26/05/2016 - Exodus 25:30 'Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.’
It is the easiest thing in the world to condemn yourself. Some carry an ideal picture of how they think they should be and this makes them vulnerable to instant guilt if anyone suggests a better way of doing something. Others have had expectations imposed on them that leave them feeling unacceptable when they cannot live constantly at a level of perfection. For a Christian, there is freedom from condemnation. One of the most difficult forms of guilt to deal with occurs when we learn something really positive – and then we feel bad because we didn’t see it, or do it, yesterday. You can get to a point where you don’t want to learn anything new because that will only condemn you. Even reading the Bible can leave you struggling because it can feel like a painful reminder of where you haven’t yet got to.
The more you learn and the more you know in your head, the more frustrating it can feel when you just can’t seem to be able to flick a switch within you so that you can live in the joy of the truth that your head knows. So even the truth rises to condemn you! It is hard work carrying that internal conflict so what can be done?
There is something we need to understand here. The extrovert part of us can choose what we believe. It is a decision. That is good news because we don’t have to wait around for the right feelings – but getting the introvert part to catch up can seem near impossible. The introvert won’t be bullied, cajoled or manipulated into feeling anything different. It has to be loved. Negative emotional patterns from the beginning of our journey on Planet Earth have to be broken up and replaced with the truth about how God sees us.
God told the Israelites that he wouldn’t drive the ‘Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites’ out of the land in a single year but ‘little by little.’ It is a process. What governs that process? ‘Until you have increased enough.’ It took 18 years or more for those negative emotional patterns to form and they are not going anywhere overnight. Just as the negatives are linked to growth so the positives that will replace them are linked to positive growth. The truth that we know in our heads provides an alternative to the ‘untruth’ that our feelings keep feeding us. Just knowing there is an alternative is the beginning of wholeness because it tells us that we can choose. Think of two circles – one filled with the negatives of what we feel about ourselves and the other with the way God sees us – and how those who know us well see us. As situations arise we will choose which circle to listen to. You may be filled with anxiety, fear or self-doubt but these are all rooted in what you feel about yourself and are not consistent with how God sees you. Listen to God’s truth, choose to believe it when it is challenged, grow into that truth, refuse to give up the ground you gain and over time you will begin to know from experience that you are as good as God says you are.
On 26/05/2016 Julie wrote: Thank you John. What you've written here is so true and I've had a practical example this week. On Tuesday morning in my Bible reading notes I read the words, 'What do you 'see' in your future? What's your vision?' as part of a comment on Proverbs 29:18. I know that I do have vision, that I have many years of trusting the Lord's leading and faithfulness and that He will continue to lead and guide me in the future. That's the truth that I know - yet that was not what I felt as I read those words. I felt fearful and very alone, quickly followed by guilt for not trusting the Lord because I do know the truth. I was able to share my feelings and get a better perspective. I like the description of two circles and I picture them with a bridge between - a bridge that sometimes I can't find on my own and need someone to help me across but other times I can chose to cross the bridge myself. The more I seek to live in the truth the wider and more accessible the entrance to the bridge becomes and little by little I'm growing into that truth.
11/05/2016 - Psalm 42:5 'Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.’
We have a dilemma as Christians. We are meant to be in touch with what we really feel but if we express it then it sounds as if we are moaning - and we aren't supposed to do that - so we feel bad and resolve to only be positive. That puts us out of touch with what we feel so God's grace cannot penetrate, resolve and heal our deepest emotions and we end up with the Lord occupying only the 'spiritual' part of who we are. The extrovert part of us becomes identified with our spirituality and the introvert is seen as the troublemaker.
What does this do? Put us out of touch with where most of the human race live their lives. Have you noticed that many people who aren't Christians seem more in touch with reality than those who are? They are more willing to talk about the earthy issues of life and what they feel about those issues. They are more open to working through the tangles of relationships and working on understanding themselves instead of the fear that some Christians have that it doesn't sound spiritual enough.
Of course God wants us to be real. David cried out in anguish in a difficult situation, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?' (Psalm 22:1). Jesus himself took up those words as he hung on the cross. The Bible characters were real. They were able to look the most horrendous situations in the eye because their faith gave them a script that was always going to be bigger than the worst that life could throw at them. They didn't fear getting stuck in their emotions if they looked at them - their faith gave them a freedom and security that was strong enough for them to plumb the depths of what they felt. That will put us in touch with the human condition. That enables us to truly weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. It frees us to use the full range of our incredible God-given emotions. We can join in the excitement simply because someone else is excited. We can be brutally honest with the depths of what we feel - although we might have to choose someone who is secure enough to understand!
God loves it when we are real. How would you feel if a child of yours, or a friend, refuses to share what they feel because they don’t think you can cope with it? When you pour your heart out – that is faith in action. Jesus’ cry to his Father – ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ – was real faith. Think of the power of being in the depths of who you are – fully feeling everything – and surrounded by God.
Expressing what we really feel is not moaning. It only becomes complaining or grumbling when it is linked with a poor view of ourselves so it comes out as self-pity or a victim mentality. That is a lack of faith. Of all people on the face of this earth, we as Christians have the ability to look at the painful realities of life and bring hope and life and light into the darkest corners. We will not be trite because we will feel the pain - but we will not be overcome or defined by the pain for our hope is rooted in the One who chose to experience everything that we do and who now walks beside us on our journey.
See comments below: On 12/05/2016 Nickly wrote: Thank you, John. As I walk my journey of understanding myself, with it's ups and downs - including some pretty bad downs - I can understand and identify with a lot of this Bible Insight. When I'm finding it hard to be positive about things and feeling as if I'm constantly fighting against so many negative thoughts and feelings, I feel so awful about myself that sometimes I don't know what to say when someone asks how I am. In the past, I would have just smiled and said "fine thanks", not looking the other person in the eye. But now I'm starting to be more honest and real. When I feel safe with someone or feel our relationship is ready to go deeper - and when the situation is right- I will tell them how I feel; as a result, this can strengthen my relationship with the other person, if it's a good one - and it can give the other person a chance to say or do something nice for me - and at the same time it helps me accept the situation, to put words to my emotions and thoughts, and to process. It's also very good to feel I can be real.
On 12/05/2016 Cathy wrote: Yes thank you for explaining the dilemma we have when confronted with our feelings and how to deal with them positively. I found it was a very accurate explanation of what has happened to me today ! Sometimes life has a habit of conspiring to unearth feelings from a very deep level that we are only vaguely aware of. What has been percolating under the surface for me for some long, time and bobbed out on top was a feeling of failure - no children. It was like a heavy black cloud of longing, weighing me down, making life a struggle. Not only that, I felt disconnected from people. As the article mentioned, the most helpful thing is to speak to someone who will acknowledge the feeling with you and then put it into God's perspective. Which is what happened, my receiving two insights 'Yes that's quite normal, you would be quite an odd person if you didn't want children, you're O.K. to feel as you do' and 'this is what you can do about it, celebrate the fact that there are things you can do as a single person, that a family person is unable to do, you can serve the Lord in your own personal way, you have a purpose to fulfil that isn't given to another'. I really like that, firstly I don't need to condemn myself and next I can contribute in my own personal way, I'm not a failure.
On 13/05/2016 Phil wrote: Thanks John! Sometimes we'd rather not feel the pain as we can get stuck there. The challenge I guess is to feel all that we are capable of so we can also truly empathise and live as God created us but in the full knowledge that he has us firmly in his hands and we are totally safe and loved by him. I always say / write these things and then feel slightly frustrated cos I know living them is tough. And what does safe really mean? Nice words Nicky. It's clear you've come along way on your journey to be able to say such things. On 15/05/2016 Sarah wrote: Feeling like I'm moaning or gossiping is always something I struggle with as a Christian and for a long time the thought I was maybe doing either of those made me stop talking about anything to people. I'm slowly learning that it is better to share things and talk rather than keep it all in but I still find the balance difficult sometimes. As you say it's about finding someone that's emotionally secure to share with but sometimes it's hard to find those people at the times you need it. God wants us to be real though.