Watchman Nee, the well-known Chinese Christian teacher, wrote a book by this title, Spiritual Reality or Obsession, so I’m not attempting here to duplicate anything he wrote. However, after many years of seeking the Father in heaven, I can testify that many of us suffer a great deal in the throes of obsession, especially when it comes to the things of God. Religious obsession is absolutely the worst kind!
Merriam-Webster defines obsession as “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling; broadly : compelling motivation <an obsession with profits>.” For the believer seeking both the truth in the Holy Spirit and a biblically factual position, this understanding is paramount because we could spend years, even decades, being driven by obsessions in the spiritual realm. I write here of the seriously seeking person who wants deeply to please God and at the same time remain peaceful in his or her search. Without true rest in God (Hebrews 3 & 4), our motivations to serve God may be badly affected by obsessive-compulsive ideas that push us, while all the while believing we are right but proceeding “off-track.”
From the soul side of things, certainly obsessions have a psychological basis. We can obsess about anything: football, food, drugs or alcohol, women, men, cars, our physiques, others’ physiques, knowledge, etc., and, yes, religion. We all know ISIS is a painful example of religion gone bonkers, but it’s also rampant in the church of Jesus Christ as well. As the old Datsun slogan iterated, “We are driven.” If we remain in denial about this, the weary soul, burnout on church and disappointment are very likely to follow. There is also a demonic side to obsession, and in many cases, the condition known as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which every other person you meet seems to claim to have.
Humans are motivated by various things that can certainly become obsessive. We so often fail to understand the aptly named “God-shaped vacuum” inside us that only He can fill. This goes way beyond our salvation, as God must fill every area of our lives where we’re still seeking fulfillment by some other means. Everything else we seek is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. No amount of “getting” will satisfy the soul that understands its need for God but is set on attempting to bypass Him with worldly possessions, pleasure, fame or sex. John said it this way:
1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
To boil it down, we are motivated by two emotions — love or fear – and usually there’s a mix of the two. Obsessions are driven by fear: Fear of not having, getting, possessing, acquiring, controlling or maintaining. Real love (agape) is not driven by obsession, which is often quite simply self-centered craving. “Obsessive love” is nuttier than a fruitcake and can make you nuts. Oh, no? Think of the people who become deeply depressed enough to kill themselves after getting dumped by another they once loved and thought they loved them. On the contrary, real love is spelled out clearly for us in 1 Corinthians 13, the essence of which says real love is about loving God first, others second and ourselves last. This kind of real sacrifice wants the best for the other person. I love how The Message describes love:
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end. (1 Cor. 13:3-7 The Message)
I’m not going to survey my readers to find out how you did on the love survey. If you’re like me, you often get an “F” in agape (God’s kind of love). We might do well in some areas sometimes, but most often we’ve got a “swelled head,” we “strut,” or we “give up,” etc. easily.
Obsession & Demons
One of the characteristics/symptoms of demonic oppression is drivenness. In other words, the oppressed person may lose control over his or her actions, thoughts or behavior and feel compelled/driven to possess what he or she desires. Demons are restless. We find this kind of thing happening repeatedly in the New Testament, where the affected person is pushed into some kind of uncontrollable state.
In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, . . . Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.
For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. . . . Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” . . . “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him.
Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father.
Most often we don’t see these kinds of behaviors today, unless we’re in the deliverance business (or on a mission in Africa or some other place where demonic possession is prevalent), where seemingly “together” people manifest behaviors, language or thoughts that are not initiated by the person himself or herself but by evil spirits that have gotten hold of un-crucified areas of a person’s personality. In most cases, if Christians are struggling, it’s in the area of the mind, where we may have thoughts we absolutely detest but cannot get freedom from. Often Christians will live with these thoughts/behaviors and remain in denial that they exist, repress them, or perhaps be wise enough to get help.
(At this point I hasten to mention Restoring the Foundations (RTF), a ministry that can deliver and heal the afflicted by the power of Jesus – http://www.restoringthefoundations.org. If you want to know more about this, write me – firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Whatever the case, until one allows the transforming power of Jesus Christ to work in him or her, the beat goes on year after year. The problem for most is this requires a great deal of spiritual perseverance and discipline, which many Christians will NOT submit to. The truth is, until this happens, no amount of church attendance, seminars or Christian knowledge will set them free.
This is a toughie. For the most part, westernized Christians equate knowledge of the Bible with spiritual reality, which is far from the truth. Biblical knowledge, although very important, does not produce spiritual reality. On the other hand, one’s ability to use gifts of the spirit does not equate to spiritual reality, either. If this were true, Paul would have declared the Corinthian church as spiritual, but he didn’t:
“You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” (1 Cor. 3:3).
This is the same church of which he boasted:
“I thank my God at all times for you because of the grace (the favor and spiritual blessing) of God which was bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, 5 [So] that in Him in every respect you were enriched, in full power and readiness of speech [to speak of your faith] and complete knowledge and illumination [to give you full insight into its meaning]’ (1 Cor. 1:4-5 Amp).
Spiritual reality only comes by prayer and submitting daily to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit to help us go against our self-centered inclinations. Sanctification is the operative word here. If we continue to exalt self above the truth of the Bible and the Holy Spirit’s revelations, we won’t experience spiritual reality.
How do we proceed to spiritual reality? Besides being filled with the Holy Spirit and walking in the Spirit, we need to heed the words of Jean Guyon, a 17th century Christian “mystic,” of whom John Wesley said:
“How few such instances do we find of exalted love to God, and our neighbor; of genuine humility; of invincible meekness and unbounded resignation.” principles of Quietism, and imprisoned her. “
Jean Guyon spelled out one way to find spiritual reality when she said, “Wisdom that emanates from God is found only in dying to all things…”
The carnal mind hates dying to what it thinks, thus opposing the Mind of Christ. Deception results in every area where we reject this idea. We often suppose we have the Mind of Christ while maintaining an unbiblical attitude. As long as we pursue primarily our own way, we oppose the direction of the Lord and are subject to satanic intervention and persistent oppression. Obsession has its roots in this predilection. Do you ever wonder why some Christian leaders continue to make millions of dollars from their following while often perpetuating a self-centered gospel? It’s simply because people are inclined toward deception; they don’t want to die to what THEY want! This is true about both the self-indulgent teacher and the gullible audience!
The Apostle Paul’s attitude reflected his exaltation of the cross against his own inclination to exalt himself in self-centeredness when he wrote, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). He is the one who received revelations so great that he couldn’t talk about them (2 Cor. 12:3-6)! He had tons of things he could boast about, but his boasting was in the cross, which had done a very serious work on Paul’s mindset:
“Rather, let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” 18For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends (2 Cor. 10:17).
Obsession or Obsessed by God?
Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest) summed it up this way:
“Are you obsessed by something? You will probably say, “No, by nothing,” but all of us are obsessed by something— usually by ourselves, or, if we are Christians, by our own experience of the Christian life. But the psalmist says that we are to be obsessed by God… “If we are obsessed by God, nothing else can get into our lives— not concerns, nor tribulation, nor worries. And now we understand why our Lord so emphasized the sin of worrying. How can we dare to be so absolutely unbelieving when God totally surrounds us? To be obsessed by God is to have an effective barricade against all the assaults of the enemy.” (Are You Obsessed by Something? Oswald Chambers).
Our American view is that the Lord Jesus Christ commends bigness: The guy or gal with the big church, big ministry, big following, and big bucks. Spiritual reality may have nothing to do whatsoever with this mentality. God is primarily interested in faithfulness where you live and in what you do. Your sphere of spiritual operation may be limited to going to a boring job day after and year after year. But God’s Eye isn’t on what we perceive as spiritual but what He KNOWS is spiritual reality – and that is far from religious obsession….
Joseph Beckham is the author of Overcoming Bipolar Disorder & Other Mental Difficulties: A Christian Perspective.
Get the print version today at https://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?keyWords=overcoming+bipolar+disorder+%26+Other+mental+difficulties&type=. The print version also will soon be available on Amazon, ITunes and other book distribution websites along with the epub version, which is already available. Joe is also the author of Deeper Water for Thirsty Souls – http://amzn.com/1493781286