In my household, buttons often fall off clothing and need to be sewn back on. When this happens, I get out my sewing kit with the goal for a newly sewn button to hold tighter and not fall off as before. I take great care to make sure the button is secure, first by threading the needle right through the eye, and then carefully making sure the thread is long enough to pass back and forth several times to hold the button firmly. And I specifically tie a final knot multiple times to make sure the button is fastened tightly.
Threading the LieThe enemy works much the same way in spiritual warfare and in his favorite battleground: the mind. He will thread a lie, making sure it hits at our core with precision like the eye of a needle, and pass it back and forth, threading it and knotting it so it holds securely. It is to his advantage that this process is done slowly and subversively, so those false beliefs build over time in layers that feel comfortable yet stifling.
By the time we recognize the false beliefs, the thread will be too tight and strong and often knotted beyond our ability to untie it.
Many of us will hold these ungodly beliefs over a lifetime, and they will grow into our “truths” despite being deceptive and damaging.
Defining an Ungodly BeliefChester and Betsy Kylstra of “Restoring the Foundations” coined the term “ungodly belief,” which is any belief that does not align with God’s truth as defined by his Word and his character and nature. Chapter 8 of my book takes a deep dive into recognizing ungodly beliefs and how to navigate them in prayer. These false narratives or lies most often affect what we believe about God, our identities, and how we perceive others and the world around us. Often people know these beliefs are false in their heads but act as though they were true. Despite what we may know in our minds, we act on what we feel and set up responses and expectations based on those distorted foundations. We live from that place, even though that place is false. Our minds must be changed, but the ungodly beliefs have to be set right in our hearts for true transformation to occur.
Reinforcement of the Ungodly BeliefLike pulling a thread back and forth across a button, an ungodly belief forms over time, threaded repeatedly in multiple ways in multiple scenarios. The circumstances may change each time, but the lie is reinforced and strongly threaded. Consider the younger sibling who grew up in the shadow of his older brother. His older brother excelled at everything and won awards in both academics and athletics. The younger brother, while a good student, couldn’t compete with his older sibling’s accomplishments. In high school, the younger brother played on the highly competitive basketball team but never started, only clocking in a few minutes each game of playing time. In college, he made good grades but found he could never quite compete with the merit scholar in his class. He completed his final project for graduation, but he turned it in late and the professor docked a few points. He also didn’t get the internship he wanted, even though he obtained his second choice that was a great opportunity and produced a job out of college.
The Root of the LieIn the younger brother’s life, there was a root cause to his ungodly belief. For most people, this starts early at pivotal ages with significant people like family members. In the example of the younger brother, he likely began to believe the lie that “I will always be second best and not good enough” as he grew up in the shadow of his older brother.
That ungodly belief was threaded with precision, as if through the eye of a needle, likely with a root experience or wound.
Ungodly beliefs attach to wounds and most often begin with a thought or suggestion in the mind. That thought can sound final and declarative, with broad sweeping statements that bring changes in attitude and motivations. Maybe the older brother was praised for his basketball ability, and the father told the younger sibling that he had “big shoes to fill on the court.” He immediately felt small and believed he would never be able to compete at that level. Thus, the wound opened the door for a thought to be threaded and built upon in the younger brother’s mind. “I will always be second best” became the lens in which he viewed his life, and that initial thought led to many similar thoughts that built a stronghold. “This is how it is” became the resounding belief. The thought was layered like a stitch sewn on top of another, thick with distortion and false identity. That initial thought built a stronghold over time, which was binding and oppressive. That oppression set up defense mechanisms and unhealthy patterns to provide a false sense of control.
The enemy reinforced the ungodly belief with similar circumstances that hit the same bruise.
In the moment, the younger brother was unaware the pattern was repeated; he believed the circumstances of his final project and internship were unrelated. But they hit the same wound and were targeted to steal, kill, and destroy his identity. Since the ungodly belief of “I will always be second best and not good enough” felt true, eventually the younger brother would either stop trying altogether or overwork himself striving to overcome the comparison. Both responses were out of balance and ultimately robbed his peace and security in his identity. And the enemy wins when our identity becomes twisted beyond recognition. Further, if the younger brother had grown up in church or was a follower of Jesus, he would begin to question the goodness of God as well. The goal of the enemy is not only to distort our identity but ultimately to distort the truth of God’s identity too.
The Solution to Believing the LieIf we are to find freedom, we must renounce the ungodly belief that entraps us. This is a formal declaration of abandonment against the lie. As if the ungodly belief were on trial, renouncing the false belief is legally binding and similar to ripping up a title on a piece of property.
Renouncing the ungodly belief is the formal declaration: “I no longer hold this false belief to be true. It is no longer mine.”
In order for that declaration to be both a decision in the mind and the heart, one must inquire of the Lord for the root cause of the ungodly belief and for his truth to replace the space the false belief owned. This exchange is holy and sets up a stronger possibility for a successful renewing of the mind. But the heart has to be engaged for ungodly beliefs to be renounced. I observe this exchange multiple times a week at Freedom Prayer times as sons and daughters of God receive truth and abandon false ways of thinking. This is why Jesus came: for our freedom.
Drawing Near to GodWe cannot unthread an ungodly belief on our own strength and at a distance from God because those false beliefs feel true and often sound like our own voice. Drawing near is necessary for freedom, and Scripture supports the act of coming close to God in many passages. Consider Hebrews 10:22: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”
Drawing near to God involves close proximity.
We must be in God’s presence to draw near. If we’re honest, when those ungodly beliefs parade in our minds, we often deny they are present. But they feed on each other, especially as our life circumstances seem to support their validity. So we must get near to God: near in our desperation, near in our neediness, and near from a place of knowing his nearness is our good (Ps. 73:28). Also, Hebrews 10 instructs us to draw near with a sincere heart. Because ungodly beliefs disguise themselves as truth, we must admit our hearts can be deceitful. We purpose to draw near even with misleading hearts, giving God full access to expose falsehoods and reveal truth.
A sincere heart has nothing hidden, nothing covered up, and no deceit or pretense.
We must declare God has access to illuminate anything in our hearts that parades itself as truth. We must come to God knowing we can’t see everything that is deceitful, but we give him access to all of it because he is trustworthy and good.
The Plaque of the Threaded LieOver time, years of the same ungodly beliefs threaded in our lives can build up not only belief systems but strongholds of false narratives. If we are somewhat aware of the lies, we can speak truth in our minds yet still operate from those deceptive strongholds. As time passes, the lies build and repeat like plaque protecting that wall of false beliefs. If we continue with an insincere pretense, we can portray truth in our words or actions but still feel desperately discouraged in our hearts. God sees the heart and is most interested in what we feel at our core. Where the ungodly belief has kept others out (and likely many good things too), we must draw near to God with a sincere heart that gives God permission to rescue us from that self-built stronghold. Inviting God to search the hidden doors and taped-up boxes in our hearts renders us vulnerable, but we must view it as David did in Psalm 27: the Lord must be “the stronghold of my life” (v. 1) and that amid these troubling lies God will “keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock” (v. 5).
Restoration comes from drawing near with a sincere heart, and it places us within the safest stronghold with the Lord.
The plaque of false beliefs that had built up walls is abandoned for the security found with the Lord. But we must give him access to find restoration. We must declare we will have nothing hidden before him. His good pleasure is to show us what we can’t see and provide truth in those subtle places where the enemy has taken ground. God’s truth begins to chip away at the plaque and does so quite effectively. Where false beliefs have built strongholds over years, God’s truth and wisdom can gently bring them down within a short amount of time.
The Glorious Work of Unthreading a LieThe idea of allowing God to unthread something knotted and thick can feel daunting. But we find relief when the ungodly beliefs that have felt “normal” no longer choke out holy life. That uncoiling allows what felt “normal” to actually be seen for what it is—constricting and cumbersome. When we replace truth in the spot of a longstanding ungodly belief, the result is freedom—new life—and often people describe it as “the ability to breathe freely again.” Where the enemy has reinforced a lie like a thread sewn in layers and tightly knotted, the Lord is the most gentle and gracious bringer of truth. He does not rip out the layers haphazardly, but he removes each thread with precision and care. Often, it only takes one layer to unthread, and the others follow easily. The thread can feel long and thick with disappointment and despair, but when the root layer is revealed, the uncoiling is often easy and life giving. We can trust God with this glorious exchange, and his heart’s desire is to offer transformation.
Learn more about how to unthread lies and embrace God’s truth by reading Jennifer Barnett’s book First Freedoms: Drawing Near to God by Cultivating a Wholehearted Prayer Life. She is the executive director of Freedom Prayer. She is passionate about equipping the church with tools for freedom in prayer and discipleship.