The Voice of Truth
Ever heard of the artist who sold only one of his 900 paintings while he was alive? He had to be pretty bad at coloring in the lines, but he kept on painting. He did not live long enough to reap the fruits of his labor, but he pressed on, despite all the rejection. That would be Vincent Van Gogh. How about writing a book then surviving 600 rejection slips? That’s Jack London who wrote The Call of the Wild. What sustained James Dyson through 5,126 failed prototypes and his life savings over 15 years to stay in the game for prototype 5,127, now the best-selling bag less vacuum in the US?
We all know the stories of hugely successful people who overcame massive rejection, failure and discouragement. What set of behaviors allows continual falling and presumably failing, only to get up and try again?
The critical moving part in all these examples is the constant internal evaluation of circumstances. Our brain's default is programmed from past experience. So, when we make a mistake or fail at a project, we quickly go through a series of questions: What does this mean? Does this mean I am unqualified, inept, or getting closer to a solution? That answer decides what voice is most dominant in your head.
Then we have to decide what we will focus on. Do I focus on the one thing I should have said in the presentation? Or do I focus on all the great points I did make? We get what we focus on. The law of flotation was not discovered by contemplating the sinking of things, but by the floating of things. The Wright brothers didn't sit around and think about figuring out how to not fly… Their focus was on getting in the air!
Finally, we have to decide what we are going to do with the event. Do we give ourselves grace and encouragement? Or do we choose critical condemnation?
That brings us to a life changing choice. Do we listen to the inner critic or do we permanently delete him? In our extremely complex brain there are at any given moment, multiple thoughts and evaluations being processed. Over the course of one day, it becomes thousands of voices and choices.
We have the planner voice, who helps organize our day. There is the dreamer who asks great questions like "what if" and the caring voice who wants to impact lives. So many good and productive thoughts happen during the day, yet many of us allow the self-critic to speak louder than all the others. We have been fooled into thinking he is the practical voice who is just trying to balance out the positive guys. He lets us know when we fall short, when we didn't knock it out of the park. Without him we would not know when we have failed and he even warns us not to even think about trying. We have internalized the negative one liners spoken over us at an early age and allowed them to have validity in our adult lives.
As Christians, the huge distinction is to recognize that voice is rooted in condemnation. Satan is called the “father of lies.” He and his minions chirp in your head with discouraging and defeating feedback. "I told you this project would get rejected.” "Why did you think you could be a pastor? I don't see your church growing. It must be your preaching." We then agree with him and say things like "They are not going to like this song" or "I don't think people are listening." We hear the one liners replay in our head and we retreat once again.
Satan has never created anything original. He just takes Godly concepts and perverts them just enough to be wrong but seem right. That voice you hear comes in condemnation, but the true voice is that of the Holy Spirit, that encourages, comforts and sometimes convicts… Condemnation versus conviction. One is destructive, one is constructive. One tears down, the other builds up.
Casting Crowns explains it best in the song Voice of Truth:
But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again, "Boy, you'll never win!" "You'll never win!"
But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, "Do not be afraid!"
And the voice of truth says, "This is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth
That is my encouragement for you today. What does the Bible say about you? Show me the verse that says "Thou art clumsy and incapable, thou whilst always be a disappointment unto me."
Go back and read through Ephesians and Colossians and focus on the verses that talk about who we are in Christ: I have every spiritual blessing. I am chosen by God. I have hope, the inheritance of the saints and His incomparably great power. I am created for good works. The Holy Spirit will lead me. I have boldness and confidence and access to God. All my needs are supplied. I am complete in Christ.
Know we are sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. We are heirs to His throne. We are saints. We are royalty. We have been equipped to do great things in His name. Meditate on these truths and let them redefine who you are. You are not the sum of negative one liners given to you by fallible humans at an impressionable age. You are who God says you are: His beloved, His son or daughter whom He loves.
If God thinks such amazing thoughts towards us, who are we to degrade and limit ourselves? Think about your own children: If they engage in negative and destructive self-talk it breaks your heart. You see more in them than they do, but the world has already started to beat them down. It’s heartbreaking to see. Know your Heavenly Father feels the same way about you.
Another way to view this is see two dominant thoughts competing for your attention. The "firelighter " and the "firefighter."
The firelighter is courageous, the one who wants to risk, to try and climb the mountain. The firefighter is the one who gives you ten good reasons why the plan is doomed for failure.
Joshua and Caleb were firelighters. They knew who their Father was. They knew who had their back. They knew they were fully equipped. They also knew going into the Promised Land was going to get messy. They knew it could be two steps forward, one step back, but they were willing to say “yes.” They didn't let their natural fears dictate their decision. They based their decision on facts, not feelings.
The others were handpicked leaders just like Joshua and Caleb, but they saw the negative. They allowed their fears to dictate. They shrunk back, lost confidence and chose not to risk and initiate. We all know the consequence of that decision for the people of Israel.
So, let's make it personal. I want you to ask yourself some tough questions. First I think we need to ask God to forgive us for not basing our decisions and identity on what He says in the Bible. Ask yourself, “What is this behavior is costing me?” “What price am I paying in my effectiveness and impact?” Think about what is at stake here. It takes faith and boldness to walk on water. It takes courage to risk and step out of the boat. For that to happen, some things are going to have to change.
If you are a highly self-critical individual, that last paragraph hurt. Use it as a crossroad. Your choice is to silence the accuser or keep letting him sit at the table right next to you. Quit feeding the bad dog. Make a decision to live in Truth. Create a "no trespassing sign" on your mind for the devil. When he tries to slip through the fence, grab him by his little demon ears and loudly remind him who you are in Christ.
I'm going to let Paul encourage you with this: "But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14)
If you have lived your whole life in the shadow of destructive self-talk, it will not go away quickly. Old habits die hard, but die they can! Give yourself the same grace and encouragement you gives others. Just the fact that you want to attempt change should be celebrated! When the "firelighter and firefighter" are slugging it out in your mind, look to the Truth-teller. The Bible says there is a continual battle between the spirit and the flesh. Let the Holy Spirit speak the loudest. Ask God to anoint you with boldness, to create a “Caleb Spirit” in you!
OK, you see the problem, now let’s talk solution. Remember, we get what we focus on. Let’s focus on lasting and impacting change!
Here are five strategies for putting a muzzle on that junk yard dog:
1) WRITE DOWN 3 VERSES THAT CHALLENGE AND ENCOURAGE YOU TO OVERCOME
They will be different for each of us. Let the Holy Spirit help pick them through prayer. Here are the three I have written out and taped on my office wall:
"This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." (Deuteronomy 31:19)
This verse reminds me to speak life into myself and others. When mistakes happen, I choose to focus on what went right, to evaluate and learn and then move forward. If it’s a big "swing and a miss" then I do all I can to fix the situation and learn from it.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Another "focus verse" that reminds me that negative self-talk is not what God encourages me to do. In fact, it is the exact opposite. He doesn't say whatever is negative, whatever is condemning, thing on those things... I am encouraged to find the good in my mistakes, to ask God to redeem them for His glory. His word says He will do so!
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
This is my "warrior verse". I know that I have been given spiritual power to overcome. I can destroy the enemy. I have been given the power to not only silence him, but banish him. He is not allowed to weigh in on anything. Only the voice of Truth.
2) REFRAME HOW YOU EVALUATE MISTAKES
This is a learned discipline. Once you are aware of the amount of "air time" you give negative and self-destructive inner conversations, you can begin to gain ground, to take back the land.
Mistakes are opportunities to learn, nothing more. Learn the lesson, and look at it as a positive-growth moment. There is a great story about an art professor who split his class into two groups. One had all semester to create one beautiful sculpture. All they had to do was create the masterpiece in three months. The other half had to turn in fifty sculptures in three months to pass the class. You can imagine what the first ten or twenty sculptures looked like. Nothing you would wrap up as a gift for Christmas. But by the end of the semester, the students that had to "fail" over and over again ended up perfecting the skills needed to create beautiful art. The difference in their end project versus the students that only created one was night and day.
You get the point. The mistakes and missteps are like our first attempts at pottery. Keep learning, growing, risking, and stretching. And since we are never perfect this side of Heaven, be okay with a lifetime of learning.
3) ALLOW YOURSELF A FEW MULLIGANS EVERY DAY
Mulligans were created so that an average golfer could enjoy a round of golf. Most "duffers" or weekend warriors, will agree that everyone gets a certain amount mulligans, or "do-overs" that can be used anytime during the eighteen holes. They realize they are not going to perform like tour professionals. It funny when you use a mulligan and end up shooting par on the hole, you walk away feeling good. You get to write in down on the scorecard and it will forever be a par! “Hey, nice shot!”
So, I encourage you to give yourself a few mental mulligans every day. We are all going to "slice one in the woods" in a meeting or conversation. Let’s not count it against us every time. Give yourself the grace to learn from it and move forward. It gives you the chance to still "shoot par" that day, even though everything didn't go as planned.
4) CELEBRATE PROGRESS
Another tip is to not look at how far you have to go, but how far you have already come. Most of us are doing better than we think. Be encouraging to yourself.
If you had never worked out and chose a goal of fifty pushups in a row, would you belittle yourself when you struggled mightily to do five on your first attempt? Two weeks later when you can do twenty-five in a row, do you see how far you have come or do you focus on seeing yourself as only halfway there?
Celebrate the discipline you have developed. Celebrate the commitment. Celebrate your increase in strength. If you stay with it, eventually you will do the fifty pushups. It’s not about how long it takes, it’s about the journey to the goal and how it transforms you. You didn't quit. You stayed the course. Eventually you succeed.
You never really fail until you stop trying. So, stay the course and enjoy the process!
5) IDENTIFY A FRIENDLY FIRELIGHTER
We all need a Jonathan in our lives. We need an encouraging friend that will give us honest feedback but will also walk with us on this winding road. The Bible says “two are better than one.” Together you can pray over the battle against the "self-critical" voice. A true friend can help you look at the path ahead with clarity, courage, commitment and conviction. And that same verse says a “triple braided cord is not easily broken.”
Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you in this journey. Together you will take back the land a little each day… You have what it takes to win this battle!