Think back to something or someone really special who came into your life and changed you for the better. Now step backwards. Think about the step/event/circumstance that came before that really special thing or person arrived. In other words, what crucial thing happened to allow the special one to come into your life? Now take another step back, and so on. Go back three to five steps. Map these out and put this puzzle together in your mind.
There’s no such thing as coincidence. Remember James 1:17. If it’s good, it’s from God. Plain and simple. Actually, it can be quite complicated. But God’s got it covered.
Some people may view the Holy Spirit like some kind of undercover agent. I view him as my mentor, my teacher, my comforter, The Voice of Truth, The Voice of Wisdom, The Voice of Courage—the voice I need to listen to and follow the most.
Intrusive thoughts, type 2
Sometimes we may perceive the instructions of the Holy Spirit as an intrusive thought. I call this a Type 2 Intrusive Thought.
A recent example
If the Holy Spirit has asked me to do something—clearly giving me an assignment through the still, small voice in my own mind—and I’ve chosen not to do it, he will very patiently and kindly keep asking or reminding me because doing the assignment will be good for me. I may not like the assignment, like the one last winter when he asked me for months to start asking simple questions of my older sister (e.g., her favorite color and why, her favorite place, etc.) to try to get to know her. The contacts would be via text. It wasn’t a hard assignment, but I didn’t want to do it, so I didn’t.
Why was he asking me to do this? Why now? Eventually I started doing what I was being asked to do and it blessed us both—The Sister I Didn’t Know and me. The timing of my very-tardy obedience was crucial due to the serious drama involving our younger sister—Pam, The Narcissist—that was right around the corner. Pam? The one who hadn’t spoken to me for nine years? Yes. Pam. The warning dream about the brown spider was coming and so was Pam.
Who knew? God did.
Sometimes I am very non-compliant. Well, let’s get right down to it. I disobey sometimes. Blatantly. As my friend Meagan says, “Delayed obedience is disobedience.” She’s right. Thankfully, the Lord is very patient and forgiving with Frankie Ann, The Slowpoke—yours truly. And when I ask him Why?! in a really whiny or argumentative mental tone, the Holy Spirit doesn’t say Because I said so, like my dad—Mr. Navy Commander—used to say all the time. I absolutely hate that non-answer. I hate it. Obviously, the Holy Spirit—the third person of the Trinity—doesn’t answer to me. But because he’s all about love, he doesn’t answer my foot-stomping mental questions with Because I said so. He answers Trust me. I like that answer much better.
But still…. Why do I have to obey first and then wait to find out what this was all about? Why?
Because trusting God builds my faith.
How about a seriously mind-blowing example of a Type 2 Intrusive Thought. This assignment made absolutely no sense whatsoever, so it ranks #1 on the You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me List. Four years ago, the Holy Spirit told me to make an elaborate, life-affirming photo book for my mother-in-law for her birthday, filled with photos, decorations, scriptures, hymn words and personal notes—a massive multi-week project. Excuse me, God? She hates my guts. She’s been treating me like dirt for 15 years. No way. No. No. No. And, in case you didn’t hear me: Absolutely not.
The Holy Spirit continued to persistently and patiently ask me to do this thing. He asked me, clearly, to do it with this attitude: “Focus on the things she did right, not the things she did wrong. That’s the way you like others to treat you.” It was hard to argue with that reasoning, but I was still not happy about this at all. Not one bit. But I did it. Finally. I emailed relatives and asked for photos and personal notes. The photo book, entitled Our Family, turned out really nice, if I do say so myself.
When I gave it to my mother-in-law for her birthday, she said, “This is the nicest gift I’ve received in my whole life.” I think she actually meant that. She just stared at it and slowly turned the pages, trying to drink it all in—totally blown away.
That gift began an unfolding of very important, life-changing events.
First unfolding: My mother-in-law started carrying around her photo book all over the place, showing it to people. She was like Linus and his security blanket. I was really surprised. She talked about it all the time. She started being nice to me (and she simultaneously started treating Brandon like dirt; more on that in a later post). Other relatives asked for copies of the photo book. Wow.
Second unfolding: The next year, I started a photo book design business because of my mother-in-law’s response to her gift. I started renting booth space at craft shows and meeting some wonderful people.
Third unfolding: After my first craft show, I received an invitation to another craft show in the same small town. I accepted. The second show was a total dud. Or was it? Because it was so slow, I walked into the other rooms of the old house where it took place. I met Isobel, who had a booth filled with her beautiful calligraphy. She was quiet, but there was something about her…. I took one of her business cards.
In the months ahead, Isobel and I started meeting for lunch and getting acquainted. We learned that we’d lived parallel lives. We grew up in the same city. We both had an abusive, mentally-ill sister who (1) wasn’t speaking to us and (2) worked diligently to collect all the other relatives. We were both divorced and remarried. We both had long brown hair. We liked the same music. We were both creative and owned small businesses. We were born exactly one month apart. And most importantly, we both loved God.
The reason why the Holy Spirit asked me to make an extravagant, life-affirming gift for my sociopathic mother-in-law was so he could give me my new sister, Isobel—a sister who is peaceful and kind, a sister who loves me, a sister who loves the Lord.
I gave what I thought was a big gift, but he gave me a much bigger, more life-changing gift.
Is that an amazing story or what.
Intrusive thoughts, type 3
Now let’s consider the third and last type of intrusive thought. If you ever watched Looney Tunes cartoons years ago, you’ll remember the little angel on one shoulder and the little devil on the other shoulder, trying to convince a character what to do. We all found those cartoons funny at the time, but they depict something very real and often troubling.
The Type 3 Intrusive Thoughts are all about temptation and sin. Before we sin, we think about sinning. The wrong behavior—the wrong choice—doesn’t just spawn out of nowhere. It is preceded by thought and decision. Where do these thoughts come from? To a great extent, they come from our sinful nature. But sometimes, a bizarre, sin-related thought pops up out of nowhere, and it makes us shake our heads, thinking That was bizarre. Those intrusive thoughts come from The Evil One.
1 Peter 5:6-11
The Armor of God
Wrapping it up
Back to the original question, from part 1 of this post:
What is the difference between an intrusive thought and the revealing, teaching or instructing of the Holy Spirit? Can an intrusive thought be the work of the Holy Spirit?
“Good” intrusive thoughts
I’ll be the first to admit that it seems counter-intuitive (i.e., bizarre) to consider any intrusive thought good. But after unpacking this issue, I’ve definitely come to that conclusion. In a Big Picture kind of way, I consider Type 1 and Type 2 Intrusive Thoughts and the work of the Holy Spirit to be one and the same. A helpful intrusive thought (1) indicates that something is wrong, (2) gives me a clue that I need to pursue or (3) gives me instructions.
(1) When I’m alerted by an intrusive thought that something is wrong, I’m being subtly (or not-so-subtly) advised to do something about it—namely, praying and problem-solving. Much of the good work of grieving can begin with the persistence and the unwanted “encouragement” of a Type 1 Intrusive Thought.
(2) When I’m given a clue—either from an intrusive thought or a dream—I need to dissect it. I need to take the time to pray about it and seriously think about it.
(3) When the Holy Spirit gives me instructions, I would be wise to obey in a timely manner—obviously an area that calls for improvement in yours truly.
Bad intrusive thoughts
Is there an exception to this (i.e., intrusive thoughts being helpful to me)? Absolutely. Type 3 Intrusive Thoughts are the exception. When a thought comes in my mind to do something that is clearly sinful, clearly wrong, clearly outside of God’s way, that intrusive thought is Satan at work. If I’m paying attention and being wise, I will quote truth from scripture, kick Mr. Troublemaker to the curb and do the right thing.
Not sure how to do some of that? Watch the movie War Room. After Brandon saw it recently for the first time, he commented, “It shows you what to do when someone is in trouble.” Well-stated. It does, indeed.
Coming next: The next post is a big one. It’s the first post in a new segment of this series. This segment will walk us through different types of trauma and the journey from denial to healing. The first trauma we’ll explore is abortion. Join me on the journey. Lies… trauma… denial… secrets… gifts… truth… healing.
Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.
Truth from The Word: James 4:1-8
Song for Healing: “Word of Life” by Jeremy Camp