I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. Romans 7:15-25 NIV
Let me start by warning you that I have a feeling that this is going to be long.
Now…I don’t know about you but I really missed seeing you all at church yesterday. But man was it ever cold. Michelle, the boys and I stayed in all day. I think Montana only went out for a brief minute and then right back inside.
Yesterday I had a lot of time to think, reflect, read, and ruminate.
The book that I am reading right now is on OCD, I find the subject so fascinating. It has a great deal to do with our brains, how they work, why they work the way they do and so on.
Then…that brought me to our passage today in Romans. By the way, you should take some time and at least read Romans 7:7-25. This passage is about our struggle with what the Bible calls sins.
For todays purposes lets call it “destructive behavior”, because that’s what sin is really. And when we look at it as destructive behavior it will actually cover more behavior than what you might traditionally see as sin.
Because you do have a problem with destructive behavior don’t you?
Like Paul, you say, “I don’t understand what I do.”
Well that’s what I want to talk about today. Maybe even for the next couple times.
I want to help us “understand why we do it (destructive behavior)” at least in part.
Let’s get started shall we…
Paul tells us in Romans 12:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world (that is worth looking into), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Emphasis mine].
Renewing our mind, great Paul, just how do I do that?
To understand this we have to do a little study on the life of our thoughts.
This will be a little academic but it's worth it trust me.
Do you remember a few weeks ago, in a sermon, I talked about “intrusive thoughts”? Those unwanted, weird, bizarre thoughts that cross your mind, that you don’t even tell anyone that you have them, they're that bad, kind of thoughts.
I’m not talking about thoughts like, will my child survive and flourish in this world, or the nerves you get before taking your drivers exam. These thoughts are in keeping with the rules and rhythms of our lives. If you care, these thoughts are called, “ego-syntonic”.
Now, taken to the extreme, these types of ego-syntonic thoughts can cause mental disorder, usually anxiety. But at there heart they are still rational.
A quote from my book:
“So, usually, are the dark thoughts of depression: endless rumination on external events, regret of decisions and how life has unfolded. Severe grief, hysteria even, is based on the rational sense of loss.”
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop
Then there are those unwanted, intrusive thoughts. These are irrational. They are “ego-dystonic”. They clash with how we see ourselves, and how we want others to see us. In fact we are even embarrassed that we even have them. You may even think something is wrong with you because you have them.
Well, let me set your mind at ease. We all have them. In fact studies have shown that people who deny having them seem to have bigger problems. But we're not going there today.
Ok…so what is the point of this ego-whatever talk.
Well the point is, how we deal with our “thoughts” matter, a lot!
As Christians we have been told that behavior starts with our thoughts, true enough.
I’ve even said that myself, and that makes sense to most rational people. But that is where any help the church might have had for us ended. Because the next bit of “help” was actually counterproductive.
And here it comes:
We are told, “Don’t think those thoughts, you must suppress them and certainly don’t tell others you have them.” And so begins our life-long battle with destructive behavior or sin.
To quote Paul, “...what I hate I do.”
Maybe a study might be helpful right about now:
Would you like some chocolate?
James Erskine is a psychologist at St. George’s University of London who once ran an experiment involving self-control and chocolate. A few dozen women were invited to the lab for a taste test of two similar chocolate treats. Before the test began, each woman was asked to think aloud for five minutes. A third of the women were given no special instructions about what to think, another third were told that they could express any thoughts they had about chocolate, while the final third were instructed to suppress any such thoughts about chocolate.
After each participant was done thinking out loud and the chocolates were brought in, they were left alone in the room with a survey, and told to eat as many chocolates as necessary to answer the questions.
So who ate the most chocolates? By far, it was the women who had tried not to think about chocolate before the test. On average, they ate almost twice as many as the other study participants, and those of them who claimed to be dieting ended up eating the most chocolates of all.
Trying to avoid unwanted feelings often leads to self-destructive behavior, whether it’s a procrastinator trying to avoid anxiety, or a drinker trying to avoid feeling alone.
The women who were told to suppress their thoughts about chocolate actually ended up eating more and the women who had been suppressing thoughts already, about eating, because they were dieting, ate the most.
Do you think that they might have said afterwards, “I don’t understand what I do”?
Of course they did. So what to do?
Here we go another study: No kisses for you
One hundred students were each given a transparent box of Hershey’s Kisses to keep with them at all times for 48 hours, and told not to eat a single one (or any other chocolate, for that matter).
Before the experiment began, each student was given some coaching on how to handle any chocolate cravings they might experience. Half of them were told to try distract themselves from their cravings and suppress whatever thoughts they had of eating chocolate.
They were instructed to notice when they were craving chocolate and to accept whatever thoughts and feelings came up, while keeping in mind that they didn’t have to act on those thoughts and feelings.
The results of the experiment were remarkable: Not only did the students who gave up thought control not eat a single chocolate between them throughout the 48 hours, but they also reported feeling less stressed during the experiment, and experiencing less cravings for chocolate.
When you stop trying to control unwanted thoughts and emotions, they stop controlling you.
Whatever fear or desire you try to push away will become more convincing and compelling.
Is this starting to make a little sense? I hope so.
If you haven’t already, read Romans 7:7-25. If you have already read it, read it again in a different translation, maybe The Message.
Now you might be asking, what does all this have to do with grace?
Friend…I want you to see that, YOU NEED GRACE…and so does everyone else.
Receive God's grace, extend grace to those around you even to those who you think don't deserve it. Because the truth is none of us deserve it.
Well then, tomorrow or Wednesday I will give us some ideas on how to handle our unwanted thoughts, cravings, and desires for destructive behavior.
Until then, as always.
Grace ~ Peace,