What’s On Your Mind: The Distracted Mind

#4

The Mind is Distracted, Anxious, and Changeable

He Who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change His mind; He is not a human being, that He should change His mind.”1 Samuel 15:29

It all starts with fear

            Because of sin, man fears (Genesis 3). Previous to sin, there had been a most wonderful, open conversation with their Creator.  What a lovely depiction of relaxed, enjoyable communion with others!

            But sin changed all that; as God initiates a social invitation, Adam and Eve hide.  They try fruitlessly to cover this new state of mind with fig leaves and avoidance. But God knows where we live.  He sees through our fig leaves, right to our very naked souls.  

            Our first fear began with a choice; a wrong one.  I would hazard a guess that this is why we often bolt from making decisions. Decisions cause us anxiety.  We want to make the right ones.  We want to make the decision that is Right–the one that will please God. We want to use our resources of time, energy, finances, and even our affections wisely.

            We are afraid, however, that we can’t make the decision on our own.  Just as in the Garden, we are now keenly aware that we can make a mistake again. What a responsibility is the ability to decide! What harm will come if I miss the boat and choose wrongly? 

            Right now, I am myself in the throes of multiple decisions. It seems that I can be confused, frustrated, doubtful, hopeful, sure and then unsure in a changing stream of thought processes.  Having the gift of free choice is a weight, a burden. And I’m not alone in feeling this. God says that we are all changeable and prone to threat of misstep.

Samuel, Saul and the Bleating Sheep

            God’s man and Israel’s last acting judge, Judge Samuel had to deliver bad news to the flesh-driven, careless-thinking King Saul (1 Samuel 15).  Saul had to wear the leadership role over an increasingly secularizing nation.  His job was hard and he was only a very small man and very afraid (1 Samuel 10:21-23)[1].  

            We get Saul.  Many times, we ARE Saul.  We make decisions out of panic, or (“time’s up!”) the pressure of deadlines.  We make decisions based on our fear of man’s disapproval or censure.  We make decisions based on what will both satisfy God and ourselves. We are willing, but we are weak, confused, and distracted…very small and very afraid.

            Samuel stands in as God in this situation.  “What were you thinking, man?!  Do you think that God changes his mind like we do?  When God says something, He means it; it is truth that cannot be denied without peril. He gave you a command, but you have disregarded it. He is not a man that you can get him to change the consequences once you’ve started the ball rolling.  No, take your hands off my robe. God’s judgment stands” (my paraphrase of 1 Samuel 15:29).

But isn’t God a merciful God?

            Yes! But mercy doesn’t mean the judgment changes.  That would be license, not mercy. Who expects a criminal to be released from his consequences just because he said “Sorry…”? Mercy means God sent Jesus Christ to fulfill the punishment on our behalf.  Someone had to die to satisfy God’s prior judgment.  God didn’t change His mind on truth; He satisfied it in Christ. Always Righteous Judge; always Merciful Savior.  

            God is not remote and unfeeling; he is not some “inhumane force.”   God mourned for Adam and for Saul.[2] God mourned for the corrupt individuals lost in the Flood (Genesis 6:5-6).  God, through Jesus, wept over the human condition at Lazarus’ death (John 11:30-36) and mourned for the coming judgment against Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). God mourns so much about sin that He has promised and set about a Day when all mourning is over and sin is vanquished (Revelation 21:4).

            Knowing God’s character as just and true, yet also compassionate and merciful is actually a comfort for us when we are distracted, confused, frustrated, and anxious. He alone must be the center pole of our own hearts and minds if we are not to be swept away by the winds of change, differing voices, and expectations around us. The beautiful truth of this is that though I and those around me are so changeable, God is not. He is our Rock.

If God is unchanging,…

            God is very practical. If God is unchanging, then there are certain logical conclusions I can make.  

  • If God is unchanging, then I must make my decision based on the character of God.  What kind of God is he?  What are His priorities?  What has He said?  What has He already done?  Where is He taking me, that I can come in line with His goals? 
  • If God is unchanging, then I can rest that His stated will, His mission, will be accomplished regardless of my human weakness.  Sometimes I have the arrogance to think that if I make a mistake in discerning God’s will that I will mess up God’s plan altogether.  Or, knowing that God’s plan will not fail, I believe that I will be judged and lose fellowship with God or (at the uttermost extreme) lose my salvation. But that can’t happen.  Our mistakes as believers are opportunities to draw closer to God, because Jesus Christ has already cleansed us from the stain of being human (sinful nature).  There is rest in that truth. 
  • If God is unchanging, then His promises are true. Jesus promised a Helper, and that Helper has come. We have God Himself through His Spirit who helps us in our weaknesses.  He enables us to pray to Him through His intercession for us (Romans 8:26-27). Because of Christ, the Holy Spirit will help us know what we are to say as we proclaim Him to others (Luke 12:12). Because of Christ, the Spirit will show us the way we should go (Isaiah 30:18-21).[3]
  • If God is unchanging, then God must be the one to which I appeal. His character sets the pace (as we see in point #1). But how often do we take this as only a passive fact?  “Ye have not because ye ask not...” (James 4:3).

Be anxious in nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.” (Phil 4:6-7, emphasis added). 

            Paul speaks directly into a situation filled with dissension and distraction.  Good believers were at odds with one another.  We see this outwardly in the Body of Believers, but we also see this turmoil in our own mind when our mind is distracted not only by sin, but by competing good things. 

            Paul tells us that we are NOT to be anxious in anything at all.  Anxiety is fear and fear keeps us from God (hiding); not that we should fear God’s holiness if we have accepted the grace of Christ, for are accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 6:3-6). There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1-4).  

            But that’s what sin does.  It makes us feel condemned even when we are no longer. BREAK THAT PERCEPTION!  Because if we do not, we will turn to another resource for help–a lifeless, foolish god of this world.[5]The very time we are afraid, that is the time we must go to Him (Ps. 56:3-4)! 

Active, Effective Prayer

            Speaking God’s own heart and words, Paul reminds us that we have an Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1)!  We can go boldly to the throne of grace and rest our distractions right there (Hebrews 4:16Ephesians 3:12).  This is not a passive irresponsibility.  No, it is very active!  

  • Come to God, face to face, in prayer. We cannot hope for a “new” word if we have not even attended to the Word He has already spoken.[5]  So this is a two-fer.  When we come to God in both Bible study and prayer, we are not hiding.  We are making ourselves known to God, even as we ask Him to make Himself known to us.  We are being transparent and honest, letting the Word and the Spirit speak to us.
  • Come with a heart of thanksgiving.  Take a look again at the situation before you. Where do you see God at work? What benefits are already present in your situation?  How has God brought you to this point?  What people has God surrounded you with that are emissaries of His wisdom and grace? What promises have you read in the Word that give you hope as you seek resolution? God says where our minds should be (Phil 4:8) for our benefit. “Look up!” God says. Come with a heart that looks for God in the hidden realities of your situation. 
  • Petition God concerning our requests.  Use language and get very specific in your needs. Often this unmasks our heart and shows our motivations! That is why we often avoid doing it. It is also why we should do it; honesty moves us toward sound counsel.  Often, our own prayers are God’s way of opening our understanding by matching His truth with our lack. He is then able to fill up our lack with Himself.

            Petition means that we take on humility. Petition means I am placing myself at aothers’ disposal. I am vulnerable, dependent and willing to accept whatever answer is given. I ask because I trust. Sometimes God says ‘no’.  Sometimes God says ‘wait’.  Sometimes God says ‘yes’.  When we come to God with a humble spirit, looking to Him in faithful trust, He will not turn us aside. We will have our answer (Lamentations 3:25-26Isaiah 40:31).

            Then we must “put it into practice” what we get by way of discernment from God (Phil 4:9).  This is where our sinful nature will rise up.  But He will give us the power and the desire to get up and do the will of God right there. We have already won the greater part of the battle on our knees!  We are in a position to accept what He says as good. Our eyes are opened to the understanding the Spirit gives. We can now see the wisdom in obedience.  We may not understand yet how it will all work out along the way, but we have the promise that God rewards His loving, obedient children. He blesses the nations through that obedience.  It’s a win-win. 

Traction

            My own wrestling with some recent pending decisions have been put to prayer.  I am consulting God’s Word. I don’t have to sweat which verse is “THE” verse to help me.  I just read God’s Word to soak up His Presence of Truth.  He becomes bigger than my confusion.  He becomes all.  

            I don’t know what the final result will be. I’m just waiting on God’s response and look for His wisdom in the days and events that follow.  God unfolds my life moment-by-moment.  He brings understanding along the way. It may be a circumstance changes, or something that is said spurs a remembrance of a truth.

            In all, I know I am never forsaken.  I am loved with an everlasting love. So whatever I decide, even if I have misunderstood His discernment, it’s not a deal breaker with my relationship with Him if I’m truly desiring His way.  He will teach me and He will cushion me through the learning process.  It’s going to be all right.

            “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” — Julian of Norwich[6]

            Heavenly Father, you know my heart.  There are paths leading out from today like tines on a fork.  They can’t all happen.  I am distracted and confused; I am in need. Static from my own heart and from the pressing needs of today shout louder than clear vision.  I come to You, my Center and my Shield, my Fortress and My Guide for clarity of truth. Order my mind. Expose my heart to me so I can confess any hidden motives before you.  Bless those you have given me who are pouring grace into my life. Thank you for Your guidance up to this point; I am here by your grace. I am small, but You are Great. Your will be done. The decisions that I enumerate to you are Yours; that which you decide, that I will do with Your help. In the Blessed Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. 

© March 2019 by ReadPsalm119.com

Footnotes:

[1]The name “Saul” meant “small”; the tribe of Benjamin was the smallest tribe of Israel in King Saul’s day.  Though Saul was physically a big man, his fear made him small.  Appearances deceive! 

[2]The Bible says “regretted” but that means “to sigh” with compassion and grief, not that God changed his mind (he enacted the judgment!) but that He was grieved of heart.  We see this in Jesus’ exclamation over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44).  But justice and Truth are Who He is.  

[3]   [“Teacher” – ESV, NASB, HCSB versions.]   This is an Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ and in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost on all believers [Zion]. 

[4]The commandment against turning to idols instead of God (Leviticus 19:4) uses the term transliterated as Hebrew elil, meaning “worthless”.  The implication (by the “or” conjunctive) is that an idol is not just a molten or carved image, but any worthless object of our worship and praise.  The point is that God alone deserves our worship and our first consideration for counsel.  Anything less is idolatry and is willing rebellion against Him, which will incur rightful judgment. 

[5]See Further Resources:  “Four Prayers for Bible Reading”.

[6]This is a saying that has comforted so many for hundreds of years.  I believe I heard it quoted by Amy Carmichael in one of her writings, as it comforted her. It was quoted again by C.S. Lewis, another of my human spiritual mentors.  Julian was apparently quoting who she believed to be Christ Himself through a vision.  Whatever one believes about spiritual visions, the truth is not without scriptural precedent. Christ has said all things are very well and at peace in the Kingdom of God, through all trial and affliction. Read more about Julian of Norwich and this quote at “Article #31: ‘All shall be well’“, Dan Graves, Christian History Institutewww.christianhistoryinstitute.org.


FURTHER RESOURCES:

“Four Prayers for Bible Reading|Desiring God“, Dan Graves, Executive Editor, September 21, 2015, desiringGod.org 

“Romans 8:26-27: The Spirit Helps Us in Our Weakness|Desiring God”,John Piper, January 20, 2015, desiringGod.org 

Let’s Worship Together:

“Be Still My Soul (In You I Rest)”, Kari Jobe, uploaded by Kari Jobe, March 8, 2013. [YouTube; 5:11 min).  Kari sings this simply.  Five minutes is not mindless repetition, but solid lyric, quiet comfort. Lyrics show on the screen. Enjoy some untangling today.  God bless you! 

“It is Well”, by Kristene DiMarco (Bethel Music), uploaded by Bethel Music, April 27, 2014, [YouTube: 6:22 min.]. DiMarco borrows from two well-known older hymns, each with amazing, relevant history:  “It is Well With My Soul” by Philip  and “Be Still My Soul” (tr. Catherine Winkworth). Lyrics and links for these are below. [Note: The song goes long, but only at the end; so if needed or desired, it can be closed without sacrificing the message.] 

It is Well With My Soul(Horatio Spafford, 1876; )

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul!

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