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The Masterful Mind

Table of Contents:

Fight, Flight or Mastery
Mastery
The Mind
Mastery and the Mind
Directing the Christian Mind
Prerequisites for Self-Mastery
Practical Techniques for Emotional Self-Mastery
Overcoming Paralyzing Fears
Reacting to New and Powerful Spiritual Experiences
The Problem or the Solution
Conclusion
Discussion Questions

(Romans 8:4-6 NKJV) That the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (5) For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. (6) For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

The decisive factor in Biblical EQ is the Mind of the believer. If it is set on the flesh and we are carnally minded the result is death. If it is set on the Spirit and we are spiritually minded the result is life and peace. Chapter after chapter in this book has demonstrated the truth of those two statements in Romans.

The previous chapters have laid the ground-work showing how our emotions flow from our perceptions and our beliefs and how they are affected by our physiological state. This chapter looks at the decisive act of setting our mind on things above, on the things of the Spirit, on mastery of our life and our emotions. Through the Mind we gain mastery. This chapter is about experiencing that mastery.  

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Fight, Flight or Mastery

You may have heard of the “fight or flight response” that humans and animals have in response to threat. It does not take high level thinking to engage in the fight or flight response. Even the most unthinking of creatures such as an ant can make the decision whether to avoid an intruder or whether to stand their ground and fight. The fight or flight response is fast, rough, instinctual, and sometimes quite inaccurate. Mostly it is a useful instinctive response with high survival value, but it is not the stuff of wisdom, ethics, or the Spirit. Under the rush of the adrenalin that the fight-or-flight response releases people can quickly perform great feats of strength; they can also behave absolutely stupidly, because adrenalin signals the body to send blood away from the brain where it is needed for thinking and send it instead to the muscles, where it is needed for running and fighting.

When people combine these two aspects of the fight-or-flight response and quickly perform great feats of strength which are stupid , unthinking and ill-informed we have the groundwork for violence and tragedy. When societies give in to their instinctive fight or flight responses we see factions, disputes, wars and vendettas breaking out. Survival may seem to depend on the fight or flight response but true civilization depends on taming it and mastering it.

Why is the fight or flight response so destructive and if so why do we have it? I suppose initially it was not a bad thing. The fight or flight response was meant to operate in a human being who was connected to God. This connection would have moderated and altered the response. But now it isn’t so well connected and its become one part of us that has been most affected by the Fall. Cain was the first person in Scripture who was faced with the task of managing murderous rage (Genesis 4:7) – and he chose to fight instead. His descendant Lamech boasted of murder (Genesis 4:23,24) and by the time of the Flood his descendants had “filled the earth with violence” (Genesis 6:11). Trusting fallen human beings to choose self-mastery rather than fight or flight was a total failure. Eventually Moses came along with the Law, which pointed the way to what was right and wrong and gave very reasonable and agreeable limits for human conduct. The Law also failed.

Finally God sent His Son and the laws of God were written on our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 10:16) that we might become spiritual overcomers (Revelation 21:7). This has worked but even so it has been no easy task. Only re-establishing the connection with God has brought any measure of control to the fight-or flight response.

The problem with the fight-or-flight response in fallen humanity is that it eliminates choice and when you eliminate choice you eliminate all sorts of things like freedom, morality, love and decency. When the fight-or-flight response occurs blood flows to the hands and feet and away from the brain and huge shots of adrenalin and other hormones take over and the fast action control centers of the brain come into play and suddenly you are exploding at people, or running, or fighting. In common parlance your “buttons have been pressed” and you are just reacting at an entirely visceral and instinctual level. This is not a bad thing when you are running away from a charging rhinoceros. Speedy reactions may be a very good thing.

However in modern life the provocation that sets off the response may be a cutting remark or a threat to our ego in the office. The feeling of threat is enough to set off the entire chemical cascade that is known as the fight-or-flight response. Road rage involves people reacting to rudeness as if it were the proverbial charging rhinoceros. A minor incident becomes a matter of life and death. The perception of threat and the impact of adrenalin cause us to react without choosing our reactions. Startled people have accidentally shot their family members thinking they were burglars and soldiers have fired on their own troops through the sheer speed and inaccuracy of this response. You cannot be Christ-like and filled with rage and gut-level fight or flight responses. Neither can you be a timid, always retreating wimp soaring into anxiety attacks like a frightened bird at every alarming news item which one effect of the “flight” side of the response in modern life. The fight or flight response removes our ability to make wise, free and balanced moral choices and is definitely not the stuff on which Christian character is built.

[Lest I be misunderstood its not wrong to fight under some circumstances if it is a chosen and wise moral act. At other times its Ok to retreat and avoid certain troublesome situations as long as it is thought through, wise and moral to do so. The great biblical warriors like King David fought battles and won victories but they did so out of deep character not out of flash-pan rage. The military heroes of Scripture like Gideon, David and Jehosophat were people of mercy and thought and heart and balance. They were not just big bundles of anger walking around looking for a fight and they were not governed by the fight or flight response.]  

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Mastery

The alternative to the fight or flight response is to achieve mastery of the situation. Jesus always demonstrated mastery of any and every situation He was presented with. He neither fought the soldiers who arrested him or fled them but rather throughout His entire trial demonstrated an amazing degree of personal mastery. At no point in His life did Jesus give in to the adrenalin-filled panic of a fight or flight response. He could have gathered an army but He did not. Perhaps He could have fled hostile Israel and gone to Greece and been welcomed as a philosopher, but He did not. There were times when He avoided Jerusalem because of the hostility and because His time was not yet come yet at no point did He react from instinct alone.

His actions were masterful, strong, wise and spiritual. His Spirit-filled mind had total mastery over His flesh and His instincts. This gave Him power, poise and a degree of personal authority that seems to have been the main aspect of His personality that people admired and is frequently commented on in the gospels. The following verses are just some of the verses that show how other people saw Jesus as having authority and how Jesus saw His own authority being used to master situations. (Matthew 7:29, 8:9, 21:23-27, 28:18-20, Mark 1:27, Luke 4:32, Luke 9:1, 10;19, John 5:27, 7:17, 12:49, 14:10, 16:13, 17:2)

Jesus was not thrown even by encountering the Devil in person. During the temptation in the wilderness Jesus met the Devil in a face-to-face spiritual encounter that must have been of incredible intensity. The Devil was out to destroy Jesus, he was malice incarnate, and he was beguiling, tempting, and pushing Jesus into a wrong response. Jesus neither fled nor fought. Jesus mastered the situation, resisted the temptations and used His authority to deal with the problem. Jesus did not flee. He mastered the temptation to avoid the encounter and thus preserve himself from possible spiritual harm. He faced the dangers of the Devil at full force. He stood His ground against pure evil. Jesus did not fight. Jesus did not launch into an aggressive tirade against Satan. There was no raw and red-necked stream of spiritual vitriol directed against the Devil. Instead Jesus defeated Satan through the calm use of God’s authority based on God’s Word. Jesus mastered the situation.

The biblical example of Jesus in the wilderness shows us that even if we think a situation is utterly evil and threatens our health, identity and success (as the wilderness temptations did for Jesus) that we do not need to get upset and become reactionary. Nor do we need to pack our bags and run. We just need to calmly and authoritatively expose that situation to the truth of Scripture and the authority of God. We want to end up moving through life as Jesus moved through Israel, and cope with our pressures and threats as he coped with His.

When I speak of mastery I am not speaking of sinless perfection. Mastery is more like a combination of faith, courage, decisiveness and balance. It is having spiritual authority, poise and power in all situations. It asks questions such as: How can we tackle every situation in life as if it were the perfect golf shot? How can we master every threat and every frustration with grace, power and poise? How can we move through a grossly unjust trial without losing our cool? How can we forgive those that nail us to the cross? Of course these reactions are the supreme achievements of a Perfect Life. They are what made Jesus the spotless Lamb of God. While we may not always achieve them we can aspire to them and discipline our minds toward them.

Lets move from the cosmic to the comical and consider my attempts at playing golf. As an under-funded missionary I do not own golf clubs or have a golf membership but once every few years I am dragged out onto a golf course by a friend. When the ball lands in the rough, as it often does, I have three possible responses – fight, flight or mastery. I can become depressed at the difficulty, give up on the shot and pay the penalty – that is the flight response. I can hit wildly with all my might and try and blast it out of there – that is the fight response. Or I can call up my considerable golf prowess, concentrate carefully, keep my eye on the ball, visualize the wonderful trajectory it will take and get it out of there with just the right touch. This is the mastery response and as you may well guess it is the most difficult response and the hardest to perfect. I rarely get it right, but it is the one I wish to practice and reinforce. There is really no other possible choice since the other two responses just lead to failure. Mastery is the hardest choice but it is the only choice that goes anywhere.  

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The Mind

I need to spend a few paragraphs defining what I mean by “Mind” before we go too far and get confused. By the Mind I do not mean various individual thoughts or mind as intellectual activity or a set of intellectual abstractions. I mean mind as the entire mental framework of the person. We use the word Mind this way in the phrases “single-minded” or “open-minded”. Mind in this sense is an inner state of consciousness that has certain properties. The mind is controllable and can be focused by the believer. Paul asks us to set our mind on various things such as the Spirit, things above, and the pursuit of maturity so the mind is something we can focus on God.

For those of you who enjoy Greek the phren word family phroneo, phronema and phronesis , phronimos is in view here. Thus the mind is that part of our total consciousness and awareness that we have some control over. In this definition it does not include dreams or the sub-conscious. The sub-conscious is part of our mind in a larger sense but not part of it in this narrow sense we are using it here because we have no real control over the subconscious and cannot discipline it or focus it. Neither is mind in this sense the scattered thoughts that drift in and out of a person who is daydreaming or watching TV. Of such people we sometimes say “their mind was switched off when they watched the movie”. Their inner consciousness was inactive. Thus the mind is what thinks when you do some real thinking.

The mind is where you receive and mull over wisdom and where you make real choices about your actions. That’s your mind. It is that part of your consciousness that you can control and exert and which bears a close relationship to the “real you”.

Throughout this book I will keep saying that the mind is the only part of our consciousness that we can control, and therefore it is of vital importance. I do not mean to imply that we are all mind or that the mind is superior, rather it is part of an integrated whole which it directs. The mind is like the wheel on the bridge that controls the rudder of a ship. The navigator plots the course and then the wheel is turned to a definite bearing and the ship holds that course. The course of the entire ship is determined by where the captain’s wheel is set. The wheel is the only part of the ship that can be focused on a direction or course of action. The engine will drive the ship anywhere, the cargo hold does its job, the air-conditioning makes it bearable but the wheel, connected to the rudder sets the entire direction and destiny and decides which port the ship will go to or even if it will be shipwrecked through carelessness. The mind is that part of us which we can steer and which we can plot our course with. It’s the only part of us that can do that job. Therefore it is decisive.

We need to love God with our whole being – mind, spirit, soul, and strength, and all these parts of us are vital and important but it is the mind that directs the spirit, or the soul, or our energy and strength onto God and His purposes. The mind is the critical point where the decisions are made and the course committed to.

The mind in the sense of the phren word family generally means the wisdom and understanding especially of the righteous (Luke 1:17, Ephesians 1:8). This mind be set on various things. When Jesus rebuked Peter he said he was “not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." (Matthew 16:23, Mark 8:33), the legalistic Romans nit-picking about food and drink were literally “rules-minded” in the Greek (Romans 14:6). The mind can be set on the flesh or the Spirit (Romans 8:5,6) and things above (Colossians 3:2) or on earthly things (Philippians 2:19), which caused Paul to weep. Due to the renewing and infilling of the Holy Spirit we can even have “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16) and when we are humble servants we have a mind like Christ’s (Philippians 2:5). On the other hand we can have a childish mind (1 Corinthians 13:11, 14:20) Unity of mind is important and Christians are to be one-minded and like-minded. (Romans 12:16, 15:5, 2 Corinthians 13:11) This word family can also mean the careful, prudent mind, that which thinks of others, the mindful and thoughtful person (Philippians 1:7, 4:10) though the word “mind” is rarely used in English translations of this aspect.

Thus it is clear from the New Testament that the sort of mind we end up with is entirely our choice. We can focus or mind on God’s interests or man’s interests, the Spirit or the flesh, the things above or earthly things. We can choose to be humble, like-minded, unified and thoughtful of others or we can choose to be puffed up, childish, contentious, worldly and carnal.  

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Mastery and The Mind

Mastery is a product of the focused and disciplined mind bringing the whole person into submission to an over-riding ethic or ethos. Throughout history everyone from Zen monks to Spartan warriors and corporate traders have discovered this. People have become masterful human beings by disciplining themselves in all sorts of pursuits from archery to fencing to philosophy. That is why competitive sports, while trivial in themselves, have shaped many a person for the better. The somersaults of a champion gymnast are in themselves quite pointless. They don’t feed the hungry or make any great philosophical point. Its not doing somersaults that makes the gymnast great but the discipline he or she puts in. The sport builds mastery and mental strength into the gymnast so that when the days of gymnastics are over the character remains. Another point, the focus must be external to self. The gymnast does not find self-mastery by focusing on self-mastery. He or she finds self-mastery by focusing on somersaults.

The mind is the only part of our consciousness that we can focus and direct therefore it is the only part of us that can give us mastery. A million dollars will not give you personal mastery. People who win the lottery often end up poor because of their lack of personal mastery. The money has not made them masterful. A strong body will not give you mastery except of certain physical skills. Athletes can be enslaved to alcohol or drugs. Education will not give you personal mastery, there are many well educated people who are small-minded and weak-willed. Willpower won’t give you mastery as the will can simply become stubborn and inflexible, unable to adapt to changing situations and thus lead to inevitable defeat. Even religion won’t give you mastery. Many people are enslaved by cults, caught up in bondage to religious guilt or overtaken by idolatry and superstition. Only the adaptable, flexible, trained, focused and disciplined mind can bring mastery.

Please be clear about this, I am not advocating mentalist philosophies, mind science, Christian Science, or think and grow rich kinds of mental mastery. They are half-truths. The mind is not a terribly significant force in itself. The mind does not have the ability to create heaven or hell as Blake thought. God creates Heaven and Hell. Reality is His creation, not ours. The mind does not create the world but it does enable us to move through it with poise and power. The mind is not God. The mind works best when it is set on God. In biblical terms personal and emotional mastery is a product of the mind set on God and imbued with His Word and authority. The unaided mind operating alone by itself cannot produce mastery of the kind we see in the life of Jesus Christ. For that kind of mastery we need more than positive thinking. We need a direct connection to God and the mind must be resolutely set on God, on the Spirit, on things above, on the Kingdom, and the righteousness thereof.  

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Directing The Christian Mind

So we see that we are faced with three universal truths: Firstly that personal mastery is the only wise option. Secondly that such mastery is solely a product of the mind. Thirdly that the mind becomes masterful as it is disciplined and focused on something outside itself. This book maintains that the highest degree of mastery can only be attained when the ‘something outside itself” is God. You can achieve a sense of mastery by focusing your mind on fencing or gymnastics or horse-riding but you won’t end up like Jesus just by focusing on those things. The mind must be directed onto Christ. That is its proper place.

This directing of the mind is a forceful and decisive activity. It is hard to put into words. It is not concentrating on Christ, neither is it speculating about Christ or studying or daydreaming about Christ. It is not even thinking about Jesus as such. It is not an internal, reflective or meditative process. It’s similar to standing outside yourself and directing yourself onto Christ. Its like standing at the top of a high-dive tower and looking down and plunging in with total commitment. It’s choosing where your life energies will be focused and your mental processes directed. It’s like going outside yourself but towards Christ at the same time. I suppose you could call it faith, or at least faith is very much involved in it. I am stuck for an analogy. It’s a little like those missiles that lock onto their target or a cat focused on a mouse.

The whole of the mind is fixed on Christ and directs the total life energies of the believer in that direction. As this focus is attained everything else is entrained, the emotions, the will and the responses. Just as someone absorbed in a video game entrains all their concentration, emotions and will into the game so a Christian absorbed in Christ, with their mind set on the Spirit, inevitably brings their whole life into conformity with Jesus.

It may not be immediately obvious but when we direct our mind to a purpose it means that we commit ourselves to the rules and techniques that the particular purpose requires. For instance in writing this book I must follow the rules of the English language. I am hardly conscious of that because I have internalized many of the rules. Now and then the spell-checker or grammar checker on this computer alerts me to where I am going wrong. Then I correct it. That is part of writing, part of the project, and part of being focused on writing a book. Following the rules of English grammar is not bad or awful. It’s not a restriction on my freedom or a legalism or a lack of grace. It’s just required. Mastery of anything means sticking to the rules. Similarly, following Jesus has rules. Submission to the commandments of Jesus Christ is not optional if we are to stay focused on Christ and know life and peace. Obeying these commandments is not the whole of the Christian life but they are part of the discipline of the Christian life. They make it flow and if you are to have mastery in the Christian life you must decide to obey the rules. You cannot just make up the spiritual life as you go along any more than you can decide to reinvent English grammar every time you write.

Deciding to totally set your mind on Christ and achieve total life mastery is the very hardest thing you will ever do. But what are the alternatives? To potter along lamely is not much of a life. To refuse it totally is to go into eternal darkness. But the effort seems tremendous, the focus too narrow and the rules too hard. The focus must be kept and we are unruly. We are prone to distraction. We are far too easy on ourselves. We don’t want to get up and practice. We want heaven from our armchairs. So we make a commitment to Christ, then that fades, then another one, then a spiritual breakthrough, and then a slack patch. We are all over the place. Our minds are set on ourselves, or on our finances, or on the opinions of the Christian community or on the success of our ministry. We find easier goals and substitute foci. We become anxious, stressed, harried and spiritually weak. We need to come to a point of final decision where we look at the mess, pull ourselves together and decide with all that is within us to focus ourselves totally on Christ alone and pursue single-minded, focused, disciplined mastery.

People are drifting around in ministry without a real and solid connection to God because the cost of staking everything on God is too high. You must come to that decision. The Christian life is unlivable without it. You cannot dabble in the eternal. You must commit totally to it and direct your mind to it.  

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Prerequisites For Self-Mastery

The absolute prerequisites of spiritual progress are that you are born-again with a new nature from God, that you have the filling of the Holy Spirit and that you are single-mindedly devoted to God in obedience to His word. Without these three things you do not stand a chance.

Unless you are born-again you do not have a new nature. Without the new nature it’s an impossible job. If you are not Spirit-filled and led by the Spirit in your daily life then you will not have power over the flesh (see Galatians 5:16-18) and you will struggle continually and lose continually. If you are not single-minded you will be double-minded and double-minded people receive nothing from the Lord (James 1:5-8). You will be left wallowing in your doubt and indecision. These three things are the basics. Before I go on to talk about techniques in self-mastery you must have these three things in your life or be prepared to have these three things in your life as soon as possible.  

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Practical Techniques For Emotional Self-Mastery

Its fine to talk about the need for a personal relationship with God and having one’s mind set on things above but how will that keep someone from exploding next time someone cuts them off on the highway? What are the practical tips for mastering our fight-or-flight response and for mastering life?

There are thus two levels to emotional self-mastery. Firstly we must set up the foundations of the new self and the God-focused mind. That renews our connection with God and sets up some spiritual lines of control over the fight or flight response. Then we must learn the practical details of responding to life intelligently and wisely.

· Pay attention to your physical state. If you realize that your fists are clenched and your neck is rigid and you are physically tensed up and alerted for danger then try to undo those physical states. Unclench your fists, rub your neck, relax your posture. The fight or flight response is partly a physical response and as we undo its physical correlates it will lose much of its power. Perhaps try and relax or use deep breathing if you are tense, guarded or explosive.

· Be aware of the magnitude of your emotional responses and the quick “zoom” to anger or anxiety that the fight or flight response produces. Learn to recognize when you are zooming to disaster and practice keeping a lid on it.

· Take time to think. Use your God-given right to choose your response. Do not just respond on auto-pilot. Once you stop and think you are far more likely to choose a good and much more optimal solution.

· Disengage. If you have started to move into attack mode pull back the troops! Go for a walk, cool down. Have a pray about it.

· If you are going into a situation that you know aggravates you (such as dealing with an annoying person) try to make a conscious decision about how you are going to react in that situation. Then rehearse your balanced and biblical reaction over and over in your mind. Perhaps seven times or seventy times seven? (see Matthew 18) Train yourself mentally to react rightly just like professional golfers ‘see the ball going in the hole’ even before they make the shot. Use mental rehearsal to disarm potential conflict situations.

· In the converse of this - don’t mentally rehearse the wrong response. Don’t see in your mind’s eye a picture of yourself strangling the boss of the phone company. It may be very satisfying but it is not helpful. It is educating yourself in the wrong direction.

· Use the ‘what would Jesus do?” question as a quick reference.

· Question your perceptions of threat. Is this really a life or death issue? Am I getting tensed up over nothing? What does it say about me if I am so easily riled? Or on the flight response: Is it really that bad? Is the world going to end over this? Is this fear, anxiety and emotional reactivity helping me? Has running away from things helped or hindered my life?

· Learn to find your emotional center and to live from it and to know when it is in balance and out of balance. This is quite difficult for many people.

· Some people will push you wanting you to explode so they can take advantage of your immature reaction. Be alert to this and deliberately react the opposite way they are pushing you. (1 Corinthians 4:12) For instance when they revile you greet them with a blessing. (1 Peter 2:23 NKJV) who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;

· Remember that when you react rightly to unjust treatment that “great is your reward in heaven”. So rejoice and give yourself a pat on the back when you keep your cool. Positive reinforcement for good behavior. (Matthew 5:11)

· Do not return evil for evil. (Romans 12:17) Keep a lid on your desire to retaliate. Leave retaliation to the Lord. (Romans 12:19) If we return a blessing instead we will inherit blessing. . (1 Peter 3:9).

· If people rip you off and insult you don’t escalate it into a life or death struggle over honor and pride. This is what Jesus means when He says “do not resist him who is evil”. (He does not mean that the police should not arrest robbers!) Rather it means “don’t let the evil person push you into a full-scale, adrenalin packed, fight or flight response”. Deny the natural man’s urge to strike back. If he slaps you, turn the other cheek, if he takes your cloak, let him, if he makes you walk a mile, go two. If he says “give me money” let him have some. (Matthew 5:38-42). Deny your reactivity and show you are made of different stuff.

· Don’t let unkind, ungrateful, stingy, mean or small-minded people get to you. God is merciful to the unkind and ungrateful and we have a great reward in heaven when we do likewise. (Luke 6:35) Brush their meanness to one side without taking it too personally and treat them as well as you can with reasonable safety (because some are quite toxic).

· Do not get your ego hooked into the game of “Christian comparisons”, my church is bigger than your church etc. This only leads to fuming and fighting.

· Do not let theology push you into fight or flight mode. For instance “I won’t study the Second Coming its too contentious” (flight response) or “You are a heretic and I will torch you verbally since the law won’t allow me to burn you at the stake” (fight response). The mastery response is to learn about the Second Coming and other aspects of theology and grow in God and only debate under circumstances that are harmless to the hearers (such as with good friends in the ministry) unless of course there is an urgent apologetic reason. Even then your speech should be seasoned with salt.

· Learn correct responses by modeling mature Christians and by studying the heroes of the faith.

· Make a personal commitment to grow in this area.

· Have some friends keep you accountable for your reactions and encourage you to maturity.

· Enjoy the feeling of grace rather than the feeling of explosive emotional power.  

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Overcoming Paralyzing Fears

The flight part of the fight-or-flight response has not received a lot of attention so far. Its not as dramatic and many people simply dismiss it as weakness or nerves. When it blossoms into fully-fledges agoraphobia people disconnect from life for fear of giving a panic attack in public. Fear can create a state of life that is almost unbearable. The person becomes over-reactive, nervous, withdrawn and anxious and may be filled with phobias and obsessions. Dr Claire Weekes has done some wonderful and compassionate work on this and every pastor should read her books which are listed under “agoraphobia” in the reference section at the back. Below I will summarize, very briefly and perhaps a little roughly and inaccurately, the central points of her work.

Life circumstances cause the person to reach, at some point in their life, a point of nervous exhaustion in which fear that already exists cannot be suppressed or controlled by the will and during which new fears can be easily implanted. (See the section on stress in the previous chapter)

Strange frightening thoughts then appear in a tired mind. The person worries about these thoughts. This further activates the fight or flight response and exhausts the person and so they have even less energy to control their fears with. More fears then surface, the person then worries, and so on in a vicious circle. The strange thoughts in the tired mind eventually reach such an intensity that they lead the person to the threshold of panic. A small incident then triggers a full-scale panic attack, which, if this spiral continues, may become the first of many.

Mastering such fear means moving away from the fight or flight response. Instead of trying to fight the fears or run away from them they are just accepted. This position of not fighting and not running away disengages the fight or flight response, lowers the adrenalin levels and helps the person think. They are encouraged to go slowly because the need to “hurry” or take action activates the fight or flight response. They are encouraged to rest, eat properly and recover strength and get over their prior depletion. This enables then to get some perspective on their fears. They are told that the only way to deal with fear is going through it and her famous phrase “even jelly legs will get you there” has helped man agoraphobics. Of great importance is floating through experiences.

The problem with fearful people is they engage life too tightly. When you grab life too tightly it bounces you round and you end up either struggling with it or fleeing from it. A bit of detachment can lead to peace of mind and Claire Weekes teaches “floating through” normally traumatic experiences such as shopping in a large mall. The person floats through the shop door, floats around the store, floats up to the counter, floats out the money and pays for the goods and floats out again. The person is slightly detached but not dissociated from reality and is able to do the task that was impossible before. Dr Weekes has reduced a whole lot of complex medicine to four short phrases that are of great help to those who have panic attacks - and to the rest of us as well!

1. Face, do not run away.

2. Accept, do not fight

3. Float, do not tense.

4. Let time pass – do not be impatient with time.

Hints on working these out in your life are contained in her excellent books which are listed in the reference section. Mastery of fear means setting the mind in the right stable position. We set it into the situation but without fighting it. We are calm. We are like Tiger Woods looking at a golf ball in the rough. Its no big deal, small problem, he can handle it. Neither are we tense. Some people believe that being tense is being responsible; being tense means you are putting the effort in. That is a mistake; being tense ruins the golf shot and also ruins life. Jesus was not a tense person and Jesus was the most responsible and committed person who ever lived. And mastery means letting time pass. Jesus never seemed to care about time, Abraham and Moses took years, seemingly wasted years. By letting time pass we actually use it best. The people who look the most hurried and who have the most time-consciousness with their organizers are generally the junior executives. The members of the board seem unhurried. Thoughtful, careful, responsible and wise, but unhurried. There is a lot of spiritual wisdom for anxious people in the four phrases above. As an exercise think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and during His trial using the four concepts above – facing, accepting, floating and letting time pass. Before I leave the topic of fear I want to deal with a peculiarly Christian form of fear – reacting to new and powerful spiritual experiences.  

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Reacting To New And Powerful Spiritual Experiences

New and powerful spiritual experiences often activate the fight or flight response. The result is over-reaction, division, fear and anxiety. I hope you can see that there is no place for angry, reactionary responses or panic stricken flight from strong emotions or unusual spiritual experiences. Flapping around wildly is not the correct response. Rather we need to analyze that emotion or experience in the light of Scripture holding to what is good and rebuking that which is evil. Discernment is a mastery response not a fight or flight response.

Because we are creatures and not the Creator we have a certain inbuilt dread and fear of the numinous. The old writers talk of “the dread of God”. The powerful and the spiritual evoke emotional reactions within us and those reactions are often immature. We become reactive and fearful unable to cope with emotions and experiences that are unfamiliar to us. Instead, when evaluating a new teaching or experience we should say “I’m a mature person with a good brain and I know the Scriptures fairly well, I’ll just sit back and watch, I’ll hold to the good bits I find here and reject the junk, I don’t have to fear what’s going on. I’ll pray for protection and discernment, stay within my boundaries and work it out as I go along.”

We can need to accept that we are complex creatures with complex emotions in a complex world created by a God far beyond our comprehension and that sometimes we will encounter things that rattle and disturb us. We need to accept the experience “as is” then evaluate it in the light of Scripture, holding to the good and discarding what is of evil.

Avoiding a black and white stance where its got to be “all of God” or “all of the Devil” is important. People who take black and white stances lump people into one category or the other and thus have very blunted discernment. “All X are Y” is frequently incorrect. For instance not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are terrorists, therefore “All those Arabs are evil terrorists” is not true and is a very poor judgment. Similarly “All Baptists are legalistic” or “All Pentecostals are flakes” are untrue stereotypes. Thus black and white stances are poor discernment and lead to damaging evaluations and serious mistakes in judgment. Jesus never named an opponent or launched a personal attack against an individual. Rather in every debate He found the good (do what the Pharisees tell you) and dismissed the evil (but do not do as they do). See Matthew 23:2,3

Lets apply this. Suppose you hear a sermon that is in major error what should you do? Leave the church and never return (flight) or talk to everyone indignantly and start a church split (fight) or seek a peaceful but powerful solution (mastery)? The person with a good biblical EQ would work out carefully what was incorrect and then talk it over with their pastor and if he or she did not respond would take the matter to other responsible leaders in the church in a peaceful and caring fashion.

To give a further teaching example how should we react to a controversial theologian like John Spong? A wise approach is to write against the controversial doctrine without attacking the person. We can defend the truth of the resurrection and expose the error of wrong facts, theology and logic without engaging in personal attacks or feeling overwhelmed by heresy. Our stance should be emotionally mature, clear, authoritative, biblical and balanced. The emotionally competent Christian should never fight (do not resist him who is evil); nor should we flee (when you have done all, stand) rather we should demonstrate courage, self-mastery, integrity, power and competence when these various challenging doctrinal situations arise.  

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The Problem Or The Solution

Fear looks for the problem but faith looks for the solution. Fear generates the fight or flight response but faith generates intelligent thinking and personal mastery. In this section I want to talk about being “solution-focused” as an alternative to being “problem-focused” and as a way out of the fight or flight spiral and as a huge step towards personal mastery.

I first came across this concept in the work of William Hudson O’Hanlon and Michele Weiner-Davis in their book “In Search of Solutions” which looks at a new approach to brief family therapy. It’s a brilliant book and I highly recommend it. It has revolutionized my clinical practice. However I have as usual sought to go a ‘bit deeper” and seek its application to the Christian life and it is my conclusions, based on reflecting on their work, that I will present here.

Their concept is that instead of trying to analyze the problem down to its last detail, we should instead search for the solution. A youth in trouble with the police was brought to one of them for counseling. So instead of asking “why do you break the law” they asked “when don’t you get into trouble?”. The youth replied “when I play football”. How often can you possibly play football the counselor replied? Soon the youth was playing football and other sports in his every spare moment. He was not getting into trouble any more because the time that has been given to doing bad things was now given to doing harmless things. They found a solution. In just two sessions of counseling his delinquent behavior was reversed. But if the therapists had taken the “find the problem” route they would still be analyzing his childhood and he would still be in trouble with the police.

Imagine two motorists in identical situations with their tires punctured by nails. Problem-Focused Pete bends down and finds the nail in the tire and says “Why was that nail in my tire?”, he then searches around for sources of nails. Finding none he walks around looking for where the nail may have come from in the life history of the road. Finally he sends the nail off to the government analytical laboratory hoping to get to the source of problem. Meanwhile his wife and kids are furious but Problem-Focused Pete leaves them in the now hot car because he must get to the source of the problem. A few days later the answer comes back from the government laboratory and Problem-Focused Pete is till there, by the side of the road, searching for where the nail came from. Solution-Focused Sam gets a puncture, says “how can we fix this”, gets out the jack and the spare, fixes the tire and is on his way in five minutes. It’s a lot less intellectually satisfying but his family is eating pizza soon after, while the other one frets by the highway.

Sometimes in counseling we end up so focused on the problem that we miss really obvious solutions. Instead of getting our clients on the road as soon as possible we end up analyzing the nail to bits. Being solution-focused means looking for the solution, not focusing on the problem; finding the way forward for people and situations, not getting stuck in the “blame game”; stopping doing things that don’t work and continuing to do things that do work. Doing more of what works and succeeds and less of what does not work and just frustrates.

Some of the basic concepts as I understand them are:

Just find a solution. Don’t ask why the stream is flooding or sit around analyzing the water quality – just find the bridge and walk across.
Avoid the paralysis of analysis. If you puncture the tire on your car with a nail don’t analyze the nail, change the tire.

Don’t see problems everywhere. Learn to see solutions everywhere.
Big problems sometimes have really simple solutions. Scurvy was a huge problem among sailors for centuries and the British Admiralty refused to believe that fresh fruit was the solution saying “such a large problem cannot have such a simple solution”. It took the death of one third of the British navy from scurvy in one year and the urging of Captain James Cook to get the Admiralty to see that big problems sometimes have easy solutions.
If you do what you have always done you will get what you have always got.
Ask what is working and do more of it. Discover the positive and reinforce it.
If it’s not working stop doing it. If its futile, its futile.

Don’t fix the blame – fix the problem.

Forget about reacting to the problem and just start searching for the solution.

The person who is chronically poor and unable to pay their bills does not need to ask: “Why am I poor and unable to pay my bills”. That will just lead to them blaming themselves, their wife, their parents, the government, their employer and God. They do need to find a solution and ask the questions: “How can I best bring my finances under control? How can I make myself wealthier? How can I solve this financial mess?” The solution focused approach will work better and faster than all problem-focused analysis of their poverty.

When we become problem-focused we start finding people to blame and enemies to accuse or we get wound up over the size of the problem. Basically we soon end up in fight or flight mode. When we start searching for solutions we start thinking, we start using our mind, we start praying, we start digging into the Scriptures, we ask for wisdom, we tally our resources and we move forward step by step in faith believing that God has a solution. In other words we start marshalling our resources towards mastery.

Jesus had an amazingly solution-focused approach to life. There was always a solution. There were no “problems” for God. In the gospels Jesus says “nothing is impossible with God” or “all things are possible with God” a total of nine times. Jesus finds solutions for blind people, lepers, demon-possessed Legion, Lazarus in the grave, five thousand hungry listeners and a boat full of disciples on a stormy sea. Whatever the problem there was always a solution and the solution always gave glory to God. The faith of Jesus searched for, found and activated solutions.

Jesus never gave a long-winded analysis of things when the disciples asked “Why”. In John chapter nine when they asked “why was this man born blind, who sinned, him or his parents” He cut them short. The analysis was not needed and not helpful. What was needed was a solution that would give glory to God. So Jesus healed the blind man. Jesus did not teach His disciples to analyze problems and write treatises on them. He taught them how to provide solutions by healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers and preaching the Kingdom of God. (See Luke chapters 9 & 10).

Obviously a fairly basic level of analysis is needed. You do need to identify if the person is blind or lame or demon-possessed so you can know what to do. But you don’t stop right there with the analysis. You move from the analysis, by faith, to the solution. This is where mastery comes in. To move through life with mastery is to be able to see the solutions in every situation and to implement them to the glory of God. This requires a changed mindset. Instead of a fearful, helpless, analyzing, quarreling and useless mind we need one that is bold, and confident and faith-filled and solution-seeking and this can only come through the power of the Holy Spirit as the mind is fixed on God.
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Conclusion

We are to move away from the visceral and self-defeating reactions of the fight or flight response to the noble, practical, solution-focused and faith-filled responses of the sanctified believer. The instrument for doing this is the mind. The mind is the only part of our consciousness that we can focus and deploy. We can use it to stop automatic responses and to master our emotions. We can focus it on God and things above and be connected to His eternal power. We can use it to give us poise and power when we face our fears and to search for positive faith-filled solutions to pressing needs so as to give glory to God. The disciplined, focused mind is the only instrument we have to bring us out of our messy emotions and into life and peace. Mastery is the only wise alternative and mastery comes from the mind and the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. The next section will deal with getting a handle on our emotions; first identifying them then choosing those we will express and those we will deny.

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Discussion Questions

1. Explain the differences between fight, flight and mastery?

What is “the mind”? What are some things it can be set on? How do we focus and control the mind?

3. Dramatise and enter into Jesus temptation in the wilderness. Imagine that your body is absolutely starving, you have been utterly alone for forty days and now you are being assailed and tempted by concentrated pure evil. How do you cope? What would you naturally be tempted to do? How on earth do you achieve mastery over such a situation?

4. Why do we need to set our mind on God to achieve mastery? Why cannot we achieve mastery in our own strength just by practice?

5. What does it mean to be “solution-focused”? How is it different from being problem focused? What sort of difference does it make to the way people tackle life?

6. How should we react when we come across theological error or strange and powerful and new spiritual experiences?

7. What are the four concepts that can help us tackle paralysing levels of fear? How are they very similar to a lot of biblical concepts?

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