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It’s Like This . . .

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Every Sunday before the early service, a highly dedicated group of praying saints gather to intercede for the church. They have been a great encouragement to me and a behind-the-scenes blessing to the entire Salem Alliance family.

During one of these prayer times, a member prayed, “Lord, as John gets up to preach this morning, I see him running across the stage with a spear in his hand, thrusting it into the heart of the enemy.” Very cool. She had no way of knowing how significant this would be for me. You see, up to this point a different mental image had popped into my head when I preached.

At Salem Alliance the preacher for the weekend does all five services. Each time I preached, I pictured myself as a boxer heading in for another round in the ring. Before the fourth service, for example, I’d often say to myself, “Two rounds to go.” This was very tiring. Rather than inspire, strengthen or motivate me, it drained my energy. It felt accurate but unhelpful.

The moment my praying friend suggested a different picture, everything changed. “Running across the platform and chucking spears into the heart of Satan—yeah! I want to do that five times! Let me up there. Let me preach!” I quickly traded a draining mental picture for an empowering one, and it made a difference not only in my energy and attitude but also in the preaching itself.

These mental pictures are often called “metaphors.” We use them far more often than we are aware. While we may not be conscious of them, they can shape and drive much of our lives. For example, through the practical teaching of Peacemaker Ministries, I realized that I viewed any disagreement as battle. Any quarrel between my wife and me was (in my mind) a negative experience of combat. The friends from Peacemaker, however, suggested that conflict is an opportunity: for the relationship to deepen, for understanding to enlarge and for God to be glorified.

What a difference this shift in thinking makes! With the “battle” metaphor I enter the disagreement in a defensive posture, ready to win or lose but without hope of anything good coming from it. The “opportunity” metaphor places me mentally in a position of expectancy—good is going to come from this because she’s not my enemy, she’s my ally. We’ll work this out.

Since metaphors are so powerful in shaping our lives, I began to ask others about their mental images. One youth pastor (not from our church) admitted that he viewed himself as a crack cocaine dealer—pumping the kids up every Wednesday with a Jesus hit and then needing to do it all over again the next week. He admitted that a different metaphor could serve everyone better. One woman realized that she imagined her marriage as two people clinging to each other on the deck of a sinking ship. A pastor acknowledged that he saw his ministry as a “glorious headache” where he saw the glory of God at work in the midst of the worst of humanity.

Metaphors—mental pictures that motivate or immobilize—have been part of the human journey for a long time. Hezekiah, for example, had been deathly ill and viewed his life as a tent that had the pegs ripped out (Isaiah 38). Jeremiah was upset with the sermons God had him preach but couldn’t stop because the prophet felt like they were fire in his bones (Jeremiah 20).

Consider the metaphors that are shaping your life. You get to choose them. No one is making you believe them. But most of us haven’t clearly identified them. Upon recognizing one in your life, ask yourself, “Is this metaphor working for me or against me? Does it empower or drain?” If it isn’t serving you well, ask God to help you form a better one. Give it some prayer and mental reflection. Consult with a friend over a cup of coffee.

The Lord helped me with a metaphor shift. Since October 2008, I’ve had an illness that’s onset was so quick and powerful I likened it to being hit by a train or being beaten by a baseball bat. How’s that for a way to start each day? Obviously, my metaphor was not empowering and was negatively influencing my view of God. I knew I needed something different. I prayed. God answered. He gave me an image that is not unique—metaphors don’t have to be. It has, however, significantly reshaped my thinking.

The new metaphor? I’m not being beaten by a baseball bat. I am a piece of clay on a pottery wheel in the tender, loving hands of the Master. I rather liked the pot He had spent the first 48 years creating, but in His wisdom He decided to do some serious remolding. He softened the clay, cranked up the wheel and bore down to reshape this middle-aged man. I picture His hands pressing, forming, guiding, shaping—often working in silence but always in love and wisdom. I throw up a few appeals and questions from time to time, but I’m also trying to learn to sit still—to trust Him—and let His finger press in deeply.

“Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way. Thou art the potter. I am the clay. Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.” It used to just be a song—now it’s my life. Thanks for trusting the Potter with me.

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