The last 3 weeks we've been talking about these two verses. We are exhorted to "trust in the Lord" with all our heart, but we can't just turn on a light twitch or muster it up by sheer force. It must be cultivated. And the way our trust in the Lord grows is through ongoing relationship with Him. As we pursue the Lord through the Word, in prayer, and through church community, we grow in our knowledge of who He is. And as we trust IN Him, and acknowledge (or know) Him, trust grows.
But what is the enemy of our growing in our trust of the Lord? Leaning on our own understanding. This is what we are focusing on in today's sermon.
Have you ever noticed that humans are storytellers? It's one of the things that separates us from all of the animal kingdom. Yes, we are rational and logical, but even at a deeper level we are story-driven. No other creature tells stories--they communicate in different ways--but they don't tell stories. But even more intrinsic to our nature is not just telling each other stories, but we are at all times telling ourselves a story. We fill in the gaps when we lack information with stories. We interpret the meaning of things with stories.
"The reason I don't get asked to help is because nobody likes me."
"Of course I'm not married yet because people think I'm ugly."
"He hasn't answered my text yet because he's doing something he shouldn't be doing."
"My chest hurts when I move a certain way, it's probably cancer."
"It doesn't matter if I pray, nothing is going to change."
"There's no use in looking elsewhere, I'll never find a better job."
"The reason we haven't had kids is because God is punishing us for our past."
"What's the use of opening up and risking myself to hurt, you can't trust people."
All of these examples are snapshots of the stories we tell ourselves everyday. And the reason it is so important to talk about this is because the stories we tell ourselves can rule our emotional lives. Our view of God, ourselves, and others, are drastically shaped by the stories we tell ourselves. And those stories effect our hearts, our hope, and our peace.
Our minds are capable of constructing elaborate stories and scenarios of things that haven't happened yet, that end up having a real effect on our emotions.
STORY -- I remember as young boy having a hard time sleeping at night because I was afraid someone was about to break into our house and get us. Even if my mom and dad were in the other room, and I could hear the TV on, I could hear noises outside. And in my mind, I created elaborate details to explain those noises about what was happening outside, and the people who were plotting our demise while we sat helplessly inside. Spoiler alert for those wondering: there were no people plotting. It was all the product of young boy's imagination and fears.
But as I've grown older, my propensity to create these stories in my mind has not gone away, it's just changed content. So perhaps now I'll tell a story to myself about why this person said something to me the way they did. Or why does this person want to meet with me. I'm capable of filling the gaps of information in with a story--that may not be accurate at all--but has the capacity to profoundly impact my emotions.
My first panic attack was induced like this. We were a few months removed from Kaleb's kidneys being removed by accident. I was driving down the interstate and approaching a curve that was fairly sharp for 70 MPH. And my mind went into this whole scenario of what would happen if my wheel didn't turn, and I careened off the road and crashed. And then what if I was in a coma and couldn't communicate, but could hear everyone talking around me with no ability to let them know I was there. And as all this was going on in my mind, I'm a half-mile past the curve--I've already navigated safely and moved on--my heart rate begins to skyrocket. I start sweating and breathing heavy. I had no idea what was wrong with me, but I was having a panic attack, the first of many over the next 7 years. But how was the whole thing induced? The story I let my mind construct.
This, friends, is one of the key battles for learning to trust God. We must deal with the stories we allow our minds to play in our heads.
2 Corinthians 10:5 -- We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
Paul says he destroys arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God. This would include the lies and false stories we like to tell to ourselves. When we tell stories to ourselves that imply we are left to fate or chance, that is a lie. That opinion is raised against the knowledge of God and needs to be destroyed. It needs to be put to death.
But notice what Paul goes on to say. "Take every thought captive to obey Christ." To take something captive is to imprison it. It's to stop it and prevent it from escaping. We are instructed to take our thoughts captive to obey Christ. In other words, we are to examine the thoughts we are letting run through our heads to insure they are obedient to Christ's Word. We are stop the stories we tell ourselves to make sure the story is the truth of Christ as revealed in Scripture.
Why do we need to take thoughts captive? Because if you don't, one thought can give birth to a series of thoughts that begins to effect your heart negatively. Our thoughts can run wild before we even have a chance to realize what we're doing. Our thoughts act like a chain of dominoes that start tipping over rapidly. The problem is that if that first domino isn't obedient to Christ, and true to His Word, then the other dominos of thoughts reflect the first one. And we can create some awfully negative stories.
Those thoughts are what send us into a tailspin of fear, worry, and despair. This is where anxiousness and depression find their source of energy.
DIAGRAM: Tree with roots in different story, the fruits are anxiousness, fear, worry, despair, etc.
So what do we do? We take thoughts captive when we see they do not obey the truth of God's Word. We take them captive in obedience to Christ. Even when we've let them get down the road a little bit, we stop them. But then what? The answer isn't to stop thinking thoughts. You can't just say "I'm not going to think those thoughts anymore. You must replace the thoughts. You must tell a different story instead. This is what we talked about the last two weeks.
DIAGRAM: Tree with roots in sovereignty, wisdom, love, and faithfulness of God. This is where trust, peace, hope, contentment are found.
This plays out in our day-to-day lives constantly. You can have stray, destructive thoughts come at any time, regardless of how mature in the faith you are. Something can happen, a scenario can unfold, and you may find yourself filling in the gaps of information with a story that starts causing you to worry. It starts causing you to fret. You must change the story. And listen, changing the story doesn't necessarily mean it will change your circumstances.
EXAMPLE: The company you work for is supposed to be laying people off in the coming months. And immediately you begin playing out all these scenarios of why you're going to be one of them. Then you let your mind go to struggling financially. Then you you're imagining not being able to pay your mortgage. Then you're envisioning the embarrassing conversation with your parents or in-laws to borrow money. And before you know it, all this has played out in your mind, you're more scared, you're anxious, and fearful. Listen carefully to what I'm about to say: you should have taken these thoughts captive the moment you told yourself that you're going to be one of them. It shouldn't have went further than that.
You should have immediately reminded yourself that God holds your future because He's sovereign, and if in His wisdom and love, He determined you were one of them, then you trust that He will provide for you, that He has different plans for you, and you will trust Him. You can update your resume, and possibly even preemptively think about other jobs you could pursue...trusting God doesn't equal being passive or lazy. But it means you're not going to let your mind tell you a story of despair about all these things that are going to happen to you that gets you worked up. None of those things have even happened. But you need to get to a place that it happening doesn't scare you, because you completely trust God.
How do we get to that place? Well, we learn how to preach the truth to ourselves. And we learn how to discern those destructive stories and take them captive. But there's something else we need to do too.
Luke 21:10-15 -- 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.
There's one major thought I want you to capture from this. After telling his disciples that troubles are coming, including personal persecution against them, he says, "Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict." Catch this again, in particular: Settle it in your minds.
Jesus tells them trouble is coming, but tells them he will provide what they need when it comes. So his instruct to them is to settle in their minds now not to worry themselves with preparing their responses to threats and authorities. In other words, he tells them to: settle it in your minds now to trust God to provide what you need when troubles come. Settle it now, before it comes, so when it comes, you can simply trust him.
There are things we need to be prepared for, and have to settle in our minds, before they come to pass. You are going to lose people you love dearly in this life. You must settle it in your minds now that Christ will support you in your grief when it comes. Your health will eventually give way and your own life will soon pass. Settle it in your mind now that you will rely on Christ to be your strength and help. You will experience unexpected changes in life that you can't control: job loss, drop in income, relationship troubles, cultural pressure to conform to the world's ways, etc.. You must settle it in your minds NOW, that when these things happen, Christ has promised to provide us what we need. He will guide us, keep us, and help us. We can trust Him.
Don't leave future decisions up to a moment's notice. Decide now that you will be faithful in advance of trial or temptations or trouble. Settle it now in your minds to trust God instead of leaning on your own understanding.
STORY: I had worked through these ideas for several years and had learned to apply them to my life. My anxiety and panic attacks had been gone for years. But in the fall of 2017, when Kaleb had the stroke and was unconscious for three weeks, I remember one night distinctly in the ICU. Everyone had left, and it was just me and Kaleb in the ICU. He hadn't woke up yet, and before I laid down, my mind began to wander and write a story about what was going to happen. And as I sat there letting my thoughts run wild, my heart rate started to increase. I knew the feeling. I hadn't had a panic attack in years, but here I was on the brink. And I immediately realized what I had been sitting there doing. I stopped. And I began to pray the truth of what I knew to be true. I knew God had our lives, including Kaleb's in His hand. And so whatever His plan held, I knew He would walk with us and sustain us through it. And I can tell you now over three years later, and my son's passing, that He has. It hasn't been easy. But He has been faithful. He has kept His promises. And we cling even tighter to the promises He gives us about our ultimate future in Christ.
But I had settled it in my mind years ago, and I had to fight the battle that night in the ICU. And I still have to fight it each day. That's why ultimately learning to live out Proverbs 3:5-6 is a one-day-at-a-time endeavor. It's not something you check off your list as completed. It's ongoing. It's one day at a time.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Leaning on your own understanding isn't just our attempts to comprehend what's going on and why it's going on; it's not just our attempts to grasp how God is at work through a circumstance; it's the stories we tell ourselves about what's going on. The stories we fill the gaps in with is one of the massive ways we lean on our own understanding. Because the stories are our own stories. Our own attempts to make sense of things. Don't do this! Take these thoughts captive. Stop them in their tracks and begin to preach to yourself the better story, the true story.
If you are in Christ, you are an adopted child of God, forgiven of sin and loved greatly. He is sovereign over your life. He determined to form you and chose the course in which your life will go. You may have chosen different if you had the power, but the wisdom of God reminds you that everything flows forth from His knowledge of what is best and His commitment to bring the flourishing of His people. He loves us with a particular love, never in abstract sense, detached from His personal commitment to be our God, and us be His people. And He is faithful to keep all His promises to us, as we cling to Him through the uncertainties and pains of life.
When we face the reality of our lack of control, we can either fret and fear, or we can trust the One who is sovereign, wise, and faithful, who loves us and calls us His own. We must learn to tell the right story to ourselves, and we must learn to take captive the ones that threaten to steal away our peace and trust in the Lord.
Do you tell stories to yourself about how something will go? How often do things work out the way you’ve constructed in your mind?
When you’re faced with an uncertain situation, do you find yourself getting anxious or do you rest in the promises of God?
Read the following verses and discuss what they tell us about our minds:
A troubled mind (2 Kings 6:11)
A depraved mind (1 Timothy 6:5)
A sinful mind (Romans 8:7)
A dull mind (2 Corinthians 3:14)
A blinded mind (2 Corinthians 4:4)
A corrupt mind (2 Timothy 3:8)
We are in a spiritual battle (2 Corinthians 3:3-5) and that battle is fought in the heart and mind. Read Ephesians 6:10-18 and discuss each component of the armour of God and how it will protect your mind and allow you to take thoughts captive.
Belt of truth
Breastplate of righteousness
Gospel of peace for shoes
Shield of faith
Helmet of salvation
Sword of the Spirit
One of the ways to control your imagination is to think about what your dreams are for the next 5 - 10 years. Discuss the dreams you have for yourself personally. For your family. What would you attempt for God if you knew you couldn’t fail?