Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

Evangelists sometimes come across this response from people, "Our forefathers and we have always followed this," meaning that if it was good enough for the ancestors, it must be adequate for them too. But if we think about it we can easily understand that this is an illogical approach towards life, making the assumption that our parents had all the information they needed or that they could not have made any mistake. Where have we acquired our prejudices and biases towards other people? Most probably, we got them passed on from our parents! Yet, we follow religious and social traditions and practices blindly without questioning!

It is a fact that our life has been moulded, to a sizeable extent, by all that we have experienced in life. We see in ourselves today the result of many things such as what we have imitated from our parents or other significant people in our life, what we have been directly taught by parents and teachers, and the good and painful experiences we have gone through and then interpreted rightly or wrongly within the limitations of our understanding. For example, we may deal with our spouse in the same way we have seen our parents do, or treat our children in the way our parents treated us. Or we may react so strongly to some things we have experienced from our parents that we swing to the opposite extreme without keeping a balance! If our parents have been very demanding towards us, we may be the same towards our children, or we may be very lenient towards our children as a reaction. Some parents have been foolish enough, in their frustration, to tell the children they were never going to succeed in life, and the children may have believed it because they did not have the ability to understand that the parents did not really mean it. But now this idea may control them in the way they handle different challenges in their life. When parents disciplined children out of their love, the children may have misunderstood it and imagined that they did not love them, and that impression now affects many of their attitudes towards other people and situations.

If our parents have been those who have made the effort to train us in the ways of the Lord right from our childhood (Prov.22:6), there is a lot in our life that we can be thankful for. If we have come to the experience of being born again, we have the privilege of being under a Wonderful Counsellor and Teacher, who constantly leads us increasingly to the truth and sets us free from things that are wrong in our make-up. However, we must remember that even if we 'certify' our parents as 'the Best Parents In The World', they were not really perfect and they would not have done everything well (we are not perfect either!). If we want to do right, we need to learn from their mistakes too.

There are also many people who have grown up in 'dysfunctional' families where they have not experienced the love and affection we all desire. Even when parents 'loved' their children and showered gift after gift upon them, but were too busy to show their affection by spending their time with the children and getting involved in their lives, what the children now carry with them is some kind of dysfunction. Other children have gone through abuse or neglect to different levels that has greatly warped their outlook on life. These types of problems are only becoming increasingly common even in Christian families.

As a result, there can be a lot of accumulated baggage from the past that people are carrying now, which hinders them from moving forward as they ought to, from God's point of view and according to their own desires.

Whichever state we are in in our life, we must recognise the fact that in every one of us there are many things that are unlike Christ, which need to be changed. It is not only in the things we do or the way we behave that we need this change, but also in the way we think and the motives behind all that we do in life. It is not enough to have a good name before people, but also to grow towards becoming more and more aligned to the way God thinks, feels and makes decisions. Isn't that the real meaning of 'becoming like Christ'?

On God's part, what He has determined to do is to put away the old things in our life and make us completely new (2Cor.5:17). But just because He has planned it this way, it does not mean that it happens automatically in our life. When He wants to make that true in the practical situations of our life, we have to cooperate with Him. For that to start, when we say we want to become like Jesus, we have to first of all admit that we are not like Him. Without this admission being clear to us in our deepest being as a result of observing ourselves in different practical details of our life as the Holy Spirit speaks to us, we will not be pursuing after becoming like Him. We may then satisfy ourselves by looking at what people think about us or what we think about our 'ministry'. But when we 'behold' the Lord, as we read and meditate on His word, we can humble ourselves and see where we are actually different from Him (2Cor.3: 18). His word can penetrate into the hidden areas of our life and show us where we are going wrong in our thoughts and intentions of our heart (Heb.4:12,13). Then we can see for ourselves the particular areas of our life, where we are not like Christ which we now have to deal with, instead of taking shelter behind a general statement that we are not like Him!

A modern trend is to avoid looking at problems and to focus on 'positive' things and to take a positive outlook on life. This has percolated into most areas of life including Christian preaching where it is called 'faith', giving people a false optimism which will ultimately fail. The baggage from the past is real and not imaginary, and we cannot just wish it away or ignore it. We need to deal with it and overcome it deliberately. A general act of putting the past behind us is not going to be sufficient to remove all its effects because many things of the past have become practices we blindly follow, some have formed thought patterns in our mind which we follow automatically when we are triggered by some event, without being consciously aware of them, and some have even caused us to form (wrong) strategies for dealing with the challenges of life. These responses we have developed over the years need to be replaced by godly attitudes and behaviour that God wants to give us from His word.

One thing that most commonly hinders us from going forward in this work of cleansing is an unhealthy focus on the faults that we see in others. It is difficult to see the 'log' in our own eye when we are looking earnestly at the 'specks' in the others' eyes. We need to first take out the log in our own eyes.

Isn't it necessary for us to be consciously involved in this transformation? Isn't it good for us to ask the Holy Spirit to show us wherever we are wrong – in our thoughts, attitudes, motives and deeds – and allow Him to mould us into the image of Christ? Whether something is a tradition in our family, church, community or society, is it not prudent to ask ourselves if it is healthy for a godly life? Even if we have been doing certain things 'all our life', is it not good to ask ourselves this question based on the word of God?

One common mistake that many Christians make is to assume that once they come to Christ, He will do the entire work in their lives to make them like Christ, misquoting verses such as "Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord" (Exod.14:13). Much as He wishes to transform us, He will not do it without our willingness and cooperation. So He tells us to ask, seek and knock. "Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you" (Matt.7:7 Amplified Bible). We will do this only if we want it desperately. Then we will also be willing to do whatever He tells us, even if it means denying ourselves.

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, March, 2019

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