Stories in Our Head

You may not realise how much of your life is controlled by stories in your head. These can be stories you have told yourself or stories others have sown into your thinking.

Part of the way that seems right to us is the interpretation of reality as we see it. The ‘way’ includes not only our actions, but our thoughts and values, including the stories we tell ourselves.

It seems we love stories, and we love to tell stories to ourselves to excuse and justify how we live. Thus we reinforce our own deceptions and go the way that seems right to us, which is the way of death.

“There is a way that seems right to a man but the ends thereof are the ways of death”, Proverbs 14:12, and 16:25.

Other people use stories to control us as well. They tell us what they want us to believe and we often accept their version of the facts and come under the power of their story. 

In marketing terms that’s referred to as ‘spin’. People put a spin on things, to colour the story the way they want us to see it. If we buy the story, the ‘spin’, then we come under their power of storytelling.

So the stories in our head are really quite significant, while we may be completely unaware of their power and their deadly impact (“the ways of death”). So it’s not only important to become aware of the stories, but to have some process to deal with them.

Let’s look at some examples. A child is upset because they went to their parent and the parent was distracted and in a bad mood and shunned the child. The child then goes to the other parent, crying. That parent excuses the other parent’s behaviour by telling a story to the child. “Don’t be upset. Your Daddy / Mummy is not feeling well, so that’s why they were annoyed.” The story gives the child a frame of reference to process their reaction to their parent. That’s the story told to the child, but there may be much more to the situation than that.

Yesterday I spoke with a father whose marriage broke up and whose daughter became suicidal, convinced she was the cause of the break-up, when it had nothing to do with her. The daughter came up with her own story, probably based on pre-existing feelings about herself, then directed her story as accusation of herself when the marriage failed.

That daughter’s story is not based on truth, but it is the story she believed and it controlled her life.

As another example, a person who has an affair can justify their actions by blaming the spouse who was cold toward them.

An alcoholic can use any excuse to go for a drink, blaming someone for upsetting them.

A person who is difficult to live with can ignore their own faults, demanding that their family forgive and honour them regardless, then putting the blame on the others if they still find it hard to live with the difficult person.

It may be true that for every thing you routinely do you have a ‘story’ that makes it ‘right’. It may thus be that you need to question the story behind your habitual behaviours and put away the excuses you use to keep you doing the same, fruitless things.

Why do you keep doing the same things that upset others?
Why are you still going to church in a place that doesn’t help you spiritually?
Why are you still being annoyed with your spouse, instead of letting God work you through the challenge?
Why are you still impatient, or proud, or cold toward others, or intent on seeking your own happiness, or putting up with impositions you have long resented, or so forgetful about your responsibilities, or so stingy toward your family, or so keen to impress people?

There are a myriad things you do each week that reflect the ‘way’ you have chosen to live. And behind those ways are stories you tell yourself in your head. And in those stories is self-deception, or, in the words of Paul, “hidden things of dishonesty”.

“We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty” 2Corinthians 4:2

Other translations say, “shameful cover-ups”, “things hidden because of shame”, “secret and shameful ways” and “shameful things that must be kept secret”.

Paul is likely referring to a wider range of things than I am addressing here, but the link seems obvious to me, that we have things hidden in our heart and mind, that are shameful because they excuse us doing things that keep us on the way to death.

Paul and his associates dealt with those things. That means they must have let God challenge them at a deep level about motives, values, attitudes, excuses, unresolved issues of the heart, etc.

I suggest you begin an open conversation with God about what might be hidden in your heart, such as stories you tell yourself to justify your unworthy actions and attitudes.

Don’t just go excusing yourself, but seek to be free, by God’s Truth shining the light inside you. And be ready to put off those things that are unworthy of our Lord, but which might be part of your daily thinking.

God bless you as you do.

My Problem is My Opportunity

I recently found myself disoriented following a time of travel. I was out of routine, lost track of what day it was and couldn’t get motivated for the things I was supposed to attend to. There were a couple of large challenges as well, and I couldn’t see how to work through them so that was unsettling.

Then the thought came to me that this set of problems was my opportunity. We are supposed to rely on our Good Shepherd. We are supposed to trust God in everything. So all I had to do was trust God, letting go of my need to see what was going on around me.

The thought struck me that by letting go I could let God work through me, despite how I was feeling. Then God would get all the credit, because it would be Him at work.

The next thought was of how sad it would be if I actually did get back in control of everything. If I can stand aside and let God take charge there is no limit to what can happen. But if I take charge, pushing God aside, then there are very real limits to what can happen.

I thought of the Valley of the Shadow of Death that our Good Shepherd leads us through.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

I like to have things in control and to be able to see where I am going. I like the big picture and the reassurance of knowing how things work together. I like walking on a ridge or along a mountain trail, where you can see what’s ahead and what to expect.

But in the valley of the shadow you can’t see anything much at all. You don’t know what’s ahead or how things are likely to work out. That’s when you are truly relying on the shepherd and finding your comfort in Him and the assurance He knows what’s going on.

So, I had to abandon my need for reassurance, and find my assurance in the idea that God is in control, despite my blindness to what is going on or how things are going to work out.

The word for that is ‘faith’. It’s trusting God. And it’s easier to come to trust when you are forced to put your own senses and your own need for control out of the way. Learning to trust God in all those situations where you cannot self-affirm or confirm the situation.

In the valley you can’t see what’s around like you can on a ridge or mountain top – so you can’t convince yourself that all is OK, you simply have to trust the shepherd.

Here is the note I wrote in my diary when this came to me: 

My problem is my opportunity. I am in the valley and totally reliant on my shepherd, having to give up all hope of achieving things in my own capacity, so, I am blessed to be able to really rely on Him. This happy thought ministered to me and helped me stop being concerned about my malaise, recognising that if anything wonderful happens in my ministry this week God deserves the credit. If anything good comes out of me in anything else I am doing – God deserves the credit. That thought brought a turnaround for me.

May that happy thought put you in the valley too – where you aren’t in control and don’t have a handle on everything, and where you can find true comfort from your Shepherd, not from you controlling your life.

How Right We Are

God warns us that
“there is a way that seems right to a man but the ends thereof are the ways of death”, Proverbs 14:12, 16:25.

What ‘seems right’ isn’t necessarily right. It may be tragically wrong for us. Yet we cling to our own ideas as if they were set in concrete. How foolish we can be.

There are several situations I have some connection with where at least one of the people in the mess has strongly held ideas that stop them seeing the truth.

I also reflect on the fact that I have known people who have refused to work through various issues over decades of their life. They stay the same, with the same toxic attitudes or damaged relationships, refusing to deal with things that could completely transform their life.

It’s sad then that we feel so confident about being right. Yet we do. We get something into our head and we hold that thought dear as if our life depended on it. We then interpret information that comes to us through the filter of our personal confidence about being right.

One person who really needs breakthrough was challenged by family members who hoped to get through to them. The person saw it as, “They’re all ganging up on me”.

A trick we all tend to use is to find fault in the other parties in our situations and then justify our own responses based on the idea that the other person is wrong. 

For example, a lazy teenager may face an angry outburst from a parent, rebuking them for their slack attitude, only to respond by thinking they are the victim of an angry parent. Being able to fault the other party is a great trick for absolving ourselves of responsibility for what we need to change.

“Change my heart, O God” is the cry we take from Psalm 51:10, where David asked God to create a clean heart within him. Another prayer that was often sung in the Charismatic Revival days was “Open my eyes, Lord” (Psalm 119:18, Ephesians 1:18). We all need our eyes opened and our hearts changed.

This is linked to the Truth setting us free.
“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32

When we believe the lies we tell ourself, following the way that seems right to us, we are enslaved to a path to destruction. Only when we face truth, allowing it to impact our heart and mind, accepting things we don’t want to accept, can we break that cycle of death and walk a path of life and freedom.

In my own experience I recognise a comfort zone, where what I believe is maintained, and which I am reluctant to move outside of. In my early Christian experience, as God challenged me about things, I initially resisted God vigorously, justifying myself and comparing myself with others.
“God, there are many people worse than me, so pick on them.”

God persisted and I finally began to admit to Him things I did not want to acknowledge. My pride was a huge problem, afraid that I might be much less worthy than I wanted to be, so clinging to my nice ideas about myself as if my life depended on it.

Only as I grew in confidence in God’s amazing love for me did I let go of some of my strongly held ideas about myself and face the fact that I was weak, foolish, irresponsible, and likely to be of no value to people, in the confidence that I didn’t have to prove myself worthy. God loves me just the way I really am, so I can then face the truth about who I really am, without fear that the truth will somehow disqualify me or penalise me.

As I worked through that I entered into greater freedom.

So that experience informs me what to expect as God taps me on the shoulder about other things I need to face up to. I recall coming to the conclusion that if my mentors pointed out things they saw as needing attention I would take the position of ‘guilty’ before trying to justify myself. I would rather try to clean up a problem that wasn’t there than to keep a problem that was there.

Israel’s King David had a heart after God, yet he belligerently pursued paths that were destructive to him at times. God persisted in bringing truth to him until he gave in and cried out to God for cleansing (see Psalm 51). So it is possible for all of us, like David, to close our ears to God at times.

May the Lord be gracious to you and continue to prompt you about things you need to let go of, and ideas you need to abandon, so you can escape the negative outcomes you are bringing on yourself.

May you stop thinking How Right We Are and wonderfully receive God’s truth and be set free. In fact, may you live in God’s freedom.

Let God be God

Because God is God and nothing is impossible to God there is no greater wisdom in the life of one of God’s children than to let God be God.

Imagine having some powerful machine to do a task for you and you opting to do the task with primitive hand tools instead. That’s what it’s like when we rely on ourselves rather than letting God be in control and have His way.

So we should let God be God by relying on His power and His work in our situation.

But on the flip-side, because God is God He knows the end from the beginning and sees things through different eyes to us. He knows that some things we are desperate to see happen or desperate to achieve are of no consequence and may be harmful for us.

We often persist at things, pushing against a brick wall, crying out to God to do this or that for us, when God knows we are set on hurting ourselves by our wrong pursuit.

Letting God be God in those situations means letting go of the things we desperate cling to or desperately cry out for, trusting God to know best and to have everything under control.
Then, as we trust God, we can leave the results to Him.

You want an example?
One family told me how they were once limited in finances and had their four children in one room. They longed for better finances and especially a larger house. They achieved their hope and were able to buy a house big enough for each child to have his or her own room. Sadly that led to the situation where their children isolated themselves in their rooms, and were not in good fellowship with each other or their parents. The parents saw the big house as a problem, not a blessing, even though it seemed to be so much a better option than a small house, cramped together.

The Bible refers to ‘good success’. Joshua was told to meditate on God’s Word,
“For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Joshua 1:8

Let’s pick up the idea of ‘good success’. Doesn’t that suggest there is such a thing as ‘bad success’? Have you known people who succeeded but the success did not bring good outcomes in the longer term?

Think of the young musicians desperate for the big break. Then think of those who got their break but couldn’t handle the money or fame, or went from one bad relationship to another. The same could be said of sports stars, actors and so on.

Consider the businessman who takes his company ahead in strides, but whose family life and faith crumble in the process.

While many things seem wonderful objectives to pursue, the issue is what is good for us.
Consider this from Psalms,
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn your statutes.” Psalm 119:71

‘Let God be God’ can mean let God be in control, because He knows what’s best.
And let God make the big decisions in your life, since you belong to Him and He is in control. 

What a waste of a life if you spend it chasing something you aren’t meant to have, that won’t do you any good, and you miss the wonder of being what God created you to be.
What is the point of trying to gain the whole world and losing your own soul? (see Mark 8:26)

God is God, whether you acknowledge Him for that or not. So take stock of your situation and consider that God has all the power needed to deal with your every challenge. But God also has His plans for your life, that may be different to yours. His plans will work and work well, if you will just Let God be God.

All Glory to God

Part of the Pride of Life is our desire to be noticed and recognised. It’s a common desire to be a hero or to receive commendation for what we have done or who we are.

However, the Pride of Life is part of the world’s evil and God resists the proud. So dying to our self interest and our need to be recognised and appreciated is a significant issue in our Christian life.

God gives grace to the humble.

One Sunday a lady at the church where I was preaching told of her attempts to encourage her adult son to attend church with her. She extolled me to her son as a …., and before she finished the sentence I wondered what she might commend me for, such as my preaching, but she said I was a very humble man.

It intrigued me that such was her first big credit point for me. Maybe she is accustomed to preachers who give off the signal that they are proud. It struck me as interesting.

There are two keys to helping me deal with pride in my life. One is to realise that my very best efforts are pretty pathetic, especially when seen from God’s perspective. I rely on God being my rescuer and giving me the sense of being capable, but only because His ability is at work in the background.

Another has been dealing with feelings of rejection and shame. Those feelings are the flip-side to pride. If we are successful we feel impressed with ourselves. If we are unsuccessful we feel ashamed. It’s still pride.

As God freed me from my rejection and shame issues He was also dealing with my pride. In my failures I don’t need to be ashamed, because God knew I was going to fail before I started and He chose to love me and to stand with me, not because of what good I have to offer, but despite the foolishness, ineptitude, clumsiness, selfishness and other human complications I mess my life up with.

Everything I have to give came from God, so I can’t take credit. And everything I get wrong just reminds me that I totally need God and that God loves me regardless of my stupidity.

Maybe it has been working those things through to some degree that has brought me a measure of freedom from pride issues.

When I know I can’t do anything successfully myself, but I rely on God to make things work for me despite how I complicate them, and when I know that God loves me and is working with me despite every weakness and failing within me, then I can happily acknowledge that All Glory Goes to God!