A Biblical Response to Life Difficulty
- The Scriptures are not telling us to exalt and rejoice in spite of our bad feelings, but rather that joy and exaltation are the expected emotional response to difficulty when we know the truth in our hearts.
- Jesus’ emotional response to his enduring injustice, evil treatment and false accusation is what it looks like to abide in the truth in the midst of life difficulty.
- Trying to conform our behavior to match the truth is not the same as our being transformed by it. Trying hard to act like Jesus and mimic His behavior is not the same as allowing God to transform us into His likeness by the truth.
- When we feel “bad”, it is not because we do not have the fruit available to us, but rather, because of what we believe that runs contrary to the truth that would otherwise produce this fruit.
- The crux of TPM is about understanding what God is doing to refine us and learning how we can participate in His handiwork, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
What Does the Bible Say
Concerning the trials, difficulties, persecutions, and tribulations we might encounter, the Scriptures clearly declare that we should “Consider it all JOY when we encounter various trials…”, “…EXALT in our tribulations…” and “REJOICE in the Lord ALWAYS…” So then, if feeling bad is our normal response to when bad things happen, then something is amiss. I do not believe that the Scriptures are telling us to exalt and rejoice in spite of our bad feelings, but rather that joy and exaltation are the expected emotional response to difficulty when we know the truth in our hearts and and are living in it.
It would seem important for us to figure out what the reason is for this disconnect. Before we do, it might be helpful to establish what a normal response might be to life’s adversities. The truth is, there has only been one normal person to have ever walked upon the earth. All others are somewhat abnormal.
Jesus Provides the Perfect Model
Jesus was the only “normal” person to have ever lived on this earth. He provides the perfect model of normality by the way He responded when He encountered the difficulties of life. Most people would probably say that on the day the Lord was crucified he was having a very bad day. He was being falsely accused, tortured and mistreated, despised and rejected. Even though he was being unjustly treated, the Scriptures says, “Like a sheep He was led to the slaughter and like a Lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opens not His mouth.” (Acts 8:32). Jesus did not express any hostility toward His torturers. He did not react with anger, fear, anxiety, stress, or any other lie-based emotion. Instead, He operated from the truth and forgave those who abused Him, attended to the needs of His mother, and offered grace to the thief hanging beside Him.
Jesus operated in perfect truth and thus, provided us a look at what doing so should look like emotionally. Because of the “…JOY set before Him that He endured the cross…” (Heb 12:2)
Even though Jesus provided us with a perfect model, it is not one that we can emulate through self-effort or working at it. Our best effort in performance will fall short; always. Jesus’ emotional response was an outcome of the abiding truth He possessed and not by way of willpower or effort. He was naturally experiencing and expressing the fruit of the Holy Spirit without effort. This is what God desires for each of us. Too often we expend much energy trying to perform the fruit rather than “bearing” it. (Col. 1:10)
So then, how do we reach the place where what we feel matches the truth? The short answer is, in the same way that Jesus did; the abiding truth. If we are in Christ, then we possess all we need. Those who are in Christ possess the Holy Spirit (that is those who are partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and therefore, Christ lives within them. Since we possess His Spirit, we have all of the same fruit available to us that was available to Jesus. God has given us everything there is to be given in Christ when He “… blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ…” (Eph. 1:3) If we do not possess His Spirit then we do not belong to Him and are not born of God and are still separate from God, lost in our sins (Rom. 8:9). So since we possess Christ, then why do we not live and respond as He did?
Conforming or Being Conformed
What we are talking about here is experiencing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s fruit is a natural and expected by-product of the Holy Spirit transforming us and changing us into the very image of Christ. When Christ is allowed to live His life in and through us, we are experiencing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is an expected outcome of knowing the truth in our heart.
When our heart belief (faith) is pure, we will walk in it without effort. It does not take any more effort to walk in the truth than it does to walk in lies. It is the same process. The struggle ensues when our heart belief runs contrary to the biblical truth we know intellectually. This is being double-minded.
Most Bible students are very familiar with the passage that says, “… God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) From this passage we understand that God uses the bad things that come our way to work for our good (a good reason for why we should rejoice in our troubles –that is if we believe this). However, the verse that follows this one is less familiar, but discloses and defines the “good” that God is causing to come about. The verse says, “… For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” (Rom. 8:29) This is the arena where the fruit is made known.
A common mistake some people make when trying to apply this passage is attempting to bring it about through willpower and self-effort. When this is the case, we are trying to do the fruit as opposed to “bearing” it. Too often we try to conform ourselves to the truth as opposed to allowing the truth to conform us into His image. Conforming our behavior to match the truth is not the same as being transformed by it. There is a major difference between the two. We try too hard to act like Jesus and mimic His behavior as opposed to allowing God to transform us into His likeness by the truth. These are two very different concepts.
The fruit of His Spirit should be a natural outflow of Christ living His life in and through us (Gal. 2:20). The listing of the fruit in Galatians chapter five is not a “To-Do” list that we need to somehow perform, but an expected outcome of possessing the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to produce His fruit in and through us. If we are not experiencing the fruit, then there is a problem. The solution to this problem is not in us trying harder to do it.
Jesus responded to the bad things that happened to him with love, joy, peace, patience, compassion, forgiveness, gentleness, kindness, faith, and self control. He was exhibiting all of the same fruit that we possess because we are the dwelling place of God’s Spirit (Rom. 5:5) So when we feel “bad”, it is not because we do not have the fruit available to us, but rather, because of what we believe that runs contrary to the truth that would otherwise produce this fruit.
If we use Jesus as our standard, we see that no persons or things can make us feel anything at any time. We feel what we believe in the moment. This is why we must choose to “… fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb 12:2-3) He did not respond badly to the sinners who treated Him unjustly, so then, why do we? Belief.
Not Minimizing Others’ Poor Behavior
We are not minimizing or excusing other people’s unjust behavior. What they do may indeed be sinful and wrong, but how we respond to what they do is directly determined by what we believe. When we know the truth, we will feel what the truth feels like. However, if we are interpreting others’ behavior through lie-based core belief, we will feel what the lie feels like. There is no other option since this is how God designed our minds to work. To the degree that we choose to make others and our situation the reason we feel what we do, we will remain in perpetual bondage to the lies we believe.
There is need to clarify this somewhat more before we move on. It may be true that what a person has done was evil, unjust and totally inappropriate. But how we respond emotionally may not be based upon the truth. Our interpretation is completely unrelated to the other person’s behavior and or intent. Our emotional response is totally determined upon what we believe and not what is happening. Someone may say, “But it is true that what they did to me was wrong and it is true that I feel ________.” Yes, this statement is true, but it is not a justification for what I feel if my emotion is rooted in lies.
Our perfect model still stands before us. What evil men did to Jesus the day He was crucified was unjust, evil and wrong. Nonetheless, Jesus response was based upon the truth He held in His heart. Because He knew the truth from His Father’s vantage point, He submitted to His Father’s will. Jesus was able to “endure the cross while despising its shame” because of “…the joy set before Him…” (Heb. 12:2). He experienced the fruit of joy in the midst of a very unjust and difficult situation. This is God’s will for us as well.
A Hard Principle to Embrace
This is a hard principle, and probably the one most difficult for people new to TPM to fully embrace. However, if indeed we feel what we feel because of what has happened to us through the behavior of others or life itself, then there is no place for freedom unless those around us change what they are doing or life changes for us. This is not likely ever going to happen. Our changing others or our situation is also not probable.
It is true, if we interpret our circumstances with a lie-based belief, then our emotional state will match that belief (fear, anxiety, stress, etc.) and we will be driven to an inappropriate response. There is no avoiding this reality since it is a God created mental process. It is how we are wired to function. I will interpret each new situation from the reservoir of belief I hold; both truth and lies. The belief that is drawn upon in each new life experience will bring with it its own corresponding emotion. Anxious belief feels anxious; fearful belief produces fear; shameful belief produces shame. It is really a straightforward process. In the same fashion, truth produces joy, peace, hope, confidence, absurdness, and all of the fruits of the Spirit. We can try to suppress our emotion, deny what we think and feel, choose to “obey”, and attempt to do the right thing, but what we believe in our hearts (core belief) will eventually find its way to the top.
Some negative emotions are believed to be beneficial and are thought to serve us in some manner. These emotions tend to fall in the “anger family.” When we feel angry toward someone it is usually because the anger is accomplishing something for us such as keeping us safe, holding someone accountable, maintaining control, punishing someone, etc. All of these reasons for being angry are supported by belief as well. When we know the truth about our anger we will discover as James the Apostle declared, “… the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God …” (Jam. 1:20).
As long as we believe that our pain is because of something outside ourselves, freedom can only come to us if our world changes. This freedom lasts only as long as the world decides to accommodate us. The truth is, there is no place of freedom for us as long as we choose to remain a victim. The good news is we can choose to shed the victim role and take personal responsibility for what we feel. Emotion is rooted in belief, and belief can be changed. However, the kind of change described here is not a change that we can accomplish ourselves. It is a change that only God can bring about through Him renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2).
We can cooperate with God in His mind renewal process and expedite what He is trying to accomplish, or we can resist the very process through which He is trying to refine us and hinder what He is doing. The crux of this entire ministry is about understanding what God is doing to refine us and learning how we can participate in His handiwork, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
Application in Life
Let’s say we find ourselves stuck in traffic, questioned by the boss, or confronted by an angry spouse; when this happens our minds automatically interpret the situation based upon our core beliefs. This is how God designed our minds to work. Whatever we experientially believe about our identity, value, purpose, our relationship with God, the current situation, or our state of being, all contribute to this interpretation. These beliefs are our heart or core beliefs.
For example, if my boss walks up and hands me a heavily corrected and marked up copy of the paperwork I had turned in for his approval, my core belief will likely be activated. In that moment my mind will interpret his actions and evoke the “predictable and proper” response from what I believe at the core level. If my belief is that “I am a failure and can’t do anything right because I am a defect,” then I will feel disappointed, discouraged, beat-down and depressed. I may in turn react with anger, make excuses, or I may run and hide in the bathroom, or go to the break room and eat several candy bars from the vending machine. All of this would be my “solution” to protect and defend myself from how this belief makes me feel.
However, if I know the truth of who I am in Christ (in my heart), I will view his criticism as a benefit and an opportunity for growth and will maintain my peace. Proverbs says it this way, “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you.” (Pro. 9:8)