Resolutions, “Inner Vows” (which are described herein), and commitments are responsible for some of the biggest mistakes people make in their short lives. An obvious example is a marriage to an unsuitable partner, but there are many other daily-basis blunders that people make as well. This post examines how our words and expectations can lead us into catastrophe, sometimes, without our knowledge.
The content is organized as follows.
- The Common Behavior
- An Inner Vow May Become A Doorway to Spiritual Bondage
- The Implicit Treachery of Making Inner Vows
- An Inner Vow May Constitute Spiritual Rebellion
- Gaining A New Perspective
- How Should We Go About Conquering Bad Habits and Addictions?
- Learn to Counteract the Sinful Nature by Anticipation
- Know the Difference Between Expectations and Anticipations
- Taking ACTION is the Only True Resolution
The Common Behavior
It’s now two weeks into the new year, and I’m sure a lot of people are beginning to wrestle with keeping the resolutions they made two weeks ago. If this is you, then let’s examine the situation you are in right now.
During the New Year’s Holiday, a lot of people start paying attention to their own inner critic, which is a habit sparked by an emotional rebound that occurs after the passing of the joyous Christmas season. They get the idea that they need to “turn over a new leaf”, and so they make resolutions to make a sweeping change in their lifestyle, which only lasts a few weeks, before they give up in a shroud of guilt.
What is this all about?
People run on auto-pilot. They don’t make adequate plans. In fact, they really don’t give much thought as to what they are doing in the ever present moment. That may be a de facto definition of IDIOT (an acronym for an Individual Devoid of Intelligent, Organized Thought).
The majority of people in the world make spurious decisions based on passing emotions. They never make plans, or think about what they are doing each day. They just go through a HABIT, and when something happens, they REACT. When the next event happens, they REACT. They are ALWAYS REACTING, because they are NEVER PROACTIVE. They don’t know how to initiate a situation before a situation “initiates them” first.
These people might foolishly believe they are making a “conscious decision” about a particular matter, but actually, their whole consciousness only consists of not much more than their own ego preservation, their emotional stability, their sense of security and their false sense of “control”. As a result, the vast majority of their decision-making never penetrates deeper than these issues.
This is called SPIRITUAL IMMATURITY, and people of all ages have this disease.
Have you ever noticed this?
I’m talking about people who are mindless automatons, who never ANTICIPATE what might happen, and because of this, they can never get control of their lives. They are always BEING CONTROLLED, instead of BEING IN CONTROL. They are controlled by other people, by circumstances, by desires, by physical needs, by their lifestyle, by the requirements of their job, by their own ego, by their own happiness… The list goes on.
What kinds of things control you?
Now, imagine these kinds of people making new years’ resolutions to change deep, ingrained habits, or to stop addictive behaviors like smoking, drinking, etc. Then after they fail, they feel guilty. They wonder why they failed and they beat themselves up over their failure. It’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it?
It’s even more funny when they get the idea that they should stop smoking or drinking, etc. WHILE they are half-way through enjoying a Marlboro light or a can of Budweiser, etc. It seems that they think they should feel guilty about enjoying something, and they try to punish themselves in some way. That’s another manifestation of the sinful nature that dupes a lot of shallow people into running around in moral circles. But they never realize that they are soooo controlled by all of these emotions!
An Inner Vow May Become A Doorway to Spiritual Bondage
People who are in bondage to something are unable to escape the habit of it. These people can never find peace until they DO what they know is wrong. That is the sinful nature, and it’s the backbone of all sorts of addictions. The discipline of the law cannot help, because the more he focuses his mind on his behavior as being a sin, the more it will control him. In fact, that is the power of the mind being used in the wrong way.
It is important to consider what kinds of vows you may had made in the past. You may notice that a lot of the things you vowed never to do, etc., are now things in which you have/had some kind of bondage.
Or, if you’ve only made an inner vow very recently, don’t be surprised if you experience a backlash, and find yourself swamped by the very thing you resolved never to get caught up in!
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. We all know of someone who made it clear to everyone, “My father was alcoholic, and he abused my mother. I hated having a father like that, and I will not let myself end up in the same way as my mother.” …then comes the inner vow… “I’ll never marry an alcoholic man!” Then sure enough, the next time we see her, she is married to a Jekyll and Hyde gin-slosh with a lot of mixed feelings about the whole thing.
Or maybe she does marry a teetotaling man, but soon after they’re married, he begins to experience a mysterious, overwhelming pressure to begin experimenting with alcohol… and then he becomes a gin-slosh!
The thing that causes people to make self-destructive inner vows could be a negative, one-time event, or repeated instances under special circumstances, or by not having the basic needs of love, security and affirmation met for long periods of time, especially during the formative years. The motivation to make inner vows could be almost anything that causes some kind of emotional trauma, plants a root of bitterness, and throws a person onto the warpath of “change” in his personal life.
Another example is the pure-hearted and starry-eyed romantic who is actually just love-starved by growing up in a medieval Gestapo-regime (MGR) home with no public display of affection (PDA). She gets married to the first half-way decent guy who comes along, thinking that a marriage (which includes making vows) will give her all the healing she needs. But it never works out that way.
It’s sad. These kinds of people are more tragic.
A more extreme example is someone from a MGR home with no PDA who buys into the discipline and vows to stay sexually chaste until “true love arrives” in the form of a Christian marriage.
Do you know people like this? Somehow, they naturally think that taking a vow can restore all the love they missed! If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be comical!
It seems likely that one has a better chance at keeping ones’ virginity, or at succeeding in any other kind of moral endeavor, by totally avoiding such kinds of vows!
I’ve met some spiritually astute people, who’ve noticed this phenomena, have naïvely confused it with the power of a confession vs profession, and have attributed it to darker forces. They seek to avoid the same trouble by saying to themselves, “I’ll not jink myself by saying such things!” These people can see the truth, but they don’t know what they’re looking at. So, they live rather half-heartedly, and are somewhat afraid to trust God totally.
The Implicit Treachery of Making Inner Vows
James gives us a very stern warning about the danger of making any kind of oath.
But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.
Jesus urged us not to make vows at all, implying that by doing so, we may be contributing to a stronghold of evil.
Jesus himself warns of the dangers of “swearing”, which is interpreted to be “the serious declaration of a matter”.
Matthew 533 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
Jesus doesn’t go into a full description of the process, but the important point at hand, is that by making these resolutions and inner vows, one can actually stymie ones’ spiritual growth.
People who are forced against their will, or beyond their understanding (possibly by a parent or even by ones’ own conscience) to “enjoy” being obedient, will eventually go crazy and lose their soul. (This is commonplace in Asian culture.) Some people get themselves so much into the habit of a “forced coercion” or some kind of behavioral control that they don’t even know who they are anymore.
Christian writers such as John Eldredge (e.g. “Waking the Dead”), Philip Yancey (e.g. “What’s so Amazing about Grace?”) and Drs. Cloud and Townsend (e.g. “Boundaries”), have helped us to see that this is unbiblical, and that it is a central part of WORSHIP to “live from the heart in spirit and in truth”.
An Inner Vow May Constitute Spiritual Rebellion
To take this concept even further, forcing ones’ self to be “obedient”, and to require ones’ self to “enjoy it” qualifies as spiritual rebellion!
Wait a minute! How can a commitment to obedience and excellence be considered spiritual rebellion?
There is nothing rebellious about a commitment to obedience, in itself, but if you are doing it continually with a stubborn, isolated will (viz. in an “effort of the flesh”), because you don’t like what has been presented to you in life, then you are willfully refusing to experience God’s grace in the matter, and it will only twist your heart into rebelliousness.
Moreover, insecurity, and the inability to take an initiative, or even to do much of anything independently, are all symptoms of a dormant, but defiant, rebellious heart, and so we should not be confused about where one really stands.
Gods’ grace cannot work through a person in such a state, and over time, such efforts (or lack of efforts) will only thwart that persons’ life with a lot of bitter remorse and regret, which will stand at the forefront of his mind and further alienate Him from experiencing God.
Making inner vows, resolutions and commitments will only compound the ill effects of this phenomenon. It seems counterintuitive that our “good” choices can actually be acts of rebellion, if not done in faith, but it is so true.
Maybe you are asking, “So what is wrong with trying to do what is good and right?”
While it is right and proper to value the ideals that Christianity teaches us, we should be wary of making these virtues into our most prominent goals in our personal lives. Instead, we should continue on in pursuing the ordinances and purposes of God in our lives, while trusting Him to provide the means and the grace for us to grow in obedience, instead of trusting in our own will power to make ourselves obedient, and justify ourselves through the letter of the law.
If you have made such kinds of inner vows, you need to pray about those things to discover if it is actually some sort of spiritual rebellion, and if so, then you need to repent of your “efforts in the flesh”, and ask God to forgive you for refusing to trust in Jesus to guide you through life.
Obviously, a person needs to be familiar with the nature of all these things, before making any type of vow or commitment.
Gaining A New Perspective
If a person is really serious about REPENTANCE, then he needs to see the larger picture of how a particular habit is MORALLY WRONG, before he can begin to agree with God on the matter. A true, lasting repentance cannot come on a wave of guilt, because it is still an emotional decision. True repentance must address the deeper NATURE of the problem, if it is truly a problem, and is not simply a social mandate, or an imagined foible that they dislike about themselves.
If you are someone who is not really confident in your identity as a child of God, then when these kinds of issues come up, you might think that your brokenness is a problem that you need to fix, or else you might question your identity first. This is why a lot of people make inner vows and resolutions in the first place. But such a person is confused about his responsibilities as a Christian.
It is a Biblical matter to identify ones’ self as a sinner, and in general, no one can disagree with that. But on the other hand, you may not have CHOSEN to have all these problems! God put you into this broken world, and there’s nothing you can do about it!
What does God expect you to do now?
Why not try to “accept” yourself as a broken person? Do not accept it because it is “acceptable”, because it is not, and that would be the same as lying to yourself. No, you should accept your brokenness because only God can change it – not you.
All of your efforts to clean up your own life are like wrapping your festering wounds with a bandage, and telling yourself that you’ll be “OK”, when what you really need is an invasive surgery and hospitalization! You need to trust the Surgeon (God), and submit yourself to the knife of the truth, and stay with a fellowship of loving people who can minister to you.
A lot of people can never understand why God subjects us to a broken existence, and they think God expects them to “save themselves” by “turning over a new leaf”. Or else, they get angry and blame God for everything, which is a rather pointless exercise.
Other people see that we are stuck in a broken world, and they realize that God created in us a need for fellowship and ministry, which we must not neglect if we are to become mature, obedient and excellent in God’s eyes.
On the other hand, sometimes making an inner vow, or a commitment to excellence is a good thing. If you are someone who is confident about your identity in Christ, and you are making resolutions simply because you want to “tighten your belt” in order to enjoy a more orderly life and provide a better Christian witness to others, then this writing will be merely a quaint review of what you have overcome in your spiritual life.
How Should We Go About Conquering Bad Habits and Addictions?
Prayer is a very important part of overcoming spiritual addictions. But I need to warn you, the power to overcome addictions can only be apprehended through the expression of a true prayer of faith, and not as a hopeless plea from a drowning man.
In other words, if you see that your problem is deeper than merely failing to anticipate things, and you have a spiritual addiction to something, be cautious in praying about it. If your prayers have the opposite effect, then immediately stop praying about it, and simply start believing that the blood of Jesus covers even this, and you will slowly gain strength in overcoming your addiction.
Let me be more explicit to make this clear. If you are NOT praying in the power of the Holy Spirit, then your faithless prayers are nothing more than a concentrated, conscientious reminder of your problems, and all of these sorts of efforts in prayer can be likened to you repetitively sticking your nose into your own excrement. It will only have the effect of strengthening your addiction, and you’ll be left wondering, “What is ‘God’ doing?” Especially if you’re motivated by guilt, then the more you pray about it, the worse your habit will get. But if you can come to a place where you realize that even your prayers might be mere efforts of the flesh, then you will see that you’ll be better off if you stopped praying about it and try to put it out of your mind altogether.
Making an effective confession can also give one the power of God to overcome a sinful habit, and I advise you to go about this in a circumspect manner as well.
The root act of obedience that is necessary to bring about a remission of sin (a recovery from your spiritual addiction) in any of these things, is to recognize your ability to say, “That is me!” “That is my problem!” and thereby own up to your present state of brokenness. This will bring you into the reality of the present, which is where you can find the truth, and do something about it.
Learn to Counteract the Sinful Nature by Anticipation
With all of this said, we can now properly address the idea of how anticipation may ameliorate a bad habit.
First of all, do not confuse the ideas of anticipation, discernment, disposition and prophecy. To make these concepts clear, consider the following passage.
Matthew 161 Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; 3 and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
Discernment is what allows you to identify the nature of a thing or event, and ascribe some kind of value or significance to it, and whether it is positive or negative.
When Jesus speaks of discernment here, he is not talking about the spiritual kind of discernment that the people in church like to discuss; like, “discerning the will of the Lord”, or “discerning ungodly strongholds”, etc. No, Jesus knew the Pharisees’ were insincere towards Him, and He reframed the Pharisees’ faithless question in order to take control of the conversation and reveal the Pharisees’ own apostasy.
In other words, Jesus is pretty cool.
Jesus is not rebuking people about their faith either. He is warning the Pharisees that they are unaware of how they fit into the evil worldly system. Only the Spirit of God can reveal to a person where they sit in the wrong workings of the world, and how to jump out of it. Most of the Pharisees could not see their own spiritual disposition, because they did not have the Spirit of God. However, it may be possible that Jesus is pointing out how they have no discernment of their own disposition, in an effort to arouse the disposition of holiness within some of them.
In other words, Jesus is a farmer who plants truth and sows believers.
I believe Jesus was speaking of the Pharisees’ need of more anticipation in this passage. The line Jesus used is paraphrased in an old English proverb.
“Red at night, sailors delight; red in the morning, sailors take warning”
This proverb describes a common sequence of events. It may not be true every time, but most of the time, as shown by experience, it is. When the sky is red at night, we may anticipate good weather in the coming days, and vice versa.
Anticipation is when your own intuition tells you what will happen next, when you are well acquainted with the natural progression of events. But these events may or may not have anything to do with the purposes of God, and so, can be subject to circumstances, which a believer may take control of.
Prophecy is the will of the Lord as spoken to those who are not familiar with it, and it carries the power of an official decree to its’ listeners. The will of the Lord can not be changed by circumstances, but instead, it changes those circumstances over time. Consider Revelation 19:10:
“The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
That is a lot bigger than merely “predicting the future”, as many people naïvely comprehend prophecy.
Know the Difference Between Expectations and Anticipations
We need to very careful about anticipations, that we do not confuse them with our expectations. Anticipations are rather specific and immediate, while expectations are broader and involve some degree of satisfaction in the outcome. Therefore, expectations and may be lethally laced with any sort of misguided notions about things.
It’s usually very difficult to anticipate the next act of God, unless we are praying specifically for the thing, but there are certain things we can expect from God, namely, the fulfillment of things He has promised. But we should also be prepared for the reality that God may not fulfill his promises exactly as we imagine it should be, and that is not because God is “tricky” or “holding out on us”, but because we may have a lot of false notions about things.
But isn’t it possible to expect too much from God?
It is if we are expecting the wrong sorts of things from God.
Blatantly false anticipations, or selfishly ambitious types of expectations, can easily become distractions that we can become preoccupied with, and simultaneously set ourselves up for disappointment and prolong God’s processes in us, all in one move.
We must be sure that our expectations are challenging, yet realistic, while all the while conforming to God’s will for our lives. We must also accept the fact that God will probably work beyond our expectations, but will probably do nothing concerning our anticipations.
On the other hand, there are some people who are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. Do you know of someone like this? This guy might be the one who is “expecting too much from God”, and he is just as bad as the “compromising” Christian.
In fact, I think most people should expect more from God, because most people are too complacent (viz. spiritually “lazy”), and are content with far less than God’s best for their lives.
A lot of people cannot be effective for God (e.g. service, ministry, evangelism, discipline, spiritual growth, achieving excellence, etc.) because they are too preoccupied with their own happiness. Others cannot be effective because they are too preoccupied with their own sadness. “Giving control of your life to God” means that you are no longer motivated by your own sentiments such as these, but instead, you are submitting your will and purpose for living to the higher purposes of God’s agenda.
Do you know what God’s agenda is? I believe if you read the entire book of Ephesians, you’ll have a fairly good idea of what God’s will is for us. We can safely and correctly expect such things to happen to us as believers. We would fail ourselves if we did not.
But the obedience to the calling of God, as described in Ephesians, is not carried out in a “perfect environment”, which would otherwise make our lives too easy to require any kind of faith, and that is the real battle of it all. However, that battle becomes hopeless when Christians become comfortable and complacent in a corrupted environment that is supposed to be a battlefield.
We should learn how to be Godly people who can fit into an ungodly world, prosper and grow, without succumbing to the ungodly forces of this world or the relentless waves of self-interest. We are IN the world, but not OF the world.
As believers, we should become the pillars of our communities and workplaces.
Taking ACTION is the Only True Resolution
Wisdom requires that we have some anticipation of people and events, but we should take action first, and not wait until something happens.
A better way to trust God is to TAKE ACTION!
Restated, we should try to anticipate the things that can be anticipated, and when they happen, we should be refining our understanding of the world. Ideally, we should be able to anticipate events before they happen, and to know what actions to take, such that the situation can become something positive, and not something negative. This is what it really means to be in control, and not to be one who is controlled.
A lot of believers might argue that “we need to give control of our lives to God”. Of course, that is true, but what does that really mean? Does it mean we should become spiritual rag dolls? It seems that a lot of Christians think so. But the problem with this mentality is that it has nothing to do with commitments or anticipations, and does not involve our will in any way. Besides, God will always do something with our lives that is much bigger than what we could ever imagine, and that is one thing we can never anticipate.
It’s quite simple really. We need to be PROACTIVE and NOT REACTIVE.
What does this mean?
If you are the woman who doesn’t want to have an alcoholic husband, for example, then instead of making an inner vow to control your own life, you should profess your experiences to other believers, which should acquaint you with your present state of freedom. Then, pray to meet a Christian man who is spiritually mature, i.e. a man who has OVERCOME his addictive behaviors. Trust God to bring you the right man, and trust your fellowship to keep you sailing in the right direction socially. Once your purpose and identity are known to others, it should only be a matter of time before your prayers are answered. But perhaps, the waiting is the hardest part.
If you are the person who wants to find the love and joy of intimacy, then you need to know first that any kind of vow cannot help you. You need to find a group of believers to join in tight fellowship with, and stay with them until you can overcome your past rejection and inability to experience and reciprocate love from others. You really need to grow in this capacity before you will ever be successful in a male-female relationship that glorifies God. That may take a lot of praying, waiting and searching as well. Like I said, this person is in a more tragic position than the person in the first example.
Unfortunately, it seems that stumbling blocks are always a daily, present reality, while finding love and aligning ones’ self with the truth is a long, hard road. But that is why God gives us grace and mercy through His Son, Jesus Christ, who forgives our failures, and gives us the hope to carry on until our race is finished.
A good runner can never clear the obstacles in his path and make a good progress, unless he constantly anticipates the hurdles before him with a firm expectation of finishing the race well.
The whole purpose of this writing is to make you aware of how you can be someone who can anticipate the hurdles of life before you trip over them and land face-down in the mud.
Life is a process. Sanctification is a process. It’s important to be aware of how Gods’ processes work! If you are unaware of the process, then you will be too ignorant to respond to significant events in the process, and you will remain unaware of the choices you have and you will feel like you are a slave to your life. Instead, know for yourself what “freedom in Christ” really means. The grace of God cannot be frustrated as a result of true faith.
Hold on to your hope in Christ as the author and finisher of your faith. Get a basic understanding of yourself and your life, and learn to anticipate events, such as temptations, before they can surprise you and cause you to stumble. It is very important to get involved with a fellowship of people who care!
If you know full well about the problems and difficulties that you have, but you cannot get control of yourself over them, or get away from them no matter how much you might anticipate them, then you have a deeper problem of bondage. If anyone is having a very difficult time with this, I recommend “The Bondage Breaker” by Neil Anderson, as further reading.
I hope that this writing might give resolution-makers the peace to trust God with the issues that they struggle with, and begin to see the abundant life they should be living.