Don’t Understand Yourself?

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I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t. I do what I don’t want to—what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. But I can’t help myself because I’m no longer doing it. It is sin inside me that is stronger than I am that makes me do these evil things.       –Paul, Romans 7:15-17, THE LIVING BIBLE

Everyone has times of crying, “Why did I do that?” But those of us inclined to perfectionism are particularly likely to moan with Paul, “I don’t understand myself!” We don’t just want to get things right: we’re desperate to get things as right as they can possibly be. Yet we still manage not only to get things wrong with painful frequency, but to do the wrong things almost against our will. It’s as though we were robots programmed to go off course.

I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. Now if I am doing what I don’t want to, it is plain where the trouble is: sin still has me in its evil grasp.       -Romans 7:18-20

We want to believe we can “reprogram” ourselves by sheer willpower, but it’s not that easy. There are enough good intentions in this world to create a thousand utopias–and after centuries of trying, the world hasn’t even come close.

It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love to do God’s will so far as my new nature is concerned; but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind I want to be God’s willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin.     -Romans 7:21-23a

Even among Christians, good intentions are a weak defense against the pull of our inborn selfishness and pride. It’s only natural that we get frustrated with ourselves. Even when obvious change for the better is happening overall, perfectionists tend to be impatient to get everything exactly right, and we continue to be hard on ourselves for not becoming much better much sooner.

So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free.   -Romans 7:23b-25

Sometimes, even when we recognize God as the real Change Agent, we grumble at Him–or wonder if He’s forgotten us–because He seems to be taking His time in the process. Why He doesn’t save a lot of pain all around by perfecting us instantly, I can’t say for sure. But even human craftspeople and do-it-yourselfers would agree that without painstaking, bit-by-bit attention to detail, there just isn’t the same level of joy in the finished product.

In this life, we will always do things we regret and don’t understand. The real question is, do we accept that God still loves us, and won’t give up on us no matter what? And are we confident in, and grateful for, that assurance?

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Secrets of Being Content in Whatever State You Are

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By “being content in whatever state you are” I don’t mean “don’t grumble because you can’t spend the winter in Florida instead of Illinois.” (Though that may be part of it.) I mean emulating the attitude of the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11, King James Bible).

Contentment is an almost-identical twin to the attitude extolled in another famous Pauline quote: “Always be joyful” (1 Thessalonians 5:16, New Living Translation). Both joy and contentment involve being happy just for the privilege of being alive and loved by God. But where joy energizes us for action, contentment relaxes us for rest. It’s probably no coincidence that Paul wrote “Always be joyful” from (it’s generally believed) Corinth when his missionary work was thriving, and “I have learned to be content” from Rome when he was living under house arrest.

And it’s probably not by accident that he said he had learned to be content. Another thing joy and contentment have in common is that they come naturally enough in “perfect” circumstances, but it takes some practice to keep them going when the good times cease to roll. If you can only be content when everything goes your way, you’ll have many more bad days than good ones. Worse, you’ll develop the habit of seeing even good days as bad if there’s the slightest room for improvement.

If you’d rather join Paul’s “content whatever the circumstances” club, the secrets of obtaining membership are:

Know God’s Promises

Many people become bitter at God because they were counting on Him to bring them the perfect spouse, get them a certain job, heal their sick friend–and He didn’t. The truth is, God never promised to keep our lives free of inconvenience or pain or even inexplicable tragedy. He promises to stay close to us, give us everything we need, and work everything out for ultimate good, but He doesn’t promise to do any of this according to our ideas of the best support, the real need, or the most effective good. When disappointed in what you thought God had promised, review His actual promises as written in Scripture, and ask Him what they should mean to you in your current situation. (Seeking advice from a discerning Christian friend may help.)

Accept God’s Sovereignty

By the time Paul was in Rome writing Philippians, his past several years had been one long interruption of plans. Originally, he had intended to make a short stop in Jerusalem and then go straight to Rome for another short stay. Then, a little problem of getting arrested in Jerusalem threw a long detour into those plans. When he wrote his letter, he still didn’t know when or if he would ever be free to continue his international mission trips. Nonetheless, he didn’t grumble that he had been counting on God to help his original plans run smoothly. He accepted everything that had happened as God’s will: more than that, he saw it as the fulfillment of God’s promise to stand by him and make his work effective. Do you believe wholeheartedly that God knows best and is in control of your situation?

Celebrate God’s Blessings

Paul could have found plenty of excuses to be bored or sullen or to complain that everything always went wrong for him. Instead, he thanked God for all he still had: wonderful friends, the privilege of seeing the gospel spread, the promise of Heaven. Whatever the challenges of his outward circumstances, he could face them with both contentment and joy because he had eternal treasures no one could take away.

Are you keeping your eyes on God and resting content in Him?

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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