“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way.” – Psalm 37:23 NKJV
“To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways; we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sign of sadness: it should rather be an expression of breathless expectation.” – Oswald Chambers
At the end of the day, embracing uncertainty comes back to our perspective on life, (Doesn’t most everything?) Do we really believe that God is ordering every footstep even when it feels like we’ve taken a misstep? Do we really believe that God is sovereign when nothing seems to be going our way? Do we really believe that God is good even when bad things happen to us?
It is the sovereignty (his ultimate control) of God that gives us a sense of destiny. And it is the sense of destiny that helps us embrace the positive and negative uncertainties that happen in our lives.
“Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked? 14 Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life.” – Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 NLT
In his marvelous book, Self-Talk, David Stoop explains the importance of how we talk to ourselves throughout the day. You might not be aware that you’re doing it, but you almost certainly are. This inner voice combines conscious thoughts with inbuilt beliefs and biases to create an internal monologue throughout the day.
Others describe self-talk in terms of an “explanatory style.” (Look to the book Learned Optimism, by Martin Seligman). Each of us have an internal voice that explains events and experiences either positively or negatively. I believe when we walk under the power of the Holy Spirit this self-talk is infused with God-talk.
“Your own ears will hear Him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.” – Isaiah 30:21 NLT
Allow me to provide an example.
While a new freshman and a new follower of Christ at OSU, I was assigned to evangelize the third floor of McNary dorm. A daunting task for me, yet I obeyed the leadership team and took up the challenge.
One Of My Third-Floor Experiences
At one door I knocked and entered upon request and shared the 4-Laws with the two residents. They were somewhat indifferent but still gracious enough to ask me into their room. At times they were somewhat antagonist and condescending, but I proceeded to read them the 4-Laws and asked them after my presentation if they wished to receive Christ would they know how to based on my presentation? They both responded in the affirmative but clearly with an attitude of apathy.
After leaving their room I attempted to explain to myself the events of my encounter which seemed to be a failure. I explained the events with my self-talk like this: “I could have been more friendly.” Causing me to feel guilt. “They were simply difficult guys.” Resulting in feelings of relief that it wasn’t me. “I should have presented the Good News in a clearer manner.” Fostering feelings of regret. “What was I thinking attempting to bring someone to Christ cold turkey?” Resulting in feelings of irritation about the whole assignment. “The results are not what I desired but perhaps the Holy Spirit was going to work.” I felt moments of hope.
There are a lot of different explanations for every experience. And while most of the time we can’t control our experiences, we can control our explanations. And the truth is that many times our explanations are more important than our experiences. The way we explain and interpret events to ourselves can determine how helpless we can become when we encounter setbacks or how energized we may become when we experience victories.
I admit I am too subjective when it comes to my self-talk and how I explain my experiences. At times I envy others who are more objective and too many times I walk down the crooked road of the “glass is half empty,” and can even carry on with catastrophic thinking prior to discovering the true reality of the experience.
The verses in 1 John 3 have had a comforting meaning to a slightly neurotic (overly sensitive, and subjective) person like me.
“Even if we feel guilty, (our heart condemns us KJV) God is greater than our feelings (heart KJV), and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, (if our heart does not condemn us KJV) we can come to God with bold confidence.” – 1 John 3:20-21 NLT
When I first began to muse over these verses in their context it was clear that overcoming self-doubt was through actions of love for others. Biblical love is an action that seeks to benefit others with selflessness, and many times sacrificial behavior. It is far more than a “feeling,” or “concern” or “compassion.” It is demonstrative obedience to the will and ways of God as revealed in the Scriptures. Sometimes that action is produced from our feelings of compassion, but the proof of love is obedience, and in the context of 1 John 3 it is manifested in our sacrificial love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. One aspect of sacrificial love is putting others interests, and what is best for them, above our own desires.
That is what 1 John 3:18 is says, “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” – 1 John 3:18 NLT
I digress a bit to relate a very recent experience I had with an aggressive atheist acquaintance ☺ Please hang with me for this rather long story but important dialogue. I believe it will be instructional for you as it was for me!
It is refreshing for me to converse with people who are outside of Christ and who espouse a secular worldview. Too many times I am interacting with the choir☹☺!
On August 29, 2023, I was working out at a local facility when I had a rather rigorous discussion with a long-time antagonistic and atheistic acquaintance.
My friend started to complain about the reality that across our country downtown offices are closing because of the Covid Virus. I listened and responded to him and then said “yes that is true that people stayed away because of covid but here in Portland, many of the businesses have left the city and are still leaving the city for fear of the riots instigated by Antifa.” He quickly and emotionally responded by saying it was not because of Antifa it was because of the right-wing skin heads invading Portland and instigating the destructive riots. Emphatically, he added that Black Lives Matter and Antifa had nothing to do with causing the riots. (At that point in the dialogue he was so assertive and dominating the conversation that I chose not to relate to him two scary firsthand experiences I had with our grandchildren facing Antifa without any right-wing antagonists). I am trusting the Lord will give me another opportunity☺
I responded by saying, “It’s interesting, Mike, how you and I can come to such different conclusions by observing the same situation.” He said it all depends on where you get your information. I know from past encounters with him he thinks I get my information from FOX, and he told me before that he gets his news from CNN.
As an aside, I do not watch FOX and have not watched Fox of 3 years.
He (Mike) then said he used to agree with some policies from the old Republican Party and I responded in like kind, agreeing that some liberal policies have been good.
I said the issue I have is with the Leftists who are pushing their ideologies into our culture. He asked sharply, “what is a leftist?” I said one example is the people who are aggressively pushing transgenderism on our kids especially in our public schools.
He became furious with that. He asked, “are you against transgenderism? You’re a pastor and you think these people are wrong?” I responded, ‘yes, I am, and the Bible is very clear there are not multiple genders and that a person is born either male or female. The Bible teaches that “He (God) created them Male and Female.”’ With a shocked countenance he snapped, “you don’t love these people?” I responded by saying, Mike, I did not say I don’t love them, but I believe that their behavior is wrong, and the leftist are radically pushing this ideology especially in our schools on young children. I should have added I did not say I don’t love them, “you said I don’t love them.”
The word “love” gets thrown around these days indiscriminately without specific parameters, clarifications, boundaries, or understanding. Whenever we have the opportunity, we ought to clarify biblical love.
“Love,” for Mike in this discussion, is called “acceptance no matter what”, without any Truth or facts brought into the equation. The Truth and fact is that biologically there are only two sexes, —male and female. He abruptly ended the conversation with “I’m not going to talk anymore about this with you! Have a nice day!” I ended by saying, “Mike, you have a wonderful day also.” I believe and hope the conversation will continue☺.
Words matter and defining words correctly and completely is vital for us who name the Name of Jesus Christ. I did not even get into the needed discussion of defining “love.” Perhaps another day. In addition, it is vital that we clarify what the Bible teaches speaking into conversations without anger or distain.
Back to The Principle of Self-Talk
One of the most dramatic tragic-turned-redemptive storylines in the Bible is found in Genesis.
When Joseph was a teenager, his brothers faked his death and sold him into slavery. That would cause enough psychopathology to last a lifetime for most people, but it was only the tip of the pyramid for Joseph. When Joseph resisted the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife, he was unjustly thrown into an Egyptian dungeon on attempted rape charges. For thirteen years things went from bad to worse. But Joseph never lost faith because his faith was not contingent upon his challenging experiences. After, thirteen years of what seemed like bad luck, in what must be the most precipitous rise to power in political history, Joseph interpreted a dream and went from prisoner to prime minister of Egypt. (Look to Genesis 41)
I can only imagine what my “self-talk” would have been. Over thirteen+ years? Yikes!
Joseph could have come up with any number of explanations for his experiences when things weren’t going his way. “God has forsaken me.” “God is angry with me.” “God has forgotten me.” “God has given up on me.” “God most certainly doesn’t intervene in the affairs of man.” But Joseph’s explanation is found in Genesis 50:20. Joseph looks into the rearview mirror and reflects on all the dysfunction, all the injustice, all the betrayal and all the pain. And he says to his brothers, the same brothers who faked his death and sold him into slavery:
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” – Genesis 50:20 NLT
It is safe to say that this verse summarized Joseph’s outlook on life and reveals his explanatory self-talk style. Joseph was able to see the purposes of God in his past experiences. Genesis 50:20 is the lens through which each of us ought to view our past, present, and future. Everyone’s path is littered with the debris of dysfunction, disappointment, self-inflicted sin, and other-inflicted experiences. And most likely we will be around for many more such experiences. But God is in the business of using some of those experiences to prepare us for future breathless opportunities.
Actions To Take
#1 For a day monitor your explanatory style.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts” – Psalms 139:23 KJV
#2 Salt your self-talk with the Word of God to redeem your thinking.
“Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” – Joshua 1:8 NLT I would add, “in all you l think”
#3 If you are in a unique experience now, ask yourself, what type of negative or positive explanations am I saying to myself? Consciously speak redemptive explanations.
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” – Philippians l 4:8 NLT
# 4 If you do not struggle with negative self-talk, pray for others like me☺!
#5 How would you have dialogued with the guy in the gym? Define Biblical Love.
• A week later, I saw my atheistic friend once again and we were friendly and cordial with each other. I plan to reengage with him. Please pray for us both if you think of us.
• By the way, two years later after my third floor McNary dialogue, a student came up to me after a College Life gathering and introduced himself as John. He reminded me of the day he and his roommate gave me a hard time on the third floor of McNary. He said,
“When you left the room, that night I got down on my knees and received Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord!
So much for my self-talk ☺
Embracing Uncertainty With You,