This blog is based on a sermon that I recently preached on from Exodus 32. I received such positive feedback that I decided to expand a bit on it here. So this blog is a bit longer than usual, but I think you’ll find it worthwhile to invest a few extra minutes to read it.
Let me begin by asking you a question. Are there certain scenarios or people in your life that tend to raise your blood pressure? What drives up your stress or anxiety level? Maybe it’s the thought of having to go to work tomorrow to face that awful coworker or boss. Maybe it’s a fear of paying the bills or job security. For some it may be as serious as waiting for a phone call from the doctor for test results. Whatever or whoever drives up your stress and anxiety isn’t the issue; the issue is how you deal with it.
Without even knowing it, we all have the tendency to use coping mechanisms. These are behavioral or thought patterns that help us deal with a difficult or uncomfortable situation. Our tendency is to revert to previous behavior that helped us. Most of the time these are negative in nature. Some people turn to smoking; others turn to drugs or alcohol; and still others revert to even more inappropriate and harmful patterns.
We tend to default to negative patterns because they’re familiar or comfortable…even though we know they can lead to sin, shame and disappointment. We do them anyways because on some level, for a short while, they make us feel better and forget about the pain we are experiencing. This is dangerous on so many levels and—to be quite honest—it’s the lazy response.
We know that diet and exercise is a much better response to these stressors in our lives, but instead we default to eating junk food and poisoning our bodies with all kinds of other substances. What we need to do is to carve out a new pathway. Think about it. When you look at a field to cross, the first thing you look for is to see if there is already a path that has been carved out. We don’t test it, we don’t investigate, we just walk it because it’s there. It’s easy and requires very little effort on our part. What we need to do is carve out a new pathway of behavior and thinking. It’s a lot more work, but the end result is way better. Think about other ways to deal with the shame or the stress of an event, whether past or present.
Consider the actions of the Israelites in Exodus 32:1—When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
The people had been free from slavery in Egypt for only 50 days. It seems that after 430 years of suffering and abuse that they had forgotten what it was like to be normal. The entire nation was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They had felt abandoned by God for the majority of the time they were in Egypt. And now that Moses was gone for 40 days, they felt abandoned again. What was the first thing they did? They fell back to old patterns of behavior. Calf worship was something they would have seen when they were slaves back in Egypt. Without even thinking about it, they went back to their old ways because it’s all they knew how to do. We’re quick to judge the people for their behavior, but the truth is that we often do the same thing when faced with stressful and unpleasant situations.
So, what are we to do? I think the Bible says it best in Romans 12:2—Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Before you act next time and regret your decision, stop and pray and ask God to help you renew your mind. Don’t fall back into your old ways of thinking and behaving. It’s a lot more work to carve out that new path, but you are worth it!