Diagnosing the Disease

Photo by: Rudolf Vlček

Photo by: Rudolf Vlček

There is no greater danger for a person or a church than to leave a disease undiagnosed. However, until the final and accurate diagnosis is determined and confirmed, the individual or organization will try to function as normal as possible.

Usually, though, long before a diagnosis is made, the person does begin experiencing symptoms. The early symptoms are usually subtle and harder to detect, but as the disease becomes more of a threat, the symptoms are usually much more noticeable.

The individual or the church can respond in a few different ways. There is either a mobilized response to do discovery work and to get to the bottom of the symptoms, or a masking behavior begins. Self-medicating techniques may begin to kick in whether consciously or sub-consciously. If the person or organization tries to take a quick approach to the diagnosing process, it may be that, in the end, the symptoms are the only thing that get treated and no deep healing takes place. The equivalent would be like treating a serious form of cancer with over-the-counter medicines.

In the case of the church, individuals may attend “symptom seminars,” where information and quick fixes are offered; nonetheless, the roots of the issues are never discovered, only the symptoms. All of the solutions, implemented at great cost and expense, actually waste time and cause great damage to the individual or the church. In most cases, it’s not just diminished energy but a failure, like King Saul, to reach God’s intended plan.

And so, there are two main challenges to awakening to the Spirit’s activity in order to help an individual or a church overcome it.

First, the individual goes into a kind of victimization motif where all that he or she says and does points back to his or her pain and past wrongs. Second, diagnosing the disease is the justification paradigm where no matter what anyone says, he or she is justified to think, feel and act a certain way. It’s why churches keep changing pastors—the one they have in front of them is just not good enough. They mistakenly fall into the trap of “we have a right to feel this way” and the disease continues to eat away at the body. 

SEMANTIC ADAPTIVENESS - An individual or church can actually become so aware and  connected to various psychological and theological constructs that the intellect is able to anticipate what the outcome would be if a question is answered one way or another way. This level of linguistic sophistication allows the individual to score the assessment in his or her mind while circling the answers on the sheet. The individual or church leader can actually escape a proper diagnosis because of his or her ability to take tests.

The diagnosis testing can only assess the level of the creator’s level of explicit knowledge. Therefore, it is quite likely that the individual or church who is taking the assessment actually outsmarts the creator of the diagnostic process and escapes a true diagnosis of the actual disease.

The challenge to the individual of such prowess is that he or she learns to shape the perception of himself or herself to whatever is going on in the moment. In other words, even though the individual knows it, he or she constructs a reality in that moment for those looking over the scores or whatever the case may be. It’s not that the person doesn’t realize he or she is doing it (even though, I suppose, at some point it starts operating outside the awareness of the person), but the real challenge is that the individual in his or her own awareness actually loses the ability to think critically about himself or herself because he or she is just “smarter” than everyone else.

Therefore the church, in all of her understanding and knowledge and strong theological underpinnings, can actually escape the simple diagnosis of a terminal disease. It may explain, on a practical level, how a Solomon could turn so disobedient. In the end, the very blessing of wis- dom led to such a layered semantic sophistication that there was nothing he did not know. For Adam, it was the one tree that God told him not to eat from, because it would just be too much to handle.

This truth, which I am sure I am only starting to grasp for myself, is actually what makes a Pharisee a Pharisee. The actual constructs of the mind and its thinking prohibit a level of humility and learning because it can’t humble itself anymore. The individual already believes to be humble and able to understand the deeper constructs of humility.

The appearance to everyone around would have been that Solomon could not have fallen because he was too wise.  Or, due to the  disease of semantic adaptiveness, one may appear to be fine because he or she is, in the end, only examined by the words he or she says. Thus, the individual knows that if he or she allows him or herself to say this thing or that thing aloud, it will be assessed by others that the individual “sick,” or rather, in need of some personal growth.

Therefore, individuals and church leaders learn the art of changing their language mid-sentence which creates the illusion that all is well in the soul. The very appearance is of a very stabilized person in his or her life approach or a church that has it all going in the right direction. The only problem is that, just at the moment when he or she needs to be able to be soft and open to learning, his or her own  sophistication  in understanding constructs blocks that ability. In the end, a proper diagnosis is escaped and, until a major crash or organizational failure happens, everyone, including that person or church, believes that all is fine.

The danger, then, is the semantic comfortableness that does a Solomon, a church, or anyone for that matter a great disservice. In a sense, it’s how the educated and wise person can actually misstep and be completely blind-sided. He or she is completely aware of the issues being surveyed or looked at but already has a high level of comfortableness with the construct being discussed and, therefore, loses the ability to hear anything.

This is precisely where the American church finds herself. She can’t really hear the “spiritual truths” being delivered to her. If a board member or pastor actually hears the voice of the Spirit and articulates it, then one or the other is in danger of being voted out. It is possible that the people of God repeat the mistakes made in Jeremiah’s day or develop an elder brother mentality at best. It is like the arrogance of a teenager who won’t take any advice because he or she actually “know’s everything.”

The church knows very well the constructs related to worship and submission to authority. However, to know the ideas through and through and to integrate those realities deep into the soul is another thing altogether. So, even though Solomon was the wisest man on earth, he still finished horribly because knowing the reality and living the reality, one knows, are two very different things.

THE CHAMELEON EFFECT - The other disease so prevalent in churches and individual leaders in the American church is the chameleon effect.  James Houston refers to it as “theological journalism.” It is where an individual comes across new truths and information and begins to be somewhat shaped by the material in speech but not in action or being. The person stands and reports the new-found truths as if he or she has integrated, to a large degree, the truths he or she is teaching. Yet, in effect, he or she is only reporting on what has been learned through research. The individual may be energized by the topic because it is something that needs to be addressed in him or her own self, but that’s as far as it goes. And so, the individual does not get it integrated into his or her bloodstream; the deeper truths have been apprehended intellectually, but nothing changes below the surface. Therefore, the deception has run its course because the information has been skimmed for the cream while the milk was never swallowed and digested.

Only a fall will correct a person like this. He or she appears to be an avid learner but is deceiving himself or herself and others because the truths never made it to the bloodstream. It became an intellectual “sugar high” to get the brain function going, but the crash at the end was worse than the first.

It plays out a little differently in church life. It can be that a church will go along with leadership for a while, believing that it has accepted fully the instruction of the Lord. Yet, the “old guard” which had drifted dramatically and far from the biblical text, is just too strong, and at the first possible sign of weakness in the leadership, it quickly changes color and returns to the ways of old, feeling justified in its own deception.

How dark is that darkness, to be in a place where the disease is so deep it can’t be diagnosed and only complete fall and failure will bring the person to his or her senses? Like the children of Israel who the Lord took into the desert to “test their hearts,” so we can only bow low on our knees for extended amounts of time and pray to escape such a grave deception which plagues churches and some of its leaders. Maybe, on our knees is the only way we will diagnose this disease.

Prayer and Energy

Through prayer, by prayer and in prayer we learn by experience the bottomless depths of His love for us. If you are distressed about your best never being good enough – gratefulness is needed. If you are lukewarm (tepid) and indifferent to the things of God around you only a heart of gratitude toward God can open you up and break off the disease of apathy. Reverence is the way to restoring the good and godly things in your life.

Paul wrote in Ephesians “Our struggle is not against creatures of flesh and blood, but against the potentates and rulers of the darkness of this world and against the spirits of evil in the celestial realms of the prince of the air.” So those who secretly fight and oppose our spiritual advancement inhabit the world of thought and influence our brains. These forces were once celestial intelligences and have lived for eons. They seek to drain any connection to God and de-energize the human’s soul.

Let’s take a look at a few specific things to note when thinking of prayer and energy:

  1. Relationship increases personal energy – All of us have those times in our lives where our spiritual energy is higher than at other times. The world goes around literally and metaphorically because of energy. It is no different for our inner beings. Have you ever said to a friend, “I just don’t have the energy to do this or that.”  Maybe you said, “I just don’t feel like…” Your energy level affected your ability to respond in a given situation. This is much deeper than a feeling or some hyped up emotion. The energy for deeper living comes directly from your connection to the giver of life.
  2. James 4:3 is a promise – The Bible in James 4:8, “If we come near to God, he will come near to us.”  Most have no problem with that concept, but how do we approach him? Where is he? Where does he live? This is characterized by a growing conversation with God. We call it prayer.
  3. Jesus was often alone in prayer – Jesus culminating preparation for his ministry (on this earth) was alone, in the wilderness, going through the dark, diverting, corrupting forces of evil, until they were faced down and their power shriveled. He emerged empowered, emboldened, with an indomitable sense of vocation. After this, he continued to go off alone to pray from time to time. (Tilden Edwards, Spiritual Friend, p. 14)
  4. Responsibility & Effort – There can be no insight into life and the kingdom without effort. Having said that however, that should not keep us from taking our RESPONSIBILITY seriously. The spiritual disciplines are many and vary depending on one’s spiritual heritage. Some of the most common are: Confession, Worship, Bible Study, Giving, Fasting, Meditation (God words) Silence, Contemplation (Person of Christ) etc.
  5. Remembering & Gratitude – Another reason in increasing spiritual energy is found in recalling “spiritual markers.” Revisiting God’s activity in your life can be a wonderful spiritual exercise. This certainly could be included in list of disciplines.  The ancients called it meditation. You can create spiritual momentum in the inner life by remembering God’s activity in your life. One of my mentors said a long time ago, “God is always more concerned about your future than he is your past.” In fact, some of the darkest times spiritually for me have been when I could remember past failures.
  6. Resiliency & Distress – In Disney’s Lion King, Simba had to face the death of his father and his new responsibilities as King. But instead of eating meat and being king, he ran around with a pig and a cute little rodent and sang, Hakunamatata, which meant no worries. THE ONLY WAY YOU HAVE NO WORRIES IS FOR YOU NOT TO FACE UP TO YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES.The spiritual life is not a stress free life. In fact, the opposite is true. Once you start living up to your destiny, and who God has called you to be and face your responsibilities, you will encounter great stress. Stress in your life will ultimately produce consistency and character if you will allow it to by embracing the stress by showing RESILIENCY.
  7. Attachment is a French word derived from “attaché” meaning  “nailed to.” Attachment nails our desires to specific objects and creates addiction. The brain never completely forgets its old attachments, so the absence of desire at this time does not mean it’s gone. Addiction exists wherever persons are internally compelled to give energy to things that are not their true desire. Addiction is a state of compulsion, obsession, or preoccupation that enslaves a person’s will and desire. Attachment enslaves desire and detachment liberates desire
  8. Humility is the Opposite of Attachment – True humility sets us free to act virtuously. The more pride that is resident within you the greater the attachments. Humility sets us free to do what is really good by revealing the false illusions in our lives. “If we were humble we’d know to what extent we are liars.” God is stern with us in His relentless mercy to draw us toward himself. Yet, God’s way does not bring us to despair but to humility. A truthful admission of weakness.
  9.  He is the God Who Restores - He uses direct contact with us to restore us. Divine empowerment and interaction. In His presence there is fullness of joy. In prayer we become more and more convinced that He is trustworthy. That He is above all other creatures. We learn He never falters or fails and commands all things.
  10. The deeper we go into God – The clearer we see that we are functioning in a world not of talent, performance, human effort but of personal connection to the living God. That takes place through prayer as a humbling conversation that invites us into winning in Jesus name.
  11. Prayer does not allow us to inflate ourselves – it relieves the tension to perform and invites us into communion with Him who has mercy toward us all the time. Prayer itself moves up and down and in and out in a rhythmic symphony of participating with God for His will and not our own.

Prayer is powerful. When we pray, we are expressing the innermost parts of our beings. The Psalms are an incredible example of prayers both the energetic prayers and the desperate prayers. Start your day by praying this prayer today.

Psalm 51:1-12 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your loving-kindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness,Let the bones which You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God,And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Restoring Gratefulness

Through prayer, by prayer, and in prayer we learn the bottomless depths of His love for us. If you find yourself distressed that your best never feels good enough – you need gratefulness. If you are lukewarm (tepid) and indifferent to the things of God around you only a heart of gratitude toward God can open you up and break off the disease of apathy.

  1. Inward Poverty – It is often in our most sinful states that we come to see His love goes even deeper than we could have ever imagined. Since that is so, we must never be afraid to go to Him continually in all our weakness and in infirmities.
  2. Personal Distress – You’re in distress works to your extreme advantage when there’s nothing left to seek but mercy. Our own poverty of heart is our greatest blessing if we have become ungrateful. This is because there is never neutrality between gratefulness and ungratefulness. You are either grateful for all God’s blessings in a deep way or not.
  3. Constant Complaining – Constant griping about this thing or that thing or about this person or that person is a sign of ungratefulness.
  4. Heart Apatheia – Those who do not love, hate. In your spiritual life there is no such thing as indifference to love or hate. That is why apathy is so dangerous because it is HATE disguised as LOVE.
  5. Indifference – Indifference where the soul is neither hot or cold is a selfish ungratefulness disguised as intellectual considerations or judgments.
  6. Gratitude vs. Hypocrisy – they are complete opposites. You will never be a hypocrite if you are always grateful to God for His blessings and love. To be grateful is to see His love at work toward you.
  7. Shallow Praise – we must not just make a mental note of the things God has done for us and offer up shallow praise – we internally and externally remain grateful. The conflicted hypocrite – internally and externally. Gratitude brings congruency to the inner life.
  8. Loving Nothingness – To say to yourself, “I am nothing is not an act of humility at all it is only saying I wish I were not what I am.” To really know our nothingness we must also love it. And we cannot love it unless we see that it is good. And we cannot see that it is good unless we accept it.
  9. Praise without Poverty is impossible – Spiritual poverty is a beautiful thing if it is truly such. Yet it’s possible to be without in so many ways and yet try and try to do things that obligate others to us. In one’s poverty to continually use favors is to try for possession of people for your own purposes. Yet, when in humility we see that all our worth and value and blessing are truly gifts from God we enter into true praise. “He must increase, we must decrease.”

Sources: Thoughts in Solitude, Merton.