Tag Archives: Patterns

Patterns

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Hear the voice of my supplication,
    as I cry to you for help

Psalm 28:2 (NRSVCE)

Back in the days before iPods, iPhones, and digital streaming, the only way one got music in a car was the radio. Since I spent a lot of time in rental cars for my job, I got used to spending the first part of any journey scanning “the dial” for the available stations and programming the stations I wanted to keep into the car’s radio.

One of the things I noticed as a young man scanning the airwaves was that it generally took me less than a second to identify the kind of music any station typically played as I quickly made my way across the dial:

“Classical, Classical, Classic Rock, Country, Country, Pop, Country, Pop, Christian, Rock…”

There is a certain sound, pattern, cadence, and frequency to different types and styles of music.

As I read the psalm this morning, the thing that struck me was how similar it is to the previous few psalms. That’s because it is. David had patterns that he repeatedly used as he penned his songs. We do the same thing. Symphonies typically follow a pattern of four movements. Your basic popular song is typically structured verse, chorus, verse chorus, bridge, verse, chorus.

Those who compiled the anthology of song lyrics we call Psalms put the section we are reading through together with similarly structured songs. It is a simple, repeated pattern: They all start with a praise and plea for God to listen followed by a complaint and/or petition, and end with a proclamation of faith and assurance that God has or will hear and answer.

In the quiet this morning, this got me thinking about patterns. Almost everything in life falls into certain patterns. Almost everything in life has patterns. Good patterns can provide a sense of health, security, and surety to life. Bad patterns of thought and behavior result in destructive and unhealthy consequences in my life and relationships. That’s rather obvious. What’s not so obvious is that some patterns that were good and necessary for a time can actually become unhealthy for me without me really recognizing or realizing it.

Along my life journey, I’ve come to observe that spiritual progress always involves the breaking of old patterns and establishing new ones. A faith journey always requires that I leave behind something that is tangibly known and comfortable in order to pursue something that is not clearly evident and is only hoped for.

“You have heard it said,” Jesus would say to his followers before adding, “but I say…” In other words, there was an established pattern that Jesus was calling His followers to change. He called for old, established patterns to pass away so that new patterns could emerge. The word repentance is rooted in the word picture of changing direction. Whenever Jesus told someone “Follow me” it was always a call to leave things behind to pursue things to which He was leading.

What started out as good, even healthy, patterns can lead to stagnation. Stagnation leads to settling. Settling leads to spiritual atrophy. Spiritual atrophy leads to decay. Decay leads to death. That’s what Jesus was getting at when he told the religious people of His day:

“You’re hopeless… Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

-Jesus, Matt 23:27-28 (MSG)

In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on my own patterns of thought, behavior, relationship, and spirit. The truth is that almost every pain-point I experience on life’s journey can be traced back to unhealthy patterns. Growth, progress, and maturity necessitate the breaking of unhealthy patterns and the establishment of healthier ones, even those patterns that were once good for me but have actually become unhealthy.

David’s song this morning felt familiar to the point of me being kind of bored with it after reading psalms with the same pattern every morning this week. C’est la vie. It happens. Having journeyed through the Psalms many times, I am mindful that when we get to Psalm 40 David writes that he is singing “a new song.” God called David “a man after my own heart.” Even he could get stuck in certain patterns that he had to break in order to move on where God wanted to lead him.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Before “Old Things Pass Away,” They Often Lure Me Back

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
Exodus 32:1 (NRSVCE)

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Along my life’s journey, I have gone through multiple stretches of time in which my life experienced major change. In each one, it was a period of upheaval, deep introspection, conscious breaking with old patterns of thought and behavior, seeking to reach for new things that were further up and further in than anything I’d experienced before. Each time I have gone through one of these shifts has been a period of discomfort. Comfort, on the other hand, is both simple and easy. All I had to do was stay in the same patterns of thought, relationship, and behavior.

When I was in my mid-to-late twenties I began to seriously address some hard-wired, addictive behaviors, and unhealthy patterns of thought and relationships in my life. I began working with a counselor and going to support-groups with others who were dealing with their own unhealthy patterns. One of the things that quickly came into focus for me was that many of the patterns of thought and behavior I was struggling with were present in me as a child and in my adolescence.

In a moment of God’s synchronicity, I just happened to be traveling on business to the city where my older brother lived. My brother is seven years older than me and we rarely saw one another in those days. We got together for dinner and I discovered that he was walking his own version of trying to figure out his own unhealthy patterns. As dinner turned into several hours of late-night conversation, we found ourselves attempting to unravel and understand a mystery to us both. Why, when we return home as adults, do we seem to fall back into what feels like this defined role we had always played in the system with which our family operated, complete with scripted lines, well-rehearsed relational blocking? My brother and I walked that stretch of the journey together. In fact, we’re still on it! But, together we’ve made significant progress and some really worthwhile personal discoveries that have informed our respective lives and relationships.

For anyone who grew up annually watching The Ten Commandments with their family every Easter/Passover weekend, today’s chapter should be eerily familiar. Several chapters ago, Moses when up the mountain to talk with God. It’s been over a month now, and he still hasn’t come down from the mountain. So, the Hebrews basically give-up on their relatively new leader and his unfamiliar God with His really strange belief system. They approach Aaron and ask him to make for them a god just like one of the 1500 gods they were familiar with back in Egypt. Aaron relents, makes a golden calf god, and Moses finds the camp in religious revelry.

I confess this morning that every time I watched the movie and every time I’ve read this story before, I have been led to the prescribed audience reaction. I shake my head and whisper a “tsk, tsk” in self-righteous judgment for the weak-minded Hebrews.

This morning, however, I’m seeing it in a whole new way. The Hebrews were only doing what I so often do. I try to push forward into being more like Jesus in how I think, act, and related to others only to find myself slipping back into comfortable old’ patterns that are comfortable, simple, and easy. I spiritually go home and just mindlessly play the old role I’ve always played. It’s just easier. The Hebrews are simply doing the same. God is pushing them out of Egypt, out of victim-mentality, out of the chains of slave-mindedness, into the spiritual boot camp of the wilderness, into a new way of understanding and a new level of maturing relationship. It feels hard, uncomfortable, strange, and unfamiliar. So, they default to back to what is familiar, comfortable, and easy.

In the quiet this morning, I’m recognizing a pattern that has emerged in this chapter-a-day journey through the Moses-story. I keep seeing how the Moses story relates to the Jesus story. Jesus, like Moses, led His followers into major shifts in understanding God, how we have a relationship with God, and how that should lead us to relate to one another and our world. However, when the Jesus movement became the institution of the Holy Roman Empire it was the golden calf moment for Jesus’ followers. In short order, the Jesus movement went back to old, entrenched patterns of social hierarchy, patriarchy, and religious institutionalism.

How do I change? How to I grow? How do I allow old things to pass away and lay hold of the new things God has for me? I’m still learning that piece, but I have learned along the way that it takes both willful determination and the faith to jump and trust that the net will appear. It requires the patience and perseverance to endure discomfort and to keep running even when I hit the wall. It’s helpful, almost essential, to have good companions with me and good mentors out ahead of me. It demands that I learn to have grace with myself when I stumble, stall, and fall back; To receive the grace that God endlessly showers on me if I simply open my heart to it.

It requires that I press on.

And so, on this Monday morning I’m lacing ’em up once again. Another wayfaring stranger on his way home over Jordan.

Thanks for being my companion on the journey today, my friend.

Let’s go!

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Runaway Train of My Brain

we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5b (NIV)

When I was in 8th grade I learned how to diagram sentences in English class and how great stories were structured. In high school I learned how to break down stories and characters into their component parts and how to construct a cohesive presentation. In college I learned how to critique, how to “beat” a script, and how to storyboard an idea. In my personal work with multiple counselors I’ve learned how to recognize my own patterns of thought and the conversations I’m always having with myself. I’m still a work in progress but I’ve been learning over my entire life journey how to meta-communicate. That is, to think not only about what is being communicated but how it’s being communicated.

I happen to be married to Wendy, who does the same thing. It makes marriage interesting.

Thus it was that when I came across the phrase above from today’s chapter what initially struck me was not the spiritual meaning of this phrase, but the fact that it is a recurring theme in conversation between Wendy and me. “Taking every thought captive” comes up regularly in our discussions as we process through patterns of thought and behavior. So, I’ve been thinking about that in the quiet this morning.

I’ve realized along my life journey that my thoughts are often a runaway train. My brains neurons, synapses and transmitters got wired a certain way like a set track and when particular situations or circumstances present themselves my thoughts mindlessly follow where that track leads. There’s no meta-communication. There’s no thought about my thoughts. I just follow the tracks and end up at the same stations of words, emotions, behaviors and situations.

When “taking every thought captive” comes up in conversation between Wendy and me, we are essentially referencing the process from the old Westerns of riding fast to grab control of the train engine and pull on the hand brake. We’re forcing ourselves to think about our thinking and then do something about it.

Wait a minute. I keep going to down this ‘train’ of thought and I never like where it leads me (or us). Why am I thinking this way? What situation/experience/circumstance/word triggered my brain engine to take off down this track? What assumptions have I made in thinking this way? What am I not considering? What am I afraid of? What do my thoughts, words, and actions reveal about what it is I really want or desire? What am I not seeing in my limited view of the situation? Is my perspective skewed, and, if so, by what?”

Forcing myself to consider and answer these questions put the brakes on the runaway train, take the mindless thoughts captive, and begin the process of choosing new paths of thought toward better places in life and relationship.

This morning I’m thankful for God-given brains that are naturally powerful at learning, adapting, and changing. I’m grateful for God who is infinitely gracious with this wayfarer’s life-long journey of chasing down runaway thoughts and laying down new tracks. I am equally grateful for the spiritual power that assists in the mental processing. I am reminded that Jesus great commandment includes loving God with all of my mind as well as my heart, soul, and strength.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a train to catch.

Breaking the Cycles

Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors, following other gods, worshiping them and bowing down to them. They would not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.
Judges 2:18-19 (NRSV)

Everything is connected and each thing affects every other thing around them. Every one is connected and each person affects every other person around them. That’s the general idea behind Systems theory. Things happen systemically.

There is, perhaps, no other section of God’s Message that reveals how systemically God’s creation is than the book of Judges. On a macro level, Judges is about patterns of social behavior. These generational patterns are systemic over centuries and in today’s chapter, the scribe of Judges reveals the pattern before getting into the details of the history:

  1. Joshua, the leader, passes away.
  2. The people abandon God and worship idols.
  3. God gives them over to their ways, they are defeated by enemies and enslaved.
  4. The people repent and cry to God for deliverance.
  5. God raises up a leader (e.g. Judge) to deliver them.
  6. The delivered people follow God.
  7. The leader passes away.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Along life’s journey I’ve found that what we see on a macro level in the book of Judges is found in countless ways on a micro level in our lives. We follow patterns of behavior without recognizing it. It’s systemic:

  • A person in my life does/says (A) which…
  • Triggers reaction (B) in me which…
  • Leads me to do/say (C) which…
  • Elicits response (D) from the other person which…
  • Lead the person to do/say (A) again…

“‘Round and around she goes, where she stops nobody knows.”

Today I’m thinking about patterns of behavior, patterns of thought, and patterns in relationships. Jesus made a habit of calling people out of their destructive spiritual patterns of behavior to walk in new spiritual directions. There are some things that can only be broken and transformed by a work of God’s supernatural grace.

Many people have a big conversion experience in which God calls them to leave their hopeless, destructive systemic cycles toward new Life giving behaviors. I’ve come to understand that this is only the first of many conversion experiences that happen along life’s journey. Time and time again God calls us to break systemic and destructive patterns of thought and behavior to follow His prescription for peace, joy, and love.

Where is God calling me to break the destructive cycles I’m in?

Steering Out of Unhealthy Ruts in Life’s Road

The Road to Home
Familiar ruts (Photo credit: Universal Pops)

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.
Psalm 116:7 (NIV)

There is an ebb and flow to life. Things cycle. Relationships repeat familiar refrains. We often wander thoughtlessly from day to day, then wake from a daydream to realize that we are in the same place we’ve been before. If you’ve noticed, our life journeys follow patterns of our own unconscious making. Like tires that slip easily into the well worn ruts of a dirt road, we slip into well worn patterns of thought and behavior.

Over the past few days I’ve found myself in an emotional valley. I recognize this place. I’ve been here many times before. I’ve come to know that the depth of winter is a difficult seasonal stretch of the journey for me. Short, gray days give way to long, dark nights. The holiday hoopla is over and with it comes a certain physical, emotional and relational hangover. My subconscious links familiar sensory stimuli to painful memories of seasons past. With my guard down, anticipation for the year ahead is lined with an uncertainty that easily lends itself to anxiety and fear. Ugh. Back in the rut.

I ran into the above verse this morning and I heard in it the whisper of the Spirit calling gently to my soul. Return to the rest God has for me in healthy paths and patterns. I have learned from experience that the first step in progressing out of unprofitable emotional or behavioral ruts is to recognize that I’m in it. Once aware of the situation, it takes a conscious resolve to steer out of the rut, which may require an initial jolt of personal effort and energy:

  • Replace: Combat negative thoughts with positive affirmations.
  • Replenish: Do one tangible thing each day to show care for myself.
  • Refresh: Do something loving and unexpected for someone else.
  • Relate: Make time with friends and family who will encourage and fill my life and love tank.
  • Return: to familiar, healthy patterns and paths that have led to good places in the past.
  • Remind: myself daily. Without conscious attention, I easily slip back into mindless, unhealthy ruts.
  • Repeat: There are cycles and patterns to life. Healthy, positive ruts will not made by doing things once, but many times over and over and over again.

 

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Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 8

Australian give way at roundabout sign
Image via Wikipedia

So why does this people go backward,
   and just keep on going—backward!
They stubbornly hold on to their illusions,
   refuse to change direction. Jeremiah 8:5 (MSG)

It takes little or no courage to continue living in the same unhealthy patterns. We perpetuate cycles and systems that drain life from our souls because it’s what we know and there is fear doing anything different. The unknown terrifies us more than the muck in which we find ourselves wading each day.

Yet if it is Life we wish to experience in abundant and increasing measure, than a change of direction is required. Illusions to which we have firmly grasped must be released, old patterns of thought and behavior must be left behind, and new relational systems must be established.

When we walk with Jesus, old things must surely pass away. New things must surely come.

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Chapter-a-Day 1 Kings 10

Patterns emerge in the journey. King Solomon was wiser and richer than all the kings of the earth—he surpassed them all. People came from all over the world to be with Solomon and drink in the wisdom God had given him. And everyone who came brought gifts—artifacts of gold and silver, fashionable robes and gowns, the latest in weapons, exotic spices, and horses and mules—parades of visitors, year after year. 1 Kings 10:23-25 (MSG)

One the most awesome things about journeying through God's message is the way the various pieces and themes fit together. Today as I read the chapter my synapses started sparking and I saw patterns emerge in the text!

A few chapters ago, we read that God gave Solomon a choice of wisdom or riches. Solomon chose to ask for wisdom, and as a result, God said he would grant Solomon's request and added: "As a bonus, I'm giving you both the wealth and glory you didn't ask for."

So, there's a principle and a pattern established: Make wisdom your priority and seeking understanding your goal. Prosperity follows wisdom.

In today's chapter, we see that pattern repeated in both a macro level and a micro level. Look how the chapter is contsructed on the whole. We see that Solomon's wisdom attracts the Queen of Sheba, who comes seeking Solomon's wisdom and understanding. Impressed, she plies him with gifts and the rest of the chapter describes Solomon's riches. Solomon had wisdom, which led to his success.

Then in verses 23-25 (above) the principle is summarized at a micro level. People came to Solomon for wisdom, and his wisdom led to his incredible propserity.

Now, consider Solomon's own words in the book of Proverbs where he writes:

You're blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom,
   when you make friends with Madame Insight.
She's worth far more than money in the bank;
   her friendship is better than a big salary.
Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth;
   nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her.
With one hand she gives long life,
   with the other she confers recognition.
Her manner is beautiful,
   her life wonderfully complete.
She's the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her.
   Hold her tight—and be blessed!
Proverbs 3:13-18 (MSG)

If I seek wisdom, it may very well lead to prosperity and then I am doubly blessed. If I seek prosperity and have no wisdom, I actually profit nothing in God's eyes. That's the way Kingdom economics works.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and kh-67

Chapter-a-Day Judges 14

We each have an Achille's heel. Samson went down to Timnah. There in Timnah a woman caught his eye, a Philistine girl. He came back and told his father and mother, "I saw a woman in Timnah, a Philistine girl; get her for me as my wife." Judges 14:1

The study of Samson is a study in human nature. He was a Nazarite from his birth, meaning that he was set apart by special acts of purity. No hair on his body had been cut and he'd never touched a drop of alcohol. Yet, we find in Samson an important historical lesson. Extreme human efforts at purity can't and don't blot out the darkness of sin that weeds it's way into our hearts. Sin finds a way to reveal itself in the behavioral patterns of our lives. Samson's calamitous life is a prime example.

Samson had a weakness. Like another strong man of antiquity, Achilles, Samson was all brawny hero with a tiny tragic flaw. Achilles flaw was his heel. Samson's flaw was his lust. Samson's tragic dalliance with Delilah was not the exception for Samson, it was the rule. Samson had a weakness for women. It wasn't just a fatal attraction for the opposite sex, it was a bad boy lust for the forbidden females of the Philistines. Today's chapter is an appetizer of the tragic events to come.

Samson's story is my story. It's humanity's story. It's a microcosm of the cycle of sin revealed in the theme of the book of Judges. Desiring to be good and striving for purity can't blot out my tragic weakness. Look at the patterns of my behavior and you'll see the inheritance of Adam at work cycling me back into the familiar struggle with sin and pointing to the Truth that I need a savior.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Frank Boyd