Thank Me Regardless

I am recording notes from what feels like the front lines of my training boot camp, if there is such a mix of metaphors. There is no doubt God is training me in lessons of faith, not only by considering the circumstances surrounding me presently but because I have repeatedly asked Him to do so. I do not want negative thinking to continue to infect and inhibit my growing faith and trust in Him, so I am trying to pay more attention to the constant messages He sends me and apply them to my own thinking and spirit.

One concept that keeps asserting itself in my mind is the idea of context. I have learned how vitally important context is to properly understand and apply the Word of God. But now He is reminding me that in a very powerful and life-changing way, each one of us shapes the context of our perception of reality in which our relationship with Him is shaped. I am coming to realize more clearly that the fundamental problem all of us have to deal with is our perception of God – everything else springs from that context. But what shapes the context from which our perceptions about God and reality spring? What kind of nutrition are we providing for our growing plant of faith?

I had a very disturbing dream before I woke up this morning, and it had to do with this very thing. I dreamed that somehow I had resisted losing some sort of cable connection that seemed to be expiring providing me access to typical TV reception. (In real life I have no such arrangement.) But instead of allowing it to expire, which deep inside I knew was God's will for me, I fiddled with the equipment or something like that and discovered that I could gain access to even more resources albeit at a reduced intensity of speed. Now I had unlimited access to all kinds of material from a wide variety of sources.

What followed made me feel very much like a drug addict. While trying to excuse or rationalize my behavior, I could not tear myself away from the screen and found myself watching pretty much anything that was offered to me. And although I felt a bit of relief when I finally woke up enough to realize it wasn't actually true in real life, I also realized that what this exposed was a very real weakness or propensity deep inside of me that is a dangerous vulnerability that Satan could easily exploit, and does so all too frequently. The media of this world has an immense power to shape the context from which we view reality, and it does so far more than most of us are willing to admit.

While I find myself writing and sharing with others the subtle dangers of modern access to media that is largely intended to turn our attention away from the truth about God, at the same time I struggle all too often with the effects of this problem myself. And although I do not have access to cable or even over-the-air broadcasting on TV or even high-speed internet, I do have news channels on free satellite access that tends to present reality from the perspective of the world around me. Growing up in a home with a father addicted to news himself, I have always been vulnerable to slipping into assuming that the news is an exception to my need to limit the effect of commercial media and entertainment.

Repeatedly God has been convicting me that much of what the news offers is a very powerful means of distorting my picture of Him. As I become more and more aware of how many resources there are designed to shape our opinions about God, I am becoming more aware of how those resources affect my attempt to relate to God more positively. The news is one of those means through which Satan has gained access to millions of sincere Christians who assume that just catching up on world events does not affect their relationship to God all that much. In fact, many intense religious people like those I grew up with, almost feel a religious obligation to be abreast of current events with the excuse that they need to know how final events are unfolding.

Over recent years God has been impressing me more and more that the core issue in my relationship with Him centers around the condition of my spirit which is very much shaped by my overall perceptions about reality and what God is like. Again, all of this is very influenced on what goes into my mind, for like the old computer adage I learned years ago in computer school taught me, 'garbage in, garbage out – GIGO'. What is now becoming even more clear to me is that this principle is central to embrace if I want to go deeper into a saving knowledge of God and be able to break free of false perceptions that fuel my fears and doubts about Him.

I am not suggesting at this point that a Christian should never expose themselves to the news. That is not the point I feel God wants to teach me, at least not yet. However, I have at times experimented with watching the news while simultaneously dialogging with God about what I am hearing and seeing as well as the feelings and reactions being produced inside of me as a result. It always proves to be a very interesting and usually disturbing experience at the least. To be transparent with God about the reactions produced inside of me while hearing about atrocities around the planet can feel quite exposing and even discouraging. I find emotions, anger, desires for revenge on others behalf and even diabolical plans on how if I was there I might effectively use more effective violence to overcome injustice. All these things I find swirling around in my imagination while I watch some of the news.

This is how God alerted me many years ago to the dangers of exposing myself to media designed by this world to shape my perceptions about reality. The media and society are intended to shape our opinions about the meanings of words like justice and mold our opinions about the very nature of what our problems really are and how to solve them in this world. But since I have been learning the truth about the contrast between the two competing systems as represented by the two Trees in the Garden of Eden, I see that nearly everything coming through this world's media systems is designed to reinforce beliefs embraced in the counterfeit system of Satan – a system of reward and punishment, good and evil, assumed 'scales of justice'.

As a result, most of our underlying assumptions about what constitutes reality and how God operates His government is infected with the subtle principles of the counterfeit kingdom of darkness. We are led to believe that much of it seems to be light and truth. Yet the 'light' in the false system of thinking is actually connected to the 'good' in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but is not the kind of good that makes up the nature of our Father in heaven who is agape love and is the source of real life.

What I am increasingly impressed with is how much the media can subconsciously shape and steer the direction of my heart in its attempts to know and trust God more fully. When I find myself still filled with false concepts about reality or God mingled in with legitimate realities and facts, my heart's confusion about God is kept going in circles. What is starting to emerge in my awareness about this is that part of the problem is my context. I have far more power to influence the content of the context in which I live than I may be willing to admit. And it is my context which fuels my attitudes and shapes my perceptions about reality. When I fill my mind from sources that promote the fallen principles of the kingdom of darkness, it is no wonder that I continue to struggle with making sense out of the things belonging to the kingdom of light.

Yet my growing desire is to have a purer perception of God, clearer views of the real truth about His character of love and more distinct understandings of the true meaning of the words used in the Bible that describe God's kind of reality in the Kingdom of Jesus. For the more I discover the real truth as it is in Jesus, the more excitement is awakened as I feel my heart resonating with the ancient language of love for which it was created.

The old ways of religion no longer satisfy (though I am discovering they never really did satisfy all along). Much of what religion taught me was riddled with assumptions about God that made me afraid of Him, not attracted to Him. But a similar effect is produced by the context imposed on me by the media of the world around me. What I am seeing is that fear is the common language shared by the fallen systems of Babylon whether it comes directly from the world or through the church.

Religion has been a mixed blessing in my pursuit of knowing God. Most of religion has joined the world in presenting skewed ideas about God as it focuses largely on the externals rather than a genuine transformation of the heart and spirit. And although religion talks a lot about this aspect, it fails to present the true gospel which itself contains the power needed for real transformation.

I find more and more that if I want to know God as it is my privilege to know Him and to learn to live a dynamic life of faith guided by His Spirit, I have to listen more acutely to the promptings and messages of His Holy Spirit in the context of the Word of God as the only safe media to provide healthy nourishment for the growth of truth and faith in my heart. Force is a tool of the counterfeit system, and although that is obvious in is extreme versions, I have attempted for too long to use force on myself to accomplish a change of character that only love is able to produce. I still have much to learn in this regard.

When I get discouraged and feel like my case is hopeless, that I am far too much of a hypocrite for God to be able to salvage, He reminds me that He is very much intotackling the impossibles. If He could change my Dad who seemed like an impossible case years ago (and He certainly did!), then He surely can save me if I will simply let Him work in me and keep drawing me. The key is to keep refocusing my attention on how good and wonderful and gracious He is, not on how stuck I am in my habits of thinking.

Yesterday I felt compelled by the Spirit to copy down a number of verses about thankfulness as they came to my attention. It was one of those times where it was clear I was being tutored and needed to just listen and cooperate rather than try to expostulate on what I was reading. I was reminded that it is my heart that God is after, not primarily increased knowledge and understanding, although those are useful and helpful. But it is the condition of my spirit that is most important to God, for it is in my spirit and disposition where I need to resonate and grow in my saving relationship with God's Spirit. This is the center of true religion and is far more important than accumulating accurate facts about what is true or false.

As I was led through verse after verse about my need to focus on being grateful and thankful irregardless of circumstances, it was impressed on me even more intently that gratitude is not optional for the serious pursuer of God's heart. What was even more interesting is that several times in Scripture those who are called evil are identified as people who resist thanking God and giving Him glory. On the other hand, in recent years I have begun to sense the enormous power available in the exercise of deliberate praise and thanksgiving to God and even through gratitude to those around me. But I am still a very long ways off from having this practice come naturally and frequently, especially with those around me. Yet He is making it clear that this is the direction I must move if I am serious about growing deeper into a life of true faith and fellowship.

Something I discovered unexpectedly as I looked at the context of these verses was how frequently they were followed by mention of right relationships with those around us. After admonishing us to generously mingle gratitude into our requests to God, often instruction was given to submit to each other in love and maintain healthy relationships of respect and honor. I also noticed that a number of times, expressing gratitude and thankfulness is directly linked to giving God glory. This has many implications that I want to explore much further. And I might add, these are the kinds of truth I will seldom find in any of the addictive media coming across the airwaves or the internet lines.

This morning as I read through the two devotional books I am reading this year, I saw again that God had preplanned them to fit perfectly with His training for me right now. They perfectly compliment each other and alert me to my need to focus on Him instead of becoming infected with the negative perceptions of this world. Let me share them here. The bold highlights are my own.

Friendship with God

Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do? Genesis 18:17.
Its Delights. This chapter brings out the delight of real friendship with God as compared with occasional feelings of His presence in prayer. To be so much in contact with God that you never need to ask Him to show you His will, is to be nearing the final stage of your discipline in the life of faith. When you are rightly related to God, it is a life of freedom and liberty and delight, you are God’s will, and all your commonsense decisions are His will for you unless He checks. You decide things in perfect delightful friendship with God, knowing that if your decisions are wrong He will always check; when He checks, stop at once.
Its Difficulties. Why did Abraham stop praying when he did? He was not intimate enough yet to go boldly on until God granted his desire, there was something yet to be desired in his relationship to God. Whenever we stop short in prayer and say—‘Well, I don’t know; perhaps it is not God’s will,’—there is still another stage to go. We are not so intimately acquainted with God as Jesus was, and as He wants us to be—“That they may be one even as We are one.” Think of the last thing you prayed about—were you devoted to your desire or to God? Determined to get some gift of the Spirit or to get at God? “Your Heavenly Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him.” The point of asking is that you may get to know God better. “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” Keep praying in order to get a perfect understanding of God Himself. (My Utmost for His Highest March 20)

I remember one of my favorite teachers explaining how God can give us the desires of our heart. I have often been frustrated when God did not give me many things that I asked for that I truly desired, so I sometimes questioned the validity of this promise. But she explained that it is the desires themselves that God wants to give us, displacing desires we have that are not best for us. God wants to so transform our very desires so that what we come to deeply crave the very same thing that is best for us and what God is ready and eager to give to us.

This reading also reminded me of a quote I was required to memorize in school many years ago. It is a famous quote to those familiar with the culture I grew up with and one that is a real encouragement to people like me struggling to know how to live in God's will.

All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us. {DA 668.3}

Now the other devotional reading that served to reinforce what God has been sharing with my heart.

Thank Me for the glorious gift of My Spirit. This is like priming the pump of a well. As you bring Me the sacrifice of thanksgiving, regardless of your feelings, My Spirit is able to work more freely within you. This produces more thankfulness and more freedom, until you are overflowing with gratitude.
I shower blessings on you daily, but sometimes you don't perceive them. When your mind is stuck on a negative focus, you see neither Me nor My gifts. In faith, thank Me for whatever is preoccupying your mind. This will clear the blockage so that you can find Me.
2 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Psalm 50:14
(Jesus Calling p. 83)

When my mind is stuck on a negative focus... That has been the history of much of my life. God has been leading me to retrain my brain and particularly my perceptions about what defines reality. And that is inextricably linked to what I perceive about how He feels about me and how He relates to sinners. I am finding that the more I learn the real truth about God's character and the truths about how He relates to sin and sinners as revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus, the more attractive He is becoming to me and the more I want to share the real Good News about Him with others.

At the same time, the more clearly I perceive the truth about God the uglier I feel in my own dysfunction. I see more clearly my own crass ingratitude, my own callousness when I should be caring and comforting to others. I sense how weak I am deep inside and how vulnerable I really am to falling for intense temptations if they were to come upon me. I am very frightened by revelations about how serious my infection is deep inside and it is easy to despair unless I am reminded that it is God's job to save me, not mine. The way He saves me is by knowing Him and increasing my awareness of His glory and goodness even though that revelation makes me look worse and worse. As I keep dwelling on and knowing Him, slowly I see gradual changes in the way I live in fellowship with others around me.

My temptation has always been to try to work harder at getting my act together so I won't look so bad. But after spending a lifetime trying that method I should know by now that there has to be a better way. While I often forget, God keeps reminding me day by day that my job is to draw closer to Him, to submit to His loving authority and let Him do the transformational work inside of me. The joy of the Lord is my strength.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 NRSV)

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