How Do We Love God, Practically?
David Needham, author of the book Birthright, states, "...the big task is not the finding of the truth, but the living of it!" I agree with him completely. What good are God's principles if they don't work in our hearts and change our lives?
With this in mind, let's put all we have learned so far (in our series "Loving God") into practical use. What are the steps in the moment by moment laying down of our wills and our lives to God? In other words, how do we love (agapao) God daily?
My Survival Kit
There are eight steps to what I call my "Survival Kit." These are steps that God has laid out for us in scripture to help us deal with our sin and become open and cleansed vessels for His use.
I literally go through these steps at least once a day, and sometimes as many as two and three times a day if I am dealing with something very difficult or extremely painful. These are the eight steps "back to freedom" of Spirit.
The first four steps, which we will cover in this article, are really formalities. These are attitudes we need to form daily. These are not steps we have to do each time we quench God's Spirit, but simply attitudes we need to have "on" each day. We might go over these prayerfully each morning, to remind ourselves to be cleansed vessels.
The final four steps of the Survival Kit are mandatory steps, ones we must do each time we sin and quench His Spirit. These four steps are known as the "inner Court Ritual," because they are the actual steps the priests took in the Inner Court of the Temple in order to deal with their sin. (These four steps will be covered in detail in Parts 2 & 3 of this series.)
I recommend putting each of these steps (especially the last four) on 3x5 cards. Keep the cards with you at all times. Then when something occurs, take out the cards, go through the steps, and choose by faith to believe that God has reconciled you to Himself. Because He is faithful, once again His Life will pour forth through you.
Going through these steps every time we are confronted with a hurtful remark, a painful situation, pride, fear, resentment, bitterness, etc., is what enables us to be cleansed and prepared vessels for what God might call us to do next.
So let's explore the "attitudes" that are essential to walking in God's Way of Agape.
1) First, we need to have an attitude of continually "presenting our bodies [to God] as living sacrifices." (Romans 12:1-2) What we are doing here is willingly giving God our permission to walk through us and to expose anything that needs to be dealt with.
On a daily basis, we should be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to expose what He wants to in each of us.
We don't have to "feel" this first step. In fact, most of these steps won't be felt at all, they will simply be "faith choices" or contrary choices.
As we are opening ourselves up to God, we must always remember how much He loves us and that he is always faithful to His promises.
A good prayer to pray is Psalm 19:12-13, "Cleanse thou me from hidden or secret faults. Don't let them have dominion over me." Also, Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, and know my heart and see if there be any wicked way in me."
2) The second crucially important attitude we need to have "on" each day is one of continually denying ourselves, denying our own "justified" feelings, our own rights, our own frustrations, our offenses, and so on. This is something that we do on the "inside" (setting aside our own thoughts, emotions, and desires). Denying ourselves on the "inside" is often much harder to do that denying ourselves "outwardly" (careers, positions of prominence, material things -- houses, cars, clothes, etc.).
Emotionally, this will be a very hard step because it hurts to lay ourselves down, especially when we are "justified" in feeling the way we do.
Each time we struggle with this, I would suggest reading all of Philipians 3:8-15, where Paul says, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord!"
We must ask ourselves, "Am I really more concerned with doing God's Will in my life then I am my own happiness?" There will be many times when we must choose to do God's Will, knowing temporarily it will not bring us happiness. But, of course, the lasting joy that will come from being in the center of His Will is something to which nothing can ever compare.
Luke 14:26 reminds us that we really cannot be God's disciples unless we are "willing to" (not wanting to, not feeling like it, but just willing to) lay everything down (father, mother, wife, children, brethren, sisters). "Yea," He says, "even our very own lives!"
Remember, we don't have to "feel" willing in order to do this, we simply must be willing! (Big difference!)
Several years ago, I went to lunch with some dear old friends and we began to talk about how very important it is to simply "be willing" to deny ourselves and follow God. One of the gals said, "Nancy ,I don't agree. I think some people just don't have the ability or the capability to lay everything down and do it God's way."
She then gave various reasons why she was convinced they couldn't: "Because they came from dysfunctional families, co-dependent situations, poor marriages, physical abuse circumstances, emotional problems, etc."
I said, "I really don't believe that's true! If they are Christians, then God is in them. And He is the One who makes them capable and gives them the ability to deny themselves.
I believe all Christians are capable of laying themselves aside (because God is in them), but not all Christians are willing to do so! That, to me, is the bottom line!"
God has all the Love, all the Wisdom, and all the Power they need.
When we are "willing to lay everything down," God promises us in Luke 18:30 (as well as in many other places) that He will return a hundred-fold, "in this life" as well as in the world to come, all that we have chosen to give to Him.
Get up and Do What God Says
3) Another crucial attitude we must have is that of being willing to obey God's Will, no matter what He tells us to do (no matter how we feel, no matter what we think ,no matter what we want). We are to get up and be willing to do exactly what God has asked us to do.
The attitude we just spoke about in step #2 (denying ourselves) concerns our "inner man" (setting aside our own thoughts, emotions, and desires, so God can fill us with His Life). This next step of "obeying God's Will" is different. It concerns the "outer man" - our outward actions.
It's getting up and doing in action what God has called us to do, saying, "Not my will, but thine" (Matthew 26:39). Or like Peter said, "At Thy Word, I will" (Luke 5:5). Again, trusting that God will perform His Will and His Life through us.
We are emotional creatures and God is asking us here to set aside our own emotional responses and choose to act totally out of faith. Again, we don't have to "feel" willing in order to do this, we must just "be" willing.
2 Corinthians 8:11 says, "As there was a readiness to will, so there must be a performance also." If this is a difficult step, I would suggest reading Philippians 2:5-9. This is the passage that talks about being "obedient unto death," not only on the inside choosing to lay aside our own thoughts and emotions, but now, on the outside getting up and doing in action whatever God has called us to do.
Take Every Thought Captive
4) The final attitude we must have in order to walk God's Way of Agape is to be willing to take every thought captive.
2 Corinthians 10:5-6 says, "Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled."
[Note: The four steps of the Inner Court Ritual, which we will cover in Part Two are how we "revenge all disobedience."] In our August 1994 Personal UPDATE newsletter, we shared the critical importance of catching our negative thoughts. We said our thoughts are vital because they are the first to be triggered in the chain reaction of our souls.
Remember, our thoughts stir up our emotions; our emotions then influence our desires; and our desires are what produce our actions. This is why we need to go after the ungodly thoughts first and take them captive.
If we can catch these negative thoughts first, then we prevent the chain reaction before it even begins.
When we don't take every thought captive and we don't put off our corrupt thoughts and we just go along with the "tide of emotion," we end up confused, discouraged, and depressed. And, of course, that's just exactly what the enemy wants.
It takes constant discipline and effort to continually recognize our negative thoughts and to renew our minds. Sometimes it would be a lot easier to just give in and let those wild emotions rule. But do you know what happens when we do this? We die! If we don't take those ungodly thoughts captive, they take us captive.
Remember, we are not responsible for the original self-centered, negative, or bad thought when it first comes in. It's what we choose to do with that thought that produces the sin or not.
If we recognize the ungodly thought and choose to give it right over to God, then we have not sinned and we have not quenched His Spirit. However, if we don't do anything with that thought, and we allow it to stir up self-centered feelings, then it will be sin.
It's critical to be aware of, recognize, and then catch the ungodly thoughts as they come in. We are to refuse them, crucify them and annihilate them. We are not to even think them, let alone speak them!
As Philipians 4:8 says, we need to fill our minds with good things...
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
So, it's imperative that we have "on" a godly attitude each day. If we are cleansed and prepared vessels, then we will be ready and available for whatever it is that God might call us to do next.
In Part Two, we will begin to explore the "mandatory steps" of loving God daily.
This article was first published in the October 1994 edition of Personal UPDATE.
This article was excerpted from Nancy Missler's study series on tape, The Way of Agape, which is now published in book form. Nan also has a sequel study series on tape, Be Ye Transformed, This eight-tape study focuses on the Mind of Christ and on the "hidden chambers" of our subconscious.