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The Word on Wednesdays

 

Hi ladies! I hope you enjoyed our most recent Bible study, 1&2 Timothy: The Structure and Spirit of the Church, which we wrapped up recently.

I’ll be taking a little break for the next few Wednesdays, getting ready for our new study. I hope you’ll enjoy it and that it will edify you as you seek to grow in Christ and His Word. (The picture above does not mean we will be studying James. :0)

So, for the next few Wednesdays, anyone who isn’t quite finished with the 1&2 Timothy study can use that time to finish up, and I’ll also be posting some articles from the archives that I think you’ll find helpful as we make our way toward our next study. Here are this week’s articles:

Bible Study Articles and Resources

Did you know that there are lots of resources here on the blog to help you out as you study the Bible? Below are a few favorites. Click on the link above for more.

The Mailbag: Which Bible Do You Recommend?

The Mailbag: How can I get started studying the Bible itself?

Nine Helps for Starting and Sticking to Daily Bible Study

10 Simple Steps to Plain Vanilla Bible Study

Rightly Dividing: 12 Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Bible Study

Bible Book Backgrounds: Why You Need Them and Where to Find Them

The Mailbag: As a newly doctrinally sound Christian, should I stop journaling?

(Taking notes on the text of Scripture.)

I’m so glad you want to study God’s Word, and I’m excited about our new study that’s coming up. Stay tuned!

Podcast Appearances

After Thought Podcast Guest Appearance Part 1: The Open Letter to Beth Moore

 

I had a super time chatting with Lauren Hereford on the After Thought podcast. Listen in to part 1 of this episode as Lauren and I discuss my testimony, the Open Letter to Beth Moore and more!

 

Listen to part 2 here.

You can also subscribe to After Thought on iTunes and Google Play. Be sure to check out Lauren’s blog, Biblical Beginnings, too, and follow along on Facebook and Twitter!

If you’d like to sign the Open Letter to Beth Moore you’re more than welcome to do so (click the link, scroll all the way to the bottom, and leave a comment in the comment box). Also mentioned in the podcast:

An Open Letter to Beth Moore – Timeline of Events

Living Proof You Should Follow Beth (No) Moore

Women and False Teachers: Why Men Don’t Get It, and Why It’s Imperative That They Do


Got a podcast of your own or have a podcasting friend who needs a guest? Need a speaker for a women’s conference or church event? Click the “Speaking Engagements” tab at the top of this page, drop me an e-mail, and let’s chat!

Mailbag

The Mailbag: How to Leave a Church

 

What is the biblical way to leave a church?

This is a great question that I’ve received from several readers. There are a lot of different circumstances that might cause someone to leave her church, and there are right ways and wrong ways to leave. I’ve been so grateful to hear from women who want to handle things biblically.

First, a couple of words of counsel that generally apply to nearly all situations when you’re considering leaving a church:

•In most circumstances, even bad ones, I would counsel against “ghosting” your church – simply disappearing with no explanation or goodbyes to anyone. When you’re preparing to leave, as appropriate to your particular situation, tell your pastor how much he has meant to you. Say a special goodbye to dear friends. Speak words of encouragement to your leaders and teachers. Search your heart for anyone you may have sinned against, repent, and apologize. Leave graciously.

•If you’re married, you and your husband will need to talk and pray together about whether or not to leave and how to do so. Be sure to remember that your husband is responsible for making the final decision and you are responsible for submitting to him.

Let’s talk about some of the more specific reasons you might have to leave a church, and what it would look like to leave well in each situation.

Death

If you’re a faithful member in good standing and you die unexpectedly, you’re off the hook. It’s OK to “ghost” your church. :0)

If you’re a faithful member in good standing and have a terminal illness, use some of your remaining time (if you’re able) to make a gracious exit. Take some time for special goodbyes. Discuss your funeral service and details with your pastor if applicable. Consider leaving a gift to your church in your will.

Moving or Temporarily Relocating

If you’re moving too far away to continue attending your church, let your pastor and those you’re close to at church know.

Do you know your new address and/or e-mail address? Provide it to the church office if you’d like them to keep sending you the church newsletter and any other mailings, and let them know if it’s OK to give that information out to other church members who would like to stay in touch. Make sure you have correct phone numbers and e-mail addresses for church friends you want to stay in contact with. If you’re not yet connected to a church in your new hometown, ask your pastor if he can suggest a good church in the area.

For those who are temporarily relocating (for example, college students or military families) and want to keep your membership in your home church, yet be active members of a church in your new location, find out if your new church has any sort of dual membership option (sometimes called “watchcare”). This allows you to maintain your membership in your home church while giving you membership benefits (voting, teaching, communion, or whatever your new church’s policies are) in your new church.

Switching from a good church to a church that’s a better fit for your family

Maybe the church you’ve been attending is a good one, but you’ve recently become more Reformed in your soteriology and you’d like to join another church in town that you more closely align with, theologically. Perhaps there’s a nearby church that has started offering programs and accommodations your disabled child could benefit from that your current church isn’t equipped to offer. Maybe, though doctrinally sound, your current church has switched to a genre of music that, even after giving it a good faith effort, still grates on you to the point of distracting you from worship, but another local church has music you’re more in harmony with.

None of these are reasons you absolutely have to leave a church. In fact, if your church is teaching sound doctrine, and the reason you’re considering leaving is a matter of preference or convenience, I would encourage you to try to work things out and stay at your current church if at all possible. It might be that God would have you start programs and accommodations for the disabled at your current church, or that He will begin to use the new music style in your life in some way. At the very least, when it comes to non-doctrinal issues like these, give it plenty of time, prayer, and serious thought before you leave.

Talk to your pastor (or appropriate elder) when you start thinking about leaving. This should not be an “If you don’t change X,Y, and Z, we’re outta here!” type of conversation. Be kind. Express your concerns or needs lovingly and biblically. Find out if there’s any information you need to know that would affect your thoughts about leaving. For example, maybe the pastor has also started becoming more Reformed and needs you to stay and support him as he begins transitioning the church in that direction. Maybe a lot of other church members have expressed discomfort with the new direction the worship music has taken and the leadership is considering changes that would make it easier for you to stay. You never know until you discuss it with your pastor.

If you come to the decision that you really need to move to another church, talk with your pastor again and let him know your decision. Take care of all of your church responsibilities before leaving: if you’re teaching a class with a definite end date, finish it. If you’re teaching a permanent class, let whoever is in charge of securing teachers know when you’ll be leaving so a new teacher can be found. Wrap up any projects or turn them over to the appropriate person. Resign any positions you hold. Don’t leave your brothers and sisters in the lurch.

When you say your goodbyes, it’s not necessary to disclose to everyone every detail of your reasons for leaving, but, if possible, try to stop any gossip before it starts by making sure people understand you’re not leaving because of someone else’s sin, unresolved conflict, false teaching, etc.

Leaving due to sin or false doctrine

The chairman of deacons is having an affair and nothing has been done about it. Your pastor just finished Bill Johnson’s book and is starting to teach New Apostolic Reformation false doctrine. Women have been preaching from time to time on Sunday mornings.

The most crucial time not to simply disappear from your church is when there’s sin or false doctrine in the camp. Jesus and the Apostles did not handle sin and false doctrine by avoiding it or ignoring it. They loved the people committing the sin and teaching the false doctrine enough to confront them – sometimes harshly, if needed – so that they might repent and be reconciled to Christ. We don’t run. We reconcile.

Just as God placed Esther in exactly the right position at the right time to help rescue His people, it could be that God has placed you in your church and given you a biblical understanding of the situation for such a time as this.

In cases of both sin and false doctrine, you should usually* follow the steps for church discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15-20:

1. If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (15)

2. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (16)

3. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. (17a)

4. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (17b)

(*If you have knowledge that someone is imminently about to commit sin, especially if that sin will victimize someone else, and time is of the essence, gather the appropriate leaders and/or church members and intervene immediately. If a crime has been committed, alert law enforcement.)

In my article, The Mailbag: How should I approach my church leaders about a false teacher they’re introducing?, I’ve outlined some steps to take when approaching your pastor or lay leaders about using materials authored by false teachers. Most of this information can be adapted for dealing with issues of sin and church discipline as well.

If the sin or false teaching issue is resolved biblically, praise God, forgive, do whatever you’re able to do to be at peace with all involved, and stay at your church if at all possible.

If you have done everything you’re able to do to help bring about a biblical resolution to the situation and the sin or false doctrine is being allowed to continue, it’s probably time to leave and find a spiritually healthy church. Talk to your pastor or elders, and let them know you’ve decided to leave and why.

Attempt to leave as graciously as possible, taking care of your teaching/serving responsibilities, saying goodbye, making arrangements to stay in touch with friends, etc.

You will need to prayerfully consider the biblically appropriate way to explain to fellow church members and leadership why you’re leaving. Don’t slander people, make an unnecessary scene, or disclose inflammatory details indiscriminately on your way out, including on social media. However, it may be a situation in which those left behind need to know what’s going on so they can make an informed decision about how to address the situation or whether to stay or leave themselves. It may be appropriate to write out a calm, objective, scripturally annotated letter explaining your reasons for leaving, and mail or hand deliver copies of it to the appropriate people. You might need to talk to the denominational leadership board or organization that oversees your church. There are so many different possible scenarios it would be impossible for me to make a blanket statement as to what would or would not be biblically wise and appropriate in every single situation.

 

No matter your reasons for leaving your current church, your search for a new church to join with needs to begin as soon as you’ve made the decision to leave. If you need some help, ask your pastor or trusted Christian friends for suggestions of good churches, or explore the Searching for a new church? tab at the top of this page. Whatever you do, don’t succumb to the sin of staying out of church, because for the Christian, Church is Not Optional. And that’s Non-Negotiable.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Random Ramblings Ruminations Resources

Random Ramblings, Ruminations, and Resources

What a summer! From a lovely trip to visit with my family to the Open Letter to Beth Moore (by the way, ladies, you can still sign it if you haven’t already) to podcast interviews to a hurricane (everything’s fine, thanks – praise God!) to both of my young adult children’s cars dying in the same week and my husband and me playing chauffeur for them (please pray that God will provide the vehicles they need), my summer has been a non-stop whirlwind. I can’t believe next week will already be August!

Let’s jump into some Random Ramblings, Ruminations, and Resources, shall we?

Light (Blog) Housekeeping

If you’re relatively new to the blog, you might not be aware of all the features and resources available to you here. Check out Blog Orientation for New Readers and Old Friends.

But even if you’ve been around a while, I’ve updated a few things you might not have noticed:

I’ve changed the Popular False Teachers tab (at the top of this page) to Popular False Teachers & Unbiblical Trends. That’s because I’ve added resources on the Enneagram and I’m planning to add info on more unbiblical trends in the future. I’ve also added information on MOPS to this tab in case I forgot to mention it.

I think The Servanthood Survey (published last week) is going to be a helpful resource for churches (and individuals), so I created a new tab to have that always at the ready.

If you’ve used my discernment article on Beth Moore lately, you may have noticed that it has a new look. I’ve changed the title and the introduction, fixed broken links and added a few new ones, and added some updated material, but it’s still the same article with the same link: Living Proof You Should Follow Beth (No) Moore.

Recently, I was put in “Facebook timeout” (I couldn’t post to my Facebook page from certain devices) for sharing what the powers that be deemed to be “hate speech” – a meme that quoted 1 Timothy 2:12. If you’re on Facebook, you’re probably hearing more and more about things like this happening to Christians for posting biblical views (no matter how kindly worded).

As many are predicting, there will probably come a time when Christians who share biblical posts will be banned from Facebook. In case something like this happens to me, I’ve opened up a MeWe page. MeWe is a social media platform that’s extremely similar to Facebook, except they pride themselves on their customer service, their privacy policy, and their “no political agenda” policy (meaning they don’t censor every little thing like Facebook does). If you’re familiar with Facebook, you’ll find MeWe’s interface nearly identical, plus it has a few neat features Facebook doesn’t have.

If you’d like to connect on MeWe, set up an account, then, just search Michelle Lesley, or go directly to my page and click the “add contact” button. If you’d rather do it later, I’ve added a link to my MeWe page to the Contact and Social Media tab at the top of this page.

And finally, would you like to write up a testimony (anything from a paragraph to a full length article) for Testimony Tuesday or an article or book review for a guest post? If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (see the Statement of Faith and Welcome tabs at the top of this page), look over the articles at these two links to get a feel for what I’m looking for and drop me an e-mail so we can chat about it.

Book Report

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t write solicited book reviews, but there are extremely rare circumstances in which I will break that rule. There are also occasions when I will pick up a book of my own volition and commend it to you if I end up liking it. Today, you’re getting one of each.

A few months ago, Costi Hinn reached out and asked if I’d read and write an endorsement for his new book, God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel. While his first book, Defining Deception, was an instructional introduction to the history and doctrine of the New Apostolic Reformation, I had been keeping up with Costi, and I knew that this second book was going to approach NAR/prosperity gospel false doctrine from the perspective of his personal testimony of growing up in (and being saved out of) Benny Hinn’s “ministry”. I had already heard Costi’s testimony several times and I knew my readers would find it encouraging and edifying. God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel did not disappoint, and it is my joy to commend it to you:

A helpful primer on the prosperity gospel. The perfect blend of testimony, teaching, and tried-and-true tips for ministering to those caught in unbiblical teaching.

 

My two favorite genres of fiction are biblical historical fiction, and legal/political thrillers. Chris Skates writes both, so I’m looking forward to reading more of his books.

In order for me to enjoy a work of biblical historical fiction (a fictionalized account of a true Bible story), it has to be true to everything Scripture actually says happened (events, dialogue, chronology, etc.), and whatever the author “fills in the blanks” of the biblical account with has to be biblically and culturally plausible, and must not directly contradict clear Scripture.

Chris accomplished this beautifully in his first book, The Rain, his rendition of Noah and the ark. Chris paints a grim picture of a debauched society that refuses to repent. Noah’s wife and daughters-in-law receive names, and we get to imagine what they and Ham, Shem, and Japheth might have been like. It was interesting to ponder along with the story just how long, tedious, and treacherous the journey on the ark was. And let’s not forget the lack of light and air conditioning and…well…the lovely smells of all those animals!

The Rain is a fun, leisure time read. I think you’ll like it if you enjoy biblical historical fiction.

Stop Jumping the Gun 

Y’all know I’m all about discernment, right? I mean, I think my track record speaks for itself. But there’s an area of discernment we all need to get serious about right quick.

It’s that “right quick” part. We need to stop being reactionary and haphazardly tossing the “false teacher” label (or other spiritual aspersions) around any time somebody says something that causes us to raise an eyebrow, especially when that person has an impeccable record of sound doctrine, faithful preaching, and contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Since Tuesday’s release of the Founders Ministries cinedoc trailer By What Standard? God’s World…God’s Rules, I have been appalled at the rush to judgment regarding Tom Ascol and Albert Mohler. Neither of these brothers has committed any clear-cut sin, but I want to put the details of the accusations aside and focus on the general principle of jump-the-gun aspersion-casting against these two men and others like them.

Each of these gentlemen, as well as Founders Ministries itself, has a decades-long track record of being doctrinally sound and fighting the good fight for biblical truth – longer than some of you younger sisters have been alive. They, and other pastors, teachers, and folks in long-time doctrinally sound ministry, have earned the right to have brothers and sisters in Christ – especially mature and discerning brothers and sisters in Christ – give them the benefit of the doubt when no clear-cut sin has been committed.

Obviously, when we’re talking about high profile pastors and teachers we don’t know personally, this isn’t a local church issue, but I think we would do well to remember the principles behind 1 Timothy 5:17,19-20.

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching…Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

We rebuke those who persist in sin in the presence of all. We do not make off the cuff accusations, based on a single “iffy” incident or presumptions, against doctrinally sound elders who have proven themselves faithful through the years. And we also need to remember that in situations like these we don’t know the whole behind-the-scenes story. I think we could extend some grace, give them the honor and respect Scripture says they’re due, and reserve judgment until sin is committed or the incident is resolved.

Scripture calls us to be better than this to our elders. Let’s live up to that.

Is it really God’s judgment?

My daughter texted me this shortly after the recent earthquake in California. And when your heart of hearts asks you to write an article, you write an article! (Only I didn’t think it needed to be as long as a full article, so you’re getting it here instead, Sweetie.)

For those of us who don’t live in California, some of the news stories we hear about the sinful things going on there leave us slack-jawed. And for Christians, our frame of reference for gobsmacking sin is the Old Testament. God dealt with sin in some pretty intense ways in the OT, not the least of which, in one case, was causing the ground to split apart and swallow sinners alive. So I guess there is precedent for God using an earthquake to deal with sin. Is it possible the earthquake in California was God’s judgment upon their sin? Yes, it’s within the realm of possibility.

However, that kind of judgment is not normative, especially after the cross, and there are a lot of holes in that theory. If you’re tempted to use the line of reasoning that a natural disaster is, definitively, God’s judgment on California (or any other place) for their sin, could I just encourage you to think through the following points?

•In the past few months New York and Illinois have both passed hideous, from-the-bowels-of-hell laws protecting the sins of abortion and infanticide. Where are their earthquakes?

•Louisiana just passed one of the most abortion-restrictive laws in the nation. And then we had a hurricane. Was that storm a judgment on Louisiana?

•If “it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God…” (1 Peter 4:17), why wasn’t Redding, California – where Bethel “Church” is located – at the epicenter of the earthquake?

•Is it God’s judgment on sin if a tornado hits a doctrinally sound church in the Midwest?

•North Korea has been at the top of the list for years as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians. Why don’t we ever hear about natural disasters there?

•There are scads of doctrinally sound churches (including John MacArthur’s church) and Christians in California. Wouldn’t God protect California on their account or at least get them out of California before He exercises judgment there? There’s biblical precedent for that, too.

I don’t think we can biblically say that a natural disaster is definitely God’s judgment on California’s, or any other state’s or nation’s sin. God will judge the world in righteousness when Christ returns. Until that time, what we can biblically say about natural disasters is that they are the result of the Fall. And that sometimes they’re the best thing in that could ever happen to someone. Because sometimes during a natural disaster, people hear the gospel or cry out to God and get saved.

Obedience, Prayer, Sanctification, Sin

Throwback Thursday ~ When God Answers the “Wrong” Prayer

Originally published July 27, 2018

“Lord, I’m just so frustrated!” I fussed, as I approached the time I had set aside for prayer this morning. Once again, the “I don’t want to” of my flesh was pulling against the “I know I need to” of my spirit like a heavy duty tow truck tugging on a kitten.

So I just ditched it. Well…sort of.

Prayer is pouring out your heart to God, right? Well, I turned on the water cannon. Reverently, of course…but with passion.

I told God how sick I was of this all-too-frequent stumbling block my flesh presented when it was time to pray, especially when I knew from experience that the feeling was fleeting and would go away after I had been praying for a few minutes. I told Him I was tired of a million other things I’d rather be doing, that I needed to do, coming to mind and further crowding out my desire to pray. I told Him I was sorry for all the times I had given in to the flesh and skipped my prayer time. I told Him I wanted Him to make this feeling go away and never come back.

As I poured out my complaint before Him, the Holy Spirit began leading me to examine the why of this whole situation. What was bringing about this pull of the flesh against prayer?

And that’s when it happened. God answered the “wrong¹” prayer.

You see, one of the things I pray every day is that God will reveal to me any sins I’m unaware I’m committing and lead me to repent of and forsake them.

And in that moment, that’s the prayer He chose to answer.

Not the prayer for the provision of an item my family needs. Not the prayer for healing of a loved one. Not the prayer that He would save all the lost people on my list.

Not the prayer I really wanted Him to answer.

God chose to reveal my sin to me.

You know why my flesh so often balks at prayer? Because in the dark, unsanctified recesses of my heart, I’m frustrated with God for not doing what I ask Him to do – now. I come to Him day after day, month after month, sometimes year after year, confessing the same sins, asking for the same provisions, and presenting the same requests, and I don’t see Him doing what I want Him to do when I want Him to do it.

Never mind that I could list hundreds of my prayers that He actually has answered, many of them in amazing ways. Never mind that I know what the Bible says about prayer well enough to teach on it and write articles about it. Never mind that I really do believe that God will answer my prayers for His glory and my good.

Uh uh. My flesh throws all of that right out the window and wants God to be my cosmic errand boy, delivering the goods on my timetable. I am selfish. I want everything to go my way immediately.

So that was pretty humiliating…but God didn’t stop there. No, there was more.

He opened my eyes to the fact that this sin problem I have relating to Him vertically is basically the same sin problem I have relating to people horizontally.

I yell at people in traffic to get out of my way. I get annoyed with my husband, irritated with my children, and impatient with fellow church members because I want them to do what I want, and I want them to do it now. I am selfish. I want everything to go my way immediately.

Oh, wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 

Paul was really onto something there. Fortunately, he answers his own question in his very next sentence:

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:25a

Jesus. Jesus can help me to mortify this sin. And I can obey Him as He does His good work in me. How?

assuming that you have heard about [Jesus] and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:21-24

I stop doing the sin (put off the old self). I remember what God’s Word says about that sin and about the righteousness I’m supposed to do instead (be renewed in mind). I do the righteous thing instead of the sin (put on the new self).

Ephesians 4 goes on to give some examples of what this looks like when dealing with real life sin:

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:25-32

See how that works?

Stop lying. Remember what God’s Word says about lying and truth. Speak truth instead of lying.

Stop stealing. Remember what God’s Word says about stealing and the godly way to acquire and steward material things. Work an honest job and share with others instead of stealing.

Seems pretty simple and logical, right? It’s pretty clear cut when we’re talking about sinful actions. I can keep my mouth shut so lies and corrupting talk don’t come out and choose kind and truthful words to speak instead. I can keep my hands in my pockets or avoid that tempting store so I won’t steal, and get a job and share with others instead. But how in the world do I “put off” a sinful attitude like bitterness, wrath, anger and malice (and in my case, selfishness) when it’s just a feeling that pops up in my heart unbidden?

The world will tell you that you can’t control your feelings. And for the world, that’s true. It’s part of the sin nature of a lost person, the “old self”, to live your life by your feelings, even to be controlled by them. But that’s not the case for someone who has been genuinely born again and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Part of the Fruit of the Spirit (the evidence that the Spirit is indwelling you) is self-control. That doesn’t just mean saying no to that second piece of cake. It’s the idea that sin is not our master anymore. We do not have to listen to and be controlled by sin, we can say no to it because we want to say yes to our new Master – Christ – and be controlled by Him.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Romans 6:12-14

Notice the wording here. It’s not “do your best” or “try” not to let your old master control you. It’s an authoritative, weighty, no-nonsense command: “Let not sin reign…sin will have no dominion”. God would not command us to do something that we’re incapable of doing, or that the Holy Spirit will not empower us to do. We can control and put off sinful thoughts, feelings, and attitudes.

Martin Luther once helpfully said:

“You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

I think about that quote often when it comes to putting off ungodly thoughts that pop into my brain. Here’s how it works:

First, preemptively pray the “wrong” prayer – the one your flesh won’t want God to answer – that He will make you aware of and convict you of sinful thoughts, feelings, and attitudes.

Next, when one of those thoughts rears its ugly head, stop what you’re doing, repent, and kick that rotten vulture right out of your hair. Make a definitive, proactive, Holy Spirit empowered decision of the will that you are not going to think that way. It helps me to say it out loud: “No. That thought is wrong. The Bible says ____ about that. I am not going to think that.” You might get some weird looks if you’re in public, but, hey, mortifying sin is worth it, right?

I tend to combine the “put off” (stop it) and “renew your mind” (What does the Bible say?) steps because pulling the Sword out of its sheath is a good way to kill sin. It’s the way Jesus modeled for us.

But how can I “put on” a right thought, feeling, or attitude? I mean, you can’t just conjure up godly feelings, can you? No. But what you can do is gather up nest-building materials for that “sweet Heavenly dove²”, the Holy Spirit, so He can shape your thoughts, feelings, and attitudes in a godly way:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8-9

There are godly things we can think about and godly things we can do (“practice”) that cooperate with the work the Holy Spirit is doing in our hearts.

Instead of thinking about that prayer that God isn’t answering right now, I can think about the prayers He has answered. And I can do something too. I can thank Him for those answered prayers and all of His good attributes in answering prayer.

Instead of thinking about how and when I want God to do things, I can think about His sovereignty and how good that is for me and everyone else. I can also do something: I can recite Bible verses I’ve memorized about the situation and sing songs of praise to Him.

Instead of thinking about how someone else is frustrating me by not doing what I want her to do, I can think about how she is made in the image of God, valuable to Him, and precious in His sight. What can I do? I can stop and pray for her. I can speak a word of encouragement to her. I can bless her with a gift or by serving her.

Thinking and practicing ungodly things feeds and grows your ungodly thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. But thinking and practicing godly things feeds and develops your godly thoughts, feelings, and attitudes.

Back in the Stone Age when dinosaurs roamed the earth and computers were brand new, programmers used to have a saying: “Garbage in, garbage out.” In other words, if you fed faulty commands into the computer, the performance you got out of the computer was going to be faulty, too.

The Christian heart is very much the same. “Godly in, godly out.” If you feed godliness into your heart, godliness will start coming out in your thoughts, words, and actions.

We don’t have to be mastered by sinful thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and by putting off the old self, renewing our minds through God’s Word, and putting on the new self by thinking and practicing godly things, we can grow more and more obedient to our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, words, and actions.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try to remember that the next time God answers the “wrong” prayer.


¹Please note that the word “wrong” as it refers to God answering prayer refers to my having the wrong attitude or perspective. God is perfect and has never, and will never, do anything wrong.
²From the hymn Sweet, Sweet Spirit by Doris Akers