Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

Many sincere Christians are hampered in their spiritual life by weights that drag them down even as they want to run ahead with zeal and earnestness. Sometimes they are perplexed because they do not understand what is holding them back even though they sincerely want to move forward.

One such weight is what comes from sinful behaviours we are not willing to give up or which have become habits through long term practice, and it hinders us when we want to run (Heb.12:1). In some cases, it is just a matter of recognising those sins and deciding to give them up. But it may be that some sin has come to have such a strong hold over the mind that it seems practically impossible to just let go.

Switching the metaphor from running a race to fighting a battle, we see the apostle Paul referring to ‘fortresses’ or ‘strongholds’ that need to be destroyed if we are to overcome in the battle (2Cor.10:2-5). From Paul’s mention of “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and … taking every thought captive,” we can see that these strongholds are in our mind. We can also note how Paul talks about how Satan is trying to lead us astray ‘in our mind’ (2Cor.11:3). And it is only natural that he explains that it is by the ‘renewal of our mind’ that we can get to understand the will of God in an increasingly clearer way and actually become able to do it (Rom.12:2).

There are different ways in which these strongholds get built up. It could be as simple as following traditions and cultural beliefs that have been passed on by our parents which cause us to have biases and prejudices about people, religion and other things. We may not realise how strongly these can influence our life and how unwilling we may be to give them up. On the other end of the spectrum of strongholds it could be a demonic oppression or even possession.

In the middle of the spectrum lie the strongholds that have developed in life because of painful experiences we have gone through in life, including those in our childhood. It could be that we were not loved or accepted by our parents because we were not expected or wanted at that particular time, or we were not according to their expectations in things such as our sex, skin colour, appearance, etc. Missing to satisfy our basic need to be loved and accepted by others, we may have developed a craving for attention and affection because of which we run after it in foolish and hurtful ways even later on in life. Perhaps our parents have demanded perfection from us and we felt we could never measure up, leaving us with a sense of not being good enough. They may have cursed us and told us we were going to be failures, compared us with our siblings and made us feel that we were inferior, or even abused us verbally or physically. Some other people get bullied in school or made fun of in a humiliating way. This type of experiences could be diverse, but they all tend to make us feel small, powerless, incapable and doomed to failure.

Our poor opinion of ourselves becomes a stronghold in our mind and shapes every aspect of our life. However much we try to shake off such thoughts, they hold on to us because such memories were the building blocks on which our life itself developed. We may have given up on ourselves, we may have developed a strategy of keeping to ourselves and withdrawing from opportunities for fear of failure, or we may have become aggressively determined to show everybody who we really are and what we can do. Most often, we are not even conscious of what has gone wrong in our lives and what wrong strategies we are adopting to cope.

It sometimes happens in teenage years or even later that we may get disillusioned with God. Perhaps our prayer was not answered, why He did not protect us or a loved one from some calamity, or some philosophical question such as why the Almighty God does not eliminate evil from the world. This issue may have become such a big point in our mind that our whole life gets turned in a destructive direction. But it takes such a strong hold of our mind that explanations do not get in at all.

It is the knowledge of the truth that can set us free (Jn.8:32). It was to set people free from all such ruinous strongholds that Jesus came (Lk.4:18,19). In this context, truth includes knowing how it came about that we have come into bondage, and what we really are in God’s eyes, which is ultimately the only thing that really matters. When we realise that what we have been thinking about who and what we are is based only on what people and circumstances have made us believe and not what we really are, half our deliverance has come! The key is to understand and believe that what we are is essentially about what God says about us and not what people say or what we ourselves believe.

It is thus that renewal starts – it begins with clarity in understanding from God’s word about what we are in His sight and what we are meant to be. Then we go on to rejecting our previous assumptions about ourselves and our situations, by getting our views based on God’s truths. Sometimes we can get into this transformation directly by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us, and sometimes we may find it practical to get help from someone else who understands us, such as a counsellor, to guide us along the way.

For example, someone who imagined that he was doomed to be a failure in life because that was what his father had told him when he was a young boy, now realises that this was a falsehood. He understands that God had a plan for him even before he was born (Psa.139:16). He stops comparing himself with others and seeks to know and fulfil God’s plan for his life. He realises that, as long as he lives before God and His approval is upon his life, he does not have to bother about what others think or talk about him. He finds out that God values him so much that His Son came to atone for his sins and to make him a child of God, and that his real value does not depend on what people attribute to him. He realises that his stature, skin colour, shape, level of intelligence, etc., which people look upon to evaluate him, are not the real factors that matter but how much God values him. As he goes along this path, his life which used to be a string of failures turns into a tale of success and blessings.

Are there such strongholds in your mind that have spoiled your life so far? Come to God through His word and see what He thinks about you and what His plans are for you. We can be absolutely sure that His plans for us are only for our welfare and not at all for any calamity (Jer.29:11). Satan has deceived us and kept us in many forms of bondage, but Jesus has come to set us free.

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, October 2018

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