Four Essential Stepsby Nancy Missler
How does one go about giving things to God? It's so easy to say with our words, "Oh, just give it to God." Well, how exactly does one do that in action?
Over the last three months, we have been exploring this very thing - the practical application of giving things to God. In the previous three articles, we focused on what are the four attitudes necessary to recognize our sin and self so we can give them to God. Those attitudes are: daily presenting our bodies as living sacrifices; denying ourselves; obeying God's will in action; and taking every thought captive.
In the next four issues we will turn our attention to the four essential steps that must be taken each time we quench God's Spirit so that we can be reconciled to God. As 2 Corinthians 10:6 says, this is our "readiness to revenge all disobedience." In other words, these steps are how we give things to God and how we deal with our sin and self. This is the key to walking by the Spirit.
Those essential steps are:
The Inner Court Ritual
Again, the steps we are about to learn are not just something that I have made up, found in a psychology book or self-help book. They are the actual steps that the priests took in the Inner Court of Solomon's Temple in order to deal with their sin and be reconciled to God. The ritual went something like this: First, the priests went to the Ten Bronze Lavers where they washed their hands and feet before going on to worship. Then, they went to the Brazen Altar where they offered their sacrifices. And, finally, in order to be completely cleansed, they bathed totally in the Molten Sea. After these three steps, the priests went back into the Holy Place where they changed their clothes and then, boldly approached the Incense Altar to pray and worship God.
I believe this is the same cleansing process that the Lord would have us do each time we quench His spirit. I literally go through these steps at least once a day and, sometimes, as many as two and three times a day, especially if I am dealing with something very difficult or painful.
I recommend putting each of these essential steps on 3x5 cards and keeping them with you at all times because things will happen when you are away from your Bible and notes and you'll forget which step goes first. So, keep these cards handy (in your purse, briefcase or in your car), until the steps become first nature to you. Remember, if we do our part, God assuredly will do His. He is always faithful.
Going through these four essential steps every time we are confronted with a hurtful remark, a painful situation, pride, fear, resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness and so on, is the only way we can stay cleansed and prepared vessels for what God might call us to do next. If we are not cleansed vessels, we not only won't be available for God's use, but as Isaiah reminds us, we'll end up contaminating everyone we come in contract with (i.e., "making a stink" as Isaiah 3:24a says). These four steps are our own responsibility. The Apostle John tells us that if we don't cleanse our own feet (our own souls), we'll not have any part of Jesus. Listen to John 13:8, "Peter saith unto Him [Jesus], 'Thou shalt never wash my feet.' Jesus answered him, 'If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.'" Let's see how this works:
First Step: Recognize Self-centered Thoughts
The first essential step that we must do, in order to be a cleansed vessel for God's use, is to recognize, acknowledge and experience the negative thoughts and emotions (the self- life) we are experiencing. We have already "taken our thoughts captive," (if you recall, that's one of the attitudes we talked about in last month's issue; now we want to look at them and allow God to give us His insight. We're not to vent our thoughts and emotions nor push them down into the hidden chambers of our soul. We are simply to ask God to expose what's really going on inside us. This is what the priests did at the Lavers of Bronze. The Lavers themselves were made of women's looking glass (mirrors of polished metal). As the priests bent over the lavers to wash their hands, what they actually saw was their own reflection (their own true selves) in the mirrored Lavers.
The priest's actions are symbolic of what the Lord requires us to do. In this first step, we are to ask God not only to explain what's going on in our surface (conscious) thoughts and emotions-things that we can see and feel, but we also need to ask Him to shed light on the hidden things in our soul - the things we cannot see. In other words, are there any root causes for our self-centered reactions?
Ask the Lord why you are reacting so emotionally over what has just happened. Ask Him what is really going on inside of you. The surface emotions can often be simply the symptoms of a much deeper cause. If the real root problem can be exposed and, subsequently, gotten rid of, then the surface emotions will not occur again either. However, if we only deal with the external emotions and never the root cause, the surface problems will come back and back and back. Therefore, it's essential that we always ask God to expose the root cause if there is one.
An Example: Cold, Clammy and Fearful
I have a dear friend named Trudy, who has known the Lord for over 50 years. She has walked closely with Him, been a faithful servant and has obeyed Him for all those years. However, recently she shared with me that for many, many years, whenever she would see a sunset, a cold, clammy, fearful loneliness would inexplicably come over her and she would have to go inside the house. She said this happened over and over again and yet she never understood why. A few years ago, Trudy was at a barbecue with her older sister and they were sitting together watching a sunset. Again, the loneliness began to consume Trudy and she excused herself to go inside. Her sister followed her and asked her what the problem was. Trudy told her what she was experiencing and how long it had gone on. Her sister was quiet for a moment, and then said, "I bet I know the reason why." Then, she began to relate an incident that had happened to both of them almost 50 years before.
Both girls, along with their parents, were confined to a Nazi Germany concentration camp. Trudy was only three years old at the time and her sister a few years older. One evening around sunset, Trudy and her family were out in the courtyard watching some event, when she accidentally let go of her father's hand, got disoriented and was lost and alone for over 12 hours. Now, Trudy obviously didn't remember this incident because she was too little, but all these years, whenever she saw a sunset, it triggered the buried and hidden fear of being lost and alone. This reaction to sunsets had occurred over and over, even after she had become a believer. Once Trudy heard the story about the concentration camp from her sister and recognized the root cause of her phobia, she went into her bedroom and proceeded to go through the steps we are now learning. Ever since that day, she has been able to enjoy sunsets without any negative feelings at all.
It's true. If we ask God to expose the root cause of our problems and we confess and repent of these, then we can be sure the surface symptoms will not occur again either. If we only deal with the symptoms, however, and not the root, we can be sure the problems will continue. God wants to expose the truth to us so that we will see it for ourselves. We can't really deal with our problems unless we are aware of what they are, and God, of course, is the only One who can do this for us. We can't force the exposure of these hidden things; only God can bring them up in His timing and in His way.
Get Alone with God
It's most important at this point, if you can, to get alone with the Lord so you can go through these steps and deal with your sin and self properly. Remember, Jesus is the only One who can expose and cleanse these things, and He is the only One who can heal us completely. In order to hear Him clearly, however, we need to be quiet before Him. The times I have put off going through these steps are the times that I "contaminate" everyone I come in contact with. Isaiah was right. When we are in the flesh, instead of a sweet smell, we give off a stink. (Isaiah 3:24)
I still remember the time, years ago, that I took the girls to their school and on the way we had an argument. I became really upset at them and started yelling. We pulled into the driveway of the school (a private Christian school) and there stood a dear friend of mine. I immediately pushed down my anger and frustration, put on a big "fake" smile, rolled down the window and said, "Hi." Whatever else came forth from my mouth at that moment, I still remember as being so phony. Instead of a sweet smell, I know I gave off a horrible stink - all because I got caught dirty, didn't have time to really clean up and yet, tried to act clean. It doesn't work! God knows the truth. And, so did I!
Now, whenever I find myself hurt, angry, resentful, envious, critical, self-centered, prideful, ungrateful, anxious, afraid, confused, bitter, judgmental or filled with any ungodly emotion, I try to stop and find some place to be alone with God so that I can go through these steps. Jesus is the only One who can expose and cleanse my sin. And He's the only One who can totally heal me from the inside out. Even in the middle of an argument with Chuck, if I find myself getting emotional and reacting self-centeredly, I now stop the conversation and tell Chuck, "I need to go and be with Jesus or I am going to blow it really badly." The first time I did this, Chuck was very offended, but now he likes me so much better after I come out from being with Jesus that he freely lets me go.
It's critical to be cleansed in order to respond the way God would have us. Don't ever take a stand with someone or confront someone unless you are a cleansed vessel. If you are not clean, it will be self-life out there and not God's Life and the encounter will go poorly. Believe me, I know. I've tried it a hundred times that way and it doesn't work! The other person will immediately sense your critical and judgmental attitude, react from his defenses, the truth will be hidden and you'll sink even deeper into the pit than you were before. If you can first get clean, then you can respond from God's Love and His Mind. The other person will sense your unconditional acceptance and respond from his heart, and the situation will have a chance to turn around and be healed. Even if I can only go through these steps mentally at the time, then I do so. By "mentally" I simply mean that since I am busy and not able, at that moment, to pull away from the situation, I go through these steps the best that I can in my mind. Even if that's all I can do, I still do it, because it's critical that I not let the sin and self accumulate in me. Later, I can go back over these steps and take the time to really let my emotions out.
Acknowledge Real Thoughts and Emotions
It's not only important to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge our pride, our fears, our insecurities and the doubts that we are experiencing, but it's also important to be completely honest and truthful with God. He knows it all anyway. He just wants us to see it so we can acknowledge it and move on. One woman not too long ago asked me if she should let her real feelings out. "Does God really want me to do that?" she asked. I told her, "Dear one, God made you. He already knows everything about you. He just wants you to see it and acknowledge it, so you can get rid of it and go on with your life."
God has given us a perfect example of this in Scripture. I love David and his book of Psalms! I can so identify with him. He blew it badly and yet, in the New Testament, he was called a "man after God's own heart." David truly experienced his humanity. Throughout Psalms we read how he really felt and what he really thought (see 109:5-20). Now, most of us probably wouldn't go that far in expressing our feelings about others but, at least, it validates that we should not be afraid of being completely honest with God. By expressing what we really think and feel, we will then know exactly what we are to repent of and give over to God in the next couple of steps.
Oftentimes, I will go through these Inner Court steps, but forget - either because of time pressures or a lack of opportunity - to release my true emotions. After a day or so, I wonder why my peace has not returned. More often than not, it's because I have forgotten to do this very important step. My real thoughts and feelings are still bottled up within me. Consequently, I have to go back and, once again, go through these steps, only this time I do it the proper way, genuinely expressing my soul - only then I can truly become a cleansed and open vessel, prepared for God's use.
[Next month: Recognizing our Self-Centered Thoughts]
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The Key: Presenting Ourselves as Living Sacrifices - Nancy Missler
The Key: Denying Ourselves - Nancy Missler
The Key: Get Up and Do in Action What God Says - Nancy Missler
The Key: Recognizing our Self-Centered Thoughts - Nancy Missler