If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you’d like to win, but you think you can’t,
It is almost a certain – you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost;
For out in this world we find
Success begins with a fellow’s will
It’s all in the state of mind.
If you think you’re outclassed, you are;
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win the prize.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man;
But sooner or later the man who wins
Is the one who thinks he can!
– Walter D. Wintle
As anyone who battles with anxiety or depression can tell you, feeling like a failure is that subtle prompt which triggers the downward spiral leading to dark days. First come the desolate feelings of guilt and shame…then the negative thoughts of self-reproach creep in…until finally, the festering failure has attached itself to your psyche so wholly that you utterly crumble under the weight of it all. Then the dark days come; those days where it seems that not the smallest ray of sunshine can reach into your soul, that not one word from your mouth can reach the ears of the Creator, that you are untouchable, unreachable, unlovable. The words of the prophet are fitting:
The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it… – Isaiah 1:5b-6a
Is this how Christians are meant to live…drowning in the depths of despair? Of course not. This mindset is absolutely contrary to Christian virtues such as joy, hope, and peace. To be sick in the head, faint in the heart, and altogether unsound is no way to get on in life. Yet many of us (even those who have been redeemed) fall into this mindset from time to time. For those of us who lean towards self-deprecating moods, it is a constant struggle to stay above water. However, it can be done, if we are diligent.
As our poet, Walter D. Wintle, noted previously; a sound mind that is free of self-reproach is absolutely crucial to success. This is true not only in a worldly sense, but ever so much more in a spiritual sense. Our Lord calls us to come out of the festering failure mindset and into a Christlike mindset “of power, and of love, and of a sound mind”. (2 Timothy 1:7) This seems nigh to impossible during our dark days, but it is for this reason that we must be proactive rather than reactive. We must put a stop to the dark days before they begin.
How do we do perform such a feat? We have to start with our thoughts.
A great flaw of the human nature is a bend to be led by feelings. While feelings are important and can even be a blessing in their rightful place, they are never to be the captain of our soul’s ship. Too many times we let feelings take the wheel, when it ought to be our Spirit-fed thoughts steering us in the right direction. We must filter each feeling we have through the lens of God’s truth. When those feelings of festering failure come creeping in, we have a choice in how we deal with them. We can give in to the feelings, and let ourselves sink in to the miry pit of self-loathing and depression…OR…we can ask ourselves the following questions:
- Are my feelings of festering failure well-founded? Is the guilt I am struggling with valid? Should I feel ashamed and lowly right now? Is there a sin of which I need to repent that God is convicting me of?
- Is this just Satan trying to get in my head and separate me from the love of God and hinder my spiritual growth?
There are two different kinds of guilt. One comes from Heaven, but the other is a mere counterfeit from Hell…festering failure. It’s very important to know which we are being confronted with when negative feelings arise. Today we will learn to identify these two different types of guilt…
First we will consider the authentic guilt from Heaven…the guilt that grows.
This guilt is the chastening rod of the Lord. It is a call to action. It is a warning. It is a “shape up or ship out” wake up call.
The guilt that grows takes root not in a conscience which has been “seared by a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2); but rather, in a conscience that longs to be “void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16). This variety of guilt is healthy and motivating! Many times, guilt is just what we need to wake up and see the error in our ways. It nags at us until we are compelled to repent and recover a pure conscience toward the Lord once again. It is a vital step in redemption, for without guilt we have little ability to acknowledge our sinful condition in the first place.
Those of the world try to avoid any form of guilt, healthy or otherwise. “Live life with no regrets!” they say, “don’t ever feel ashamed for being yourself!” Admittedly, it is more comfortable and convenient to bury our heads in the sand when guilty feelings arise then to deal with the problem then and there. However, we can only hide the truth for so long, and we can “be sure our sin will find us out” (Numbers 32:23). It’s always better to deal with sin before we have to, if you catch my drift. Jehovah God can deal with our sin, or we can straighten up swiftly so He doesn’t have to come down hard on us. The choice is ours.
If we have sinned, we needn’t be afraid to let the guilt that grows have its way with us. Growing can indeed be a painful process in the moment, but the eternal results far exceed the temporary discomfort…
Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. – Ecclesiastes 7:3
We are never to avoid the guilt that grows, but are to accept it is as a learning experience and allow it to make our hearts better.
To keep on trying in spite of disappointment and failure is the only way to keep young and brave. Failures become victories if they make us wise-hearted. – Helen Keller
We won’t linger long in this section, because our main focus today is not on the positive side of guilt, but on the negative side. Today our primary aim is to expose the counterfeit guilt from Hell: festering failure.
• Do you ever feel like a worthless loser, but you just don’t know why?
• Are you ever plagued by a guilty conscience even after you have repented of past transgressions?
• Ever lie awake at night and replay all your mistakes over and over (not sins, mind you – but merely innocent mistakes)?
If this resonates with you, then it sounds to me like you have…
Now we will consider the counterfeit guilt from Hell…the guilt that goes.
Has festering failure gotten it’s grip on you? Yes? No? Not sure what to say? How can you tell if your guilt is authentic or counterfeit? Here is an important rule of thumb to remember: if it’s not the guilt that grows, then it’s the guilt that goes! If your guilt is serving to keep you down instead of lift you up, you can be assured that Satan is getting inside of your head.
I’ve got a bad case of the 3:00 am guilts – you know, when you lie in bed awake and replay all those things you didn’t do right? Because, as we all know, nothing solves insomnia like a nice warm glass of regret, depression, and self-loathing. – D.D. Barant, Dying Bites (The Bloodhound Files, #1)
Guilt that grows says: “I am ashamed that I ____. I will ask the Lord for forgiveness and choose right from now on.”
Guilt that goes says: “I do everything wrong! I am such a loser, always messing up. I’ll just never do the right thing!”
Guilt that grows says: “I spoke out of turn to that person. Shame on me. I will go talk to them and apologize for my behavior.”
Guilt that goes says: “I can’t believe what I said. What a fool! I’m so embarrassed; I never want to see that person again.”
Guilt that grows says: “I’ve been slacking off in my spiritual life lately. I need to get back on track. Time to get to studying right now!”
Guilt that goes says: “I am good for nothing. God could never accept my pathetic efforts, so why even bother? He probably hates me!”
Do you see how the guilt that grows compels you to action, while the guilt that goes only leaves you depressed and despairing? Satan takes a truth (i.e: you messed up) and embellishes it with lies (i.e: you are a complete failure and always will be). Don’t listen to him, friends. When Satan’s festering failure tries to enter your psyche: “gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Peter 1:13a)
Proverbs 14:15 tell us: The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.
In other words, make sure that there is no sin in your life that you are overlooking, but don’t buy into Satan’s outlandish accusations either. Find a healthy balance. There will be times in all of our lives that we will inevitably mess up, there’s no doubt about it. If this were untrue, we would have no need of a Savior! Christians are not known by our perfection, but we are known by our direction. Do we walk in sin, or do we walk in Spirit? Do we condone our sins, or do we confess them? Do we love the bad choices we’ve made, or do we loathe them? The answer to these questions are what make all the difference.
Lay not wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous; spoil not his resting place: for a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief. – Proverbs 24:15-16
The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. – Psalm 37:23-24
If and when you do fall, get right back up again, repent, and move on. Don’t let Satan convince you that you have no ability to do so. This variety of guilt has no ability to grow, so it needs to go. As we looked at previously, the heavenly kind of guilt that grows is the kind that convicts us of sin and brings us up out of the mire. The guilt that goes on the other hand, is nothing more than that hellish festering failure…Satan’s attempt to keep us in the mire of our sin by bogging us down with self-defeat. This vicious cycle is not a help, but a hindrance…
Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean. – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Guilt may be right around the bend for any one of us. It might come today, tomorrow, next week, or next month…but it will come. Guilt is a reality this side of heaven for those with a working conscience. We all have our guilt, and as I’ve said before, it’s not always a bad thing. However, are we prepared when it is? Are we prepared to identify that counterfeit guilt from Hell and say “I will have no part in Satan’s lies”? Are we prepared to see our guilt for what it is and either let it grow or let it go?
For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10
The godly sorrow is the guilt that grows – “working repentance to salvation” inside of us.
The sorrow of the world is the guilt that goes – “working death” inside of us.
Which kind of guilt will you allow to be at “work” in your life?
There are two kinds of guilt: the kind that drowns you until you’re useless, and the kind that fires your soul to purpose. – Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1)
Friends, be careful not to let festering failure creep into your heart and steal your purpose. Satan can and will use this guilt from his handy bag of tricks to keep you separated from God. Don’t give him the pleasure! Next time guilty feelings arise in you, remind yourself of this: “If it’s not the guilt that grows, it’s the guilt that goes!”
For God’s Glory,
Chelsea Bolks is a church of Christ minister’s wife, and the home educating mother of two children. She and her family currently reside in Northwest Iowa.