Let's say our day began with burnt toast. Although an insignificant event, we would have developed an opinion about it and our negative thoughts reveal our interpretation of the burnt toast. These thoughts lead to an emotion and emotions coupled end-on-end form our days. Days roll into months and months into years. Bundled together, they become the story of our life, a theme-a lifestyle.
What most people don't realise is that our beliefs direct our thoughts, which influence how we feel, which determine the quality of our life. What we accept about our world, how we fit into and respond to it, is determined by our belief system. So if we take control of our beliefs, we can determine the level of our misery or happiness.
Beliefs and thoughts-positive or negative-are acquired early in life. No-one formally teaches us about developing a belief system; we learn informally, by osmosis, through living with people.
If someone should ask you if you hold a "fear-based belief," you would probably be unable to identify it. Both positive and negative beliefs are packed away in the deep areas of our brains. Generally, they can't be accessed by our memory, because they're in the emotional part of our brain, not the rational part. But even if we can't recall these beliefs, they can be triggered. Our senses are the triggers to memories about our beliefs.
In order to manage a lifestyle that arises out of our subconscious mind, we need to understand how powerful our belief system is. It directs our thinking and in turn, the quality of our life.
We can secure a new lifestyle if we attend to our beliefs. We can identify and weaken unhealthy beliefs and strengthen our healthy ones, replacing negative beliefs with helpful, positive beliefs to enhance our lives.
Sue Cleland, director of the Anxiety and Stress Management Service of Australia, describes it this way. Let's say that subconsciously you believe the following: It is crucial that I make few or no mistakes. I need to be a competent person and achieve in my workplace, marriage and church, so that other people will think I am valuable and significant.
This belief is unhealthy because:
If I change this belief, my life will be different in several important ways:
Mistakes are part of life. When I accept this truth, I will be comfortable with who I am and the mistakes I make from time to time. I will view mistakes as learning opportunities. My self-esteem will be based on the fact that I'm imperfect, not on what I do or on what others think of me.
Change in our lifestyle occurs when we pay attention to our underlying beliefs. Changing our thoughts is temporary. Trying to change what we do without attending to the belief behind it is a recipe for frustration. Positive thinking will not alter our lifestyle unless it grows out of our beliefs. Because one's belief system alters one's thoughts, the beliefs must be replaced if the lifestyle is to change.
This is much deeper than changing habits. Discipline, although helpful, can be superficial. Discipline can be imposed on me by others or I can impose it upon myself. Change needs to flow from deeply held values, and for this, one needs a new heart (read, mind) to sustain a new lifestyle.
Jesus spoke about the source of a good life that comes from God, for trusting only in ourselves is risky. We need a secure reference point outside of ourselves. We need an external compass.
Jesus taught the ethics of living when He said, "I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven... . If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:44-48).
That last sentence has caused many people to adopt the unhealthy belief of perfection. But the idea that we should be as perfect as God in heaven can easily cause you to become so discouraged that you throw in the towel and give up on living a better life altogether.
The good news is that Jesus not only sets the standard, He invites you to trust in His perfect life. He lived it for your benefit. This most powerful of all beliefs generates a joyful lifestyle. And God gives it to anyone who accepts it. It's a belief that will take care of your imperfections.
God's outrageous, sacrificial love will motivate the way you live. It is both a standard required and the perfection supplied. He requires much, but He provides even more. As John the Baptist said, "Look, the Lamb of God [Jesus], who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).
We can believe that a great lifestyle comes from wealth, status or sexual conquest. However, deep down, we know that the answer is in a different place-it is in the reordering of our deepest beliefs and accepting the renewal of our belief system by Jesus Christ. If we are not guided by Christ's love, we are inevitably controlled by a cruel counterfeit.
A great lifestyle is found in relationship, not just a religion. It is found in a Person and not in a place. It is a free belief for a life well-lived. The reality is, we can be stewards of a better lifestyle.