Is it possible to make choices to follow God when we don't feel like it, want to or think it will work? This has been the subject we have been exploring over the last few months - faith choices - and why they are so important.
We said last month that our free will is the most important element of our make-up, because within our will lies the power to choose - to choose by faith to follow God or choose by our emotions to follow self.
Over and over again in Scripture we see the wonderful and yet terrible consequences of man's free will, enabling him to either follow God or follow self. David tearfully humbles himself at the feet of God (Psalm 51), but Saul proudly plots to get his own way (1 Samuel 15). Joseph continually turns away from Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39:7-9), but Samson rushes into the arms of Delilah (Judges 16).
At the exact moment John the Beloved is choosing to lay his head upon Jesus' breast, Judas is choosing to betray Him (John 13:23-27). Mary of Bethany spends a year's income to anoint Jesus with costly perfume (Mark 14:3-9), yet Ananias and Sapphira lie in order to withhold a small portion of their income (Acts 5:1-11). A poor widow gives her last few coins to the Lord (Luke 21:2-4), but the rich young ruler won't let go of his great wealth (Luke 18:18-25). Parthian magistrates travel a great distance to worship the babe in a manger (Luke 2:1-2), but the Pharisees won't walk six miles into Bethlehem to meet their Messiah!
Our choice to follow our own thoughts and emotions over what God is prompting is where God's Spirit gets quenched and sin begins. Any choice to disobey God causes the door of our hearts to be shut and God's Life (in our hearts) blocked from coming forth.
Our Will-The Passageway of Life
Consequently, our will (our free choice) is the passageway, the doorway or the gateway for God's Life (in our hearts) to flow out into our lives. This passageway or doorway can be "opened," so God's Life can flow easily; or it can be "closed," and God's Life quenched.
Our will in the Greek is called dianoia. Dia means "channel" and noya means "of the mind." And this is exactly what our will is, the channel or conduit for God's Spirit to flow from our hearts out into our lives. In other words, our choice is the key to whose life will be lived in our soul. Faith choices allow God's Life to come forth; emotional choices quench God's Life.
Here's a perfect example.
A friend of mine, Wendy, had to travel on business from Durango, Colorado to the next town which was 40 miles away. This part of Colorado is spectacularly beautiful, but quite desolate as far as cities or population. There is nothing between Durango and the next town.
Wendy had received The Way of Agape audio tapes a few months previously and had been periodically listening to them. She thought this long drive would be a perfect opportunity to finish the series, so she took them along with her. As she became so engrossed in what she was hearing on the tapes (all about our constant, moment-by-moment "faith" choices), she didn't realize she was nearly out of gas and that she had just driven past the last gas station in Durango. There would not be another station for 40 miles.
Sure enough, about 15 or 20 miles outside of Durango, she ran out of gas. The car literally stopped. She pulled over to the side of the road and became totally distraught as she realized her precarious predicament. Since she was going to a business appointment, she was all dressed up (heels and all), thus there was no way she could walk any distance. And even if she could have, there was no place to go for help. The few cars that did pass her, she said, terrified her. They were mostly men with beards and long hair, driving 4x4 trucks with shotguns on racks in their rear windows. (Sounds like our cars and trucks in Idaho.)
As she sat there contemplating her situation, God impressed upon her heart what she had been listening to on those tapes - about making faith choices (non-feeling choices), to give any and all situations over to God. It became apparent to her that even in this scary situation, she had a choice. She could either become paralyzed with fear (which she was already beginning to experience) and make emotional choices to follow the flesh; or, she could make faith choices, to relinquish herself to God and trust Him to perform His perfect Will through her (just like she was hearing on the tapes).
She decided to try the latter. Without "feeling" anything, she chose by faith to give God her fear and apprehension and to trust Him to protect her and make a way for her. After her prayer, she decided to try the ignition one more time. She gently turned it on and, surprisingly, the motor sputtered and then started. She was ecstatic! She put the car into first gear and crept down the highway on the far right side. The farther she went, the more elated she became. She had made the appropriate faith choices, God had heard her prayers, and He was now performing a miracle right before her eyes.
Wendy drove that "empty" car all the way (about 20 miles) to the next city. She told me later that when she would come to a hill, she simply made more faith choices to commit herself to God, softly stepped on the gas pedal, and there always seemed to be just enough "oomph" to make it over the hill.
When she finally did arrive at the next city, she stopped at the first gas station feeling absolutely overjoyed. The gas station attendant even asked her if she was all right, because she looked so radiant. She was able to witness to him and tell him the whole story.
Wendy made it to her appointment a little late, but nevertheless, she arrived safely and learned an incredible lesson about God's faithfulness. Now, I don't recommend putting God to the test and going out of town without gas. But, to me, this is a perfect example of the importance of faith choices in our lives. When we trust God enough to constantly choose His way, we free Him to perform miracles. When we don't, we quench His working in our lives .
God Also Has Two Kinds of Will
It's interesting because God also has two different kinds of will. In the Greek they are called thelo, which means His instinctive, emotional desires (or that which He takes pleasure in); and boule, which means His planned purposes (or the resolve of His Mind). Now, of course, for God, both of these kinds of will are "perfect."
Since we are created in the image of God, we, too, have two kinds of will. But, unlike God, what we desire and what we want is not always perfect! The Greek words for these two kinds of "human" will are thelema, which means our own natural, emotional desires (things we take pleasure in); and boulomai, which means our "disciplined willing," or our choices free of any emotion - faith choices.
What this says is, we can either make an emotional choice (thelema) and be carried away on the tide of emotion by our own uncontrolled feelings, negative thoughts, and self-centered desires (just like an unbeliever); or we can make a faith choice (boulomai), a disciplined choice, free of any feelings (but often against the tide of our own strong, self-centered emotions) to follow what God has prompted us to do, and then rely upon His strength to perform those choices in our lives.
We must remember that our emotional choices, because they are felt and because they are experienced, are often much stronger in intensity than our faith choices. In other words, emotional choices are ones that we "want" to follow and we "want" to act upon. Thus, choosing to put our real feelings and emotions aside and making faith choices can be extremely difficult.
Consequently, we must continually remind ourselves that, yes, faith choices are difficult to make and, yes, they go against every natural "feeling" that is in us, but if we succumb to making an emotional choice, we will open ourselves up to the clutches of Satan and end up in bondage to our flesh.
Faith choices - even though they are more difficult to make than emotional choices - are the only choices that free us from the enemy and unleash all of God's power to come to our aid. Consequently, Christians are the only truly free people (if they so choose to be) - free from themselves, free from other's responses, free from their circumstances and Satan's control! This is what Calvary was all about!
As 2 Corinthians 3:17 states, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty [freedom]." That freedom comes in the form of a constant choice!
Life, therefore, is really just a series of on-going choices. For the believer, it's a moment-by-moment choice either to follow our own thoughts and desires or say like Jesus, "not my will, but Thine." How wonderful it would be, if we could just choose once a day - say, just in the morning - to stay Spirit filled. Wouldn't that be great! But, no, God has made the Christian walk a moment-by-moment exercise.
A Moment-by-Moment Walk
Here's a beautiful example of how important our second-by-second choices are. Sanctification for all of us is a process and it's made up of a thousand daily choices.
Naomi was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. Throughout her life, even as a Christian, a wife and mom, the pain and desperation from that experience has been overwhelming, and she has continually battled despair and depression. Along the way, Naomi tried numerous Christian therapists, Al-Anon, Adult Children of Alcoholics, etc., but because she couldn't see God's hand in any of them, she stopped. She always knew something was missing! Sooner or later her symptoms of anxiety and depression would again resume. Her family doctor just thought it was stress, but she and her husband, Phil, knew better.
Last February, Naomi had a complete mental breakdown. God kept her safe, even though she tried to end her life. Phil, who works at the sheriff's department, was across town when he heard about his wife's collapse. He rushed home to be at her side, to love her, to care for her and to keep her from trying the same thing again. God finally rescued her from the valley of death. Confusion had permeated her mind, but through the loving arms of her husband and friends, God showed her that she could, if she really wanted to, be healed completely and never have to fear losing her sanity again.
The key, however, was that she would have to "choose" every single day, and occasionally many times a day, to go God's way. That was the missing link in all those other therapies: choosing to acknowledge her depressed thoughts, and then giving them over to God. She found when she made those faith choices, with God's help, she could go on with her life, be an instrument for His use and He was faithful to align her feelings with her choices.
"There will always be a battle for my mind," Naomi says, "but I don't have to fear the enemy anymore. God will always be there for me if I make the right choices. He even showed me what my continual choice will be: to live in constant fear of depression and feeling sorry for myself or, moment by moment, live with Him and never fear anything again."
The key, as Naomi writes, is depending upon the supernatural power and authority that God has given us to choose His will, regardless of our feelings or our circumstances, and realize with confidence that no matter what occurs in our lives, He is still in control.
Our Will and The Power to Perform It
Before we close, let's clarify one more thing about faith choices. What good is knowing we can make a faith choice, if we don't understand that God has also given us the supernatural ability to perform that choice in our lives? In other words, we not only have God's authority to choose His will, we also have His strength and His power to accomplish that will in our lives. This critical area of our makeup is called our willpower or our volition - it's our will, and then, the power to perform our will.
As Christians, we have God's supernatural will and power. First, He counsels us as to what His will is, and then He gives us His supernatural power to perform His will in our lives. (Philippians 2:13) In other words, He hasn't left us incapable of carrying out His will. He has given us all that we need. Only the choice is ours.
As Christians, God has given us incredible freedom to follow His Spirit, believe and trust in Him, or to follow our flesh, believe and trust in ourselves. He has given us the authority to open up and abandon ourselves to His will; or, to shut ourselves off and follow what we think, feel and desire.
It all comes down to our own choice: Are we willing to set aside what we think, feel and want to do, in order to do what God asks? Or will we yield to our own self-centered thoughts and emotions and do what we want?
Again, the choice is continually ours!
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To be continued next month: The Spirit of Counsel & Strength. This article has been excerpted, in part, from our book Against the Tide.