Over the last several months, we have been exploring the power of our choice; i.e., our willpower. As Christians, God has given us the free choice to either follow His will moment by moment or follow what we think and feel. Emotional choices, however, quench God's Spirit. Whereas faith choices (choices to follow Him regardless of how we feel) unleash all of His power to come to our aid.
Thus, our willpower - what we choose moment by moment - is the key to whose life will be seen out in our souls. It's like 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 and blocked. It all depends upon our choice.
God has given us His authority to make non-feeling choices to follow His will. He has also given us His power to perform or implement these kinds of choices in our lives. Let's explore this area further.
Our Willpower and The Spirit of Counsel
How does God counsel us as to what His will is and then, how does He give us the ability to perform that will in our lives?
Isaiah 11:2 gives us the answer. In this passage, God lists the functions of the seven-fold Spirit of God. One of these functions is called the Spirit of Counsel. The Spirit of Counsel means supernatural knowledge of God's will for our own individual lives. In other words, it's God's personal instructions, His directions, to help us make godly choices! (Ephesians 1:11c)
The Spirit of Counsel is like our personal advisor, our helper, our guide. He tells us what we should and shouldn't do. Remember Philippians 2:13, where God promises us that He is in us "...to will of His good pleasure." This means God is in us to let us know what His will is for our own particular situation.
The Old Testament word for counsel is esa and it means steerage or not letting us veer off course (i.e., not letting us miss the mark-the mark being "conformation to His Image"). Naturally, only God can keep us straight on course, because only He knows our true course. Here's a great example:
"Lean Not To Thine Own Understanding"
Years ago, we knew a precious Christian family who lived down the street from us in Newport Beach, California. Their son was critically injured in a diving accident, similar to Joni Erickson Tada, who broke her back and was paralyzed from the neck down. He, too, broke his back and was paralyzed.
The first week after an accident like this is always very critical. Many life-and-death decisions must be made. All the doctors had advised the family that if they wanted their son to survive, he must have a bone fusion operation immediately. This operation was going to be very dangerous, especially because of the boy's already-precarious physical condition.
All the doctors had concurred that the operation was the best course of action and everything had been done to prepare for it. The mom decided to go and be alone with God, pray and seek His Counsel. She told God that she didn't have the slightest clue as to what the best course of action was for her son. But, she acknowledged that God was in control of their lives and she asked Him that if this operation was the wrong decision, that He would intervene.
Proverbs 3:5-6 states, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."
Just as the boy was about ready to be wheeled into the operating room, an uncle who was also a neurosurgeon on the East Coast called and told the family definitely not to have the operation. I've forgotten all the medical reasons he gave them, but the family felt God was intervening, so they chose to postpone the operation.
I'm sure the doctors were completely baffled at the family's decision, but they nevertheless conceded. Less than two hours after that phone call, the son came down with a serious respiratory problem and had he been in the middle of that operation, he never would have survived.
That operation was scheduled three more times. But in each case, God supernaturally intervened and managed to stop it. One time while the son was receiving a transfusion in preparation for the operation, he developed an allergic reaction and burst out with hives. Once again, the operation was postponed.
The last I heard, the boy never had that operation, but had survived the ordeal and was doing quite well.
Our Willpower and The Spirit of Strength
Going hand in hand with God's supernatural Counsel is God's Spirit of Strength, again listed in Isaiah 11:2 as part of the seven-fold Spirit of God.
God's Spirit of Strength is God's supernatural ability to take what He has counseled us, bring it forth, and then perform it or accomplish it in our lives. In other words, what good is knowing what God's will is if we don't have the strength or the power to carry it out?
Again, Philippians 2:13 tells us, "For it is God which worketh in you, both to will [counseling us as to what His Will is] and to do [giving us His Power and ability to perform that Will in our lives]...."
God doesn't need any of our own natural abilities or strengths in order to help Him accomplish His will. In fact, when we try to perform His will in our own strength, we simply get in the way. Even though we might have great capabilities and assets of our own, we must still choose to set those aside and trust Him in everything. He tells us, "Without Me, ye can do nothing." (John 15:5) In other words, everything we do in our own ability, apart from His Spirit of Strength, is going to chalk up to worthlessness.
Self-Confidence Didn't Help A Bit!
Years ago, I went to teach a class while feeling particularly confident about myself. God had given me the material I needed for the class, I was excited about it and I felt confident (always a warning signal) that I could present it well. I really "felt" up for speaking that day.
When I got up to the podium, however, I recognized that I was the one doing the performing and not God! My self-confidence and self-assurance had quenched His Spirit and I was definitely "in the flesh." I panicked and wanted to run because I know how we can "bomb" when we perform in our own strength. Consequently, the whole time I was teaching, I was frantically going through the steps of giving my pride over to God.
My dressing well, my being put together emotionally and mentally and my knowing the material well, didn't help a bit. God must still be the One we rely totally upon.
As Scripture says, "I can do all things [only] through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13) Thus, all self-confidence must be confessed and replaced with God-confidence; all self-esteem (I like what I do and what I am) must also be set aside and replaced with God-esteem (I like what God does through me and what He makes of me); and all self-reliance must be superseded by God's strength and His ability. In other words, it's not what we can do for God, but what God will do through us.
This is why it's critical that God does both the counseling and the performing of His will. If God does both, then He will be the one who will get the glory. As Jeremiah 9:23-24 declares, "Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord."
God's Spirit of Strength in the Greek means power to rein in, mastery over self, self-control, or better yet, Spirit-control. This is exactly what God's Spirit of Strength does. It reins in (or brings into captivity) our self-life, so that God's Life can come forth. Luke 21:19 even says, "In your patience possess [or rein in] your souls."
When we are going through troubled times and we make faith choices not to go by what we feel, think or want, but to go God's way, God will then give us His supernatural Strength to set aside our wild feelings, uncontrolled thoughts and self-centered desires so that we can act out of His Spirit and His Life.
God's Spirit of Counsel and Strength are simply God's authority and God's Power to put off the habits of the flesh and to put on Christ.
An Example: "Imagine How You Would Feel!"
Here's a great example.
A young Christian woman wrote to tell me how much she had looked forward to her church's first women's retreat. She was so excited that she had counted the days till the actual weekend arrived. Finally the day came, and for the first 24 hours she said she had a magnificent time. But Saturday night changed everything! There was an "afterglow" service (a time where everyone comes together to seek the Lord). During the worship time, she was moved by the Lord to speak forth what He was telling her, and she opened her mouth and spoke a few words in tongues (a spiritual language that is a gift from God). Someone interpreted it quietly in the back of the room. But evidently, not everyone heard.
No one said a thing to her that night, but the next morning, she overheard the pastor's wife telling one of the new believers that the incident the night before (the speaking in tongues) was "a wasted gift because it was used wrongly." In other words, there was no interpretation of it.
Well, you can imagine the humiliation my friend felt. She ran outside crying because of hurt, but at the same time, she confessed and repented of the anger she felt towards the leader. She told the Lord. "Forgive me if I used my gift wrongly." Then, she begged Him to confirm if He truly had told her to speak or not. "Was it from Your Spirit or my flesh?"
Adding further salt to her wound, that evening the pastor's wife again got up in front of the whole group and shared, "What took place last night was a wasted gift because it was used wrongly - there was no interpretation."
Again, my friend's heart sank. (Just imagine how you would feel if this happened to you.)
Just then a woman from the audience stood up and said, "Oh no, what was spoken last night was definitely from the Lord. He gave me the interpretation, but I was too afraid to speak it out."
Then, another lady from the back of the auditorium stood up and she too, said, "I was given the interpretation also, but because I am from another body of believers, I didn't say anything." She spoke what she believed the interpretation was and the first woman said, "Yes, that's exactly what I got also."
The leader then confessed she had been wrong and had misunderstood what had happened the night before.
My friend started to sob because God was specifically answering her prayer - He was confirming that He had, indeed, prompted her to speak. This precious young woman, however, didn't stop there. She made a faith choice to set aside her "justified" feelings towards the pastor's wife, humbled herself and went up to this lady, hugged her and told her that she loved her.
She closed her letter to me by saying, "Nancy, what was so incredible was that I really felt God's Love for this lady. Isn't it an absolute miracle! Before I would have acted out of my hurts and angry feelings and totally closed off God's Love. But, because I gave Him those things, He gave me His Love for her! It was a miracle!"
The only route to humility is the Cross. We are humble only to the extent that we lose ourselves in Him. This young woman certainly is an example of this.
Only in Dying Can We Really Live
Death (the death of our self-life) is the only gateway to real Life! Only dying (choosing to set aside our "self") produces fruit (God's Life). Remember John 12:24, "Unless a corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abideth alone: but, if it dies, it will bring forth much fruit." Jesus gave up His own Self for us, and this is His will for us also. We must continually "put off" our old self and "put on" Christ.
Thus, the mature Christian is simply one that recognizes his self-life and makes the appropriate moment-by-moment 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 books (information does not equal transformation), but simply making the right faith choices to cleanse ourselves of all that God shows us, so that His Life can come forth. In other words, people are only mature when they know how to make choices to give themselves over to God.
The way you can tell how mature in the Lord you are, is by how sensitive you are to seeing your own "sin." And it's so true: the more mature I become in the Lord, the more sin and self I see in me.
Walking in God's counsel and His strength is "the victory that overcomes the world." This is what faith is all about: choices not only allowing Him to work, but also choices giving Him our lives to work through. (1 John 5:4) Overcomers are those who prevail over what their own thoughts, emotions, and desires are urging them to do, in order to allow God's Spirit to perform His will.
This is the preparation (the equipping, the cleansing) that each of us must choose to do daily. It's our own responsibility to put off the old and to put on the new. (Ephesians 4:22-24)
We already possess Christ's Life in our hearts; our job is simply to make sure that's the Life that is showing forth in our souls.Our willpower - our constant choice - is the key to doing this!
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To be continued next month: Not Only Faith Choices, But a Faith Walk. This article has been excerpted, in part, from our book Against the Tide.