By Joey Ruyter, MBC Prince William Discipleship Pastor
I hope my post on where conflict begins was encouraging, challenging, and helpful. Today, I want to discuss what happens after conflict begins. Typically, if we miss that the conflict really began in our own heart, we enter into a phase where we allow our imaginations to run rampant. There is damage that comes from this, but as with everything else, if we cling to the Gospel, there is hope to overcome.
Philippians 4:8 says, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
This unfortunately doesn’t come so easily. But let’s start with the alternative: Narrative. Everyone enjoys a good narrative. A narrative is a story, an account of connected events, either spoken, written, or in our case, thought. Now more than ever, narratives surround and inundate us from all sorts of media. This began when we were young. Our parents read or told us stories that fascinated our imagination. Then we began taking interest in cartoons. From there – the infatuation grew. Narratives are the reason we are drawn to TV shows, books, movies, sports teams, etc. As a matter of fact, narratives are what marketers use to convince you to buy their products.
It’s no surprise we enjoy narrative. The first thing we learn about God in the Bible (Genesis 1:1) is that God is creative: “In the beginning, God created…” Later in chapter 1, we see that we were made in His image. Then, we find the power of His Word through story, poems, songs, etc. We see Jesus himself is the Word in John 1, and that Word became flesh. Narratives, stories, words and thoughts are all so extremely powerful and engrained into the fiber of our being.
NEGATIVE NARRATIVES AND THEIR COLLATERAL DAMAGE
So what’s the point? The point is the art of narratives is good, profitable and pure, yet can be twisted and used for what is bad, worthless, and corrupt. One of the biggest ways we do this is to create negative narratives in our minds.
We are quite the scriptwriters! If we aren’t careful, either our flesh or Satan (most likely his demons) help us craft some of the most deceitful narratives about others – or even ourselves.
Last year I attended a conference where Dr. Henry Cloud talked about our thoughts spiraling out of control in three distinct ways.
1. Personal – Ourselves: “I’m no good,” Others: “They’re no good.”
– Brain begins to shut down
2. Pervasive – Ourselves: “Everyone thinks I’m not good,” Others: “Everyone else thinks they’re no good.”
– Thought reaches the global part of the brain
3. Permanent – Both: “This is just how it is going to be forever.”
SO, WHAT DO WE DO?
Decipher and tenaciously change our thoughts. Let me offer you some relief: these narratives made up in our minds that often take us captive are not Spirit-given thoughts. These narratives are NOT from the Lord, because they are not fortified with faith, hope and freedom. Rather, they are infiltrated with fear, emptiness, and captivity. These narratives promote disunity and despair, but God’s narrative in the Gospel promotes restoration and redemption.
In his book Soul Detox, Craig Groeschel offers this challenge:
Decide the destination of your mind. Any time your mind drifts toward dangerous thoughts, stop. Grab those runaway thoughts. Do whatever it takes to get the trash out of your mind. Old Testament prophet said to God, “You see me and test my thoughts about you. Drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter!” (Jer. 12:3). Can you hear the passion for truth in Jeremiah’s words? He asked god to test his thoughts, identify any that were “black sheep,” drag them off and butcher them. Are you willing to ask God to do the same with your thought life? (Groeschel, 50-51)
Friend, I would take it one step further – as we ask the Lord to butcher our bad narratives, allow Him to replace them with His true narrative – and all of its beautiful themes. The Gospel is grace, mercy, forgiveness, restoration, redemption, and on and on we could go. By focusing on these beautiful facets of the Gospel, we can set our minds on solid ground when approaching conflict in our lives. He has offered us so much. How can we fail to love and forgive others?
Lord – help us with our thought life, especially in regards to conflict. Butcher the lies and anything that is not from You, Your Word, or Your Spirit. Let us cling to Philippians 4, allowing Your peace to reign in our hearts and mind, focusing on the beautiful, pure, and noble things. And Father, I pray our confidence might be found in You and nothing else. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.