Do you remember the word “incongruent” from Geometry or Chemistry class? It’s a term that describes things which are not in agreement; they are incompatible with one another. Instead of my high school teacher trying to boringly explain a term like “incongruent”, why couldn’t he have happily sung the Sesame Street song, One of These Things is Not Like the Other? Then I might have enjoyed it more. (Plus, it probably would have been entertaining enough to keep me from talking to my friends while in class.)
Unfortunately, as believers, we’re often incongruent. We say we believe one thing, and may even behave in accordance with it, but when we listen to our thoughts (which come out of the heart), we find that we don’t think in accordance with what we state we believe. If you want to know what you really believe, listen to your thoughts…. what you’re saying in your head as you go about life… how you talk to yourself. (It can be daunting!)
Biblical counselors are trained to look at behavior and listen to words, but more importantly, we’re taught to help people listen to and become aware of their hearts. Why? Because what we think comes out of the heart, and how we think exposes our beliefs, our passions, our character, and our theology. The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about what we think, and how we use those thoughts as a measure to live life wisely or foolishly. We’re warned all through the book to be aware of the way folly inserts itself into our hearts, and how to think wisely, instead. Chapter 28,verse 26 says, “He who trusts himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.” There are several verses in Proverbs which use the Hebrew word “fool” in this manner. It basically means “lacking normal intelligence or stupid”. We say we believe one thing and then stupidly process our thoughts according to another thing. We make silly, unintelligent assumptions based on self-interested emotions. We trust ourselves to our heart’s deceitful voice.
I’m going to make a statement that may seem fairly radical, but I believe it to be true. We always do what we believe. We never do what we don’t believe. Sound too simple? Let me explain:
If we do something because of peer pressure, but we really don’t want to, at that moment we believe that ‘fitting in’ is a higher priority… so we do it. On the other hand, if we don’t do what we really don’t like, at that moment, we believe that doing the right thing is a higher priority. So, when we choose to sin, whatever that sin will do for us at that moment, becomes a higher priority than choosing not to sin.
My husband gave me a mug a few years ago for my counseling office with a Ghostbusters type logo on it. You know… the circle with a line diagonally drawn through the circle? Unlike the Ghostbusters logo, my mug has a circle with the word ‘whining’ on it and the line drawn diagonally through it….in other words, “No Whining”. I kept it prominently displayed on the bookshelf in my office. Wouldn’t you think it was intended to inform the people who came into my office for counseling? Well, it wasn’t. My husband gave it to me. It was for my benefit because I have a horrible tendency to complain (whine). The mug sat on my bookshelf as a reminder to me that I grumble and complain, even though I say I’m grateful to God. It’s an example of how my complaining (which comes out of my thoughts) is incongruent to my stated faith (which comes out of my mouth).
Another more recent example : We’ve had to downsize over the last few years, and I don’t particularly love where we live, i.e. small kitchen, close neighbors, older building. I complain about it in my head (and unfortunately sometimes out loud), yet I outwardly state that I’m eternally thankful for God’s sovereign provision. So, which is it? Am I really grateful for where we live? I say that I am, but then my thoughts (when I complain) tell me I’m not. My inner thoughts and my outward words are not in agreement, so which one is real? The one that wins out in that moment is the one that is real. The winner will be the truth I believe in that moment. This may be a skirmish that lasts a brief moment, or it may be a long battle. If it’s brief, it’s because even though my heart may complain for a while, the Holy Spirit convicts me to repent, and be grateful for the goodness of God. If I stay stuck on grumbling about it, then I really don’t believe it’s a gift from God, no matter what I say about it to others. Gratefulness and grumbling are incongruent…. they don’t belong to one another…. they don’t match.
Do your thoughts agree with your stated belief that God has your future firmly in hand? Then why do you become paralyzed with anxiety and fear? I’m not talking about brief fear which is resolved in a timely manner. I’m talking about being steadily riddled with anxious thoughts about the outcome of things which result in panic attacks, obsessive- compulsive disorders, addictions, etc. Your fear has won out. As a believer, listen to the incongruency going on between your stated belief that God owns your future, and what your thoughts are telling you to do. You’ll do whichever one you really believe at the moment.
Do your thoughts agree with your stated belief that God will fight your battles? Then why does anger overtake you? I’m not talking about anger which is resolved in a timely manner. I’m talking about being so overcome with injustice and offenses, that you don’t let go of grudges. You state that you don’t believe you deserve anything good because of your sinful nature, and yet you stew over unfair treatment and trampled rights, to the point of seething revenge and unforgiveness. Which one is truer about you? Your stated faith that God will vindicate you, or the belief that you have to ‘get even’. Whichever one wins out is what you believe at that moment.
Do we believe that God is sovereign? Then why do we lay awake at night going over and over something that we can do nothing about? I’m not talking about fretting that’s resolved in a timely manner. I’m talking about being so bogged down with worry, that we get little sleep and we spend inordinate amounts of time thinking and rethinking how something in the future will turn out. We may state that we believe God’s plan is trustworthy, but listen to how we think as we’re dealing with an unsure future. Either we believe that an outcome is in God’s solid plan, or we believe that we can’t trust Him and we fret.
You get my point. We are fickle, double-minded, broken people. We have treasured the wrong things, loved for selfish reasons, and believed the lies of the enemy. When we recognize that our thoughts aren’t consistent with what we say we believe, it should cause us to look deeply. But, looking deeply isn’t a bad thing. Even though it may be shocking or painful to see that your heart is not as pretty as you may have hoped, it exposes the fact that it can’t be trusted because the heart’s understanding is darkened. Your first reaction may be to “improve” by resolving that you’ll correct the incongruency. Don’t even go there. It’s the devil’s workshop when we think we are able to will ourselves to do better. The enemy would love for us to believe that we can perfect our sin nature. Buying into this lie would cut Jesus’ redeeming death out of the picture entirely. Instead of Christ’s sacrifice being on your behalf, the cross would be reduced to just a humble guy who extended a hand of goodwill to you through a nice gesture.
The bad news is this is our sin nature at work. We’ll never get to the point (on this side of heaven) where we won’t fight with incongruency. Our flesh and the Enemy are always at work against the purposes of God. We are human, and our sin nature buys into power, control, greed, and safety, to name a few things. We are ruled by our emotions, and struggle to break free.
The good news is that we have the Holy Spirit living in us who reminds us of truth and gives us the ability to think wisely. Sometimes this happens quickly and sometimes it takes awhile. The important thing is to know that He gives us the ability to Turn Around. It’s an immature faith that thinks we’ll get it right. Our best attempt at righteousness is impure and imperfect. A familiar passage instructs us: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6) Don’t be a fool and trust your own understanding. Things aren’t always what they seem. As we become more mindful that God’s wisdom is true and safe, and our thinking is flawed no matter how it feels, we are less likely to trust our thoughts through an emotional filter. The gap of our incongruency starts to narrow as our inner thoughts more closely match those things we say we believe as we remember what is true. (This is one reason we want to memorize Scripture…. so that it can be hidden somewhere in the recesses of our heart to be quickly retrieved.)
Don’t be a fool. Learn wisdom by using your incongruency to instruct your soul. As you see and hear more of your heart’s folly, may the Holy Spitit lead you to a place of trust, resulting in your taking hold of the congruence of God’s stated love for you and His sacrificial death on your behalf. Now, that’s a match you can trust.