Renew our life narratives based on God’s truths
Life narratives are the stories and beliefs that we tell ourselves about life, people, ourselves, and even God, although they may not always be based on truth. Many life narratives are based on the assumptions we make based on what the world tells us. When we follow the ways of this world, we can forget that it is to God that we must give an account for our time on earth — and whether we lived our lives based on truth or in error. Many the stories we choose to have written glorify God alone.
Hebrews 4:13 ESV And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
This world sets many expectations for how our lives should turn out, depending on the country, ethnic and political culture, and family background we were born into. Such expectations will form the basis for our life narratives.
Some expectations include:
- what sort of people we will become
- how we will view family and relationships
- how we will define success
- how people will treat us and how we treat them
- whether we worship the one true God or not etc.
Such expectations form the basis for our life narratives. They influence the goals we make, where we choose to call home, the types of the types of jobs we desire, how we view money, who we see as ideal life partners, and so on.
Life narratives even play a part in our mental, emotional, and physical health. If we believe that everyone suffers a terminal disease after they turn 50, for instance, we will literally programme our brains for sickness later in life!
Life narratives often become self-fulfilling. They can and will:
- create expectations
- influence our decisions
- label others and ourselves
- create tension when left unmet
- lead to unintended consequences
If we remain unaware of their influence on our thoughts and our desires, or if we hold on to them too tightly in our hearts, it will be our life narratives, rather than the will of God, that will determine the course of our lives.
Proverbs 4:23 NLT Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.
Our earliest life narratives begin with our earliest life experiences
It may surprise us to learn that our earliest life narratives began with our earliest life experiences inside our mother’s womb.
Prenatal research shows that we began to feel, hear, learn, form memories, and develop habits while inside the womb.
We had the ability to feel our mother’s emotions and be affected by how she felt. We began to form impressions about what it means to be alive. If our mothers were highly stressed and unhappy while pregnant, we would have picked up on her stress hormones and emotions and probably felt that “the world outside is a stressful place” (life narrative #1).
By 18 weeks, our hearing would have been fully developed and we would have heard whatever was going on outside. If our parents shouted loudly at each other often, we would have heard it all clearly. We may have come to believe that “This shouting feels so stressful and out of control. I need to be careful to avoid shouting” (life narrative #2).
Such earliest life narratives can be reinforced after birth, such as if our parents kept on fighting and mom continued being unhappy. We also go on to pick up new life narratives, such as through personal experiences at school, in the playground, or with our extended families.
The influences from this world
We also learn about life from others and are influenced by this world much more than we realise. We tend to think that we are self-made men or women, but in reality, we are products of this world, conditioned into thinking certain ways by our family, culture, country of origin, politics, church, media exposure, and so on.
To illustrate, we will take a look at eight of these influences.
- Family | “These are my family values and beliefs, so they are mine too.”
- Authority figures | “Someone I trust seemed to think this about me so it must be true.”
- Bitter experiences | “I expect this about my own life because of what I have experienced.”
- Bitter childhood memories | “I concluded this about myself because of my childhood.”
- Worldly sayings | “Everyone is saying this so it must be true.”
- Stereotypes | “People who look the same way also behave the same way.”
- Media, games, advertising | “This looks desirable and realistic, I want it too.”
- Witchcraft | “I know myself and my destiny through divination.”
The following life narratives are based on real-life examples from prayers where the Holy Spirit has led to convict believers of the strongholds that keep them from following God wholeheartedly.
Our family and our culture form the foundation for most of our belief systems. If our parents value money highly, for example, we will place a higher value on money too. If our parents had some unresolved bitterness, they may sow some of that bitterness into us. We may become embittered too.
Our elders pass on core family values and beliefs from one generation to the next, sometimes unquestioningly. Here are some examples.
- “Family always comes first.” | God’s truth: Matthew 6:32-34
- “Always obey your elders (whether they are right or wrong).” | God’s truth: Deuteronomy 13:4
- “Work hard and you will achieve anything you set your heart on.” | God’s truth: Colossians 3:23
- “Don’t let others take advantage of you.” | God’s truth: Matthew 5:39-48
- “We must pay respects to our (dead) ancestors.” | God’s truth: Ecclesiastes 9:5
- “Everyone in our family gets sick and dies young.” | God’s truth: 2 Timothy 1:10
Consider some of the unintended consequences of such narratives. Will they make it easy or difficult to prioritise and obey God’s commands? Or will they lead us to sin against Him? Will they lead to emotional freedom or anxiety? Do any of them sound enslaving?
Perhaps this is why Jesus told us that in order to be His disciples, we will need to hate whatever our family members stand for by comparison. This is the cost we will have to pay for following Him. To be re-made in Jesus’ image, we will need to step out of our earthly family’s shadows.
Luke 14:26,28 NLT “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost…
2. Authority figures
Another way our elders or other authority figures influence our life narratives is by showing us what they think about us, either directly through their words or implicitly through their actions.
Here are a few examples.
Many children grow up in households where both parents spend the majority of their time at work, coming home with little energy left. Young minds will not understand the pressures their parents face outside the home and may mistake their absence as indicating that we are not worthy or important enough for their time, affection, and play.
Perhaps we were molested by an older person or perhaps our grandparents, uncles, or teachers made careless statements such as “Don’t be naughty!” or “You’re so clumsy and silly.” This may leave an impression on us that we must be bad, even though that was not what they meant. But because we looked up to them and valued their opinions, we believed whatever they told us, both positive and negative.
Examples of life narratives that may arise include:
- “I am not good enough.”
- “I am dirty and defiled.”
- “I’m stupid.”
- “I am not able to make the right choices.”
- “I am defective. There’s something wrong with me.”
- “I am unwanted.”
Consider some of the unintended consequences. How will most people deal with such inner insecurities? How will such narratives impact the way we relate with people and with God? Will we be able to readily accept God’s love and grace? Are such narratives enslaving and destructive?
God, who is our one true eternal Father, has warned us not to put our trust in mere human beings, even if they are people we look up to and respect. We come under a curse when we put our trust in anyone’s opinion, particularly when they are not led by the Spirit of God. God is the One who created us. He is the only Authority who can tell us who we are.
Jeremiah 17:5 ESV Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.
Psalm 40:4-5 ESV Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie! You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.
We should never make any human being equal to God. God wrote our DNA and has many wonderful things planned for us for His glory. When anyone judges us based on their own limited human understanding, they are in reality, judging God’s handiwork. We ought to forgive them for their ignorance.
Ephesians 2:10 ESV For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Romans 2:1 ESV Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.
3. Bitter experiences
Everyone has felt used, overlooked, betrayed, and abandoned at some point in our lives. In response to deep pain, we may start to form certain negative expectations of life. These are usually led by our sinful nature. So, we judge, condemn, and even hate, and draw up simplistic caricatures about our lives and about people.
Here are some examples.
- “People just use one another. No one really loves.” | God’s truth: John 3:16
- “Men are not trustworthy. Women are controlling.”| God’s truth: Matthew 7:1-5
- “Most marriages end in divorce, so will mine.” | God’s truth: Mark 10:8-9
- “No one ever listens. No one truly understands.” | God’s truth: Hebrews 4:14-16
- “Nothing good ever happens to me. Nothing good lasts forever.” | God’s truth: Psalm 34:8
- “The world is a dangerous place.” | God’s truth: Proverbs 18:10
Do any of these sound familiar? Our thought patterns are more common than we realise. But just because they are common doesn’t mean that they are true for us as believers.
Consider some of the unintended consequences of such judgments. Will such statements lead us to God’s peace or will they sabotage our chances at experiencing His joy and peace?
If we think “Nothing good ever happens to me,” for example, we may subconsciously reject the Holy Spirit’s reassurances of God’s love because it sounds too good to be true. We can make many statements about our lives that are based on our bitter and sinful perspectives, rather than God’s truth.
The Bible warns us that when we rely on our sinful nature, we will reap what we sow. Let’s illustrate this with an example. Let’s say that our bitter root judgement is, “authority figures are always so controlling.” As such, we will instinctively pre-judge and pull away from people we view as authority figures, such as our parents, coaches, and supervisors. This only tempts them to see us as lazy and defiant, so they work harder to get our attention and cooperation, thereby reinforcing the very feelings we want to avoid — that they are always overbearing and controlling. We cannot see that we had contributed to the issue in the first place.
Galatians 6:7-8 ESV Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
The Bible has strong warnings for us when we behave in this way. It says that when “we say people are wicked and should be punished, we condemn ourselves because we do the very same things.” By trying to avoid being controlled, for example, we end up trying to control how others behave towards us. We will reap what we sow because we only end up do the very same things we condemn others for.
Romans 2:1 NLT You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.
As a result, we deprive ourselves of the peace of God. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” so that God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds.
Philippians 4:7-8 ESV And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
How we think will certainly affect us emotionally and physically too. We can damage our brains by thinking bitterly about other people and our circumstances. Brain scans show that those with repetitive negative thinking patterns experience a greater decline in their cognitive ability and memory, compared to those who see life in a more positive light.
This is just one example of how a “poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble us.” Our ability to make sound judgments and honest friendships is greatly undermined by our bitter root expectations. They tend to lead to bad decisions that bring on more anxiety, grief, and bitterness.
Hebrews 12:15 ESV See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
4. Bitter childhood memories
Another example of bitter root expectations is the way we assign certain expectations to ourselves based on bitter childhood memories.
Here are some examples.
- “Speaking up always gets me into trouble.”
- “I am always the odd one out in any group.”
- “No one will speak up for me or protect me.”
- “I am the perpetual loser. I never do anything well.”
- “I am always the one who has to sacrifice for other people.”
- “I have to fix things before everything falls apart.”
We pigeonhole ourselves into certain roles and tempt other people to treat us in the way we see ourselves. If we fear speaking up for ourselves, for example, we may come across as awkward and unintelligible when we talk because we haven’t had the same amount of practice as others. So we reinforce the ways we see ourselves through our own subconscious behaviours.
Hence, when God calls us His masterpiece, we fall into unbelief, because our sinful nature will come up with a lot of counter-arguments. Our subconscious minds will resist change because of the energy it will require from our brains. This is why we need God’s power and help to transform us anew through our faith and obedience to Him.
Ephesians 2:10 NLT For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Everyone who follows Jesus cannot stay the same, stuck in our sinful ways of thinking. We are expected to proactively put on our new selves and renew our minds, so that we will choose to follow God’s righteousness and holiness. Therefore, let us forgive those who have left wounds on our hearts, minds, and spirits, and repent of our judgements of them in Jesus’ name, so that we can begin to experience the new life that comes through the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 4:24 ESV and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Psalm 51:10 ESV ESV Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Once the Holy Spirit has cleansed us of our bitterness, we can bear His fruit, which is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
5. Worldly sayings
We can also pick up ungodly narratives is by repeating the statements we hear often. The subconscious mind accepts whatever it hears repeatedly as the truth. So if we keep hearing that a pink-coloured elephant has been discovered in a remote part of India, we will be inclined to believe it even though we have no way of verifying it.
The Bible calls us to be sober-minded and as shrewd as a serpent, and to test all things. This means we need to create a Bible-based filter or firewall for all ideas or theories that claim to be true.
1 Peter 1:13 ESV Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Here are some examples:
- “Knowledge equals power.” | God’s truth: 1 Corinthians 13:2
- “All religions lead to God.” | God’s truth: John 14:6
- “Respect mother nature, she decides your fate.” | God’s truth: Jeremiah 27:5
- “Listen to your heart and follow it.” | God’s truth: Jeremiah 17:9
- “Make the most of each day.” | God’s truth: James 4:13-15
- “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” | God’s truth: Ephesians 4:21-24
When we arm ourselves with God’s Word by studying it as we are called to, the Holy Spirit will immediately bring Bible verses to our minds to refute any deceptions we come across. He will arm us with God’s truth and protect our minds and hearts.
As believers, we are called to mature in our personal knowledge of God’s Spirit and His Word. This will ensure that we do not remain immature like little children who are easily tricked into believing lies that sound like the truth. Deception is often 95% truth, rather than 95% lies.
Ephesians 4:14 NLT Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.
We often buy into worldly sayings is by accepting general statements about different nationalities, races, and genders without questioning what we hear. We may not think of ourselves as being biased or racist when in actual fact, the stereotypes we make about people are usually over-simplified and even judgmental.
Here are a few examples:
- “Women make bad drivers.”
- “(My race) doesn’t get along with (that race).”
- “People from (this nationality) are ruthless in business.”
- “People from (this ethnic group) are clever at cutting corners.”
- “(They) are just a lazy bunch of people.”
- “(Their kind of) people never tell you the truth.”
The stereotypes we subconsciously follow can sometimes give us a license to behave a certain way and sin. Is it true that everyone who looks the same way always behaves the same way?
The truth for believers is that God created male and female in His image. When we look at others through sinful eyes, rather than God’s perfect sinless eyes, we will be in danger of making sweeping statements that are biased and broken.
Genesis 1:27 ESV So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
7. Media, games, advertising
We all form subconscious life narratives through the media, games, and advertising we are exposed to. Each sells us a narrative that we can unconsciously internalise if we are not careful. We want to be look and behave like the idols we admire.
Here are some examples:
- Games: “I can be anyone I want to be and win.” | God’s truth: 1 Corinthians 9:22
- Advertisements: “Buying this can make me attractive.” | God’s truth: 1 Peter 3:3-4
- Action movies: “One must take revenge to defend one’s honour.” | God’s truth: Romans 12:19
- Comedy: “It’s okay to mock people and laugh at them.” | God’s truth: Proverbs 17:5
- Horror stories: “Evil spirits cannot be defeated.” | God’s truth: Colossians 2:15
- Social media: “Everyone looks flawless, compared to me.” | God’s truth: Matthew 6:32-34
The world will use all forms of media, games, and advertising to seduce our hearts and minds into following their narratives. As believers, we need to guard our hearts and minds.
The eighth and final influence is divination, which is also known as astrology, fortune telling and witchcraft. Witchcraft is so prevalent that we don’t readily recognise it for what it is. We are told that it can enhance our well being and chances in life, therefore we find it appealing and intriguing, but God has a very different view. He calls them abominations.
Deuteronomy 18:10-12 ESV There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.
The world of witchcraft tells us that we can ask about our futures and control what happens to us. At its core, witchcraft is about manipulating our circumstances to our favour. Instead of seeking God for His will for us, we rebel against Him and decide our own fate, or more accurately, we allow some other power to decide our fate for us. That power is Satan, our enemy.
1 Samuel 15:23 ESV For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”
Satan will deceive us by telling us that witchcraft is only for fun, child’s play, and nothing serious, so why not find out more for ourselves? God’s Word shows us something entirely different. God takes the sin of witchcraft in any form very seriously and warns us not to prostitute ourselves with Satan or He will cut us off from His people.
Leviticus 20:6 NIV “’I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people.
Here are some examples of how people turn to witchcraft so as to find out more about themselves and their destinies.
- “Based on my star sign, this is my personality.”
- “My astrologer told me I should marry someone older than me.”
- “A spiritual master chose a name that destines me for wealth.”
- “A fortune teller said that to avoid bad luck, I must wear yellow.”
- “A medium said my (dead) mother wants me to go home.”
- “My fengshui master told me to get married on July 1st.”
God has determined the days of our lives so as to bless us with His personal presence, goodness, and provision. Satan, on the other hand, is a thief and destroyer. Our enemy will lure us away from God and tempt us to consult evil spirits for our anxieties and desires instead. When we do so, we give our lives away to invisible spiritual forces outside our understanding or control.
Psalm 139:16 NLT You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. (NLT)
Dabbling in witchcraft, even if we do not take it seriously, will made us detestable to God. It invites curses, sickness, and early death.
Deuteronomy 18:10 NLT … do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD…
Examining our own life narratives
When we base our life narratives on any source other than God, we will fall into traps that we make for ourselves.
Renewing our life narratives is not just a matter of changing our statements. Rather, it is a matter of a change of heart – where we choose to no longer subconsciously write the storylines of our lives but allow God to write it for us.
Deuteronomy 13:4 ESV You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.
As believers, our life narratives are meant to be driven by God’s will for us rather than any other influences. We are told to “live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God” and “not be conformed to this world.”
Titus 2:12 NLT And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God,
Romans 12:2 ESV Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
This is why we need to be still before God on a daily basis and pray that He shows us what He thinks about us and what He wants for that day, so that we don’t end up with broken storylines.
Let us therefore, repent before God and renew our minds. His Word is the only true narrative for our lives and our eternities. We need to hold on fast to Him and His Truth.
Deuteronomy 5:33 ESV You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.
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