The devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape. – William Shakespeare, Hamlet
If I may, let me be blunt: Christians don’t like to talk about the devil. Oh we might say we’re comfortable addressing “spiritual warfare,” but what does that actually look like? We usually resort to saying something like:
a) God is in control and all-powerful, so let’s not focus on Satan’s attacks.
b) Spiritual warfare is everywhere, and the Enemy can attacks Christians with everything from a flat tire to a life-threatening illness.
c) Spiritual warfare is more a matter of the heart rather than a tangible reality.
d) The list goes on…
While all of these responses have some elements of truth, they miss the main point: Spiritual warfare is a battle of the mind, and as Christians our response is simply to stand. Rather than fight, cower or simply ignore the spiritual battles around us, we are called to stand our ground, equipped with the Armor of God. In the sixth section of Theodyssey called “Contend,” David Smith reviews the six different pieces that make up the Armor of God (see Ephesians 6:10-18), and he shows how each piece is vital to protecting our minds against the Enemy’s lies, accusations and fear.
My Theodyssey group had been planning a weekend retreat for months and while on the retreat, we would be reviewing the Contend section. I was pumped! But life changed when I got a horrible case of the flu the week before the retreat and found myself too sick to join everyone. Coincidence that I had to miss a weekend with my closest friends, talking about life and faith and God, in a cabin in the mountains?! Maybe. That’s not necessarily spiritual warfare; instead, the battle is what goes on in my mind because I had to miss the retreat. Here’s how I was able to use the Armor of God in that moment:
- The Belt of Truth: The belt of truth protects us against the lies the Enemy tells us about ourselves and about God. We need to secure God’s truth around our lives to uproot these lies and accusations. When I realized that I had to miss the retreat, I started recognizing certain familiar lies popping up in my mind: “Now you won’t fit in to the group. You’ll be left behind. Everyone else will receive healing except for you.” So, I had to choose to believe God’s truth: “God protects me, cares for me and wants what is best for me. God’s power in my life is what will heal me. God has given me this community and will help us stay unified.”
- The Breastplate of Righteousness: When we talk about righteousness, we are referring to our identity in Christ. Through Christ, we have a right standing before God, meaning that God has made us holy, blameless and free of condemnation. Where the Enemy would want to us to believe that we are unworthy or that we must earn our own salvation, putting on the breastplate reminds us that we have been redeemed. I was tempted to believe that by missing the retreat, I would have to work extra hard to find the healing that the rest of my group experienced, that somehow I was behind the game. But, God reminded me that he is the one working in and through me, and he has already made me righteous in his sight.
- Sandals of the Gospel of Peace: In order to understand this piece of the armor, it helps to understand that the “Gospel of Peace” is the Good News that we have peace with God and that he has given us the opportunity to journey with him. From this place of peace, we can move forward with confidence and courage. If I had responded out of my fear and anxiety, I would have gone on the retreat to make sure I didn’t miss out on anything. However, choosing to walk with God meant taking care of myself, resting and trusting that God would still accomplish his purposes in me.
- Shield of Faith: The shield of faith helps us resist the temptation to place our faith in ourselves, others or circumstances. When the urge arises to trust in something temporal, we need our faith in God eternal and the work he has already done on our behalf. I certainly had (and still do have) the temptation to place my faith in the Theodyssey process, rather than in the One who created this process. My group, the retreat, the homework- all have been agents of healing and growth, yet my faith must rest in God alone.
- Helmet of Salvation: By placing the helmet of salvation on our heads, we are reminding ourselves of the hope we have in Christ. Instead of focusing only on our present circumstances and challenges, we can shift our perspective to one of the future in which God is always at work and always in control. Ultimately, we can have hope that things will not always be this way. I may have been sick and missed the retreat, yet God is moving and working in my heart through these struggles and drawing me closer to him.
- Sword of Truth: Finally, we have the sword of truth, which is perhaps the most pointed and personal piece of the armor. When Paul described this type of sword, he was referring to one that was used for very immediate, personal and close-contact defense. There are instances of spiritual warfare where the Enemy will use extremely pointed lies that attack specific weaknesses, and the believer needs to renounce those lies and affirm truths that directly oppose them. The Enemy used my fears of being rejected in many of the lies he told me about missing the retreat, so I had to grasp onto God’s truths of acceptance and unconditional love.
In the battle for your mind, take heart- you have been equipped and you have been called to stand. And ultimately, you are protected by One who loves you with a fierce devotion and will never leave you. Standing with you…
You have your identity when you find out, not what you can keep your mind on, but what you can’t keep your mind off. – Archie Ammons
Time for another Harry Potter life lesson.
Harry is sitting on the Hogwarts Express for the first time, minutes after departing on a journey that will change his life forever. The train rushes forward, black smoke billowing all around, family and friends waving to the young students bound for their first year at Hogwarts School:
“Harry watched the girl and her mother disappear as the train rounded the corner. Houses flashed past the window. Harry felt a great leap of excitement. He didn’t know where he was going to- but it had to be better than what he was leaving behind.”
Have you ever reached a point in your life where things have got to change, where anything has got to be better than what you have right now? Maybe it’s time to get unstuck.
The halfway point in my Theodyssey journey came with the section entitled “Excavation” and I dug up some pretty painful insights. But, the digging was so necessary for me to uproot many of the core beliefs, attitudes and perspectives I had that were keeping me trapped.
The first part focused on identifying and removing the obstacles that keep us stuck in our old, stale ways of living. The most daunting obstacle in my path was my failure to accept myself. Over the course of my 29 years of life, I had come to believe that somehow I could never measure up. This belief had been formed by different circumstances, experiences, people, words and assumptions. David Smith asks, “What experiences, memories, situations, or people have the power to dictate my sense of self-worth? To whom have I given the power to be the ‘sayer’ of who I am?” Tough questions.
Take that core belief, and add on “the four rules.” Essentially, everyone comes in contact with these four rules at some point in their life and they stifle, constrict and invalidate the person you were made to be. They are:
- Don’t think what you want to think; thing what we want you to think.
- Don’t feel what you want to feel; feel what we want you to feel.
- Don’t say what you want to say; say what we want you to say.
- Don’t do what you want to do; do what we want you to do.
Have you ever obeyed one of the four rules? If you’re like me, you’ve encountered all of them at least once in your life and realize how painfully oppressing they can be. They force us to be something other than who we truly are and slowly, very insidiously, we find ourselves acting, thinking and existing in ways that we never wanted. But we’re too stuck to change.
So how do we move from a place of feeling trapped, to joining Harry on the train to Hogwarts and to something better than we’re leaving behind? We have to let go.
For me, my freedom came by releasing my unforgiveness and my deep shame. As I worked through this section, I realized that I was holding on to unforgiveness and shame because they protected me: unforgiveness protected me from those who had hurt me with their four rules, and shame protected me from the reality of feeling imperfect. I thought I was protected; in reality, I was frozen. I had created these false barriers around myself, and God invited me to gently let my walls down so he could replace them with his mercy and strength.
He taught me that forgiveness is not about forgetting, it’s not about excusing and it’s certainly not about putting up with ongoing hurtful behavior. As David Smith writes, it’s about “releasing the offender to God and trusting him to accomplish his purposes in their life…Forgiveness is between us and Jesus, not the one who hurt us…It is something we do for the sake of our own souls.”
And he taught me that shame is not about being perfect, it’s not about high expectations and it’s certainly not about cleaning up my mess before God can love me. Instead, it’s about “accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives [as] the beginning of spirituality, not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws, but because we let go of seeking perfection and instead seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives.”
Are you ready to find something better than what you’re leaving behind?
Truth, Lie, Response
You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see, but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel. – Anonymous
When I was about 10 or 11, one of my favorite board games was “Dream Phone.” If you’re not familiar with this game (either because you are older than me, or a male), here’s the gist: there is a game board with pictures of fictional (and very attractive) guys, and you have to figure out which one “likes” you. At the center of the board rests a huge, plastic, pink phone, with which you make calls and get anonymous tips that clue you in as to who is digging you. Slowly, through the process of elimination, you cross Ryan, Jake and many others off your list, praying that the nerd Ted isn’t the “one.” I played this game for hours.
Why am I sharing with you about my young dating career? Because this is a perfect example of how often, and how innocently, we internalize messages about ourselves that aren’t necessarily true.
Let me expand on this to make my point a bit clear. Here’s how a simple game like Dream Phone can plant a harmful seed in a young mind: Some guy out there likes me. The goal of this “game” is to collect hints, make assumptions and use all of my brainpower to figure out who is my mystery date. If cute guy Steve likes me, then clearly I’m a winner. If it’s the nerdy/unattractive/unappealing guy, then I’m devastated…because the cute one didn’t choose me. Suddenly, attraction, relationships and emotions are reduced to a board of faces and a large pink phone.
For many of us, our distorted thinking comes from experiences and memories much more severe than a simple game of Dream Phone. Along the course of life, we’ve learned to believe false, shaming, debilitating messages about ourselves. These could originate from childhood, a former boss or work environment, a toxic relationship, the media…the options are endless. What they all have in common is that they leave us feeling awful about ourselves, fearful about life and only a fraction of the people God created us to be.
In the fourth section of Theodyssey titled “Godwalking,” we explored seven different themes associated with spiritual growth. The one that stuck with me the most was Identity. Hear what David Smith has to say about how these negative beliefs affect our identity:
“Living our lives by default means that we simply allow these inner thoughts and emotions to swirl about unnoticed, and thus we let them shape our identity by default…Unless they are noticed and identified for what they are, they settle into the core of who we are, and, in effect, create our very nature.”
Before we know what happened, we assume that all of the horrible messages we’ve been told are actually true.
So what do we do? The best solution that I’ve experienced is the Lie/Truth/Response chart outlined in this Godwalking section. Using a three-columned chart, we were instructed to identify some of the harshest lies we believe. Then, for every lie, we would write out one truth found in God’s Word that would completely negate the lie. Finally, we would write a statement in which we would consciously choose the truth. This may have been the most important step in the whole process. Oftentimes, we have to purposefully choose the truth because we’ve become really comfortable believing the lies.
Walking through this process was challenging, liberating, painful and exciting. Some of the lies I wrote down were old standbys; others were new and cut to the core of my being. They hit on every sore spot I can imagine. But, that made the truth so much sweeter. I wrote verse after verse about God’s unconditional love, his kindness as a Father, his overwhelming grace and the freedom he gives.
Above all else, I realized that I am wanted, fought for, purchased, treasured…and chosen…by the God of the universe.
Take that, Dream Phone.
God is not who you think he is; he is who he says he is. – Clairice Fluitt
I have heard it said that the most important thing about a person is what he or she believes about God. What we believe about God directly affects how we think, act, relate and behave, and oftentimes our beliefs are really distorted. The third section of Theodyssey focused on the beliefs and images that we hold about God, specifically looking at how we relate to God as Father. If the most important thing about me is what I believe about God, then perhaps that was why this section was so challenging and transformational – it completely changed what I believe about God.
When I finally got real with God, I had to admit that I had some very false images about him. Here are just a few: God is inconsistent and can’t be trusted. God will leave me hanging when I need him. God is withholding good things from me. God feels distant and is always disappointed with me. Can you relate to any of these? Or maybe add a few of your own? If this is how I picture and think about my Heavenly Father, then you can only imagine with I think of myself or how I live my life.
But one night in our group meeting, we reflected on this Scripture:
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’
Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.’” (John 14:6-10)
I think it’s very common for people to feel closer to Jesus, like he’s their “buddy” or friend or compassionate teacher. But God is a cold, distant, authoritative disciplinarian who doesn’t care if we’re hurting or in trouble. How do these two different pictures match up with Jesus’ words to Philip? Answer: they don’t.
Think about these words from Gregory Boyle: “Jesus spent his ministry freeing people from evil and misery. This is what God seeks to do…Jesus loved people others rejected- even people who rejected him. This is how God loves…And Jesus died on the cross of Calvary…This is how God saves” (Is God to Blame?).
See, we have known God all along.
I think God knew that we would struggle with distorted images of him, whether we developed those from relationships with our own fathers, false teachings we heard in church or other life circumstances. I believe that God graciously gave his son not only to save us, but also to show us who he really is. To show us that he can be trusted, that he loves us tremendously and unconditionally, that he longs to heal and help us. There really is nothing more important than that.
The second section of my Theodyseey journey was titled “Architexture”, which turned out to be an exploration of my identity, my life story and the perceptions that I hold of myself. You know, easy topics like those. I felt a little like a frog in Biology 101- my heart, mind and soul were being dissected and studied piece by piece, and I enjoyed looking at myself from several newangles.
The part I didn’t enjoy involved trains and lettuce.
The lettuce model is quite different. Rather than seeing spiritual growth (or
As my friends in Theodyssey could tell you, I clearly did not like this concept. In fact, when I was reading this section of the homework, I groaned out loud, put the book down and physically walked away from the text. I couldn’t stand it! I even wrote “uggghhhhh!” in my homework! Why would I want to be involved in such a messy, complex process when I would rather just move my caboose along one track?
What might have helped me was watching a little Harry Potter. In an effort to get myself pumped for the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (So I’m a nerd…so what?), I put on some of the older movies while doing work around the house. The Order of the Phoenix was on and I walked into the livingroom just in time to catch this powerful scene:
Harry is talking with his godfather, Sirius Black, and Harry is deeply concerned that he is becoming more and more like the evil Lord Voldemort. Harry says, “What if after everything that I’ve been through, something’s gone wrong inside me? What if I’m becoming bad?” Sirius answers, “I want you to listen to me very carefully, Harry. You’re not a bad person. You’re a very good person, who bad things have happened to…We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
I’ll challenge you with the same- what picture looks more appealing: the train or the lettuce? Are there parts of you that you would rather pass by on the train tracks? Or do you find freedom in accepting all of you, just as you are in this moment? Here’s the crazy thing: THAT is exactly how God sees you and me, and loves us in the midst of all that…
About a month and a half ago, I begin a seven month-long spiritual formation process called Theodyssey. A play-on-words between an epic “odyssey”, or journey, and “theodicy”, meaning the defense of God’s attributes, this program was designed to help people be transformed for the sake of others. The process involves weekly homework, daily reflection and journaling and time spent with a group of others, sharing thoughts and struggles and triumphs. Theodyssey is meant to challenge, inspire, encourage, refine and renew.
Basically, it gets up in your business.
I’ve been out of grad school for almost six months, and I was excited for a new journey. I have spent the past five years learning about myself, and my own story, from a clinical, therapeutic perspective, and now I’m looking at myself from a new perspective. I thought, “Sure, I’ve been through seminary. This will be an exciting, new challenge.”
Little did I know what was in store.
Since this blog has been a place for me to share about all that is going on in my life, I want to include my Theodyssey journey in that process. There are ten main sections to this process, so I’ll post a new blog about the most influential, challenging or impacting part of each section. I hope this encourages you as well. . .
“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” – St. Augustine
We all desire something in this life. Whether that is a specific job, a satisfying relationship, a promotion, or acceptance and validation, our hearts and souls long for something that we don’t have. In my mind, I had always believed that you have to work hard to get what you want. If you put in enough time, effort, research and training, you can achieve those goals and life is good.
Enter the comparison of the factory and the farmer.
In the first section of Theodyssey, the author describes two different approaches to growth, transformation and progress. The first is that of a factory- if you plan well and work hard, at the end of the day you will have a finished product. In sum, “success or failure depends upon us.”
Contrast this with the farmer approach- the farmer prepares the soil, removes any hindrances that could interfere with his crops, and waits. Oftentimes, all that he has to show for his work at the end of the day is a field that looks very much like it did the day before. Simply put, “All that a farmer can do is cultivate an environment where life can grow.”
This challenges everything I’ve believed about spiritual growth, or any other growth for that matter.
As I was working on this section of the homework, I realized that I get uncomfortable when I can’t control the results of my work. I just plain don’t like it. Farming seemed so passive, whereas factory work seemed energizing. But then I read this: “Being fruitful in the spiritual life involves the hard work of cultivating an interior environment where the mystery of Jesus can grow.”
Like I said, it gets up in your business.
Suddenly, I realized that I was missing the most important part of growth: letting God take control. There is such freedom in realizing that all I have to do is my part; all I have to do is create a space where desires can be planted and grown. I am not in charge of the results, only the environment for the harvest. Wow.
So I’ll challenge you with the same – where is your mindset in regards to growth and “success?” Do you place too much responsibility on yourself to produce results, and could you find more freedom in changing your perspective? Could you do more farming and less factory work? My prayer is that God would give us all grace and strength to continue cultivating…