Yesterday, a friend of mine was watching one of the Lord of the Rings movies and commented cleverly Tweeted “[Gollum] Smeagol needs to work on his self-talk. Very conflicted inside.”
If you’ve never seen the movies, Smeagol is a disturbed and disturbing character who represents the inward and outward impact of sin on our lives over the long haul. Consequently, he is both tortured and twisted on the outside and in, having been visibly impacted by his enslavement to the fleshly desires, represented by the Ring of Power he so deeply covets. We could probably end in prayer here, right?
So, What’s the Problem?
The quality of our self talk is a reflection of the quality of our hearts. Gollum’s self talk is much more “talk” than “self” because it comes out of his mouth so often referring to himself as “we” – conflicted and vehemently self deprecating. At one point, he even takes a stand against… uh, himself… arguing with his own reflection, which accuses him of murder. I’m actually refreshed by this in some ways: at least we know what’s on Gollum’s mind. No guesswork required!
Today, I’m reading Proverbs 23:1-8. Check it out – it’s all about the inward motives of the heart. It’s all about unseen, “private” thoughts. When I meditate on this stuff, I’m mildly refreshed by Gollum’s “self-talk”: at least we know what’s going on in his mind. There’s no guess work here. Even though Jesus tells us very clearly that “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks”, some people have developed a really powerful filter that prevents the truth from coming out… at least for a time.
Kick the Habit, Not Yourself
I’ve got a few friends that consider themselves addicts. For good reason – one of them has relapsed into chemical dependency no less than a dozen times this year. I know God’s going to pull him out of this and fully deliver him eventually. But, in the meantime, it’s hard for me to watch how hard he kicks himself when he’s down, calling himself names like “addict”, “doper”, “stoner”, etc. Last week, I was flipping through Ephesians and noticed several words highlighted. Every one was an identity statement: descriptive of how God thinks of us and who we are in light salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.
Here are a few of them:
- v. 1 saint
- v. 1 faithful in Christ Jesus
- v. 3 blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ
- v. 4 chosen before the foundation of the earth
- v. 4 holy and blameless in Christ
- v. 5 predestined to adoption as [a] son
- etc., etc…
You get the point, right? We see ourselves one way “for as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Prov. 23.8 NASB), yet God knows our hearts. If we were to examine our own self talk, we’d get a very accurate picture of who we think we are. But, what would happen if we were to hold those results up against the way God truly sees us in Christ? Just because we think it doesn’t mean it’s true.
There are dozens of “identity” statements throughout the NT that result from our faith in Christ. God not only put them there, but also preserved and protected the canon of scripture not that we would worship the word of God, rather that we would worship the God of the Word, and come to know Him and consequently how He thinks of us… in Christ.
If you are in Christ, you are a new creation, adopted by God and given the gift of sonship [which includes daughtership, but is no relation to the Mother Ship] and eternal life. That may be very different from how you see yourself or think about yourself. God knows the relationship between what is in our hearts and what comes out of our mouths. He also knows that the way we think of ourselves determines a lot of how we behave. If we would just obey the scripture and think of ourselves as He does, what difference would it make in our day, our week, our weakness, our battles against the private thoughts that so easily corrupt our day?
Let’s not go back to being the “stingy [evil eye]” man who sees himself like Smeagol. Let’s trust in the only One who holds the words of life.
“…do not say to yourself, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity… but on account of the wickedness of these nations… Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff necked people. (Deut. 9.4-6 NIV)”
Ouch! That Doesn’t Just Hurt My Neck.
“Stiff necked?” That doesn’t sound very “Jesus with long, flowing hair, holding a little lamb and playing with children” warm and fuzzy… I thought God was love and He loved me enough to send Jesus to die for me. Now, He’s calling His chosen people “stiff necked”?
It means “stubborn” and, yes, Israel was being stubborn. You and I are often stubborn. Often, we take more credit for things that God does through us than we ought to. God makes it very clear not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New, that He has a plan and is set out on reconciling the lost to Him, wiping out wickedness not because of the righteousness of those He is pursuing, but because of His own righteousness. God… is… Holy. Without Christ’s substitutionary death (and resurrection), we’re not. Not holy. Ouch, is right. (Read on, this isn’t a permanent stiff neck…)
Even after we become Christians (justification & salvation), we’re still not perfect. We have a new identity in Christ, but we’re not fully mature and glorified. Be encouraged. Despite our best efforts, God will accomplish what He has planned. The wicked will be punished eternally through separation from God. We who are considered “righteous by faith” will even forfeit some eternal rewards for our own wickedness. God is still sovereign. You are adopted into His family not by your own merit, but by His righteousness (see also, Eph. 2.8)
“So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Phil 2.12-13, HCSB)”
Let’s Loosen That Neck
God is on track, pursuing an oft stubborn, off track and proud traitor race. This is not a license to do whatever we want – it is freedom from the condemnation the enemy of God would crush us with when we do falter. The great news is – God is sovereign regardless of our shortcomings and He is at work in us, giving us both the strength and the desire to do His work (see previous verse).
Today, may you keep a healthy perspective that you and I are not the reason why things work out well when they do. Yet, you and I are not hopeless when things don’t work out. You and I are not the solution to every problem, no matter how talented or in the zone we are. God Himself is the only one worthy of the name “I Am”, making us worthy of the name “I am not” (HT: Louie Giglio). I would only add “I Am Not, and That’s Okay” to the name-tag.
May the great “I Am” strengthen you in confidence when you are in doubt, not because you are all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips, but because He is already and always on track with His perfect plan. May He encourage you throughout your day when the Accuser comes calling to tell you that you’re stiff necked and that’s all you’ll ever be. May you be in your circumstances, but not defined by your circumstances.
When I’m consistent with “quiet time”, I’m not very consistent with which devotionals I read. I have a couple in hard copy and then a few others that come via email to my “@newsletters” folder in Outlook. Other times, I just skip back and forth between Psalms, Proverbs, Prophets, and the New Testament. When you talk to people for a living, you notice a handful of people who do the same thing every day, consistently. These guys are the low-spiritual-fat-percentage/chiseled character guys with 18-inch spiritual biceps that we all often idolize. Oops, did I say the “i” word? The i word often leads to the “c” word – comparison.
Today, as I’m reading through Neil Anderson’s final devotional for February, his questions jumped off the page. The scripture selection was from Colossians 2.6-7:
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith
I have a tendency to notice the “who” part of passages as I’m reading them and this morning, I thought “How often do I muff up the “so walk in Him” part? How often do I compare my self to Matt or Jeff or Jim when I should be comparing myself to “who I am in Him?” Doesn’t the passage say “so walk in Jim?” Nope. The comparison game can get messy when we’re not playing by God’s rules – when it comes to man, “comparison is the enemy of contentment”.
Anderson goes on this morning to ask the following litmus test questions about our faith (and, as he’s famous for doing, our identity):
I would be more successful if . . .
I would be more significant if . . .
I would be more fulfilled if . . .
I would be more satisfied if . . .
I would be happier if . . .
I would have more fun if . . .
I would be more secure if . . .
I would have more peace if . . .
The completion of these statements give us a great picture of the completion of the work of Christ in our lives. See – Ephesians 4.12-16.The biggest troubles we get ourselves into can be traced back to a lie that we once bought, which can easily be detected by holding it up to the plumb-line of God’s truth: Would you be more successful if circumstances changed or if you stayed out of God’s way and let Him work through and lead you? Would you be more significant if you made your mark on a situation or if you trusted in who God has gifted you to be and ran on the steam of His grace instead of your own effort? Would you be more secure if you had $25K in the bank or if you were breaking even every week, but clinging to Christ for every dime?
The worst form of idolatry is self-worship – my agenda, my plan, my energy, my competence. The greatest gains have been made in my life when I stepped aside and got God out of the co-pilot seat so He could fly the plane. Conversely, the biggest trouble and darkest times I’ve experienced in business, ministry, marriage, etc., have been the places where I “leaned on my own understanding” and trusted in my ability to walk, talk, work, or manipulate my way out of a jam. Grace is God’s way of empowering us to do His work. Misformed and misunderstood identity in Christ is the surest path to lost confidence in God’s sovereignty and diminishing Christ’s finished work on the cross.
If only we all would walk in that. If only we would encourage each other in that (like, discipleship). If only we would reassure each other there is no condemnation, God’s grace is big enough (though not to be abused), and that His mercies are new every morning. If only we would all slow down the hustle, quiet down the noise, and listen to the Holy Spirit’s lead – what would a lost and dying world think of our God if we all grew up into maturity in the faith, attaining to the full measure of Christ?
in it with you,
One of the most awesome things about the Gospel is that through Christ we have access to God – to boldly approach the throne with freedom and confidence. [Ephesians 3.12] For ages, the wall was up and there was a curtain separating mankind from the Holy of Holies. But, with the crucifixion of Christ, the veil was torn.
Wouldn’t you expect us to pray more often? If we really knew how great and awesome God really is, especially as we read the Psalms and epistles, if we really knew how depraved and filthy we are without Christ, especially in light of Romans and Leviticus, wouldn’t we be lying face down before God for hours honestly and desperately praising Him and thanking Him for His mercy and grace?
Somehow, we get tied up in the mundane, the urgent, the noise and the dirt of the world. Can I just mention something to us who call ourselves followers of Christ? The gospel is for us, too. We need it everyday. Every hour.
This week, I got to meet with a guy who’s going through a challenging season and learning to pastor his wife’s heart while she begins to uncover many of the curses and judgments that have fallen on her through her family of origin and first marriage. She’s been lied to, cheated, and confused about her real worth. Her true identity has been warped and she hears the voice of her earthly father and ex-husband playing over and over in her mind. She’s constantly reminded of who she’s not and what she’s incapable of.
We all need earthly advocates that will approach the throne on our behalf. It is an echo of what Christ is already praying and is a bold, powerful harmony that accompanies the song of heaven.
I didn’t want to give him any “advice”. I just prayed as he spoke and listened for what the Holy Spirit might have for him. I pray that the words that came out of my mouth were from God and God alone – “Mike, as ‘high priest and pastor of the family’, she needs you to pray her through this. Pray with her and on her behalf.” She needs to know the gospel every moment of her day to shield her and defend her against the accuser who daily batters her esteem. “You are worth my one and only Son.”
It strikes me at this time – how many of us are actively praying for the people in our life who already know Jesus, but don’t experience Him every day? How many of us know people who are carrying the weight of false accusations about their identity, their “impossible” situation, their hope and future? We’re going to start doing something about it.
The first step is this – let’s admit that we all need Jesus all the time. Next comes “ask the Lord to reveal to us who He wants us to pray for”. Consequently, let’s gather together and corporately pray for those who need it. We have three enemies at us – the world, the flesh, and Satan. The latter comes to “steal, kill, and destroy”. Prayer is our battle cry – are we in the fight or distracted by life’s “worries, riches, and pleasures” (Luke 8.14)?
Starting in the next couple of weeks, we’re opening our (rental) home for “Pizza and Prayer”. Bring your broken heart, your tales of brokenness, and a desire to storm the gates of Hell and we’ll provide the pizza and time and space to pray. We’ll most likely start on Sunday, Feb. 6th, sometime mid-afternoon and will end by 6, but email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP.
|Scotty Smith – TGC
For now, I’d love to pass on a post from Gospel Coalition about a great prayer. We could all use a lot of great prayers, couldn’t we?
(HT: Matt Erickson)