So you have read the Scriptures, looked up definitions and even done a little research on a portion of it. While that is all great, what is next? How do you apply what you have read and written to your life?
That is the prayer and question you should begin to ask when you open His Word. At each step in the process, ponder what might God be trying to show you? Are there any areas in your life that this information is relevant to?
- Consider the characters in Scripture. What roles did they play? Were they leaders, parents, students, siblings, messengers; the overconfident, the unsure, the proud, the fearful, the sick, the rich, the poor, the strong, or the needy? What were they grappling with? How did they relate to others? What traits did they display that may help you look at your own life and reactions differently?
- What were the facts? What ones can be inferred? Ponder why God wants us to know those details in addition to the instruction that was being taught? Can you see any similarities in those facts with your past, present or near future?
- Temptation always bids us to apply Scripture to others. Start first with yourself, dig deep into your heart and life, as God’s Word is working on you. Your life, your actions, your reactions, your words, and your ways are the only thing you can change–with God’s help.
God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.Psalm 53:2
What God has to say about the heart
As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.Proverbs 27:19
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….These are what make a man “unclean”; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him “unclean.”Matthew 15:18-20
The Lord does not look at the things that man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.1 Samuel 16:7
Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.Deuteronomy 10:16
Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…Hebrews 3:8
You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.Jeremiah 29:13
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to HIs conduct, according to what his Deeds deserve. Jeremiah 17:9-10
It is really easy in our hearts to justify away all sorts of wrongdoings. Scripture is clear that what is in our hearts matters. According to Jeremiah 17, our hope of honestly understanding our hearts lies with God. He is the One who can delve into the heart and search through our thoughts to guide us in the matters that influence and define our character. It is why being in His Word is so important, and how it can refine us for the better. Check your heart to see if there is a reason why you might be struggling with a Scripture.
- Being stiff-necked implies rigidity and stiffness; unwillingness. With matters of the heart, we must be willing to allow His Word in to examine our fears, desires, attitudes and emotions.
- Do not be quick to dismiss Scripture. Rather, be pliable and willing to allow yourself, with God’s help, to search and explore your experiences and reactions to see if they line up with His ways and standards.
- Being dishonest about or indifferent to our emotions can lead to all sorts of wrong taking up residence and making the inside of us unclean even when the outside looks great.
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:12-13
Resolve to understand the definition of hardened. While firmness and resolve are important in our lives, hardness is often described in the Bible with negativity. God works best with those who are broken-hearted, contrite or softened towards Him and His ways. Those with hardened hearts are portrayed as proud, arrogant, complacent, stubborn, stiff-necked, unyielding…to name just a few. When in His Word, strive to be pliable and willing, open and thoughtful about what is before you.
- Error on the side of humbleness, meekness, gentleness, and faithfulness.
- Do not presume that you do not need to look farther. Understand that digging loosens the soil and makes the ground more ready for seed and growth. Digging in His Word and turning over the hardened mounds in your life is the best way to yield a good harvest.
- Hardness of heart has no need to seek God as it is unmoved and cannot absorb the refreshing rivers of truth His Word offers. A soft heart fully committed to Him will drink to satisfaction even in the midst of the desert crossings of life.
Your Mind Matters
Your mind and heart are closely linked
And you…acknowledge the God of your father, and serve Him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.1 Chronicle 28:9
In Scripture, much of the time, the heart and mind are grouped together. Rightfully so, as it appears that they are connected. Our hearts produce desires, dislikes, attitudes, and emotions; and our minds develop them into intentions, opinions, words, actions, choices and impact.
To make change, to grow faith, to build godly character, you must be aware of what lies in your heart and in your mind.
Rid yourselves of all offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.Ezekiel 18:31
understanding what to focus on
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.Colossians 3:2
For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.1 Thessalonians 4:7
A holy life starts internally. Jesus spoke of this again and again. Clean the inside of the cup before you worry about the outside. When you store up unholy things and plans within you, they spill out in your thoughts, your actions and your words.
Our minds matter to God. It is just that simple, and yet, just that complicated. Knowing His Words addresses those negative patterns and replaces them with His standards. That knowledge brings into focus better ways and truths that we can put in our minds and into practice in our lives.
good or bad flow out of our hearts through the decisions of our minds
For out of the outflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.Matthew 12:34-35
Examining our thoughts, fleshing out the bad and encouraging the good, is fundamental in building faith in God. He is holy, and asks us to pursue holiness. His Word is the standard by which we can measure our thoughts for right and wrong, good or evil, merciful or vengeful, loving or hate-filled. And what we think, what we feel, what we believe, and what we say matters.
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.Matthew 12:36-37
Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends upon many factors–ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world. Wherever we can have an impact on the well-being of others, questions of morality apply.Sam Harris Quotes. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com, Retrieved October 30, 2020, from BrainyQuote.com Web site.
Family patterns are the choices, paths, addictions and habits of good and bad that have a strong tendency to pass down to the next generations. Often they go undetected or unacknowledged as each generation tries to distinguish itself from the prior. It is important to note that bad patterns will continue to be a pathway despite mere change, or change for the wrong reasons, as it only yields something “different”. Without God’s wisdom and a better understanding, these trappings will continue to be stumbling blocks.
Being different does not necessarily result in the removal of the root that causes the harmful patterns. For example, the majority of children of alcoholics will avoid alcohol as adults. Yet, a large portion of them will become work-a-holics, or harbor addictions to other less “offensive” temptations, unaware that they are operating with the same pattern that caused harm to past generations. Because they believe they are being “different” than the generation before them, they will be blind to the detriment that pattern is still quietly inflicting on their personal relationships. And that is only if they are lucky enough to be a generation that actually knew of the bad pattern, as patterns are often buried in the unspoken history of families. (Ann W. Smith, Grand Children of Alcoholics, another generation of co-dependency, Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FLA, 1988).
Though we share genetic code specific within our family trees, we are more than just cellular content. Our Creator designed both our body and our brain to receive input through our senses. That input is then used to make determinations that impact the actions and inactions we take. It is important to seek out and understand the patterns that have come before us in our family clusters, so that we can determine what we, ourselves, may be harboring or duplicating today. The impact of familial relations, or lack thereof, on our hearts and minds cannot be underscored enough. Those interactions shape us, one way or another.
- While most recognize good and bad patterns in others, many negative patterns and events within families are hidden away by secrecy or denial. Avoidance, due to fear, embarrassment or feelings of shame, is understandable but yields little understanding for future generations of what to avoid or how. Unearth whatever history you can, as the effects of sin transfers, through the natural consequences of wrong, to the third and fourth generations in any family. Look for the well-worn paths of similar conduct. Be the godly change your family needs.
- Explore both the positive and negative aspects of those closest to you, in the generations that have come before you. Their lives might hold important clues on how to improve your relationships. It is important to ask questions, dig deeper and explore the family patterns that run deep within and around us.
Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried Me, though they had seen what I had done.Psalm 95:8
Much of the Word of God is devoted to families and how they relate to one another, both natural born and those marrying in. In fact, families are the first group structure we see in the Bible and one that continues to be discussed and referenced straight through to the end. Adam and Eve have children, and we are immediately tossed into how quickly sin can creep into hearts and lead to harm.
Even at the end of Revelations, it speaks of the bride–the church/family of believers–awaiting His return. Hence, referring to the foundation of order for this world–families. Families start through the joining of two and that which they create together…individuals who are connected and related. In His Word, God promises those who are lacking “family” that He will place them with those who will consider them as such. Christ and His bride, provide the framework by which the body of believers become family in their love and steadfastness to God and each other.
As a result, families, and their healthy functioning, is the basis of God’s design for this world. Whether born into a loving family or not, we come from a family of origin, or a family environment, that has impacted us. Thus, rooting out unhealthy patterns is crucial to strengthening your relationships. Understand this, you must root them out of you. Such work requires a pliable heart and a willing mind. It is why you must consider how Scripture is speaking to you and the patterns that influence your walk. You must be willing to dig deeper into the past to better your future.
Telling God that your past, and the past of the generations before you, does not matter goes contrary to how He has designed this world to be interconnected. Such an attitude and response indicates a hardened heart. Please understand that studying God’s Word will not bring about a harvest of righteousness if you will not consider that He is speaking to the deeper things that are a part of your life history. He wants us to work on stopping the patterns that reside and influence us towards wrong. To continue following harmful patterns, through denial or slight modifications, will lead to another series of generations experiencing the affect of trickle-down sin.
Commit yourself to trusting God with exploring these patterns so that you can stop the flow of consequences to those who will come after you. God lays it out clearly: we can destroy through our apathy or derelict, or we can rebuild and repair through our love and obedience to Him.
You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandmentsExodus 20:4-6
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.Isaiah 58:12
Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.Hosea 14:9
Because patterns run throughout all of creation, they tend to stick with us. It does not mean that we cannot leave the pattern, as patterns get disrupted all the time. But, in order to interrupt a pattern, we must realize it exists. We have to identify it, understand how it works, and then consciously choose to do something different than the pattern supports. Understand that family patterns will always be close at hand in life. They do not usually disappear, just as memories–even though they may fade–stay with our brains forever. Familial patterns begin to emerge and take root in our lives from early on, and the tendency to return to them will be with us all of our lives.
Coping mechanisms are something different; they are not the pattern, but a response to it. They are individual and unique to each person. That is why each soul in a family (or group setting) can respond differently and experience a situation differently. Our coping mechanisms (learned early on in life) become the skill sets we use to respond to fear, anger, pain, confusion, anxiety, nervousness, hopelessness or shock. They are what we turn to when faced with unsettling moments.
Now, it is important to know that God designed the body to have responses that our brain calculates well in advance of our mind’s ability to make decisions. It is a part of a built-in protection plan that He knew we would need from time to time in this world. The system, lodged in the amygdala portion of our brains, assesses our environment. It kicks on to protect us, and operates at record speeds. It is why you might freeze in a certain situation, run in another, or fight back before you fully comprehend what is in front of you. It is our emergency system of flight, fight or freeze that operates when faced with perceived danger.
With this design in mind, we can begin to understand how we develop ways to handle stressful situations around us at a very young age. The amygdala kicks in with emergencies, but our mind begins to utilize information to develop coping skills for a variety of situations that are more uncomfortable and less emergent. For example, some people bite their nails when they are nervous. Other people become really quiet in the face of aggressive conversation. Still others, when faced with physical danger, get defensive and confront the issue at hand. As adults, the responses that come out of us have likely developed and been utilized for a long time.
Though those coping mechanisms may have been useful for the situations we encountered early on in our lives–or in the emergencies that can still happen–as we grow closer to God, these mechanisms may start to actually impede our faith and how we react in His world. God knew we needed them when we had no other choices, but as we grow older, sometimes we return to our coping mechanisms over and over, despite no longer needing them. This is especially true, if they stem from or involve family patterns that are still actively operating within us.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.1 Corinthians 13:11-12
Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.1 Corinthians 14:20
It is in returning to those patterns, rather than to God, our faith is weakened. In our thinking, we need to realize when those patterns are operating around and in us. Further, with that realization and a firmer understanding of the pattern we are grappling with, we need to take action to limit our coping mechanisms from taking over our responses. Through godly wisdom and discernment, these coping mechanisms and long-standing patterns will gradually fade as stumbling blocks in our walk.
- It is not enough to identify and acknowledge a pattern or coping mechanism. You need to discern how they relate and why they work together well. You cannot be wise and discerning without realization and understanding of what is truly impacting your decision making.
- Rebellion in our hearts begin when we willingly return to old patterns and coping mechanisms rather than following God towards new thoughts and ways that better trust Him with our discomfort.
- Coping mechanisms are things that we fashioned; as believers, let us walk in the ways that God has fashioned–trusting His design over our own.
- The root of rebellion involves the idea of renewed war. Think on that. Coping mechanisms are often built in times of stress; they will return when the body and mind perceive similar, new threats or reminders of prior hurts. Choose not to renew war for the past through the continuation and use of unnecessary coping mechanisms in the future.
In His Word
- When you see Scripture highlighted or mentioned multiple times, dig into it. God is bringing it to your attention for a reason. Trust God, even if it becomes more relevant in your future, as sometimes He likes to teach you before the test comes. As with any education, it is often helpful to study beforehand.
- When you see Scripture repeatedly, consider the events and situations (including prior and upcoming ones) going on around you. Assess whether those teachings may be speaking to a broader context than you initially thought.
- Do not limit His Word to just today.
In His World
- Consider researching what is mentioned. Pearls have a distinct pattern to them that can be seen by x-ray that expounds on the idea of how we try to cover our hurts. Dogs have a distinct pattern of behavior. Flooding, deserts, and wildernesses have identifying criteria that are unique to each situation. Dig deeper and allow God to show where His creation may be speaking directly to your life.
- Look at what surrounds you and observe the patterns that likely exist. Be open to how God may be trying to inspire your mind and heart to see Him in the big and little details of life.
For the word of the Lord is living and active. Sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.Hebrews 4:12