Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

It is our thoughts—what we think about things that happen to us—that cause us to feel in a certain way about those things. If these feelings are strong enough they motivate us to do something or take action to deal with the situation. What we do—whether it is good or bad—is decided by what we thought about the things that happened to us or the people who did them to us.

So salvation starts with changing the way we think—about God, people and things. When we realise we are sinners in the sight of God and that we deserve to be punished for our sins, we feel sorry for our sins and fearful about the punishment that is coming for us. Then we repent—go to God saying how sorry we are for our sins and ask Him to help us to live a life that is pleasing to Him—and receive forgiveness from God believing that Jesus has taken our punishment when He died on the cross. Then God gives us a new heart (regeneration), and begins to write His laws upon our hearts and minds (Jer.31:33). In other words, we are born again.

After this comes the process known as sanctification, by which we are to be increasingly set free from the sinful ways in which we have been living and transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom.8:28,29). In essence, this means to bear more and more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal.5:22,23). How does this work? Through the renewing of our minds—beginning with the thoughts—and which results in our speech and behaviour too (Rom.12:2). We get help for this renewal as we replace our old ways of thinking with what God says in His word (1Pet.2:2).

In this connection, it is helpful for us to get some insight into what goes on in our thoughts. From the time we are born into this world, we pass through different experiences, all of which leave memories in our head. Even though much of these memories pass off into the unconscious part of our mind and we are normally unable to remember them, the fact is that all of them have a part to play in how we think now, how we feel and how we behave. A child who has been trained by godly parents has a great advantage over another one who was neglected or abused by his parents, in terms of being able to think and do the right things (Prov.22:6).

In general, all of us have gone through some good and some bad experiences and through different types of situations in life. For example, let us think of how we learnt under the pressure of a coming examination to work hard and to give our studies priority during that period. But we have also had situations when we thought that we needed to slow down and relax.

Let us imagine that now we are facing a situation where we have to meet some target by a certain time. Now we face two compulsions in our mind coming from our past experience. One compulsion tells us that we need to forget about everything else and reach the target somehow within the appointed time. But we also face an opposing compulsion that tells us we should not weary ourselves out but relax for some time by enjoying some pastime.

Both these compulsions have their valid reasoning and logic. Both are aiming for something good for us. Which one of these should we follow? We cannot do both at the same time, and we have to choose one of them now.

At the same time we must also recognise that all of us have a part of our personality which we are born with, such as being an introvert or an extrovert (both with further subdivisions possible), which we refer to as our temperament. Our temperament also influences the choices we make when we are faced with choices like the one above. For example, one who has a tendency to get things done immediately will have a leaning towards choosing the option of working hard and meeting the target quickly. Another person who has a temperamental tendency to be ‘efficient’ by not doing anything now that can be done later (!) will tend to choose the second option to relax and enjoy life before taking up the work of meeting the target.

In practice, it is not possible to lay down a rule that option one or two must be taken up every time. Other factors related to the situation must also be considered before we can make the choice. For example, the person who naturally feels like getting right into work may be tired at present, and he must assess if a little relaxation at first will take away his tiredness and help him to do his task better afterwards. The other person who would by nature like to relax must take into account the possibility that if he did that he might not have enough time to be able to complete the task well. Wisdom is to be able to make the right choice for each situation on a case by case basis.

Now, in practice we may need to expand from two pockets of our memory to several, which are all clamouring for our attention and asking us to override all other ideas. We must recognise that even though all of them can appear to be good for us from their own point of view, and all of them have their reason to present to us, it is our responsibility to choose the best among them for action now. In making that choice, we will have to override several options and even our own temperamental inclination.

Add to this the fact that what God tells us to do may be different from all our past experiences. But, of course, He is all-knowing and all-wise, and it is better to do what He tells us rather than to lean on our own understanding (Prov.3:5,6). The other thing is that He is our God and His wish is our command.

We can see also how foolish it is to just do whatever we may feel like doing at any time.

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