June 27, 2017

Where the Mind Goes…

So yesterday was a good day. I didn’t do much at all, other than take care of some business around the house. I rested mostly, slept about 2.5 hours in the afternoon (not sure why I was so tired), and then worked on my classes in the evening. In all, it was a pretty uneventful day.

I am guessing the reason why I was so tired had to do with my serious hot flashes that seem to be coming on more and more during the night. I felt pretty washed out yesterday, so I am thinking that my sleep disruption that has been accruing for a while simply caught up with me, and well, I just zonked out.

I slept better last night, though, I still struggled to fall asleep. I think I did sleep soundly, and when I woke up this morning, I had that “I’m dead as a doorknob” feeling. I mean, I felt so draggy when I first woke up. I really prefer to wake refreshed, but lately, I have been “hungover” and again I think it is due to my waning hormones more than anything else.

Still, I am feeling well. I have a slight headache (sinus), and I feel a bit wonky still (off-kilter). The hot coffee is doing it’s thing — magic — and I am starting to wake up and feel more like myself.

Seeking Clarification

The plans for today include grading portfolios, checking in on all my students at Regent (two classes is always a rush), and then working on my buffet (clearing the clutter). Hopefully, in the middle of all of that teacher doing and cleaning doing, I will find some clarity of mind, I will come to that place of peace again.

I am not sure what happened, but yesterday, I lost my peace. I woke up feeling calm, settled, and then something happened, and I stressed and struggled all day long. I went to bed last night feeling that something wasn’t quite right, and even this morning, I still have this nagging sensation that I have done something wrong — like really wrong. Perhaps it was my desire to move forward, take some big steps forward, and in doing so, I simply encountered my enemy. Or perhaps it wasn’t my moving forward at all, but rather my interpretation of events, situations, or scenarios where I drew conclusions that were not correct. I am not sure, but this morning, my prayer is for clarification. I am asking the Lord to help me understand if I am off the mark or if I am where I should be but I have misread some of the signs. In either case, I am asking the Lord to help me to know and to understand — to comprehend — so that I can feel peaceful again, calm and sorted, and I can remain steady and faithful on the path He has me on today.

So, as I mentioned previously, I am in this place where I don’t feel necessarily at peace. I sort of feel off, like I have misstepped in my interpretation or I have taken a slight off-the-mark turn. I am not sure what happened or how I got to where I am, but one thing I have learned over the course of the past 10 or so years is that when a loss of peace occurs, the first thing to do is to confess. Yes, the first order of business is to confess any known sin (the intentional behaviors — words, thoughts, and deeds). The second order of business is to confess any unknown sin (the unintentional behaviors — words, thoughts, and deeds). Once confession is done, the next order is to ascertain what actions may have prompted a change in peace factor. For me, this just means I may have turned a certain way, either figuratively or literally, and that turn may have caused me to lose my sense of peace, my feelings of “it’s good, it’s okay.” My next step in the process of understanding how I came to lose my peace is to simply backtrack, to turn around and walk back to where I last had a sense of peace. Often, the answer is easy — I just walked too far ahead of the Lord — and I got myself to a place I wasn’t meant to be. I turn around, say “I’m sorry” for walking ahead of Him, and most of the time, my peace returns. However, sometimes, just turning around isn’t enough. Sometimes, I have to confront a thought that has lead me astray. Sometimes I have let my enemy suggest a way that is not the way God told me to go, and in doing so, if I follow that thought, I often find that my peace goes with it. I lose my peace when I listen to the lies of the enemy.

How to Stay Focused

Physical actions are often what we think of when we find ourselves off-the-mark. We agree to do something we shouldn’t or we accept an offer that is not God-ordained, and well, we know it in short order. We find ourselves in drama — in chaos — and we know that we made a huge mistake. Sometimes our mistakes are the result of foolish behavior, but sometimes our mistakes are the result of a lack of foresight or critical thinking. Yes, sometimes we run ahead of the Lord into a situation that looks really good, really appealing, but is a situation that simply looks good on the outside, but is rotten on the inside.

Unfortunately, physical actions that lead to missteps are not the easiest mistakes to correct. Depending on the severity of the decision, the outcome might be life altering. This is why Scripture stresses the need for wise counsel as well as prayerful submission to the Lord in all matters (of heart, especially). Before we run out the door, we should be well-prayed, well-prayed, so that we know for certain we are going in the right direction, making good choices, and keeping the Lord’s will for our life front and center.

Mental actions, conversely, are a different matter altogether. Mental actions are thoughts that we give life to in order to bring them to the point of physical action. In essence, thoughts are the forerunners of action. What we think, we often do, so to speak. If you think about that cheesecake, you may find yourself greatly tempted to eat that cheesecake. The more we think on something, the more we desire it. It is a known fact that our thoughts often lead to action, thus our mental state is of vital importance when it comes to making good decisions, good choices for our lives.

A mental turn is when we consider another option, even after we are pretty well settled on a particular path or direction. A mental turn happens when someone says to us, “Have you thought about this…” and we give thought to their words. At the moment of the suggestion, we have two options: 1) consider their words or 2) reject them out of hand. I believe this process is what Paul was speaking about when he wrote to the church at Corinth. Paul urged the believers there to understand how important it was to control thoughts and to destroy deceptive ideas (beliefs, philosophies, ideologies, and worldviews) that ran contrary to the Word of God. More so, he stressed that believers needed to stay firm, focused on God’s purpose, and to “capture every thought” that could lead one astray from that purpose. In 2 Corinthians 10:5-6, we read:

“Our battle is to bring down every deceptive idea and every imposing argument that people erect against the true knowledge of God. We capture every thought to focus on our purpose: understanding and acknowledging the authority of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

I am guilty of not staying on tasks, of not remaining fixed on purpose. Yes, I often make mental turns, where I consider a thought or an action, and in doing so, I begin to move toward that thought. I begin to think about the thought, give it presence, and in short order, I am easily led down the wrong thought path. Sometimes we don’t give enough credence to our thought life. We think about sinful thoughts, and we know what to do in order to take control or authority over them, but we don’t always treat casual thoughts in the same way. We often let our mind wander, and when we do, we can easily entertain thoughts that are planted by our enemy, thoughts that are positioned for one purpose — to knock us off our game plan. Yes, our enemy can speak lies to us that are so innocuous, so simple, that we allow them past the gates of our stronghold. In short, we let the lies in along with the truth.

The process of mental turning is critical to physical action, thus where your thoughts go, your body often follows. Subsequently, the adage that says, “Change your mind, change your outcome,” is often true. Our minds are the battleground the enemy uses in his attempt to destroy us. He attacks us mentally because he knows that he can easily push us off the target, the path we are on, simply by suggesting another way, another very plausible and seemingly good way. This is especially true if the way we are walking is in obedience to God. Keep in mind that I am not talking about thoughts that would lead us away from God, rather, I am talking about thoughts that serve to diminish our ability to do the will of God. The hard and true fact of the matter is that our enemy knows that for some strong believers (myself included), there is little likelihood that I will turn away from God — not now, not at this point in my life — so he doesn’t always attack me with the “Did God really say” approach that He used to cause Adam and Eve to doubt God’s sovereignty and plan. Sometimes he is more subtle than this, and in doing so, he suggests ideas and thoughts that seem good on the outside, but are less than the perfect will of God on the inside. When we consider these thoughts, when we give them air to breath and room to grow, we might find that our conscience is muddled, and our once clear path to accomplishing the Lord’s will is not so clear any more. Satan often uses these wily tactics with firm believers because he knows that he can cause us to doubt God’s word as well as His intention without a lot of effort. In many way, he attacks us by simply making us consider other options, other ideas, that might be God approved, but not God ordained (I will explain this later). Our enemy is a subtle and devious schemer, who seeks to kill, steal, and destroy us (John 10:10) and the plans God has for us, in any way possible.

Therefore, controlling our thought life is the first step (after confession) to help us stand firm against the trickery of the enemy. Joyce Meyer writes about the mind as a battlefield in her best-selling book, “The Battlefield of the Mind.” Meyer understands the power of the mind, and in her book, she helps her readers come to terms with the problem and power of thoughts. She stresses the need for metacognition or the process of “thinking about thinking” in order to overcome negative thoughts that can lead to negative life outcomes. She writes, "Thoughts are powerful, and according to the writer of the book of Proverbs, they have creative ability. 'For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. As one who reckons, he says to you, eat and drink, yet his heart is not with you [but is grudging the cost]'” (Proverbs 23:7).

In a blog post written by the staff at the Church of the Living God, the author says something similar when he writes, “Our bodies follow our minds. What we think matters.” The staff writer is sharing a story of faithfulness and diligence in preparing our minds for battle with the enemy. Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against.” As such, our battle requires a mindset that is prepared for warfare. In essence, we must show up ready to do battle with the enemy, and that means showing up with our “game face on” and our mind ready to take action.

My mistake this past week has been to question the Lord’s plan for my life. As I have blogged about my experience over the past dozen or so years, I often find myself in situations where I question the veracity of the Lord’s word to me. I question His authority, His purpose, and His plan, but more so I question is integrity, His character when I seek other advice, other counsel or I consider other “options” rather than accepting what the Lord has offered to me. You see, I weigh the offer, I test it, and in this way, I test the Lord. The Lord is patient with me, gracious to me, and despite the fact that I do this (more than once, I admit), He often doesn’t chastise me for doing it. He does, however, permit me to learn lessons as a result, though.

I believe that this past week was another opportunity for me to learn a good lesson, a lesson in obedience, and a lesson in standing fast and not giving sway to thoughts that suggest other options or avenues. Yes, I learned “the hard way,” that with God there is only one acceptable response and that is to obey His word, and to be faithful to keep it.

Lesson #1

Do what the Lord tells you to do. The first part of the life lesson for me was a reminder that God calls His people to obedience, and that obedience is one of the ways we demonstrate our love for Him. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Obedience to God’s word is always a priority. This means we are to obey the written word as well as the spoken word (testimony, revelation, and exhortation). The story of Jonah illustrates what can happen we do not obey. Likewise, the story of Lot’s wife reminds us that when the Lord says to do some and we fail to heed, consequences will follow.

Lesson #2

God has a plan for our lives, and His plan includes general and specific characteristics. By this I mean that God has a general plan for His people. Peter said, "The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT) as a reminder that God’s promised deliverance and reward are for everyone. Furthermore, Paul writes to Timothy, “This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 NLT). God’s general will includes His plan of salvation, to save us and to save others. This is the great commission with which Jesus commands His disciples; It applies to all believers in Christ Jesus, we are all commanded to go into the world and preach the good news. But, outside of this general will for each Christian, God does have a unique and wonderful plan that considers our natural and spiritual gifts, and often helps position us so that we can fulfill the great commission. You see, while we may say, “God wants me to be a teacher,” and we believe we have been equipped to do so, we must also realize that as part of His will, we are to teach more than just our subject area (for me, it is English). We are to use our gift and His will for our life in combination to further His plan for His creation.

Lesson #3

Following the plan God has for our life is not optional. Once we have taken hold of His gift of grace, received salvation, we are adopted into the family of God. By His mercy and goodness, we are also grafted into His plan and purpose. Thus, we have a role to play within the Body of Christ. We are gifted in certain ways, and we are to purpose our gifts with passion and intensity so that we do our part. Paul uses the analogy of a body to help believers understand that we are all made uniquely to serve one purpose — to be the body of Christ. Therefore, we must do our part, whether we are called as an eye, an ear, a foot or a hand. We all must do what God has called us, created us, to do. But we are not to do this for our own purpose — toward our own design — rather we are to work together in unity, harmony, and with one mind, the very mind of Christ. In this way, we will become the living body of our Lord, and we will do His work here on earth.

Once we learn our position and purpose, we are to attend to that end goal. We are to be the best ear we can be, the best foot possible — in all — with the desire to worship and glorify God, the Father. We are not to squabble, have gross divisions, but we are to seek to serve one another in humility and with submission. We must, however, do our part, and this is non-negotiable. We must grow up in mind and in body, understanding the lateness of the hour, so to speak. We must realize that we are to make every effort to be on guard, to be focused, to be faithful because as Peter says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV).

Lesson #4

Though we may not always understand the plans the Lord has for our life, our response to His plan is to recognize His sovereignty and His will in creating, establishing, and bringing those plans to pass. He is sovereign. He rules over us. He is King, and we are His subjects. There is headship involved in this relationship, and we must not lose sight of who He is and who we are. He is Creator, and we are the created. In the Old Testament and New Testament, the writers often refer to God as the Potter, and in this way, they use a simple analogy to demonstrate the difference between the Potter who creates, and the clay, that is used to be made into some object or thing. Paul says this in Romans 9:21, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” in speaking of the vessels formed for good use and for destruction. In Jeremiah 18:4, the prophet was told to go down to the potter’s house and observe how the potter was working the clay. Jeremiah writes these words, “And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do” suggesting again that the Potter (God) has total control and authority to make whatever He desires and designs from the clay in His hands. Likewise, in Isaiah 64:7-8 NIV, we read,

"There is no one who calls on Your name, Who arouses himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities.  But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.”

In this way, we are reminded that God is God alone, and His will, His work, and His way are known only to Him. He chooses what to reveal to us, and Scripture clearly provides His general will for us in the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-19 NIV,

“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”

In understanding His specific will for our lives, the believer must draw near to the Lord, abide in Him as John 15:15 says, and spend time resting (being still) in His presence. Yes, the only way the believer in Jesus will come to know the expressed, precise and unique will that God has for their life is to be wholly devoted and wholly dependent on Him.

Wrap Up Life Lesson

What this means to me today is simply that I know both the general and unique will the Lord has for my life. I know what the Lord has asked me to do with my life as a teacher and communicator. I know the plans, so to speak, He has for my life. What I don’t know is the details, the tiny details that consist of steps, many steps forward, from one place (this one) to the next. I don’t know how to get from here to there, so to speak. I don’t have a good map, in layman’s terms. But, what I do have is instruction to help me submit, yield, rest, be patient, and so forth, while the Lord, the Potter, makes a way for me to go. You see, I have been told how to live my life, which is more about the process of how to become more Christ like than the path used to make me more Christ like. I liken it to how I teach writing to my students. Writing consists of two things: thinking about writing (the process), and creating the written product (the outcome). Most of the time, we only think of the latter, the production of a written text. We don’t always give consideration to the process involved in writing. In this way, I am not just speaking about drafting, editing, proofing, etc. (the steps), but really I am thinking about the mental action that occurs before we even put pen to paper. It is metacognition, it is the process of thinking about thinking about writing. In Christian terms, the metacognition is the process of thinking about becoming more Christ-like. We are to become like Him, and the outcome is the finished product of all that thinking work. The more we think about Him, the more we desire to become like Him. The more we obey His words, the more that obedience is worked out for the world to see. It all starts inside our head, in our heart, and then through daily application, daily abidance in Him, we eventually will be transformed to the point where we will be like Him.

I don’t know how to get myself from a physical place (Phoenix) to another physical place (Virginia). I mean, sure, I can read a map, plot a course, and drive from A to B to C. But from a spiritual point of view, if the Lord desires to move me from A to B to C, there is more to that move than simply sticking a pin on the map. There are decisions, choices, options, etc. that all must be carefully weighed, and with the Lord’s help and the guidance of trusted counselors, the map — the chart — will be made clear to me. Until then, however, I need to focus on the internal part, the obedience part, the becoming like Jesus part. The Potter, my Father in heaven, is more than able to create pin markers for me. He is able to move me from A to B to C with ease, but He needs me to be settled, to be fixed in my purpose, in my calling, in my unique plan. He needs me to stop moving about, stop trying to figure out the map, and focus more on the inward heart and mind motivation that begins and ends with obedience. I will go. I will follow. I will obey.

In Closing

I know what I have done. I understand now how I got myself all twisted up (again), and it had more to do with my willingness to entertain other ideas, other thoughts, other options long after the Lord has said, “This is my will.” I bargained with the Lord for other things that I thought were just as good as what He was offering to me. I asked for more, when He had already given me everything I needed. I lost track of my purpose, my overarching plan that includes both His kingdom mandate and the specific work, training, and calling He has graciously given to me. I wanted more, but not to become more like Him, rather to simply have my own way, to have what I liked “better.”

The confusion stemmed from my own mental actions. I let the enemy confuse me by suggesting other, really good options, which the  Lord, my God, had already said “No.” I fell prey to the taunt, “Did God really say this to you…” when I should have simply said, “This is what the Lord said,” and then followed suit with obedience. The enemy, Satan, doesn’t like it when Christians obey God, when they listen, heed, and follow the Word. He will flee just as James says in chapter 4, verse 7 (NET):

"Therefore, submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you.”

Submit means, “accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person” (Dictionary.com), and as such, when we submit, we surrender to God not because we are being forced to do so, but rather because He is God and as God, He knows what is best for us. He is the Potter and we are the clay. In nearly 5,000 years, this fact has not changed. He is Creator, and we are His creation.

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