In the last Nugget I dealt with strongholds of thinking that come to us through our culture and collective thinking. Evolutionary thought, our world view on the supernatural are just two examples; there are others of course. I only used two as example to show how strongholds of thought alter our thinking about issues which concern us, or should concern us. Now I want to deal with the strongholds that come into our individual lives and affect us each personally.
Strongholds can develop as a result of the comments, criticism or verbal abuse spoken to or over us during our life. Especially in the formative years but also at any stage of life. We all know the familiar adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” It is a totally untrue statement in and of itself let alone being turned into a common saying of supposed truth. Never has a supposed truism been shown in reality to be so untrue. Just think for a moment of the times when perhaps you have received numerous comments of congratulations or praise or verbal ‘pats on the back’. Amid the positive feedback, there is one negative comment. Which is the comment or response that sticks in our mind the most? For the majority of us mortal human beings, it’s the negative comment which haunts us for a longer time. That is on the basis of perhaps 10 praise worthy comments compared with one negative comment. What happens when the balance is switched the other way around at home, at school or at work? The negative input begins to accumulate. It is this social environment which spawns strongholds.
As I said in the sermon I preached, allow me to use some personal examples. As an illustration for the sermon I asked a number of friends to speak out the kinds of things that I heard said to me during my childhood. As I commented in the last Nugget on Strongholds I was the son of a drunkard. I can honestly not remember one positive comment my father made to me. The constant string of negative comments were hurled by my father; my mother was the positive foil to his abuse. My mother and I continually fielded criticism, ridicule and verbal abuse daily.
My father would say things like:
“Boy, you don't have a brain in your head.”
“You’re useless. I might as well do it myself.”
“You’re worse than useless. Get out of my sight.”
“Brainless child, he’s not my child, he’s yours.”
. . . and many more far worse.
Added to those were comments others outside the family made:
“Why are you in this class boy? You’ll never learn another language!” The French teacher.
“Oh you’re stupid! It takes brains to learn Latin.” The Latin teacher in 3rd Form.
(Yes in the A stream we all had to learn Latin. Now why was a brainless idiot in the Academic Stream?)
Kids at school:
“Vail, you live in a chicken coop. Pook pook pook pook pook!”
When the comments made repeatedly in our home or at school are added to similar things others say repeatedly to us or about us, then strongholds can build up. A stronghold doesn’t develop over one comment. It takes repetition and reinforcement from numerous comments to develop a stronghold. And most often the comments made are not true, they are lies, based on suppositions or inadequate awareness of what you are really like. Or they can even come from the speaker’s inadequacy whereby they are building themselves up by putting you down. This is the atmosphere of playgrounds at school. They can be detrimental and harmful environments. These days of course there are no safe places from such abuse because of the arise of the internet and cyber-bullying.
I have used my own experience in sharing with you the comments I encountered early in life which was reinforced later in life. A couple of the comments need some explanation.
Vail, you live in a chicken coop:
My father was builder, apparently a good one on the job. Well he told me that. But at home there was no evidence of the fact. Everything was left in an unfinished state. He built our house himself and then decided to clad it with fibrolite. He planned to plaster it later and so he attached wire netting to the fibrolite sheets, held centimetres out from the fibrolite sheets by his beer bottle tops nailed in place. It did not take very long for the kids at school to claim I lived in a chicken coop.
“Donkey Nut” was a nickname given to me by one of my friends one day at school. Suddenly he decided I was a donkey nut and the name caught on. I was called donkey nut for the year until I moved into another class. I still to this day do not know what a Donkey Nut is or was. It was just a product of a “friend’s” fertile imagination. But the emotional wounds I bore for a long while.
I can talk about this now. God has helped me deal with it. Counselling hundreds of people over the years I realise this kind of experience is common in one way or another to us all. Now I can laugh about it. But back then I couldn't. A stronghold had developed in my thinking to make me think I was not good at anything. Especially practically. The woodwork teacher could be included with the Latin and French teacher as an example of the ridicule thrown at me.
After Tania and I married I realised after a long while that I had a stronghold over my life that needed dealing with. I had always wanted to help my father and learn from himhow to do things and make things. My father was a jack of all trades. He could build a house, wire a and plumb it and then fix the car. But he had a very short temper and was a very impatient man. It took only a few seconds for him to snatch a tool away me as I tried to do what he had just told me while saying things like, “You’re useless. I might as well do it myself.” Later when married and I was asked to fix the “whatever” I would attempt the job and then lose my cool if it didn't work out. Often strongholds will manifest themselves with repeated refrains that we utter which often come from our past. Or irrational behaviour which is sparked by the simplest of things. In all probability what is behind the repeated utterance or the irrational reaction is a stronghold of thinking from your past.
I don't want to end this Nugget on a negative note. Strongholds can be broken and the captives released. I know because I was one, a captive. Often it requires God by His Holy Spirit to point out the stronghold or irrational behaviour in the first place and then to show us the cause and then lead us to healing. That happened to me in a dramatic way at a Jack Winter meeting in Hamilton some years after I became a Christian in 1973. Standing in the meeting room with about 100 others Jack described how we can ask the Holy Spirit to deal with the hurts and the things in our past which hold us back. He encouraged us to ask the Holy Spirit to take us back to those times in our past which need healing and where strongholds have arisen. Instantly the Holy Spirit took me back to me as a nine-year-old standing behind my bedroom door with my baseball bat in my hand determined in my heart to whack my father over the head. I saw that many issues stemmed from my hatred for my father. Oh yes there was one positive that came out of life with my father, my aggressive, hard hitting tennis game. But far more negative and destructive results came from my past. God made it clear to me that my atheism started that Sunday when I declared in my nine-year-old head “There is no God” and then proceeded to live by that statement thereafter. I repented for that false vow I had made way back then and asked God to heal me and remove the effects of it. The second issue I needed to deal with was my hatred toward my father, which also was a factor between God and me that needed to be dealt with.
Jack Winter made it clear to all of us in the meeting that we needed to forgive those responsible for the hurt we had experienced at their hand. My mother had since died but my father was still alive and living in Auckland. I told Tania after the meeting finished that night that we needed to go to Auckland that coming weekend because I needed to forgive my father. Oh he was a changed man following his conversion and God had dealt with the drinking, smoking, swearing and gambling but I need to tell him I forgave him in order primarily to release me but also to release him if he was willing. Jack Winter had said that often the perpetrators couldn’t help what they had done to us. They didn't fully understand themselves because they were trapped in a pit of what had been done to them previously. We made the trip to Auckland and I told my father I forgave him. He didn't really comprehend that he had done anything wrong, especially in the light of the changes that God had made in his life from what he had been. But that was ok. I could understand his inability to comprehend but I forgave him from the heart and set myself free.
I find it amazing that after being told constantly that I didn't have a brain and having language teachers tell me I was wasting my time in class I found that I actually did have an aptitude for languages when I joined Wycliffe. In fact I am a language sponge and learn language really quickly. I didn't realise that until I stepped out into all that God had planned for me and realised this was who He had created me to be.
To forgive is to set the prisoner free . . . and then discover the prisoner was you.
Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude. Martin Luther King, Jr
It's human nature to lie to ourselves. What are you pretending isn’t a problem in you? The truth sets you free but it takes courage. Rick Warren
It’s not enough to rage against the lie. You’ve got to replace it with the truth. Bono
To decide to tolerate one deceit is to violate the whole truth. Plato
In the Bible Gems I share relevant quotes so I figured I would add to the quotes I shared in the sermon.
. . . We will look at Gideon as a biblical example of strongholds.
. . . Investigate the strongholds which come from the dark side.
and more . . .
Well I had a very interesting experience after writing the above yesterday. Tania and I went off to the movies as a part of an extended celebration for our wedding anniversary. We went to see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood”. I clearly didn't have any idea of what the movie was about except that it was recommended by a number of people. I found watching this movie was a God moment after writing the above. The movie is all about dealing with our past baggage. It was a good reflective time for me and some very timely comments in the movie struck me in the light of what I had written just hours before. But it also showed me that I had indeed well and truly dealt with the issues with my father. These last month have been filled with God moments as He has given me many insights through timely connections. The Greek word for it is hupomimnesko – when the Holy Spirit connects thoughts or memories to something happening in the present in order to give us a deeper insight.