Isn’t it strange how we have conversations with ourselves? Come on, admit it; we all do it. We all have conversations with ourselves; some more than others. And yes, I will be the first one to admit that I do answer myself. They say as long as you don’t answer yourself, you’re not going crazy. Well, I do and you know you do it to.
We have these conversations with ourselves, and so often the conversations go, “I really should, or I really shouldn’t. I ought to, or I better not.” Yet these conversations that we have with ourselves eventually get down to the really, big question that we all wrestle with which is, “Why? Why did this happen? Why did that happen to me?”
And before you know it, we’re deep in thought, or maybe prayer, trying to figure out why it happened. You can’t help it because this is human nature. We have this extraordinary habit, this inclination to impose a reason. Something happens that doesn’t make sense and our minds just go to work trying to make sense out of the randomness. But what we can end up doing in the process is creating our own false narrative to basically make sense of things.
In fact, the worse the incident and the more personal the incident, the harder you and I work to come up with a reason. But these self-imposed narratives, whether they are accurate or not, whether they reflect reality or not, can be a problem and lead you, as you have already experienced in your life, to become your own worst enemy.
Today, we are in part two of our series, How Not To Be Your Own Worst Enemy. We’ve all been our own worst enemy, and in many cases, we can laugh about that season or that time in our life where we were our own worst enemy. But it’s not always funny, is it? In fact, some of us have done it up big, maybe you blew up a marriage, blew up a career, your health or financial stability. Yet when we see other people doing it, we think, “I would never do that. I would never let that happen to me.” Yet, we all have the potential to become our own worst enemy if we’re not careful.
And the reason I know this about all of you and about me is because everyone of us have participated 100% in all of our bad decisions. In fact, you were the mastermind behind most of them. And as we said last week, a single bad decision is always the first step toward becoming your own worst enemy. Every habit begins with the first time. Every pattern begins with a first line. Every journey begins with a first step.
So in this series, I’m giving you three preventive habits, three things that we can begin doing today to prevent ourselves from becoming our own worst enemy. Last week, I gave you habit number one. Pay Attention To The Tension.
Whenever you’re considering an option, a choice, an invitation, a date, a business deal, or whatever it might be, if there’s something on the inside of you that doesn’t feel right or dings your conscience, pay attention! If something seems a little bit off, even if everyone else is doing it, pay attention to the tension. Ask the question, “Is there a tension that deserves my attention?”
Today, preventive habit number two is a little deeper. It’s “Pay Attention to Your Narratives.” Now, I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to narratives, so I want to take you back in time. I want you to think back to high school, and I want you to think about your internal narrative as it related to your parents.
Remember how dumb and uncool they were. Remember how they just didn’t get it. And then in your 30s, you looked back and thought. “Huh, they were smarter than I thought they were.” In fact, maybe it didn’t even take you that long, and in your 20s suddenly your parents got a whole lot smarter. What happened? Well, you had a narrative. In high school, you believed that narrative and you lived it out, and it likely got you into some trouble.
We still have narratives. And just to make sure everyone is understanding what a narrative is, I’m going to real quick run through a list of them that can drift through our minds and shape our decisions.
I deserve better.
I’m entitled to…
I should be further along.
I’m not happy.
He should be…
If she loved me…
They don’t care.
It won’t make any difference.
I can’t resist or live without…
I’m better than that.
I’m better than them.
They don’t deserve it.
If they would try harder…
If my dad or mom had only…
Something’s wrong with me.
Isn’t it amazing? And when you look at it, none of this is rational, none of this makes sense, but I’m telling you this kind of stuff, and I could go on and on and on, informs our narratives. It informs how we view and interpret the world when it comes down to the why’s.
Narratives create excuses, defenses, and justifications. They empower us to avoid things we should not avoid, and they empower us to embrace things we should stay away from. Our internal narratives fuel our pride, our prejudice, our fear, and maybe worst of all it blinds us to our inter-dependency on others.
I’ll be honest, false narratives are difficult to overcome because our narratives are often shaped by things that we have no control over. Like where we live in the world, the way we’ve experienced the world, the way we were raised, the way we’ve been treated, the way we’ve been mistreated. And other times, our false narratives come because of a bad decision that we made that lead one thought or lie to another. These things all shape the narrative that we think about. Then your internal narrative, the thing you tell yourself over and over again, shapes your decisions and has the potential to cause you to become your own worst enemy. But we do have the power to take over our narrative.
The Apostle Paul, who wrote letters that today make up half of the New Testament, stepped into the pages of history as someone who hated Christians, but had an amazing encounter with Jesus, and through that, Paul became a follower of Jesus and decided that God’s call on his life was to not stay within the Jewish part of the world, but to go into the Gentile parts of the world and explain to them that God has done something for everyone, for the whole world.
But part of his challenge was that he was going into these pagan cultures around the Mediterranean rim trying to explain to them why they should embrace a completely different world view and value system that was introduced by Jesus. One of the letters he wrote was to Gentile Christians living in Corinth, a major, very wealthy, very secular city. And in this letter, where he’s trying to get them to rethink their narratives, he uses military terminology, which is interesting because he only does this a couple other times.
And it’s actually pretty appropriate since getting rid of the false narratives is such a difficult thing. Paul uses extreme language to say, “Look, if you’re going to get rid of these narratives and excuses you give yourself, and if you’re going to move forward in life, this is going to take some work; you’re going to have to attack this.”
So, he challenges his readers in the first century and us as well today to attack and tear down the walls that protect our ignorance, our false assumptions, our flawed world view, our flawed self-view, our false narratives. Once these walls are destroyed, he then tells us how to rebuild a narrative around the value system and world view that Jesus introduced.
What makes Paul’s letter even more difficult is that he’s writing to a group of people whose world view is shaped by things that we would find so offensive, mostly because of where and how we were raised.
These people grew up with a narrative that believed people were property. Anyone in the first or second century, at any time could become someone’s property. This had nothing to do with race. This had everything to do with where you lived. This had everything to do with whether or not Rome decided to conquer your nation and enslave 20% of the population. You could be the wealthiest person in your town, and you could be someone’s property. That’s the world they lived in, and they just assumed that’s just the way the world is.
The narrative was ‘might makes right.’ Whoever’s got the most weapons and the biggest army makes the rules, and those rules could change overnight. And it was the gods that determined your fate. Something happens to a child, well that was just the child’s fate; something happens to a village, that’s just fate, the gods. You just worshiped them and tried to keep them happy.
Paul had his work cut out for him. Yet he shows up and he begins to try to help them understand that God has done something new. Just as he had his work cut out back then, I think if he were here today, he’d have his work cut out trying to convince our world too.
With that in mind, here’s what he says to Christians living in Corinth, and to us here today…
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
This means we do not conduct our military campaigns the same way the world does.
4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
The term he uses for weapons is not like swords and shields. The weapons he refers to are those used for a siege, like enormous catapults and towers used to destroy and invade a walled city. In other words, the weapons we use have the power to destroy even the strongest structure. Normally, strongholds would be stone walls and towers that protect an enemy. But he’s not talking about destroying stone walls. He’s talking about something even stronger.
5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
The interesting word he uses here is pretension. Different translations of the Bible go different directions because it’s kind of hard to nail down the exact word that Paul is using. However, each one agrees that he’s talking about something high, like highly arrogant attitudes, everything that puffs us up beyond what’s true and what’s real, our arrogant notions that keep us from knowing God.
He’s saying that we, as Jesus followers, are to attack head on any ungodly narrative about ourselves, about the people around us, about the people who don’t like us, about the people who are different from us. In other words, we are to attack any narrative that stands in contrast to what God has revealed. This is part of discipleship.
And with every thought, we are to lead them into captivity and take them as prisoners of war…to make them obedient to Christ. He says to the Corinthians who see the world in such a different way, you’ve got to take every single thought and bend it into conformity to what Christ taught; you got to take every attitude and edit it, inform it, and train it so that it’s in sync with the values that Jesus introduced to the world.
This is why reading the gospels is so important. We get a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God would look like if Jesus followers would fully embrace it.
In fact, there’s this interesting little piece of narrative at the end of Jesus’ life. He meets with his disciples to prepare them for what is ahead. Things are about to move very quickly, so He gets His disciples ready by summarizing things. He says he’s leaving, but you can’t go with me. And Peter’s like, “why not?” There’s lots of confusion and lots of information being thrown at them, and finally, Philips says…
8 “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
“I’m sure all this is important, but look, just show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” And really Philip was exactly right. If our narrative was informed by seeing God as He is and as He sees the world, we would be more inclined to do as God says.
If you could see yourself the way that God sees you, you would be more inclined to do what God says. So Philip’s right, just show us what God is like and that would change everything and inform our narrative.
This next part is so powerful. It’s one of those moments they should have all gotten up and left the room. But it’s too late. They’ve seen Jesus do and say so many amazing things. Jesus smiles and He looks at Philip and says,
9 “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?
Then He says the most amazing thing, and I’m telling you, this is the invitation of a lifetime. He says,
9 Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
In other words, Jesus said, “You want to know what God is like? Watch me. Do you want to know what God thinks about you? Listen to me. Do you want to know how God views the world? Follow me. Do you want to live with a life-giving narrative that will correctly inform your conscience, that will correct your false assumptions, that will inform your behavior, and change your attitude?
Then follow me because I have come to introduce the Kingdom of God, and everyone is invited to participate in it. But you’re never going to fully participate unless you attack hard at the walls that support all your incorrect assumptions, your wrong ways of viewing yourself and how the world works.
On a different occasion, Jesus said: John 9:5
“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Jesus is saying, if you want to know how the world really looks, then follow me and together we will demolish those arguments. We will demolish every high and lofty thing, every pretension lifted up against the knowledge of God, and you will take captive every single thought. Follow me, and you’ll begin to understand that you really do matter to God regardless of where you live, how you’ve lived, or how you were treated.
God loves you so much. He didn’t just send something in writing. God loves you so much that He himself became flesh and dwelt among you. And in the first century, when it was almost impossible for this to happen, many people sat down and wrote out their accounts with Jesus which has survived through the ages only because your Heavenly Father wants you to know what He’s like. And He wants you to know how to live in accordance with Him.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
Every single person that hears these words and changes their internal narrative so they can begin to act on the words of Jesus, is like a wise man who builds his whole life on a firm foundation. If you don’t, you can become your own worst enemy.
Now back to the 2 Corinthians 10 passage. Paul says something that is easily misunderstood when taken out of context, but yet is such a powerful point.
2 Corinthian 10:6
6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
“We will be ready…” In military terminology again, we will be at attention, we will be on guard, we will be ready.
The idea here is that we should be ready to react swiftly when our old narratives start creeping back up. We should be willing to respond quickly when we refuse or forget to bend our attitudes, or bend our thoughts, and our assumptions towards the obedience of Christ. We should respond quickly when we find ourselves beginning to rebuild walls around our hearts, walls that shut people out and keep us in.
So, here’s a question. Got any strong holds that need to be demolished? Sure, you do. It’s true of you, it’s true of me. Why? Because I can’t help the way I was raised or where I lived. You can’t help the way you raised or where you lived, what you were taught, the things that happened to you, the things that didn’t happen. You can’t help any of that.
So, we are potentially always at war with the narratives that want to creep up and misinterpret the world around us. So to get you started and to kind of meddle in your business just a little bit, I’m going to ask you a list of questions, and most of these questions won’t have anything to do with you and you will be so happy they don’t.
But a couple of these questions may just hit you right between the eyes. And here’s the reason I’m asking you these questions. I want you to listen to the narrative that pops into your mind when I ask these questions. I’m not saying your narrative is right or wrong. I’m just saying I want you to be aware of it. But just maybe when I get to a question that intersects with your actual life, you’ll find yourself going, “That’s true, why do I think that? Why do I assume that? Why do I respond that way?”
What’s your narrative behind…
Why you won’t call your brother? Why won’t you call your parents?
Why do you drink so much and react the way you do when someone points it out?
Why did you move in with him or her? Why did you file for divorce?
What do you tell yourself about why you aren’t more generous?
Why do you despise Republicans, Democrats, rich people, poor people?
What do you tell yourself about why you gave up on God or church?
What happens to your narratives when you hold them up to this:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.
Do you start to feel kind of small and petty, and maybe in conflict with Jesus’ world view?
What happens to your narratives when you hold them up against this:
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
19 “You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
My friends, this is a big deal. We could spend weeks on this. Pay attention to your narratives. Here’s how you know your incorrect narrative could cause you to become your own worst enemy. All you have to do is think back to a season in your life when you were your own worst enemy, and I guarantee you, you had a supporting narrative for those decisions you now regret. And that a narrative stood in stark contrast to the life-giving narrative that Jesus invited you to step into.
So let’s demolish every argument and pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. Let’s take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ. If you’re willing to do so, say this with me:
“I will demolish every narrative that conflicts with Jesus’ value system and world view.”
This is what it looks like to follow Jesus. It’s not simply pray a certain prayer, it’s not simply believe a list of things. It’s tearing down everything on the inside that gets in the way of us embracing His view, His values, and His vision for us and the world. It’s rebuking and replacing the views, values, and visions that we’ve grown up, and the ones that we are so incredibly comfortable with.
Because in the end, following Jesus really will make your life better. And when we follow Jesus, we make the world a better place. And when you follow Jesus, odds are you will never become your own worst enemy.
Pay Attention To Your Narratives.