Have you ever taken the time to contemplate whose words have shaped and molded you into the person you are today? In the hustle and bustle of life most people don’t find the time to contemplate such thoughts as “whose words am I abiding in?” We live in a fast paced society that has children being shuffled from one activity to another and work consuming more than 40 hours a week. When you do have time to stop and think it’s likely spent unwinding, not contemplating whose words have most shaped and molded you.
Today we will explore the first of some common issues people experience which can prevent them from experiencing God on a deeper level. By no means are these the only issues. However, they are the most consistent ones I have observed. The issue of whose words we abide in may be one that potentially has the greatest impact on Christians who suffer from not knowing God deep within their hearts.
Most people are not consciously aware that words impact them on a day to day basis. Not only do words impact us, but we often abide in words deep within the recesses of our subconscious. Before I unpack the sources of the words in which we abide, let me first provide a definition for the word “abide”. To abide is “to accept or act in accordance with, to obey or follow.” Therefore, when I refer to “abiding in” I’m referring to the source of words we accept, obey, follow, or act in accordance with. The four sources of words that Scripture speaks of are the world (1 John 2:15-17), the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17; 1 John 2:16), the devil (Matthew 4:1-11), and God (Psalm 1:1-2; John 15:1-11).
Stick with me for a moment as I use an example from developmental research to show how individuals at a very young age learn to abide in the words of the world, the flesh, and the devil. A man named Uri Bronfenbrenner created the Ecological Theory of Development. This theory surmises that individuals have a number of systems that directly and indirectly impact their development. One of these systems is the microsystem that has direct impact on the individual. It is made up of one’s family, neighborhood, school, and peers. The mesosystem comprises the interactions between the different microsystems. For instance, the mesosystem is one’s peers interacting with one’s family. These are the two primary systems of development that speak directly into an individual’s life. What one learns often comes from the mouths of those who are a part of this system in one’s life. What does the Ecological Theory of Development have to do with the words we abide in? Everything! If you are interested in learning more about the theory, please follow the video link here.
From an early age a child hears messages which are either positive or negative. Positive messages may be, “great job!”, “good work”, or “I love you”. Examples of negative messages are, “you are worthless”, “stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”, or “you’re fat”. The messages we receive come directly from our microsystem, and they have a major impact on our development into adulthood. These microsystem messages are examples of words we abide in that are from the world. Following the mesosystem, the interaction of microsystems, is the exosystem. The exosystem are settings that have an indirect impact on you. An example of the exosystem is a parents workplace, which can have an indirect impact on a child. My wife and I were recently watching The Wonder Years on Netflix. The episode showed the indirect impact of the father’s workplace on his children, particularly Kevin, the main character. Kevin’s father often had a poor attitude when he got home from work which had a direct impact on Kevin. Next, there’s the macrosystem, which are the social and cultural values one is raised in and around. Illustrations of this can be found in what generation one was raised (e.g., Generation X, Millenials, the Lost Generation). Lastly, there’s the chronosystem which fluctuates over time. It is made up of the changes of the other systems. All of these systems represent the world around us. “The world seeks to determine what is right and wrong, choosing to ignore God’s righteous rule and Judge over his creation.”
The flesh is directly impacted by the world. The flesh can be defined as “our sinful inner desires that seek to rob God of the glory he so deserves. The flesh seeks it’s own way, not God’s way.” The flesh seeks it’s own way according to the desires of the world. “For all that is in the world -- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life -- is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-17).
A.W. Tozer, a Christian author and preacher, said this about the flesh:
The natural man is a sinner because and only because he challenges God's selfhood in relation to his own. In all else he may willingly accept the sovereignty of God; in his own life he rejects it. For him, God's dominion ends where his begins... Yet so subtle is self that scarcely anyone is conscious of its presence. Because man is born a rebel, he is unaware that he is one. His constant assertion of self, as far as he thinks of it at all, appears to him a perfectly normal thing. He is willing to share himself, sometimes even to sacrifice himself for a desired end, but never to dethrone himself. No matter how far down the scale of social acceptance he may slide, he is still in his own eyes a king on a throne, and no one, not even God, can take that throne from him... Sin has many manifestations but its essence is one. A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares, "I AM."
The devil seeks to keep individuals abiding in anything that is not exalting the one true God. The devil often works behind the scenes in people’s lives. In the book of Job (Job 1:6-12) we’re told that Satan puts Job to the test without Job’s awareness. In the movie The Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey’s last line of the movie states, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” The world is the devil’s kingdom, therefore he works behind the scenes as the great OZ of our world. C.S. Lewis’ classic fictional work The Screwtape Letters portrays correspondence between two demons, Screwtape and his nephew, Wormtail. Wormtail seeks to distract and discourage a young man from fully giving his life over to God. In the book, Wormtail is working at the request of the enemy. And just like in the book, in real life the enemy seeks to tempt us to turn from God (Matthew 4:1-10). Two of the tactics he uses to tempt us most often are through accusations and doubt. For instance, we may seek to accuse others for our sinful actions or feel accused -- e.g. feeling guilty. Doubt is utilized to make us question our position with God. For example, thinking, “There’s no way God can forgive me”, or, “Does God really love me?”
Lastly, there are God’s words which we are told numerous times throughout the Bible to abide in (Psalm 1; John 15, all the books of the prophets). God’s Word is so powerful that he spoke creation into existence out of nothing (Genesis 1:3; 6; 9; 11; 14; 20; 24). That is truly powerful.
We’ve discussed the sources of the words we abide in; however, a question you may be asking is, “what are the sources of the words I, myself, am abiding in?” It is important to pay attention to your internal dialogue to point you to the sources of words you abide in. Here are a couple of examples which may be helpful.
Body image. What is your internal dialogue about your body image? Did you hear messages from your family or peers about your body image? Every culture has a standard by which they define beauty. In the US, one can turn on the TV and see beauty defined by the women and men on TV shows or in movies. Look at the magazines next to the checkout line in a grocery store, and you see images of beauty and the message of the importance of being thin or of weight loss. We cannot escape the bombardment from our media; it’s everywhere. Our flesh desires to be desired and beautiful, so the messages of the surrounding world are believed. The enemy is able to sneak in and bring about accusations such as “you’re fat and worthless!” in order to prevent you from fully seeing yourself as a child of God who is dearly loved. Where is God’s voice in the midst of all of this? How does he see your body and what does he think about your body image? Sadly, His voice is often choked out by the other competing voices.
Guilt. Do you struggle with guilt? What do you feel guilty about? Often times the inception of guilt is never explored. Guilt is a learned thought process. If you were to think back to your childhood, do you recall any messages communicated to you through your family, school, or peers that may have been where the seed of guilt was planted in your life? Maybe you had a mother who used guilt to meet her own needs. Or, maybe you knew you were not the son or daughter your father desired. Maybe you grew up in a dogmatic church that spoke more about your flaws as a sinner than God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Somewhere, along the way, you started to feel like you were not able to live up to other’s expectations of you. The enemy is crafty, he strikes quickly and tempts one to doubt one’s relationship with God. Accusations of guilt ring loudly within your mind, and the rest of the world around you may have no idea what you are experiencing within your internal dialogue. The seed of guilt is buried so far within the recesses of your mind and soul that God’s words sound fleeting and powerless.
These are just two examples of how our internal dialogue point to the sources of the words we abide in. This type of internal dialogue is not always constant, sometimes it only needs a triggering event to activate the dialogue. For body image it may be a comment or media image. For guilt it may be a familiar message from our childhood that rings true to us even now (e.g., “I expected more from you”). Become mindful and aware of your internal dialogue and you’ll start to identify the source of the words you are abiding in. We are all influenced by words. The question is “Whose words are you abiding in?”
A prayer for you: Abba Father, I ask that you minister to the individuals reading. For some this issue may hit home on a very personal note. I pray for those individuals, and I ask that you minister to them through your Word. Send them brothers and sisters in Christ to love on them, and allow them to surrender to you the words they’ve been abiding in. In surrendering these words which have been present with them for so long, I ask that your Spirit fill the void of those words and that your truth fill their heart, soul, and mind. Help them be disciplined in filling their hearts with your Word and surrendering the false words spoken of them in their past. Although past words carry great power to impact us your Word’s carry even greater power. Your Word spoke creation in existence (Genesis 1). Your Word raised a man from the grave who lay dead for days (John 11:1-16). It was the good news of the gospel that many of us heard spoken that led to us to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Your Word is more powerful than any other words one has abided in. Teach my brothers and sisters who read this to abide in your Word, which became flesh (John 1).
Exercise: Contemplate the source of the words you abide in as it relates to areas of your life where you feel distant from God. Then, take some time to reflect on the following Scriptures and answer the questions below.
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
“He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
What does God’s word say about me and his view of me?
If I believed and held to God’s view of me, how would that change things?
How would God’s view of me change my internal dialogue?
How would this change my life if I took it seriously - if this truth were fully alive and effective in my inward being?
What are the barriers (i.e., whose words am I abiding in) in my way of living this truth out?
Take some time in prayer by asking that the Lord help you believe his truth about you in the areas of your life where you struggle to abide in his words. Ask God that his Holy Spirit minister to you in these areas.
Lewis, C.S. (1942). Screwtape Letters
The Holy Bible (ESV)
Tozer, A.W. (1961). Knowledge of the Holy.
Welch, E. (1997). When People are Big and God is Small.
Dr. Ruel Tyer is the Director of Care and Counseling for OneDay Counseling at Portico church. To learn more about OneDay Counseling visit the website - www.onedaycville.org. Dr. Tyer provides counseling services for individuals, couples, and families. If you are interested in learning more about counseling services please contact Dr. Tyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.