What is the cause of your anger, anxiety, worry, and frustration?
If you’re like me, you often externalize the blame. You point to something external to your feelings—such as other people, or adverse circumstances—as the cause of your emotional trouble and bad behavior. Just get rid of the adversity and the mental stability will follow, you might think.
But is that right?
Think about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the furnace of fire (Daniel 3).
I’m sure you’re familiar with their story. Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold the three friends refused to worship. As punishment, the king threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace where they would burn to death.
How would you react to that threat?
Imagine one hundred people faced with the same danger—what is the range of reactions they might have?
Some people would be terrified.
Some would be defiant.
Some would be angry.
Some would fall to their knees and worship the idol.
And some would be at peace.
That’s how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego reacted. Why? They knew God was able to save them:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan 3:16-18).
If you recognize that there can be a range of emotional responses to the same adversity, then you’ve just realized something important: external circumstances don’t cause your mental disturbances; beliefs about those circumstances do. To adapt an idea from Albert Ellis,
A= Adversity (e.g., the threat of being thrown into a furnace)
B= Beliefs about A
C= Consequences (your emotional and behavioral reactions).
Most people assume that A causes C. And so, they assume their emotions will stabilize once the adversity goes away.
It comes as a surprise to find your beliefs (B) about the adversity (A) are far more important. Paul didn’t say be transformed by changing your circumstances, but “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). Peace is related to your mind’s reliance upon God’s providence (Phil 4:7), not with having an adversity-free life.
What beliefs afforded Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego such peace when faced with death?
They believed God was sovereign. They knew that God would ultimately decide their fate, not the king. And they were content with whatever God decided—whether to save them or not. They had peace in the face of the worst kind of adversity, because of what they believed about their situation.
What a powerful lesson!
How do you think Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego would have acted if they denied God’s sovereignty? If they did not believe their fate ultimately was in God’s hands? They probably would have reacted with fear, panic, and idolatry.
I’m preaching to myself when I say this—if you’re blaming your circumstances for how you are reacting, consider the role played by your beliefs. Are they Biblical beliefs? Are they doctrinally sound? Do you have a divine perspective on your adversity or a merely human one? Are you working entirely by sense knowledge, or is God’s revelation carrying the day in your mind? Are Biblical premises leading you to Biblical conclusions, or are you thinking in a limited, carnal, way?
False beliefs are often your greatest adversity.