Last month we began a brand-new series called Against the Tide. This new series will cover some very simple, but extremely important, fundamental principles: i.e., how to walk by faith. If we don't understand how to make moment-by-moment faith choices, we may as well forget "living the Christian life!"
Most of us are convinced we already "walk by faith." We teach these principles to others and we encourage our families and our friends to do likewise. But, if we are really honest with ourselves, we'd have to admit that most of the time, we don't walk by faith, but by what we see, think, feel and want to do.
Unfortunately, these natural components of our makeup (seeing, thinking, and feeling) determine most aspects of our lives, even as believers.
Should our natural thoughts and emotions carry this much weight? Should they be the basis of our existence, especially as Christians? How can we control them? How can we tame them? And, most importantly, how can we get beyond them? In other words, how do we go Against the Tide in order to follow God and do His will?
Feeling What We Choose
As humans, we are programmed from our birth to feel every choice we make. When we don't "feel" our choices, we're convinced that they're not genuine. In God's kingdom, however, this is not the case. Born-again believers are the only ones who have the supernatural authority of God to choose to go against "self" - what they think, what they feel and what they want. This is a fact because born-again believers are the only ones who have the supernatural power of God within them to perform something different than what "self" wants, thinks and feels. Let me explain:
Certainly non-believers have a choice to do as they please. But none of them have the authority or the power to choose to go against how they feel or what they think because they don't possess another power source (another spirit) within them to perform anything different than what "self" tells them.
Therefore, even though they might desperately want to change and want to go a different direction, they don't possess the ability within them to do so. Thus, they really don't have any other choice but to follow what their own thoughts, emotions and desires are telling them. (Ephesians 4:17-18)
Christians, on the other hand, do! We don't have to be carried on by the tide of emotion, because we have God's Spirit within us. His Spirit not only gives us the authority to choose God's will, but also His power to perform that will in our lives.
This means that believers and nonbelievers alike can choose whatever they wish. They each can make non-feeling choices. But only Christians have the supernatural power and ability of God within them to be able to implement and carry out those faith choices in their lives.
A Classic Example: Did You Tell Him Off?
Here's a perfect example:
One Christmas, years ago, we rented a house at Lake Tahoe for two weeks. Our intention was to be totally alone - just our family. What a dream. We would be together for two whole weeks, playing games and reading. I could even work on my upcoming speech for a new class I was teaching. I couldn't wait! My own mom and dad were visiting my brother in San Francisco, and we could have easily invited them down to Tahoe for a few days. But Chuck had said no, this was to be our own special vacation - just our family - with no intrusions.
One fabulous week went by. Our family never seemed closer. There was no TV and no outside influences to disturb our unity. We all read, talked, relaxed, and did our own thing. It was absolutely wonderful!
Then one morning, out of the blue, Chuck announced to all of us, "I hope you don't mind, but I have invited a business associate and his wife up here to join us for a few days."
Well, you could have knocked me over dead. Chuck is the one who had made such a big deal about having no outside interferences! If I had known he would allow company, I would have much rather had my own folks!
"How long are these business people going to stay?" I asked. "Well, as long as they want, I guess," he responded. He had actually left the invitation open-ended! At that moment, in the flesh I could have killed him! I was so upset and so angry!
Here we weren't supposed to have anything or anyone disturb our family or our privacy, and now we're not only having an outsider over (someone I had never even met before), but they were staying for who knows how long! I just couldn't believe Chuck would do something like that. I needn't tell you how I wrestled with anger and bitterness towards him.
Later, when I was sharing this story in one of my seminars, someone stood up right in the middle of the story and asked, "Well, Nancy, did you tell Chuck off right then and there?"
I laughed and responded to this precious sister, "Man, I wanted to. It's our natural human tendency to immediately tell the other person how we feel, but that's not always what God would have us do. So, no, I didn't tell Chuck off right then, and there were two good reasons why I didn't: 1) Chuck had already extended an invitation to this couple, so it was already a fact that they were coming, and I couldn't do anything about it by throwing a tantrum; and 2) I wasn't clean. I was full of my own wild emotions and uncontrolled thoughts. Therefore, I had to first deal with my own anger and resentment before I could take a stand in God's Love with Chuck."
Later, when I was clean* (after I had confessed and given God all my feelings) and my emotions were back in place, I did tell Chuck in Love how disappointed I was that he had gone against what he had promised. I know he heard all that I shared because the kids had already gone to him and shared the very same thing.
So, there's definitely a time when we can share how we really feel, but we must make sure it's done in God's Love and in His Character and not our own. Otherwise, we'll end up deeper in the pits than when we started.
The day after Christmas, we heard from the couple that they were on their way. In order to prepare for their arrival we had to rearrange the children's rooms so the guests could have a room of their own, make a special trip to the grocery store to buy extra food, and clean the house as you would for company. So much energy and fuss goes into having guests, especially when they are business acquaintances and you have never even met them before. These were all things that I shouldn't have had to do on my vacation.
I will never forget the day they arrived! Our girls were watching for them out the window and all of a sudden they yelled, "Mom, here they are! And Mom, they brought all of their kids!"
At that moment, if Chuck had been close enough, I think I would have strangled him! This now made 12 people to feed three times a day, clean up after, and entertain for who knows how long! And all this on my vacation!
I can't tell you the number of times I went to the Lord, frustrated and crying, saying, "You know I came up here to work on my speech for the next Way of Agape seminar and now, Lord, I can't!"
You know what the Lord would always answer? "I want you to work on the material for your next seminar, but I want you to 'live' it first! I am giving you a perfect opportunity to glorify Me and be full of My Life to these people."
I replied in all honesty, "I'd much rather 'write' about it than 'live' it!"
Constantly, I had to make a choice as to which way I would go. I could make an emotional choice to follow what my anger, resentment, and bitterness were telling me (to tell Chuck off, put on a smiling "face" for the guests, and get rid of them as soon as possible). Or I could make a faith choice and follow what God was telling me to do, which was to give Him my hurts and anger, and know that He somehow would give me the Love, grace and strength I needed to genuinely put Chuck and these new people first.
Don't let me kid you - it wasn't easy! Making choices you don't feel, and especially ones you don't want to make, is extremely difficult. But as I kept choosing over and over again to follow God and go His Way, He was faithful to take away my anger and resentment and fill me with His Love - not only for Chuck, but also for these people.
The business associate and his wife turned out to be a delightful Jewish couple. They even taught us some Hebrew and answered many of our questions about the Old Testament. We ended up having a marvelous four days with them.
Interestingly enough, it was during this time that God sparked the idea for the book, Be Ye Transformed.
Can you imagine what kind of impression I would have made on these people if I had chosen not to surrender myself to God? I would have been full of my own hurts and bitterness with a plastic smile over my face, pretending to be happy and glad, but showing forth "self life" and not God's Life at all. One of those "phony-baloney Christians." You know they would have sensed it.
"... ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." (Matthew 23:27)
Honesty with God
Faith choices, or "contrary choices," are the only ones that can free us from ourselves and unleash all of God's Power to come to our aid. I like the term "contrary choices" because these kind of choices are definitely contrary to what I feel, what I think and what I desire.
As Christians, we can be totally honest with God and admit, "I don't love this person anymore. In fact, I really can't stand him right now. But, by faith, I give these negative thoughts and feelings to You, for I know I have Your authority to claim, like Jesus did in Matthew 26:39, "...not my will [not my natural feelings and desires], but Thine." Then I can be assured that (since I am a cleansed vessel) God will align my feelings with that choice and make me genuine, give me His supernatural Love and perform His will in and through me.
To me, this is one of the most incredible gifts God has given us. We don't have to "feel" our choices, we simply have to be willing to make them. God, then, in His perfect timing and way, will do the rest.
Our Goal and Purpose as Christians
The basic goal and purpose for all of our lives as Christians is to be conformed into the image of Christ so that His Life and His Love from our hearts can flow freely out into our lives. (Romans 8:29)
God wants us to love with His Love; He wants us to think with His Wisdom and to function on His power and ability. He wants us to be at one with Him, so all that is seen through us is Him. Then others will want what we have and the Gospel will have a chance to be passed on.
Most Christians would agree that we've not been called simply to gain knowledge about Christ, but to gain more of His Life to give to others. Most of us understand that Christianity is not really about "head knowledge," but about Christ's Life being personally experienced and then, passed on through us. The problem is that many of us don't know how to do this on a daily and practical level.
When we get hurt, offended, cheated, angry, bitter, etc., we don't know how to make non-feeling choices to yield ourselves to the Lord, so that His Life can continue to come forth, regardless of our true feelings. Instead, we end up consumed with our own negative thoughts, which in turn quenches God's Spirit in our hearts and blocks His Life from coming forth. Therefore, it's imperative that we learn how to choose to go against the tide by making faith choices to follow God's will regardless of what we think, how we feel or how the other person responds.
If we don't understand how to do this - how to make moment-by-moment non-feeling choices - we may as well forget "living the Christian life.
Galatians 2:20 tells us, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith[fulness] of the Son of God [to perform His Life through me]..."
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To be continued next month: "Exchanging Lives". This article has been excerpted, in part, from Nan's new book, Against the Tide.
*For an explanation of these steps, please see our book, The Key.