(From the Beatitudinal Podcase Episode # 2: Mind Series #:2 It Seemed a Good Idea at the Time)
Being attitudinal – to fiercely live a life of gratitude – is our aim. Last week, we were reminded that rather than being automatic, it is a cultivated practice, and that our thoughts can get in the way of our doing so, especially thoughts from a diabolical source. This week, we are looking at the second of our three possible thought sources: our true selves a.k.a. the human soul – and how the promptings of this source must also be handled with care.
What is It?
Without going into the complexities of what the soul is, or the religious or psychological implications of its synonym “The Psyche”, our working concept for today will be that of a three dimensional human , who has a physical body (body), cerebral functions (mind), in which the powerhouse intangible breath of life (soul) still resides. The priority accorded the human soul – in the bible for example – further distinguishes humans – as our minds do – from animals. It is not entirely clear whether animals – though intelligent – have a soul: however, regardless as God’s creatures, they are to be treated with care (and common sense!)
The soul is that animate sense infused with our sense of self and personality that we recognize as ourselves. We ‘hear’ and experience thoughts, impulses, resolutions that we presume are its output.
We All Have One
The natural tendencies of our soul are what we refer to as our ‘human nature’. This is what motivates our actions at a very fundamental level, and we understandably take it for granted. It manifests in the form of needs, appetites, emotions, aspirations, resolutions and responses. It may be instinctive, or of our ancestral heritage. It may be involuntary, or voluntary and intentional.
For example, when I have not eaten for some hours, my stomach will prompt me to seek nourishment by growling and producing a rumbling sensation. I will experience mental flashes of some tasty meal or other. The message: I’m hungry: EAT. I may respond to this prompt voluntarily or involuntarily (if I have an eating disorder, for example) by eating a healthy breakfast. I may eat junk food, because I have a junk food addiction. I may eat cardboard, because I am experiencing pica (odd cravings of a pregnant woman), or I may permit myself only a single raisin, and then wash it down with lashings and lashings of water (involuntary response resulting from an eating disorder). My eating pattern may be out of whack, and I wake up at 2:30 am ravenous, wanting that breakfast. These are all responses to my perception of the need to eat, but not all are reasonable or appropriate.
In the example above, the prompt was a rumbling stomach. Other communications may in the form of an internal voice – the thought “I need to leave now, or I’ll be late’. It may be an emotion – the jealously I feel, say, at a colleague’s work promotion. It may be a response , for example, the instinctively affectionate reaction to the image of a cute child.
We Can’t Presume
The fact that we experience communication rooted in our spirt does not mean that it is good or appropriate. The prompts we experience may be distorted – I may think that I am hungry, but I am really thirsty, but so undisciplined with food, that I can no longer tell the difference.
In the same way, we cannot take the benevolence of our human nature for granted. Contrary to the prevailing contemporary belief – that humans are intrinsically good, the Bible explains in sharp contrast, that though we are made in the image of God , our human nature – also referred to in scripture as our flesh – is predisposed to evil. This is a carry over from The Fall in the Garden of Eden as a result of which all descendants of Adam and Eve inheirit this sinful flesh, and struggle with sinful tendencies for as long as they shall live.
We are susceptible to the outworkings of this flaw – easily shaped by questionable company. We all – without God’s help – tend to be fearful, selfish, egotistical, greedy, self-indulgent. We deify what panders to or satisfies out fleshly desires.
Some questions to ask when we are contemplating a fleshly urge:
(i) Is this reasonable?
(ii) Is it appropriate in this context?
(iii) Is this a moderate or excessive response?
(iv) Is this fuelled – a response – to fear, anger or other negative emotions?
(v) Is this deceitful or underhand in any way?
Yes, our impulses are flawed, and sometimes deeply, deeply deceptive (Jeremiah 17:9-10). It’s a good thing that all this is factored into God’s Master Plan (John 3:16)!
Caution is Prudent
A valuable perspective to maintain is the awareness that there are three possible sources for our thoughts and motivations, and that one – and only one – the one inspired by the divine, our Lord God Almighty through His Holy Spirit – is utterly reliable. The other two are either to be received with caution (soulish), or rejected outright (diabolical).
Our soulish thoughts are not necessarily bad – we are after all created as intelligent beings, and designed to think and take essentially autonomous action – but they must be carefully vetted before they can be responsibly relied upon. And as a prior step, the source of a thought or impulse must be discerned to clarify which of the three is the Author for appropriate action. They must be tested, in other words. We will look at that a little more closely shortly.
Even if the thoughts pass muster – e.g. are not diabolical for automatic rejection, and though not divinely inspired for automatic acceptance, but are from oneself, and not reprehensibly fleshly they must still be vetted. This is because only God has perfect wisdom with absolute foresight. We, on the other hand, are subject to human limitation, thus something that seems good presently, may often turn out to be a bitterly regretted mistake. It seemed a good idea at the time, but……. We need, therefore, to seek divine guidance, even after we have performed our due diligence of discerning the spirit motivating our proposed objective.
To express this in another way, WE NEED TO PRAY. Not with trepidation or in a tentative or discouraged way, but with relieved gratitude – glad that we have a Heavenly Father who is ever present, always happy to guide, protect, and correct us.
Here are a few cases in point illustrating bad moves that seemed a good idea at the time:
Our flesh may be so insistent that it drowns out good sense – we want it so badly that only immediate gratification sill do; the longer term benefit that would come from delayed gratification just wont cut it – as in the case of the King Coveters above.
Our fleshly appetites may be so prominent that they drown out the quiet prompting of the Holy Spirit. We may have a vague sense that something is ‘not right’ but only a vague nagging feeling that is easily overlooked if we don’t pause to check with the Lord. Sometimes, it is only when we have paused to pray – to check – that we can zone in on uneasy feeling which then, after prayers is amplified to a strong DON’T DO IT which if obeyed, will result in one escaping a regrettable outcome.
A case study from my personal archives: The Vengeful Victim – or “A Boon Ripe for the Missing”
I had suffered a grievous wrong at the hands of someone that was so egregious, the logical and just thing to do – it seemed – was to sue. The wrong had harmed me financially, and when I counted the cost of pursuing the lawsuit, I could see that I could not afford it. I decided to let it go, feeling I was not to pursue it further. A dear friend who heard what had happened to me was so offended by the injustice that she immediately transferred the estimated cost – several thousand dollars – to my account, insisting that a lack of funds would not be the window for injustice. After I accepted the money, my sense of unease returned, and when I prayed I Kings 13: 7-31 was impressed on my heart: essentially a story of a prophet who followed logic and third party encouragement, instead of what the Lord had instructed – with disastrous results. I immediately informed my friend that I couldn’t take the money, and that I would refund it immediately, only for her to inform me that she would not accept it, that she had been instructed by the Lord to give me the money. She suggested that I could use the money to offset the financial harm I had sustained, at least in the short term. If I had accepted the money for the original purpose – to pursue legal action again the wrongdoer – I most likely would have lost the action. Not for a lack in the case, which was logically and legally speaking, very strong indeed, but because I would have failed to listen when I was told by the Lord, not to do it.
A Valuable Perspective to Cultivate
So, as we have already said, it is important to keep in mind the three possible sources of our motivations, and to be primed to act accordingly – to either obey promptly (the divine), reject outright (the diabolical), or vet carefully (the flesh).
So when there is the need to assess our thoughts, how should we proceed?
(i) Keep in Mind the Three Possibilities
(ii) Test the Voice
(iii) If Fleshly, it is Not Necessarily Bad
(iv) Confirm it in Prayer
a. Thank God
Dear Lord, I am so grateful that I am not on my own, that I do not have to figure out things solely by my flawed nature, my imperfect vision and limited perspective. I’m so glad that I have Your wisdom, in Your Word, the Bible, and Your Presence, by the Holy Spirit, to guide me.
b. Lay it Before the Lord
Father, I bring this matter before You: You know this situation, and You were fully aware of it before it became an issue for me to work through. I’m tempted to take [describe decision you are thinking of taking], but I need Your wisdom. This seems like a good idea, and I have done my due diligence by examining my options, my motives carefully, but I’m aware that something that seems wise today could possibly prove misguided tomorrow without Your wisdom, so help me, dear Lord.
c. Request Guidance
Father, I have taken to heart Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths” I have done my due diligence, but stopping there will be me leaning on my own understanding. Father, please enliven my understanding now, with Your wisdom, so that it may be confirmed, and I feel Your peace, that my decision is sound. May my heart be receptive, and eager for Your prompting, and enable me to act according to Your Will. In Jesus Loving Name, Amen.