Written by Paul J. Bucknell on April, 07, 2021
Finding Spiritual Freedom
Do you have difficulty understanding your troubles? You are not alone. Join us as we work through the process of finding spiritual freedom in Christ.
Why does it seem that we are most confused when we need the clearest minds? James 3:15-18 cuts through many of the issues and provides a spiritual flashlight for our confusing thoughts.
“15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:15-18).
Below are four steps to sort out confusing situations: (1) Detect Destination, (2) Follow the Ideal, (3) Identify the Truth, and (4) Clarify Your Thoughts. The order is usually critical. Each step has questions about our thoughts and actions.
(1) Detect Destination
Where does it lead?
What final result comes from this approach?
We begin this search by observing the results of our behavior or approach (or avoidance). James does this by contrasting the earthly wisdom characteristics with the heavenly wisdom way.
Heavenly wisdom is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit. In contrast, earthly wisdom is not wisdom but has the marks of envy, selfish ambition, disorder, evil, and the demonic (James 3:16-17).
The results are vastly different, exact opposites. It is this opposite nature that provides the needed initial discernment.
Opposing results startle us with their clarity.
Isn’t this your experience too? The peaceful and kind are the exact opposite of the hateful, selfish, and divisive. The contradictory characteristics push us to one side or the other. A brief evaluation of our lives enables us to assert that one or the other is true of our lives. This black/white dichotomy breaks through the endless mind struggles that many face at this stage. It also helps us to skip over our confusing emotions for a clear look at our lives.
James helps us moves beyond feelings and helps us decipher the results—what we are like.
Evaluate your relationship with your spouse, roommate, sister, etc. Come to a conclusion. Is it peaceful or divisive, helpful, or selfish? If you can’t do this yourself, ask someone to help you.
Here’s a checklist for you. Which is true of you?
These outcomes are just that—effects coming about because of difficulties in our lives.
This is just the beginning of our inner life tour. We need to identify other parts before connecting the dots.
Confusion is best fought with clarity, just like a shining light in the darkness. The second step in this soul-searching process leads us to what is ideal.
(2) Follow the Ideal
What do the best of times look like?
Having found some clarity in step one, we are usually more willing and able to remember our lives during better times.
For example, a couple could talk together about sensitive topics in the past, but now, they don’t dare share such things. One might misunderstand each other, resulting in loud arguments. In the past, spouses were tender and kind to each other, but now actions and words are mean-spirited, leaving the other always on edge. Previously, there was a peace about making future plans, but now there is much worry.
By remembering more delightful scenarios from the past, we can push by another blockade, for in good times, there is no blame. We prefer such thoughts over what we presently experience. And if we are honest, we would rather have honest, kind, and intimate relationships where mutual trust and affection rule, instead of sharp responses backed by improper and inconsistent excuses.
While thinking of one situation, remember two to three things that made that time and relationship: sweet, desirable, and good.
So how does the ideal situation connect with your present circumstances? James 3 teaches us that to reach harmony in life, we need to do things differently. This will be our third step: identify the truth.
(3) Identify the Truth
What biblical thoughts lead to the ideal situation?
If a person is going to seek improvement, he or she needs to rediscover the upright thoughts that led to those results. The harmonious times were the result of kind words, kindheartedness, and mutual trust. Even without a full agreement, you could still work through the differences.
When we open our hearts to insights from James 3, there is no longer room for excuses, but only for repentance, apology, and forgiveness. Follow the Spirit’s guidance as He prompts you to change, for it’s in this change of heart that different results occur.
So what differs from before? Why could you trust a person before but now tend to be suspicious? Allow God to use His Word to prompt you to think, change your approach, words, or choices.
Sometimes the Spirit will use a friend’s words, thoughts from His Word, a devotional, or just a flash thought in one’s mind (keep reading His Word). Pay close attention to how the Holy Spirit coaxes you along. Following your thoughts hasn’t helped much in your present distressing situation; He needs to realign you to walk in the pathway that brings heavenly wisdom. Again, if you catch a glimpse of your poor choices or words, confess them to God and even to the other person. This is not weakness but strength, though, admittedly it requires faith to foster a healthier relationship.
The words of truth lead to the path of freedom and back to Christ. We often don’t realize that we have strayed away. When you notice your friend’s emotional distance, and cold-heartedness, isolation, irritating words, etc., it all makes sense. Just confess your poor choices and return to your most gracious words for His touch on your life. If you used wrong words, seek Him for the right words now. Don’t get caught up in your feelings but focus on your responsibility and the steps mentioned above.
We all tend to avoid confronting our mistakes and sins, but the facts are there. Get over it. The strife and disquiet have already spoiled too many pleasant moments.
Wives might need to focus on harmony, fulfilling husband’s requests, close touching, and subjection. Husbands, perhaps, need to exercise more patience, understanding, tenderness, and consideration of their wife’s needs.
God uses His truth to highlight both wrong and right, but always with the purpose of restoration. Don’t drag your feet. Make admission and change. Refuse to let doubts, suspicions, meanness, etc., lead you; walk in faith and in the truth. Your gracious Lord will be with you in this endeavor.
Make sure you have admitted the truth about your wrong words and choices to yourself. Make a list. It helps to open up the Bible to Galatians 5:22-23 or Ephesians 4:1-3, 25-32 to gain further objectivity.
For example, when in a recent heated argument with your spouse, you might have said three inappropriate phrases. Write them down and confess them to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness and to your spouse; likewise, seeking pardon. Be determined to correct your thoughts and behavior to match the Word of God.
On to step 4: clarify one’s thoughts.
(4) Clarify One’s Thoughts
Clarify muddled thoughts.
One typically gets lost when it’s dark—things aren’t clear. What one thought he saw was never there. Or what you expected to see, like a road sign, never appeared! Confusion often increases our vulnerability to wrong guidance.
Although we could stop at step three, we will not be able to persistently avoid these problems unless we observe and intercept Satan’s path of temptation. (My book Reaching Beyond Mediocrity: Faith’s Triumph Over Temptation goes much more in-depth on this topic.)
Paths are well-worn walkways, and so are the patterns that guide our thinking. If we were beguiled once, we could easily fall the second and a third time until it becomes routine and unnoticed.
The best way to circumvent this problem is to identify the false thoughts in one’s mind. Most people in such situations are not aware of any thoughts, but they are not noticeable. Strong emotions often linger about them.
Simply ask yourself what you are thinking again and again until you become acquainted with your thoughts. Write them down and refine them as necessary so they accurately portray your thoughts. Observe how these thoughts and feelings, have produced the unwelcome results first mentioned by James.
It’s here that we can better see how thoughts lead to conclusions, which in turn result in poor decisions.
Face the facts. Don’t you want to restore harmony? It would help if you first exposed the evil one’s deceptive ways. Take control of your thoughts!
Where does the confusion come? A peaceful spirit is not confused, though it does not mean one understands everything either. Confusion arises in our minds because Satan seeks to take control by influencing our minds and getting us to make bad decisions, including saying inappropriate things. Our stressful situation is not just due to you and your boss, but includes the evil one’s involvement (see Ephesians 6:10-12). Because of Jesus’ Spirit in us, we can overcome this devilish influence, but remember, this does not mean the evil one did it. He might incite us to do wrong but it’s still our fault when doing wrong, and we need to seek forgiveness.
When our thought pattern defaults to negative responses, doubts, unresponsiveness, worry, and meanness, then the evil one has somehow managed to influence our thinking. Isn’t this what James said?—“but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”
Here we need to bring all four steps together. Keep one situation in your mind, perhaps when you got in an argument and the associated unpleasant altercation. Contrast this with how you used to be able to talk about things kindly. Note your wrong words and responses. Confess them. But here, we also need to pick out what thoughts flicker through your mind. By bringing it to the light, we can compare it to the way we ought to have responded. End with a truthful prayer, something like this but applied to your situation.
Lord, I’m not sure why a hostile spirit arose in me towards my wife. I’ve been most kind and gentle. Why did I allow that thought, “She did it on purpose” to keep me doubting her and getting on her case? I could have been more patient. Lord, help me to talk directly, yet prayerfully with her when I doubt her motives. I want a peaceable marriage. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
We need to carefully pay attention to our thoughts to discern and reverse this evil pathway (Rom 12:1-2).
Believers “fall” into sinful behaviors when tempted. When one regularly falls into the same negative, sinful behaviors, we can be assured that there are gaps of truth causing our missteps. We must intercept Satan’s web of deceptive words influencing our minds by shining a spotlight of truth, such as James 3, into our lives and minds to consistently live out God’s better ways and gain that heavenly wisdom.
A Study for Finding Spiritual Freedom
- Think through a situation, present or past, and describe the painful result of your choices.
- Read through James 3:15-18 and identify which items were present and how each manifested itself in your situation.
- What does this sentence mean: “Opposing results startle us with their clarity?”
- What is the advantage of finding the ideal situation/set of responses?
- What is the ideal situation in your own predicament?
- How do spiritual truths help us in these difficult situations?
- Name a way to discover spiritual truth and find at least two truths relevant to your present difficulty.
- How does the Lord want you to use that truth regarding your situation? Speak with other trusted ones if necessary.
- Write down the thoughts that go through your mind when you are angry, lustful, bitter, or worried.
- Confess any sin, claiming Christ’s mercy and welcoming His better way.
- Announce the right way to respond and think. Ask God for grace to carry it out consistently.
- Write a prayer confessing your wrong and seeking the Lord for grace to represent Him better next time.Articles on Spiritual Freedom by Paul J. Bucknell
• A book to buy
Reaching Beyond Mediocrity: Faith’s Triumph Over Temptation by Paul J. Bucknell.
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