Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Your Child Is Not Your Enemy

SOURCE:  Brooke McGlothlin/Gospel Centered Mom/FamilyLife

Here are eight ways we can fight for, not against, our children in their hard-to-handle moments.

When the days of mothering grow long and make a girl weary, and when what you really want to do is lock your child in a bedroom and throw away the key, it’s good to remember this: Your child is not your enemy.

Our goal for our children isn’t to create super kids, nor is it to strip them of all the quirks and traits that make up their personalities. Our fight is to help them grow toward Christlikeness, into the best version of them that they can be.

With that in mind, here are eight ways we can fight for, not against, our children in their hard-to-handle moments.

1.Tell God He can have you. I made this number one because it’s the most important. None of the other steps matter much at all unless you’re willing to let God change you first.

I’ve learned firsthand the importance of allowing God to strip me of old, sinful habits that hinder my ability to fight for my children. In other words, most of the time the battle for my boys involves battling with myself. I’m the parent, and I can’t win if I allow myself to be dragged down to their level. My goal is to rise above and invite them to come with me.

2. Get in the habit of prayer. Every one of us wants to know what God wants us to do so we can just do it and be done. I sometimes feel frustrated because it doesn’t seem like God gives me clear direction when my heart is ready to do whatever He tells me to do. But I’ve come to this conclusion: Most of the time I’m too busy talking to actually hear when He is speaking to me.

That’s why taking a break to pray before I speak, before I react, and before anyone else gets up in the morning, and praying throughout the entire day is so important. God wants to give us direction and comfort, but we’re often too busy juggling life on our own to ask.

3. Embrace the power of a mommy timeout. It doesn’t necessarily take long to recharge if you know what works for you. What gives you a healthy sense of relief almost instantaneously? Is it music? A good book? Reading your favorite Bible passage? Getting on your knees in prayer? Whatever it is—and it may vary from day to day—do that.

You cannot parent your children well when your heart is frazzled. Even if you have to take five-minute mommy breaks multiple times a day, do something to focus your attention on Jesus. Remember that peace has nothing to do with what’s happening around you. Peace comes only from relationship with Jesus Christ. You can’t manufacture it with things or even changes in circumstances. It comes from within as you surrender your life to Christ.

4. Prepare ahead of time. Just as I have my own triggers, certain things tend to agitate my sons. After studying them for years now, I’m beginning to recognize these triggers and to be physically, mentally, and spiritually prepared for the inevitable.

When it’s time to leave the pool, I get their attention about 20 minutes beforehand and let them know we’re leaving in 20 minutes. Then I give them updates every few minutes so that when it’s actually time to leave they’re not taken by surprise.

I don’t think I can overemphasize prayer’s importance as an in-the-moment tactic as well as part of the advance preparation. I pray a lot. For my response as well as for my sons’.

5. Be stronger. When they were very young, I would often pick up my boys and carry them, despite their flailing and kicking, to a safe space for them to calm down. Now I can ask them to go somewhere safe, and they will, albeit not always without emotional drama. We’re fast approaching the day when they’ll be much stronger than I am, so what I’m talking about here isn’t physical strength so much as emotional and spiritual strength.

You may have heard it said that a leader can take his followers only as far as he has traveled. As a parent, you are, by default, a leader. God gave you to your children to teach them, train them, and make it as easy as possible for them to know Him. To lead them well, you don’t have to know the answers to every theological question or have your whole life together; you just have to be a few paces ahead of where they are.

6. Love harder. There are a lot of amazing things about my boys, things I know God will use one day for His glory and purpose in their lives. But for right now, they’re raw and unrefined and often drive me crazy.

One day, they’ll fight for something instead of against it. Until that time, it’s my goal to love them harder than they fight me. If my boys go to bed each night feeling more loved than fought and more a treasure than a hindrance and know there’s nothing they could ever do to make me not love them, I call that day a success.

7. Be a student of your child. There’s no one-size-fits-all method when it comes to raising godly children. Sometimes, I wish there were. Other times I’m glad it’s not up to me to change their hearts. God can do a much better job of that than I can.

What is within my power is to study my son, to really know him—his personality, what makes him happy, what makes him tick, what sets him off, what makes him feel loved. When a mom knows those things, she can tailor her parenting to the specific strengths and weaknesses of the child. It empowers the parent to reach the heart of the child, deep down inside, instead of just trying not to be inconvenienced by his bad behavior.

8. Refuse to give up. I know you’re tempted daily to give up. So am I. When things don’t go as planned, when children continue to be resentful or disobedient regularly, when the clutter grows unmanageable, and the pile of laundry threatens to avalanche, we might be tempted to say, “I quit. I’m not even going to try anymore.”

The circumstances we’re in today are not forever. If we stay the course, we will reap a harvest, even if it happens on the other side of heaven. There’s more waiting for us when we get there. The choices we make today to press on and fight the good fight will make a difference in generations to come, influencing who among our family and friends will get to join us with Jesus. Do not give up.

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Children are, by nature, helpless and dependent human beings whose existence and well-being is dependent on the adults around them. This means that they have no choice but to trust their caregivers (parents, teachers, priests, family members, elders). Moreover, children are in development and new to the world, and therefore they are naturally ignorant and impressionable.

Because of all of this, the caregiver-child relationship is exceptionally momentous to us when we are growing up. Whatever people say to us, good or bad, often stays with us for a very long time. The way people treat us sets a precedent on how we see ourselves and how we see relationships and the world in general.

In this article, we will examine a few common messages children hear that haunt them long after they’re adults, and sometimes for their lifetime.

1. It’s not a big deal

Here the child’s feelings are minimized. What may not seem like a big deal from an adult perspective can be a very big deal to a child. If a child’s feelings and experiences are invalidated, they become confused, anxious, or dissociated.

As an adult, the person is often quick to dismiss their own feelings, wants, and desires. They are also out of touch with how they really feel and think, and why.

2. You always mess things up / You’re such a failure / You can’t do anything right

In this instance, the child feels hurt and anxious. Being treated as if you’re worthless teaches the person to believe that they are worthless. As a result, this person may struggle with self-care and low self-esteem in later life.

They routinely feel anxious because they are worried that they are doing something wrong, and apathetic because they feel like a failure no matter how hard they try.

They often feel self-loathing, sometimes to the degree of severe self-harm or even suicide.

3. Don’t pretend / You don’t mean that / That’s not how you feel

This is another form of invalidation and confusion. Often, if the caregiver doesn’t like something the child does, feels, or says, they tend to negate it by simply saying that the child’s thoughts and emotions are wrong or not real.

The person learns that it’s forbidden or even dangerous to feel certain feelings and express, or even have, certain thoughts and observations. In order to survive, they will also learn to dissociate from who they are and develop a persona that is at least marginally acceptable to their caregivers.

4. You provoked me / You made me do it / It’s all your fault

Here, the caregiver is engaging in victim-blaming, where they put the responsibility of being abused onto the child. Not only the child was hurt, but they were blamed for being hurt too. This is incredibly cruel.

As a result, the person learns to ignore and accept toxic behavior from others. They also internalize that if people mistreat you, then it’s your own fault, that you deserve it for being “bad” or “inherently defective. They learn to self-blame.

5. You’re too sensitive / You need to toughen up / This will teach you a lesson

This is in relation to being abused or otherwise expressing hurt. The caregiver is minimizing the child’s pain and fails to empathize with them.

Another lesson here is that the child’s emotions are wrong and that they should feel less of whatever they are feeling. That they should be “stronger,” “more mature,” meaning that you should repress your emotions, dissociate from them, and accept abusive situations as normal.

6. You make me look bad / Think about how I feel / Make me proud

Here, it’s all about the caregiver (meI). The caregiver explicitly lets the child know that they should live their life as the caregiver wants and meet their expectations even if that’s not what the child wants. Sometimes the child gets so lost and erased that they are convinced that living the scenario their caregiver imposed on them is what they actually want.

Also, if the child fails to be who the caregiver wants them to be then they get severely punished: either explicitly (beatings, yelling, threats) or covertly (rejection, emotional unavailability, conditional “love”). The child learns that the only way they can survive in the world is by being fake, complicit, and self-sacrificing. In other words, by living for others only and self-erasing.

Summary and final thoughts

Many people grow up in an environment where they are mistreated and taught harmful beliefs. When we are developing, our caregivers’ and other authority figures’ opinions and treatments of us are extremely impactful to our development.

As a result, many of us learn bad, untrue lessons and beliefs like “I’m worthless,” “I can’t do anything right,” “I have to please others,” “My emotions and thoughts don’t matter,” “It’s dangerous to feel and express my feelings,” “If people mistreat me it’s my fault,” “I’m inherently defective.” In this article we only explored a few and just from a few angles, but there’s so much more to it.

Overcoming, or even recognizing, these beliefs and their effects can be really challenging. However, it is indeed possible to challenge them and gradually become free of them.

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Your partner has been giving you the cold shoulder for most of the morning. When you ask what’s wrong, the answer is a very chilly ‘I’m fine’.

We’ve likely all been on the receiving end of this type of response, and some of those reading this may recognize themselves in the scenario above.

Passive-aggressiveness is fairly common in our culture, and can range from subtle (the silent treatment, use of sarcasm, hiding ‘digs’ behind the veneer of humor) to more overt and serious (withholding affection and attention, constant verbal negativity/hostility, manipulation, sabotage).

Passive-aggressiveness, like many other unconscious behavior patterns, is largely a learned response to an environment in which a child or youth was not permitted to express their needs, desires, or emotions freely because they feared reprisal (punishment, abuse, neglect, loss of love and affection) for doing so.

Alternatively, one or both parents may have been passive-aggressive. In this environment, the child might learn that it’s not ok to express anger or frustration, to say no, or to ask for what they need. In response, the child learns to suppress his or her true feelings and desires. Hostility and resentment build as a result.

Unfortunately, these suppressed feelings and desires don’t disappear, and instead leak out in unhealthy ways, sometimes in an overtly aggressive manner, but often in more subtle but no less damaging passive-aggressive behavior. While many of us may resort to this type of language or behavior on occasion in our adult relationships, the passive-aggressive personality type uses it as their primary means of expression, and as a way to maintain control and power through manipulation. 

The hidden or indirect hostility, and often toxic negativistic attitude of the passive-aggressive person is a harmful defense mechanism that can slowly destroy relationships. Here are six ways passive-aggressiveness does just that:

1. Less Intimacy

The passive-aggressive typically fears intimacy, and so has difficulty establishing close, personal relationships with others. This creates distance and isolation for the passive-aggressive as well as for those in relationship with them.

2. Lack of Trust

Because passive-aggressive behavior is deliberately ambiguous and indirect, others have great difficulty trusting those who exhibit it, sometimes without being fully conscious of why. 

3. Inequality

The driving force behind much of the passive-aggressive’s behavior is to manipulate situations and other people in order to get their needs met. They use manipulation to maintain a sense of power and control; unfortunately, power struggles require the ‘other’ to submit and take a lower position, which is ultimately damaging to their self-esteem. 

4. Blame

The passive-aggressive will typically be very uncomfortable and unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions and behaviors. Instead, they blame their partner for any relationship issues, leaving no room for the partner to have their own needs met. 

5. Frequent Fighting

Because passive-aggressive behavior and language often sparks defensiveness in others, these relationships will be marked with plenty of fighting and arguing. In addition, there is seldom any resolution because the passive-aggressive refuses to accept responsibility.

6. Negativity

Quite often, the passive-aggressive person is overly negative, engaging in frequent criticism of and complaining about others, which breeds a toxic environment from which support, playfulness and fun are largely missing. This can be particularly damaging to children of passive-aggressive parents.

Ultimately, the passive-aggressive individual is no different from anyone else in that they are simply trying to get their needs met, though they subconsciously lack the confidence to do so directly. Their actions, albeit often painful and destructive to themselves and others, are motivated by a basic need for acceptance and love.

If you are in a relationship with a passive-aggressive, or if you recognize many of these behaviors in yourself, it’s important to understand the underlying motivation. In this way, you can maintain a level of compassion for those involved, even as you work towards addressing the problem and changing the behaviors. 

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When people are upset, the words they use rarely convey the issues and needs at the heart of the problem.

When we listen for what is felt as well as said, we connect more deeply to our own needs and emotions, and to those of other people.

· Listen to the reasons the other person gives for being upset.

· Make sure you understand what the other person is telling you—from his or her point of view.

· Repeat the other person’s words, and ask if you have understood correctly.

· Ask if anything remains unspoken, giving the person time to think before answering.

· Resist the temptation to interject your own point of view until the other person has said everything he or she wants to say and feels that you have listened to and understood his or her message.

When listening to the other person’s point of view, the following responses are often helpful:

Encourage the other person to share his or her issues as fully as possible.

· “I want to understand what has upset you.”

· “I want to know what you are really hoping for.”

Clarify the real issues, rather than making assumptions. Ask questions that allow you to gain this information, and which let the other person know you are trying to understand.

· “Can you say more about that?”

· “Is that the way it usually happens?”

Restate what you have heard, so you are both able to see what has been understood so far it may be that the other person will then realize that additional information is needed.

· “It sounds like you weren’t expecting that to happen.”

Reflect feelings-be as clear as possible.

· “I can imagine how upsetting that must have been.”

Validate the concerns of the other person, even if a solution is elusive at this time. Expressing appreciation can be a very powerful message if it is conveyed with integrity and respect.

· “I really appreciate that we are talking about this issue.”

· “I am glad we are trying to figure this out.”

SOURCE:  Christine Caine, from Unexpected

Forgiving Freely

Loss is the uninvited door that extends us an unexpected invitation to unimaginable possibilities. —
 

Craig D. Jonesborough

I once had a dear friend whom I loved wholeheartedly and with whom I shared so many fun times. We had endless heart-to-heart talks about God, ministry, life, family, fashion, movies, books, food, and of course, coffee. We shared an incredibly strong bond. We could talk about the most serious issues on earth one moment and then be laughing hysterically the next. She was one of those people with whom I didn’t have to second-guess my words or filter my responses. There was simply an ease between us. And we had just enough differences to keep our friendship interesting, engaging, and evolving. She was one of the people I could call for anything, a true BFF.

Until the day she just wasn’t.

She cut me off. No warning. No conversation. No explanation.

I felt… Bewildered. Confused. Shocked. I tried to make sense of it all, but no matter how many memories and conversations I relived, it still didn’t make sense. I had let her into my inner world, into my heart. I had let her into the space where she had the power to wreck my heart, and she did. I had trusted her, bared my soul, risked being seen by her, and she had rejected me. Perhaps there is no greater pain between friends than the pain of being seen and then unexpectedly rejected.

When she cut me off, I felt so lost about what to do, what to say, and how to respond — just like a middle school girl. I felt as though I had been knocked off my feet, dumped on the floor, and left gasping for air, and I needed God to help me catch my next breath. I needed him to help me process the hurt and wrap my mind around what seemed incomprehensible. How could she do this? She was my friend. I loved her and had shared so much of my life with her. We both loved Jesus and wanted to see His Kingdom flourish. How was this possible?

Rejection was the last thing I expected from someone I had trusted the most. I felt like King David when he penned gut-wrenching words about his own dear friend:

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it;

if a foe were rising against me, I could hide.

But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend,

with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God,

as we walked about among the worshipers.

— Psalm 55:12-14

Like David, I felt gutted to be on the receiving end of a severed relationship when I wasn’t even sure why it ended. And all of it triggered the rejection of my past. That was the Achilles’ heel of my soul — all the rejection and abandonment I had experienced as a child, all the shame. My knee-jerk response was to shut down and pull back. To draw a line in the sand and never let anyone cross it again. To erect a wall around my heart and never again let anyone in.

But I knew better and I wanted to do better. I knew the consequences of hardening my heart, and I didn’t want to grow bitter and resentful, judgmental and critical. I didn’t want to get stuck in emotional quicksand.

I knew I needed to start with forgiving. After all, that is what I spend my life teaching others to do. But it is never as easy as it sounds, especially when our heart is broken. I knew I couldn’t let what happened to me become what I believed about myself. Just because someone hurt me didn’t mean I was unworthy, unlovable, or unkind. It didn’t mean I was worth less or worthless. It didn’t mean I was not a good friend or capable of being a good friend. But that’s how I felt — no matter how many times I tried to refute all the lies bombarding my mind. If I were a good friend to her, she wouldn’t have cut me off without an explanation. If I were a good friend to her, she would hear me out and make time for me. If I were a good friend to her…

But I had been a good friend to her. I had done the best I knew. And regardless of what I might have done wrong, I truly loved her and wanted the best for her. I wanted our friendship to last. I never imagined it ending — especially not like this.

If I were going to move beyond this pain and not get stuck in this one dark moment of my life, I knew I had to quit obsessing over past events and fall into the arms of God, letting him help me sort through all my emotions — and get control of my runaway-train thoughts.1

When I reached out to my friend to talk and find a resolve, it was to no avail. She didn’t want to talk it through with me. She had simply shut down, and shut me out.

Invite Jesus In

None of us starts out in life planning to be hurt — or to hurt others — but it happens. People fail us — and we fail people — repeatedly. It happens in our childhood and continues all the way through our adulthood. Our lives are intertwined with everyone around us — just as God designed — but we are all a part of a flawed humanity. None of us ever arrives, so it stands to reason that every time we open our hearts to one another, every time we’re thrown together into each other’s worlds, we will, quite possibly, hurt one another.

Whether it occurs in our dating, marriage, work, or friendships, it is going to happen. I’ve heard so many stories from women who started out their careers full of enthusiasm and talent only to be devastated by life-altering criticism that postponed or derailed their success. They didn’t know how not to believe everything someone in a position of authority said and how not to let it define who they were. So they minimized their talent and settled for a less fulfilling position. They believed the lies that they were not smart enough, not gifted enough, not savvy enough.

I’ve listened to stories from women who married the love of their life only to have the marriage eventually crumble. Because of all the hurtful words thrown at them, they believed they were a failure and that they were unworthy of a loving relationship.

Just because we experience failure, it doesn’t make us a failure — but that’s hard to process when we don’t know how.

My own aunt was married for twenty-five years when she learned her best friend had been having an affair with her husband for eighteen of those years. She was devastated, and it was so hard watching her internalize lies about herself because of their deceitful actions. She agonized over not understanding how she never knew. She questioned everything she’d ever done or said that might have made both of them betray her. She obsessed over what she could have done differently, believing she was the one who had failed.

We have all been through deeply painful situations where words or actions significantly wounded us and threatened to derail us — whether it was from a friend, a spouse, a colleague, or a mentor. When we were…

  • Blindsided by a divorce
  • Upstaged by a coworker
  • Shamed publicly by a leader
  • Financially ruined by a business partner
  • Judged by a family member
  • Rejected by a lifelong friend
  • Betrayed by a ministry partner

We’ve never forgotten those times when we lost our peace, joy, and hope and sometimes our vision, passion, and purpose.

Unexpected emotional wounding is so deeply painful because it is… unexpected. It hits when our defenses are down and our trust levels are up. How critical then to understand that even when people leave us and hurt us, God never leaves us nor forsakes us.2 He understands what it feels like to be kicked in the gut, to have the wind knocked out of us — and He cares. He promises to be there for us and to help us.

If your heart is broken,” writes the psalmist, “you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath. — Psalm 34:18 MSG

Even when people are unfaithful, God is always faithful.

Every time we’re deeply hurt, we’re faced with the opportunity to let that wound define us — for a season or for the rest of our lives. Maybe we’ve altered our course, scaled back our dreams, or given up on them all together. Maybe we’ve believed something about ourselves — consciously or subconsciously — that may not be true.

Reframe Your Question

I remember when the initial shock of my friend hurting me began to subside, and I slowly realized that I had to work through all my hurt without her. It was a defining moment in my healing, a moment of reckoning, of turning my attention from how deeply hurt I felt to how I could get better. But I really wasn’t sure I could do it alone — and be as healthy as I wanted to be — and so I decided to get help.

When we get a hit out of nowhere that threatens to knock us out, we need wise Christian counsel.

I’m a big believer in going to Jesus and to safe people who can help us process unexpected wounds. Because of my past wounds — like those from my childhood — I knew I was vulnerable in this area, so I reached out to a Christian counselor who could help me. I knew that ultimately Jesus is the only one who can truly heal our deepest hurts, but I also knew the value of having someone help me sort out my perspectives and my heart.

Unexpected hurts often reveal unexpected pain, and, as strange as it may sound, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to be healed of anything lurking under the surface of which I might not have been aware. I’ve been on this journey long enough now to know that when I feel a certain type of heart pain, it is an invitation from God for a deeper healing He wants to do in me. I have been so broken, wounded, and fragmented that I am a constant work in progress. I’ve learned to lean into this kind of pain when it happens — even though I know that doing so will hurt — because I so desperately desire the healing I know is on the other side.

I know that God sometimes uses relational fractures to show us where we are out of alignment with Him; maybe our affections are misplaced. It’s so easy to have unrealistic expectations of others — to inadvertently want them to love us as only God can — and to set our friendships up for failure.

We can’t expect people to be Jesus to us. It’s too unfair.

Jesus is the only true friend who can love us unconditionally and really stick closer than a brother.3

So, it was then, with a counselor’s help, that I slowly quit asking, Why, God, why? — because honestly, sometimes we may never know, and because that question usually just spirals us into a dark hole that leads nowhere. Instead, I started asking, Jesus, where are You in this? What can You show me through this? What can I learn from this?

It wasn’t the first time I’d been unexpectedly hurt, so I knew there was always something God wanted to do in me. He didn’t cause the hurt — my friend did — but God is always eager to use our circumstances to bring more wholeness into our lives, if we will let Him. God is good; God does good; and God uses all things for my good.4 These are truths I believe with all my heart. So, as I invited Him in, I knew He would use this for my good somehow.

Reframing my questions changed my perspective. It turned my focus back toward Jesus — where real answers come from. It reconnected me to hope — which meant I was looking forward now and not backward at all the emotional wreckage in my wake. It also set my heart in a direction of letting Jesus mold me further into being the kind of friend I had always wanted.

Only Jesus could heal me completely, so I took the time to tell Jesus of the loss I felt — like part of my life was missing — and He walked me through the sorrow of how much all of this had hurt me. I grieved the loss of someone I had come to love dearly. I grieved the loss of not having to second-guess my words or filter my responses. I grieved the loss of having a friend who understood me implicitly and let me be myself. I missed all the time and space she filled in my life. I missed all the laughter we shared. I missed all the deep conversations we used to have. I missed the random texts and jokes and prayer requests. And I told Him all of this. I allowed myself to be in touch with how I truly felt by being honest with God and myself.

And as I did my part, God began to do what only He could do — heal my heart.

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1. Unashamed by Christine Caine, chapter 8, “He Healed My Mind,” pp. 133–47.
2. Deuteronomy 31:16; Hebrews 13:5.
3. Proverbs 18:24.
4. Romans 8:28.

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Excerpted from Unexpected by Christine Caine, copyright Christine Caine.

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

”There is no one on earth who does what is right all the time and never makes a mistake” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 GNT).

In America, failure is almost the unpardonable sin. We idolize success.

But that kind of pressure creates major stress on people. The fear of failure has many different faces. It can cause you to be indecisive, a workaholic, and a perfectionist who clings to safety. Because we’re afraid to fail, we shun all kinds of risks.

For many of us, that fear of failure has an iron grip on our hearts. Even some of the best and the brightest people in the world are the most impacted by a fear of failure.

That’s why I urge you to internalize this one simple message: We’ve all made mistakes. It’s not just a “you problem”; it’s a human problem. The Bible says, “There is no one on earth who does what is right all the time and never makes a mistake” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 GNT).

Not only have you made mistakes in the past, but you’ll also make more in the future. I guarantee it. Even playing it safe and refusing to take risks is a mistake. As a pastor, I hear people ask all the time, “What if I fail?” I want to ask them, “What do you mean ‘if?'”

You’ve already failed many, many times in life. So have I. You’re a failure in some area of your life right now. And you’ll fail a lot more in the future.

Even superstars stumble. The greatest professional basketball players only sink half their shots. The best professional baseball players will get out two out of every three at-bats. Failure is normal.

You’ll never overcome your fear of failure until you fully accept the reality that you’re not perfect.

The Bible says there is only one failure you need to fear: “Be careful that no one fails to receive God’s grace” (Hebrews 12:15 NCV).

You need grace. We all do!

Only when we let go of the fear of failure will it let go of its maddening grip on our lives. Once that happens, we can fully accept the grace of God

SOURCE:  John Eldredge, from Wild at Heart 

Hanging on to the Truth

In any hand-to-hand combat, there’s a constant back-and-forth of blows, dodges, blocks, counterattacks, and so forth. That’s exactly what is going on in the unseen around us. Only it takes place, initially, at the level of our thoughts. When we are under attack, we’ve got to hang on to the truth. Dodge the blow, block it with a stubborn refusal, slash back with what is true. This is how Christ answered Satan — He didn’t get into an argument with him, try to reason his way out. He simply stood on the truth. He answered with Scripture and we’ve got to do the same. This will not be easy, especially when all hell is breaking loose around you. It will feel like holding on to a rope while you’re being dragged behind a truck, like keeping your balance in a hurricane. Satan doesn’t just throw a thought at us; he throws feelings too. Walk into a dark house late at night and suddenly fear sweeps over you; or just stand in a grocery line with all those tabloids shouting sex at you and suddenly a sense of corruption is yours.

But this is where your strength is revealed and even increased — through exercise.

Stand on what is true and do not let go. Period.

The traitor within the castle will try to lower the drawbridge, but don’t let him. When Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our hearts, it’s not saying, “Lock them up because they’re really criminal to the core”; it’s saying, “Defend them like a castle, the seat of your strength you do not want to give away.” As Thomas à Kempis says, “Yet we must be watchful, especially in the beginning of the temptation; for the enemy is then more easily overcome, if he is not suffered to enter the door of our hearts, but is resisted without the gate at his first knock.”

Remember the scene in Braveheart where Robert the Bruce’s evil father is whispering lies to him about treason and compromise? He says to Robert what the Enemy says to us in a thousand ways: “All men betray; all men lose heart.” How does Robert answer? He yells back, I don’t want to lose heart! I want to believe, like [Wallace] does. I will never be on the wrong side again.

That is the turning point in his life . . . and in ours. The battle shifts to a new level.

God Is With Us

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous . . . Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. — Joshua 1:6-7, Joshua 1:9

Joshua knew what it was to be afraid. For years he had been second in command, Moses’ right-hand man. But now it was his turn to lead. The children of Israel weren’t just going to waltz in and pick up the promised land like a quart of milk; they were going to have to fight for it. And Moses was not going with them. If Joshua was completely confident about the situation, why would God have to tell him over and over and over again not to be afraid? In fact, God gives him a special word of encouragement:

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. — Joshua 1:5

How was God “with Moses”? As a mighty warrior. Remember the plagues? Remember all those Egyptian soldiers drowned with their horses and chariots out there in the Red Sea? It was after that display of God’s strength that the people of Israel sang,

The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is His Name. — Exodus 15:3

God fought for Moses and for Israel; then He covenanted to Joshua to do the same and they took down Jericho and every other enemy.

Jeremiah knew what it meant to have God “with him” as well. “But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior,” he sang.  “so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail” (Jer. 20:11). Even Jesus walked in this promise when He battled for us here on earth:

You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. — Acts 10:37-38, emphasis added

How did Jesus win the battle against Satan? God was with him. This really opens up the riches of the promise Christ gives us when he pledges, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” and “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5 NKJV). That doesn’t simply mean that He’ll be around, or even that He’ll comfort us in our afflictions. It means He will fight for us, with us, just as He has fought for His people all through the ages.

So long as we walk with Christ, stay in Him, we haven’t a thing to fear.

Satan is trying to appeal to the traitor’s commitment to self-preservation when he uses fear and intimidation. So long as we are back in the old story of saving our skin, looking out for Number One, those tactics will work. We’ll shrink back. But the opposite is also true. When a man resolves to become a warrior, when his life is given over to a transcendent cause, then he can’t be cowed by the Big Bad Wolf threatening to blow his house down. After Revelation describes that war in Heaven between the angels and Satan’s downfall to the earth, it tells how the saints overcame him:

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. — Revelation 12:11

The most dangerous man on earth is the man who has reckoned with his own death.

All men die; few men ever really live.

Sure, you can create a safe life for yourself… and end your days in a rest home babbling on about some forgotten misfortune. I’d rather go down swinging. Besides, the less we are trying to “save ourselves,” the more effective as warriors we will be.

Listen to G. K. Chesterton on courage:

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. The paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.

 

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