Clean Your Filters!

This morning my sister-in-law Christine sent out an email regarding the importance of our thought-life that got me thinking. She wrote: “If we will train ourselves to think like God – what He says in His Word – we will be full of joy and peace, and blessings will surround us. The Life of God in us will flow freely because the thoughts of God and His life are flowing through us!” Those two sentences ignited a chain reaction of ideas in my head.

Our minds, the way we think, WHAT we think, do in fact have tremendous impact on our lives: how we perceive reality, how we feel, what we do, and how we treat others. But the spiritual implications for our lives are of even greater importance. When God speaks to us, his words are always embedded with his power — power we need to live and get things done: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Dt 8:3, Mat 4:4). And if our thinking isn’t aligned with God’s, we’ll filter what he’s trying to give us. In other words, how and what we think are vital factors that will either help or hinder our ability to receive from God.

This is how it works. God can speak to us through a variety of ways, but his primary method is through that “still, small voice” inside us. That is God’s Spirit communicating with our spirits, our inner-beings. This inner voice first registers on our emotions. That’s where we sense it. We have a gut feeling or an intuition. And it affects us in a vague, general, emotional way. We’re left with a “feeling” about something. Then his words try to work their way outward to our consciousness, our minds — and sometimes this is where they get hung up. Our minds act as filters. If we are receptive, that message from God’s Spirit percolates into our brains, and we receive the full message — no longer as vague feelings but as words. It becomes revelation. And with revelation comes the power. But if our minds are not tuned to God’s frequency, so to speak, if we are so focused on our earthly concerns, if we are not accustomed to God’s thoughts and seeing life as he sees life, we do not hear correctly. We are left with that vague feeling, or maybe we get only a few snippets of his message.

So here’s the point. If our thought-life is cluttered with the “cares of this life”, with worries, with fears, with distraction and simple preoccupation with daily living, we’re not going to hear clearly when God speaks to us. His words (and the power that accompanies them) get lost in the static. If our minds are not trained and continually disciplined to see things as God sees them, to think that way he thinks, if they are not transformed into his thought patterns, we will be hindered in getting direction and life-generating power from him. Our brains will naturally dismiss, filter or just water-down those spiritual messages. We won’t be getting the full impact, the full truth, or the full power of what God is trying to channel to us.

What’s the remedy? How to we train our minds to hear God clearly? If you want to understand a person, you have to spend time with them. If you want to think the way someone thinks, you have to spend a lot of time listening to what they say. For us, this is as simple as our most basic Christian disciplines of prayer and reading Scripture. Jesus modeled this for us: it was his habit to go off by himself in the mornings to pray, and he knew his Scripture well.

Yeah, I know. Sounds simple in theory, but putting it into practice … that’s another matter. But really, what other choice do we have? He set the example, and we should follow it. We should set aside quality time to be in God’s presence every day, to give him opportunity to change us inwardly. And we need to have the filter of our minds transformed and renewed “so that we can test and discern what God’s will is” (Rom 12:2). How? By “the washing of water with the Word” (Eph 5:26). That continual exposure to his way of thinking is necessary to allow God’s thoughts to become our thoughts. Then his messages will flow through our spirits into our consciousness unimpeded. And when we can fully grasp his words to us, we’ll receive his life-giving power also.

The basic concept is simple. If we want to hear when God speaks, and if we want his power flowing through us in our daily lives, we have to learn to regularly clean our filters.

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I’m indebted to my friend and spiritual advisor, Dr. Michael Capps, for teaching me these fundamentals of spiritual dynamics during our many conversations about life and godly living.

Christine Schmidt’s email was from her “Word for Today – 01.22.09”

An Ox on the Sabbath

Compassion trumps correctness.
Relationship is more important than being right.

Over the past few weeks, my brother and I have been having a lengthy theological discussion over a point of Scripture.  Both of us see our stance as reflecting the heart of God, both see our point as being crucial to the future of people’s lives and immortal souls, and both of us seem committed to our respective sides of the truth.  (Hmm, could it be that we’re both right?)  I won’t prejudice the discussion by elaborating on it here since it is still ongoing, and although it is unlikely, knowing our personalities, that we’ll reach a point of agreement, what is remarkable to me is the willingness on both our parts to even have this dialogue. 

I respect my brother.  He is an honest man, one who seeks after God’s will, and as far as I can tell, he is a commendable husband and father and a successful businessman.  More important than all of that, I love him.  If we never see eye to eye on this particular “crucial” issue, I hope it never becomes a wedge in our relationship.  Oh, that this were how I felt about other people in my life with whom I have serious disagreements!

In the Bible, after hanging around Jesus for a while and slowly learning what is important to his master’s heart, Peter begins feeling a bit proud of himself, a bit holy.  He’s made strides in his spiritual life, he’s in tight with God’s appointed Messiah, and has been promised a prominent position in judging the tribes of Israel in the coming kingdom.  At one of those confident moments he asks Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Mt 18:22).

We’ve all had these thoughts.  Usually over some matter of personal offense: a common source of disharmony between close people, and a poisoner of relationships.  Peter probably thinks he’s going over the top with his generous offer. Seven times!  (Jewish tradition at that time suggested that one ought to forgive an offense up to the fourth time — that is, forgive three times, but the fourth offense has crossed the line — so Peter’s offer is twice the going rate.)  Jesus’ answer shocks everyone and puts Peter’s generosity to shame.  “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  Even today, we devoted believers find this number hard to swallow.

But along with the point that we shouldn’t be counting offenses and should forgive as many times as we’d like to be forgiven ourselves, Jesus illustrates the point that we should never let our disagreements, our offenses (no matter who is right), be cause for breaking fellowship. We’re to put up with each other’s faults, bearing in mind that we’ve got plenty of our own — that whole “don’t try to remove the speck from your brother’s eye when you have a log sticking out of yours” thing.  The relational bonds between people are more important than being right, or getting our just deserves.  Everyone needs forgiveness, everyone needs compassion.  We’ll never reach perfection in this lifetime, so we’re going to need as much forgiveness and compassion as we can get.

This is a spiritual law higher, and more important, than other laws we seem to become preoccupied with.  It is too easy for us to focus on our differences, to see what is clearly wrong with someone else.  It is too easy to hold grudges, to cut that person off, to dismiss them from our lives, or to surrender to the position of “irreconcilable differences” over matters that are in reality insignificant.  We focus on the trivial; we love the letter of the law.  We love to critique each other, and show how the other is falling far short of the standard.  This is our basic instinct, our flawed human nature.  But, borrowing an image from common life in ancient Palestine, if an ox falls into a pit on the Sabbath, isn’t it better to break the law forbidding work on that holy day, and save the poor beast out of simple human compassion?   The law of love, the principle of compassion, the bonds of relationship, override other considerations.  It makes all other disputes insignificant in comparison. 

What does this mean in real life?  Where does the rubber meet the road?  Whether it’s some major doctrinal disagreement between brothers, or a deep, grievous personal offense among co-workers at the office, disharmony is the greater evil.  Letting the offense fester and become a bitter source of division is a bigger wrong.  In the long run — and I believe, in God’s eyes — who is right is less important than preserving fellowship.  Being correct is less important than dealing compassionately with one another.  After all, God’s presence, his power, and his love are displayed most clearly when people united by a more powerful bond are gathered together.  And isn’t that a better thing than being right?

Starting 2009 out right: “Let it Go!”

So many people I know have commented how glad they are to see 2008 in their rear-view mirror, and how they’re looking forward to so much change in 2009.  For many of them, there were some serious crises they had to endure, some painful experiences they’ve undergone, and they want to put it all behind them and forget that 2008 ever happened.  And it got me thinking.  Maybe the best way to start out this new year is by REALLY letting go of the troubles of last year.  And it may be as simple as the word “forgive”.

Some people really know how to hold on to a grudge.  It’s almost a badge of honor for them, or like an old scar they’re proud to show off.  Conversations regularly include some reminder of the wrong that was done to them — sometimes 1, 2, 5, or even 10 years ago, and often by people long gone out of their lives or even dead.  Yet the trace of bitterness remains.

To some extent, I think we’ve all had to deal with this in our own lives.  No one goes through life unscathed.  But moving into a happier new year means having to be able to just “Let it go”.

Usually this is easier said than done.  But for me, it’s become a deliberate exercise, something I continually have to work on.  The word “forgive” has so many goody-goody, holy attributes associated with it that I can’t seem to live up to.  I end up trying to rationalize the other person’s position so that I have a reason to forgive them, to help ease my own anger.  “Well, the reason they did this was because … so I guess I can understand that, and I can forgive them.”   But that really defeats the spirit of forgiveness.  And what if I can’t justify their position?

I have to remind myself of the core meaning of the word “forgive”: to release, let go.  In that simple sense, devoid of artificial “spiritual” baggage, it becomes a simple matter of choice, not feeling.  I “choose” to release the offense and the offender.  Not because they deserve it, not because their side is defensible, and not even because I feel like it.  I choose to let it go because Jesus wants me to let it go, and because it’ll only hurt ME if I hold on to it.  I let it go so I can move on.

This probably sounds really basic, but for me it was a great revelation.  It’s a choice.  You just let it go as an act of your will, not because you feel holy.  And when the feelings of anger or hurt come back (you may never actually forget the injury), you just remind yourself, “I’ve already released that,” and move on.  Sometimes it takes several remindings, but eventually I am able to put something behind me and not let it effect my relationship with the person who hurt me.

It’s an on-going effort, to be sure.  But forgiveness is at the core of our faith.  If we can’t do this, I wonder how we’ll ever grow.  If we want to move into this great new year of change and blessing, we need to learn to move beyond the painful past.  We need to learn to just “let it go.”