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Some thoughts on your 'personal problems'

This is a long one but I won't be posting for a while so read at your leisure...

 

crisis1) This is the occasion for change not the reason for change.

It's great if you've come to some sort of crisis moment.  It's good that you want to change.  But you ought to know that this is the struggle of your life. 

I don't mean: This is the struggle of your life.  I mean: This is the struggle of your life.  Welcome.

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Struggle2) If you're not struggling, you're losing.  Or worse, you're not even a Christian.

Christians struggle.  We are the product of two births.  Our flesh is from Adam, our Spirit from Christ.  If you're not struggling then you're simply gratifying the cravings of your flesh (however respectable you may look).  And perhaps you don't even have the Spirit.  Let the comfortable be disturbed.  And let the strugglers be comforted - your battle is a sign of the Spirit's work. 

 

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 Fruitful-Tree3) If you are struggling, you have a Power within you to live new creation life.

If Christ is in you, you have the power that called forth the universe and He is determined to bring supernatural change.  Mark 4 comes to mind - the power of Christ's word can and will produce 30, 60, 100-fold growth but of course it will be as gradual and organic as the growth of a seed.  Nonetheless this is what you are aiming for - not simply the correction of some annoying habits but the transformation of your character through Christ's word.  Be encouraged by your struggle - it means that an other-worldly Power is at work and will transform you in ways you can only begin to imagine.

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prodigal son3  4) Your righteousness is entirely outside and above you.

These problems do not define you.  Your success at handling these problems does not define you.  Christ defines you. We don't say 'My name's Glen and I'm an alcoholic' (or insert your problem of choice).  We say 'My name's Glen and I'm a saint clothed in Christ... I also happen to struggle with...'  We don't struggle for but struggle from freedom.

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community5) You must deal with this struggle in community

All the real action happens outside of you.  You need the word of life to come from outside.  As Bonhoeffer says 'The Christ in the word of a brother is stronger than the Christ in my heart.'  At the same time you need to put words to your darkness and, again, bring it outside.  Sin thrives in the dark, you must bring it into the light.  1 John 1:5-10. James 5:16.  Find someone.

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David confessing6) The person you reveal yourself to be in the midst of these sins is the person you've always been. 

We tend to think that we're generally righteous and these problems have been a blip.  David knew better.  When he committed adultery and murder he realised that this was the person he'd been 'from birth - sinful from the time my mother conceived me.'  (Ps 51:5)  These problems are just you with the hand-brake off.  Ugly huh?

But know also...

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prodigal son27) The person you reveal yourself to be in the midst of these sins is the person Jesus loves and has forgiven.

Jesus did not die for 'me-on-my-best-behaviour'.  'While we were still sinners Christ died for us' (Rom 5:8).  'God justifies the wicked' (Rom 4:5).  Which 'me' does Jesus love?  The cleaned up me?  No.  Jesus loves the me I showed myself to be in my worst moments.  When we grasp that Jesus is committed to us even and especially as we stink of sin it's a hundred times worse but a thousand times better.  We must grasp the depths of this love for me the sinner - this is fundamental to real change.

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Jesus looking8) With 4-7 in place - you can learn to hate and hope appropriately.

Focussed in on ourselves we tend either to lose hatred or hope.  Either we don't really hate our sin because we're too attached to the 'me' who committed it.  Or we don't really hope for transformation because we can't imagine such a 'me' changing.  The problem is that we're too attached to 'me'.  Number 4) is the truth that releases us from that attachment and number 5) is the practice of it.  We then learn how to address this 'me' the way we'd address a brother or sister in sin.  As another addresses you in your sin with appropriate hatred and hope, learn to see things from this much healthier perspective. 

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solutions9) Your problems are really your 'solutions'.

You'll be tempted to think...

"I have a recurring personal problem with X."

Don't be so sure.  Probably the truth is something much closer to...

"X is my solution to its insufferable alternative - Y"

X is a chosen strategy to avoid what you consistently reckon to be an even worse state of affairs.  You need to be thinking about what is Y, and why Y is so unbearable that you'd choose X.  Your deep fears (of Y) may be completely irrational and out of control.  But your chosen strategy, X, is not.

Therefore...

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strategy10)  Even the most seemingly compulsive and irrational 'personal problems' (non-organically caused) are, on deeper examination, chosen and intended strategies.

It might take some digging (Prov 20:5), but you will find volition at play.  This ought to reinforce the hope and hatred mix.  Hope because you're not bound to sin like this.  Hatred because you've consistently and deliberately chosen these sins in defiance of Jesus and His way.

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nothing-but-the-blood11) Until you've diagnosed your problem as one for which Christ is necessary, you haven't defined your real problem.

Your problem is not low self esteem or negative thoughts or panic attacks or over-eating or self-harm etc etc.  None of those require the blood of God.  Until you do the hard work on 4-7 and get to the heart issues - your angry defiance of your Father, your petrified mistrust of Christ, your obdurate resistance of the Spirit - you're treating your wound lightly. 

Jesus had to die.  Divine wisdom and heavenly encouragement have never been enough to address the human problem.  You don't just need a bible study and a pep talk.  You need bloody, wrath-bearing atonement on your behalf, while all you can do is watch aghast.  Until you see your problems in that light you won't be appropriately humbled and all your efforts at change will be a re-arranging of the flesh.

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resurrection12) Until you've set your hopes on a change for which Christ is necessary, you're not aiming for Christian growth. 

It's tempting to aim for a re-arranging of the flesh.  For instance, you may struggle with pornography and therefore make your resolution to be porn free from now on.  Well, ok.  But Ephesians 3 tells you that resurrection power is available to effect in you far above all you can ask or imagine (Eph 1:19-20; 3:20).  To aim for a clean internet history is not really to aim for Christian growth.  To aim for a pure heart that knows God and a burning zeal for Christ that takes you out of yourself and into the world - that's your prayer.  And it's impossible.  You can't do it.  Only resurrection Power can.  But that's where you aim if you want Christian growth.  And kicking pornography is just a little part of that. 

 

Putting 11) and 12) together you get this:

Christ's cross tells you to dig deeper,

Christ's resurrection tells you to reach higher.

Therefore

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prayer13) Pray

The cross drives us down so that we call out in desperation, the resurrection lifts us up so that we ask for that which is humanly impossible.  There is therefore a gospel shape as well as a gospel power to our prayers.  Perhaps use the Lord's Prayer as your guide.  Every line of the prayer calls us to change.  Don't move on in the prayer until you've prayed through the issues that each line is raising.  Here is the really hard work of change, but only because it's so powerful.

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Scheming14) In your desire to change there will be both flesh and Spirit at work.

Your flesh wants you to change to gain control, look better, escape guilt feelings, avoid the need for dependence, achieve a righteousness of your own, etc, etc.  Bring these false motives before the Lord and repent of your repentance strategies.  True repentance comes from a brokenness that realizes even our tears of regret need washing in Christ's blood.

At the same time be aware that there is a true yearning from your new nature - a deeper desire to know Christ and be conformed to His image.  Get in touch with the Spirit's stirrings here through prayer and conversation with others.  Figuring out why you want to change and having this answer come from the right place is priceless.

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entitlement14) Address your entitlement spirit?

The flesh is ever desiring to establish its own righteousness.  How, specifically, are you seeking to make a name for yourself?  According to your flesh - what are you trying to earn?  What do you feel you are owed?  What do you have to do to earn this?  What has blocked your goals?  Having thought about this, try to articulate the shape of your entitlement spirit.  How does the gospel address your entitlement spirit in general?  Specifically, how does the gospel address the specifics of your entitlement spirit?  Real change is happening when the Gospel demolishes your flesh-strategies.

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grapes

15) You already have the solution

Not within you!  In Christ. 

4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

 5"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

 9"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  (John 15:4-9)

Allow these words to live in you and allow yourself to live in Christ.

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fat cat16) Some or all of these things are true of you:

You have little joy, take yourself too seriously, don't have the friendships you need and are not sleeping/eating/exercising as you should.

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19 thoughts on “Some thoughts on your 'personal problems'

  1. Dave K

    That's brilliant Glen. Very helpful.

    I may even save it/print it off somewhere. But in case you get too proud I may delete the pictures and pt 16. What is the deal with pt 16? It may be true but I don't see how it fits.

    you probably have some deep reason why it is essential... but it is lost on me.

    Question on pt 9 as well - and a more genuine question. If your 'problem' is something like depression, or loneliness etc would you still say that this is a solution to something else? I can see how pt9 is true for many things but how would you spell out that for something less obvious like depression?

    Probably I'll have to wait a while for a reply because you say you are not posting... but I'll look forward to your further thoughts.

    Thanks.

    Hope things are well whatever you are up to.

  2. Dave K

    Just read again and spotted your 'non-organically caused' qualification.

    1. Can we separate non-organically caused sin from organically caused sin? Usually things are a mixture. From masturbation, to depression to anger they all have both causes.

    2. In which case are you saying that the non-organically caused 'bit' of the problem is a strategy/solution to another 'problem'?

  3. Missy

    Tell me how long you will be gone, please! So that I may equally divide each of these bullet points amongst the hours. (or days, or weeks, or months...)

  4. Glen

    I'm still around, just won't be posting any new stuff for a bit.

    Dave - 16's just a recognition that a lot of our woes would be greatly helped if we went for a walk with a mate and/or cut out the ready meals. That kind of thing.

    As for depression, perhaps I'd do some work on 14 first - the entitlement spirit, examining goals and how they've been frustrated etc.

    My working hypothesis on depression is something like this:

    * a goal that's blocked makes me angry.
    * if it's permanently blocked I get depressed because now I'm living with the unlivable tension between a deep commitment and the knowledge it will never happen.
    * the only solution is to change goals (i.e. repent!)

    On this understanding (which is admittedly very general and simplistic) there are chosen elements to it in terms of your goals. There's a sense in which you've given up on them ever happening but there's another sense in which you haven't given up on them as your definitions of life/meaning/shalom.

    Now this framework may not work at all with some depressed people. But it's rung true with me and with many I've spoken to about these things.

    If we go with this kind of understanding then at some point I think you can go to 9) and do some work on why commitment to this goal (and its attendant depression) is still preferable to repentance of the goal - an admission that it was a false hope in the first place and a heart-felt turning from it as a source of life.

    All this will take a lot of time and gentle probing. In point form it sounds like I'm firing off bullets, I'm really not trying to. Working through these points could take months and years.

    The 'non organically caused' qualification is just a get-out clause for some trickier issues too big for this post. The physical is of course involved in *every* issue and compouds every issue, but I'm not seeking an exemption from that kind of organic complication. For now I'm just wanting to put to one side organically caused issues. An uncontroversial example would be brain injuries that go hand in hand with chronic anxiety. But you could think of other physical causes with simlar effects.

  5. Gav

    Thanks Glen

    Love the bit about the Lords prayer. I've only really just learnt, truly, how to use it as a structure and you just took it a step further. If I had read this a couple of weeks ago, it wouldnt have had half the impact.

    Perfect timing mate.

  6. Rich Owen

    This is very helpful Glen. Can i print it out and use it one to one with people?

    Hope all is ok....

    R

  7. me

    oh my gosh thanks soooo much!!! :) that cat is so funny!!! i started CRACKING up when i saw it!!!!!!!! XD

    <3

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  9. iain

    I have never seen such a load of bullshit collected in one place, except in self-help behavioural therapy books (maybe that's where you got it all from?) which were shoved under my nose when I was a troubled teenager, by my very troubled parents. They believed it (hope made them do it) and forgot to do the one thing which would have helped them in their plight: BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!
    Yes, we are fallible creatures, and evolution has played a few pranks on us down the years. Some would use the phrase "dirty tricks" instead of pranks.
    BUT if you just take the time to listen to yourself andwonder WHY things are happening, then you're more than halfway to finding the way to solve problems, rectify situations that are not satisfactory and generally making life better for yourself and others around us, both those we know and those we don't. There is no external saviour. YOUR SAVIOUR IS IN YOURSELF.
    LISTEN TO IT.

    OVER AND OUT,
    IAIN

  10. Glen

    Hi Iain, welcome to the blog.

    I agree that self-help is no help. But if that's the case then your saviour is not in yourself. Our *problem* is in ourselves - and the fact we get into trouble proves it.

    Do you know much about Jesus, who He is, what He offers?

  11. Bobby Grow

    Iain,

    That's what Genesis 3 says, it agrees with you, in a sense. Of course Gen. 3 describes the "Great Lie" that men believe . . . it's only "natural." Bro, I'll pray for you; it's interesting how you're railing against "self-help," and then end with the point that the "self" is the only real Saviour available. I don't understand your point, can you clarify?

  12. Dennis Williams

    I found the image next to point #6 on community interesting and potentially useful to illustrate a webpage related to our freshman learning community that I'm developing. Do you have copyright or copyright information for this clay people image?

    Thanks much.

    Dennis Williams
    Director of General Education
    Southern Nazarene University

  13. Bruce

    Hey Glenn, I love these ideas as understandable statements of the implications of gospel sanctification by faith. I'd love to use these as training materials for both our staff counselors and church care givers. Are these printed somewhere else and available for purchase? and/or can I print these and use them. (Also, did you intend 2-14's or 17 total statements?) Thanks for all your great work on this!

  14. Glen

    Hi Bruce, Feel free to use them all. I haven't printed them or produced them in any other format. If you do make a document out of them could you email it to me?

    Many thanks,
    Glen

    glenscrivener [at] gmail [dot] com

  15. Lensa Woodcock

    Glen, I'm so glad I came across this. Real comfort and help in these truths. I've been thinking about and wanting to write about guilt and motherhood for a while, every mum I know (including myself) feels guilty for something every single day, and really, really guilty for recurring failures. But I've been stuck how to draw everything together, this is a great help, thank you, I will be thinking over this for a few weeks.

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