Overcoming spiritual bullies
Imagine two people: a five-year-old boy and a healthy 35-year-old man. A nine-year-old bully comes along. Which of those two people is in a better position to defend himself?
No brainer, right?
Spiritual Self Defense is about defending yourself from spiritual bullies. What is a spiritual bully?
A spiritual bully is anything that stands in the way of you experiencing life the way God intended for you to experience it. Spiritual bullies can include anxiety, porn, anger issues, sin, temptation, addiction, life-controlling issues, shame, self-esteem issues, self righteousness, try-hard religion, shame, guilt, the inability to forgive others, worry, relationship issues, and the list goes on.
While Spiritual Self Defense will teach you tactics to take on spiritual bullies, it will also give you a road map for spiritual growth that places you in a much stronger position than the spiritual bullies that come to harass you.
How do we grow? How do we become much stronger than the bullies who try to take us down? A big part of that growth process takes place when we experience paradigm shifts—or changes in perspective.
In this introductory lesson, I’m going to share with you a couple of paradigm shifts that really helped me. Let’s kick things off with this video:
(BTW, sorry about the technical glitch with the video too small for the frame. Tried two fixes in Adobe Premiere Pro, neither worked, wanted to get this material out to you. Hopefully, I’ll find a fix later that works.)
Paradigm shift #1: God is putting us back together
What does it mean that we are cracked, broken, shattered, pulverized? It means that something comes along that robs us of the inner wealth that should be ours. It means that damage has been done to our souls. It means that we aren’t experiencing life the way God meant for us to experience it.
It shows up a thousand different ways. Someone cuts us off in traffic, and something snaps inside. We want to—we don’t, but we want to—run the person right off the road. A family member hurt us years ago, but we can’t let it go even if we try. Rumors of a layoff leave us sleepless at night. We circle back to the fridge even though we know we’re not hungry; we need something, and we don’t even know what it is. We find ourselves barking at our kids when we meant to be kind. We know we shouldn’t be looking at those images online, but somehow we can’t stop.
I used to think God was interested in only one thing: our behavior. Did we sin or did we not?
It’s easy to see how I could come to that conclusion, and why many other people think the same thing. After all, obedience is a major theme in the Bible. You can hardly find a page in Scripture where our behavior isn’t an issue.
So that’s how I lived my life for many years. Trying to behave. Trying to obey. Failing, and then trying again. Never quite measuring up, but always trying. (What does it take for us to say goodbye to sin?)
Somewhere along the line, I was struck with this verse:
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…” Romans 14:17 NIV
Hmm. The righteousness part I get. But what about peace and joy? I thought those were emotions. And I thought God didn’t care about our emotions. Right?
It turns out that God does God care about our emotions. He does care about what we’re feeling. I kept digging into the Bible and discovered a whole side of God I never realized was there. And that opens up a whole different world, doesn’t it?
What does that mean? Does that mean God wants us to fake being happy, so He won’t be embarrassed when people discover that we aren’t? (Don’t laugh. That’s where my mind would have gone, years ago.)
Or does it mean that God wants to engage with us on a whole different level?
What does it take?
What does it take for us to say goodbye to sin? Think about it for a minute. Could it be that when we find something better than sin, we just don’t need it any more? Maybe God has something for us—some kind of inner wealth that makes sin look like dumpster food.
Maybe God isn’t standing over us with a stick trying to get us to behave. Maybe instead, He’s doing some other kind of work inside us, putting together the broken pieces of our lives, granting us that inner wealth, that spiritual strength that makes fending off spiritual bullies something we could do in our sleep.
This is what Spiritual Self Defense is all about—getting in touch with what God is doing, finding the inner strength He provides, experiencing inner wealth.
Righteousness, peace and joy. That’s what God has for you. And you won’t get it by trying hard to behave. Something deeper is needed. Something much deeper. Something you can’t do by yourself. Try hard religion can’t do it for you. You need something more.
In Spiritual Self Defense, we’ll talk about what that something is, where you find it, how you find it, how it becomes a lasting part of your life.
God is putting you back together. And He uses an amazing process that takes every bad thing that ever happened to us and turns it into an opportunity for triumph.
You just gotta know how it works.
Paradigm shift #2: Know who you are
Years ago, a friend said to me: “How you identify yourself is very important.”
The longer I live, the more I see the wisdom in his words. You act from your identity. How you live life is deeply connected to who you are.
Let me explain. For many years I believed I was a sinner, even though I was a follower of Jesus. Again, it’s easy to see how I would come to that conclusion. That’s what my church taught. That’s what most Christians I knew believed. That’s what I thought the Bible taught.
Until I took the time to read, reread, and reread the Bible.
Let me explain.
Do I sometimes build things? Yes. Am I a carpenter? No.
Do I sometimes sing? Yes. Am I a musician? No.
Do I sometimes work out? Yes. Am I an athlete? No.
Do I sometimes sin? Yes. Am I a sinner? No.
While it is true that Christians sin (1 John 1:8-10), classifying ourselves as sinners is not only inaccurate, but also, I believe, harmful. How we identify ourselves directly translates into what kind of life we live.
I say that I’m not a sinner. Let me define my terms. When I did a word study of “sinner” throughout the Bible, I found that in almost every case, “sinner” was applied to a person or group of people who were distinguished from the righteous, who were headed for destruction. I am using sinner in the same sense that I see it being used in Psalm 1, Psalm 26:9, 37:38, 104:35, Proverbs 11:31, 13:6, 13:21, 13:22, 23:17, Ecclesiastes 2:26, 7:26, 9:18, Isaiah 1:28, 13:9, Amos 9:10, Matthew 9:10, 26:45, Mark 14:41, Luke 6:32-34, John 9:31, Romans 5:8, 5:19, 1 Peter 4:18, Jude 1:15.
Sinner is what we are until God gets His hands on us. But then He transforms us into something else. We become a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17) What is our identity? We are children of God. (1 John 3:1)
When I say I am not a sinner, does that mean that I think I’m hot stuff—that I’m the Pharisee in Luke 18 who thanks God that he’s better than the tax collector? I sure hope not. I’m really not saying anything at all about me—Dwight Clough. I’m saying something about Jesus. I’m saying something about the redemptive work of God. I’m saying that I’ve been born again. I have a new life. My old life is gone. Sinner Dwight does not exist. He is dead.
Because of me? No. Because of Jesus? Yes.
If I don’t consider myself a sinner, then do I look down on others? Do I consider myself better than them, superior somehow? Not at all. On the contrary, the more I’m on this journey, the more respect-compassion-empathy I have for others—the more I see others through the same lens I see myself.
A case in point would be when a dear friend confided in me that he was having an affair. He said it and braced himself for the torrent of condemnation that he received from every other Christian he talked to. “What do you think of me now?” he asked.
I said, “I think you’re a guy looking for a solution just like all the rest of us.”
I’ve never had an affair. Does that make me better than him? No. I’ve looked for solutions in all kinds of unhealthy places. I too have sinned. I too am a work in progress. But I’m not a sinner.
I didn’t do anything special other than doing the same thing you’ve hopefully done: I said yes to Jesus.
Is God deluding Himself?
In Romans 6, Paul tells us to consider ourselves dead to sin. Does he want us to imagine something that isn’t really true? No. God doesn’t operate on lies. Instead, it is truth that sets us free. (John 8:32) If we are to consider ourselves dead to sin, then that means we really are dead to sin. Sin no longer has any power over us.
When God looks at us through the lens of Jesus, is He deluding Himself? Is He believing a lie? I don’t think so. He looks at us through the lens of Jesus because that person He sees is who we really are. That’s the real you. That’s the real me.
And that real you, that real me, is not somehow disconnected from reality. It’s not some theological construct, a God fantasy that has no practical value in the world where we live. It is reality.
I say these things because for so many years I had this crazy way of looking at reality. I thought I was a miserable sinner who would never get it right no matter how hard I tried, and at the same time I thought that I was the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
In my mind “sinner” was real world because, hey, I looked at my life and I saw sin. “Righteousness of God” was a “positional” reality that got me into heaven but had not connection to everyday life.
So all these things that we are “in Christ” in my mind were pretty theological concepts that had no real world impact on me.
I now believe I was wrong. I believe all these things we are in Christ are transformative realities. They change us. They transform us. They make us something different in the real world where we live.
So for me there’s been a paradigm shift, and it’s all centered around my identity as a child of God. (1 John 3:1)
How does a Navy Seal act? He acts like a Navy Seal. How does a rock star act? She acts like a rock star. How does a sinner act? He acts like a sinner. How does a child of God act? She acts like a child of God.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have flaws. It doesn’t mean we aren’t a work in progress. Part of it is this: We have growing up to do. But God understands that. You don’t expect the same behavior from a child that you expect from an adult. God understands where we are in process. For me, I came to the place where I stopped fretting about my own immaturity, and just left that with God. I’m not the parent; He is. He will sort it out.
And, yes, sometimes I sin. I know it’s wrong. I do it anyway. I feel terrible. I take it to God; we work it out.
Owning our behavior
So no, I’m not in denial about sin. I’m not trying to dismiss it or underestimate the damage it does in our lives. On the contrary, I’m on a mission to pull it up by its roots and get rid of it. When we sin, we need to face up to it. We need to own our behavior, and not pass the blame to the devil, deception, our past, or someone else. We are sons and daughters of God. When we screw up, we own it.
But owning it goes beyond just acknowledging that what we did was wrong and it was our own fault for doing it. I believe owning it means we take time, as we have opportunity, to look at what drove our behavior. And I think it’s both inaccurate and harmful to say that my evil nature drove the behavior, because there’s really no cure for that, other than to say, “I guess I’ll try harder next time.”
I don’t believe God is into, “try harder next time.”
Instead, I ask myself, “What problem was I trying to solve?” Where did this behavior come from? I wouldn’t have done it if it didn’t make sense on some level? So why did I do it?
In my experience, that’s where we uncover the deception that drove the sin. By taking that deception to Jesus, getting what we need from Him, we cut the legs out from under the sin, and it has much less power the next time it comes knocking at our door.
I have zero confidence in “my” abilities. That’s why trying harder doesn’t accomplish anything. What I have confidence in is this: Jesus is at work in me. He knows what He’s doing. He’s very, very good at what He does.
I don’t have anything to brag about. I’m just a regular guy. But I have everything to brag about. God is an amazing God. He really is at work inside me. And inside you.
Jesus is our righteousness
Some people are running around thinking that they don’t need Jesus because they are just fine thank you without Him. Some people think of themselves as good and God as evil. I reject those thoughts completely. Apart from Jesus, I am nothing. Jesus is my righteousness. My hope is built on Him and on Him alone. Apart from Him, I have nothing to offer God. Any good in me is from God and God alone.
What kind of spiritual bullies do you face?
(Questions to ponder)
What kind of spiritual bullies do you face? What comes into your life trying to rob you of the beautiful life God has for you? Over the years I’ve had skirmishes with anger, porn, worry, stress, shame, temptation, fear. What about you?
What would you like to see God do in your life over the next 25 lessons?
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