your mind-God has already done His part. And it is clear that He will not do your part.
First, you must accept responsibility for renewing your mind. After all, it is your mind! So what does it mean to renew your mind? We need to learn to think like God thinks. We need to get rid of our sinful attitudes, our negative, critical ways of thinking, our selfish thoughts.
Renewing your mind should not be confused with thoughts that come into your mind. Many times we cannot stop certain thoughts from entering our mind. But what we do with that thought the instant we recognize that thought-that's where our response clearly shows whether or not we are renewing our mind.
Much of what we think about is directly connected to what we are feeding into our mind. If you put pornography into your mind-that is what you will end up thinking about. And what goes into your mind affects your whole life.
God tells us in His word "I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil." Romans 16:19 (NIV)
We need to guard our mind and not fill it with garbage. This includes what we watch on TV, what we read, and the music we listen to.
Romans 12:2 tells us that we need to renew our minds and the benefits we will reap if we do so. But that scripture does not tell us how to renew our mind.
The Positive Approach
The first major strategy for renewing your mind is found in Philippians 4:8-9. It contains 8 specific steps we can take to renew our mind.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV)
Each of these 8 steps can be a filter in my mind to take me closer to God's way of thinking. With each of these 8 steps, I must constantly look for God's standard, not my standard. For example, the first step-think about whatever is true. I need to discover God's standard of truth, not my perception of truth.
What does God say in His word about truth? If I am going to renew my mind, I must fill my mind with His truth. I need to read the Bible daily- I need to memorize scriptures.
But it is not enough to have this information in my head-I must "put it into action!" That's the conclusion Paul gives in Philippians 4:9. A renewed mind should lead to changed behavior.
The box on page 3 gives a more detailed description of how to apply the strategy of Philippians 4:8 to renewing your mind. I challenge you to take each one of these 8 steps and work in a very systematic way of evaluating your thought life.
If a thought fails the test of being true, or noble, or right, or pure, then stop going down that path in your mind. Turn your thoughts toward God and His word. We need to put off our old way of thinking and develop a new way of thinking.
"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body." Ephesians 4:22-25 (NIV)
Renewing your mind is a process, not a one time achievement. If you realize you have fallen short of one of these 8 standards, don't beat yourself down-instead focus your attention on renewing your mind right now. Get back on the right path.
With each of these 8 steps, God's word can help you. Fill your mind with scriptures that relate to that step. If you have a real struggle with one area-then find scriptures that speak to that issue. Write them down, carry them with you, and read them throughout your day. The more you fill your mind with His truth, the more it will help to cleanse your mind of the inappropriate thoughts.
A key issue here is-what do you want to think about? Learning to think like Jesus means that you must continually make decisions in your mind. Your decisions! Your mind! God won't decide for you. You must want to change the way you think.
Joseph in the Old Testament was sold as a slave by his brothers. He ended up in Egypt, and eventually in prison-with no hope for the future. But God rescued him. Nowhere do you read of Joseph being bitter because of the injustice he suffered.
Many years later his brothers fear he still plans revenge for their evil actions. The response of Joseph shows a truly renewed mind in action- " 'You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.' And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them." Genesis. 50:20-2 1 (NIV)
Battling Evil Thoughts
The 8 steps of Philippians 4:8-9 provide a powerful place to start in renewing our mind-focus on the positive! But many of us face evil thoughts in our minds. They invade our mind without our permission.
Perhaps you have been in church, singing songs of worship or listening to God's message from the pastor, when in your mind a movie of sinful thoughts begins to play. "Where did this come from?" you wonder. Or maybe you face this battle as you try to go to sleep at night.
You try to focus your mind on God's truth, but the evil movie continues to play in your mind. God offers another strategy we can use for these kinds of battles in the mind. "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 10:5 (NIV)
God tells us to take on the mindset of a battle-seasoned soldier fighting the enemy. These evil thoughts are not conquered by ignoring them, any more than a soldier ignores his enemy. The soldier faces his enemy, and fights him.
We must do the same when we face evil thoughts. We must use the strategies of a soldier-fight with passion! Satan is our enemy, committed to destroying us.
This scripture points to the absolute need for us to know God's word. How do we know if an argument or pretension is setting itself up against the knowledge of God? We must know God's truth before we can spot an error. How do we make this thought obedient to Christ unless we know God's truth?
You must speak God's truth to the evil thoughts that come to you. "This is a temptation from Satan to get me to lie, or to lust, or whatever the thought focuses on. And here is what God says about that issue"-and then you need to remind yourself of the specific truth that relates to that evil thought.
This is how Jesus did combat with Satan in the time of temptation early in His ministry. See Matthew chapter 4. Jesus did not ignore the temptation-He faced it. And He quoted scripture to respond to each temptation.
When evil thoughts come into your mind, don't try to run from them-attack them! Use the tools God has given you. Once you have exposed what you are battling, then begin to focus on the positive things God speaks of in Philippians 4:8. Bring God into the battle.
Another strategy that can help us battle these evil thoughts is to be accountable to another godly person. Give them permission to ask you how you are doing in the battles with evil thoughts. You don't need to give them specific details of what you are battling, but you can give them a report on how successful you have been over the past few days.
One of the devil's most powerful tools is secrecy. If he can get you to keep secret all your battles, then he has a much easier time defeating you.
Focus on Jesus
Sometimes we are faced with difficult problems and confusion. The pain and frustration can drive us to the point of despair. The problem simply does not go away. What can we do in these situations that do not seem to have a solution?
A third major strategy for renewing your mind is found in Hebrews 3:1. "Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess." (NIV)
On one occasion I was faced with a difficult ministry decision. Actually several others were making a decision, and I was the one most affected by that decision. I felt it was the wrong decision, and appealed to these leaders. They agreed to a meeting, where I was given full opportunity to voice my concerns. But they did not change their decision.
I left the meeting with a great burden of frustration. Instead of going directly back to my office, I stopped at a park and sat there talking to God. I began to simply focus on Jesus. I set the problem aside in my mind. Only Jesus and His love, His faithfulness, His genuine concern, His kindness were the focus of my thoughts. His promise to never leave me or forsake me.
The more I thought about Him, the better I felt. When I returned to my office, the problem had not changed. But fixing my thoughts on Jesus had taken the burden of frustration off my back. I could face the day with the confidence that Jesus was with me.
Some of the situations we face simply do not have adequate answers. In times like these we can look to Jesus-fix our thoughts on Him. Everything else might be messed up- but Jesus is not messed up or confused. He is seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us! We have to keep our thoughts fixed on Him.
Thoughts vs. Actions
It is not enough to think pure thoughts. Philippians 4:9 takes it one step farther-we must put these thoughts into action. It's not enough to think kind thoughts-we must speak kind words, and live out kindness in our actions.
The prophet Jonah in the Old Testament illustrates the need for a renewed mind to impact one's behavior. God told him to go to Nineveh and preach, but he ran from God. His actions reveal his need for a renewed mind.
Jonah ended up inside the belly of a large fish for three days. He described the lessons learned in a beautiful prayer-Jonah chapter 2. He then obeyed God and went to Nineveh and preached to the city. A great revival broke out and people by the thousands repented.
The next actions and words of Jonah point to the deep problems he still had in his mind. He was angry that God forgave these people-so angry that he told God he wanted to die!
Our thoughts are revealed by our actions. In one sense our actions speak louder than our thoughts. If we say we are a very generous person, what do our actions say? If our actions send the opposite message, then we may be living in denial or delusion-this clearly does not reflect God's way of thinking.
Renewing our minds is a challenge that may take a lifetime. God has provided some very special gifts to help us in this process. But the real key to remember-this is my mind, and I must take full responsibility for renewing it.
The blessings are incredible that God has promised if we renew our mind-we will be transformed, we will be able to test and approve God's will in our lives, and we will experience His peace.
Do Your Feelings Control Your Thoughts?
Do you find it easy to think positive thoughts when you are feeling good and everything is going just great? But how do you respond when you feel depressed, discouraged, bored or unhappy? Do you allow these feelings to control your thoughts?
God has promised to give His children the "spirit of self discipline." See 2 Timothy 1:7. If you are going to renew your mind, self discipline is absolutely essential.
The call to Christian maturity is to discipline your thoughts and your emotions-to find the balance Jesus had in 3 areas of His life-His thoughts, actions, and feelings.
"Right thinking" leads to "right actions," which leads to "right feelings." The priority is critical. If feelings are at the front, they will drive you wherever they feel like going. You've heard it said, "If it feels this good, it must be the right thing to do." What a trap! Your emotions will take you into all kinds of confusion.
"Right thinking" guides us in responding with "right actions." Right feelings may not come immediately, but they will come eventually.
Accept the challenge that feeling good must have third place in your priorities. Right thinking is based on seeing each situation from God's point of view, and then right actions-what would Jesus do?
Eight Steps You Can Take to Renew Your Mind
Philippians 4:8-9 Strategy of Renewing Your Mind
1. Choose one character trait per day or per week. The first one—whatever is true.
2. Remind yourself throughout the day that you want to do a personal checkup on how well you are using this step to renew your mind.
Ask yourself—what have I been thinking about today? Is it true? Or have I been thinking about something that is a lie? Have I been living with a fantasy in my mind? Am I worrying about what might happen? That’s not the truth.
Am I speculating on the motives or thoughts of another person?
One way to help evaluate a thought is to ask yourself—If Jesus were in my shoes right now, what would He be thinking about this issue or person?
3. Consider the opposite of the trait. The opposite of truth is lies, fantasies, speculations. Ask yourself, “Am I thinking about something that is not true.” If so—I need to stop going down that thought path.
4. What scriptures will help me apply this trait to my way of thinking?
What scriptures on truth speak to you? Proverbs and Psalms have lots of treasures to use for these 8 steps. Memorize the verse and meditate on it during your daily activities.
5. After you have gone through all 8 steps of Philippians 4:8, begin to apply more than one test to each thought.
A young man sees an attractive young lady and thinks, “She is beautiful. I wonder what it would be like to be married to her?”
His thought meets the “whatever is true” test. But if she is already married, then this thought clearly fails the “whatever is right” test.
This process of renewing the mind calls us to ever higher standards of filtering our thoughts and placing boundaries so we do not go down the path of sin in our mind. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 5:27-28, that sin is not simply measured by our actions—we also sin when we embrace that thought and go down that path in our mind.
6. When you are evaluating your thoughts, bring God into the mental conversation. Breathe a prayer to God, ask for His wisdom. Quote scripture as a prayer of what you want God to do.
David’s prayer in Psalm 51:10 can be your prayer: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (NIV)
7. Talk with other Christians about your challenge to apply these 8 steps to renewing your mind.
Tell them of your successes and your challenges. The act of telling others can become a way of reinforcing these new thought patterns. It also can give you something positive to talk about!
It’s time to move beyond the weather and sports in our conversations.
Do your feelings control your thoughts?
Do you find it easy to think positive thoughts when you are feeling good and everything is going just great? But how do you respond when you feel depressed, discouraged, bored or unhappy? Do you allow these feelings to control your thoughts?
God has promised to give His children the “spirit of self discipline.” See 2 Timothy 1:7. If you are going to renew your mind, self discipline is absolutely essential.
The call to Christian maturity is to discipline your thoughts and your emotions—to find the balance Jesus had in 3 areas of His life—His thoughts, actions, and feelings.
“Right thinking” leads to “right actions,” which leads to “right feelings.” The priority is critical. If feelings are at the front, they will drive you wherever they feel like going. You’ve heard it said, “If it feels this good, it must be the right thing to do.” What a trap! Your emotions will take you into all kinds of confusion.
“Right thinking” guides us in responding with “right actions.” Right feelings may not come immediately, but they will come eventually.
Accept the challenge that feeling good must have third place in your priorities. Right thinking is based on seeing each situation from God’s point of view, and then right actions—what would Jesus do?
Copyright © 2000, 2006 By David Batty
What triggers you? What sets off a volcano of anger? What triggers fear in your heart? What makes a temptation so enticing that it seems irresistible?
"I was doing just fine in communicating about a problem with my next door neighbor-until he began to trash-talk my wife! That's when I lost it-and my angry shouting just took over." Perhaps you can relate to this man's experience.
A friend was at an outdoor concert in New York City a few months after 9-11, when a commercial jet passed over on a low flight path. He said about 90% of the people looked up.
Before 9-11 such a common noise would have hardly gotten a single glance upward. For many today, that noise also triggers feelings of fear, and creates a flashback to the images of tragedy portrayed on TV.
Other triggers pull us down a path that leads to sin. Every temptation starts with a trigger- something that grabs our attention and our desires.
What is a Trigger?
Just about anything can be a trigger.
Some triggers are visual-you see someone or something and it becomes a trigger-pulling you toward a certain response.
Another example of triggers are smells. Sallie Culbreth, the founder of Committed to Freedom, was sexually abused by a man who used Horehound cough drops. Years later, that smell can instantly trigger memories of past sexual abuse. With those memories also comes a flood of emotions- deeply connected to that abuse.
Sounds can also be triggers- as mentioned earlier-the sound of a jet flying overhead.
Each trigger pulls us toward a response. Some are very obvious- others hidden. But in each case they can open the door to emotional turmoil and responses that lead to a chain reaction of events.
Some triggers are simply thoughts. You may be sitting in church, when out of nowhere a movie starts playing in your mind-a sin in your past, or a failure, or a painful experience. You wonder what triggered that memory?
The more important question is-how will I respond to this trigger? Will I let this trigger pull me down a destructive path? Or will I choose a different response as I speak God's truth to it.
We can be in bondage to the traumas of our past, or the temptations that have overwhelmed us in the past. We can continue to be on an emotional roller coaster, letting our emotions control our moods, our thoughts, our words, and our actions.
But God wants us to experience freedom from these bondages. So what is the path that will take us to the freedom God has for us?
What Gives Power to a Trigger?
First we must identify the triggers in our lives and understand how they are affecting us today. The abuse or betrayal may have taken place 20 years ago-no physical scars remain, but the emotional damage is still very real today.
Each trigger in your life is tied to your thoughts and your emotions. The trigger may have been born out of an event in your life that first exposed you to that experience-the trauma of sexual abuse, the fight with another person, a car accident you were involved in, the betrayal by a friend, the first time you saw pornography, or the first time you stole an article of clothing from a store, or an embarrassing moment.
Each one of these events opened a door of experience in your life, and now the memory, the sight, the smell becomes a trigger-a magnet in the present to pull you down a destructive path today.
Every trigger also has false beliefs connected to it. These false beliefs are what give the trigger so much power in our lives. The sound of a low-flying jet triggers the thought-maybe this is another plane about to crash-terrorists are here again-I can't be safe any more. All kinds of false beliefs can be attached to that trigger.
If you are going to gain control over these triggers in your life you must identify what those triggers are and the false beliefs that you have attached to them.
Another person may have had a similar experience, but does not have any of the same current triggers you do related to this event.
In one sense everyone is different-yet we all have triggers of one sort or another.
What gives a trigger power in your life? Part of the answer is the false beliefs that are attached to it. Perhaps the better question is who gives a trigger power in your life? You do! Each trigger only has as much power as you give it.
How do you give power to a trigger? Let's take a look at a gun-it has a trigger, and the gun can do great damage if you pull the trigger. But the trigger has no power and does no damage until someone wraps their finger around it and squeezes it tight.
The trigger by itself is nothing but a small piece of metal-harmless. But when it is installed in a gun, and the gun is loaded, this harmless little trigger sets off an explosive series of events that can be very destructive.
In a similar way the triggers in our lives are by themselves harmless smells, sounds, people, or objects. But when we connect them in our minds with memories of past experiences, often coupled with false beliefs, we give them power to take us down those paths, and experience current damage in our lives, and the lives of those around us.
How do I Break the Power of a Trigger?
"I can't help it when I get angry and explode. That's just the way I am. I have always been short tempered-just like my parents and grandparents. That's just my Italian temperament." Maybe you've heard a similar story.
If you want to live in the full freedom that God has for you, then you must take responsibility for your present actions, thoughts, and emotions.
First, you must identify the triggers in your life. Start with the obvious ones. Make a list of them and describe your typical response to them.
Second, try to understand what happens before the trigger goes off in your life. Does this trigger usually happen at a certain time of the day or night? Or when you are with a certain person? What is the set-up? What puts you in that vulnerable position where you easily give in to that trigger?
Third, take your finger off the trigger. Make it your goal to not respond the way you have in the past. Some triggers related to temptations have power because we have not made a decision to stop that activity. In our heart we still like what it does to us, and we are not willing to give it up completely.
If you are going to find freedom from that trigger, you must choose to turn away from that temptation.
Taking your finger off the trigger means also that you will begin to think before you respond. Think about the consequences of squeezing the trigger.
Fourth, attack the lies associated with the trigger. Bring God's truth into the picture. You must find out what God says about this issue in your life, and then make that part of your thought process.
Instead of embracing the beauty of a pornographic picture, you must make a choice-I will not go down this path again. What is God's truth that relates to this-God has a plan for true intimacy-sex with your wife or husband. Any other expression of sex is outside God's boundaries, and will bring destruction into your life.
Another way of seeing God's truth here is to recognize that pornography is a path of false intimacy. It's not the real thing. It's visually beautiful, but it's still false intimacy. And it will not bring true fulfillment and pleasure into your life.
If anger is the trigger-then you must bring God's truth about anger into your thought process. If it is fear-then what does God say about fear?
Fifth, choose a new response to the trigger and the memory of the past. This new response needs to be based on God's truth. As a teen, I remember giving in to a temptation, and going down the path of sin. I immediately felt God's conviction, and repented of the sin, and asked God to forgive me.
In the months that followed the memory of that sin would come back, often with a flood of shame. Each time I would again confess that sin, and ask God to forgive me.
Several years later the memory and feelings of shame still came back. So one day I took my finger off the trigger, and took a careful look at the trigger. I knew that I had sincerely repented of the sin several times. God's word gave a simple response to that-If I confess my sin God is faithful and forgives it.
The conclusion was clear-this re-occurring shame was not from God. A light went on in my head- these feelings of shame were from the devil-not God. The devil came as an angel of light with a message that felt like it was from God.
When the lie associated with the trigger was exposed, the trigger lost some of its power. But the real key to destroying the power of the trigger came when I attached a new response to the trigger.
I decided on a strategy for responding the next time this memory and feelings of shame came upon me. My strategy was not to talk to the devil-but to talk to myself and to God.
You can't change the past failures, traumas, betrayals, and other tragedies of your life. But you can choose new responses to each one. You can attach new insights to each painful memory of the past. Don't exchange one lie for another lie. Be sure you are replacing each lie with God's truth.
See Each Trigger From God's Point of View
When we choose to gain control over our triggers we may be in for a long battle. We must work at this with diligence.
Some triggers may not be dangerous or wrong. Food can be a trigger for binging, anorexia, and other disorders. But obviously the solution here is attaching the right thoughts to our eating.
Other triggers are dangerous and you may need to stay away from them completely. "Avoid every kind of evil." 1 Thessalonians 5:22 NIV The alcoholic may need to commit to never enter a bar again. Or the one addicted to drugs may need to stay completely away from the neighborhood of the drug dealer who sells cocaine or heroin.
If the trigger is a person who deeply hurt you in the past-what is God's path for you to complete freedom? Forgiveness may be one step in breaking the power of that trigger. "God I place in your hands this person who betrayed me. God I want to learn to love this person as Jesus would."
What kind of love can you have for someone who betrayed or abused you? Jesus loved Judas to the end. It's not about having warm, fuzzy feelings for that person. No- it's the non-romantic love described in 1 Corinthians 13, which starts with love is patient, and gives many other expressions of that kind of love.
You can choose to not let hatred rule your heart. Instead you can bring that hurt to God and say, "I need your healing. I want to be free of the power of this hurt."
So the next time you see this person you can begin to see him or her as Jesus does.
We must be vigilant in the new strategies we have planned for our triggers. The devil will continue to come back and try to get us to believe the lies attached to the triggers. We must continue to review God's truth-what does God say about this trigger? How does God want me to meet each need and desire in my life?
The key issue is that you must continue to fill your mind and your heart with God's truth. And you must continue to put His teachings into practice in your daily living.
It's also important to make yourself accountable to another trusted person who will help you see triggers in your life and listen for the lies that you may be telling yourself.
How My Triggers Can Help Others
As you learn to live in victory over the triggers of your past, you can become a model of encouragement to others struggling with triggers in their lives. They can take courage from your success and follow the same path.
Your strategies are not a guarantee to lead to the same success in their lives. But as they see how you are growing, your life can be a help and encouragement to them. Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16 NIV)
What Triggers a Critical Attitude?
It seems that some of us have been born with a double anointing of the gift of criticism. Our criticism of others is so deeply rooted in our daily lifestyle we don’t even consciously think about it. It’s as natural as breathing.
So what triggers a critical attitude? How can you begin to recognize what triggers it in your life and begin to overcome this bad habit?
Jesus challenges us to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:28 NIV.
One of the steps that can help overcome a critical attitude is to pray, “God, what thoughts do you want me to think about this person?” Philippians 4:8-9 gives a whole list of guidelines to use in bringing our thought life up to God’s standard for us. Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy—think about these things.
How can you encourage this person? How can you be kind to this person in spite of what they do to you?
We must admit that when we have a critical attitude we are in bondage. It may be a fierce battle to overcome this old habit. Paul says, “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 10:5 NIV.
We must purpose in our hearts to go down the path of freedom—especially in controlling our tongue.
Copyright © 2002, 2005 By David Batty. Special thanks to Sallie Culbreth.
The phone broke the early morning silence in my office. Distraught parents were calling about their 28 year old daughter who had relapsed back into drugs again. Searching for answers, they poured out their concerns. They had been down this path several times before with their daughter. “We don’t understand why she can’t stay clean.”
They rehearsed the events of the past few months, noting the signs that had indicated a problem in her life. Finally their daughter had admitted to them that she was back on drugs.
A few hours later, their daughter was sitting in my office, her face clouded with sadness. It was hard for her to make eye contact as she tried to explain what had happened over the past few months. Words jumbled out, but it was clear she was having a hard time seeing clearly what had happened in her life.
Her countenance was showing the strain of the battle going on inside. It was clear she needed help. I told her I wouldn’t make any decisions for her, but we were ready to help. We talked about some of her options, and then prayed before she left.
Even after she left my office, the sadness in the room lingered on. I grieved at the lost potential in her life. At 28 she had such potential, but now it was all a tangled mess of broken dreams and broken trust.
I called her parents to tell them I had met with their daughter. Even after we ended our phone conversation, the pain of the parents stayed in my heart.
I wish I could say this is a rare occurrence. But sadly, it’s a common scenario—the loved one trapped by drug addiction is hardly aware of how much pain they bring into their family. And loved ones are left wondering—will it always be like this?
Even though the parents love God and have been praying hard, they know this will not be a quick fix. It will take time to restore trust. It will take time for their daughter to get her life back on track. And who knows how much pain still lies ahead?
So what do you tell a parent living with the pain of this tragedy?
We’d all love to see prayer bring a quick “magic wand” solution to all the pain and trouble we are experiencing in this situation.
Many families are faced with complicated problems. One mother called Teen Challenge to say her son had locked himself in his bedroom. The parents had spent over $250,000 on various counselors, treatment programs and psychiatrists, seeking help for their son, but nothing had helped. Now their son was suicidal.
This family did see a miracle—their son... experienced God’s transformation.
Before the Miracle Comes
But what do you say to parents and loved ones who have not seen their miracle yet—those who have a son or daughter still trapped in the chaos of their addiction?
A young mother with a drug addict husband shared her painful story. Her last paycheck from work came while she was in the hospital, giving birth to her new child. She gave the check to her husband and asked that he get diapers and food for the baby, and then pick them up and bring them home from the hospital.
But when the time came for her to leave the hospital, her husband didn’t come. She waited most of the day and finally called her sister to take her home. Walking in the front door of her home, she found her husband, sprawled out on the couch, sleeping off the drug binge. The paycheck was gone. There was no money for food or diapers.
This was the last straw for this mother. She ordered her husband out of the apartment, and out of their lives. Even though this husband did eventually come to Teen Challenge and experience a miracle of transformation, it would be several years before this marriage was restored. And that too was a miracle!
How wonderful it is when a family does see a change—a miracle! But how do you keep hope alive when the chaos never ends? Is this hope just a cheap promise from those living in peace?
How do you hold on to hope when everything you have tried simply does not work?
God Offers Hope
Hope can be a light in the darkness of the chaos in your situation. But what kind of hope? In our culture we sometimes say, “I hope so,” which often carries the idea of “wishful thinking.” God offers real hope to us—not just wishful thinking. His hope can help us through the difficult times in our lives.
God promises a future filled with hope. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)
The Bible describes God as a God of hope—it’s part of His very character. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 NIV)
As you take a closer look at the 174 times “hope” is talked about in the Bible, it is clear that real hope has a direct connection to God. Not only is He a God of hope, but He is ready to give us His hope in the middle of our problems and pain.
The Focus of Your Hope
The hope God offers is not based on the problems we have. It’s not simply a hope that our circumstances will change. Nor is it a hope that I can fix the problems in my family. The focus of our hope needs to be Jesus.
Paul faced overwhelming problems in his life, even to the point that he despaired of living. But Paul knew about hope. “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10 NIV)
Paul’s hope was not in his ability to fix the problems in his life and those around him. He made a choice—“On him [God] we have set our hope.” (vs. 10)
You may be in the middle of your deepest problems today. Just like Paul, you can choose to “set your hope on God.” Hope is not a feeling—it’s not a tidal wave of joy in the middle of a problem.
You may be in despair and see no hope of change in your situation. Hope is not the magic wand that makes the problem disappear. Hope is the lifeline that can keep you from being overwhelmed by the storms in your life.
When you place your hope in Jesus, you place your confidence in His promises that He will never leave you or forsake you—that He will do what is best for you. Even though you may be in the middle of a huge problem, hope enables you to be at peace, knowing that Jesus is with you every step of the way.
The Process of Building Hope
But just because you put your hope in Jesus does not mean the storm instantly stops. In fact, the storm may continue to rage, not just for a minute or two, but for months, or even years.
Psalm 31:24 says, “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” (NIV) Even after making a choice to put your hope in Jesus, you still have to be strong.
How do we find strength in the chaos of our problems? The promises of God provide a solid foundation for our hope. We must stand on these promises and keep them in our minds.
One young college student stated in the midst of a big storm in his life, “I have to keep rehearsing the truths of God, because if I listen to my emotions, I get all confused.”
God has promised that He will never leave you or forsake you. (See Hebrews 13:5 and Deuteronomy 31:6.) We can put our hope in Him and experience His love and peace in the midst of the chaos we are in.
God offers a great promise of hope for everyone going through difficulties. “But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.” (Psalm 33:18-22 NIV)
The promises of hope in the Bible speak clearly of God’s power to help us through the challenges we face with the problems in our lives. But these Scriptures also speak to the responsibilities we have in this process. We must make a choice to put our hope in Jesus. And we have to hold on to that hope in the middle of the storm.
Hope and Suffering
Paul explains in more detail how suffering relates to the process of building hope in our lives. “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:2-5 NIV)
To the person who has been living with the pain of a problem, this Scripture is bitter medicine. Why can’t God fix this problem? Why am I still in the middle of this chaos? We may find some comfort in knowing that God has a future filled with hope for us.
But Paul says, “we also rejoice in our sufferings” (vs. 3). You say, “That just does not make sense! How can I rejoice that I am suffering?”
If Paul was speaking from a life of comfort, prosperity and success, we might dismiss his words as hollow. But Paul speaks from a life of frequent problems—overwhelming problems—even to the point that he thought he was going to die.
Yet in the midst of these problems he says, “we also rejoice in our sufferings.” Why? “Because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV)
Paul has taken hope to a new level—it’s not wishful thinking. It’s a character trait born out of life’s problems. He has persevered in the midst of problems, he’s kept his focus on Jesus. He has responded to these problems with the truths of God’s word.
In the Old Testament, Job did the same when he faced overwhelming problems in his life. He cried out to God for answers—but heaven was silent. His wife told him to curse God and die. But he ignored that advice and persevered. Finally God came and responded.
How long will you have to wait for God to respond to your crisis? I don’t have that answer. But God’s promises are clear—hold on to God’s hope. Put your focus on God the miracle-worker. “The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:11 NIV) His love will see you through the storms, no matter how long they rage in your life.
Are You Living With Hope or Despair?
The Old Testament Prophet Elijah received a word from God to go to Zarephath in Sidon and stay there. God also told him, “I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” (1 Kings 17:9 NIV)
When Elijah arrives in Zarephath, he meets a widow on the street and asks her for a drink and a piece of bread.
“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” (vs. 12)
Seeing this widow in such a place of desperation did not cause Elijah to change his request. Instead he boldly asks that he be fed first.
Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.” (vs. 13)
Two people—one in despair, planning to die, the other—with great hope, expecting to get a free meal!
“Sounds like Elijah was being pretty selfish!” you may be saying. But Elijah was not being selfish, he was being obedient. He was expecting God to keep His promise.
Elijah also knew what God had told him—“I have commanded a widow to supply you with food.” (vs 9) This widow was not acting with hope for God’s provision—she was acting out of despair, simply looking at the natural.
God had a miracle in store for this widow. Both Elijah and the widow and her son had food until the drought ended. Even though God had spoken to her, she was still living in despair. She wasn’t expecting a miracle—she was expecting to die. Elijah was filled with hope because he believed the promise of God in the middle of his need.
Job was a wealthy man who lost it all—not because he was sinful, but because he was a righteous man. His children were all killed in a single day and soon he also lost his health.
When he prayed to God, seeking some answers—the only answer he got was silence.
Job demonstrates how deep is his commitment to the one true God. “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15 NIV)
Was he frustrated—definitely! Yet in his frustration he did not sin against God or abandon his relationship with God.
What sustained Job in this time of great trial? Hope in God! His hope was not in his circumstances. His radical hope was in a loving God who really cared about him.
Copyright © 2005, by David Batty. Used by permission.
Do you know any Christians who are not happy? How recently have you heard a Christian complain about a problem he or she was encountering?
God clearly promises pure joy to His children. So why are so many Christians unhappy, disgruntled, and some down right ugly?
What would need to change in your life for you to be able to say, “My life is full of pure joy!”
God’s path to pure joy is spelled out in James 1:2-4. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (NIV)
I memorized these verses over 25 years ago, but as I looked at these verses recently I saw a new insight. The path to pure joy is not having problems—the path to God’s pure joy is mine when I face my problems. Many people live with the false belief that if they had less problems, or if they had no problems—that is the path to pure joy. But this clearly contradicts the simple truth of God’s word.
What is our typical response to problems?
But our obsession with getting rid of the problem may cause us to miss what God wants us to learn. We blame it on the devil, failing to see God’s hand in it, not seizing this as an opportunity to draw closer to God and experience His pure joy.
Before you write me off and say, “Dave, you obviously don’t know about the problems I’m facing,” look with me at what James says about how to experience God’s pure joy.
James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2-3 NIV) Every test, temptation, or trial is an opportunity to use God’s faith—His mighty power.
When I put God’s power to the test, will God fail me? Never! One reason I can have joy when I face my problems is that His power will see me through.
Who Pays When You Run From Your Problems?
When Jonah* decided to run from his problems, he had to pay—real cash. He paid to ride a boat headed the opposite direction of his problem.
But when he runs from one problem, he ends up right in the middle of another problem—a violent storm at sea.
The sailors on the ship fear for their lives, and end up throwing all their cargo overboard in an attempt to save their ship, and their lives.
Jonah finally admits he is the cause of all their problems and tells them to throw him overboard. These innocent sailors experience a great financial loss because of Jonah’s decision to run from his problem.
Only when Jonah faces his problem do the innocent sailors experience freedom from the damaging consequences of Jonah’s problems.
When Jonah faces his “problems”——going to preach to the city of Nineveh—a great revival comes, and thousands repent and turn to God.
*This story is found in the Bible in the book of Jonah.
Facing Your Problems Can be Painful
Tracey used drugs for several years. Every time she was arrested, her dad would bail her out. She always promised to change—but it never lasted. Soon she would be back to her addictions and her life of crime.
Arrested again for drug related crime, she pled with her father to bail her out again. He was ready to mortgage his home to pay bail. But her brother stepped in and convinced Dad not to bail her out.
So for 7 months she sat in jail. Forced to face her problems, she finally began to see the destruction going on in her life. She didn’t die in jail—she met God! Ladies from a local church came weekly for a Bible study. For the first time Tracey learned about Jesus and how to experience His salvation. She began to develop a personal relationship with Jesus.
Since then she has been facing her problems, not running from them. She is now a student in Teen Challenge. Does she have joy? Lots of it! Does she still have problems—lots of them. The joy of Jesus has put a light in her eyes, and joy deep in her heart.
What brought her to the place of joy?—facing her problems.
But many of us are afraid to face our problems. We reason—“my problems cause me pain. Facing my problems will only increase the pain, so the best solution is to run from my problems.”
That was the logic that Reneé lived by for years. “Once I began facing my problems, I did encounter pain. But then I experienced God’s help and healing, and now I feel pretty good,” she said with a smile.
What to Do—Not How
Let’s be clear—James 1:2 tells us what we are to do, “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds.” (NIV) But it does not give a detailed strategy on how to experience this pure joy. We need to look beyond this verse in James for that help.
James 1:3 gives a key part of the “how to” answer. Facing these problems is really a testing of my faith. These problems provide me the opportunity to learn how to use God’s faith—His power—in facing these problems.
God’s power is real and more than adequate. Your role is to prove to yourself that you can effectively handle God’s power in the context of this problem.
It’s much like a race car driver—the car has the power. But can the driver effectively use that power and complete the race and win? This takes perseverance.
When Someone Else’s Problems Affect You
James talks of facing “trials of many kinds.” Sometimes the problems are the results of our own decisions. Other trials are when somebody else’s problem causes damage in our lives.
In the Old Testament, a young man, David, went to visit his brothers who were at war with the Philistines. When he came to the camp, he found everyone trembling in fear because of Goliath.
When David offers to fight Goliath, his brothers get angry. But David’s offer is reported to the king. The king tries to get David to use his armor, which David declines. He goes out to battle Goliath, confident that God will give him the power to win.
“David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head…. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give all of you into our hands.’” (1 Samuel 17:45-47 NIV)
When David faced his problem—Goliath—God’s deliverance came quickly. David understood that the victory is the result of God’s power working through him. Clearly there was great joy as the army of Israel went to bed that night. But the greatest amount of “pure joy” must have been in David’s heart, because he had faced the problem—all the others were simply observers.
Not all our problems fit the David and Goliath situation.
Jessica was sexually abused by her stepfather for 10 years. As a young adult she lived with fierce rage against her stepfather and her mother who allowed this to continue for so many years. “Since coming to Christ, I’ve learned that God can bring healing into my life where I was so deeply damaged. God is restoring me—it’s a difficult process.”
“For many years I used drugs to hide the pain of abuse,” she said with a touch of sadness. “But now God is giving me freedom from my hurts of the past. I can now forgive those who hurt me and pray for them and have compassion for them.”
When God Doesn’t Take Your Problems Away
Paul talks of another kind of trial he faced as a missionary. He describes it as “a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NIV) This is no tiny problem—this was a big time hassle. He even attributes it to Satan.
So what does Paul do? This mighty man of God prays—“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8 NIV) Paul’s first, second, and third response to this problem was to cry out to God—“take it away!”
His first three responses were not to thank God for the problem. He did not rebuke the devil. He didn’t claim his deliverance. Sometimes claiming deliverance is really a form of denying reality. Paul pleads with God for deliverance.
God answers Paul—“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV) No miraculous deliverance came from God—the problem stayed in Paul’s life.
Paul discovered the same truth James talks about, “You’ve got to face this problem, and God’s faith—His power—is available to you.” The revelation from God to Paul contains an awesome promise—“My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV) God’s great power is available to help us deal “perfectly” with whatever test comes our way—especially when we are weak.
So how does Paul respond to God’s answer of “No,” when pleading for God to take away this problem? Does he get angry at God? Paul says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10 NIV)
Paul’s response shows that he chose to be happy even when the trial remained in his life. He now chose to delight in his weaknesses—why? Because that’s when God’s power can become perfect in him.
Paul’s joy is not based on problems—his focus is to delight on how God’s power can work in his life. The joy comes not in seeing the problem go away, the joy comes in seeing God’s power at work in his life.
The Path to Perseverance
This problem stayed in Paul’s life—perhaps for years! Which brings us to the next part of James' explanation of the path to joy—“the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:3b NIV) We don’t need perseverance for the quick solution. We need perseverance for the long haul—for the problems that just don’t go away.
Have you been facing a trial in your life for 5 years? or 20 years? Both Paul and James have the answer for you. God’s faith—God’s power—is available to see you through. That’s what perseverance is all about!
Many Christians don’t want to hear this, but God’s word clearly states it—some problems are here to stay for a long time.
Every day I get letters from people asking me to pray for their unsaved husband, or wife, or children. “My husband is addicted to drugs.” “Pray for my 12 year old granddaughter with a liver disease.” “Pray for my hateful neighbors.” “My daughter is living with an abusive husband. Pray for her.”
God’s awesome power is available to help us face the long term problem situations, not just for instant miracles. God’s power is available to help us develop perseverance as we face trials every day. When those trials are someone else’s problem “dumping garbage at our feet,” we can’t force that person to change. But we can use God’s power to respond to the situation with godly character.
I recently talked to a young married man. He struggles with sexual temptations, desiring a friendship with a certain woman. He’s hoping she will find a husband. But the solution is not for the other person to change. He must face his own problem even if the other person never changes.
Taking Hold of God’s Joy
It’s easy to tell someone else, “You should consider it pure joy when you face trials. God will help you!”
But to move into this place of pure joy yourself—when you are living with a problem—this can be very tough!
So how can you possess this “pure joy” when you are living with a major problem? You may have to do some tough self-talk. Paul talked about his struggle—“I take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
You may have to do serious battle with your thoughts and emotions. Begin by standing on God’s truth, and keep His truth close to your heart. “I’m going to claim this promise of God for me today.”
Tim, a young college student, described his battle this way. “I have to keep rehearsing God’s truth, because if I listen to my emotions, I get confused.”
You may not feel joy as you face this problem—so fight to take hold of that joy! You’ve got to fix your eyes on Jesus and stand in His truth.
One strategy that may help you is to write down the problem you are facing and then write how you will respond to this problem today.
For example, “As I go through this day, and face this problem, I will quote James 1:2-4.” Or find another verse that speaks directly to the problem in your life.
You can make a list of the specific lessons God is teaching you through this problem. “I will look for God’s power to respond in His way to this problem.”
You can set as your goal, “I will do God’s will today in spite of this problem in my life.” Don’t let this problem rob you of the joy of completing what God wants you to do today.
At the end of the day, look for those “seconds of joy” you experienced today. Then look for the “minutes of joy” you experienced—then the hours of joy.
Tomorrow the battle to experience pure joy may have to start again with seizing “seconds of joy” before you find the “minutes” and “hours” of joy. But if you pursue God’s way of responding to each situation that you face today, you can possess this “pure joy” and accomplish all that God has for you to do today.
Joy is Not the Goal
The “pure joy” should not be our goal. This joy is the benefit of facing each problem with God’s help, and responding the way He wants us to.
If guilt, anger, sadness, depression, hopelessness or other negative emotions and attitudes seem to overwhelm you, it’s time to stand up and fight. Not the other people causing the problem—but fight your attitudes and emotions. “I refuse to allow these negative feelings to dominate me.”
Instead, you can choose to fix your eyes on Jesus and seize hold of His peace and joy, and walk in obedience to Him.
Every day you may need to do a major “housing cleaning” of your thoughts. The old negative thoughts may return every day—but you can choose to stand on God’s truth. Or you can go with the old familiar paths—back to anger, fear, frustration, etc.
Joshua in the Old Testament threw down a challenge to his people—“choose today whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Pure joy is the hidden reward that comes with each problem. And with these problems comes the path to maturity.
God’s Path to Maturity
James offers more benefits as we face our problems—over the long haul. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4 NIV)
We all want to be “mature and complete.” But God, just give me your blessing! Let this be my path to spiritual maturity!
But God’s word is clear—the path to maturity is learning how to face our problems with His power. God promises He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5)
Our own decisions have taken us down paths filled with all kinds of problems. God’s solution requires us to do more than face our problems. He also calls us to be His disciples—to follow Him. Some of our problems are the result of failing to follow Him. We went our own way, and ended up in a big mess.
“Dealing with the immaturity of others really irritated me,” states John, a successful businessman. “I found these people made me angry and frustrated. I faced these problems every day—responding with anger—which only created more problems.”
It was only when John began to take a closer look at how God wanted him to respond that he began to experience God’s victory in his life. Facing our problems in our own strength, using our own wisdom, can be the formula for disaster, not joy.
Paul discovered the secret of joy in his life—learning to let God’s power work through him in his times of weakness. Pure joy is yours if you will simply reach out and take it—with the “strings” God attaches—face trials of many kinds, and use His power to deal with them.
As you look at the problems in your life today—take time to do a reality check in 2 areas. First, what are your attitudes toward this problem? What is the attitude Jesus would have toward this problem?
Second, what are the tools and strategies you will use to face this problem and respond God’s way? God has an abundance of pure joy waiting for each of His children. As we approach the days ahead, we can have confidence that no problem will be too big for God—His power will see us through.
The more problems we face, the greater our potential to experience God’s pure joy. God’s promise to Paul is also for you, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV)
Uncertain About How to Face Your Problems?
“I just found marijuana in your son’s suitcase. What do you want me to do?” My mom was calling from half way across the country.
I had not seen my teenage sons in over four years. Because of my lifestyle of drug addiction I had lost custody of them, and was prohibited from having contact with them. Six months ago I finally came to the end of my rope. After 20 years of addiction I cried out for help. My mom had helped me get into Teen Challenge.
Now my mom wanted me to solve a problem that was out of my control. “Mom, I don’t know what to do, but I will call you back with an answer.”
I went to the prayer room and cried out to God—what should I do? In past years I knew exactly how to run from my problems. If I couldn’t run, I knew how to get others to rescue me. Facing my problems has been a difficult change since becoming a Christian. As I prayed, God’s peace replaced the anxiety in my heart.
“Mom, I want you to call the boy’s father and tell them exactly what you found. And if he is not willing to deal with this, then call the police.”
It was not an easy phone call to make, but I’m finding that when I face my problems, God is there to help me. I’m learning to stand on the promise of James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (NIV)
*Name changed to protect identity of those involved.
Got Problems? God is Complimenting You!
When a problem comes your way, your first reaction may be dismay, anger, irritation, etc. But as you choose to pursue God’s response, you can discover His pure joy.
What you think about the problem will have a major impact on your emotions. So begin to look at each problem in your life as a compliment from God. He trusts you, He believes in you to respond appropriately. He promised never to tempt you beyond your ability, as you rely on His power to help you. (See 1 Corinthians 10:13)
Don’t Look for Shortcuts to Joy
King David writes in that most familiar Psalm 23—“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4 NIV) David sees the path taking him through the valley, not discovering a short-cut around it.
We can have the same confidence that David had as we walk through our dark valleys, so close to death’s door we see its shadow.
Who’s in Control?
Some problems that come our way are out of our control. That is a problem for some people—they want to be in control!
But God doesn’t promise pure joy to those who control the problems of others. His joy is promised to those who face their own problems.
Jesus often faced criticism and problems from people who hated him. His solution was not to force others to change. His solution was to respond the way God wanted Him to respond no matter how others responded.
Copyright © 1999, 2006 by David Batty. Used by permission.
John and Becky are 50-year-olds who attend church every Sunday and on Wednesday evenings. To look at them on Sunday morning, it would seem they are a happy Christian couple; however, the police know their address very well. During the last two years, they have become regular visitors to this home.
There are two life-controlling problems in this home. John has uncontrolled anger, and Becky, though frequently physically and verbally abused, covers for his violent behavior because she believes it is the Christian thing to do. This violent behavior and unhealthy cover-up have gradually worsened over the years. John, who was abused by his father when he was a child, has been abusing his wife for years, but it has escalated to the point where her wounds can no longer be covered up.
These mastering problems have not only trapped John and Becky, but because they have been covered up and not dealt with, their children have also been caught in this web of pain. A life-controlling problem is anything that masters (or controls) a person's life. Many terms have been used to describe life-controlling problems. Someone may speak of a dependency, a compulsive behavior, or an addiction. In 2 Corinthians 10:4, the Apostle Paul uses the word stronghold to describe an area of sin that has become a part of our lifestyle when he writes that there is divine power to demolish strongholds. The easiest life-controlling problems to identify are harmful habits like drug or alcohol use, eating disorders, sexual addictions, gambling, tobacco use, and the like. Life-controlling problems can also include harmful feelings like anger and fear. The word addiction or dependency can refer to the use of a substance (like food, alcohol, legal and/or illegal drugs, etc.,), or it can refer to the practice of a behavior (like shoplifting, gambling, use of pornography, compulsive spending, TV watching, etc.). It can also involve a relationship with another person. We call those relationships co-dependencies. The Apostle Paul talks about life-controlling problems in terms of our being slaves to this behavior or dependency that masters us. He writes in Romans 6:14, Sin shall not be your master. In 1 Corinthians 6:12b, he says, Everything is permissible for me ' but I will not be mastered by anything [or anyone]. According to 2 Peter 2:19b, A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. Anything that becomes the center of a person's life if allowed to continue will become master of that life. Because we live in a world today that can be described as an addictive society, most people are affected in some way by a life-controlling problem their own or someone else's. Everyone has the potential of being mastered by a life-controlling problem. No one plans for it to happen, but without warning an individual (and those who care about him) can be pulled into the downward spiral of a stronghold.
Addictions and Idols
Idolatry leads to addiction. When we follow idols, a choice has been made to look to a substance, behavior, or relationship for solutions that can be provided only by God. We have a felt need to serve a supreme being; if we choose not to serve God, we will choose an idol to which we will become enslaved. Jeffrey VanVonderen says:
Anything besides God to which we turn, positive or negative, in order to find life, value, and meaning is idolatry: money, property, jewels, sex, clothes, church buildings, educational degrees, anything! Because of Christ's performance on the cross, life, value, and purpose are available to us in gift form only. Anything we do, positive or negative, to earn that which is life by our own performance is idolatrous: robbing a bank, cheating on our spouse, people-pleasing, swindling our employer, attending church, giving 10 percent, playing the organ for twenty years, anything!
Following idols, which leads to addictions, prevents us from serving and loving God freely. All kinds of substance and behavioral dependencies lead to enslavement because everyone who makes sinful choices is a candidate for slavery to sin (see John 8:34). Jesus states in John 8:32 that the truth will set you free. God spoke to Moses in Exodus 20:3, You shall have no other gods before me. Sin, when unconfessed, strains the relationship with God that is meant to be enjoyed by the believer (see Proverbs 28:13; Jonah 2:8).
A very controversial question arises: Is an addiction a sin or a disease? Those who believe addictions are sin point to the acts of the sinful nature which include a substance (drunkenness) and behavioral (sexual immorality) problem in Galatians 5:19-21. Another reference to the sinfulness of addictions is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which shows that a definite change occurred in the lives of the Corinthian Christians: And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. Those who believe addictions (particularly alcoholism and other chemical dependencies) are a disease state the characteristics are progressive, primary, chronic, and fatal. In the latter stages, the victims are incapable of helping themselves because there is a loss of control and choice. In the 1950s the American Medical Association voted approval of the disease concept of alcohol dependence. The term disease means deviation from a state of health (Minirth, 57).
When sin and addiction are compared, they show similar characteristics. Both are self-centered versus God-centered and cause people to live in a state of deception. Sin and addiction lead people to irresponsible behavior, including the use of various defenses to cover up their ungodly actions. Sin and addiction are progressive; people get worse if there is not an intervention. Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda and later saw him at the temple. Jesus warned him about the progressiveness of sin: See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you (John 5:14). Sin is primary in that it is the root cause of evil. Sin produces sinners as alcohol causes alcoholism. Sin is also chronic if not dealt with effectively. Finally, sin is fatal with death being the end result.
Although addictions do have the characteristics of a disease, I must stand with the authority of God's Word as it pronounces various addictions as being a part of the sinful nature (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21). They are sinful because God has been voided as the source of the solution to life's needs, and these choices often develop into a disease. A noted Christian psychiatrist says:
Physiologically, of course, some people are more prone to alcoholism than others, even after one drink. And often guilt drives them to more and more drinking. But then some people also have more of a struggle with greed, lust, smoking, anger, or overeating than others. Failure to contend with all of these is still sin (Minirth, 57-58).
Anything that becomes the center of one's life, if allowed to continue, will become the master of life. If God is not the center of a person's life, that person will probably turn to a substance, behavior, or another person for focus and meaning. David describes his enemy in Psalm 52 as one who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others (v7).
The young, rich ruler described in the gospels (see Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30) came to Jesus asking how to receive eternal life. When Jesus told him he would have to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and follow him, the young man went away sad. This rich man's stronghold was the love of money. Everybody, not only the rich, must guard against this greater love of the rich young man. Paul writes: People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
This stronghold, the love of money, is the root cause of most addictions that plague our society. Although alcohol is a major cause of deaths, sicknesses, broken families, and relationships, it continues to be advertised with marketing strategies which appeal even to America's high school and elementary-aged children. The demand for cocaine and other substances would soon cease if there were no profits to be made. Sexual addictions are fed by an $8 billion industry of pornographic materials, appealing television commercials, and provocative movies. Compulsive gambling is fed by state-run lotteries. I wonder how much the love of money contributes to eating disorders. Many young women starve themselves to sickness and even death because of a greedy society that promotes an unhealthy thinness as beauty through media appeal and modeling agencies.
As the creation of God, each of us has a need to be dependent. There is a vacuum in the heart of every human since the fall of Adam and Eve that can be filled only by Christ. After our first parents disobeyed God, they immediately recognized their nakedness. Without God's covering, they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8). They soon learned they could not escape from God.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there (Psalm 139:7-8).
It is interesting that Adam and Eve hid among the trees. They hid there because of guilt. Idols, which are false gods, can also become hiding places. Isaiah writes: for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood [or false gods] our hiding place (28:15).
In a life where Christ is not the focus, a person is likely to center attention on a substance, behavior, or another person which will eventually become a god to them. David recognized the need to have God as his tower of strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior from violent men you save me (2 Samuel 22:2-3).
The disease concept of addictions should be approached with caution. Assigning addictive substances and behaviors to the disease model tends to overlook the sinful nature of mankind. Although it is popular to label every stronghold as a disease, the Church must warmly care for those caught in the web of deception with ongoing support. It takes more than a pat on the back to cure them of their stronghold. Sinful choices develop into lifestyles that are self-centered and destructive. The fall of man puts us all in need of recovery.
How the Trap Works
Addictions and dependencies generally fall into three categories: substance addictions, behavior addictions, and relationship (interaction) addictions.
1. Substance addictions (the use of substances taking control of our lives)
2. Behavior addictions (the practice of behaviors taking control of our lives)
3. Relationship (interaction) addictions (You may have heard a relationship problem like this referred to as co-dependency. )
Everyone has the potential of experiencing one or more of these life-controlling problems at some time. Maybe you find yourself already involved in an addiction or another problem behavior that has taken over your life. Sometimes it is hard to identify a life-controlling problem. Here are some questions that may help in that process:
Is my behavior practiced in secret?
Can it meet the test of openness or do I hide it from family and friends?
Does this behavior pull me away from my commitment to Christ?
Does it express Christian love?
Is this behavior used to escape feelings?
Does this behavior have a negative effect on myself or others?
These questions help us identify problems that have reached (or are in danger of reaching) the point of becoming life-controlling problems.
The next step is to look at the ways these behaviors and dependencies tend to progress in a person's life. Researchers have identified a pattern that follows some very predictable steps. Most people get involved with an addiction to receive a feeling of euphoria. Alcohol or other drugs, sex, pornographic literature, gambling, and so forth, produce a temporary high or euphoria.
Vernon E. Johnson, the founder and president emeritus of the Johnson Institute in Minneapolis, has observed (without trying to prove any theory) literally thousands of alcoholics, their families, and other people surrounding them . . . we came up with the discovery that alcoholics showed certain specific conditions with a remarkable consistency. Dr. Johnson uses a feeling chart to illustrate how alcoholism follows an emotional pattern. He identifies four phases:(1) learns mood swing, (2) seeks mood swing, (3) harmful dependency, (4) using to feel normal. Many of the observations made by Dr. Johnson and others, including myself, can also be related to other types of dependencies although the terminology may differ.
We call it the "Trap" because it often snares its victims before they realize what is really happening. Every person has the potential of experiencing a life-controlling problem. No one is automatically exempt. Even though no one plans to be trapped by such a problem, it can happen without a person's even being aware.
Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
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