Staying Sane Part 2
After all These Years
Watch the Shadows
Recently I encountered the following passage, “Laziness casts into a deep sleep” (Proverbs 19:15). The word that really jumped off the page for me in that passage was the word “casts”. This suggests that laziness creates something like a dark shadow that has a negative impact upon our future selves. One writer summed up the above verse as “the creeping spread of sloth”. That laziness can put a person into a deep mental and spiritual slumber, where you just kind of exist for years or decades but you are not really aware of what is really going on and what you are becoming in the process. You are simply busy at making excuses and believing those excuses. I would argue that such a deep sleep or detachment from reality is also produced by bitterness, anger, lust, self-pity, prejudice and a number of other sinful attitudes. Sanity thus means resisting those attitudes and mindsets that can put us into a deep sleep and becoming and remaining a faith-filled Christian is the only way we can stay out of the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13; 1 Thess. 5:6 “Let us not sleep as others do”).
The Upside and Downside of a Label
We live in the world where there are many mental or personality disorders that have been given various names or labels. On the one hand the upside of a diagnosis is:
- Other people have this problem too. It is treatable and there might be more than one option.
- In like manner, the Bible gives us many accounts that include specific individuals who struggled with what we still struggle with today. Thus we have passages such as Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13.
- Knowing what your problem is can be a relief. What a relief to hear, “This is what you have, we have seen this many times before, and here are the treatment options”. You still have something to work on after a diagnosis, but at least you know what it is and what to do about it. It is still a problem, but now it can likely be a manageable problem.
- One of the great advantages of reading your Bible on a regular basis is that the word of God can diagnose spiritual problems that exist in your heart or mind (Hebrews 4:12ff). You read and you realize, “Yea, I do have a problem with lust or anger”. “I am a prideful person and I have a hard time submitting to a higher authority. I am going to work on that”. Or, “I tend to be a negative person. I fall into the trap of looking for the worst in people. I complain way too much”.
Ignorance is not Bliss
If we see someone walking around in a fog and they appear to be completely unaware of the problems they have or the problems they are causing, do not envy them. Yes, keeping ourselves in a fog will mean that we don’t know when we mess up, but we will still pay the price now and in the long term. It is one thing for life to discipline or thump you and you know why, it is another thing for life to thump you and you’re clueless that it was a result of your own doing.
The danger of any label is that we can hide behind it, use it as a crutch to excuse ourselves, and start acting out the label. If I have a problem with focusing on things, then I might say, “Well I cannot read the Bible because I have a problem staying focused? therefore, I am excused”.
- A label is never an excuse. In the Bible are various people who were exceptionally messed up, including, Cain, Balaam, the people in the time of Noah (Genesis 6:5), Pharaoh, Potiphar’s wife, and Ahab and Jezebel. If these people were alive today and went to a professional counselor they would probably be diagnosed with all sorts of problems, yet I never find God saying that they were not accountable because they had “issues” (2 Peter 2:5). Obviously, if all these people with issues were not excused, I must conclude that you and I, with all our issues, are very much still accountable to God (2 Corinthians 5:10).
- Once again, the accounts written in the Word of God and preserved for us serve to de-isolate ourselves. The more we read the Bible the less we are tempted to think that our own situation is unique and that no one understands what we are up against. Rather, we humbly acknowledge that we are just like those who proceeded us (James 5:17) and struggle with those things that are common to the human race.
- The danger of thinking that no one can understand your situation is that you may start thinking that no one can help you. It is tempting to become prideful, “No one knows how hard it is for me to…”, and to then resent all the advice and help that well-meaning people are offering.
- In fact, the early church was filled with people who had all sorts of problems and issues but were breaking from a sinful past and were seeking to live godly lives (Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 3:5-11). When I read Ephesians 2:1-3 or 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 I don’t think I can say, “But I have more issues than they had!”
Pray without Ceasing
- Praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16) is not unrealistic. Because we talk to ourselves without ceasing all the time. What would happen if you replaced all negative self-talk with talking to God and reflecting upon Scripture? Try it this week. Guarding one’s heart (Proverbs 4:23), includes speaking the truth, even to oneself.
- So in Scripture we find examples of people telling themselves something completely false (Psalm 10:6, 11). Correcting themselves (because it is tempting to lie to yourself) (Psalm 94:18; 139:11), and then being determined to tell themselves what is actually true (Psalm 91:2).
- I find an excellent example of this in Isaiah 56:3 “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from His people’. Nor let the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree’”. Basically God is saying, “If you are tempted to tell yourself this or that… don’t!”
Justify Your Existence/Have a Plan
The following is an exercise that one teacher gave to his college students: He demanded that they prove to him that their current plan for the next three years of their life was indeed the best course of action for them.
- If you don’t know what the story of your life should be (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Joshua 24:15), if you don’t have a plan, if you just wait and see what happens, and just react to life, then do not be shocked if life hands you a very small role to play, a bit part, a mere supporting cast member in the life of someone else. Or, even worse, that life will assign you the role of a tragic character.
- Set up your life in a way as if you cared for yourself, as if you wanted what was best for you, not only here but in eternity as well. Make sure that you look after your eternal destiny and save yourself (Acts 2:40).
- How would your life change, what would your daily schedule look like in the next three years if you really wanted what was truly best for you, your mate and your family? If you really wanted the best life for you? If you really wanted the best in spiritual growth? How would your daily schedule change? How would your priorities change? What would you immediately change about your life and yourself? What would you immediately start and stop doing?
Whom to Put in Charge
The part of you that you need to put in the driver’s seat of your life is that part of you that pays attention and learns (James 1:21). Do not put the excuse-maker in charge. Do not put anger or lust in charge. Do not put pride in charge. Do not put your feelings and emotions in charge. Do not put Mr. “I want it now” in charge. Put in charge that part of you that really cares where “you” end up for all eternity (Matthew 7:13-14).
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017