Can we choose to go "against the tide" and do what God has asked when we really don't feel like it, want to or even think it will work? Will God honor a choice like this?
You bet He does! What we are doing is simply saying, "Not my will, but Thine." Moment by moment, then, we have the awesome responsibility of either choosing to "walk after His Spirit" and do what He has asked or choosing to "walk by the flesh" and follow what our own desires are saying. (Romans 7:25; 8:5) The "flesh" can be defined as anything that occurs in our soul and body that is "not of faith."
When we make choices to walk after the flesh, "self life" (our own thoughts and emotions) will be shown forth in our lives rather than God's Life. And our own image will be portrayed to the world, not Christ's. This is one of the reasons why those watching us become confused. Even though we proclaim Christ with our words, our actions are far from Him. Our choices are the deciding factor.
Much of our lives we've simply "gone with the flow" of our own thoughts and feelings. We've just reacted and done whatever came naturally. Now, as Christians, we must reverse that chain reaction, begin to "take every thought captive" (2 Corinthians 10:5) and recognize our choices.
Make Faith Choices a Habit
Establishing new habit patterns will take some time. That's for sure. But they are essential if we wish to be true representatives of Christ. Our old habit patterns are hard to break, simply because they are in our "comfort zone." They are "conditioned" responses. Making choices that we don't feel and that we don't necessarily want to make, will stretch us beyond anything we thought possible. But, persevering is essential. God is faithful and He promises us that if we do our part, He will surely do His.
Many years ago, a woman at one of the retreats I attended had some great advice for all of us. She had a severely retarded child. She said that when she first found out about her son being handicapped, she began to worry about what would happen when he began to walk. Could she handle him then? Then, her mind raced ahead even further, "What would happen when he began school?" Could she handle him then? And what about when he became a teenager? Adulthood, etc.? She told us a dear friend gave her the best advice ever: "Take one day at a time. Don't worry about how to handle the future. Just make the appropriate choices for today and allow God to give you the strength and power you need for the future."
And, that's good advice for this subject also. Jesus even tells us in Matthew 6:34 to concentrate on today and not to be consumed about what will happen tomorrow. In other words, take one day at a time and make the appropriate choices that that day brings. We don't have to worry or fret, but just be willing to hear what God wants to reveal to us and then deal with it as He desires. 2 Corinthians 10:5-6 confirms this, "...casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and have a readiness to revenge [deal with] all disobedience...." In other words, implement the choices we must make to deal with any disobedience.
Even our best friends and our closest counselors cannot make these kinds of choices for us. They can hold us, pray for us and lead us to Christ, but, in the end, we are the ones who must choose. God wants all of us to be conformed into His image, filled with intimate knowledge of Him and walking in His Love. The only way to get there is by making choices to do His will, regardless of how we feel or what we think.
An Example: "I Had That Message Once"
Even though I learned to make faith choices over twenty years ago, I could easily stop choosing God's way today and in a very short time, I would be right back to where I started from. Listen to what happened to a friend of mine who did this very thing.
After many years of walking in the Spirit, a situation occurred in my friend's life that absolutely paralyzed her, and she simply stopped making faith choices. She became almost numb from the rejection and betrayal she was feeling, and slowly the enemy began to rebuild old strongholds that had once been destroyed. When some of her old problems began to resurface, it almost drove her to despair. As a result, she began to doubt God's faithfulness and the spiral downward started. What she didn't realize was that because she had stopped taking every thought captive, and she had stopped making contrary (non-feeling) choices, she was the one who allowed the previously dealt-with, ungodly things to be reprogrammed back into her once-cleansed soul. Thus, it wasn't God who was unfaithful, she was the one who had quenched His Spirit and was, once again, allowing the enemy entrance to her soul.
Bottom line is: We must learn to respond the way God would have us to by making "faith choices" to do His will, regardless of whatever else is going on in our lives. We must never stop choosing His way, no matter how bad the situation is. Once we recognize this fact - that there is no other way - we'll begin to see the absolute criticalness of saying, in all circumstances, "not my will, but Thine."
M & M's
Ephesians 5:17-18 says, "Be ye not unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. ...[That ye] be [being] filled with the Spirit [all day, every day]."
As mentioned before, God wants us filled with His Spirit all day, every day. However, it's our own constant choice to do so or not. It's not just a one-time event! How wonderful it would be if we could simply choose once in the morning to go God's way and stay there all day. But, unfortunately, it doesn't work that way! Sanctification (being conformed into His image) is a moment-by-moment process we will be in for the rest of our lives. And, there's no room for coasting - it's a moment-by-moment faith walk. In fact, there is no such thing as standing still in our walk with the Lord. We're either moving forward with Him or we're falling behind.
I once had an old friend say, "Nan, I had hold of this message once, but I lost it." I obviously asked him, "What ever happened?" He simply said, "It was too hard and I just let go." Poor guy, he certainly had let go and he had fallen hard. Last I heard from him, he had married twice, lost both families, gone into rehab several times, started up his drug habit again, and finally was arrested and doing time for the same. There is no easier way! Moment-by-moment faith choices are hard to make and it's true, we can never stop making them! We can never coast! For many, such as the above young man, it's too high a price to pay. But, let me turn the question around and ask, "What's the alternative?" Deuteronomy 30:19-20 tells us point blank that God has "set before [us] life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore [God is exhorting us to] choose Life that both you and your [children] may live."
The only way to "life" is by making faith choices.
A few years ago, I spoke in Northern California and the precious sisters there decided to call these kinds of moment-by-moment choices, their "M & M's." They not only gave me a box of real M & M's, they also made me a beautiful embroidered picture with the letters M & M in the center to remind me of these kinds of constant choices.
James 1:3-4 declares, "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." In other words, the end result of choosing God's way is far and above all we could ask or think of - "perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
God Changes Our Feelings
Something important to remember here is that we are not responsible to change our negative feelings. There's no way we can do that! We're only responsible to put in charge the Person who can change our feelings, and that, of course, is God. And we do this by, again, making faith choices (or non-feeling choices). God, then, in His perfect timing and way, changes our feelings and our thoughts to match the choices we have made. In other words, He makes us genuine. He aligns our feelings with our choices.
As humans, we are so programmed to feel everything we choose, and when we don't feel our choices we often think they're not genuine. It makes us feel like phonies. However, in God's kingdom, this is not the case. Christians have the supernatural ability within them (because of the indwelling Spirit of God) to go against what they think, feel and desire because God has given us His authority to do so. Mark 9:24 validates this very principle: "Lord, I believe; [now] help Thou mine unbelief." In other words, (Nan's translation) "Lord, I choose to believe by faith what You promise; now I trust You to make my feelings align with that choice."
An Example: Rats, Spiders and Insects
I have a dear friend, Leona, who used to be a missionary in Bangkok, Thailand. Out of pure desperation, Leona learned how to make contrary choices. The first year she was in Thailand was absolutely miserable for her. She was allergic to much of the Thai food and would get violently ill every time she ate. She also hated the hot, sticky, and muggy weather, the huge spiders and insects, and the abundance of rats and crawling vermin that infested most of the buildings.
In addition to these problems, Leona didn't know the Thai language, so she was extremely lonely. She had no permanent church home, so there was no one for her to turn to for spiritual help, for encouragement or just plain friendship except, of course, the Lord. Over and over again by faith, with absolutely no feelings at all, she made choices to trust that God had sent her there for a reason and a purpose. Continually, she chose to give God her emotional feelings about her environment (rather than be consumed by them), and to follow Him. Eventually, the Lord aligned her feelings with what she had so faithfully chosen. What was so exciting for me was to witness her change of heart. From the first year where she hated everything that had to do with Thailand, to where the last year, I heard her say over and over again, "I can't wait to get home to Thailand. I miss my friends, the food and, yes, even the bugs and the weather."
Contrary choices really do work! Someone recently called it "the habit of choice." And I think that's very appropriate! Our only responsibility is to make the appropriate choices; God then is the One who will change us and perform His will in and through us.
All We Need to Be Is "Willing"
A friend called a few weeks ago and said, "Nancy, I am hurting so badly I don't even want to make the right choice." She has been drowning in physical pain for almost a year, with very little relief. I felt so badly for her, but I knew I needed to exhort her. "Dear friend, you don't have to want to make the right choice, you simply must be willing to make them. 'Not wanting to' is the same thing as saying 'I don't feel like' making the right choice. God never said that we had to 'feel like' making the right choice; He just said we must be willing to make that choice."
Isaiah 1:19 promises, "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat of the good of the land." It doesn't say here, "if you feel willing," it just says "if you choose to be willing!" Even if we are saying under our breath, "I don't want to, I don't feel like it and I don't understand it," God still will take that choice, change our feelings and perform His will through us. But, we must first give Him permission to do so. And, we do that by our faith choices.
All we are saying here is, "Not my will, but Thine" just like Jesus did in Matthew 26:39. And, when Jesus made this statement, how do you think He felt? What do think His thoughts were? Do you think He really wanted to and felt like being crucified? Of course not. But, He did it, because He loved His Father more than Himself and He wanted to obey His will. He also loved us - so much so that He was willing to die for us. So, in God's economy, it's always been and it always will be, "by faith and not feelings."
Transformation is a Process
The whole business of being transformed into God's Image is a process. This process takes time and is made up of a million choices. The mature Christian is simply one that recognizes his "self life" and makes the appropriate faith choices to give it over to God. Maturity in Christ is not knowing an abundance of theological facts, going to church regularly, teaching Bible Studies or even writing Christian books, maturity in Christ is simply learning to make the right faith choices to cleanse ourselves of all that God shows us is not of Him, so that His Life from our hearts can come forth. "Straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to Life and there are only a few that are willing to stay on that path." (Matthew 7:14) Will you be one that does?
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To be continued next month: "Knowing God Loves Us." This article has been excerpted from Chuck and Nan's book Against the Tide.