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Jesus, Psychology and the Holy Spirit: Don’t be the Victim

psychology and Jesus

Isn’t it interesting how you can’t really find much psychology in the Bible? Unless, of course, you really start interpreting verses in a particular (and even awkward) way?

This has often been a frustration for me because when it comes to morality I want to know how I’m supposed to live morally, not just what morals I should have. But the Bible is rather silent on this.

For example, let’s look at the case of addictions. If you have a certain addiction problem, such as a sexual addiction, there are many answers in the world of psychology to help you deal with it. But when you go to the Bible you can’t really find anything rock solid in terms of a formula. What you’re told are really a few basic things:

(1) Don’t do it
(2) Walk by the Spirit
(3) Think of things that are good and pure

But we want to know how to do all these things. Which steps do I put in place to walk by the Spirit? How do I think of things good and pure? Doesn’t God know it’s not that easy? And yet the Bible offers not much (if anything) in that department. All it says is do it.

But beneath this frustration lies something profoundly deep, yet profoundly simple and profoundly liberating. If that’s all the Bible says about something like sex addiction, it means that God really believes we can just do it. You never see Jesus offer a psycho-analysis of a problem, ever. You don’t see him say things like, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye” and continue with, “I’ll tell you why. It’s because when you were a child your parents shouted at you too much and judged you. The need to perform was ingrained into you. So now you are judgmental of others.” Rather, Jesus simply says, “Hey, stop judging others. First take out the log in your own eye.” (Matt 7:3, paraphrased of course.)

We like to shirk our faults onto others. For quite some time our Western society has punted the victim mentality. Every action of yours has a supposed psycho-analytical background and, of course, solution. It’s not your fault – it’s the fault of your parents or even, in the case of pop-spiritual-psychology, it’s because your great grandfather was a Freemason or something like that.

It’s rather typical of our society and for humankind in general, in its thirst for knowledge of everything without having accountability to God (remember the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden?) to formulate mathematical equations even around how to become a better person. This is nothing new. Except it’s always complicated. For example, to sort out a judgmental attitude we have to travel back in time to when we were kids and assess what our parents did to us and forgive them and work through the hurt they (often ignorantly) caused. Because this kind of thing involves forgiveness many people think it’s a very Christian way of looking at things, but I daresay it isn’t. It’s good to forgive our parents – when I realised they weren’t perfect and forgave them for that it was liberating – but how many times must I go back to my childhood to find the source of my attitudes, problems, addictions, sins and guilt?

Jesus says we should forgive and yet provides no reason why. It’s something we should do because God says so and He knows what’s best for us. It seems obvious that forgiveness is good and healthy and all of God’s morals bring lasting joy (some of them require pain first) but there’s not always a logical reason why we should do something Jesus commands us to do. Such as love our enemies, for instance.

And what is the point of going back in time anyway? That’s like tripping over a rock during my morning run and breaking my leg, then going back to the rock later to see how I tripped over it expecting that knowledge to sort out my broken leg. There’s obviously no point in doing that. We can’t go into the past for everything, that’s blaming the past rather than taking care of the problem in the now.

I’m not advocating a problem with psychology and with Christians who feel called to that field. Their task is a difficult one, however, as that field is in desperate need of some decent moral reasoning. It’s also in desperate need to stop nurturing the victim mentality. But more than that so is our culture.

As a generation X-er I was psycho-analysed and characterised from the day I was born and grew up in a culture when psychology really had become the new religion for many. Talk shows were and are all about it. In school it was drilled into me. The subject of ‘guidance’, for instance, never equipped me or anyone for the real world but only ever was interested in psycho-analysis and sex, at least as far as I can remember.

I couldn’t even get away from it in the Church, except here psychological ideas were tagged with an extra spiritual component. For example, you need to find where you were hurt in the past and let Jesus heal there; your grandfather was a Freemason so you are suffering from some sickness; you were laughed at in school and so you have a low self-worth, and that’s the result of your depression, but Jesus can give you a better self-worth, etc. While this may sometimes be the case(s) (although I question the Freemason thing) it’s not always the case for everyone, but the problem with our culture is it expects a blanket answer and formula for everyone. Many churches, books, pastors etc. got on board with this thinking and pop-psychology became the new religion. This is still a problem. Go into any Christian book store and it’s plain to see.

Getting rid of guilt

We do look for where we can shift the responsibility for our actions in the great quest to ease our conscience and no longer feel guilty anymore. I acknowledge this wide-ranging problem of guilt, but I believe the solution lies in the grace of God – coming under his Fathering and knowing there is grace and forgiveness there. I also acknowledge that true moral living can only be lived in reality when we have the Holy Spirit, which requires us to be born again.

But the issue is that when we believe too strongly in psychology (you need to go through endless healing ever to live morally well) and too little on what God says (you really have the ability to do this thing) we find ourselves constantly battling to live the way we want to. As I’ve jettisoned pop-psychology in my life more and more I’ve found it really is easier to live the way God wants me to, because it becomes simpler to do so. It’s liberating. My mind and my attitude aren’t hampered by a victim mentality and endless formulas for getting things done.

In parenting my kids I want to teach them very early to stop pretending to be a victim and to take responsibility for their actions and just live well. Victim mentality is not helping anyone. Pop-psychology and spiritual-pop-psychology is creating a society that doesn’t know its right hand from its left anymore, because every action has an excuse. Don’t be the victim. Walk by the Spirit. Don’t rely on psycho-analysis. Take Jesus’ word for it that we can just do it. He has given us everything for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We can do this thing.

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Do We Know How to Ask?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened … If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

I write this in a time when I am doing a LOT of asking God for things, many of which I have been trusting for for years now.

In our modern McDonalds fast-food culture, we can get confused with scriptures that tell us to simply ‘ask’ and we will receive. Attempts at making this easier to understand by including the idea that we must ask what God wants can sometimes just aggravate us, because many things we ask for (such as health or a healing) seem to make sense to be God’s will, both biblically and logically.

But the kind of asking the Bible talks about is different. It incorporates these other two actions as well — seeking and knocking. The knocking can, quite clearly, refer to a persistence and the seeking to a knowing of what God’s will is, but I think there’s more to it than just that (as profound as those might be).

We don’t just seek to know His Will but we seek to know Him. We seek His presence. In our asking, seeking His presence is a huge part of the whole thing. We don’t just want to know what God wants, we want to know who he is. And we want to keep knocking on the door where we keep asking, “Who are You Lord? Show me who You are!” If we seek we will find, if we knock the door will be opened.

Do we know what asking means? Do we know how to ask? God is not a McDonalds, clearly, we don’t do much seeking and knocking when we pick up our double cheese burgers. Neither are those double cheese burgers very nourishing. As we seek and knock to know Him, we find ourselves nourished, with peace, joy and such things; the very core need of any of our prayers.

God wants us to ask, seek and knock at the same time. See, God is not one who is quick to reward, but when he rewards, he rewards richly.

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God’s Glory is not a Laser Show

(Image from here)

What is God’s glory, exactly? What do (some) Christians mean when they talk about the ‘glory realm’?

Well, I think for a lot of Christians God’s glory looks something like a laser show, metaphorically speaking. For them it’s about bright flashing lights, angels appearing, the skies cracking open — THAT’s God’s glory for them. It’s all about the eyes — it’s all about seeing something amazing.

But Christianity can not and should never be relegated to that. This isn’t a laser show. This is about hearts changing. The fruits of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control. When people talk about God’s glory why don’t they ever talk about that? Is God’s glory about seeing something amazing, experiencing something out-of-this-world? Or is it in the simple day-to-day reality of becoming a person that reflects Jesus — a person who produces those fruits in a real rubber-hits-the-road kind of way.

A lot of people get stuck in hype rather than reality. Flashing lights are cool and all but they last only a moment. The Spirit producing His fruit is a lifetime thing. God’s glory is in the quiet un-hyped transformation of hearts. I recall Elijah’s experience when there was an earthquake and a forceful wind — yet the Lord was not in them. Rather, he was in the small, still voice. (1 Kings 19.)

Perhaps the reason for this disparity is when we don’t understand how glorious God’s creation actually is. The earth is glorious, and so are we — God’s creation, made in His image. Heaven and Earth met in Jesus when he walked this planet and now meet in us, by His Spirit. And, surprise surprise, most of that isn’t a big light show.

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Not About Being Independent

(Picture sourced from here)

The general philosophy of this world is often about independence. We must be independent; we must stand on our own two feet; we must make things happen.

But God says something different. Rather than be independent, we must come under His protection; under His wing; and find our shelter there.

And just enjoy Him too!

That’s real freedom.

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Faith, Love and Good Works — Ben-Hur

1959 movie of Ben-Hur
(The infamous chariot race in the 1959 movie adaptation of Ben-Hur, starring Charlton Heston. It won 11 Academy Awards.)

Last night while waiting for the game between South Africa and Uruguay (which we will not talk about 😉 ) I was sitting reading an old 1960 print of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, by Lew Wallace.

There are reasons why this book’s a classic. It’s written incredibly well and the dialogue is incredibly interesting — at least until where I read to.

Other than the feeling of serenity I enjoyed while reading an old hardcover book originally written in 1880 while my feet were warming at a gas fire, one quote in particular stuck out to me.

“The world [will learn] a new lesson — that Heaven may be won, not by the sword, not by human wisdom, but by Faith, Love and Good Works.”

The scene is a vivid one. Three wise men have travelled from different parts of the world because God has told them that they will meet the Redeemer of mankind. One is an Egyptian, the other is a Greek, and the last is an Indian Hindu (spelled Hindoo in those days). Each of them have rejected the religion, philosophy and gods of their culture and upbringing and have, through much persecution, come to believe that there is one God and creator of all, and that the soul is immortal.

Each has come to this realisation through the testing of their faith, their love, or their good works. Wallace does a brilliant job of resolving their stories in this quote.

God has told them to meet at this place in the desert, even though they have never known each other before, and the Spirit has guided them to meet the Redeemer. They are the Three Wise Men from the Bible who meet Jesus when He is born (Matthew 2).

I find the quote interesting because of the way Wallace has connected these three things — Faith, Love and Good Works, and said that these will win a man Heaven, not human wisdom or the sword.

I would be theologically sound, I think, to mention right off that heaven has already been won through the faith, love and good works of Jesus. That’s what I believe and that’s what Grace is. Yet heaven is not entered without faith in Jesus, and inheritance not gained without love and good works, and the bridge between faith and good works is surely love.

The Christian life is one of walking in these three things.

As an aside, this quote also perhaps makes something else clear — that faith and good works are not the same thing. The endless Calvinist / Arminian debate (for theologians reading this) centres very much around whether or not faith is a work. But faith is not a work. Faith is faith, and works are works, and love is love. They are connected in a mysterious way but they are not the same thing.

Check out Ben-Hur at Project Gutenberg or read it online here.

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Can God Enjoy the Soccer?

With soccer / football fever having hit South Africa, and having enjoyed the incredibly tense opening FIFA World Cup match last week between South Africa / Bafana Bafana and Mexico, the thought occured to me: can God enjoy the soccer?

Why this thought? Well, the thing about sports is that there are so many unknowns. This is part of what makes sport so exhilarating — almost anything can happen. Will the other team score an equaliser goal? Will my team be able to keep ahead? If only the ball swayed a little to the left, that would be a goal… and so on.

If God knows everything about the future, though, can He enjoy the soccer? Can He enjoy sport?

Someone might say it’s a little carnal asking if God can enjoy sport, but many times us Christians claim God enjoys our music and our creativity. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say He could enjoy sport, after all it’s also a creative act; so perhaps He does.

But can He really if He knows everything? What if God chooses to forget the future during a match, just so He can enjoy not knowing what’s going to happen? Is that possible? And what does that mean when we think of God’s foreknowledge of other things? Is there any place in the Bible where it seems God might not know, absolutely know, what’s going to happen or what choices people will make? Hmmm…

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Faith Like a Child

(Picture from GettyImages)

I’m sure many of us have heard of the phrase “have faith like a child” or “have childlike faith.” I think the phrase is helpful and true, although it is not said directly in the Scriptures like some think it is.

In Matthew 18 Jesus said we need to be as humble as a child, and in Luke 18 he says we must receive the Kingdom like a child. He never uses the phrase ‘faith like a child’, but talks about receiving the Kingdom like a child.

However, we can make a link between receiving and having faith, as there is certainly a link there. Also, perhaps humility can teach us something about faith. Furthermore, God is our Father, as the Scriptures say, so there is always an element of us being his children that is true.

When I was a child I used to wake up in the morning, go downstairs and have my breakfast without really worrying if tomorrow there would be breakfast on the table. Sure, my experience may be unique when we look at the thousands of street children today, but there’s still a powerful picture here in my opinion.

We ought to just know that our Father is taking care of us, like a child in a safe home knows their parents are taking care of them. If that promotion hasn’t come by yet, no worries, it will when we’re old enough and ready for it. If that increase hasn’t come yet, it will when we’re old enough and ready for it. We need to be humble and obedient to God’s instructions, so that when he says this or that we do it rather than rebel. It’s for our own good anyway. That’s being a child.

And can I tell you there’s something about getting to be a child again that is exceedingly comforting. I have a Father who will take care of me. He can bear the burdens of life while I can just enjoy my life, like I did when I was a kid, without having to worry about the nitty gritty details. God will take care of that. I don’t need to perform, I don’t need to be constantly driving for this or that; the burden is on God’s shoulders.

I think that this blogger really gets it. Have a read. It’s so encouraging.

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How Ambition Makes Me a Bad Friend

I have this issue with ambition that I regularly struggle with. You see, I want to go places, do things, live my life! So in an effort to get there I ignore the here. I look to the future, a thing that the world says I must do, but by doing I so largely ignore the present.

This is known as unhealthy ambition. And it makes me a very bad friend and son to my folks. This is because it gets me to always work towards the goal. For me, the goal is to become a full time novelist. So I’m working at my writing career from all angles to get there, so that one day I’ll “have the time to spend with those I love.”

The problem is that that time will never come. I mean, I know one day I’ll be a full time novelist, but what makes me think I’ll then have the time to spend with those I love? I have to keep my career going then.

Most of us work our lives away so we can enjoy our retirement. But when our retirement comes it’s short lived because our health, and our relationships, suffered so much in the process.

What we really all want is joy, peace, love and a bit of adventure. At least that’s how it is for me. And I can have that all pretty easily by just looking for it in the right place.

For the Kingdom of Heaven is a treasure hidden in a field. God is the source of real joy. That’s where I need to go looking for it. But why do I get sidetracked so easily, and so miss the very thing I’m looking for?

Rather I keep chasing after fleeting dreams which, even though they may be good in themselves, are tainted by this unhealthy ambition to get me there.

I’m know my experience is not unique. If you’re like me, let’s look to God as the source of our joy and hope and let our ultimate ambition be to truly know Him.

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Knowledge and Philosophy Could Never Lead to Joy Themselves

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about philosophy and theology. And, although there are others that know more than me (of course), I could tell you a few things, I’m sure.

I could tell you about Spinoza, Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Epicurus, Hobbes, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Marx, Descartes and a couple of other famous names.

I could tell you about existentialism, nihilism, mysticism, atheism, empiricism, rationalism, post-modernism, modernism, pre-modernism and more. I could tell you a bit of Eastern Philosophy and Indian Philosophy too, and so the list goes on.

I could tell you some things about theology too – eschatology, soteriology, ecclesiology, emergent theology (and the mix bag it is), methodism, anglicanism, roman catholicism, pentecostalism, fundamentalism, whatever you’d care to discuss.

And of course, there are those out there who could tell you far more if you wanted.

I’m no expert, but I know enough about all this stuff to know how darn interesting it all is and what a delight it is to know stuff and have high-convoluted ideas of how the Universe works and the mystery it all is. It’s a delight to be so darn knowledgeable isn’t it? To come up with some new bright idea. To know ideas. To be one-up on the rest.

Yet, it’s all worthless at the end of the day isn’t it? Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. (1 Cor 8: 1-2.) Even if I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and have a faith that can move mountains – but I have not love – I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:2.)

But even love can just become another philosophy to many. We’ve all heard the wishy-washy philosophies centred around ‘love’. The 60’s introduced some new definition of ‘love’ that had more to do with sex and lip-service than actual love, such as laying down your life for your friends.

I’ve heard lots of new agers talk about love too but it’s just a wonderful philosophy to many of them. I’ve seen Christians do the same. “You know Ryan, it’s all about love. It really is.” Take a sip of their tea. “Now, let me tell you about that girl (whoever), boy she really grates me…” (and the gossip continues).

God is love but love is not God. Philosophy and knowledge cannot save. It can’t bring life. It never seems to achieve the desire of our hearts to be in fellowship with the Creator. It delights the mind, yes, but it can never delight the heart. The joy of knowledge is fleeting, and so we need more. Study more. Read more. Look for the next big idea. This has been my experience and I know I’m not alone.

Knowledge may be there to help our hearts, because the heart is where it’s at. But we don’t treat it that way. We make it the point, when it isn’t the point.

But there is another joy… a lasting joy… one that sticks with you through good times and bad times. The joy that does speak to our hearts, as uncomfortable and difficult as this Joy is. For it is far easier to fill and mold the mind than let the heart be molded and filled by someone else. It’s far easier to study than to trust.

It is the Creator’s own joy. The only way to get life is to get it from the one who gives it – the Creator. God Himself. By trusting Him, completely. By giving Him our hearts.

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Equip Gauteng Was Great!

At last, after spending the entire weekend working at the rAge video gaming event at the Coca-Cola Dome, Northgate (JHB) I’m able to post a quick blog about the Equip Gauteng time that happened from Wednesday night to Friday night this last week.

(For those interested, check out the great coverage for rAge at

Anyway, Equip Gauteng was awesome. Although I had to work Friday at rAge, the time I did manage to spend at Equip was really awesome.

God really moved and spoke to me over the weekend, thanks to the wonderful facilitation done by the guys who came to preach and facilitate the electives.

Terry Virgo was one of these, and I thoroughly enjoyed his talk about the Holy Spirit, where he related his own walk into understanding the Holy Spirit.

I did the “Holy Spirit and Evangelism” elective, which had Keir Taylor and a team of others (whom I admit I don’t know) administer a wonderful time while relating some of their own experiences with the Holy Spirit. It’s really interesting to see how the same God works so personally and differently with everyone.

I think I’m finally starting to get it. Rather than trying to understand how the Holy Spirit works through some calculated, mechanical method, this keeping in step with the Spirit thing is more about the wind blowing wherever it pleases (John 3:8). This means the Holy Spirit, although the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, is also rather unpredictable. You can’t box Him and expect Him to react in a certain way. He blows wherever He pleases, and will do whatever He wants to do.

Of course, when people hear this they think that it’s all about throwing our heads away and forgetting about the Word. But this was Tyrone’s point – for too long the Church has argued over being either “Word based” or “Spirit based”, with people sitting in only one of these camps.

But actually, the Church needs to be Word AND Spirit based, the two working hand-in-hand.

Tyrone’s illustration that he has been using lately focuses around an aeroplane. An aeroplane needs TWO wings to fly, not one, and – likewise – the Church needs both Word AND Spirit to do what God has called us to do on this planet.

This is so integral to what we see in the Bible that to ignore it results in dire consequences for the Church.

Personally, I have faith more than ever now to see healings take place through simple prayer. Not mechanical prayer based on all the formulas I’ve been taught (“Say this!” “Believe like this!” etc.) but simple prayer with faith in Jesus to do what He did on this earth before when He walked it; not to try and formulaise anything when I see healings happen, but to simply let the Holy Spirit blow wherever He pleases; to stop trying to calculate and manipulate God, but rather simply live in the freedom He gives.

I’m excited!