Where to focus?
A Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
With a background in psychology, I’m fascinated with why people do what they do including me. I believe seeking understanding of ourselves and others is tremendously valuable because a deeper understanding leads to compassion and true love.
However, this past week God taught me an important lesson — to have a more acute awareness of the conversations, circumstances and people that pull me into a mindset where I’m focusing on the flesh instead of the spirit side of me.
It is a temptation for me to dive into the whys of my life hoping that understanding will spawn a change for the parts of me I don’t like. The first step of change is knowing what needs changing. And to understand what needs changing we need to know the source of the problem. However, what I learned is summed up in Philippians 3:13 “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,”
In Christ we are a new creation. It is an incredible gift because, we have a new spirit connected to God that breathes new life into our bodies. Romans 8:11 We no longer strive to live by our flesh or self-will (those things which are behind) but by God’s will (those things that are ahead). Children of God desire God and His ways, but there’s a part of us that pops up unwanted and unexpectedly driving us against God’s will instead of along side. This part of us that is contrary to God’s truth and wisdom is referred to as the old man, old nature, carnal nature, flesh, self-will, and carnal mind. Though we have God’s spirit dwelling within us, remnants (sometimes huge chunks) of our carnal nature remain as long as we live in these flesh bodies. Once we are born of God, we get a bad case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, because our self-will co-exists with His will in us.
This duality creates an internal conflict in our souls. It is the pressing affliction of a believer. We want to do one thing but we do another. What I don’t like about myself stems from this flesh-life. Paul talks about this internal conflict in Romans 7 -8. He doesn’t say to try to tame, repair, or fix it. Instead we are to reckon ourselves dead to it and alive in Christ. Romans 6:11 In other words, we need to focus on our spirit that is of God. We need to push forward mentally in our spirit life. What we focus on grows. At any one time we are either focused on the flesh or the spirit. And focusing on the flesh (our will and wisdom) breeds death and focusing on the spirit (God’s will and wisdom) brings life. Romans 8:6
What I learned this past week – was how easily this flesh focus can slip in and I need to have a deeper awareness of those things (conversations, circumstances, and people) that pull me into that carnal mindset. This carnal part of us is corrupt and always will be. It has a focus contrary to God’s ways and wisdom. I don’t need to waste my time talking or thinking about it because I can’t fix, repair or tame it anyway. I’ve learned that it is what it is – so why dwell on it? God has set me free from it – so why live in bondage by focusing on it? He has given me a new life to focus on and seek understanding in.
Because of this duality of flesh and spirit, at any one moment we are either operating in the flesh or in the spirit. Which one is dominating affects everything; how we think, speak, act and feel. When we operate with a flesh mind we are fearful, overwhelmed, frustrated, discouraged, hopeless, depressed, jealous, judgmental, critical, and selfish. Our trust has shifted from God to ourselves. We aren’t living in God’s truth and promises that He is our provider, protector, defender, comfort, rest, freedom, peace, power, and life.
As I draw close to God, discerning when I’m in the flesh verses the spirit is becoming clearer. In the flesh, I feel burdened, frustrated, discouraged. I become self-focused, withdrawn and ineffective in my life. Those emotions are flags that my focus is on the flesh and it is time to pray asking God to pull me out of my mind trap. It can be difficult when I give into the carnal mind to get out of it. When I try on my own I run in circles, but when I cry out to God He always brings me out.
Our focus is to be on the spirit and building it up in our lives which we do by stirring the deep. Stirring the deep (spending one-on-one time building intimacy with God through His Word) nourishes our spirits enabling us to live from the spirit and not the flesh. It empowers our spirit and that is one of many reasons we need to dive into the Word daily. And we have to look out for those traps that ensnare us to focusing on the flesh. We need to be aware of those triggers, times, circumstances or people that tempt us to be in flesh-minded because they can pull us down to a carnal mind of fear, bondage, and pride. We need to flood our minds with God’s truth so that in those moments we have given ourselves a choice through awareness of whose voice we are going to listen to. Ephesians 4: 22-24