Spiritual Growth

Where man sees but withered leaves,
God sees sweet flowers growing.
-Albert Laighton

Spring is a time for growth in so many ways. Some welcome that process with an adventurous spirit, while others cringe about navigating (and stressing through) the challenge.

It has only been within the past 20-30 years that Carol Dweck, PhD., began to examine the concept of Fixed/Mixed/Growth Mindsets. What does that mean?! After studying the behavior of thousands of children, Dr. Dweck coined the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. When students (really, anyone) believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement.

Having a growth mindset is not simply just having an “open mind” or having a positive outlook on things, but rather it is a sort of unattainable (at least in its purest form) challenge to resist a fixed way of being and embrace difficulties from a place of intrigue and awe.

Curious about your mindset? The truth is, your mindset may vary within different kinds of change, but if you’d like to take a basic quiz about your mindset, CLICK HERE.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Dweck writes, “It’s hard work, but individuals and organizations can gain a lot by deepening their understanding of growth-mindset concepts and the processes for putting them into practice. It gives them a richer sense of who they are, what they stand for, and how they want to move forward.”

That’s cool. What does this have to do with God and my faith?

True growth will always reveal defined transformation, which will propel one into the next season of growth.

The Bible beckons us into a process of sanctification, beginning with  accepting the Grace of Christ, and responding by a life lived beautifully free from being of this world (John 17:14-16). Transforming the way we interpret, think, process, and LOVE. (Romans 6:18, Galatians 2:20, 2 Peter 3:18). Of course, it is our choice in how we engage this call on our lives. From a fixed mindset we will do so begrudgingly; taking little joy in the process of growing to be more Christlike (Ephesians 5:1-2). From a growth mindset we will experience our desire to be like Him exploding from our hearts in a joyful effort to trust and rely on Him with greater intention and faith.

While Carol Dweck does not directly address spiritual growth in her research, it stands to reason that the theory would support various types of growth (mind/cognitive, emotional, physical, spiritual, etc.) There are many psychological indicators recognizing that those who approach life with a growth mindset find greater joy and defense against anxiety and depression (simply Google search “happy growth mindset”). Of course, as we approach concepts like changing the way we think (Romans 12:2), we are to invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts and minds, and look to God’s Word, Spirit and Son for appropriate direction.

In his book, “The Sin of Certainty,” Peter Enns writes about his transformational process of trusting God:

I felt like pieces of my life were falling into place, and what I had always known about God wasn’t fitting very into this new scheme. I was at the beginning of a process of relearning how to “be” Christian – and becoming more spiritually self-aware than I had ever been. That process hasn’t come to an end, and I see now that it never will. And I’ve come to see the wisdom in being fine with that – and trusting that God is, too.

Can you see the joy Peter holds for the process of growth? Even more so than reaching a particular outcome.

In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about the process of spiritual growth: Philippians 1:25-26, 1 Corinthians 3:6, Zephaniah 1:12 are but a few starting places…

Here are some tips about beginning the process of developing a growth mindset:

  • Acknowledge and embrace your imperfections.
  • View challenges as opportunities.
  • Replaces the word “failing” with the word “learning.”
  • Stop seeking approval.
  • Value the process over the outcome.
  • Reward actions, not traits.
  • Cultivate grit.
  • Learn from the mistakes of others.
  • Take risks in the company of others.
  • Take ownership over your attitude.

Written by Daniel Kail, Founder/Owner of Trailhead Christian Counseling

Heartland

HEARTLAND:  Looking inward and upward

 

The heart is an absolutely amazing thing! No, I am not writing about the 11 ounce organ in your chest that beats over 100,000 times per day. I do want to draw your attention to that human essential which cannot be defined or contained by science, and which the Bible explains as such:

  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. -Matthew 5:8
  • Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and mind. -Psalm 26:2
  • I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. -Psalm 9:1
  • And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7
  • Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. -Psalm 51:1
  • Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. -Proverbs 3:5
  • For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. -Matthew 6:21

This does not sound like medical terminology, and I am fairly certain that it is not supposed to, because the Word of God is more concerned with our internal operating system than our physical being. That is not to say that He does not care about our bodies or health (He does!), but rather that what is critical is what is going on inside of us and what we are putting into the world (see Matthew 15:11).

The vastness of the hearts that God has created in us are like a landscape; limitless detail, beauty, brokenness, captivating, compelling and at times haunting. Take some time, close your eyes, and imagine the landscape of your heart. This can be a wonderful meditation of self-exploration, as well as an opportunity to invite Jesus to speak about what you are seeing and experiencing.

The very reasons we may choose to not engage this exploration is exactly what the enemy wants – a blind eye to areas that require understanding, healing and truth. When we stumble upon the places of our hearts that are broken, distorted and decayed, we hold the weapons we need to reconcile and restore what the enemy has claimed as his to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). But God has a different plan. Consider the prophecy of Christ…

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.  -Isaiah 61:1-3

So, what is in there? Beautiful memories, favorite vacations, compliments, loved ones, friends, delight? Abuse, pride, let downs, false religion, resentments?

To turn (repent) from our hurts and sins, we must first RE-turn. We all leave a trail of breadcrumbs from our past and when we go back to pick them up we can either go alone, with the devil or with Jesus. There is no hurry to reconcile it all immediately, but to ignore and avoid it may lead to your demise as the devil proceeds to dismantle all that is good that God has built into your heart.

But God’s not finished. He’s waiting around to be gracious to you. He’s gathering strength to show mercy to you. God takes the time to do everything right – everything. Those who wait around for Him are the lucky ones. -Isaiah 30:18

As we begin the process of looking inward, we can more confidently look upward. When we were children, with our childlike faith, we readily loved, were less guarded and more apt to trust. Therefore, when we begin to retrieve and rebuild our hearts, we will more clearly see the will of God and feel His presence, comfort and wisdom; perhaps even more than we can remember from our youth. When was the last time you explored the landscape of your heart? What is holding you back now? God has given you the authority to take back what is yours (Genesis 1:26-27).

DIGGING IN FURTHER: Recently, I’ve been reading the book, “The Sin of Certainty,” by Peter Enns, which contains some powerful thoughts and observations about faith and trust. Chapter 5 contains some particularly insightful ideas, which I found very relatable to the topic of the human heart.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. -Proverbs 3:5-6

In the Old Testament, "heart" isn't simply where the emotions reside. It's also the seat of one's thoughts, moral compass, and will. "With all your heart" means "all of you, every part of you - what you feel, think, do, and will." Trusting God with all our hearts is a complete surrender, a life decision to be all in all the time rather than relying on our own "insight," our ability to understand, fathom, to solve, to figure out. Trust remains when our reason betrays us, when we don't understand the mysteries of God and faith, when we don't see what God is up to - including when God for all intents and purposes is not faithful or trustworthy. Our level of insight does not determine our level of trust. In fact, seeking insight rather than trust can get in the way of our walk with God." (pgs. 103-204)

When I was young, this song was significant. It still speaks to me, perhaps now for different reasons.

Written by Daniel Kail, Founder of Trailhead Christian Counseling

Christ-like Boundaries

Last month this blog addressed the struggle of living from a “victim mindset” which is something we can ALL encounter on occasion. As promised, this month the focus is on setting appropriate and healthy boundaries as we endeavor to break free from that victim mentality, while also seeking to honor and love God and others as ourselves. First we must seek to forgive those who have harmed us, just as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32), then we create limits so as not to be foolish and harmed again (Proverbs 26:11).

"Forgiveness does not mean excusing." - C.S. Lewis

The ability to forgive has something to do with setting boundaries, and it should always proceed it, because it is difficulty to set healthy boundaries from a place of resentment, bitterness and a broken spirit. In the absence of forgiveness, our boundaries will be harsh, cruel, cold, unfair/unjust, and maybe even look more like walls (see final paragraph). If you find yourself waiting to forgive until there is repentance or apology from the offender, then you have engaged in a cheap form of forgiveness, and the process of setting boundaries will feel as though you are being victimized all over again.

Why is it important, and even Biblical, to set limits and boundaries with others? 

There is an area of common misunderstanding and confusion within the Christian faith (and really everywhere) about setting boundaries. Here are some of the passages that relate to the topic, and the subsequent confusion (all NIV):

  • Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
  • You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Galatians 5:13)
  • She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants. (1 Samuel 25:41)
  • Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. (John 13:14)
  • Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)
  • Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39)

It is immensely important, perhaps even critical to our faith, that we serve others. It is a command, and also a response to the love and grace that we receive from God. Lest we forget that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and was delighted to do so (Matthew 26:14-39, Luke 22:24-27, John 13:1-17). And yet, we can martyr ourselves to such an extent that we are no longer able to serve or love well – we lose ourselves in the needs of others, and sometimes those needs and requests may come from a place of brokenness, sin or even evil. The aid offered after a request from another may be enabling or reinforcing of negative or sinful behaviors, so of course we want to proceed appropriately. Yes, we can harm ourselves and others by helping for the wrong reasons!

One of many examples in the Bible can be found in John 11. This is the story of Jesus responding to Mary and Martha about their brother, Lazarus, who is quite literally at death’s door and in need of miraculous healing. What did Jesus do? He waited two days to go! Why wait, Jesus? We know from the reading that He declared, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive Glory from this.” We also know that Jesus was on mission and did nothing without the approval of His Father (John 5:30), so therefore we can surmise that Jesus heard from God on this and knew how to respond, regardless of the urgency of the request. Simply put, it was not time for Jesus to go and attend to His loved ones, and He had the task of setting a healthy limit with them.

It is fascinating to read the Gospels and see that Jesus was completely and totally intentional in His choices about where to go, what to do, who/how to heal, when to speak, etc. (Again, John 5:30). Oftentimes we think of Him as this person who was so perfect and so loving that He offered up all He had, all the time, to anyone who asked. But this is only partially true. Remember that Jesus often asked people if they wanted to be healed before He healed them, and it would have been literally impossible to be everywhere He was requested to be during his time on earth. Jesus had decisions and choices when it came to the needs and requests of others, and He was purposeful in His response. After all, He is perfect.

Jesus has boundaries. God has boundaries.

As Christians, we understand the consequences of our actions when we choose to live outside of God’s boundaries and expectations. To say that God does not have boundaries is to really misunderstand the Bible and God’s very Spirit. We see boundaries being laid out in Genesis as he creates and defines the world, and then for Adam and Eve in garden. It is always the heart of God is to make known the best He has in store for His children, and it is of the utmost important that we pay attention.

As is displayed for us by Jesus, we need to learn to understand our own hearts and why we set (or do not set) boundaries in our lives. If a person has purposefully or negligently hurt you, then it is wise to set limits with them (e.g. “You may not borrow my car, because last time you returned it with an empty tank of gas, and I’m not confident I can trust you…want to talk about that?”).

Of course, if their “hurting” of us is actually a redirection upon our own lives or behaviors due to our brokenness or sin, then we would be better off accepting the correction and analyzing our hurt. Ask them, and then pray…

Search me, 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.” (Psalm 139:23-24).

It’s true. Sometimes others are setting boundaries with us. Perhaps it is about something we have mishandled, or even done out of negligence, to harm them or ourselves. This is where humility comes in. There is an open and vulnerable interplay between people that we often do not do very well, but we are wise to grow in this and do our part to communicate our own needs and understand the needs of others. Certainly, this is a component of sanctification (becoming more Christ-like).

If the harm was caused from a place of another’s sin or cruelty, then we pray to forgive and begin the process of limit-setting as a means to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and lovingly state concern and correction to the other.

WALLS

An important word of caution about building walls, which are essentially an immovable boundary. Healthy boundaries are set from a place of love, grace and mercy, and they will most certainly adjust based upon responses and behaviors of others. A wall is built when we are more concerned about our own self-protection than the will of God for us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Sometimes we mistake our walls for boundaries. 

We must resist the enemies advance in our hearts to build walls rather than boundaries. Walls separate, while boundaries honor. When we make statements like, “I’ll never allow that person to be close to me again.” we are limiting the power of mercy and the ability of God to change a person from the inside out. We do believe God can transform human beings, right? We wisely test these things with those who have damaged us in order to discern growth, maturity, humility, and a heart that will honor yours and others. If the offender has been healed, there will be evident fruit from their lives. If not, the boundary remains, with the hope and prayer that they will one day be restored and that a healthier relationship can be reinstated.

God is for you and will bless your journey to find ultimate freedom in forgiveness.

Feel free to connect with us at Trailhead Christian Counseling at 970-510-5851 or info@trailheadchristian.com.

Daniel Kail, MA, LPC, LCPC (Owner/Counselor at Trailhead Christian Counseling)

Want to explore more about healthy boundary setting? Here are some great resources:

Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend

Keep Your Love On by Danny Silk

 

The Victim Mentality

Before beginning this blog, I think it is important to note that whether you are a Christian, of another religious belief or even an atheist, by in large it is well-known and studied in secular and non-secular arenas, that forgiveness is one of the greatest health benefits available to us as human beings. Of course we have the Bible, but we can find clinical studies as well by the American Psychological Association, John Hopkins Medicine, Stanford University, The Mayo Clinic, and many others!

A “victim mentality” is defined as “the belief that one is always a victim; the idea that bad things will always happen to one,” and it is closely related to another term known as “learned helplessness,” which is defined as “a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. It is thought to be one of the underlying causes of depression.”

If you are a human being, you have been victimized at some point in your life, and most likely there have been more of these instances than you care to count. It is not a matter of whether or not you have been victimized, but by whom, what, why and how? Your offender likely resides within one of 3 categories: 1). your own flesh (sin), 2). the broken world, 3). the enemy of your soul. Of course, the variations and complexities of these three offenders can be a challenging and painful thing to process, and many choose to just ignore the issue and pray that it will go away with time. But time does not heal all wounds.

When we are victimized we possess the complete and full ability to allow our hearts to succumb to either a victim or a survivor mentality. It may not feel as though that is the case, but our brains are actually wired this way, and there have been recent neurobiological studies and evidence to show the impact on our minds when we accept ourselves as victims vs. survivors who seek to forgive and overcome. We have seen many examples of survivors overcoming a victim mentality in order to gain greater freedom and clarity in life:

  • The mistreated employee who forgives their tyrant boss, only to find a peace and awareness that leads to healthy correction at the current workplace or the courage to move on.
  • The holocaust survivor who forgives his captors, without ever receiving an apology or reparation.
  • Jesus, who endured the greatest abuse and sacrifice imaginable, and also the greatest victory for humankind.

Resentment does not remove the darkness. It feeds it.

The victim mentality begins when we choose a path of resentment, vengeance and anger, thereby setting the stage for evil. And evil will prevail. We know this by experience, but also by Scripture (1 Peter 3:9, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Deuteronomy 32:35, Leviticus 19:18, Mark 11:25, Proverbs 10:12, Romans 12:18, Genesis 50). Many are actually lured into this mindset by the enemy, because they either choose a cheap version of forgiveness or none at all because the offense is too great, or because the offender has not apologized or repented. This will not create a path to freedom, but rather a dull and long-standing bitterness that will slowly rot the soul. Firmly planted in resentment, we begin to see all other things through a faulty filter – a filter that is cloudy and discolored by evil. Over time, even the kindness of others will draw speculation or ambivalence, and when things go wrong we take them as a personal attack; a damning. Unrealistic expectations of others takes hold, as we make every possible attempt to protect ourselves from perceived harm and discord. And, yet, we will never find peace or satisfaction from others – even those who attempt to love us well. Relationships come with those unrealistic expectations and conditions, and are destined to fail because a resentful heart cannot find freedom to fully give or accept love. It is a dark place of bondage.

Jesus is the answer and forgiveness is the remedy.

Alternately, pure forgiveness holds to the truth that the debt has been paid, and that there is nothing the offender can or should do to repay the harm – it is finished. Of course, Jesus portrays the perfect example for us all on the cross, as He proclaims, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24). Jesus pleaded God’s forgiveness for the men brutally murdering him, even as they continued to do so and remained unrepentant. We can try to explain the offense away (fallen world, sinful people, evil intentions, etc.), which is not necessarily a harmful tactic, but the focus should always be on applying the healing hands of Christ to our wounded hearts.

We are not survivors because we achieve victory through our own sense of justice or revenge, but because we find inner peace in the midst of the storm, and no longer allow the power of darkness to rule in our hearts. We refuse to give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27).

So, how does one know if they are living out of a victim mentality?

These places in our lives and memories, where we have experienced trauma, tragedy and hardship, we may choose to ask ourselves if we live our lives from a victim spirit. We all need help, guidance and honest feedback from those we trust so that we may discern if there are places we have been stuck.

Robert Leahy, PhD, Director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, indicates six characteristics that comprise the victim mindset:

  1. You feel powerless, unable to solve a problem or cope effectively with it.
  2. You tend to see your problems as catastrophes.
  3. You tend to think others are purposefully trying to hurt you.
  4. You believe you alone are targeted for mistreatment.
  5. You hold tightly to thoughts and feelings related to being a victim.  You also refuse to consider other perspectives for how to think about and for how to cope with your problems.
  6. As a victim, you feel compelled to keep painful memories alive, not forgive, and take revenge.

I would suggest that any of these characteristics may be evidence of a victim-mindset, but as the number increases so does the likelihood. Allowing yourself to NAME this issue gives you a target, which is a very good thing!

Of course, there is great power and healing in forgiveness, yet we may also need to engage a time of limit and boundary-setting with those who have caused harm. Be cautious to not allow your boundaries regarding an offender to impact your heart to forgive; after all, we do not want to surrender that part of us as well, do we?

† STAY TUNED: The next blog will focus on boundaries and limit-setting that follows true forgiveness and freedom from the bondage of a victim-mentality.

 

Love First

If you love me, obey my commandments. -John 14:15

No matter which version of the Bible you choose, the passage reads the same way; in this order:

If you love me, keep my commands. (NIV)

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (ESV)

If ye love me, keep my commandments. (KJV)

If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. (MSG)

Recognize what Jesus speaks of here. Love leads to obedience!

God is love (1 John 4:8) and He loves you. Unconditionally! We often have an easier time accepting this as newly born again Christians. Take some time to reflect on how you felt in the days and weeks following your baptism. The love of the Father created comfort, joy, delight and peace, and the evidence of your faith was undeniable in your heart, behaviors and countenance. We long to return to those times! And yet, they can become distant…

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. -1 John 4:18 (NLT)

Time passes, and fear begins to creep into our most important relationship, and fear always comes by way of agreement with the enemy. That is satan’s goal. To kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10) everything – including (perhaps especially) your relationship with Abba Father. As the enemy begins to dismantle and deaden your relationship with your perfect Dad, your heart, behaviors and countenance will begin to dull, and your obedience will falter.

We read it in His Word and know this to be true. That the Father loves unconditionally and with a grace we cannot comprehend. Re-read the story of the prodigal son for context (Luke 15:11-32).

When we begin the journey of addressing our sin, brokenness, disobedience, and distance from God, it is not merely a matter of behavior modification, but an investment and engagement of our heart’s connection to God, The Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. Of course, addressing our sin by way of changing our behaviors can result in some positive outcomes and holds the potential to reconnect ourselves to the heart of God. However, it can also be a painstaking task of just trying to keep His law without the connection and relationship that is most important to God.

Here are some questions to pray on:

  • How did you feel at the time you rededicated your life to follow Jesus (baptism)?
  • What are the events that have disconnected your heart from God’s?
  • How has the enemy used these events to ruin, diminish or harm your relationship with God?
  • Do you seek and look forward to moments to engage, rejoice and bask in the love and mercy of your Heavenly Father? Or do you connect with Him merely out of a place of obligation and obedience?
  • Do you spend more time in awe of His presence and goodness, or by trying to “make things right” by way of obedience and rule following?

 

May God bless your walk and journey back to Him. 

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