Abba, Father

What do you do when you hit bottom? When your best efforts aren’t working?

It wasn’t long ago I found myself in a season like that. I was stuck. I was out of options. I didn’t know what to do next. I was down on myself and had lots of doubts. Not about God, but about me.

Then one morning, my wife, Robyn, said I’d been talking in my sleep the night before. My first reaction was a little bit of panic. I had no idea what I might have said.

She said it was only one word. It was loud and clear. And it didn’t sound like me.

Sounds a little freaky, huh?

She said I called out, “Abba!”

It’s an Aramaic word that means, “father.” Jesus used it in the garden right before He was arrested and crucified. Paul uses it in Galatians 4 where he says we’re God’s children and how the Holy Spirit prompts us to call out, “Abba, Father.”

Paul uses it again in Romans 8 where he says:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Later in that chapter, Paul says:

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.

I believe the Holy Spirit was crying out to the Father on my behalf and the Father listened and answered, because soon after that night, things began to change. I went from feeling hopeless to hopeful. Instead of feeling stuck, God was bringing new opportunities. He worked in some really cool ways.

I think it’s significant that along with two of the three uses of, “Abba”, suffering is involved. If you’re suffering today, then know that the same Spirit who was crying out for me is crying out for you. The Father is listening to the Spirit’s cries and to yours.

Don’t quit. Keep seeking Him. Keep crying out to Him. I know the waiting is painful, but it will be worth it.

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Your Thought Life

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What is the state of your mind today? What thoughts keep running through your head?

Do you feel anxious? Worried? Fearful? Insecure? Inferior? Jealous? Guilty? Shameful? Discouraged?

Are you telling yourself a good story about your life? Or are most of your thoughts negative and self-critical?

Do you say things to yourself you’d never even think of saying to someone else? Do you mentally berate yourself for mistakes? Do you hold yourself to a standard you’d never hold others to? Are you beating yourself up over past sins?

What are your thoughts about God toward you? Is He disappointed in you? Or angry even? Is He looking for you to step out of line, so He can give you a good whack?

In Romans 8, Paul says…

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

If your mind is governed by the flesh, then you are experiencing a thought life of death. As a result, your emotions are negative. And they’re overflowing into your relationship with your spouse, with your children and with others.

On the other hand, if your mind is governed by the Spirit then you are experiencing a mind full of life and peace. It doesn’t mean you have no problems or that life is easy, but it does mean your mind is not in turmoil. It means you are bringing your thoughts and circumstances and concerns under Christ’s authority.

Doing this doesn’t happen by accident though. It requires intentional effort. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul said, “…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Think of a negative thought as an unwanted intruder in your home. If you let him in and do nothing to make him leave, then he will be content to make himself at home and eventually begin destroying everything he touches. You’d become a prisoner in your own home.

If you’ve let wrong thoughts about God, about yourself or about life enter your mind, then it’s time to take them captive and throw them out. That’s not enough though, they must be replaced with the truth.

An even better way to deal with unwanted intruding thoughts is to not even allow them into your mind in the first place. It’s like setting up a fence and an alarm system around your home.

Where are the negative thoughts in your life coming from? Here are some possible places:

  • Old thought patterns from when we were kids. Those negative things our parents, teachers or friends said about us.
  • The media. It could be the television news, your Facebook feed, Twitter or a website. Maybe it’s talk radio.
  • Your family, friends or co-workers. This isn’t to suggest you’re hanging around with evil people, but unless someone is walking in the power of God’s Spirit, they have the potential to speak negative thoughts into your life.
  • Satan and his demonic forces. They can whisper lies to us if we let them.

If you find yourself feeling negative emotions today, pause for a moment and trace your thoughts back to where the emotion started. The feeling of hopelessness or despair or worry didn’t just appear out of thin air. It began with a thought you allowed to come into your mind and take up residence.

It’s time to kick out the unwanted “guests” and replace them with Jesus, who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” And His promise is to give us life and peace.

 

Your Thought Life

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What is the state of your mind today? What thoughts keep running through your head?

Do you feel anxious? Worried? Fearful? Insecure? Inferior? Jealous? Guilty? Shameful? Discouraged?

Are you telling yourself a good story about your life? Or are most of your thoughts negative and self-critical?

Do you say things to yourself you’d never even think of saying to someone else? Do you mentally berate yourself for mistakes? Do you hold yourself to a standard you’d never hold others to? Are you beating yourself up over past sins?

What are your thoughts about God toward you? Is He disappointed in you? Or angry even? Is He looking for you to step out of line, so He can give you a good whack?

In Romans 8, Paul says…

5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

If your mind is governed by the flesh, then you are experiencing a thought life of death. As a result, your emotions are negative. And they’re overflowing into your relationship with your spouse, with your children and with others.

On the other hand, if your mind is governed by the Spirit then you are experiencing a mind full of life and peace. It doesn’t mean you have no problems or that life is easy, but it does mean your mind is not in turmoil. It means you are bringing your thoughts and circumstances and concerns under Christ’s authority.

Doing this doesn’t happen by accident though. It requires intentional effort. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul said, “…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Think of a negative thought as an unwanted intruder in your home. If you let him in and do nothing to make him leave, then he will be content to make himself at home and eventually begin destroying everything he touches. You’d become a prisoner in your own home.

If you’ve let wrong thoughts about God, about yourself or about life enter your mind, then it’s time to take them captive and throw them out. That’s not enough though, they must be replaced with the truth.

An even better way to deal with unwanted intruding thoughts is to not even allow them into your mind in the first place. It’s like setting up a fence and an alarm system around your home.

Where are the negative thoughts in your life coming from? Here are some possible places:

  • Old thought patterns from when we were kids. Those negative things our parents, teachers or friends said about us.
  • The media. It could be the television news, your Facebook feed, Twitter or a website. Maybe it’s talk radio.
  • Your family, friends or co-workers. This isn’t to suggest you’re hanging around with evil people, but unless someone is walking in the power of God’s Spirit, they have the potential to speak negative thoughts into your life.
  • Satan and his demonic forces. They can whisper lies to us if we let them.

If you find yourself feeling negative emotions today, pause for a moment and trace your thoughts back to where the emotion started. The feeling of hopelessness or despair or worry didn’t just appear out of thin air. It began with a thought you allowed to come into your mind and take up residence.

It’s time to kick out the unwanted “guests” and replace them with Jesus, who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” And His promise is to give us life and peace.

Harmony or Disharmony?

If you’re experiencing frustration as you try to live the Christian life, it may be due to a conflict between your nature and your behavior.

In the matrix I sketched above, you’ll see that the person living in the lower left quadrant is experiencing harmony between their nature and their behavior. Their nature is sinful and generally speaking, their behavior is also. It doesn’t mean they aren’t happy at times or even much of the time. It simply means they are living consistently with their nature. Of course, ultimately they will feel unfulfilled and dissatisfied, because we were designed to live in relationship with God, and this person isn’t.

The person in the upper right quadrant is also living in harmony with their identity. This person has placed their faith in Christ, experienced forgiveness for their sin and has been given a new nature. They are relying on God for the power and wisdom to live according to their new nature. It doesn’t mean they’ve become perfect or never sin. It does mean they are in a process of becoming more like Christ and experiencing the life God intended.

The person in the lower right quadrant may be trying to live like they have a new nature. They may think they’ve placed their faith in Christ, but haven’t. They may think their own goodness or morality will please God. Ultimately though, they will become frustrated because their nature or true identity does not allow them to live the life God desires for them.

The person in the upper left quadrant is also frustrated. This person has trusted Christ and received forgiveness, but has forgotten or never understood their new nature. They have either reverted to living as they used to or have continued to live according to their sinful nature. They are looking to get their legitimate physical, emotional and spiritual needs met in ways that don’t bring fulfillment or please God.

Let me encourage you to read the passages I’ve shown in the matrix.

Which quadrant best describes you?

Obviously, we all want to experience the upper right one, where we experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. If that’s not you, it can be. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it will be easy though. It’s a battle.

The Zombie-Like Christian Life

Let’s be honest. How would you describe your Christian life?

Would you describe it as frustrating or fulfilling? Are you most often discouraged and defeated or joyful and hopeful? Do you feel like God is more disappointed or delighted in you?

If the Christian life hasn’t been working so well, take a moment and read the following three verses…

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Kind of depressing, isn’t it? (I promise this will get better.)

Here are some of the key words:

  • dead
  • transgressions
  • sins
  • ruler of the kingdom of the air (referring to Satan)
  • disobedient
  • gratifying…our flesh
  • deserving of wrath

So who is Paul describing here?

You. Me. All of us.

Our bodies were alive, but we were dead. Like zombies.

We were living according to the ways of the world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air. And 1 John 5:19 tells us “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Satan is the one pulling the strings behind the world’s systems and values, so when we live according to the world’s principles, we’re living according to his principles.

And because we had no spiritual life in us, we naturally gratified the desires of the flesh and followed its desires and thoughts. We didn’t have anything else.

Again, kind of depressing. (It’s about to get better though.)

I don’t know about you, but before I placed my faith in Christ, I didn’t know any better. Living according to the world’s principles and gratifying my flesh was all I knew. I was concerned with making life work according to the only principles I knew (the world’s) and doing whatever I could to gratify the flesh.

Then something happened.

I met Jesus when I got to college. The God who’d previously been irrelevant, changed my life. Here’s how Paul describes it…

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

But. The whole passage hinges on that one word. But.

“But because of his great love for us…”

Rather than describing the wrath we deserved, the rest of the passage tells us what he did for us, how he did it, why he did it and what we have to look forward to. All because of His great love for us. It’s worth reading it again. And again. And again. Until it sinks in.

If it doesn’t sink in, then we naturally default back to living the way Paul describes in the first three verses. That’s when life gets frustrating. Here’s why…

Before we knew Christ, we only knew one way to do life–the world’s way. And so we followed the thoughts and desires of the flesh and did the best we could to get our needs met. Things didn’t always go our way, but there were no thoughts of an entirely different way of life. There was also no internal conflict. We didn’t have the flesh pulling us one way and the Spirit pulling us the other way. We only had the flesh.

But now when we choose to do life the old way, we have the pull and conviction of the Holy Spirit. He reminds us of the new life. The better life. The Christ life. He will not let us feel good about the old way of life.

When we’ve placed our faith in Jesus and then choose (intentionally or not) to live according to the ways of the world and we follow the thoughts and desires of the flesh, we don’t ever experience true life. What we get is a zombie-like Christian life. It’s like we’re alive, but not really. We’re not dead any more, but what we are sure isn’t pretty.

Are there areas of your life (work, money, food, sex, a relationship, etc.) you’re continuing to live according to the ways of the world? Has gratifying the flesh taken priority over pleasing God?

Give Him control. Seek Him through His word to discover His ways of handling those areas of your life.

It’s time to move from undead to fully alive.