Recently, we began a new series entitled The Key, which explores what I believe is the most important principle in our Christian walk - how we surrender ourselves to the Lord on a moment-by-moment basis. Over the last several months, I shared my own story of how this basic principle has impacted my life more than anything else. As I mentioned, it has become the "bread and butter" of my Christianity.
What I would like to do over the next few months, then, is share with you what the moment-by-moment practical steps are to implementing this important principle in our everyday lives. The steps we will be learning are not simply ones that I have made up or found in some self-help book, they are the actual procedure that the priests of Solomon's Temple took in order to deal with their sin and be reconciled to God. The first four steps we'll explore are simply attitudes (or predispositions) that we need to form daily. These are not necessarily things we must do each time we sin or quench God's Spirit in our hearts, but simply attitudes we need to have "on" daily in order to be willing to do God's will. In other words, attitudes that will facilitate a mental state of openness and readiness. The steps are:
1) Presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice.
2) Denying ourselves - our own thoughts, emotions and desires that are contrary to Gods.
3) Obeying God's will - getting up and doing in action what God has asked us to do. And,
4) Taking every thought captive and dealing with those things that are not of faith.
The final four steps that we will explore in future articles are the essential steps we must take each time we sin or quench God's Spirit. I call these last four steps the Inner Court Ritual because they are the exact steps that the priests took.
My Survival Kit
I call all eight of these steps my Survival Kit. The word "survival" means keeping alive against all odds. Thus, "Survival Kit" is a perfect name for these steps, because only as we constantly give ourselves over to the Lord will we be able to "keep alive against all odds." In other words, the only way we can keep showing forth God's Life in the midst of our trials is if we are open and cleansed vessels. What good is having God's Life in our hearts (i.e., His Love) if we don't know how to let that Love out into our lives? Knowing and practicing these Survival Kit steps will allow us to do just that, in spite of how we feel, in spite of what our circumstances are and in spite of how that other person is reacting to us! Isaiah 24:15 reminds us that we are to "glorify [or reflect] the Lord in the fire..." Going through these steps, moment by moment, is the only way we can do this.
So, let's first explore the four attitudes that are essential for keeping us in a mental state of willingness to do God's will. Then, in following articles, we'll spend time exploring each of the essential steps to dealing with our sin and self.
The first attitude that we must have "on" daily in order to be a willing vessel of God's Life and Love, is that of presenting our bodies [to Him] as living sacrifices. As Romans 12:1 says, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."
What does this Scripture really mean in practical terms? It means that we must daily give God permission to walk through us and expose anything in us that is "not of faith." God is a gentleman and He will not force us to do this without our permission. Thus, we must willingly offer ourselves to Him for His examination. This means that we must be willing, on a daily basis, to allow His Holy Spirit to search us and expose whatever He wants to in each of us. As Psalms 139:23-24 says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
A Perfect Example: "Lord, Search My Heart"
Karen went on a vacation with three of her best friends. She had a wonderful time, but there was one friend who "absolutely bugged her" the whole time. After seven days of being around this woman, Karen finally had had it! The things this woman did drove her crazy. Finally, frustrated and angry, Karen went to the Lord and asked Him about her own reactions. "Why is it that what my friend does bothers me so much? Lord, search my heart and please tell me."
When we ask Him to, God will always be faithful to expose our sin and self, in His timing and way. A few nights later, as Karen was reading the Word, God gave her the insight she was waiting for. The things her friend did that angered her so much were the exact same things that Karen's husband complained about in her! God was simply magnifying these things through her friend so that Karen could see them for herself, in herself. It was a painful lesson, but offering herself as a living sacrifice and asking God to expose what He wanted to in her was the first step Karen needed to take in order to deal with her own sin and self. This is what Hebrews 4:12 means when it says that God wants to "divide our soul from our spirit." In other words, the Lord wants to have our permission to expose, and then separate, the "soulish" things in our lives from the spiritual. His purpose in doing this is to strengthen our spirit, so that we'll be led by our spirit and not our soul.
It's important to understand that we don't have to feel this first step. In fact, most of the steps we'll be learning, we'll not feel at all; they will simply be faith choices or non-feeling choices-choices we make out of obedience, not out of our feelings. God, then, in His timing, will align our feelings to match the "faith" choices we have made and make us genuine. The Bible tells us that God has given us the authority and power to make these kinds of faith choices. Matthew 26:39 gives us Jesus' example when He says: "Not my will, but Thine." This should be our response also: "I don't feel like it, I don't want to and I don't think it will work, but nevertheless, not my will but Thine." (For more information on this subject of making choices that we really don't feel or want to make, please see our new book, Against the Tide.)
God Loves us
As we open ourselves up to God for His inspection, we must always remember just how much He loves us. It's critical that we know He loves so much that He will never allow anything to happen in our lives that is not "Father-filtered." Thus, no matter what we see or what we understand to be happening, we must trust Him to work out His purposes in our lives in the way only He knows is best. Remember, we walk by faith, not sight!
Whenever something comes into my life that I don't understand, I often think of Job who said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." (Job 13:15) In light of all the things the Lord allowed into Job's life, how was it possible that Job could say this? He was not only able to say it, but he also believed it because he knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God loved him and would always be faithful to His promises.
All the Hairs on Your Head Are Numbered
A beautiful example of one who knew that God loved her and therefore could say and mean, "Though You slay me, yet will I trust you," was Diana Bandtlow. I have spoken about her in many of my books. Diana was a precious sister in the Lord and one of the most incredible witnesses of God's Love and Life that I have ever known.
Diana was only two years old in the Lord when she was diagnosed with leukemia and given six months to live. She had a precious husband who adored her and two beautiful daughters, Hillary, 3, and Stephanie, 1. However, she continually chose to trust God and lay her life down to Him because she knew He loved her and wouldn't allow anything to happen that wasn't "Father-filtered."
Everyone was so amazed at what she was allowing God to do in her life that she was invited to teach a Bible study those last six months of her life. Now, if it had been you or me, we probably would have chosen to spend those precious months at home with our families. But not Diana. She prayed about it and felt strongly that God wanted her out there sharing exactly what the Lord was doing. She had incredible faith and trust!
Diana's leukemia was diagnosed in June, and by November she was permanently confined to the hospital. When Thanksgiving arrived, I wanted to give her something to show her how much I loved her and how much she had ministered to my life. That particular weekend, however, my three-month-old daughter Michelle was very ill. The doctor had called in a prescription and I needed to run to the pharmacy to pick it up. While driving there, the Lord put it on my mind to also pick up something for Diana. I told the Lord I didn't have time to look for anything, but if there was a gift that He wanted for her, would He please point it out.
I got the prescription and on my way out of the pharmacy, I noticed a cute little bird's nest, all done in fall colors with two sparrows in it. I knew it was for Diana, so I quickly bought it and raced home.
On the way home, I looked down at the little bird's nest in my lap and began to wonder about the appropriateness of this gift. I asked the Lord, "Is this really what You had in mind for Diana? A bird's nest?" The Scripture that immediately came to me was Matthew 10:29-31, "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows."
Well, I was excited because it fit so perfectly. I wrote the verse on a card, put it with the nest and asked Chuck when he got home to deliver it to the hospital for me. About a half hour later, Diana called and said, "Oh Nancy, I love the bird's nest! I know it's from God because He always tells me not to fear! But," she said, "what you don't know, and what no one else knows - except for God - is that I am losing all my hair. And God tells me right here that He loves me so much that 'all the hairs on my head are numbered' to Him."
That's our faithful and loving Father, who is always interested and concerned about every detail of our lives. He personally communicates His Love to each of us, prompting us to say in response, "Lord, I know You love me, so even though You slay me, I will trust You."
My precious friend Diana went home to be with the Lord on Christmas Day, 1974. She had touched more lives in her short stay here on earth than many Christians I know who have lived long and healthy lives. Let us always remember the lesson that Diana so beautifully lived out, that no matter what we think or how we feel or what our circumstances are, God loves us and is working out His purposes in our lives in His perfect way. By faith, then, we can say, "though You slay me, yet will I trust You."
If you have trouble really believing that God loves you and that He will be faithful to perform what He has promised, I would strongly suggest getting The Way of Agape textbook and specifically reading Chapter Seven, "How Do I Know God Loves Me?" You might also want to go over the Knowing God Loves Me Scriptures in the Appendix of the book and, by faith, choose to believe what God says in those verses.
It's critical that we know God loves us, not just in our head, but in our everyday walk, so that we can continually lay our wills and our lives down to Him and become "living sacrifices." It's impossible to lay our lives down to someone if we're not sure that they love us. Therefore, knowing God loves us is the foundation of our walk with Him and the only thing that will enable us to daily present our bodies as living sacrifices. This willingness to do His will at all costs is one of the most important attitudes we can have. Then, God can freely manifest His Life and His Love through us.
"Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24)."
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[To be continued next month: "Denying Ourselves." This article has been excerpted, in part, from Nan and Chuck's book, The Key. For details on this and other King's High Way materials, please visit our King's High Way site