Years ago I read a famous singer’s autobiography. It was impressive, like having a conversation with a good-natured, sensible next door neighbor. I’m sure that a lot of what I read was true, but, like many autobiographies, it was selective. Those who followed his life know that it was also messier than the book might lead us to believe.
The same is true of all of us. We all sound better on paper, or in our spoken self-descriptions than we really are. Some of this, of course, is unavoidable. It’s not usually appropriate to air all our dirty laundry or personal struggles to whoever is around. There’s such a thing as “too much information”. Or we’re unsure about how people will treat us if they see our imperfections.
But there’s a third reason, the one I want to address today; the one that drives me crazy. The reason is this: what we consciously believe does not always match the way we feel and behave. I’m not speaking here of blatant hypocrisy. I’m talking about those times when we deeply long to live a certain way but seem unable to pull it off in real life. I, for example, have battled depression and anxiety for many years, despite sincerely believing that God has blessed me “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph.1:3) and that I can “cast all my anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). I’ve prayed untold hours seeking to connect with God, asking His help. I’ve memorized Scripture and practiced thought control. All of this has been useful, but it hasn’t eliminated my battles. They still go on. And that’s just one example. If wishes were reality I would have become like Christ forty years ago. That’s what I truly want. Don’t you? This raises the first question:
Why is it often hard for our lives to match our beliefs?
1. It’s hard for our lives to always match our beliefs because what actually controls us is often subconscious
In his book, You Are Not So Smart, author David McRaney points out 48 subconscious beliefs that effect the way we live even though we’re not aware of them. The truth is, that what we believe, sincerely, on the surface does not always match more powerful beliefs that are swirling below the surface. In other words, a lot of our internal wiring is hidden. Consciously, for instance, I know that God loves me unconditionally. Subconsciously, though, I sense another belief – that God’s love is based on my performance. Perhaps I acquired this truth growing up, because other people often do love us conditionally. This makes me feel emotionally insecure around God, even though my conscious theology tells me differently. This leads to a second, related point:
2. It’s hard for our lives to always match our beliefs because our subconscious beliefs are often hard to detect
We often react from instinct without being sure where that instinct came from. Why do we have such a fear of rejection? Why do tend to procrastinate? We don’t know why, but we do. Our controlling beliefs are often hidden beneath layers and layers and are hard to detect. Our conscious reasons for our reactions are often not the real power-brokers behind what we do.
3. It’s hard for our lives to match our beliefs because deeply ingrained habits and mindsets are tough to change
Even when we know we ought to quit worrying, to let go of the past, or to stop lusting, these tendencies resist our efforts to unseat them. It’s like trying to throw left-handed when you’ve been right-handed all your life. This is why most diets fail. Under pressure, we revert to established patterns.
4. It’s hard for our lives to match our beliefs because often spiritual warfare is involved
We don’t live in a spiritually neutral zone. Jesus said that the world “hated” him. Our old nature, the world, and the Devil all exert pressure on us to follow them and resist God. And often, the sinful way is, for the moment, the easier, more pleasant way. Furthermore, it may have established a subconscious hold. So it’s a battle.
5. It’s hard for our lives to match our beliefs because often we don’t know how to make that happen
Wanting is not doing. I may sincerely desire to be more like Jesus in many ways – more patient, more forgiving, more unselfish and so on, and even make resolutions to do so, but find out that, in the end, not much changes. My good intentions seem to take me nowhere because more is needed than good intentions. Old habits eat good intentions for lunch. Which leads to our second question:
How can I help my actual life match my biblical beliefs?
1. I help my actual life match my biblical beliefs by first realizing and accepting the difficulty of the challenge
It’s one thing to act godly and another to be godly. The acting part, actually, isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, for instance, the best I can do at the moment is to act patient, although inside I’m twisting around like a sack full of angry cats. The goal, however, is to become patient inside too; for patience to become instinctual. That’s God’s goal for us. But it’s often extremely hard to make that transition for all the reasons mentioned above. Realizing that leads to the next step:
2. I help my actual life match my biblical beliefs by grabbing God’s hand and relying on His help
When it comes to deep down heart change, you and I are in way over our heads. We can make some superficial changes, but only God’s Spirit has the resources to create true godliness in us. This is called “the fruit of the Spirit”. He knows all our motivations, our strengths and weaknesses, conscious or subconscious and has the ability and the wisdom to transform them. In fact, as we spend time in His presence, He’s often working in ways we’re not even aware of. Rely on Him more than on yourself.
3. I help my actual life to match my biblical beliefs by gaining more self-awareness
While our subconscious is mysterious, it’s not impermeable. It just takes effort to explore it. Ask the Spirit to show you yourself more fully. Be open to the observations of others about yourself (even when they’re uncomfortable). Read insightful books, both sacred and secular.
4. I help my actual life to match my biblical beliefs by making myself accountable to others
I implied this a moment ago. Have frank discussions regularly about your life with people you trust; friends who will accept you but still hold you accountable.
5. I help my actual life to match my biblical beliefs by being patient
Spiritual improvement often occurs at a snail’s pace and we’re not even aware of it at the time. In fact, some changes take years. Open your heart to God, do your best, and know this – God loves you right now, just as you are. And He will use you right now. As Paul puts it: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7).