God created man in his own image. In God's image he created him. (Genesis 1:27)
So what are we reflecting?
I am coming to see more clearly that the content of our comments, our thoughts and reactions, what circulates in our imagination – all these direct the flow and direction of the development of our disposition, which in turn affects our feelings, choices, habits and finally determines our character. Thus our disposition strongly affects how our mind interprets every circumstance and has a direct bearing on the course of our life resulting in either stronger or weaker character.
If my self-talk and/or my default attitudes about circumstances when talking casually with others is negative, disparaging or dwells on negative things or feelings, that affects the way I will feel about how God views me and relates to me. By allowing negativity to reign in my thinking, that same negativity becomes the filter through which I perceive how God relates to me, and my expectations for evil are given power to increasingly take over my perceptions about reality. They also directly affect my body as my spirit influences very much the health or disease condition of my body.
I may want and try to believe that God is good all the time, yet when I give space to negative speaking and thinking in my heart, over time the influence of my words and thoughts taint and discredit what I think I believe about God. This negativity actually builds up a contrary belief subconsciously deep inside of me. This subconscious contradictory belief over time can develop such mass and solidity that I can be shocked when in a moment of crisis my profession of faith in God's goodness suddenly collapses in the face of a surprising tidal wave of hidden unbelief that has been strengthened by years of my negative self-talk and my addiction to finding faults in others.
This is one of the most subtle traps of Satan that often masquerades as honesty. I have imagined at times that to restrain negativity in my self-talk or in my comments to others, that I would be denying the truth about how I feel and perceive things. While it may be true that my feelings are negative and that in fact bad things might even be taking place around me, the spin I put on all these facts betrays the filter I am using to view God and His disposition towards me.
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
What I am starting to see more clearly is the sharp difference between praise in all situations versus what I used to call simply reality from my perspective based on negative assumptions about my situations that corresponded to my immediate negative feelings and reactions. I thought that to praise when I didn't feel like it would be unauthentic and even dishonest. But this is a lie of the enemy, for praise and gratitude must not only reflect my feelings while I are consciously basking in God's blessings, but praise and gratitude and focusing on the enormity of God's love, graciousness, kindness and favor is the most powerful antidote available to defeat darkness, despair and every other lie of Satan. This is why Satan cannot stand to linger long in the presence of one who is incessantly praising God and steering their thoughts away from negativity to the glory of God.
While praise is certainly appropriate and relevant after we experience exciting encounters with God, it is even more potent when the opposite is taking place in our lives, for that is when its anti-darkness properties really shine most effectively. It is not dishonest or lying to praise God, to thank God for blessings and determinedly focus our imagination on His goodness when everything inside and around us seems to scream the very opposite. God is good all the time, and that never changes; this is the real truth. Thus to praise God for the truth about Him, even when it feels like it is not true, is the best time to get the most traction and leverage out of the power of praise and gratitude as we resist the devil's lies about Him that assault our senses and feelings.
You adulterers and adulteresses, don't you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously"? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Be subject therefore to God. But resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:4-8)
I have never looked at this passage from this angle, but now I see that it works perfectly as edifying regarding negative thinking and speaking.
Too often when we strike up a conversation with someone, it is easier to initiate a conversation by making some negative comment about some event or person or problem in our life. Yet if we actually thought about the after effects of this default gravitation toward the negative, we might realize that the trend of such habits moves us toward recounting things that make us feel worse or more fearful which in turn triggers others to recount similar experiences. This sharing of things that make us feel grumpy or angry may be an easy way to form instant bonds with others, yet the kind of bonds we are encouraging are based on negativity and actually increase our selfishness, which ironically turns out to be anti-bonding. Yet it is so easy to talk about negative things because it feels so comfortable.
I think this could well be part of what James refers to here as us wanting to be a friend of the world. The world reflects of the system of Satan represented by the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When we dwell on both good things and evil things in our life as the basis for conversations, we are simply aligning with the same mindset as the default view of the world. In doing so our reflection bears false witness against God as one who participates in the same dualistic ways the world uses. This dualistic view of God, as being behind both the good in our life as well as the evil (even if we don't directly blame Him openly for it) is what James calls double-mindedness.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach; and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. For let that man not think that he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)
What is this doubting about anyway? Is it simply doubting that God will give us what we ask for, or is it about the kind of God we think He is and our expectations of how we will be treated? James says He is generous, liberal and is not in the shaming business. Yet if we dwell on negative expectations in our conversations, are we not reinforcing notions that God is less than generous or really cares about us?
What is meant by the Spirit of God yearning jealously? Is it not our affections that God longs for, our loyalty, our willingness to believe He is good and to embrace only the truth that His love and care for us is unwavering? If so, and we really believed this, then our expressions would reflect His gracious character instead of reinforcing the slander of His enemies. When we fall in love with someone and earnestly long to bond with them at the deepest level of our heart, how would we feel if we overheard them talking to others negatively, about how they feel so depressed much of the time when they are around us. What if we heard them say things to others that made it sound like we didn't really care about them very much or that we failed to show enough affection to them?
What if we noticed that the one we loved passionately preferred going to other people to make them feel loved and cared for because they didn't really trust our heart or our willingness to be intimately involved with them? Would that kind of attitude arouse feelings of jealousy in our spirit, making us feel betrayed by the very one we wanted so intensely, yet who always seemed to doubt our love for them anytime something in their life made them feel less than exuberant?
Another question. What does it really mean to be subject to, or submit to God? How does this relate to resisting the devil? How does this relate to our penchant for negative thinking, negative self-talk and our gravitation toward the the kinds of topics we often discuss with others?
Does not choosing to be subject to God also involve embracing His version of reality, His view of what is happening in our life, giving His perspective greater weight than our own feelings and perceptions? Are we really willing to trust and believe that He loves us all the time, or does our thinking and conversation betray disloyal attitudes reflected in the mixed feelings we express either directly or indirectly to others or even simply soaking in self-pity ourselves?
From this perspective, what would it look like to submit to God? Submit often has rather dark connotations associated with the word that can trigger many of us to feel quite defensive. Yet if God is really as good as Jesus revealed Him to be, then whose version of God are we allowing to color our beliefs about even such little things as the definition of this word? What if submission to God simply means allowing His version of reality and His unchangeable goodness, kindness, compassion and love be the only truth through which we choose to view everything?
Again, when we are madly in love with someone, it would be a betrayal of that relationship and their trust in us to be talking as if they didn't care about us much at all. Yet to indulge in negativity unavoidable implicates God, because God is always involved in every part of our lives as our loving heavenly Father, our Creator, the original we are designed to image and the One actively working at all times to rescue us from darkness to bring us into His glorious light of truth and love.
[Epaphras] declared to us your love in the Spirit. For this cause, we also, since the day we heard this, don't cease praying and making requests for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that you may walk worthily of the Lord, to please him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, for all endurance and perseverance with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love; (Colossians 1:8-13)
For much of my life, my reaction to this would have been to react in fear when I read that I had to walk worthily of the Lord, to please Him in all respects. My first reaction would be to see this as yet another demand by God I must comply with before I could feel accepted or loved by Him. My negative perceptions about how God felt about me were so consistently dark that I could only see promises of God as having some loophole that He could exploit to excuse Himself from fulfilling them. Because I did not perfectly satisfy the conditions laid down, He was free not to keep His word. These dark views of God's feelings towards me inhibited me from even wanting to know Him better as such a relationship would only offer an opening for even more feelings of condemnation in my heart.
But over time as God has persistently exposed more and more lies that kept me afraid of and distrustful of Him, I am myself able to read His words and promises with a completely fresh perspective. That does not mean I don't still struggle at times with patterns of negativity, for those deeply engrained habits of thinking are tenacious and keep asserting themselves. Yet the goodness of God, the kindness of God that increasingly enlightens my heart now allows me to perceive the very opposite from what I used to see in many passages of Scripture.
For instance, instead of viewing this phrase, to walk worthily, as referring to another demand by God for me to make myself a good boy by keeping all the rules or else, I have come to see now that when Scripture uses the term worthy or worthily, it is in reference to trust, not about behavior. In Revelation we find myriads of adoring worshipers exclaiming that the Lamb is worthy. Yet they are not thinking of the commercial value of an animal but realize how much Jesus can be trusted because He has proven His trustworthiness in all the ways He reacted under extreme pressure, humiliation and suffering.
So when it says I should walk worthily of the Lord, I now see that God wants to be able to trust me more in how I live as one who knows how He feels about me. That would certainly be reflected in the ways I converse with others, the insinuations I make about His love and care for me and how trustworthy I find Him to be as my relationship with Him deepens. Can God trust that I will not discredit Him by speaking as if He didn't really care about me? I know how I feel when someone talks to someone else about me that way, so I should know why God would want to be able to trust me in the way I affect His reputation. After all, He wants to have an intimate relationship with those I am influencing as well as me, so the way I represent God in how I talk about my life influences whether or not others will be more or less interested in wanting to know Him better for themselves or not.
This also applies to what it means to please God. If someone is madly in love with another person, won't that be reflected in their desire to want to please the other one, not only in the way they treat them directly but also in the way they relate to other people that affects how others will view the one they love. Words matter, and it is not only in direct references to God that we affect His reputation but in everything we think, do and say. Because I am in an intimate relationship with my wife, how I live and talk and act affects what others think about the nature of my relationship with her and how I feel about her. How much concern do I have about my wife's reputation as well as my own? The two of us have become inseparable after forty years. Even negative self-talk can directly have a bearing on the reputation of those close to us.
Negativity is in reality a way of agreeing with the prince of darkness, even while we may think we are being loyal to God. We might imagine that as long as our doctrines and beliefs about God line up with orthodox truth that our feelings and casual conversation no effect on our standing with God. Yet our habits of dark talking and thinking betray a condition of self-deception and even betrayal of God's trust. Indulging in negativity reveals the fact that we are double-minded because in essence we confess with our mouth that God treats us both good and bad and we simply have to accept it like Job thought.
Then his wife said to him, "Do you still maintain your integrity? Renounce God, and die." But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job didn't sin with his lips. (Job 2:9-10)
Just because it says Job didn't sin with his lips after saying this about God does not imply that what he said was completely truthful. Rather it might alert us that our definition of what sin is from God's perspective may be different from how we define the word. Job did not turn his back on God and cut off his relationship to God like his wife momentarily suggested. Job gently rebuked her, reminding her not to think rashly like a foolish woman would do, yet his rationale for the alternative to that option was immature at that point in his experience, which is seen in a proper reading of the rest of the story.
What Job mistakenly assumed and was shared by the three friends who had a protracted debate with him over the next many chapters, was that God sends both good and evil into our lives to punish or manipulate us, and we simply have to react accordingly. Bad things happening in our life is punishment from God, and to make them stop we have to confess and repent. There were variations on this theme, but this was the general view of all four who simply argued as to how much Job deserved what he was experiencing, yet failing to question their underlying assumptions about how God actually thinks.
Only when a fourth friend strongly challenged the views of everyone including Job, did a new perspective finally emerge that I believe opened the door so God could get more directly involved. I can't help but imagine that throughout all the banter of arguments between Job and his friends insisting that God both blesses and punishes as a way of manipulating the behavior of His children, that the Spirit of God was yearning jealously while His children used dark speech and speculations of all sorts of negative notions about God's disposition.
When we talk as if God is responsible for the evil in our life as well as the good, we are participating in the slander initiated by Lucifer who morphed into Satan, the great accuser. Not a good place to go.
You offspring of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings out good things, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings out evil things. I tell you that every idle word that men speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."(Matthew 12:34-37)
Jesus alerts us to the fact that the casual talk we do, whether mumbling to ourselves alone or in conversation with others, is expressions flowing from what is in our heart. It is our heart where the real change must take place, not just trying to control our language. Jesus asks a most pertinent question here. How can we, while harboring evil assumptions about God in our heart, speak good things? We might mouth the words, yet sooner or later our gut-level beliefs find expression in negative talk rather than praise and gratitude for God's love and goodness. Words are merely symptoms of the condition of the heart, so pretending or professing to be a Christian while indulging in negative thinking and speaking indicates that our heart is not yet affected very much by the truth about God. We reveal an emptiness of our heart that needs to be addressed so our symptoms will be transformed naturally.
Words do make a difference and also affect the condition of our heart, for we hear the words we speak and our sentiments are reinforced and recycled to become even stronger. This is why it is important to regulate our expressions based on God's truth rather than our feelings, for the truth about God is that He is always faithful and good no matter how our emotions are affected by all sorts of things. Our words are expressions of our heart, yet they also influence the beliefs of our heart, which is why we need to not simply give expression to just anything we happen to feel in the moment. We can choose with our will to dwell on and express what is life-giving, not only for others but for our own heart as well.
If we have a genuine desire to be delivered from sin and live for eternity with God, we should take notice of the direction of our character development as witnessed by our speech that reveals the condition of our heart. God is after our heart primarily, far more than just changing our head beliefs. This becomes clear as one examines the teachings of Jesus. One reason He caught so much flak all the time from religious people was because His view of God was a constant challenge to the superficiality of their religious facade, exposing the fact that their hearts were not in love with God while they were strenuously trying hard to do all the right things and keep all the rules to attain righteousness.
Likewise, it is not enough to simply suppress our negative feelings because the Bible says we should not talk that way. Rather we need to talk with God about our feelings honestly and allow the light of His real truth expose the false assumptions and lies lurking deep inside that are producing such symptoms. In this way we can come to the light for healing judgment (John 3:21) as the light of God's love counters our negative feelings and displaces our slander with praise and appreciation for the glorious truths about our incredibly loving, caring Father. When our heart problem is thus addressed, our negative symptoms, fault-finding and self-deprecating talk will soon fade away as our minds will be filled with more praise and gratitude, even when everything seems to be going wrong.
Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for building up as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear. Don't grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander, be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you. Be therefore imitators of God, as beloved children. Walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling fragrance. But sexual immorality, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be mentioned among you, as becomes saints; nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not appropriate; but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 4:29 – 5:4)
But now you also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and shameful speaking out of your mouth. Don't lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge after the image of his Creator. (Colossians 3:8-10)