Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Four Barriers to Better Living

            If you are a Christian,, (or just want to know God better), and honest enough with yourself to admit you don't have it all together yet, this article has something for you.  Like me, I'm sure you struggle at times with allowing the spirit part of your being to become greater, and the physical taking a lesser role in the soul. Our soul is the intersection of two distinctly different realms; the spiritual (supernatural) and physical (natural).  Our personhood is designed by our Creator for these two realms to work together to make the journey of life more complete and successful.
            However, many of us spend a significant portion of our lives in "brokenness."  .  First of all, we are all born into a broken world, so we are born broken.  The spirit part of our being is made alive when we believe in Jesus.  Following Jesus begins a process of change in our soul, whereby the spirit part of our being should influence the physical part in greater and greater measures.  The process is given terms like transformation, sanctification, healing, and inner person change. 
            But sometimes this process of change becomes very difficult.  I have found in my personal journey that the simpler I can make things, the easier the journey becomes.  Volumes have been written about each of the following four difficulties, but hopefully here are some thoughts about each you find helpful in the direction of simplifying. Quality of life is determined by how well these four factors are navigated.
1. Sin
Sin is an ugly word. Whether you call it transgression, wrong doing, offense, or rebellion  against God, sin is the ugliest barrier that keeps us from experiencing connection to God.  We are created for eternal connection, but sin created a disconnect.  God sent his one and only son Jesus into the world so that whoever believes in him is saved from the eternal damnation (see John 3:16).  For those who believe, life on earth is a constant process of change to be governing more and more each day by the Holy Spirit whom Jesus announced when his work on earth was completed.  The Holy Spirit works with our personal spirit and soul to accomplish this change through repentance and forgiveness (see other blog posts for more on that). 
            All sin offends God.  There is no such thing as "big sin" and "little sin."  There is, however,  obvious and not-so-obvious, sin.  The Bible calls the devil the "father of lies."  Deception is a key factor we'll talk more about a little further down.  Even the most discerning people sometimes have difficulty allowing hidden heart issues to be exposed.  Jesus consistently through his teaching identified the heart as the source of sin.  The contents of our heart determines our actions (good or bad), and people around us see our actions and not our heart.  Although our actions cause us to appear guilty, when we offend, it is God who we offend the most (because of our resistant heart condition). 
            Many definitions for sin have surfaced, but a simple way to discover it is anything within our being that resists God.  It's not a sin to have a bad thought.  It's sin to grow (harbor, explore, expand, etc.) bad thoughts.  A bad thought is any thought that condemns yourself, God, or another human being.  Bad thoughts produce bad feelings and attitudes of heart, which produce bad actions.  When we accept Jesus as the solution for our brokenness, we agree to allow God to break down walls our resistance piece by piece.  He then reshapes our parts so they fit together as a better-functioning "whole" person. 
2. Legitimate Unmet Needs
            In crisis situations meeting immediate physical and emotional needs is of primary importance. However, in the day-to-day physical world, too much "stuff" can create distraction.  A TV or the latest technology device is not a "need."  Getting by with less stuff simplifies life.  So too in our psychological and  emotional world, expectations that are set too high will set us up for deeper disappointment.  For example, it's okay to expect people to treat you with respect and dignity.  When you feel like you are treated without respect and love, taking the hurt to the Lord and asking him to fill your need for love and respect may be the answer.  Depending on the relationship, this need may indicate more work to be done in communication and acceptance.  A spouse, for example, though no spouse is perfect, should be providing for needs of love and respect at the deepest level possible in a human relationship.  Working things through to have legitimate needs met is very important. 
3. False Beliefs
            The more whole we become, the more free we are to be who we were created to be.  Believing falsehood is an obstacle to freedom.  Jesus declared, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).  Many people quote the second sentence and conclude that knowing the truth sets a person free.  Knowing truth does not necessarily mean you believe truth.   In the verse quoted above, the word "then" makes it only true when the preceding condition is true.  Being a disciple of Christ, as evidenced by holding to his teaching, is the Truth that sets a person free.  Mentally agreeing with Christ's teaching isn't enough to overcome engrained patterns of bad thought and destructive habits. 
            Practicing Christ's teaching is the measuring stick for belief.  Jesus simplified the ten commandments into two.  Jesus said, "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’" (Matthew 22:37-39).  Loving God with your whole being and showing it by loving yourself and other people is the core of Christ's teaching.  To the degree we hold to this truth, we demonstrate that we really believe it.   Love (acting in the best interest of another) is a solution to removing barriers.  
            The problem is, the broken world we grow up in, forms our core belief system with bits and pieces of Christ's truth, at best.  Our default natural condition forms beliefs about God, ourselves, and other people which are false (and unloving).  Chief of these false beliefs is that we can decide for ourselves which beliefs are true or not (good or evil), and we don't need God's help to decide.  We also conclude things like "people don't like us if they don't give us what we want," and "I'm not worthy of love" if someone criticizes something we do.  Most of these beliefs come from our parents (or primary caretakers), but we cannot blame them for how we behave as a result of adopting false beliefs. 
            Correcting our misperceptions caused by believing things not true, is a bit like putting on new glasses with new prescription lenses for better eyesight.  We may still have "blind spots" and not see perfectly.  Our glasses still become dirty (creating distortions) and need regular cleaning.  But the pair of lenses is the tool we need to focus our gaze on our surroundings.  The tool we need for focusing on Truth is the Bible.  It is called God's Word because it is the final word.  The Bible is the recorded history of God's people living out the combination of the natural and supernatural realm (see also Hebrews 4:12).   It is the lenses through which all our beliefs need to be filtered for complete vision.
4.  Psychological Pain
            The two distinct categories of pain I wish to mention here are: self inflicted pain, and pain inflicted by others.  Self inflicted pain means your own personal sin, unmet needs, and/ or false beliefs are the primary source.  The most common types of feelings of pain are rejection and shame.  Sin creates guilt for behavior which can be corrected.  Guilt then is a positive motivator.  Same on the other hand, is based on a false sense of guilt and has no solution.  Guilt says, "I did bad," whereas shame says, "I AM bad."   Shame causes rejection of self and the God who created the self.  Self-rejections fuels bitterness, resentment, and blame in the deepest part of your core being. 
            The pain of shame can be very hard to identify, but this obstacle is common in every human being.  Shame is impossible to resolve without finding the source where a person has rejected self.  Remember, resisting God is sin.  Resisting who God made you to be is resisting God.   Dissatisfaction, discontent, and rebellion against who God made you as a person, is an offense against God.  So, self inflicted pain may require repentance and forgiveness to become free and return to wholeness. 
            Pain inflicted by others causes different kinds of issues.  This is emotional damage caused by abuse, violence, traumatic injury, or some type of injustice for which a reason cannot be explained.  Injustice is part of our broken world, but our broken soul has no way to justify it.  Jesus came not only to save the world from sin, but to heal the world from the consequences of sin (see Isaiah 53 and 61).  Jesus can heal the broken heart caused by injustice. 
            In summary, God does not expect you to remove these four barriers before you can have his favor.  In fact, he implores us to come to him for help on the journey.  He says, "Come to me .... and I will give you rest" (see Matthew 11:28-30)  ... rest from trying to perform your own way around these barriers.  So, I sometimes ask, "Why is it so hard to make/ keep things simple?"  I haven't come up with a good answer, but I know the enemy of our soul wants nothing more than to have us believe the way to God is about working instead of resting. 
            God is not accessed through religion, but through relationship.  Religion can become a barrier of its own  that hinders a relationship with God.  Religion can encapsulate all four of the barriers listed above. 
A simple cry of the Psalmist heart is,
"Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).
            May this be our heart's cry to God.  I can speak from my experience that as I surrender more of my heart to God's search light, I encounter less resistance from these barriers. 
            If you are facing struggles you feel are overwhelming you., seek out the help of a counselor.  If I can assist you, drop me a line.  I tell people,  "I'm not a medical doctor, but I am a heart specialist."   You can also check out some of the other articles on the blog site to see how to practically walk out the inner person change for successful living. 
            I end with a link to a song.  This song meant a lot to me decades ago when I was beginning my journey, and I still find it's simple message inspiring today.  The song is "He Loves You" by 2nd Chapter of Acts:

by Ed Hersh, BnB Healing Ministry