In the last article, we began an exploration of the four essential steps that God has laid out for us in Scripture in order to deal with our sin, be reconciled with Him and allow His Life to once again flow through us. This is our "readiness to revenge all disobedience" as 2 Corinthians 10:6 exhorts us. The essential steps are:
1) Recognizing, acknowledging and experiencing our ungodly thoughts and emotions.
2) Confessing our sin and choosing to turn around from following it.
3) Giving over to God all that He has shown us that is "not of faith."
4) Reading God's Word and replacing the lies with the truth.
Let's continue on with our study of the first step. As Christians we are constantly faced with three choices as to what to do with our negative thoughts and emotions: We can either vent them to others; stuff them down in the hidden chambers of our soul and let them affect future actions; or, give them to God and be rid of them forever. (This last choice is what we are learning to do through these steps.)
Recognizing, acknowledging and experiencing our real thoughts and emotions is the first essential step to becoming a cleansed and open vessel, prepared for God's use. In this first step, we are to ask God not only to expose what's going on in our surface (conscious) thoughts and emotions - things that we can see, but we also need to ask Him to shed light on the hidden things in our soul - the things we cannot see. In other words, are there any root causes for our emotional reactions? Why are we so upset over what has just happened? Ask the Lord what is really going on inside.
Our surface emotions can often be the symptoms of a much deeper cause. If the real root problem can be exposed and, subsequently, gotten rid of, then the surface emotions will not occur again either. However, if we only deal with the external emotions and never the root, the surface problems will come back and back and back. Therefore, it's essential that we always ask God to expose what is really going on.
Buried Things Motivate our Actions
Every one of us will continue to experience ungodly thoughts and emotions until the day we see Jesus. This is part of our being human. Consequently, the only way we can have victory over these things is by constantly making faith choices to give them to God and not allowing them to motivate our actions any more. Galatians 5:16 declares that if we choose to "walk by the Spirit," then we won't carry out the desires of the flesh.
Experience shows us, however, that it's almost impossible to hold on to negative thoughts and feelings without eventually acting out of them. Even if we try to keep things buried, they still become the motivation for many of our future actions, whether we are aware of it or not. Examples in the Bible include Esau with Jacob, David with Bathsheba, Reuben and his brothers with Joseph, and John and Peter in the New Testament. It's a fact that things we don't deal with eventually become the motivation for much of our behavior. In other words, burying our hurts, memories and fears, and so on do not get rid of them. Only allowing God to expose them, acknowledging them and giving them to Him, do.
A Perfect Example
A woman wrote me several years ago, after she had attended a retreat where I had spoken. She shared how much she hated learning these four essential steps in the Be Ye Transformed message. She told me she had such a hard time with these principles, but wasn't really sure why. Even after she left the retreat, she said she just couldn't get the study off her mind. Finally, she decided to ask God to expose why she was so upset. "Let's see if these stupid steps really work," she sarcastically thought to herself. Then, she went through the steps. God is so wonderful and He will use anything He can to teach us! He answered her rather sarcastic prayer and exposed why she was so upset with this message. He showed her that she still had tremendous resentment and bitterness towards her first husband, who had left her some 20 years before. God showed her that she was reacting to these principles out of those past hurts - she never wanted to think about that man again.
This dear woman thought she had dealt with all her hurts years ago. In reality, all she had done was bury those negative emotions and for 20 years she had carried them around with her. After wrestling with God for some time, she decided to go through the essential steps all over again. Only this time, she decided to deal with her past hurts the proper way: by humbly asking God to expose her soul. After sincerely going through the four steps the second time, she said she experienced such freedom of spirit that even her new husband commented that evening, "What's going on! You look beautiful!" Even our physical countenance will be changed when we learn to deal with our sin and become freed from the baggage that we have carried around for years. This dear lady sat down and wrote me a 16-page letter about what the Lord had done.
A few weeks later, after I had responded to her first letter, I got another 10-page letter from her, telling me about the most exciting miracle of all. Five years previously, she had suffered a major heart attack during an operation. Since then she had been in constant pain and on a heavy dosage of heart medication. When she made the choice to let go of the horrible feelings of hate for her first husband, God supernaturally healed her heart condition. She wrote me that she has had no more heart pain and has not taken any heart medication since. The doctor has confirmed her healing and he is totally baffled. I don't believe we realize how closely tied our spiritual and our physical well-being are. A healing in one often does affect the other.
In order to be truly free of our past and able to act out of God's Life, we must choose to get rid of our ungodly thoughts and feelings the proper way: by allowing God to first expose them, by looking squarely at them, calling them for what they are and then, choosing to give the negative things over to Him and be rid of them forever (Psalm 103:12).
Acknowledging our flesh is part of dealing with our sin and part of the healing process. Now, we're not choosing to follow our negative and emotional feelings, but simply recognizing what they are so that in the third step, we can choose to give them over to God. Remember, we can't give something over to Him if we don't know what it is.
Another Example: "This Message Is Impossible"
Years ago, a dear friend of mine shared that she knew she had "years of emotional walls" that she had never released and given over to God. Everything was coming to a head because my friend's husband had recently left her after 35 years of marriage. My friend said she had always known there was something preventing her from intimately knowing Jesus, but she could never figure out exactly what it was. She received the Be Ye Transformed tapes and immediately gave God permission to expose whatever He wanted in her.
Two days later, she called me up and said, "Nan, this message is absolutely impossible. Ever since I listened to these tapes, I've been an emotional basket case! I started two days ago to try to live this message, and today I feel I am worse off than when I first started. I am consumed with jealousy, bitterness and anger! I feel horrible and I know I'm such a failure as a Christian!" Of course, the enemy was right there on her shoulder, whispering she was right.
I asked my friend if she had given God permission to expose what He wanted in her. She said, "Certainly, that's the first thing I did." Then I said, "Praise Him and thank Him. He is just answering your prayer! God is showing you your real self- your true thoughts and emotions. Don't worry, you are right on course. Don't stop now!" I told her to simply recognize what God was bringing up, name the emotions and the thoughts she was experiencing, and then, go through the four steps we are now learning and get rid of those things for good.
What my friend forgot was that God must first expose our negative, ungodly thoughts and emotions before we're able to hand them over to Him. In other words, we can't give something over to Him if we don't really know what it is! We must be specific!
Keep a Journal
Speaking of being specific, it's a great idea, at this point, to keep a journal. It's important to describe and name exactly what we are thinking and feeling, so writing things down is a great answer. I find that writing down my thoughts and feelings keeps me accountable. In other words, I can't go on to tomorrow if I haven't dealt with the issues from today. By writing things down and dealing with them daily, I don't keep "long lists," as 1 Corinthians 13 reminds me, and thus, my problems don't seem to accumulate that way.
In your journal, write down exactly what you are feeling. Call your emotions for what they really are. Express yourself: "I'm angry; I'm resentful; I feel betrayed; I am fearful." Experience your thoughts and feelings. By that, I simply mean cry, scream or yell if you want to. Remember, you are only doing this to God alone in your prayer closet, no one else. Putting a name to what you are feeling will not only help you understand yourself a little more clearly, but it also will help you recognize what you must give over to God in the next step.
Experiencing our emotions, I believe, is part of our humanness. It's part of "dealing with our sin" and part of the healing process. Experiencing our emotions not only helps us to understand ourselves, but it also helps us recognize what we must give over to God. Now, I don't mean going back and reliving the actual experiences of the past or visualizing them or putting Jesus in the middle of them. I simply mean crying about what God has just revealed as the root cause that is affecting your choices today.
This is the point in God's plan of restoration where we can let our "self life" totally hang out. The enemy will want to convince us that we're not supposed to feel this way as a Christian, and subsequently, urge us to push our emotions back down in the hidden recesses of our soul. We must understand that we all experience negative, self-centered thoughts and emotions and our responsibility is to simply recognize that "self" and give it over to God. Again, that's all maturity in Christ is, recognizing our sin and self and giving it over to God.
The Church's Lack of Guidance
I can remember when I first published my little book, Why Should I be the First to Change?, I got hundreds of letters thanking me for being so real and honest. Most of them said they were encouraged that I, as a teacher of the Bible, experienced some of the same negative thoughts and emotions that they did. They had previously believed that they were the only ones who did. They looked around at all the other smiling faces at church and were convinced that they were the only ones "missing the boat" - i.e., the only ones with problems. It seemed to them that everyone else had it all together. Consequently, they cover up and hide even more.
Acknowledging how we really feel is one of the areas that, I believe, the church has been too silent about. And, because of this omission, we have a whole body of believers who have been forced to wear masks and facades. These believers feel they are the only ones who have problems and thus, in order to fit in, they put on "the smile" and pretend to live the perfect Christian life.
This is why transparency in the prayer closet is so vital. Honesty with the Lord allows us to be real and genuine with others. We all have problems! Maturity in Christ is simply recognizing those problems and going through the steps we are now learning to give them over to the Lord. Thus, as Christians, we are not striving to be perfect, but only to lead others to the One who is perfect and that, of course, is Jesus. When Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:38 to "be perfect," He means that we are to be "open and cleansed vessels" so that His Life, which is perfect, can flow through us.
What freedom this brings us: the freedom to be who we really are; the freedom to fail; the freedom to say "forgive me" and, the freedom to begin again. Oh, how I pray for more pastors, teachers and church leaders to live what they preach. And, when they do fail, to teach us how God ministered to them, how He cleansed them, how He filled them again with His Spirit and how He continued to use them mightily in spite of their faults. We desperately need this kind of genuineness and transparency in the Body of Christ today.
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[Next month: Step two: Confessing, Repenting and Forgiving.]