Picture yourself in a crowded room, holding a cup full of hot coffee. You are having a conversation with someone you have just met. You want this person to like you, so you are doing your best to come across as the pleasant, competent, wise, compassionate and knowledgeable person that you really are – or want to be. Just then someone in the crowd bumps against your elbow, the hot coffee sloshes out of the cup all over the person you were trying to impress, and you are thoroughly embarrassed. So much for your image!
Now apply that picture to your emotional state. You are calm, cheerful and positive as long as everything is going your way. But what happens when you get bumped by events you can’t control, circumstances that mess with your plans, or people who don’t treat you as you think you deserve? That’s when what’s in your cup comes spilling out, and you find out what you are really full of. That’s when you find out whether the image you project matches the reality of what is actually in your heart. As Jesus put it, out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.
Come on, you say, that’s not fair. I can’t be responsible for how I react to annoying people, unfair decisions, shoddy service, and the many other aggravations that life puts in my path. Do you expect me just to put up with all that stuff?
Let me ask a different question. If Christ lives in you, can’t you do better than just react to others? No doubt there are genuine wrongs and injustices in life, and there is a place for addressing them. But as long as we are bound up on the inside with anger, judgments, guilt, fear, pride and other baggage, our most constructive contribution may be to clean up our own junk first. As Jesus said, How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.
The Christian life is intended to be a process of life-long growth in which the character of Jesus shines through more and more in our lives as the image of God is restored in us. Ironically, one of the keys to this process is not to get too preoccupied with our own growth. We’ll get farther if we fix our eyes on Jesus than if our gaze is always fixed on ourselves and our own perceived failures. Still, learning to understand ourselves is valuable, especially when understanding leads to specific and focussed repentance. Each of us comes into God’s Kingdom as damaged goods, and we can co-operate better with the Holy Spirit’s work if we allow Him to shine his light on the areas of greatest damage for the purpose of restoration.
I have found that if I am honestly and humbly seeking self-understanding for the purpose of growing in grace, the Holy Spirit is more than willing to give me insight. A good question to ask Him is not just “What’s in my cup” but “How did it get there?”. Although we may be very adept at condemning ourselves, frequently we don’t have a very good understanding of why we are the way we are. When we consider that deception is one of the Enemy’s favourite strategies it shouldn’t be too surprising that he would do his best to blind us to the root causes of destructive patterns of thought and behaviour.
This is a big topic, and a blog post is not the place to lay out a complete methodology for the restoration and healing of the wounded and polluted soul. But as one who has needed – and received – much grace in this area, let me encourage you not to believe the lie that you cannot change. Why should you be any different than anyone else? All the power is on our side – the blood of Jesus, the liberating truth of the Word of God, the instruction of the Holy Spirit, the power of repentance and forgiveness, and the help of friends in Christ. All the enemy has going for him is deception. True, he is a master at it, but the Father of lights is greater than the father of lies.
Our spirits are born again when we receive Jesus Christ into our lives; the redemption of our bodies will take place when He returns. In between those two events, we have a lifetime to allow Him to work out the restoration of our souls. Let’s commit ourselves to pressing forward to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us – the fulness of life which He said was our inheritance. And lest anyone think that all this attention on healing of the soul sounds a bit selfish, consider that the more healed you are, the better equipped you are to help others find healing. The more free you are, the better equipped you are to help others get free.