22/04/2017 - 2 Corinthians 5:17 'Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Do we really change? I wrote about our Achilles heel in our last Insight. Do we ever completely overcome it or do we simply learn to cope? What do you think? If our struggle is with anxiety, will it always be there? If we are up one day and down the next, will we always be subject to volatile emotions?
Our position on this will profoundly affect the way we live our lives. For anyone who has read these Insights on a regular basis, you will be aware that we are not talking about how successful the extrovert can be at stepping in and attempting to compensate for what is going on in the introvert. Nor are we talking about finding a spiritual bolt-hole in which we can hide from the harsh realities of life. No, we are asking if actual, measurable, and permanent, change can take place and if it does, what does it look like and feel like?
We considered Peter in our last Insight. He fell flat on his face and did the same again a while later. Perhaps he picked himself up quicker the second time round? Is that how it works? Yes, but is that all there is to it? Perhaps our weak area never really goes away, we just get better at handling it? Or is there something else to consider?
Paradoxically, the part of us that gives us our biggest struggles is also the part that, correctly understood and handled, can prove to be our strongest point. It was Peter’s tenderness that made him collapse in the face of the young maid’s challenge, and that made him compromise when the ‘hardliners’ arrived from the strict Jewish party. But it was that tenderness that would give him the ability to ‘take care of my sheep’ and ‘feed my lambs’ (John 21:15-19). His biggest contribution to the kingdom of God was precisely in the area that was most vulnerable to giving him problems.
So, we never lose the capacity to collapse; we just discover that it is difficult to take care of sheep if you are in the middle of a melt-down. The lambs will starve to death if you only feed them when you feel like it. In other words, our love for our Master means that the best parts of us are no longer available for negative purposes but for the constructive building up of others. That is why Thomas was rebuked for his unwillingness to believe without seeing. It wasn’t that he was any more of a doubter than the rest of the disciples, it was that he went in on himself, became unavailable and therefore wasn’t present for the greatest moment in human history when the Risen Christ appeared to his disciples. He allowed himself to be blinded by what he felt. Faithfulness should have overridden feeling sorry for himself.
Yes, we can change. We change how we use who we are until those changes transform into a deep and settled pattern in which the old ways become a thing of the past. ‘The old has gone, the new is here!’ That is something to celebrate!
9/04/2017 - Ephesians 6:13 'Put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.’
We all have our Achilles heel. That area of vulnerability that appears time and again. That thread of weakness that repeats itself with tiresome regularity. The apostle Peter had his. He thought he was big, brave and strong but he had a soft underbelly. He had a good heart, but he winged it most of the time because he sensed his weakness within. Jesus knew Peter’s heart – and his weakness.
Do you know your weakness? Is it that you have to get everything right or you are not acceptable? Does your stomach turn with guilt when you think back to something you did or said? Does anxiety stalk you because you don’t really know who you are? Whatever it is, it is a psychological loophole that the Enemy uses as a walk-in entrance to our lives. He knows how to push the right button to bring down all our best intentions in a huge cloud of dust. That is what happened to Peter when he denied his best friend.
You would have thought Peter would have learnt his lesson. So spectacular and so painful was his downfall that surely he would never need to be reminded of such a traumatic experience. But he did. Some time later, God gave Peter a vision which made it clear that he was welcoming non-Jews into his family (Acts 10:9-48). Peter happily took the good news to the Gentiles and shared their meals and treated them on an equal footing. He was at one such meal in Antioch when some strict Jews arrived, and Peter panicked (as he did in the courtyard) and withdrew from the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11–14). Paul was present and ‘opposed him to his face’. This was cowardice and compromise. I wonder how he felt. That horrible echo from his past – even after Pentecost, even after being so used by God – here he was again, flat on his face and in front of a large group of onlookers.
He could go one of two ways: give himself a good beating for not learning his lesson first time around or recognising that this business of life is about growing and, by definition, must be a process. At least, because that first fall was so comprehensive, he could quickly recognise the issues when he failed again, and could, therefore, pick himself up that bit quicker. That is the key. That is how we get stronger. Railing against yourself only slows the process down. Collapsing or licking your wounds makes others pay. What is your Achilles heel? Expect it to be tested. A good coach makes you ‘train your weaknesses and play to your strengths.’ Next time you run into a test, close the door on the weakness and stand tall.
1/04/2017 - Revelation 1:5(b) 'To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood ...'
In the last two weeks, I have been reminded many times of how important it is to understand and value our introvert. How we treat that inner part of who we are largely determines how we live our lives. So many people are struggling with symptoms, feeling that life is so complicated, confused by a multitude of contradictory thoughts and feelings. Understanding our introvert allows us to avoid wasting time with the symptoms and deal with the root. Rather than moving the potatoes around the saucepan to stop them from going to pulp, let’s try turning off the gas.
How do we do that? The answer is to let the truth that so many of us know so well, percolate through to our introvert. The problem is, most people I talk to don’t like that inner part of who they are. That is the part that embarrassed them when they tried to express themselves as a child. That is why they got bullied or laughed at. They didn’t feel safe to show their sensitivity or tenderness. As we saw in our last Insight, that is the place where we buried the pain and hurt. So, the truth never reaches it. We can read the wonderful truth in our verse – that we are loved and free – but do we feel those things in the depths of our hearts? How can we make that happen?
Look at what you really feel. Did that situation, or person, cause you to feel pain, or anger, or fear? Allow yourself to feel it. The Bible is full of people who were not afraid to express what they felt. God likes that. He loves reality. He can do something with that. It is not unspiritual to allow yourself to be human. In fact, just as Jesus was fully human and fully divine, so the more we are filled with the Spirit of God, the more human we become. If you close your emotions down, you close yourself down, and the truth can’t touch you.
Be real with what you feel, express what you feel, and you create space for what God feels to find its way into the inner recesses of your heart. If you tell God you are angry about that awful thing that happened to you then, even as you do so, he can give you his perspective. If you allow your extrovert to step in and smooth things over, then you will never know God’s deep healing and peace.
Be patient with yourself. The patterns within were formed over many years. You will never bully your introvert into believing. Soak your introvert in the bath of God’s truth. Surround it constantly with God’s perspective. Mix with people who love the truth and love you enough to share it with you. The background to our Bible verse is the Exodus. By God’s power, the Israelites were delivered from Egypt. It was a new beginning. After 200 years of bondage, they were free. We are loved, and we are free. Let’s live there.