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|So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Jn.8:36 ESV|
Many of us, even though we have come to Christ in faith, are unable to walk the Christian life boldly and with heads held high, because some baggage from our past is dragging us down. We may not be aware that our past experiences in life, especially in our childhood and teenage years, have served to mould our thinking, emotions, spontaneous responses to situations, the process of making decisions, our approach to life, etc., so much. What we are now depends a lot on what all we have gone through so far and how we have reacted to them. Perhaps we have not really experienced love and acceptance from our parents and, as a result, suffer from different types of distortions in our personality. Even 'loving' parents may have been 'absent' from us emotionally. Many parents neglect the psychological development of their children imagining that when they provide them good food, toys and education, the children would do well!
Some of us may have had our parents foolishly compare us to a sibling, taunting us about why we can't be like him or her. Some parents literally curse their children in their fits of anger saying that the children are 'useless' or good-for-nothing and would not amount to anything in life. Perhaps our classmates in school have bullied us or mocked us about some lack in our appearance or ability. Teachers may have added to our problems by venting their frustrations on us, making us victims of partiality or unjust judgments.
Later on in life we may have had our share of mishaps in the world, loss of loved ones, harsh treatment at work, broken marriages or other relationships, etc. It may be that all these things have left their wounds on our minds and they hurt us even now. The result may be that we are unable to make much progress in our spiritual life, and we also have problems in relationships. We need to deal with these wounds so that we can be healed, and so that we might gain confidence, boldness and vigour to go forward with life.
We need to deal with these wounds so that we can be healed, and so that we might gain confidence, boldness and vigour to go forward with life.
This is a somewhat comprehensive exercise that can be carried out by a sincere person who can set apart about half a day for it. It is best done along with a Christian counsellor in an extended session. But I realise that it is not always possible to get hold of a suitable counsellor who can also devote enough time for it. I am therefore presenting this exercise here as something that can be followed by an individual Christian. You could print this out and follow it as you go through the different steps. The key to success here is honesty, sincerity and willing to make some effort towards change.
Parts of the exercise
There are three parts to this exercise. 1. Firming up our relationship with God through Jesus. 2. Breaking off chains from the past. 3. Walking through our past with God. I would suggest that you go through these parts in the same sequence even if you think you can skip over any part, since our aim is to cover, as far as possible, any loose ends lying around.
The key to success here is honesty, sincerity and willing to make some effort towards change.
1. Firming up our relationship with God through Jesus.
A good relationship with God is the only foundation from which we can look for spiritual healing. Isn't it better to have a firm and clear relationship with God, than to just assume that things are all right? There are many types of errors that different people have with regards to this subject that it would be worth looking at our life to see if we have fallen into any of those.
Common errors.Here is the holy God, totally pure from any kind of sin, who is also perfectly righteous and just. And here we are who have all sinned, and who deserve death and eternal punishment in hell according to God's standards. At the same time He loves us immensely because He has created us and tremendously values each one of us. He does not want to see us suffer here on earth because of sin, and He does not want to punish us eternally. So He took our punishment on Himself. Jesus, the Son of God, came down to earth as a Man, and suffered the punishment of death on the cross in our place (Jn.3:16).
1. "I am a Christian because I was born in a Christian family." We become Christians by being born again through a supernatural work of God with us as individuals. Being born in a Christian family has its advantages in the sense that we are exposed to the good news about Jesus early in life. But it is only when we individually respond to the gospel that we can be born again and become true Christians.
2. "I was baptised as a baby." Unfortunately that was done without your knowledge or agreement. Also baptism does not make anyone a Christian; it is only an outward testimony to the fact that we have been born again, our old life is buried, and that God has brought us into a new life (Rom.6:3,4).
3. "I am a full member and communicant at the church." Similar answer as in 1.
4. "I live a pretty decent life and I try to be helpful towards others. Surely God will accept me." God cannot accept any of us on this basis because even if we appear to be good in comparison to some other people, we are utterly sinful in God's eyes (Rom.3:23,24). Any one sin is enough to send us to hell because God being such a holy God cannot tolerate even a speck of sin.
5. "I pray to Jesus regularly." That, by itself, may not mean much. There are many in India who consider Jesus as one among many millions of gods. There are others who consider Jesus as a good teacher, a miracle worker, a prophet, etc., without recognising Him for who He really is, accepting what He has taught and done, or following Him with their whole heart. The crucial issue is what our relationship with Jesus is, which we are going to look at below.
6. "I have asked Jesus to come into my heart." If you have done this in the right way God would have started a work in you. But if, on the other hand, you did this as a mechanical step without understanding who Jesus really is, what it means to have Him as a Saviour, etc., then it would be meaningless, and something on which you cannot rest your destiny.
There are many other wrong assumptions about life with God, which we can distinguish clearly once we understand the true meaning of relationship with God as given below.
True faith in Jesus involves two parts, an acknowledgment that we, as sinners, deserve only hell, and a recognition and faith that because He has already suffered in our place we are now free. This faith causes us to have trust in God in the name of Jesus. Those who approach God in this manner receive grace from Him -- unmerited favour. He washes away all our sins with the blood of Jesus which was shed for our forgiveness, and accepts us as His children (1Jn.2:2). This is the supernatural work known as being born again. After this we begin to grow spiritually, to become more and more like Jesus in our character.
True faith in Jesus involves two parts, an acknowledgment that we, as sinners, deserve only hell, and a recognition and faith that because He has already suffered in our place we are now free.
The first exercise we need to carry out is to examine our heart to see if we have come to God with the above attitude and recognition. If we then find that we were not very clear about this, the best thing to do is to give up our old wrong ideas and to confirm and strengthen our relationship with God in the proper way. We can pray a prayer like this orally, making sure that we mean it from our heart. "O God, I realise now that I am a sinner who really deserves hell for all the sins I have committed knowingly and unknowingly. But I thank You for Your great love that You sent Jesus to take my punishment on the cross. I now ask You to forgive me because of Jesus, and to make me Your child. Fill me with the Holy Spirit and help me to live the rest of my life with You. I thank You because You have accepted this prayer in Jesus' name. Amen."
If you wish, you can write down this prayer somewhere and mark the date on which you prayed it, so that later on you can have the comfort of a witness that confirms the transaction that you have made this day. If this is the first time you have ever prayed like this, please recognise that this was the most important event in your life, that has sealed your destiny for eternity. If you have used this opportunity to confirm the vague decisions that you have made earlier, please remember that today you have made your decision secure forever.
The next step is to reflect on what this means to you in practical terms. God has brought you into 'grace'. This means that you are accepted not because you are good or have done some good things, but purely because of His love, mercy and compassion towards you. It is acceptance as a free gift, undeserved, and something you can never earn no matter what you may do. Once you understand this, you can enjoy a continuing acceptance with God on the same basis. For example, if you fall into some sin now, His acceptance of you has not been changed, even though your fellowship with Him has got affected. You can restore your fellowship with God immediately by confessing it to God (1Jn.1:9). You can nurture your fellowship with God by reading and meditating on His Word, conversing with Him through prayer, and having fellowship with other children of God. But remember that your acceptance will always be only through 'grace'. Remember that the all-knowing God has accepted you knowing not only every single thing that you have said or done in your life but also everything in your future! Nothing you do catches Him by surprise, and He is not shocked either! He has chosen to love you with an everlasting love (Je.31:3). He has also promised never to leave you or forsake you (He.13:5). As long as you do not deliberately decide to forsake Him and have nothing more to do with Him, your relationship with Him is assured forever.
The Devil may accuse you about your failures and place doubts in your mind regarding God's love, His acceptance, the state of your relationship with Him, etc. If His accusations are genuine concerning any sin in your life, you can set that right immediately by confessing it to God and receiving forgiveness and cleansing. But if they are false, you can boldly take your position with God and His unmerited acceptance (Ro.8:1,33,34). The more you think of the gracious way in which God has accepted you, and the everlasting love with which He loves you, you will become stronger and stronger to deal with such accusing thoughts.
Remember that the all-knowing God has accepted you knowing not only every single thing that you have said or done in your life but also everything in your future!
2. Breaking off chains from the past.
Bad things have happened to all of us, and as long as we live in this fallen world, difficulties will continue to be there. But as sinful people who have been unable to look at people and things in the way Jesus would have done, we have all allowed the bad things in our past affect us in a negative way. Then we carry these burdens along as if there is nothing we can do about them. But we can identify these burdens, understand how we got them in the first place, and take steps to get rid of them. That is like breaking off the chains from our hands and feet and starting the walk and run freely. Let us now look at some major areas that could have created chains for us. As you recognise each chain, tell God about it, how you have been chained by it, and how you want to be free from it. Tell Him how you have been affected by it in the past and give Him the right to take it away from you. Thank God for the freedom Jesus has gained for you.
Unholy relationships. There is no need to mention how important it is to break of sinful relationships with people such as adulterous, homosexual or pre-marital sexual relationships. It is easy to see that these have to be given up totally if God's blessings are to be on you. But there could be other relationships too that can cause problems for your life. If you have had a strong/intimate relationship with someone before your marriage, it would be good to deliberately cut off the emotional link with that person and to avoid communications with him/her to avoid temptations in the future. If you have become emotionally 'dependent' on anyone else (including your parents), you can confess this to God and decide to become a separate, independent individual. This does not mean that you stand alone without giving or receiving help to and from others, but that you recognise yourself as an individual with rights and the responsibility to give your own account to God about what you did with your life (Rom.14:12). Another possibility is that you may have been under some people who abused you physically, verbally, psychologically (such as emotional blackmail) or spiritually (Christian leaders controlling people) and limited your individual freedom before God. Unless you decide to break away from such control and be what God wants you to be, your growth will be stunted.
Demonic strongholds. Satan and demons tempt us through our mind, by placing thoughts there with suggestions, attractive offers, frightening threats, etc. Satan is called the father of lies, and he deceives us by mixing lies with a small bit of truth. When he tempts us with an attractive offer for pleasure or gain, he hides from us the terrible consequences we will have if we bite his bait, just as he did with Eve. Satan (or usually his demons) gets a strong hold on us in some area if we have given in to his suggestions often. It is as if we have given him the key to one of the rooms in our house into which he can freely enter. In other words we practically lose control over that area of our life. This can happen to Christians too. The Bible exhorts us to forgive others quickly, to get over anger fast, etc., so that we do not give any place to Satan in our lives (2Cor.2:10,11;Ep.4:26,27). There is a greater, but less common, control over a person called 'possession' where the person is totally in the control of demons when the person, knowingly or unknowingly, has allowed that to happen by repeated, careless choices.
It is not only through temptations that demons get power in our lives, but also, whether we realise it or not, through our association with the 'occult'. Many occult practices such as astrology, horoscopes, palm reading, ouija boards, tarot cards, crystal gazing, spirit mediums, numerology, astral projection, clairvoyance, telepathy, psychics, witchcraft, etc., may initially appear to be fun, but what you need to know is that demonic powers are operating behind these, and will capture those who venture too near. A casual showing of your hand to your friend in school or glancing over the horoscope in the newspaper at one time does not mean that demons now have a power over you. But if you have ever begun to take these seriously even for a few times, there is a risk that you have allowed demons to have some entry into your life.
Joining secret societies (such as the freemasons) which practise occult rituals including those involving blood, worship of other gods, oaths of secrecy, etc., is usually a pathway into the demonic realm. Those who worship idols are in serious danger since the so-called power that these 'idols' exhibit is from demons who stand behind them.
Though many of these may look exciting or fun in the beginning, those who give place to demons will soon face oppression from them too. This may be in the form of scary dreams, inability to sleep, unnatural things happening to you, compulsive suggestions, inability to focus your thoughts, etc.
Whatever has been your experience, you can now be free and live a life that is pleasing to God. When Jesus died on the cross He not only paid the price for our sins, but He also overcame all the demonic powers. Now Jesus gives us authority over them in His name so that not only we can be free but we can also set others free.
Whatever has been your experience, you can now be free and live a life that is pleasing to God. When Jesus died on the cross He not only paid the price for our sins, but He also overcame all the demonic powers.
Think over your past life, and identify areas such as the ones mentioned above where you have indulged with occult practices. Name them one by one to God, tell Him that you are sorry you took part in such things not knowing that they were sins against Him, and affirm that you are now renouncing them and will have nothing more to do with them. Ask Him to give you freedom from the demonic influence in your life. After this you can make it clear to the demons themselves by saying vocally, "I have renounced this practice (name it) forever, and you have no more power over me. In the name of Jesus Christ I now command you to keep away from me." Since demons cannot hear our thoughts, it is important that we speak this out.
When you are through with your list, spend some time thanking and praising God for victory through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
Unhealthy vows. It is possible that you may have made vows or commitments related to finance, loyalty, or service in your past to gods, people or organisations that you now regret. You now recognise these as binding us down in your spiritual growth. If what you have agreed to is sinful or unrighteous or ungodly, certainly you cannot continue in them. But even if your vows are just tying you down you would not be able to enjoy the freedom Jesus died to gain for you. You can withdraw from such commitments and inform them accordingly.
3. Walking through your past with God.
Below are some of the special situations where you may have received wounds. As you prayerfully wait on God He may show you if you have suffered from such or other situations.
Times of neglect. God's plan for our development and growth places a great responsibility on our parents. The human baby depends on his parents not only for physical care but also the intellectual and emotional development. In fact our brain is only partly developed when we are born. The parts of our brain which form our memories and our ability to think, feel, analyse and decide get developed as we grow up through different types of experiences. A healthy development requires the parents to provide the baby (and the child) with a warm sense of acceptance and well being that is built up through physical expressions of affection and care from the parents. If a baby does not receive this affection because the parents are too busy to care enough for the baby, the parents are ignorant about this need, or the parents have their own problems to bother about the baby, his/her development gets distorted and his/her outlook on life in this world and other people gets affected. For example such people as they grow up find it difficult to establish proper relationships with others or even with God, or they may be find it hard to trust others.
Times of rejection. Many people go through experiences of being rejected by others even starting from the time they are conceived. An unexpected/unwanted pregnancy, the 'wrong gender' at birth, being different from the parent's expectation in terms of shape, colour, features, etc., comparison with siblings, etc., give them a feeling that they are not wanted. When this happens during the early childhood the children may become 'convinced' that there is something inherently wrong with them. Adverse comments from close relatives, classmates, teachers, etc., may add to this sense of rejection. The result may be that such people are always fearful of being rejected, and try their best to please people or not to get in their bad books. Some may become withdrawn from people because they consider that it would be safer that way, or rebel to demonstrate to the others that they are important. Many find it very difficult to understand the true meaning of God's grace.
Times of abuse. Abuse can be verbal, emotional, physical or even sexual. The number of people who have undergone such experiences in their childhood is far higher than would normally be imagined. Depending on the level of abuse this kind of experience can even disorient a person totally. Many people try to repress (or keep out of their mind altogether) such memories but suffer the consequences anyway. Their own relationship with others as they grow up can reflect the confusion they experienced in their childhood. They can be acutely suspicious, going out of their way seeking attention, etc. Many homosexuals can trace their attitudes to childhood sexual abuse.
Times of failure. All of us fail in different aspects of life, because we all have our limitations. However if our emotional development has not reached maturity, it becomes difficult for us to bear the thought of failure and what others would think of us if we failed. Actual events of failure can then convince us that we were right when we thought we were failures. But we are not failures, just because we have failed in something. Instead of letting ourselves get weighted down by our failures we can let Jesus lift us up and walk with us to His goal for us.
When God forgives us and accepts us as His children, He not only gives us a complete forgiveness for all our sins but He also works in us to restore the original 'image of God' that He created Adam and Eve in, which has now become highly distorted through sin (Ge.1:26;Ro.8:28,29). This lifelong process is called sanctification, through which He causes us to become like Him little by little. This does not take place automatically from God's side without cooperation from our side by which we respond to His promptings in our heart. One of the things we can do is to clear up the cobwebs and chains from our past. We can do this by walking along with God through our past and experiencing His deliverance, cleansing and liberty. Many people have had painful experiences in their lives which they could not deal with because their memory itself was very painful, and so one of the ways they tried to deal with them was by pushing such thoughts away from their minds. But even though travelling through such times of our life may be painful for the moment, the healing we can receive from God will be truly worth this exercise. The aim of this exercise is to remember as clearly as possible the things in our life which have impacted us positively and negatively, to understand God's thoughts and feelings towards us at those times, and to receive healing of our wounds.
Even though travelling through such times of our life may be painful for the moment, the healing we can receive from God will be truly worth this exercise.
It is natural for us to wonder where God was, when we were going through painful situations. Even though we know theoretically that God is there at all times, we find it difficult to understand how He could have let us go through such situations while He is all-knowing, loving and all-powerful. Many people may also have a wrong idea that God was Himself responsible for everything that happened to them. This confusion comes because we find it difficult to balance our understanding of how almighty God is and how He is in control of everything, with the knowledge that God has also given man a free will. The whole world has been corrupted due to sin, and while we are on this earth we suffer from the results of sin -- perhaps our own sin, perhaps those of others against us or in general, or perhaps from life on earth which is corrupted with sickness, pollution, unjust distribution of wealth and opportunities, etc. Our suffering may have given us a wrong understanding of God, our life and other people.
Our concept of God. Many people have a concept of God as a cold, guilty/not-guilty type of judge who says, "Guilty. Ten lashes. Next case." Possibly this is partly due to the way other people, especially their parents, have treated them. It may also be due to Pharisee type preaching from pulpits that appear to specialise in holiness with sin and holiness defined in black or white terms. Such people find it extremely difficult to relate in a practical sense to a loving Father! But what is the picture of God that we get from the father of the prodigal son when he sees him returning? This son had taken away a large share of the father's wealth and wasted it all in riotous living. Now the father sees him coming back. What is the attitude of the father? Compassion (Lk.15:20)! Can we believe compassion is the attitude God has towards a sinner who has messed up his life in every possible way? But many people miss experiencing this because they imagine God to be like a judge and never take a step towards Him!
Can we believe compassion is the attitude God has towards a sinner who has messed up his life in every possible way?
As a Person God is a warm, outgoing, expressive personality! He responds to people and situations with a multiplicity of emotions, as we can easily find if we look through the Bible specifically looking for it. He longs to be gracious towards us, would like to gather us under His wings like a hen does to her chicks, has no patience with hypocrites, stirs up with smoke coming out of His nostrils when someone touches one of His, runs to our help when we cry out to Him, gets frustrated when people don't respond to His overtures, weeps when He notices His people going through sorrow, His heart gets moved with compassion when He notices people in need, He is jealous to have an exclusive relationship with us, no one can stand against Him when His fury gets going, etc. Doesn't this sound very much like a man? That is because He has created us very much like Him!
We make a terrible mistake when we relegate God to lifeless words in a book and miss the warmth of His personality in every aspect of our lives. So what we would like to do in this part of our exercise is to walk with Him and experience the varying colours of His emotions towards us. This will make Him near and real to us, and will bring healing to our wounded emotions.
We make a terrible mistake when we relegate God to lifeless words in a book and miss the warmth of His personality in every aspect of our lives.
There are different parts to this phase of the exercise.a. You pray and ask God to bring to your memory things that have impacted you. As you think about different incidents, select only major incidents to consider further. Actually we will not be able to think of every incident in our life, and once we deal with the major ones, our healing will also affect the smaller issues. Just as we don't have to confess every single sin in our life to receive forgiveness, and God forgives us when He sees in us a repentant heart, we should not make up a legalistic approach to this healing also. After that, think in more detail of each of these major incidents one by one.Don’t go through these steps mechanically, because then you may not receive much help. You don’t even have to finish the whole exercise at one time, if it takes longer. This whole experience must not become troublesome in itself, because it is meant to be a healing experience. It is also clear that we must be careful not to get back into things that we have left behind.
b. As you remember each incident, try to remember how you felt at that time, and how it has affected you since then. Our mind is affected by how we feel, and our feelings give us an indication of our attitudes which need to be set right. One goal of the healing process is to replace the negative feelings which we had at the time of the incidents with good feelings that come from the knowledge of God as we walk through those incidents with Him.
c. Think of what you thought about the people who were involved, and how this affected your relationship with them. This will show us if we have reacted wrongly.
d. Think of how God would have felt at that time, standing near you and watching what you were going through you. Most probably you didn't think about God when you were going through that painful situation. Later on you may have wondered where God was at that time, and become upset with Him. But He was there all the same! As He watched over you, He may have felt compassion for you, a strong desire to protect you from harm, and wrath towards those who were hurting you. He may have rejoiced over the right choices you made, and even when you fell in the battle He was looking at you with hope that one day this was going to be healed! Perhaps at one time you may have imagined how cruel or callous God had been to you. But now that you know Him as your loving, heavenly Father, you can acknowledge that you have judged Him wrongly. When you realise how your Heavenly Father was right there beside you, how He understood everything that was happening to you (Job.23:10), how He was sympathising with you as you went through your pain, how He placed limits on the devil and other people what they could do to you (Job.1:12), etc., you will feel a burden falling off from your mind and body.
When you realise how your Heavenly Father was right there beside you, how He understood everything that was happening to you, how He was sympathising with you as you went through your pain, how He placed limits on the devil and other people what they could do to you, etc., you will feel a burden falling off from your mind and body.
e. Forgive those who hurt you. Remember how Jesus, while He was hanging on the cross with unbearable pain, feeling the first ever separation from His Father as our sins were placed on Him, and troubled by His own human thoughts about how this was all so unreasonable for Him, forgave freely those who were responsible for this. He asked the Father to forgive them, saying that they did not know what they were doing (Lk.23:34). Didn’t they know? Of course they knew they were crucifying Him. What they did not know was the seriousness of what they were doing, who He really was, the eternal consequences, etc. You too can forgive those who have harmed you in your life. You may not feel like forgiving them, especially if what they did has harmed you very badly. But remember you too have received forgiveness from God for your sins, even though you did not deserve it (Co.3:13). Forgive them as a choice of your will, letting them go free as far as you are concerned.
f. Forgive God! Of course God has never done anything wrong for you to forgive Him. But when you were going through your pain you may have got upset with Him for not taking you out, not stopping things from happening, etc. Now you know that you were wrong in thinking like that. God was there, with His everlasting love towards you, feeling sorry for you, rejoicing over the right choices you made, and planning on how to work out this incident for your ultimate good (Ro.8:28). Don’t you feel bad that you misjudged your God and thought accusing thoughts about Him? Now you can ask Him to forgive you and help you to appreciate Him more in your life.
g. Ask God to forgive you if you reacted in a wrong way towards others. You may have condemned them, spoken evil about them to others, or perhaps tried to pay back evil to them. Now you can receive forgiveness from God.
h. Ask God to bring healing to this wound, so that it will not hurt you any more. Thank God for the healing He has already brought to you, and thank God for the wonderful lessons you have learned through this experience. Ask Him to continue His work in you and bring you to His highest goal for you.
If this exercise has helped you, it is to break free from baggage that has hindered from going forward with ease, and to confirm your relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is obvious that this new or renewed relationship with God is not something you can take for granted or will continue automatically. It needs to be carefully nurtured with fellowship with God through His Word and prayer, and the help of other Christians around you. I wish that it will get better and better with you, and you will be able to help others too.
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