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When We Fail to Act Accordingly

I’ve heard too many stories lately of people who’ve known better but did it anyway. He knew better than to cheat on his wife, but he did anyway. She knew better than to tell that lie, but she did anyway.

I’ve also come across a number of people who knew they should do something but didn’t. She knew if she exercised, she would begin losing weight, but she didn’t. He knew if he read his Bible every day he would grow spiritually, but he didn’t.

And then the fingers come pointing back to me. Why did I do that, think that, say that, when I knew better? And why did I not follow through when I said I would?

The Apostle Paul shares my struggle, which is perhaps yours as well, when he wrote, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). Paul went on to say that he desired to do what was right, but he didn’t have the ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18).

A team of neurologists, led by Dr. Antonio Damasio, conducted some fascinating research on why we struggle with following through on what we know to be right. They studied patients with damage to a small but critical part of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which lies right behind the nose.

According to the research, when this part of the brain is damaged, knowledge alone is not sufficient to alter one’s behavior. One of the researchers, Dr. Antoine Bechara, said the deficiency is seen in drug addicts. “Addicts can articulate very well the consequences of their behavior. But they fail to act accordingly. . .  Damage in the ventromedial area of the brain causes a disconnect between what you know and what you do” (Blink, 60).

Why do we struggle with connecting what we know with what we do? Because we live in a fallen and broken world, and we are fallen and broken as well (Romans 3:10). Whether our synapses aren't snapping or our convictions aren't convincing or our upbringing was down-spiraling, we, like Paul and the rest of humanity, are broken.

Awareness of brokenness does not excuse the disconnect between knowing and doing, but it helps us identify it and surrender it. We give it to the lordship of Jesus, and we open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit who CAN give us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25). As Augustine once wrote, “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.”

We are more than conquerors, and we can connect what we know to be true with how we live truth, but not in our own power. Only when we acknowledge our weakness can we receive His strength, for His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

We know a better way, so let’s live it . . . in the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

Jesus Prefers Working With Unpromising Recruits

I don’t know about you, but there are times in my life when I feel completely inadequate and overly incompetent. Self-doubts slink into my soul like a fog billowing through an open field. I’m all too aware of my shortcomings and deficiencies, and I often think, Who am I that people should listen to what I say or read what I write?

These are not words of self-deprecation; they are reflections on the shadow side of my humanity. The reason I cast these words to you is because I believe some of you may share my insecurities.

The mother of three who feels tired, disheveled, and unattractive can’t help but notice how her friend looks “all together,” as though there is such a thing as a perfect mother.

The man whose hair is thinning and whose waistline is expanding remembers the days when seeing a barber had meaning and playing a game of basketball was not demoralizing.

A young man gets tongue-tied every time he tries to speak to the girl of his dreams, and he wishes he were more confident.

A preacher listens to the sermon delivery of a mega-church pastor and feels like he chose the wrong profession.

And then I remember the disciples. The very ordinariness of those whom Jesus chose gives me hope. Most were common, uneducated laborers. One was a political Zealot. Another was a despised tax collector. One sold Jesus out. Another denied even knowing Him.

Philip Yancey writes,

“When He lived on earth, He surrounded Himself with ordinary people who misunderstood Him, failed to exercise much spiritual power, and sometimes behaved like churlish schoolchildren. Three followers in particular (the brothers James and John, and Peter) Jesus singled out for His strongest reprimands—yet two of those would become the most prominent leaders of early Christianity” (The Jesus I Never Knew, 99-100).

When I read the Gospels I can’t help but deduce that Jesus prefers working with unpromising recruits. And how grateful I am that He is.

You are loved by God not because you are an intellectual or a gifted communicator or an attractive person or successful in your career. Likewise, you are not loved less because of your struggles, your sins or your secrets.

“But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I invite you to celebrate God’s love today. Receive His love. And let His love soothe your soul that is so often conflicted with self-doubts.

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