The Odyssey (Part 4)

The Stronghold
by Rayola Kelley

For believers there are two great battle fronts that often rage even in the best of times. One is with the tongue. James said the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity that sets on fire hell itself (James 3:6). However, the second front is the imagination.

Last month I talked about the “old man” in us who proves to be our greatest enemy. He can swing from emotion to emotion, declare victory from the base pinnacle of intellectual prowess, and jump from one fickle attraction to another, while groping at the ropes of undisciplined affections. At first the “old man” may even appear a bit graceful at his many maneuvers through the jungle of prideful glee, but eventually “he” will experience a great fall that proves it is anything but graceful as he tries to rise up out of the muddy debris of failure and despair.

I am quite aware of this vain exercise that occurs when the “old man” takes center stage to claim his right to reign supreme in his small insipid world of foolishness. I cannot begin to tell you of the many times I had to climb out of the swamp of insanity to once again face the harsh reality that everything the Word of God says about the “fallen man” is absolutely, irrevocably true!

The swamp of insanity not only allows you to see the ridiculousness of the “old man” but to smell the foul odor of death he carries with him. All the different waters of the world will not cleanse him. He is a hopeless wretch, doomed in his miserable state of spiritual ruin.

But, praise the Lord, it was this reality about my hopeless plight that always brought me humbly to the cross of redemption to seek the wonderful intervention of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. There I would be cleansed by His blood and raised up in identification to a new life that emitted the wondrous fragrance of our Lord’s life. And, what a glorious fragrance it must be to the throne of heaven!

The Bible gives us insight into the destructive possibilities of the imagination. We know that unless the mind is transformed, it remains carnal and will prove to be enmity against God. In Noah’s day the thoughts of the heart were continually evil. The heights these thoughts reached in their delusion simply revealed the depths that man’s mind had fallen away from in relationship to the reality of God. Noah’ righteous testimony in the midst of such depravity is what finally ushered in God’s judgment upon the whole world. We are told in Matthew 24:37-39 that the environment in the end of the last days will be the same as it was in the days of Noah. The Apostle Paul said of that day that people would ever be learning but not really coming to the real knowledge of Jesus (Genesis 6:5; Romans 8:5-7; 2 Timothy 3:7; 2 Peter 2:5).

In 2 Corinthians 10:2-5, we are told that the spiritual strongholds are in the mind. These strongholds are imaginations that exalt themselves against the real knowledge of God. InEzekiel 8:12-13, it talks about idolatry taking place in the imagery of the mind. In Ezekiel 14:3-4, we are told that man can have idols in his heart. It is for this reason that I refer to idols in the heart as idols in secret chambers and for the idols of the imagination, I refer to them as idols in high places.

The truth is that we often create in our imagination, a god to our own liking or preference. Even though we declare that the god we have exalted is the God of the Bible, it is not so. The reality is that the god of imagination is a god we can understand and control, but when life hits us with the unexpected, the god of imagination proves lifeless and powerless. It is at this point that we can become angry and disillusioned with our god, but we transfer it onto the God of the Bible.

Clearly, to overcome the “old man” in us we must come to terms with the ways of the carnal mind. Before I could face the depth of depravity the “old man” can quickly descend to, I had to recognize the type of tool that could dig a deep hole in seconds. In fact, for me I cannot begin to tell you how many grand canyons I have dug over the years with this tool. After all, it seemed so harmless. The size of this tool seems small and powerless. However, its ability to dig and enlarge any pit, while it ascends the heights of ridiculousness is indescribable. And, what is this insignificant tool? It is the imagination.

Imagination begins with one little thought. But, this little spade of a thought opens the door to the shovel of possibilities which employs the backhoe of speculation. The backhoe of speculation begins to dig the hole of foolishness. As the backhoe of speculation begins to descend into the black hole of ridiculousness, it must then implore the big crane of arrogance to fill the large gravel trucks of nonsense with the endless debris of perverse conclusions. The truck of perverse conclusions, creates a rut of insanity because there is no apparent route out of the abyss of mental despair that has now been generated by the endless activity of the mind.

No doubt, some of you probably relate to the above scenario. Perhaps, you may even have a better description of it than I do. However, this is a fair explanation of how the imagination works. It is for this reason that we are instructed to take every thought captive, not our imagination, and bring each one into obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). It is obvious that the imagination is activated by our thought process.

Through the years many of my battles have been fought on the frontline of my imagination. It never took much for my imagination to start digging a pit of mental despair, while my high opinions about my conclusions would begin to swing from the heights of absurdity. As I became increasingly aware of the process by which my imagination would eventually slide downward, gaining a frightening momentum, I would begin to mark the point where it would take off on a tangent flight that had no real thrust behind it. Then I would try to brace myself as I knew I would fall into an emotional torrent that could be related to taking a miserable roller coaster ride that would crash in a pit of despair.

It is for this reason that I want to address the culprit that causes so many people to operate in a despairing reality rather than in light of the hope of heaven. Instead of experiencing a roller coaster ride that leads to utter hopelessness, we as believers, can learn to grab the eternal Rock of Heaven, knowing the Lord will work all matters out according to His perfect plan.

In order to learn how to grab the Rock of heaven when we are on an emotional roller coaster ride is not as hard as one would think, but it can prove to be somewhat daring. It is daring because we must look for the exits that have been provided for us. When the momentum is great, it can prove to be a bit disconcerting to find the exit.

Before we consider the exits God provides, let us look at the places our imagination takes us. The first place it will usually take us is to the heights of infallibility. So many times we cannot see how we are wrong about our conclusions. It seems that at such heights of confidence, our thoughts are clear and certain. We have looked from every angle and cannot conceive that we do not have the right take on a matter. At that point, we have such assurance in our understanding. However, even from such heights, we can only know in part and our thoughts will never reach the heights of God for His thoughts are higher. It is for this reason that we are told not to lean on our own understanding. I have learned through the years that the exit when it comes to this particular ride is to stop my thought process and seek God’s perspective (Proverbs 3:5; Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 12:3; 1 Corinthians 10:12; 13:9).

The next place our imagination can take us is to the place of possibilities. In our false state of infallibility we can imagine that there is no end to what is possible. However, from such heights we cannot see the detailed topography of the terrain below. There are canyons of temptations, pits of challenges, and ravines of confusion. Obviously, when we encounter these different types of terrain, we cannot fly over them; rather, we must walk through or around each area. It is for this reason that many individuals can settle on the plateaus of complacency, never really advancing upward to obtain what is excellent or descending to the valley where they are forced to choose the route they must tread. The prophet Joel best describes this valley, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14).

I have learned that when I hit this point of the place of possibilities, that I must not only stop to get my bearings, but I must repent. It is at this point that the conclusions of the imagination can become quite idolatrous. Repentance of idolatry requires me to turn around from pursuing or serving false gods and seek the light of the true God of heaven and earth.

What normally follows the place of possibilities is that of speculation. Possibilities generally represent a pinnacle of unrealistic dreams or expectations. However, such possibilities will often elude us and we will find ourselves sliding down the slippery trail of speculations. Speculation begins when a person hits confusion and uncertainty about a situation. At this point many try to fill in the blanks with indifferent opinions, wishful platitudes, and past experiences. It is at this place that imagination can run rampant because there is nothing to really compare our conclusions to other than the Word of God. It is from this premise that many usually crash land in the pit of fear.

Fear brings us to the final place of our mental journey. Fear represents the ultimate depth that all vain imaginations will lead us. As you consider how vain imagination works, you realize that it eventually comprises a slide, and once the descent into the pit of fear begins, it can be quite harrowing. It is amazing how we can be swinging in the heights of great expectation or minding our own business on the plateau of normalcy one minute, only to be brought down into the very pit of fear the next minute. This reaction is because we have come face to face with  unknown territory. As doubt reaches up to clutch us, we find ourselves being pulled down as our feet begin to slip on the wet rocks of speculation about the present situation. After all, we want to be sure about a matter, but when we reach the slippery rocks of assumption, we cannot be sure of anything except that fear is ready to swallow us in a black pit of hopelessness.

In the pit of fear, probabilities of defeat and destruction can take center stage. In the pit, we cannot see any hope on the horizon; therefore, it all looks bleak. It is at this point we come face to face with the strongholds of imagination that can be erected in our mind. As in the Promised Land, vain imaginations at this place represent the formidable giants that are standing in the way of the life that God promised us.

We have a choice. We can stand in fear of the giants or in awe of God. We can choose to listen to the hopeless claims of our imagination or put our focus on the One who delivers. We can choose to deny fear any real platform or we can give way to its idolatrous, enslaving lies. We can focus on the hopelessness of fear or put our mind on the Lord and come to a place of peace and rest in Him (Isaiah 26:3).

Admittedly, it is not easy to put one’s mind on Christ after the slippery descent takes place into the pit of fear, but we must realize that as long as our nose is up against the wall of fear it will appear as an infallible giant. It is for this reason, I tell people to quit pushing against fear to try to conquer it; rather, back up. Once you back up, you can look upward to put your focus on the Lord, for the battle is really His. Once you do, grace will be able to flow downward and give you that measure of faith to simply stand in confidence that He will raise you out of the pit and give you His heavenly perspective.

This brings me to another aspect of imagination. It is the stigma of standards. So many times Christians feel guilty about crashing into the pit of fear. The guilt comes from not living up to personal or religious standards. Individuals who struggle with this stigma often perceive that they should be above falling into any pit of despair. They do not realize that religious standards are erected by our imagination without any real consideration of the human side of a person. The Lord understands our frame and how life challenges its very resolve. The reality is life sometimes comes like a locomotive through the midst of our terrain. Since there are no tracks for the train to properly maneuver through the terrain, it often tears up the turf, leaving chaos behind.

It is in such times (when our life is out of control) that we must trust that God is still in control. He does understand and even though the countryside is torn up by uncertainty, He desires to walk us through the debris. However, it takes everything in us to step over our imagination, cast all our concerns on Him, and take His hand.

I have found myself many times in the pit of fear facing the real strongholds of my life. You would think I would avoid the pit, but as my imagination takes me captive and I find myself riding on the roller coaster, quickly plunging downward. Each time I have found myself in this unpleasant place, I have learned just how faithful God is to meet me in my plight. He has never left me in despair, nor has He forsaken me in the time of hopelessness.

As Christians, we can take comfort in our different pits, knowing that the Lord’s faithfulness is our hope, our place of assurance, and our legacy.