Part 4 of the series:
When Faith Doesn’t Work
by Don Enevoldsen
I started this series by identifying several common methods used to overcome obstacles to success—and reasons why they usually don’t work.
What makes this confusing for people is that the things that haven’t worked are actually, for the most part, valid and important. They sound right when we hear them preached to us. However, something gets lost between the sermon on Sunday morning and the alarm waking us up on Monday.
For example, a prayer of deliverance might be necessary, even though you end up with the same basic problems a few weeks or days or sometimes hours later. Driving away demonic oppression does not automatically result in a change in your core belief system. It only clears the air so that you can see clearly that you need to change, and it gives you enough breathing room and lucidity to identify what needs to change. The flawed belief system is probably what allowed the oppression in the first place, and if the belief doesn’t change, it will allow the oppression back.
But that doesn’t alter the fact that without the deliverance, you would never be able to change. The prayer of deliverance is not the answer, but it might very well be necessary for you to get to the answer. If you think it is the answer—and it is usually presented as such—you will stop short of the change necessary. And then you will find yourself frustrated because you thought the problem was done and it suddenly came back.
I know a lot of people are frustrated by this because after identifying the problem, I said the next blog would start to discuss the solution, but then went several weeks without writing the solution. I was inundated with emails from readers who were afraid they had missed the next part. Clearly I have not been alone in this frustration.
I’ve been right around the general area of the solution my entire life. In fact, I’ve heard the solution many times, beginning when I was still in elementary school. Yet it never quite worked, though it always seemed like it should. I’ve never entirely given up on it. I just needed a little extra clarity. It begins with Romans 12:2:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
There it was. If I could only renew my mind, then I wouldn’t keep struggling with the same thoughts that always pull me down. I just had to think different.
Of course, I realized that thoughts and desires were inseparable. My thoughts tended toward my desires and it was clear from James that I would eventually succumb to whatever those desires were.
But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)
This was obviously why Paul was so insistent that we think about good things.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
How do I do that? Invariably, I have been pointed to 2 Corinthians 10:5:
We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
So all I have to do is take captive wrong thoughts and force them into obedience to Christ, changing them to good thoughts about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, excellent or praiseworthy.
And I have often been told that the key to this is to recognize that I cannot think two thoughts at the same time. So if I have a wrong thought, I can intentionally substitute some other thought and push the bad thought out.
But there’s the point of trouble. The last statement isn’t actually true. Especially for women. One of the characteristics that sets women apart from men is their ability to hear and understand several conversations at once. Women’s brains are usually wired that way.
Even for men, while we might not be able to entertain two thoughts at once, we do have an uncanny ability to rapidly alternate between several thoughts at dizzying speed. Keeping myself focused on one thought proved to be exhausting. And as soon as I let my guard down, the wrong thought crept back in.
To get to real change, I had to go a step further than any of this had taken me before. I realized that taking a thought captive was not simply a matter of imposing a different thought. It was a matter of changing what I thought, of actually renewing my mind so that the right thoughts emanated from inside. And that cannot be imposed from the outside. The problem was much deeper.
The advice given to me over the years proved to be a twofold misdirection. First, I was trying to take inner thoughts captive from an external source, attempting to bring something from the outside to replace thoughts that originated within my being. It has never quite worked. What is inside invariably wins.
I should have known. Jesus illustrated the concept in a slightly different context, but the reality is the same. The particular circumstances involved a challenge from the Pharisees concerning the ceremonial washing of hands before eating. Jesus responded by pointing out the difference between words and intent. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Then he got to the root of the problem:
“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’” (Matthew 15:16-20)
If I’m made unclean by what comes out of my heart, and not be what goes in, then I’m not going to get clean by what goes in, either. I have to change my thinking, but imposing something from the outside doesn’t help. It’s the things that come from deep within that trip me up.
Secondly, I realized that I was trying to take captive the wrong thoughts. If lust entered my mind, I tried to think about something non-sexual. Unfortunately thinking about baseball or astronomy or the superiority of chocolate over strawberry doesn’t change the inner desire that prompted the lust in the first place. If jealousy entered my mind, I tried to speak blessing over whoever was the object of my jealousy. Unfortunately, saying, “Thank you, God, for blessing that person,” didn’t change the desire for something that prompted the jealousy in the first place.
The thoughts of lust, or jealousy, or anger, or hatred, or whatever is not noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable are not the problem. It’s not what I think that causes me trouble; it’s what I am. And I am flawed. Proverbs sums it up nicely:
For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. (Proverbs 23:7 NKJV)
The heart has to change. The thoughts need to be taken captive at the source. The heart has to change before the thoughts will change. And the thoughts have to change before the behavior will change. Imposing thoughts from the outside will never change the heart.
The story of the ten spies (Numbers 13) is often used to illustrate the need for positive confession. And I have no objection to that. I love positive confession. It’s so much more positive than negative confession. Unfortunately, the spies were probably not capable of any other confession than what they presented.
Twelve spies went into the Promised Land. Two of them came back believing that they could conquer any opposition. The other ten saw themselves as too weak for the task.
“We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:31-33)
Note that positive confession imposed from the outside without a corresponding change of the core belief does not produce much of value. The “grasshopper” confession reflected the belief. We could ask the seven sons of Sceva how positive confession works when there is no corresponding substance (Acts 19:13-16). They said all the right words—as they ran away naked and bleeding.
I wish there was a simple formula I could give that could actually change your core beliefs. Something like, “Raise your hands in the air, jump up and down four times, scream, “Hallelujah,” as loud as you can, send a donation of at least $100 to my ministry, and you will be changed.”
It doesn’t work that way. (Though I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage you from donating to my ministry. Just be prepared for the most visible benefits to be mine rather than yours.) Changing the core belief means identifying the wrong belief, dragging it out into the open and killing it, which means admitting that it is a lie and seeking the truth instead. It is a painful and time-consuming process. But there is no simple shortcut around it.
Do you have an additional thought on this subject that will assist our search for truth? Please join the discussion and share your insights.