Scripture is a weapon we should use offensively to cut down the negative thoughts we repeat to ourselves, says Claire Musters
Who am I? That is one of the fundamental questions we all have to answer. It’s a question I used to wrestle with a lot. Uncertain of my true identity, I would project outwardly the parts of myself I thought would impress people.
I wanted people to view me as a woman completely in control of her life, able to juggle many different plates; a master organiser, self-sufficient but also reliable and compassionate.
In one moment, that persona disintegrated. It was during a church small group meeting in our home. Someone spilt a drink on our living room floor and everybody jumped up to find a cloth, fearful of how I would respond to the stained carpet. Horrified, I asked: “Am I really that bad?” To my embarrassment people honestly explained that, yes, I was.
Although mortified at the time, I’m now glad that God used my friends to teach me that I no longer needed to try to live out that unrealistic perfect image of myself.
Where did the belief that I must get everything right all the time come from? One answer to that question is the culture we live in. We are bombarded by messages from all sides every day, telling us what to think, how to dress, what we should look like. Advertisers feed off our inbuilt desire to fit in, and it has been widely recognised that social media perpetuates this phenomenon. We look at how successful everyone else looks, how happy and fulfilled, and often feel we fall short. One study by two German universities found that Facebook had produced a basis for “social comparison and envy on an unprecedented scale” and that one in three people felt worse after accessing the social network. Obviously many of these outside influences don’t help us. But they also don’t account for the full story.
The inner critical voice
The messages we take on board regarding who other people think we should be begin incredibly early, in infancy. As soon as we are born, we are sent messages via our caregivers (parents or other adults) about who we are – and who they want us to become. No parent is perfect so will say unhelpful things at times. Psychologists have discovered that it is the negative messages that we internalise most readily. They can have a lasting effect on what we think about ourselves.
We can hold beliefs about ourselves that simply aren’t true
The voice inside our head that can judge us most harshly is what counsellors and psychologists call our ‘inner critical voice’. It responds to what it has learned over time, so will have been shaped by our upbringing. It wants us to succeed and be accepted by others, so points out any weaknesses and mistakes we make that could stop that from happening. Think of it like an internal critic – how often do you say to yourself, without even thinking: “I should have...”, or “I’m hopeless at…”, for example? Unfortunately, while trying to protect us, our inner voice can go overboard and attack our sense of self as it does not know when to stop criticising. It feeds on, and then repeats, the negative scripts we’ve heard from others. The cumulative effect is that we can hold beliefs about ourselves that simply aren’t true. In childhood we try to make sense of what is happening around us and how people respond to us. It is often in those early years that our inner critical voice learns its scripts. If we had parents who were constantly comparing us to others or pushing us to succeed, our inner critic may well continue that message. We may hear it say things like: “I am only accepted by others when I achieve” or “I must do everything perfectly”.
It is easy to miss how much influence our upbringing and surrounding culture have, as they seem ‘normal’ to us. However, as Christians we are called to be countercultural – to look to the Bible for advice on how to live, rather than simply being sucked into society’s way of doing things. As Romans 12:2 says: “Don’t become so welladjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognise what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (The Message).
The battle for truth
The truth is God loves and accepts us totally and unconditionally. His love is not based on our performance. He knows us completely and continues to offer us grace and mercy. But if it is that simple, why do we find it so hard to accept who we truly are?
Our past, and the way people have treated us in it, deeply affects our sense of self, and can block us from accepting what God says about our identity.
Drip-feeding lies to us is a way the enemy distracts us from the truth. He loves to remind us of some of the harshest things that have been said to us over the years. We can combat this by taking time to feed ourselves with the truths found in God’s word.
This may seem a simple enough solution, and yet, research in recent years has shown a severe lack of regular Bible reading among Christians. In the US, only 45 per cent of those who attend church regularly read their Bibles more than once a week, according to research by Lifeway. Closer to home, a ComRes survey commissioned by the Church of England found that more than half of those who identified as Christian across all denominations admitted they never read scripture.
How do we expect to stand firm in our faith if we do not feed ourselves with the very words God has given to us? We allow daily messages from culture to influence us, but don’t seem to do the same with the Bible. It is regular reading of the scriptures that will change us.
If we keep looking at God’s word, we will take the truths about our identity away with us and be able to remember who we are, even when faced with difficulties and struggles.
I know that this takes time and practice, as it is hard to reprogramme our minds, but God has told us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). This means we also need to keep an eye on what we are thinking about (including what we think about ourselves).
It is too easy to simply accept thoughts that pass through our minds without paying much attention to the content, but we need to be proactive. Some people set an alarm on their phones regularly throughout the day to simply stop and reflect on what they’ve been allowing into their minds. This can be eye-opening.
WHO I AM IN CHRIST
Truth to meditate on, courtesy of Freedom in Christ Ministries
It can be helpful to read aloud the phrases provided below. Focus on the truths you find particularly difficult to believe; you may want to look up the corresponding Bible verses too and memorise them.
I am accepted…
I am God’s child. (John 1:12)
As a disciple, I am a friend of Jesus Christ. (John 15:15)
I have been justified. (Romans 5:1)
I am united with the Lord, and I am one with him in spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:17)
I have been bought with a price and I belong to God. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
I am a member of Christ’s body. (1 Corinthians 12:27)
I have been chosen by God and adopted as his child. (Ephesians 1:3-8)
I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)
I am complete in Christ. (Colossians 2:9-10)
I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
I am secure…
I am free from condemnation. (Romans 8:1-2)
I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances. (Romans 8:28)
I am free from any condemnation brought against me and I cannot be separated from the love of God. (Romans 8:31-39)
I have been established, anointed and sealed by God. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
I am hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-4)
I am confident that God will complete the good work he started in me. (Philippians 1:6)
I am a citizen of heaven. (Philippians 3:20)
I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me. (1 John 5:18)
I am significant…
I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of his life. (John 15:5)
I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit. (John 15:16)
I am God’s temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16)
I am a minister of reconciliation for God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm. (Ephesians 2:6)
I am God’s workmanship. (Ephesians 2:10)
I may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)
I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
Meditating on scripture
If God’s word holds the truth about who we are, why don’t we spend more time meditating on it? I believe our instant gratification culture has rubbed off on us, so we don’t know how to stay focused for long.
When I first encountered the “Who I am in Christ” list from the Freedom in Christ course (see box), I was encouraged to read it out loud every day. Initially I cringed, as it felt like brainwashing, and yet, as I reflected, I realised that everything on it is biblical truth.
It is regular reading of the scriptures that will change us
Over the years I have experienced how scripture can be used as a weapon to cut down negative thoughts. We can use its truth offensively to counteract lies. If we ever mutter to ourselves something like:“I’m such an idiot”, we are essentially giving power to that thought by speaking it out. Learning to speak the truth of God’s word instead is powerful – even if it feels weird to start with.
After my marriage almost broke down completely, I spent some time in counselling. It was there that I first discovered the phrase “ungodly belief” – which refers to anything that does not line up with what God says in his word. We spent some time looking at what some of my ungodly beliefs were and the reasons behind them – and then we wrote godly beliefs for me to meditate on any time I heard my inner voice speaking out the old beliefs.
One of my beliefs was about control: “I have to plan every day of my life. I have to continually plan. I can’t relax.” This was replaced with: “God has every day pre-planned for me. As I learn to trust him,
I will only do the things he wants me to do.” I still find the practice of checking what I’m believing in my heart regularly is extremely helpful, and occasionally still write out statements of truth to speak over myself.
Today I am very passionate about sharing with others what is, in fact, a basic truth: we are totally loved and accepted by God as we are today. This is because I believe this area is a battleground for so many. Issues of identity crop up in conversations at every conference and event I speak at and I know from personal experience that the old lies and ways of thinking try to rear their ugly heads from time to time. That’s why I often make a conscious decision to describe myself as God’s beloved, however I’m feeling. Because that’s a statement of truth that I know I accept more fully than I used to – and yet there is far more depth to it that I’ve yet to discover too.