“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
Living in the world today is a little like navigating a minefield. You can never be entirely sure whether your very next step will land upon a hidden mine, and even when it does, it’s up in the air as to whether the thing will go off or not. The fact is that the world is full of stressful events, circumstances and people, and different combinations of these triggers can cause entirely different stressed reactions in us. One week, it might be an event that causes problems for you—then, the following week, the event itself could no longer be a problem. But now it’s someone else’s reaction to the event that causes issues. And the following week they’ve calmed down, and you’re okay too, but the event has sudden, unexpected consequences, and those circumstances are about to create their own special form of havoc in your life…right about…now.
When you suffer from stress reactions, received wisdom is to apply yourself to the problem itself. People will tell you to look at the trigger, ask you what’s occurred and how it can be fixed so that your stress will just magically go away, as if the problem is your environment. It’s the human race’s answer to almost everything, when you think about it – we’re masters at redesigning the world around us for comfort and convenience, often at the expense of others. Our environment is constantly being redefined to allow us to live stress-free lives, and when it comes to things like medicine, communications technology, great scientific developments and leaps and bounds that enhance and extend the quality of life for our children and our children’s children, it’s difficult to disagree with that kind of thinking.
But we cannot remove every stress trigger from our lives. It can’t be done, and it shouldn’t be done. For a start, there are so many varieties of trigger in our lives today that removing all of them is a full time job in and of itself. That amount of hard, futile work sounds pretty stressful to me! Not only that, but some triggers are useful, or even vital. An overwhelming workload can force us to become more organized to cope with it. A difficult child may be calling our attention to medical issues that have been missed, like dyslexia or anorexia. Simply removing the stress trigger doesn’t necessarily help us in the long term. We might end up missing out on something amazing.
No, environmental factors are good to plan around, and of course some can be fixed or tweaked to remove certain issues from our lives…but it’s us that causes the problem. Stress is an inside job. We do it to ourselves, we do (to paraphrase the old song)—and that’s what really hurts.
Our nature in the world—the outer self—is a product of the world, of our upbringing, our experiences, a set of learned behaviors that were hammered into us by a worldly, carnal system of values. It’s conditioning, like the rats in the maze that have learned which paths lead to shocks and which to meals. We take on board negative experiences and traumatic occasions and treat those stress triggers as hard-wired truths. Don’t do this, because then that will happen. Follow the rules of common sense and received wisdom. Everyone else is doing this, so we should follow suit. Consensus is king.
That’s partly why people who aren’t in the Kingdom can have such a hard time understanding some of the tenets of the way that we live our lives. They’re still living in the world, their outer selves in play, and what we do in discarding that outer self must seem so counter-intuitive to them. But of course that’s the only real way to deal with the stress of living. There’s always going to be difficult times, and difficult people making those times more difficult. What needs to change isn’t the circumstances. We are what needs to change, and God made provision for that when He placed us within Christ.
Our thinking is informed by our experience. Where our old self experiences hurt and rejection and learns to avoid embracing others, our new self experiences the bottomless, unconditional love and acceptance of God, and learns that embracing others can be a default position—regardless of whether they make it easy for us…in fact, especially if they make it hard. Where our old self experiences trials and tribulations and learns to flinch at the merest hint of trouble like a scalded child or a whipped dog, our new self experiences the same trials and tribulations as opportunities to demonstrate Christ within us and to advance and grow in the Spirit, welcoming adversity with a smile.
When we discard our outer selves and begin to dwell upon the inner self, we begin to replace those learned behaviors and conditioned responses with new experiences, experiences that flow from a positive empowerment rather than a negative reinforcement. Our old natures are a patchwork quilt: a badly stitched, haphazard product of the outcomes of poor choices and fear. Our new natures are branded HEAVEN: a uniform, consistent, logical product of the way that the Father thinks about us in Christ and acts towards us in the Spirit. The more we replace our outer, older selves with our inner, newer selves, the more we become walking advertisements for that brand.
You might worry about how you’ll tell the difference between your old self and your new self. You’re still you, after all…what if you think you’ve changed, slipped your old skin, but it’s still the same outer self calling the shots? The outer, older self has a capacity for self-deception, after all. Well, like anything in our lives in Christ, it comes down to the quality of the voice that’s calling to us. Christ’s mindset is one of radiant positivity, peace, joy and rest. In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus says, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Paul’s letter to the Galatians finds him reminding them that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal.5:22-23) Where there is negativity, you won’t find Jesus, because He has better things to do with His time, and now, so do we. If you find yourself dwelling on the negative, your thoughts circling hate, anger and fear, then you’ll know that your older self still clings to you in some way.
If that’s the voice that you can hear, then ignore it! It belongs to someone who is dead in us, and dead in Jesus. We don’t talk to our old, outer selves. We don’t counsel them, deal with their bad behavior, and apologize for their outbursts and mutterings. That’s the best way to give them credibility, to allow them a foothold in our lives again. We replace the old, we don’t remodel it or paint over it.
There is only one voice to focus on. It’s the voice of the Spirit when He talks to us about how to make ourselves more like Christ. It’s the voice of the Father talking to His Son. It’s a voice born of abiding love and ultimate, overpowering grace. It’s a voice that promises rest, and peace, and a quiet joy. All other voices must be put in their places. This is the joy of self-control – we get to see the difference between old and new, and make decisions in our lives accordingly. There’s something incredibly empowering about saying NO to the old and Yes to the new—something deeply satisfying and powerfully renewing. We are no longer at the mercy of the world, and the environmental factors that built our old selves. We are no longer tossed from pillar to post, always done to, but never doing. We are no longer passive participants in our own lives. We threw out that way of thinking when we discarded our older selves. So welcome. Welcome to the new: the new way of thinking, the new way of being. The new you.
For more resources on changing your mindset and focusing on who you are in the Kingdom, check out The Art of Thinking Brilliantly! The Art of Thinking Brilliantly is Graham’s definitive teaching on mindsets and Kingdom lifestyles. This teaching has revolutionized the way so many people see how they are known in Heaven and how to be ambassadors of the Kingdom here on Earth. The Art of Thinking Brilliantly is on sale all month at Brilliant Book House, so be sure not to miss it! Shop for The Art of Thinking Brilliantly.