We have found that even as Christians, our own thoughts, emotions and desires determine most aspects of our lives. The question is: How can we go against the tide and choose to do what God has asked, when we really don't feel like it, want to or think it will work? Will God honor something we choose by faith, but really don't feel?
The answer to these questions is a resounding "yes." As Christians, we don't have to be carried on by the "tide of emotion" like nonbelievers, because we not only have God's authority to choose what He desires, regardless of how we feel, but we also have His power to perform that will in our lives, again regardless of how we feel.
God does both: He enables us to choose His will and He performs that will in our lives. Our responsibility is simply to make the choice, by faith, to give Him our will and our lives.
Here's a great example:
In the mid-1930s, a German pastor was abducted from his church, handcuffed, taken to prison and immediately put into a five-foot cell. Suspected of aiding Jews, there was no hearing, no trial - not even time to let his family know what had happened to him.
For weeks, this gentle pastor asked the prison guard outside his cell door if he could use the phone at the end of the hall to call his wife and family and, at least, let them know he was alive. The guard, however, was a contemptible man who hated anyone who had to do with Jewry. He not only wouldn't let the pastor use the phone, he also determined in his heart to make the pastor's life as miserable as possible.
The sadistic guard purposefully skipped the pastor's cell when meals were handed out; he made the pastor go weeks without a shower; he kept lights burning in his room so he couldn't sleep; he blasted his short-wave radio hoping the constant noise would break the pastor's spirit; he used filthy language; he pushed him; he shoved him; and, when he could, he arranged for the pastor to have the most difficult job in the labor force.
The pastor, on the other hand, prayed over and over again not to let his natural hate for this guard consume him. He "chose" instead to forgive him and to show him God's unconditional Love. As the months went by, whenever he could, the pastor smiled at the guard; he thanked him when his meals did come; when the guard was near his cell, the pastor told him about his own wife and his children; he even questioned the guard about his own family and about his goals, ideas and visions; and, one time, for a quick moment, he had a chance to tell the guard about Christ and His Love. The guard never answered a word, but, obviously, heard it all.
After months of choosing to unconditionally love this terrible guard, God's Love finally broke through. One night, as the pastor was again quietly talking to him, the guard cracked a smile. The next day, instead of his cell being skipped for lunch, the pastor got two. The following evening, he was allowed not only to go to the showers, but also to stay as long as he wanted. The lights began going off at night in his cell and the radio noise ceased. Finally, one afternoon, the guard came into the pastor's cell, asked him for his home phone number, and he, personally, made the long-awaited call to the pastor's family.
A few months later the pastor was mysteriously released, with no questions asked.
This is an example of what happens when we use the incredible authority and power of God to make choices we don't feel, but know God wants us to make. God not only enabled this pastor to make the choice to love this contemptible guard, but He also gave him the supernatural Love in order to do it. In the natural, the pastor hated this guard and was certainly justified by worldly standards. But, because he loved Jesus more than himself, he chose to let Christ live His Life out through him. Even though he had no human love for the guard, Jesus did. And that's all that mattered.
"Not My Will, But Thine"
As Christians, then, we can be honest with God and say, "I don't understand why You have allowed this tragedy to happen in my life." "I don't feel Your presence." "I am doubtful that You are leading me to do this." "I am fearful of what is going to happen." "I don't want to love this person anymore. I don't want to forgive them. He has hurt me beyond repair. I despise him right now. But, I know I have Your authority to say, like Jesus did in Matthew 26:39, 'Not my will [not my natural feelings and desires], but Thine.'"
We have been so programmed to "feel" everything we choose that when we don't "feel" our choices, we don't think they're genuine. In God's Kingdom, however, this is not the case. Christians don't have to be carried on by the "tide of emotion" anymore, like nonbelievers, because we have God's authority, not only to choose what He desires, but also His power to perform His desires in our lives - regardless of how we feel.
This, to me, is one of the most incredible gifts of all. I don't have to "feel" my choices; I just have to be willing to make them. God then does the rest.
"I Love You More Than the Carpeting"
About 15 years ago, we bought our "dream house" in Big Bear Lake, California. It needed, however, some extensive remodeling. We actually moved out of most of the house and gutted it. There was only one bedroom, one bathroom, and a back porch left to live in during the remodeling. The job was supposed to take only about six months. The contractor had promised that it would be finished by October 31. But, like many remodeling jobs, it wasn't actually finished until the middle of December. I was planning on having ten people stay with us for Christmas, beginning December 22. It was going to be a pretty big job to move all the furniture back into the house, put up the Christmas tree and all the decorations, and prepare the rooms for the guests in such a short period of time.
Finally, on December 19, the house was finished. The workers said they would help me move the furniture back into the rooms because Chuck was away working. I had become very close friends with the builder, the head contractor, and all the helpers. After all, we had "lived together" for eight months. I especially liked Red, the head contractor. We had had long conversations about God. None of the workers knew God personally, so I had many opportunities to witness, not only with words, but with my life.
That last day, however, everyone's tempers were very short. The men were all eager to wrap everything up and get to their homes for Christmas. In our haste, many things began to go wrong:
First, I had stored all my furniture in a room off the garage and had placed all my precious valuables (crystal, china, pictures, etc.) on top of the furniture, because I knew "I" would be the one moving it all back into the house. When all four guys began to move the furniture, they moved everything so quickly I couldn't get the precious valuables off the furniture fast enough. I asked them to stop and give me five minutes so I could move all the breakables into the closest bedroom. I quickly laid all my pictures, crystal, china, and other valuables all over the bedroom floor because there wasn't time nor any furniture to put them neatly on shelves.
Then I went back and continued to move the furniture with the men. When we finished moving everything, I went back into the bedroom where I had left all my breakables on the floor. As I opened the door, I found two painters inside with an extra long aluminum ladder. They had gone in and out of that bedroom several times in order to paint the patio outside. In order to get to the patio, they had stepped in and around all my precious things on the floor. When they told me what they had done, I nearly died. Talk about "bulls in a china shop"! Combat boots, aluminum ladders and crystal don't go together!
Next, the wallpaper man came to hang the last two strips of wallpaper in my kitchen. Going back to where he had stored the leftover wallpaper the night before, he found that the "gutter" people (drain pipe people) had come in, thought it was trash and had walked all over the stored wallpaper. Needless to say, I was furious. This now meant I had to reorder two more rolls of wallpaper; and, of course, my kitchen would not be finished for Christmas!
Lastly, Red, my favorite contractor, decided to spray paint the living room fireplace black without putting any protective plastic around it or down on the floor. Now, just the night before, we had laid brand-new white berber carpeting in the living room, and I had spent two hours that morning dusting and waxing my white upholstered furniture that had been stored for eight months. As I came into the living room, having just heard about my wallpaper being ruined, I saw a cloud of "black mist" settling down all over my white upholstery and carpet. I ran to the coffee table, put my hand over its surface, and held it up. It was solid black!
How would you have responded at this point? Would you have screamed and yelled, told him he was an idiot and to get out of your house? Man, I sure felt like it! By worldly standards I certainly would have been justified. What he had done was stupid and careless! But, if I had done that, the witness I had so carefully tried to "live" the past eight months would have been destroyed. In that split second (in my mind) I turned to God and expressed how angry and upset I was. But I also told Him that I didn't want to act out of my anger and ruin what He had done particularly in Red's heart. So I gave Him my wild feelings and negative thoughts, and asked Him how I should respond.
I looked at Red and the Holy Spirit prompted me to say, "Red, I am really upset and angry now because there is black paint all over my living room carpet and furniture. I know this job could have been done three days ago when there was no furniture or carpeting in here. But I want you to know something, I love you more than the furniture and the carpeting!" And, with that, I just turned around and quietly began to clean up the mess.
When we really give our feelings and our circumstances to God, He comes up with the most creative and ingenious solutions! I never would have thought of that response myself! And I'm so glad God helped me hold my tongue because, by this time, all the other guys had gathered around watching the whole scene. They then began shaking their heads at Red, calling him names. I didn't need to say a thing because they called him much better names than I could have ever thought of!
Again, we don't have to "feel" our choices, we just have to be willing to make them and God does the rest! It's only our faith choices or our "contrary choices" that will allow us to experience God's Life, in spite of everything that is going on.
Everyone, of course, always wants to know what happened to my white carpeting and upholstery in that house? Well, they were both a little gray for the remainder of our stay there. But, this is the house that we eventually lost through bankruptcy, so it's now the new owners' problem.
Faith Is Not A Feeling
Faith is not a feeling: it's simply the power to believe. Faith is the ability to see everything that happens to us through God's eyes. The only way our eyes ever get dim is by sin and self. This is why Scripture always exhorts us to walk by faith, not by sight.
Only through faith will everything eventually be turned to sight and understanding, and only through faith will we be freed from all things "seen." Only through faith can a human being leave his familiar comfort zone and move out into the realm of the unknown. Hebrews 11 is a powerful chronicle of those who faithfully stepped out by listening to, choosing and obeying the voice of the Lord: By faith Noah prepared an ark...by faith Abraham went out...by faith Sarah received the ability to conceive...by faith Moses kept the Passover...by faith the people of God passed through the Red Sea...by faith the walls of Jericho fell down...by faith Rahab the harlot did not perish.
Only faith can give us the strength to lay aside our own agenda and choose to stand on the solid foundation that is Christ. Noah laid aside his reputation to build the ark; Abraham laid aside his wealth and property to follow God into the desert; Moses laid aside the treasures of Egypt to pursue his destiny; and Rahab laid aside her cultural identity to seek refuge with the people of God. In every case, these men and women chose to follow God in a completely "unreasonable" route, allowing their faith to silence all protest coming from their own thoughts and emotions.
Hebrews 11 tells us that all these men and women were "warriors" of the faith, simply because they chose His will over their own.
Can we do the same?
(If you want to explore the subject of faith, especially having faith in difficult times, I would suggest getting the book Faith in the Night Seasons and researching Chapter Five.)
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[To be continued next month: "The Essential M & M's" (our moment-by-moment "faith choices"). This article has been excerpted from Chuck and Nan's book Against the Tide.]