Skill Thought : Stopping the Sark
Written by Nik Harrang, contributor at THRIVEtoday and Operations Manager for Deeper Walk. Nik was trained for college ministry in Los Angeles and received his M.A. in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He started college ministries on several campuses in Seattle, WA, and served as Associate Pastor at Every Nation Church, Seattle until 2017. Nik is passionate about helping people grow in emotional, relational, and spiritual health.
Can you recall a time when you just “knew” you were right, only to discover that in fact, you were mistaken? It’s a bit embarrassing, isn’t it? I’ve had this happen to me many times. Just a few weeks ago I confidently corrected someone on something, only to discover later that day that I was wrong. An apology was forthcoming, and I was reminded once again of the persistent presence of my ‘sark.’
What is the sark you may ask? The sark (or sarx) is sometimes translated ‘flesh’ or ‘sinful nature’ in the Bible. It is not referring to our earthly bodies but rather to our propensity to see life according to our view of who people are and how things should be. Dr. Jim Wilder calls this our “picker.” Rather than trusting God to decide what was best for them, our first ancestors decided to choose what seemed right to them. From then on, every generation has received a ‘picker’ to make us think we can know what is good or evil, right or wrong, to be chosen or avoided.
For many years, I thought that the best way to parent, lead, preach, counsel, or do just about anything else could be ‘discovered’ by reading books or learning from experts. If I could just read widely enough, if I could just learn the best techniques, if I could learn (and remember!) the best principles to apply in every important area of my life, then I could live well. Then I would be walking in wisdom. Then I could avoid mistakes and do things the ‘right way’.
Now, wanting to be a good parent, an effective leader, or to live well in any area of life is not a bad desire. On the contrary. However, what I failed to realize is that I was going about it all wrong. I was trying to educate my ‘picker’ instead of nurturing the heart Jesus gave me.
Even though Christians are given a new heart and brought into a relationship with God who is with us and who promises to guide us, our ‘picker’ remains alive and well. Perhaps surprisingly, the more biblically trained our sark is, the more dangerous it becomes. We can be ‘convinced’ that we are right because we have bible verses to back us up. How dangerous this can be!
Sadly, it’s not uncommon for Christians to become more focused on being ‘right’ than on being loving. Fighting for truth becomes more important than preserving relationships. It’s not that truth doesn’t matter. Truth is vital, as error and falsehood can lead to great destruction. Yet, the apostle Paul reminds us that truth without love counts for nothing.
Instead of “leaning on our own understanding,” (even our biblically informed understanding), we are to “trust in the Lord with all our heart.” Our lives are not to be centered around knowing the right answers or doing things the right way. Rather, the goal of our existence is cultivating a relationship of love and trust in the right Person: our Creator.
The key to stopping the sark (Skill 14) is seeing what God sees (Skill 13). Often this involves hearing the perspectives of others involved, even when we think we already know something. The apostle Paul wrote the church in Corinth that “[together] we have the mind of Christ.” It seems that part of what he is driving at is that it is in community that we can more fully discern God’s wisdom and guidance. It is a sign of both wisdom and humility to share our perspective of how we see something, and to invite others to share their perspective with a genuine desire to learn from them.
Another key to stopping the sark (Skill 14) is to cultivate an interactive relationship with Immanuel, where we tune in to hear His perspective on what we are experiencing (Skill 13). Allow me to give an example:
Some time ago I found myself regularly irritated by a person. They simply rubbed me the wrong way. Sadly, in my mind (sark), I saw some of their ways of relating as irritating and somewhat annoying. In my heart I knew I was not seeing them the way God sees them, and I did not like these judgments welling up inside me toward them. Thankfully I have learned how to talk to Immanuel (Jesus – God with us) about things and ask Him to share His heart with me (Skill 13). I began with some interactive gratitude, then asked God to show me how the enemy wanted me to see this person (often the sark is influenced by the enemy). Sure enough, all sorts of judgments and negative perspectives came to mind. I wrote these down, and read them to myself, reminding myself that this was not the truth about this person, but simply what felt true to me at the time.
Next, I asked God to show me how He saw this person. As I began to journal, putting words to the thoughts and impressions bubbling up in response to this question, my heart started to become tender. I sensed God was pointing out that, from His perspective, this person was an overcomer. Although I didn’t really know them that well, I began to sense that they had been through a lot of challenges in life. Yet amidst the pain and hardship they encountered, they had cultivated deep trust in God as they relied on Him to overcome painful things I was not even aware of. A new respect for this person began to arise in my heart. I began to feel tenderness and compassion for them, and all of a sudden some of their annoying habits didn’t seem to matter as much anymore. What I sensed most of all was a reminder that this person was God’s beloved child. He is proud of them. He has walked with them through many trials in this life, and the good He sees in them far outweighs any idiosyncrasies or areas of immaturity.
To this day when I see them I can still sense God’s tenderness toward them. And now I find that I am able to better ‘act like myself’ (Skill 12) in how I relate to them.
I still like to learn from people who live life well. I still value finding better ways to do things and learning from experts in important areas of life. However, slowly I am learning to carry the things I learn from others, and my own perspectives and opinions, with an open hand. I am learning to admit that, while I may ‘think’ I know the right thing to do in a situation, that ultimately only God knows. It is so freeing to admit, “I don’t know…let’s talk to Immanuel about it!”