Wednesday, December 18, 2013

TTF Piece 2: Honesty and Transparency

(This TTF series starts with the post "Through the Furnace (TTF): Intro 1.")

Honesty with Yourself and Transparency Before the Lord
            Proverbs 12:22:  “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.”
            Matthew 5:8:  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  

            Pure.  Being free from impurities.  Impurities are those things that pollute what is true and genuine and good.  And what pollutes a true, genuine, good relationship with the Lord (and pollutes even our own lives) are falsehood and lies.  Hiding from truth and hiding the truth.  Deliberately living a lie or unconsciously agreeing with one.  These keep us from being able to really experience, see, and know God.  But if we will live authentic, transparent lives before God, we will know Him (and ourselves) in a way we never could before. 

            This isn’t so much of a step to go through, but something that we need to commit to for this whole journey.  Well, our whole lives, really.  Honesty is half the battle, because living a life of lies prevents any growth and keeps our hearts closed to God.  And I’m not even necessarily talking here about deliberate lies.  We know when we are deliberately lying to others, ourselves, and God.  And we won’t fess up to those until we want to. 

            But what I am mostly concerned with here are the lies that we don’t even realize we are living or agreeing with.  They could be lies we believe about ourselves or God, or truths that we refuse to see.  And we don’t usually know that they are there.  We just have a vague (or strong, vivid) sense that something is “off” in our lives or our relationship with God.  (Or we are simply refusing to see that things are “off,” which is probably the case a lot more than we know.)

            Unfortunately, we can continue on like this for quite some time, believing that things are okay.  But it takes a desire to want to live in Truth in order to right things.  It takes a readiness to say, “Okay, God, show me the true condition of my heart.” 

            And this is scarier to do than it seems. 

            Because once we see it, we can’t ignore it any longer.  We have to deal with it.  And we may have to deal with the consequences that it has produced over the years.  And that can be heart-breaking.  But genuine healing is impossible apart from . . . well . . . genuineness.  Honesty.  Transparency.  Truth! 

            And since God can see all truth and He knows us better than we know ourselves, this has to be done with complete reliance on Him.  We have to be committed to seeking His help, to listening to what He says, to facing whatever He reveals, and to obeying whatever He asks us to do.  And so this “step” involves asking God for His help in learning to be honest with ourselves and transparent with Him.  It takes conscientiousness, introspection . . . and lots of prayer. 


            Before we get down to doing that, it may help to explore some of the ways that we hide from truth.  All of us have our own ways of doing this, whether it’s denial, running from it, smiling through it, etc.  I think that it’s important to know our “mode of truth-avoidance” so that we can be aware of when we are doing it.  Below are some ways that we refuse to see or face the truth.  Read through them and see if any feel familiar to you.    

            1.  When your conscience (i.e. the Holy Spirit) convicts you about something or sends up a little flag, you tend to stuff it, excuse it, rationalize it, or ignore it.  Oftentimes, these little flags are just tiny feelings in your gut or mind.  It’s something about yourself that makes you wince ever so slightly, such as the “Oooh, I shouldn’t have done that” or “Ouch, that hits a nerve” feeling.  It’s knowing that you should think more about it, contemplating your role or responsibility or shortcoming, or that you should deal with a part of yourself that you are refusing to acknowledge.  Or sometimes it’s a thought or feeling or fear that just won’t go away.  But yet, you somehow gloss over it and eventually forget about it. 
            Or you build your life around it. 
            Don’t ignore these flags from the Holy Spirit.  You may not understand why your spirit has become unsettled, but don’t ignore it.  Don’t excuse it with “That’s just the way I am” or “My past made me this way.”  If something pops up in your heart or mind (it could be a brief flash or a deep, gnawing feeling), ask God what it means.  Spend some time in prayer, following the train-of-thought as the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to truth.     Far too often we ignore these nudges or flags in our conscience and refuse to dig deeper.  Resist that urge.  Because the more you do, the more numb you get to the Holy Spirit. 

            2.  You fill your day with busyness from beginning to end.  You refuse to slow down enough to spend time in quiet or time alone.  (Being alone regularly with a bottle of alcohol doesn’t count as quality “alone time.”  In fact, that may mean that you desperately need help.  Seek out your pastor or a Christian counselor if this is the case.)
            And this may be because you are hiding something from yourself, or running from your past, your sins, your character flaws, your fears, God, etc.  And when you live this way, you can’t hear God’s whisper because you don’t slow down enough to spend quality time with Him or to listen. 
            A lot of us spend our lives running from our conscience and from God’s Truth.  We are afraid to stop and see things as they are, to see how far away we have gotten from where we want to be and where God wants us to be.  But He pursues, and we feel convicted.  And so we have to keep busy, keep running, and cram in as many distractions as we can . . . or else we might hear Him. 
            If you find your life flying past you . . . if you notice that you spend little time being alone and still with the Lord, in the Bible, in prayer, or just in silent reflection . . . or if you tend to avoid deep, genuine conversations with others . . . it may mean that you are running from something.  Ask God for wisdom and insight.  And take the time to stop and listen. 

            3.  You get angry or defensive when others allude to character flaws or particular events in your life.  You defend yourself against them, rationalize them, or turn the focus back on the other person.  Anything to not have to seriously look at your own shortcomings.  Or maybe you lash out over seemingly small things, yet you don’t know why.  
            When we know that we have problem areas, the last thing we want is someone else to notice them and point them out.  Or maybe the problem areas that we see and despise in other people are the very things that we are guilty of.  And we need to spend some time contemplating if we do the very things that drive us nuts when others do them.     
            If you notice that you get angry or defensive easily (or if others point that out to you), confess it.  And then ask God’s help to overcome it and to see where it may be coming from.  Also, try to notice the things that you consistently complain about or dislike in others, the things you accuse them of doing to you.  This may be a reflection of your shortcomings or sins.   

            4.  You get angry at yourself for this or that.  And then you try to make yourself feel better, instead of looking deeply into what bothers you about yourself.  Now, there are times that we are right to be angry at ourselves, such as when we mistreat someone or continue in a certain sin.  (But we cannot gloss over it or beat ourselves up for it.  We need to seek forgiveness and try to right any wrongs.  But then we need to accept forgiveness and move on, instead of getting hung up on it.) 
            But then there are times that we get too critical of ourselves or unjustly/harshly angry with ourselves.  And these may stem from fears, shortcomings, sins, or lies we believe.  And we should spend time evaluating these things or else we will always live in bondage to them, never able to become the kind of person that God wants us to be.  Maybe you consistently get angry at yourself when you think you’ve said something stupid.  Maybe it’s because you can’t seem to keep your house clean.  Maybe you make simple mistakes at work. 
            The problem comes when we get angry at ourselves for these “human” kinds of mistakes, but then we lash out at others or beat ourselves up or try to simply stuff the uncomfortable feelings, when we should be exploring what these things say about how we view ourselves or God. 
            If you find yourself consistently defensive or angry at yourself, spend some time in prayer, asking God to reveal truth to you and to give you the strength and wisdom to deal with it.  By facing and dealing with these kinds of things, we become free to let God’s love and forgiveness heal us and to live the kind of abundant life He wants us to have.  

            5.  You deny or ignore your problems and put on a sunshiney or strong face.  Now, being optimistic is a good thing, but not when it’s used as a means to hide truth from yourself and others.  And God.  Many people smile despite the pain.  They don’t allow others to feel sympathy for them, and they don’t allow themselves to wallow in any sort of “self-pity.”  While I don’t condone self-pity (although I do it practice it a lot), I do say that if this is your mode, you may need to sit before the Lord and discover why you do this and what you are hiding . . . or hiding from.
            I used to do something like this when it came to my relationship with God.  I would act like I could handle whatever came my way.  And that I could do it in a godly way.  Even if I was terrified and upset inside, I would be like, “That’s okay, God.  I can handle it.  I trust You.”  I felt that that’s the way a good, mature Christian was supposed to be.  We were supposed to take what God dished out with a smile, bravely shouldering our cross.  Right? 
            Yes, it’s important to trust and to shoulder our cross, but genuine trust in God and genuine acceptance of our crosses can’t come until after we have been honest with all the real feelings inside of us.  If we try to hide those - even in the name of being a “good Christian” (trying to . . . what? . . . spare God’s feelings?  Impress Him?) - then we are being less than honest with God. 
            And this dishonesty closes off a part of our hearts and lives to Him.  And we are cheating ourselves out of letting His comfort and love fill us and heal us.  We need to be committed to genuine living before God, even with (especially with) the ugly stuff.              

            6.  You’ve settled into depressed or have no peace and joy.  Maybe things were going good, but then they took a turn for the worse.  Maybe you don’t know what happened, but things just don’t feel right.  It may be that you are lazy in your spiritual disciplines, that you are not abiding in Him and His Word daily.  Or it may be that you have quenched the Holy Spirit somewhere along the way.  You have hindered His work in your life, and so you have been handed over to the consequences of your own decision.  Maybe you refused to obey Him in something.  Maybe you have flat-out gone your own way in some decision.  Maybe you’ve agreed with a lie somewhere along the way, such as “I’m so stupid” or “No one could love me, not even God,” and now you are living the lie that you have adopted.  Pray and ask God to search your heart and to reveal whatever may be blocking His peace and joy from entering.  (And ask for forgiveness whenever needed.) 

            7.  You feel that God is far away and life is hopeless.  Well, it may be that you are in the Graduate School of Faith, and you are being called to go higher and deeper in your walk with Him.  Or it may be that God has “withdrawn” His presence because you have been refusing Him or His Truth or refusing to obey in something.  Ask God about this and write down what He reveals.  And ask what He wants you to do about it. 

            8.  You don’t want to read your Bible or pray, and you don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because you don’t want to know what He will tell you.  Maybe you don’t see the importance of it.  Maybe you want to believe that the way you are currently living is good enough for God, because you like the way things are and don’t want to change.  Well, is it good enough for God?  Really? 

            9.  You do a lot for God, instead of spending time with God.  Why?
            Or you buy a lot of things, always running to something bigger or better because it numbs you to the pain and the lifelessness inside.  What are you running from? 

            10.  Maybe you fill in the blank.

            These (along with others) could all be indications that you are not facing something that the Holy Spirit wants you to face, that you are living with distance from God or in lies.  And you need to take time with the Bible and the Holy Spirit to talk through these until you see the truth. 
            Do not gloss over these kinds of things.  Honesty with ourselves and God is absolutely necessary for humility.  We cannot be living in self-deception and draw genuinely near to the Lord at the same time - because we are not being genuine.  This piece may be a hard one to face because it means examining our hearts and letting the Spirit examine us to bring up things that we didn’t want to see in the first place.   

            We need to be committed to honesty with ourselves and living transparently before God if we are going to grow at all.  To live transparently means to realize that we can’t hide anything from Him anyway, no matter how hard we try or how much we polish ourselves up on the outside or “live righteously.”  So we may as well admit to Him in prayer all of the thoughts, feelings, fears, and sins that we don’t like to admit. 
            But God can handle it.  He knows it all anyway.  He’s just been waiting for us to be honest. 
            Tell Him what hurts.  Tell Him how you really feel about yourself and about Him and about your life.  Tell Him what you are really thinking and feeling.  That is, after all, the heart of prayer.
            And just know that He will accept you and love you no matter what.  And as soon as you become honest and begin to talk freely with Him, your heart will become softer and more and more open to Him and to His healing love.  And you will be relieved of the burden of feeling like you have to keep up that exhausting false front, being that “good Christian” that you thought you were supposed to be.  The one who looks like they have it all together and never struggles with anything.     

            Okay, now, once we figure out our “modes,” it may be a good idea to understand what has caused us to be the way we are.  And this means digging into our pasts and our families-of-origin.  Now, this may be too hard for some people to do, if you have a really painful, messy past.  And if this is the case, I would recommend finding a good Christian counselor or pastor or a strong, mature Christian friend.  Because these kinds of painful thoughts and feelings won’t just go away if they are ignored.  They will persist as long as you let them, and they will continue to interfere with your relationships with others, yourself, and the Lord. 
            If you have a prayer partner or a spouse or close friend, it may be helpful to spend some time discussing with them your past and how it formed you.  The Questions for Reflection are to help you explore this.  Take your time in answering them.  Let your mind wander over these and into your past for days or weeks, and pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to see His Truth.  It is only by facing and knowing the truth - the truth of who we are inside and the Truth of God’s Word - that we can use it to destroy the lies we live.   


            Pray and let God know of your desire to see truth, to see what is really in your heart.  These Bible verses are excellent prayers for this: 

            Psalm 25:4-5:  “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”

            Psalm 26:2-3:  “Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.”  

            Psalm 139:23-24:  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” 

            And from Psalm 86:  “Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy... Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.  Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you.  Hear my prayer, O Lord: listen to my cry for mercy... Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.  I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.  For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.”

            Be sure not only to let God know of your desire to be searched, but spend time listening to Him.  Jot down anything that God reveals.  This may not be easy or pain-free, but it is crucial.  And always remember that He is there with you as you go through this, walking through the pain with you. 
            If you find yourself taking a deep breath right now, it may be because you know that you are not going to like what you will find.  But the sooner you allow God to reveal it, the better.  And the sooner He can heal it and help you turn it around for His glory and His purposes.   Do not hide from His searchlight and His Truth.  If you do so, you choose to live with distance and to face discipline and possibly being turned over to the hardness of your heart, which is far worse than being pruned and humbled.

Example Prayer (besides the above verses):

            Dear Heavenly Father,
            I am tired of living a self-protective, polished, or self-degrading life.  I am tired of running from my past or shortcomings, and stuffing my pain and fears.  I want to live a life of freedom in You.  Help me to see all of the lies that I believe and all of the things in my past that have damaged me and that have hurt my relationship with You and with others.  Give me the strength to face them, and the help that I need to replace them with Your love and Your truth.  Help me learn to pour out to You what is really in my heart and mind.  Because I don’t want to keep any walls up between us.  As I open up more of my heart and as I face more of the deeply-embedded pain, be my comfort and heal my hurts.  And remind me of Your unconditional love for me.  I desperately need that. 
            In Jesus’ name,  Amen  

Questions for Reflection: 
           (This is a big one.  Take your time and go through these as thoroughly as possible.  Some of these might seem redundant, but they will help you see things from slightly different angles to get a more complete view.)

1.  Did anything in this section stand out to me?  Why?

2.  How would I describe myself?  How do I think others see me?

3.  How would I describe my relationships with others? 

4.  How do I typically interact with others?  In negative or positive ways?   

5.  How do I think I got to be this way?   

6.  How would I describe my earliest significant relationships? 

7.  What are the patterns of relating (the relationship models) that I observed/experienced as I grew up?  How did my family and my parents relate to each other?

8.  What did I learn from these?  How did they affect me?

9.  How would I describe my “inner self”?  (Maybe start with “Deep down, I am . . .”  Be as thorough as possible, including as many answers as necessary.)  Does this conflict at all with my answer to #2? 

10.  How do I feel about my “inner self”?  (Maybe start with “When I think about the person that I really am, I . . . “)  And why do I feel this way? 

11.  Am I honest with others?  Do I let them get to know the “real me”?  Even my closest friends?  If not, why?  What kinds of things do I keep hidden or am I dishonest about?

12.  What typically happens when I am honest or when I act like myself?  Has it ever back-fired?  How has this affected me?

13.  Am I afraid to be honest with the Lord?  Why?  What do I fear will happen?  And what am I typically “less than truthful” about?  

14.  Looking at the list above and considering other options, in what ways do I avoid the truth about myself or hide from the Holy Spirit?  Or what signs in my life might indicate that I am avoiding the truth or hiding?  What am I trying to hide? What am I lying to myself about or trying to convince myself of?  And why?

15.  How would I like to be, deep down and on the outside?  (Is this a fair and reasonable goal?  Or am I just putting unfair or unreasonable expectations on myself and considering my “real self” to be unacceptable?) 

16.  In what ways have I tried to change before, to improve myself?  What were the outcomes?  How did it affect me? 

17.  Is there anything else I can do to become the person I want to be?  Or, if my expectations are unfair to myself, how can I learn to accept myself the way I am?  And what reasonable expectations and goals can I put in their place?

18.  To me, what does it mean to be “a good Christian”?  In what ways is this view healthy and good, and in what ways is it unhealthy and harmful?

19.  How does my attempt to be that “good Christian” affect/interfere with my relationship with others and with the Lord?  How does it affect how I see myself?  Is there anything I should change about my attempts to be that “good Christian”?

20.  What do I fear would happen if others or the Lord really knew “the real me”?  What do I think might happen if I stopped wearing the “good Christian” mask and became a “real Christian” instead?

21.  How would my life change if I were more honest with myself, others, and the Lord?  How would it change if I began to let myself be me? 

22.  Do I want those changes? 

23.  Are there any “lies” or self-defeating beliefs that I have agreed with or adopted along the way? 
            (These are usually the initial thoughts that we think when things go wrong or we’re afraid or mad at ourselves or feel anxiety.  Things like, “I’m such a loser,” “This kind of stuff always happens to me,” “I don’t deserve . . .,” “God doesn’t care,” and other things like that.  Spend some time thinking about what self-defeating thoughts commonly go through your head throughout the course of the day, or notice them when they do pop into your head and write them down.)

24.  How have these thoughts molded or affected my life?  When did they start or what started them in my past?  How do I live and perpetuate them, making them more “true” and strongly embedded?

25.  Have I ever quenched the Spirit along the way or refused to obey in something?  If so, what?

26.  What or who am I blaming for the problems in my life?  How might I actually be responsible for the messes in my life? 
            [In order to start living a life of honesty, we need to start being honest with ourselves about who is responsible for the current condition of our lives.  This is especially important when we are living a life of bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, irresponsibility, or staleness and laziness.  We usually have a myriad of people, events, or circumstances that we blame for “the way we are.”  And, yes, a lot of this blame might be justified.  But we are not going to get anywhere in life or in our relationship with God if we sit in the “victim seat” all day, pointing fingers at everyone else. 
            While we can’t change what has been done to us, we are responsible for whether or not we continue to carry it around and let it defeat us.  And we are responsible for our reactions to the unfair things that have happened to us and our attitudes towards the people who have wronged us. 
            God knows what has happened to us.  And He has the right to (and He will) avenge all wrongs, because any sin committed against anyone is ultimately a sin against Him.  And He has promised to work all things out for good in our lives.  But if we will not give the “right to avenge” over to God, we will continue to carry around a self-defeating bitterness.  We will continue to make a mess of our lives.  And our spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical lives will suffer. 
            But once we become honest with ourselves and God – once we admit that we are responsible for the current condition of our lives, either by our deliberate actions and sins or by wallowing in the results of someone else’s or by refusing to hand it over to Him to let Him heal it and help us through it – we can find healing.  And God will be free to create something beautiful with our lives, messes and all.] 

27.  At this time, is there any wrong that I need to make right in my relationships?  Any consequence of my dishonesty with myself, others, or the Lord?  Any bitterness that I am holding onto or person that I need to forgive? 

28.  Is there anything that I need to confess or admit to God right now?  Sins?  Fears?  Doubts?  Judgments that I’ve made about Him, about others, or about myself that do not fit with the Bible, reality, or how He sees things?   

29.  Can I accept God’s free, un-earnable, and already-available forgiveness and love?  If not, what blocks me from doing that?  Can I give it to others?  Do I understand what forgiveness is and what it isn't?  Do I know what God's love is and how it is different from human ideas of love?  Do I truly understand what it means to embrace God’s free grace and to extend it to others?  Is there anyone I am failing to forgive?  Do I understand that forgiveness is an act of the will, that I can do it even when I don't feel like it because it's not based on my feelings?  Do I truly grasp the truth that Jesus has already paid for all sins on the cross - all of my sins and all the sins of those who wronged me?  And so I have no right to hold the offenses of others against them and I should not live under guilt about my sins if I have confessed them to the Lord and sought forgiveness?    (Pray and ask God to help you understand what grace and forgiveness really are and what God's love is really like.) 

30.  What have I learned about myself after working through these questions?  And what changes do I want to make from here on out?

Bible Study:

1.  Find out what God says about honesty, sincerity, and truth in His Word.  Verses such as these:

Psalm 15:1-2, 40:11, 43:3, 51:6

Jeremiah 5:1-4

Proverbs 12:22

Hebrews 10:22

2 Corinthians 2:17

2.  If God has been giving you answers to the questions above, try to find verses from the Bible to back up His message to you.

3.  Explore Bible verses on grace, forgiveness, and God’s love.  (Google verses on these if your Bible doesn’t have an index.)