My last few posts have been about fighting with my thoughts. This one is as well. It takes up an uncomfortable percentage of my mental energy of late. Over the last few years I've begun to understand that throughout my life I have conditioned myself to think thoughts that drag me deeper into the dark places of my mind. Back in January, I wrote a post entitled "The Mind is a Brutal Thing". This post will review a lot of those ideas. Many circumstances have brought me back to the brutality of my mind, but the initial idea for this post was triggered when I read this quote from my fellow Minneapolis Southwest High School alum, Matthew Manning. I was stunned by it's relevance to my current state of mind.
|Powerful words from @wordsofbrick on Instagram|
It's remarkable how much of a grasp negativity can have on the human psyche. Thankfully, while I felt the full brunt of this unsavory truth described above, I have yet to hit rock bottom. I kept a job. I'm not addicted, and, with the support my family, church and friend groups, I have managed to keep the door to joy open... or at least I've found a way to open it up again after I slammed it shut for a time.
With negative thoughts, a person is in a battle with themselves. My mind has been conditioned so strongly towards inward negativity. It fills my life with shadows. I am an expressive and joyful person, but lately, things that usually provide me with lasting joy are less satisfying. My mind distrusts the positive. It disregards my good traits. It places low importance on what I do well. It makes my path look hazy. Everything seems more costly and more difficult and less profitable and less enjoyable. That door to joy can feel pretty dang heavy sometimes.
Back in January, I wrote about these kinds of cognitive distortions, and how they effect my favorite things in life, even writing in this blog. So many times I pulled up a page to write a post and looked inward and see nothing of value. I think: how can I write about Christian fruitfulness when I'm depressed. I magnify my affliction and become more down on myself for being down on myself in the first place. Then on top of that, when thinking about spiritual things it becomes increasingly easy to over-spiritualize my mental state. I think, "my branch is withered" or "I'm drinking from wells that will run dry". I settle for inaction because I can't find perfection. I settle for stimuli like Netflix and/or Xbox or masking agents like drinking a couple of beers or filling myself with other relaxing/delightfully brain numbing (legal) pleasures. I've learned to either fill my mind with other stuff, or try everything in my power to make it shut up. This isn't healthy.
It is true that I'm not always a fruitful branch. But convincing myself that I shouldn't share my thoughts about being a fruitful branch is nonsense. I'm not writing this blog to share stories about all of the times that I've been fruitful, or even to provide instructions or guidelines how to be or become fruitful. Instead, all I profess to do is to testify to the spirit that leads to Christian fruitfulness. Taking a few moments of contemplation, I'm able to come to this conclusion. Still, negative thoughts can overwhelm, and when they do the concept of hope starts to look like it did on Good Friday.
On that day, hope was dead. The rooster crowed and Peter had done the deed. Judas hung in the desert. The disciples hid and trembled in fear, for everything Christ said would happen, actually happened. Now their Messiah breathed His last. Their friend, their teacher, their Lord, was gone.
Quite a while back now, in holy week, my Pastor David Berge first mentioned this idea of living in a "Good Friday world". On Good Friday, everything went dark, quite literally in fact. "Good Friday" spirit is the feeling of when, in a rousing crescendo of terribleness, everything conspires to fall towards utter despair with the certainty of gravity. As humans we often find ourselves in a "Good Friday" mindset. We find ourselves in pain. We find ourselves fearful, stuck, lost, wanting to run away, filled with too much emotion or angst, overwhelmed by self-judgement, ect.
But this isn't where Holy Week ends. Good Friday is good without considering what comes three days later. Christ's Resurrection is a flip of the script. From the darkness of Good Friday comes the light of life. New life springs up from resurrection. The graves were opened and the hope of renewal was made real.
Fruitful Christian life comes from tapping into this kind of Easter Sunday thinking. Pastor Dave said Christians must be Easter Sunday people. This doesn't have anything to do with candy symbols of fertility or pastel colors, but instead means we must be agents of hope.
What makes that so hard?
Why can't I trust the good things? Why do I push away joy? Why do I have no grace for myself?
In my negativity, I have found so much about the power of the sinful nature. I have learned so much about the crafty lies of the devil. Even though Easter Sunday delivered him the fatal blow, he continues to mess with my mind. The lies of Satan are powerful. There is so much potency in his nudgings. I feel like American Christian world view suggests that accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and savior does something magical in our spirit. And in someways it does. The supernatural spirit of God is provided to us. The Apostle Paul says this in Ephsians 1:13-14: "When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession,to the praise of His glory." This is wonderful news, but the gift of Holy Spirit is not a "...poof" now you're holy and fruitful type of thing. It may be a "...poof" you are saved circumstance, but a seal and a down payment do not equate a metamorphosis.
After one of my personal spiritual awakenings, I remember feeling encouraged to use the Spirit of God as a filter for my thoughts. That felt like a really great idea. It felt faithful and in someways it was. It was intended to be a way of prayerfully maintaining purity in actions. The issue became when I took the verb "to filter" and began thinking of the Spirit of God as a filter: a noun. My prayerful request, due to a misapplication of an great idea, became an unfounded relinquishing of my own control. Yes, God is in control and the power of the Holy Spirit is to provide counsel. It is the guiding force in Christian life, but it's not a crutch. It's not a supernatural appendage. It's not a safety net designed to catch us when we fall. The spirit does that, but it's not its purpose. With faith comes a relinquishing of control, but this refers to the powers of the world on the outside. Praying for the Holy Spirit to filter my thoughts felt like relinquishing control, but in reality it became a relinquishing of responsibility.
How I came to the misconception that the spirit would be my filter I do not know. It's baffling to me that I could come to that conclusion. There wasn't some teaching suggesting that the Holy Spirit would simply cover my stink, that it works some what like axe body spray.
Easter Sunday truth conquered sin and death. It provides me with council to flee from my sin. It's spirit, the Holy Spirit, promises to give me the tools to fight off the lies of the devil. This is a reality that is to be actively accepted. It is this acceptance that leads to Christian fruitfulness. It is that power that allows the spirit to flow into the dry branches of my life. But what does this mean for my mind? The Apostle Paul says:
Romans 12:1-2Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
January's post reviewed all of Romans 12 and back then, it hit me that Paul's words are completely action oriented. It's unexplainable to me how utterly passive I found my faith to be for so many years. I found great comfort in the idea of the presence of the spirit, but my misconceptions lead me to miss out on feeling the effects of that power within me. They say faith without works is dead, but works do not happen with out thoughts. Christian fruitfulness is a very active business. It requires my effort. I am saved, by my faith, but in order to be holy and fruitful in the kingdom I must devote myself to relationship with the Lord. Submission to the authority and power of God isn't passive. Neither is it limiting. I do not differ to him as some kind of symbiotic appendage that fixes my problems. Instead, this is my prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank You for the sacrifice You have made in sending Your Son to earth to die. Thank You that in raising Him to life again, You conquered death and vanquished sin and delivered the devil a fatal blow. Thank You, that You have provided us with Your Holy Spirit that is given to us through faith. Lord, I look to You. I seek relationship with You. I am weak against the lies of the vanquished devil. My ears are quick to hear his lies and assertions. Lord, fill me as I fill myself with Your Word and renew my mind in it's power. Today I stand upon Your promises. I resolve now, in the words of Paul, to pay closer attention to my thoughts, as my responsibility, as as my spiritual act of worshipping You, my Lord.
For me, I feel like this shouldn't be a big revelation. That bringing about the renewal of my mind is actually a choice that I can make. Satan likes to pummel me with so much negativity that my heart becomes overwhelmed. Things appear foggy and hopeless. It is my responsibility to see through the fog to the promised hope that resides a the end. Listen to some more words of Paul form Ephesians 2:4-10:
"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them."
I read this to say that I am created in Christ Jesus to do good works. I am save by grace through faith and this is the gift of God. I don't deserve it. I didn't earn it, but I must act to receive it. I must be willing to see past all of the negativity and feelings of lack of worth. Once I do that, it's when the may display his riches and enable me to do good works for His Kingdom. This is good news. This is fruitfulness. It's not for me. It's not because of me. Even while the adversary throws his shade, I must accept the gift of grace that I've been given. Let us not be deceived that pain is our destiny, that we are without hope. For these gifts through Christ have been offered to all. The infinite creator of the world, in His great power, has an eternity for all of us to enter into relationship with Him. We just gotta look up and accept what He's given.