Going Off the Rails on a Crazy Train

Time and again, I am astonished by how often I run into what I call the Crazy/Clearheaded Paradox. In the context of the ministry work that I do for The Crossing, “the CCP” typically looks something like this:

On the one hand, someone might say something like, “I can readily acknowledge that I have made some fairly serious mistakes with my life in the past.” And then on the other hand, often within the very same breath, that same person might say, “I feel perfectly capable and confident that from here on out, I can successfully maintain command and control of the very same vessel that I have run aground time and time again.”

Of course, very few will ever actually utter this last sentiment quite so clearly, or with anything close to that amount of insight, but you get the idea. No matter how many times a man or woman has fallen into abject failure, destroyed relationships, or given themselves over to some gross, besetting sin, there is a nearly-universal tendency in every human heart to resist openly confessing that we are, indeed, a wreck, and need outside help. We all seem to instinctively want to appear to “have our act together,” and to want everyone close at hand to see that whatever issue was previously causing problems has been very neatly resolved now. “All is well here! You can go back to your regularly-scheduled programs, thank you!”

Would that it really were that simple and straightforward: We fall into some sort of crisis, find a piece of biblical wisdom to help ameliorate the problem, and voila: instant sanctification, resulting in never having issues in that particular part of our lives again!

Well, probably not.

One of my all-time favorite verses in Scripture comes from Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I honestly don’t think this particular verse needs a whole lot in the way of biblical exegesis or explanation, either; its power is contained both in its authorship and its simplicity.

You may find that to be a rather grim choice for a greatest hits compilation, and I’ll grant you that this verse is not nearly as encouraging as, for instance, Romans 8:28, but combining my own life experiences with a renewed study of God’s Word has brought this particular truth back to me many, many times. Rather than viewing this verse as being extremely negative and depressing, I instead find it to be an amazingly-strong weapon we can all use in our personal fights against sin, folly and rebellion.

If we, as Christians, are willing to set aside the fallacy of living with an “I’ve got my act together” veneer, and plainly admit that our own hearts are prone to deception, error and foolishness, we are (paradoxically) given even more wisdom and insight. By confessing foolishness, we become wise.

For example, it seems that we are inherently prone to trusting our feelings. If we feel mad, well then, there must be some good reason for it, and someone has probably done something awful, committed some trespass that thoroughly justifies my responding out of that anger. (Right?) In this scenario, my willingness to trust my feelings might well lead me to act upon them such that incredible amounts of pain and turmoil are unleashed in the lives of people I care about.

If, on the other hand, I take a critical look at what might be behind that anger, and what my heart might really be responding to, doing so with an eye solidly on the truth that God’s Word says my heart is unreliable, I will often respond in an entirely different way. Or, I may determine that my anger is in reality a sinful response, and rather than respond to the situation at all, I might need to fall to my knees in repentance.

But this kind of clarity of vision often requires a two-step process. First, it takes prayer – even a simple “Have mercy on me, Son of God, a sinner!” – and it also takes my reliance upon the more objective wisdom of people close to me, other trusted believers who are, along with me, immersed in the Word each and every day (Proverbs 19:20).

Whenever I find myself at the ticket counter purchasing a one-way pass to Crazy Town, what I really need in that moment is someone who also believes the promises of God and is not likely to be dragged into some sort of emotional slugfest with me. There truly is wisdom in a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22).

So you see, when I find myself responding emotionally to a situation, if I don’t bring a distrust of my own heart response and a simultaneous willingness to allow trusted Christian brothers and sisters around me to see that I don’t have my act together, I will fail to respond to those situations, over and over again, in an ungodly way (Proverbs 15:1-2).

I’ll confess that I’ve spent much of my life believing this “trust your feelings” mantra, with the result being many, many damaged relationships, several of which extend right up into the present day.

It is partly because of this history of reliance on my “feelings as fact” that I now walk through life with a deeply-embedded assumption that I simply cannot trust my own feelings. As much as I might want to ascend to the throne of being the only person on the planet with a clear, objective view of things, I can now readily see that this is just another manifestation of sinful pride and arrogance, and that what I really need to do is move myself down to the less-honored seat at the banquet before someone comes along and does it for me (Luke 14:8-10).

It’s tempting to balance the “don’t trust your feelings” advice implied by Jeremiah 17:9 with some sort of platitude about how sometimes, doggone it, our feelings really are right on the money, and we should act upon them, lest we in some way be judged as irresponsible! While acknowledging that, yes, our hearts can sometimes lead us to the truth about a person or situation, my experience to date leads me to believe that our emotions are far more often wrong than right, and overly-emotional responses are an effective inroad used by the enemy of our souls to wreak havoc in our lives (Genesis 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:10).

Again, seeking the wisdom of other trusted Christians is still the best route. After all, if our emotions really are providing us with an appropriate response to the situation, then it stands to reason that our responses will safely pass through the “talk to other believers” safety net. We can allow others to weigh our problems and concerns with confidence, as long as God’s Word remains their source of ultimate truth, and ours.

When we acknowledge that we are, in the final analysis, completely unable to manage our lives on our own without causing shipwreck after disheartening shipwreck, we can most often avoid living our lives out of the Crazy/Clearheaded Paradox.

By pursuing His wisdom through prayer and the counsel of other believers, God in His infinite mercy begins to modify the way we think and feel such that our responses to stressors and our thoughts become increasingly clear and unambiguous. We throw ourselves at God’s feet, crying out that our hearts are wild and untamable, and He responds not just with a nugget of wisdom for our moment of need, but a gracious invitation to grow in wisdom and stature, to infuse our hearts and minds with His Truth, His knowledge, and His attributes. He gives us a fish so we can eat for a day…and then He patiently teaches us to fish for a lifetime.

Galatians 5:16-26 (ESV)
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

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