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The Thoughts and Intentions of the Heart

Beliefs, Vows, Desires, Wishes, Games, Life Scripts and Inner Goals

(Hebrews 4:12 NKJV) For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The second step in our five-step model is when perspectives give rise to beliefs, which gave rise to emotions. In earlier chapters I just used the term “beliefs” very loosely to cover a whole range of internal activity that comes under the biblical term “the thoughts and intents of the heart”. In this chapter we will look at that much more closely. In the next chapter we will see how communities form a lot of what we believe and how the group we belong to can affect our EQ.

The “thoughts and intentions of the heart" are our internalized beliefs, both formal (such as theological beliefs) and informal and more personal beliefs such as "No-one could possibly love me". These beliefs or thoughts of your heart are often reflected in what psychologists call your “self-talk” which is the “chatter” that goes on inside you as you are doing things “I wish Susan would call, I bet she won’t, no-one loves me much etc”.

These beliefs are our idea about what is true or untrue, possible or impossible, plausible or implausible. They contain our conclusions about life and beliefs about God, others, and ourselves. Unlike perspectives, beliefs can generally be compressed into a single sentence such as “I believe that Jesus is God” or “I think I am totally unlovable”. The Bible has two categories here; “thoughts’ which is fairly much all-embracing and “intentions” which deals with the movements of the will as we plan, vow and scheme our way through life. The picture we see in Scripture is that these thoughts and beliefs, desires, vows, and inner goals are generally verbal. When the prophets cry out “I know what you are thinking in your hearts it is such-and-so” its always a statement, a sentence that encapsulates the heart attitude.

The Unrenewed Beliefs Of The Natural Man

Over time we weave these sentences into a sort of a bird’s nest of a structure inside us that we call our world-view. For most people it is a horrific jumble of things they learned at school, life lessons, Grandma’s sayings, the latest media opinions and a book they once read. This internal belief structure is more or less functional and gets people by for the seventy or so years they are on this earth. However for some people it can go horribly wrong and cause them a great deal of confusion and emotional pain. It is quite possible to hold conflicting beliefs or inconsistent beliefs or even two entirely different frameworks of belief. Sunday Christians are a prime example. At Church they seem to truly believe the Bible. At work they operate under an entirely different belief system and operate largely without reference to God. Both are real belief systems for them. They choose which one to operate under depending on where they are and who they are with.

In the Old Testament they even had two distinct religions worshipping Baal when it came to farming and fertility and Yahweh when it came to war. Dual value systems such as this have been castigated by the prophets, Jesus and the apostles from one end of the Bible to the other. From Joshua's "choose which day who you will serve" (Joshua 24:15) to Elijah's "how long will you falter between two opinions" (1Kings 18:21) to Jesus and "you cannot serve God and Mammon" (Matthew 6:21-24) to James and his exhortations against double-mindedness and worldliness. (James 1:5-8, 4:1-7).

Such people have literally two belief systems and two minds - Scripture calls them "double-minded" and says that they are spiritually unstable. (James 1:5-8) This instability results from the fact that they are constantly choosing between two or more things they can believe at any one moment. One minute they choose to operate from the biblical belief, the next minute they choose to operate from greed, superstition or expediency. Up and down, tossed here and there like the waves of the sea.

In addition to having multiple belief systems people can decide to hold evil and wicked beliefs or beliefs that are illogical and insane. Some people honestly and truly believe that the entire world should be organized around their happiness. Others truly believe that they can take what they like and do what they like. A few believe that flying jet planes into buildings will give glory to God and bring them eternal life in Paradise. Yet others believe that worshipping an idol will give them spiritual power and good fortune. The birds nest of human beliefs inside us can become toxic.

In fact the first reference to the human heart in Scripture is the depressing Genesis 6:5: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Just before the exile the prophet Jeremiah, looking on a wicked, debased and now idolatrous Israel has a similar view “(Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV) "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”. As Solomon reflected on the nature of life he wasn’t very optimistic either: “(Ecclesiastes 9:3 NKJV) This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” Finally King David as one who had to sort out the crimes committed in his kingdom wrote about the hearts of the wicked: “(Psalms 64:6 NKJV) They devise iniquities: "We have perfected a shrewd scheme." Both the inward thought and the heart of man are deep.”

Jesus had some firm words to say about the thoughts and intents of the heart as well. (Mark 7:21-23 NKJV) "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, {22} "thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. {23} "All these evil things come from within and defile a man."

The heart of the natural man can go badly and seriously wrong through adoption of a self-centred and toxic world-view which incorporates ungodly and illogical beliefs. This is not the total picture though. Even in the OT we find people described as being penitent in heart and having hearts set on the Lord. Yet even here the heart can be mixed up.

The Learning Heart

To complicate matters still further Christians do not necessarily believe what they think they believe. Christians are generally still learning to believe that which they think they believe. This is the difference between believing something as a notion or as a doctrine and really believing it so that it is operational for you under stress and pressure. A test of this is "How much pressure does it take before you start to doubt that which you are sure you believe? Ask yourself the following two questions:

1."If I was out in a small boat on the Sea of Galilee and the waves were high and the boat was about to sink would I be calm or would I be afraid?" Would Jesus say to me "I have not seen such great faith in all Israel" or would He say to me "Why are you afraid O ye of little faith?"

2."How low can the bank account go before I start getting anxious and doubting that God will provide? Where is the point at which I choose to panic?".

The difference between the answers we put in the bible study booklet and the answer we give to the actual pressures of life can be startling. Our notional beliefs and our operational beliefs under pressure are different. This may not be due to double-mindedness but just to the need to mature, learn and grow. As committed Christians we are continually learning to truly believe that which we think we already believe.

So we can see that the goal is to have a consistent and fully Christian belief system that is the sole one we operate from, and which is operating at the level of the thoughts and intentions of our heart and guiding our daily conduct and informing all our emotional responses. This belief system will fill us with joy and give us poise and calm in the middle of life's trials. It will be heart level, practical, biblical, strong and singular. Our lives will ring with faith and authenticity.

The Pure Heart of Jesus

In an earlier chapter we looked at the beliefs of Jesus and how they gave Him zeal to cleanse the Temple, poise in the raging storm and caused Him to marvel at the faith of the centurion. His righteous beliefs gave Him righteous emotions. When we look at the beliefs of Jesus we find there is no “birds nest”, but instead a purity and simplicity that is stunning. His thoughts were always pure and Scriptural and logical and right. Jesus is never for a single second, fearful or anxious or halting between two opinions. When the Devil offers Him all the kingdoms of the world He does not say “Let me think about that for five minutes.” Jesus heart was so fixed on God and so pure in its intentions that He did not hesitate or waver even under strong temptation. Jesus was pure in heart and did not sin even in His thoughts and intentions.

If we are to be like Jesus in all aspects then we must head towards purity of heart. At first this seems to be a long and impossible journey. Purity of thoughts and intentions seems both unsafe in a wicked world (unless we lock ourselves away in a monastery) and impractical to achieve in one lifetime. Yet the promise of Jesus in the Beatitudes is that “The pure in heart will see God”. (Matthew 5:8) and He seems to be calling us to the impossible journey of sorting out and cleaning up our birds nest, changing our beliefs and coming into fellowship with Him. There are quite a few references in the New Testament to this topic and I have listed six of the major ones below:

(Matthew 5:8 NKJV) Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.

(1 Timothy 1:5 NKJV) Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith,

(2 Timothy 2:22 NKJV) Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

(Titus 1:15 NKJV) To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.

(1 Peter 1:22 NKJV) Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,

(1 John 3:2-3 NKJV) Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. {3} And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

From the above references we see that the human heart is purified by love that obeys the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:22) and fixes its hope on becoming like Jesus (1 John 3:2,3) as this renewal takes place the person assists the process by fleeing youthful lusts, all that defiles the conscience and all insincerity (1 Timothy 1:5, 2:22) so they are purified in order to love the brethren with a deep and sincere love. (1 Timothy 1:5). Finally all things will become pure for us (Titus 1:5) and we shall see Him as He is ((1 John 3:2).

So we see that purity of heart involves two main aspects. Firstly we hope in God and obey the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit. This establishes the connection with God so He can work in us and renew us. It also activates the law of likeness – that we become like that which we love and adore and respect and obey and this also purifies us. Secondly we do things to purify ourselves. We flee youthful lusts, we avoid the love of money, we avoid insincerity and flattery and we take hold of that which is wrong inside us. We need both aspects. Without the love and adoration all the human techniques will be just futile legalism. Yet without the human techniques the purity we receive through prayer will be constantly sullied, by the mess we leave inside us, or get ourselves into.

Jesus pursued love and was pure, not the other way around. Love purifies us, but purity may not make us loving. So for Jesus His agenda and driving motive was the glory of the Father and compassion for the lost and this burning love of all that was righteous and good and holy ensured that He was pure. For Jesus love was the priority and purity sort of tagged along as a quality of that burning love. Unfortunately many Christians have turned this around and the pursuit of purity as an end in itself has made them legalistic and selfish. The pursuit of purity can turn us into Pharisees or into highly introspective Christians who always worry about this or that thought or sin. Love is the cure for legalism. Purity is at its best when it is a quality of love. The verses above tell us that we are to love one another from a pure heart. The love is first and foremost, the quality of this love is then described as “pure”. As we love God and one another in biblical obedience and the power of the Holy Spirit we are purified and as we are purified our love then improves. So then, lets roll up our sleeves and start tackling the bird’s nest.

Firstly - Why Should We Change Our Beliefs?

Why bother? Why not just put up with the internal bird’s nest and believe what we like? What’s wrong with believing a mixture of a bit of Hinduism, a bit of Buddhism and handful of bible verses? Don’t I have the freedom to make a mess of my beliefs if I like?

True. You have perfect freedom to be as dysfunctional in your private beliefs as you like. You can choose to be unhappy, unstable and unfulfilled. No-one will throw you into jail if you chose to believe nonsense. Unfortunately God is not as easy-going as society or the government on this issue. God is extremely interested in what we believe and in the thoughts and intentions of our heart. They are not private matters to Him. They are matters of eternal importance that can decide your eternal destiny and your reward in heaven, as well as your degree of happiness in this life.

Here are six reasons why you should work on your inner, personal beliefs:

1. God cares about your beliefs and weighs them up. He judges the thoughts and intentions of your heart. (Romans 2:15,16; Jeremiah 11:20; Hebrews 4:12).

2. Jesus expects us to be increasing in our faith and in fact is quite demanding about it! The expectations He had of his disciples included being calm in storms (Matthew 8:26), walking on water (Matthew 14:31), believing in miraculous provision (Matthew 6:30), being able to understand parables (Matthew 16:8), and being able to cast out demons, heal the sick and raise the dead (Matthew 10:8). When they failed to do any of the above they were rebuked (Matthew 17:20). The phrase "O ye of little faith" (see the references in Matthew above) shows that the disciples were expected to learn to believe Jesus with ever-increasing faith. Jesus does not call us to have a static level of faith. Rather we are called to develop a growing "mountain-moving faith" that starts from small "mustard-seed" beginnings. (Matthew 17:20).

3. Theology interpenetrates reality. Every belief is theological. Carl Jung used to say that every human problem after the age of 35 was spiritual in nature. In a similar vein even the small voices, the dark mutterings of the human heart and the wretched small-minded beliefs that people have are a form of rebellion against God and a dwelling in darkness. For instance to believe in your heart that the world stinks is to malign the Creator. To vow that you will always play it safe and that you will never love again is to retreat into darkness and flee the love of God that He puts into people to reach you. Thus all your beliefs have a theological component and need to brought into the light of the Word of God.

4. How we believe determines what we receive. "According to your faith be it unto you". (Matthew 9:29, 15:28). Conversely having an unstable, worldly or double-minded faith means we will receive nothing from God (James 1:5-8, 4:1-8). Faith can bring healing (Matthew 9:22, James 5:15-18) is a prerequisite for receiving wisdom from God (James 1:5-8), for daily provision and reduction of anxiety (Matthew 6:30-34) and makes all things possible (Mark 9:23).

5. Creedal faith is insufficient. Even the demons have correct theology in the sense that they believe that God is one - and tremble (James 2:19). Thus merely creedal belief is insufficient for salvation. Belief must be authentic, loyal to God, of the heart and worked out in real life. (James chapter 2). The great men and women of God all had extraordinary personal belief systems that set them apart from their generation. (Hebrews 11)

6. Letting unbiblical and dysfunctional beliefs linger can cause them to become stronger, more dysfunctional and more painful. Working on them now may take work, but leaving them will make it much worse later on. (Proverbs 4:23 NKJV) Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.

The Difference

Every church has miserable grumpy Christians alongside radiant faith-abounding Christians. Well what's the difference between the two groups? Both miserable and faith-abounding Christians have heard exactly the same sermons and been to exactly the same bible studies and mixed with exactly the same people in exactly the same neighborhood church and can tick exactly the same boxes theologically. But only the faith-abounding Christians have taken the time and effort to make sure their inner personal beliefs line up with God's Word. Grumpy cynical Christians have decided not to really believe. They would much prefer to complain. Faith-abounding Christians have decided that with God’s help they will interpret reality properly and have paid attention to their heart. They have decided that they will "truly believe" and have put effort into their faith. Now they reap joy and have much more successful Christian lives.

An Illustration of Changing Beliefs From The Secular World

Even the secular world has discovered the benefits of working on your belief system. The Dale Carnegie / Zig Ziglar "positive-thinking" movement with its affirmations and personal motivation demonstrated the power of working on personal beliefs. It turned lousy salesmen into better salesmen. It turned unhappy, unenthusiastic people into happy enthusiastic people. It caught a fragment of the Truth (taken incidentally from the founders' familiarity with the Bible) and applied it successfully to daily life. Why were salesmen so keen to systematically adopt a new belief system? What motivated them to try? Why wasn't it left in the "too hard basket?"

1. They met other people who seemed successful and who said positive thinking was the key to success.

2. These other people demonstrated an alive and enthusiastic personality they wanted to possess.

3. They compared their personality and results with that of the positive thinkers and decided to change.

4. Positive thinking made intuitive sense and the short sayings had a "ring of truth" to them.

5. The system was skillfully presented.

6. The system was simple and easy to apply.

7. Initial success was swift and this reinforced the effort required to change their beliefs.

If salesmen can diligently work on their belief system in order to sell insurance then surely we can work on our belief system in order to grow in the Kingdom and become mature in Christ? Our target is not just being happy, positive and motivated, though that's not a bad place to start if you are unhappy, negative and apathetic. Our goal is to have a sanctified and transformational set of beliefs that give us the emotions that make us whole Christians and empower service in the Kingdom.

Praxis - A Weird Word For A Great Way Of Changing Yourself

I don’t know what your wrong beliefs are so I cannot write a book that says “if you believe X, then you are better off changing and believing Y”. That would be long, unwieldy and over-prescriptive. Instead of individual answers I need to give you some sort of a system that you can put into action each day to steadily create more functional beliefs. This method needs to be fairly simple so it can be applied to a wide variety of situations. That method is called praxis (think of practical) and praxis is a cycle of action and reflection. Its like the experimental method applied to real life.

With the disciples we see them having some tough experience such as failing at healing then asking Jesus a question like "why could we not cast it out.." and then learning from the combination of action and reflection. Many of us faced the same task as new converts when we first started sharing the gospel. Our first attempt might have been something fairly tactless and naïve like "Dad if you don't believe in Jesus you will wind up in Hell." The resultant reaction may have caused us to consider wiser ways of sharing Jesus with those we love! Then we shared the gospel much better next time around.

Lets look how praxis can help us to change our belief structure and consequent emotions. Here are the 7 steps:

1. We enter into a situation where we do not function as well as we would like emotionally.

2. We reflect and ask : "What beliefs are underlying these undesirable emotions"

3. We probe further and ask: Are these beliefs true and biblical and in accord with the facts?

4. We construct new better, more factual and more biblical beliefs about that situation.

5. We reinforce those beliefs to ourselves.

6. We then re-enter the situation and test our new beliefs to see if they help us function better.

7. We look at the results scientifically and objectively and decide whether to keep the new beliefs, modify the new beliefs or to stick with the old beliefs.

Dysfunctional Situation: You cannot pray aloud in a prayer meeting. You just sit there in silence terrified to speak.

What Beliefs Are Underlying These Undesirable Emotions? : The beliefs might be "I am unworthy to pray" Or "I don't have anything important to say" Or "They will just think I am stupid."

Are These Beliefs True And Biblical And In Accord With The Facts?: No they are not.

I am unworthy to pray: In Christ you are worthy. You are worthy to stand before God. There is no condemnation before Him. You have open access to the Father. You have just as much right to pray as a pastor or missionary.

I don't have anything important to say: Every prayer is important to God and the prayer points that have been shared are surely important. You can pray for them.

They will just think I am stupid: Who cares? God does not think you are stupid. Besides if the people are men and women of God then your lack of fluency will not bother them one bit.

Construct New Better, More Factual And More Biblical Beliefs About That Situation: "I am fully worthy to pray, I have important things to say and my lack of fluency in prayer is no issue with God and should be no issue for others either. I will not fear man's opinion. I will be a bold and powerful Christian who can pray for world mission."

Reinforce This New Belief To Yourself: Drill the new constructive belief into you. For instance - say it aloud ten times, or write it neatly on a card and place it in your bible where you can see it each day until the next prayer meeting.

Re-Enter The Situation And Test Our New Beliefs: Go to the prayer meeting and pray aloud even a short prayer. How does it feel? Did a new confidence emerge? Did you suddenly find new friends? Did someone come up afterwards and say "Glad to hear you pray.." . Perhaps there is still some nerves but you feel you made a major step forward.

Look At The Results Scientifically And Objectively: Rate things out of 10. “OK that was 7.5 out of ten, my new beliefs are much more functional but I am still a bit nervous. I’ll keep the card in the Bible another month and give it another try.” Perhaps you have noticed that you have also become more confident in meetings at work as well. As we change beliefs in one area it may benefit other areas of our life as well.

This seven step process is very similar to how we unconsciously revise our beliefs from day to day. As life situations confirm or disconfirm our beliefs we continually learn and adjust and retest the beliefs. However in "real life" we do it unconsciously, partially and are subject to denial and distortion in the process. By making our formation of beliefs conscious, objective, logical, factual and Scriptural we are more likely to come up with beliefs that work in healthy and constructive ways. Lets try this process again in another situation - that of finances.

Dysfunctional Situation: Bill feels a call to Bible College but is afraid of the fees and of the loss of income.

What Beliefs Are Underlying These Undesirable Emotions? : The beliefs Bill finds in the "thoughts and intentions of his heart" are a whole mixture including :

"I must always have a good amount of money in the bank."

"Its foolish to just trust God when you cannot see how to pay the bills"

"I need to be independent"

"I would feel ashamed to take money from others and have supporters pay my fees"

and "I'll never get the money back again that I lose in wages and in school fees".

Are These Beliefs True And Biblical And In Accord With The Facts?: Bill has a read through the gospels and the Sermon On The Mount in particular and writes down the following conclusions:

"Having a good amount of money in the bank is desirable and good but having the word of God in my life is even more important. What I will gain from bible college is worth more than money in the bank."

"Its not foolish to trust God financially, Jesus, Paul, the apostles and many great Christian leaders have done this. I will walk by faith not by sight. God promises to supply my needs if I seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness."

"I might feel I need to be independent but that is just pride talking. The Scriptures say I should be dependent on God and inter-dependent with others, giving and receiving in community - particularly with believers."

"Its not shameful to receive from others providing you do not use or manipulate them. If they wish to give, that is God's work in their hearts. Both Jesus and Paul accepted support from others so its OK for me to do so."

"I might never get the money back again but it is like losing earthly treasure to gain heavenly treasure. Besides God is no man’s debtor.”

Reinforce This New Belief To Yourself: Bill goes to his trusted prayer partner Sam with his thoughts and his responses to them written out. Sam reads them through and talks them over with Bill and says "You have come to some pretty amazing and biblical conclusions here Bill, I wish I could think like that, its spot on. You are right, God can provide for your needs." Together they pray that Bill will have the courage to apply to the Bible College and that his financial needs will be met. Bill asks Sam to keep him accountable and to check back with him next week to see that he has actually sent the forms in.

Re-Enter The Situation And Test Our New Beliefs: Bill goes back home picks up the forms and fills them in. He hesitates a few days but eventually posts them off to the college. He feels a sense of relief and gladness that he has had the courage to obey.

Look At The Results Scientifically And Objectively: Pretty good , at least 9 out of 10. Bill no longer feels paralyzed by his beliefs about money. His obedience is no longer limited by his bank account. He has broken through and begun putting into action into a new set of beliefs about provision and finances. He still has a bit of hesitancy and nerves but feels a new world opening up before him. Serving God will be good!

So we see that the praxis method can help us to adjust our real life operational beliefs until they line up with Scripture, logic and the will of God. It may seem a little long-winded at first but once you become conscious of your belief system and aware of your weak areas then you will find correcting one area opens up others, and soon the new good beliefs reinforce one another, and then you feel much stronger inside. This active cooperation with the renewing work of the Holy Spirit can be of great assistance to your practical sanctification.

Faith and Works, Beliefs and Action

Incorrect beliefs can give rise to strong negative emotions such as fear, doubt and hesitancy. These emotions can hinder or even paralyze our ability to obey God. Faith and obedience seem to be connected to some extent via the emotions. Remember what we said earlier – God connects to us through faith, which works through love, which applies specific and focused wisdom and knowledge to do good works. The good works need the motivating power of the master emotion called love. The word emotion comes from the same Latin root as motive, motor etc. It means to "move toward". Emotions are feelings that move us to action or in some cases block us from action. When the thoughts and intentions of our heart are not aligned correctly, our emotions will not help us obey God, and may even hinder our service for Him. As we correct these beliefs, then our emotions will tend to follow suit and we will be more able to enact the commands of Scripture and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This of course has strong theological implications in the faith-works debate. My position is that faith that is of the heart, and continued over time, will result in works consistent with that faith. If a person claims to believe something, but never acts in accordance with that belief it can be assumed that that belief is either held very weakly or is, as James says, "dead" (James 2;20,26).

For instance someone may say "I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting". That is good. Such a person should then do works consistent with a belief in an after-life and a reward in heaven. For instance they should be able to sacrifice material reward in order to gain spiritual reward. Or they should do good deeds that no-one notices believing they will be rewarded in heaven. But if they live entirely materialistically then they are denying their professed faith. If we were to look at the true "thoughts and intentions of the heart" of a materialistic person their real beliefs would probably have very little to do with eternal life. Their belief in the resurrection is simply held for the sake of doctrinal conformity or intellectual conviction and has little power in the person's life. It is in effect a very sick or "dead" belief.

Works are a guide to us as to whether or not our faith is truly alive, saving, living and productive. Our works indicate to the world which beliefs we hold that are strong enough for us to live by and act on. Works are a reliable guide to what we truly believe in our heart. In a sense our works are our true doctrine. Our works are the outworking of those beliefs, which we are prepared to act on, live by and stand for in daily life. Paul is very definite that we are not saved by works of the law. But he is also very definite that faith working through love (Galatians 5:6) should result in good works that God has prepared beforehand for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10). Faith works, faith does things, faith expends energy to do good.

Jesus’ beliefs resulted in action (Acts 10:38) based on compassion (Matthew 9:36-38, 14:14)

On various occasions compassion "moved" Jesus to act in prayer, healing, cleansing and teaching. Thus faith springs into action via love and compassion. Faith that refuses to spring into action through love is lazy, sick or dead.

Moving From Paralysis To Power

The connection between what we believe and how we put it into action is through our inner motive power - our emotions. Our emotions can paralyze our ability to be obedient. When this happens we need to do what Bill did and examine the thoughts and intents of our heart to see if there are some that are contrary to what we are trying to do. As we correct the beliefs in our heart we will find new liberty to obey God and a freedom from anxiety and inner conflicts.

To do this you will have to give up the belief that you are a being of perfect consistency, that all the thoughts and intentions of your heart are consistent with each other. As an example of conflicting beliefs take someone who vowed early in life "I will never be poor". Later in life this person feels a strong call to be a faith missionary. It can be predicted that the old vow and the new resolution will be in conflict and that he or she may experience some reluctance, confusion and hesitancy. This attack of hesitancy may be first attributed to a lack of faith or commitment. However if the early vow is remembered and renounced then the conflict will be resolved. It was not so much a lack of faith, as a hindered faith.

How The Mind Works

To understand the power of these conflicting thoughts, intentions vows and desires you have to understand a bit about how the mind handles its data and in particular how it handles time. The mind has no actual awareness of clock time such as hours, days, months and years. The mind uses event time where actual events are the indicator of when things should happen. For instance "At two o'clock I will have a sleep" is clock time while "After lunch I will have a sleep" is event time. The event is the "clock". The mind uses event times such as "when I am grown up I will", "After I am married I shall…" "Until I leave home I will have to” etc.

Events and instructions continue in the mind until the event time is reached for them to terminate. Where there is no termination date included in the instruction it continues indefinitely. Take a student who has often told herself "I've got to study hard all the time" and who has now internalized this instruction. What's wrong? There is no time given for this instruction to switch off. She has not said "I have got to study hard until the exams then I can relax". Instead she has said "I've got to study hard all the time". Because of the absolute nature of this instruction even on holidays her subconscious will be reminding her that she "has to study". There is no "off" switch, no resolution, and in some cases the study moves from being beneficial to being a compulsion. The over-use of such instructions, without a "switch-off date" can lead to a person feeling very stressed as the programmed subconscious keeps popping up reminders "you must do X now, and Y and Z and P and Q and R…"

The same thing happens if the terminating event does not occur, or is not noted. Sometimes the subconscious mind needs to be told that a particular event has taken place in order for some emotion to be properly resolved. For instance someone may need to tell himself or herself "you are no longer a small defenseless child, you have grown up now, you can feel safe." Or more commonly "You can relax now, you are not at work any more." Telling yourself to switch off is an important instruction.

Secondly the mind stores things in binary states" such as "on" or "off", "resolved " or "unresolved", " accomplished" or "still to be completed", "satisfied" or "unsatisfied", "guilty" or "forgiven". It may also store things as "a cause" or "an effect". (Incidentally these binary states are elegantly reflected in the time-free verb tenses of the Hebrew language used in the Old Testament.) Memories, thoughts, intentions, vows and inner promises exist in these binary states. The only way to deal with them is to dispute them or resolve them or somehow move them from one state to the other. Thus an old vow using words such as "I will never" or "I must always" can live as an ever-present subconscious reality all through a person's life unless it is resolved.

To illustrate, think of a recurring and embarrassing memory that seems "as vivid as yesterday". When it pops up it has all the intensity of twenty years ago. Time has not healed. Time does not heal. The only way to deal with that memory is to resolve it by switching it off and saying "Hey, that's old history, I've grown beyond that now." One thing some of my clients have found useful is to imagine they are on a boat at sea and dropping their embarrassing memories into the ocean one by one and watching them sink. This resolves them and presses the "off" switch in the subconscious and it moves to the "dealt with" category and it is thus deactivated. Many people have reported that it has brought real release.

Thirdly the mind works by rather loose associations. Some of these associations (especially with great pleasure or great pain) are very rough and quick while others, processed at higher levels of the neo-cortex are much more sophisticated. It is not uncommon to experience chains of associations where one thought leads to the next which then leads to something else. This can be quite bizarre in patients with a psychosis. When something "looks like", "feels like" "smells like" or "sounds like" something else then a whole cascade of thoughts, memories and emotional reactions can be produced. The emotion is often transferred from the original to the copy. Someone may react to their boss like their father or to their new spouse like their ex-wife. These associations and the reactions and consequent emotions that follow can produce tragic misunderstandings. "It looks like, therefore it is, therefore I must, because once.."

So inner life plans, vows, self-promises and deep desires retain power in the psyche for as long as they are "active". When, later on in life, we try to do God's will and find that we are "sabotaged" from within it may be that some of these inner motivational factors are at work. Take Pablo the programmer, a fine Christian and a very competent computer technician. He failed first year at University due to heavy drinking just prior to his conversion. He came to me for career guidance and when he did the IQ test his score was so high it was "off the chart". I recommended a medical specialty after doing some other tests but Pablo never even attempted to take the advice. His inner vow "I must never fail again, I must always be perfect" was totally in control and I failed to get anywhere at all. It has been twenty years now since he failed at University and still Pablo lives a life of inner safety largely wasting his God-given abilities. Old fears, vows, and promises to self can wreak havoc with our potential. So can "games" and life-scripts.

Games and Life-Scripts

Games and life-scripts were first identified and popularized by Eric Berne who developed Transactional Analysis in his well-known book "Games That People Play". While I do not entirely subscribe to his analysis and the three ego states, his observations are of real and genuine importance. He has observed people very closely indeed. Games and life-scripts are very complex and involve an often sinister "pay-off" for the person playing them. An example is the game "You and Him Fight" where an attractive woman sets up a situation where she brings two men into conflict - the pay-off being the sense of power over men, having people fight over her and her own amusement at their behavior.

Playwrights and novelists are keen observers of these inner games and scripts that people live by and enact almost unconsciously as if it is their fate or doom to do so. Some tragic life-scripts are indeed from God such as that of Judas who was scripted to be the "Son of Perdition" who would betray Christ. On the other hand John the Baptist had a clear life script as a prophet. Such ultimate life-scripts are rare. More often than not we program ourselves and can un-program ourselves as well. Some people create complex scenarios to avoid taking responsibility for our life and actions. For instance the person who always "tries" but never succeeds, for to become successful would bring responsibility and the fear of blame and failure. This is an interesting area but I need to move on.

Sufficient to say that the intents of our heart can be very complex like a play or novel and work out over many years with a few central motivations driving the plot forward relentlessly. The person may be completely unaware of the game or life-script. Complex intentions can successfully dwell below the level of awareness - especially if they are somewhat dishonorable!

Thus to move from paralysis to power we need to be able to work with the thoughts and intentions of our heart and to bring them into conformity with God's will. Here are some techniques in addition to the seven steps of praxis that I outlined earlier in this chapter:

· Face Up To And Become Aware Of The Intentions Of Your Heart: It can be difficult for some people to admit that they are complex and full of conflicting motivations. To admit to sneaky, dishonest, crafty or manipulative intentions is not easy for Christians. Many people are completely blind to this darker side of their character. Pray and ask God to reveal the thoughts and intentions of your heart to you so that you can bring them into the light and deal with them.

· List The Various Conflicting Intentions: This is sometimes all that is needed. For instance a teenager may find that he has two intentions 1. To be on fire for God and a powerful witness for Jesus and 2. To still be popular with the cool, tough, non-Christians he knows. Once he realizes that he is trying to do two things at once and that he is asking the impossible then common sense and Christian maturity will help him choose to suffer a little for the Lord. Simply listing the various intentions of our heart then judging them biblically may be enough to resolve the dilemma.

· Confess Them to God: Confess your wrong motives and intentions to God and ask His forgiveness and cleansing.

· Make No Provision For Evil Intentions: Do not give yourself the means of carrying out your wrong intentions. Deny them what they need if they are to be implemented. If your wrong intention in your heart is murder - don't buy a gun. If the wrong intention in your heart is adultery - don't rent a hotel room. If the wrong intention is stealing from the church offering, make sure someone is with you when you count the money. This principle is what helped Augustine give up his loose living and become a Christian..

(Romans 13:12-14 NASB) The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. {13} Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. {14} But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

· Put It On Paper: By externalizing our beliefs and intentions we sometimes can get a handle on them and deal with them. This is often the real benefit of those management exercises such as setting priorities and doing mission statements. On a personal level if you start setting goals and priorities and coming up with a personal mission statement you will often run into awkward uncomfortable feelings of resistance. When you do get them try and identify them, and write the feelings of resistance beside the goal or priority. Bring the conflict to the surface and into the open. For instance a student may initially draw up a very demanding study schedule and after an initial burst of enthusiasm look at it and feel “trapped”; perhaps think “this is stupid” and perhaps even desire to quit. He should stop and ask: “Why do I think its stupid?” and the answer might be “Because I need a life”. Once that need is identified blocks of time for socializing can be scheduled in, along with plenty of time for study. Thus the two intentions “I need to study” and “I need a life” can both be met and conflict avoided. Then progress can be made on the major goal of getting a good degree. So put your thoughts, priorities, goals and intentions on paper paying attention to internal resistance as you do so. Identify and resolve the conflicts that emerge. This way you can end up with goals that meet your needs and all major conflicts satisfied so you can move on in life.

· Prioritize and Schedule Good Intentions Using Event Time: Sometimes the paralysis comes from a whole host of good intentions all wanting urgent attention at once. All having their "ON" lights flashing so to speak. . The resulting overload, confusion and stress can be stop us getting much done at all. Use the event time of the subconscious to prioritize them. First I will do A, then, after that's done I'll pay attention to B, then when that's completed to C and D. Jesus gives nearly all His instructions in event time "after you have" "when they" "wait in Jerusalem until" etc. This is the most peaceful and relaxing way to do things. So when you are clogged up mentally with a whole lot of competing good intentions in your heart write them all down on a sheet of paper and then group them first these, then after those then these here etc. Though the tasks are not done yet the issue of their urgency is resolved in terms your sub-conscious mind can understand and you will feel more at peace. Try it!

· Revoke Personal Vows: Revoke old vows that are now contrary to the will of God. Your promises to yourself are not as important as Christian obedience. Even do something as formal as writing the old vow on a piece of paper and writing "revoked" across it and then burning the piece of paper. Sometimes you may have to revoke a foolish vow you made to God in which case you should tell Him the reason you are revoking it and ask His forgiveness. It is for good reason that oaths and vows are banned in the New Testament (Matthew 5:33-37, James 5:12).

· Change Absolute Language: If you say to yourself "I have always got to.." then its like fixing a mental switch in the "always on" position. You have told your mind that you have always got to do X and it will receive and record that instruction as a permanent injunction, a law of the Medes and Persians. The mind is fairly literal. It will take always to mean always and never to mean never. Words like "always", "never" "have to", "go to", "perfect" and "100%" jam our mental switches in the "on" position. With enough of them we feel stuck, anxious and stressed as we receive multiple simultaneous urgent instructions that we have programmed into ourselves. . It is much better to give yourself an "out" by using language like "generally I should" and reserving the absolute language for situations that are truly absolute.

· Avoid Psychosomatic Language: The repeated and emphatic-use of the language and metaphors of illness can sometimes make us ill. For instance men who often tell themselves that their wife is a "pain in the neck" tend to suffer from - you guessed it - a pain in the neck - and people who "can't stand it any more" get knee trouble! This is termed psychosomatic language, somatic metaphors or "conversion" depending on your school of thought and was first noted by Sigmund Freud. Self-talk such as "If that happened I would die.." can become like an internal vow. The promise to die if X happens dwells in the sub-conscious and is then triggered when the dreaded event occurs. The unleashing of the “I would die” vow can then increase the chances of a major psychosomatic illness. Let me say that it is generally only the repetitive, habitual and emphatic use of such metaphors that makes them a problem. Some self-help books I have read have a quite alarmist and superstitious understanding and use terms such as "cursing ourselves" and even assign supernatural powers to such language. I am not of that panic-stricken view. The terminology needs to be well embedded in the psyche first, only then does it attain any psycho-physiological power. Even then, research findings show, psychosomatic illness is only at its most damaging where there is some physical weakness in that area already. But still predisposing oneself to it by the inappropriate use of language is to be avoided.

· Frame Thoughts and Intentions Concretely And Positively: When you rework your thoughts and intentions it helps if they develop into a concrete picture of a positive desirable future. For instance a struggling student should frame the goal “I will pass in Mathematics” rather than “I will not fail in Mathematics”. When we see the biblical healing commands they are faith-filled, positive and have the desired end state in view. Jesus did not say to the lepers “Leprosy be rebuked” instead He said “Be clean” and Peter and John did not say to the lame man “Lameness be gone” instead it was “Rise up and walk”. We need to be solution-focused not problem focused. The positive end result is what is to be put before the eyes of our heart. These positive end results in Scripture are also expressed in concrete terms. This seems to work better. “They will beat their swords into ploughshares” has more power in our being than “weapons will be recycled into agricultural implements”. I do not know precisely why but when we state our goals and beliefs in concrete, positive, picture terms we seem to lay hold of them much more effectively.

· Constantly Review Your “Plausibility Structures”: We have limits to what we believe is possible and impossible, probable and improbable, plausible and implausible. The anthropologist Peter Berger calls these our “plausibility structures” and says they vary greatly from culture to culture. I was challenged in this area when I was a missionary to Papua New Guinea. A respectable Christian told me that his brother had turned into a python and slithered out the door never to be seen again. While this was a credible normal explanation to him, it was utterly impossible and implausible to me. My plausibility structure was challenged. While I do not advocate Christian gullibility I do advocate reworking our limits so that they line up with Scriptures view of what is possible and impossible, plausible and implausible. Jesus says nine times in the gospels “nothing is impossible with God” or “all things are possible with God”. His life and miracles reflect His commitment to this belief. The limits we place on our life are often really limits we have placed on God through having plausibility structures inherited from the world rather than from the Scriptures.

There is so much more that could be written on this but I hope you have grasped the central idea that we need to work on the thoughts and intentions of our heart, becoming aware of what is really going on in there, uprooting the weeds and setting the good plants in proper order. However this is a large task and it is very hard to do it alone – we need others, and in particular we need a Christian community dedicated to the same ends. That is the subject of the next chapter.

Discussion Questions

1. Does God want you to work on your belief system? How much do you “really believe”?

2. Would you be confident in a small boat in a storm on the Lake of Galilee? How do you think Jesus managed to totally believe God?

3. Are people always consistent in what they believe? What are the thoughts and intents of the heart? How can they end up in conflict with one another? How can they tangle us up and stop us doing God’s will?

4. At the start of this book I said God links to us through faith, which works through love, which employs specific focused wisdom and knowledge, to do good deeds. How does that apply here? How does our beliefs work through love to do good deeds?

5. What is praxis and how can we use it to change our beliefs for the better?

6. How does the mind work? What is event time?

7. Why can vows be emotionally dangerous? Do you think that the intentions of your heart are always “above board”? What can you do to change?