Sanctification, Sin

Throwback Thursday ~ Performing a Sin-ectomy

Originally published November 3, 2008

Have you ever faced an issue of obedience in your walk that seemed so difficult you felt like you’d never get it right? Maybe it’s something most would consider a “biggie”, like pornography, gambling, or alcoholism. Maybe it’s one of those heart issues that nobody sees except you and God, like racism, a critical spirit, pessimism, or bitterness.

Sometimes the sins we would consider to be “big” are, in a way, easier to deal with than the “small” ones. After all, it’s a lot easier to put an adult content filter on your computer than it is to prevent critical thoughts from jumping into your mind. You can take a different route home from work so you don’t even have to drive past your favorite bar, but we take our minds with us everywhere we go (although looking at the behavior of some people these days, you have to wonder!)

I’m working through not one, but two heart issues right now that are both really tough. (I’m not sure if God is piling on or being efficient!) I’m glad, though, that both issues finally came to a head in my spirit and that God is gradually working them out of me to make me more like Him. As I began the battle against these two sins, God sat me down and showed me some things I needed to know and do as I moved forward:

When God reveals sin in our lives, we can’t just ignore it. We must face it and fight it no matter how difficult it seems. If we don’t, the distance between us and God that was created by that sin won’t just remain, it will grow. This is because we’re now committing two sins, the sin itself, and the sin of refusing to deal with it and get it out of our lives.(James 4:17)

Only God can remove sin. We can try, through our own strength, to fix the problem ourselves, and we might even look successful temporarily, but ultimately, without His power, help, and strength, we wil fail. (Romans 7:14-25)

Prayer is absolutely imperative. Because we need God’s strength and power, we’ve got to ask Him for it at least daily, and preferably continuously throughout the day. I have found that if I don’t stay on top of these two obedience issues in my life by praying for God’s help every single day, I start slipping back into my old ways. (Matthew 26:41 )

Commit consciously and completely. Remember the scene in the movie The Karate Kid in which Mr. Miyagi is talking to Daniel about committing to karate? He says something to the effect of, “You do karate “yes”, safe. You do karate “no”, safe. You do karate “guess so”, get squashed, just like grape.” It’s much the same way with issues of obedience, except that the only safe choice is to “do obedience, ‘yes'”. It’s important to make a firm and definitive decision to give ourselves completely to obeying what God has revealed to us, otherwise we’ll be sure to waver when the going gets tough. Sometimes it is helpful to stand in front of the mirror and watch ourselves making a verbal pledge to God to obey, or write out our commitment on a piece of paper. (Psalm 119:57)

Take all the prayer you can get. While we should be discerning with regard to discretion, it’s helpful to enlist others to pray for us. Not only will we have more prayers going up on our behalf, but we will find that being accountable to those who are praying for us helps us stay on track. (Colossians 1:9-10)

Be ready for the enemy’s attack. If there’s one thing Satan hates, it’s a Christian who desires to be obedient to God. We have to realize that when we determine to set our feet on the road to obedience, he will attack. The obedience issue will suddenly become much more difficult; other things will pop up in our lives that have to be dealt with so we’ll feel like putting the obedience issue on the back burner; depression or discouragement may come. Those things are all designed to deter us and keep us in sin, but we have to stand firm and keep moving forward in obedience. (Ephesians 6:12-13)

Get plenty of rest, eat right, and stay healthy. This is war. We can’t fight off the enemy of the flesh when we’re tired and weak. Being in top physical condition when doing spiritual battle helps immensely. (Mark 12:30)

Stumbling here and there is inevitable, but don’t give up! When babies first start to walk, they don’t just get up in the middle of the floor and walk perfectly from that day forward. They take a few steps and fall, then a few more steps and another fall. But, they keep on getting up and trying again. We’re going to mess up when we try to obey, but we can’t give up. We’ve got to keep at it. Eventually we’ll get the hang of it. (Proverbs 24:16, Galatians 6:9)

Be vigilant and always on the alert for opportunities to practice obedience. The main hurdle I’ve been facing with my obedience issues is that I react automatically, quickly, and without thinking, to the stimuli that trigger my disobedience. It’s almost Pavlovian in nature. I literally need God to change my mind and my thoughts. This has prompted me to pray two things: One, that God will help me to stop for a few seconds after a stimulus presents itself so I can think about my response before I give it; two, that every time I enter the presence of the stimuli, God will help me to be focused and alert to opportunities that arise to practice obeying Him. God has answered those prayers, and it has been immensely helpful. Looking for opportunities to obey has now become almost fun, like an Easter egg hunt. It is exciting to find that opportunity and know I’m doing the right thing for a change. (Romans 12:2, II Corinthians 10:5)

Be patient. If the sin we’re battling is entrenched, it’s likely gotten to that point over a long period of time (decades, in my case). It is probably going to take a while to eradicate it and replace it with Godly behavior. Although God sometimes sets us free from things immediately, usually with behavioral and thought issues He has us roll up our sleeves and do the hard work it requires to change. We just have to keep plugging away and remember that even if we only move an inch forward, we’re still moving forward. (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4)

Keep score. Something I’ve found debilitating in the battle against disobedience is that at the end of the day I seem to remember only my failures and none of my successes. This is extremely discouraging and demotivating, so one of the things I have been praying is that God will help me remember what I’ve done right during the day. It has helped me to see my forward progress and reminded me to thank God for His help and give Him the glory for my successes. Additionally, as God has reviewed my successes with me, He has reminded me that He is cheering me on. He is always pleased when we get it right. (I Corinthians 15:56-57)

Eyes on the prize. “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'” Matthew 25:21 “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12 We do what we do for God’s glory and the applause of Heaven.

Hang in there with God. It is worth it!

Sanctification, Sin

Throwback Thursday ~ The Garden of Weedin’

Originally published March 31, 2009

It’s that time again. Spring. Time to survey the damage winter did to the yard and get it back in shape. Sandwiched in between last week’s several days of rain and the multiple days of thunderstorms predicted for this week, were a few beautiful days that were just perfect for tackling the jungle that once was my back yard. Yikes. I could have lost a kid in all that grass.

Much to my dismay, when I got up close and personal with the overgrowth, I discovered that, once again, the army of weeds I spend every spring and summer fighting off had made significant advances into the yard. It also seemed to have secured the perimeter of my fencerow with a tall and nearly impregnable line of defense.

Heaving a sigh, I remembered what one gardener friend told me last year. The best way to fight off weeds is to get the grass really healthy and growing so it will choke out the weeds and reclaim the yard. Sounded reasonable to me. And familiar, too. Where had I heard something similar to that before? The idea tickled my brain as I hauled out the mower.

As I began shoving my trusty mower through that mess, it hit me. Weeds….choking something out. There was something about that in the Bible.

Ever notice how many of Jesus’ parables and illustrations include references to farming, plants, and other aspects of agriculture? The “Lord of the Harvest” gave us wheat and tares, fig trees, mustard seeds, vineyards, and of course, the parable of the sower scattering his seed.

Ah, that’s what it was. The parable of the sower. Remember him? He went out to seed his land, and the seed ended up finding its way not only to the good soil he had prepared, but also to some rocky soil, the roadside, and a patch of thorns (which the New Century Version translates as “weeds”):

Some other seed fell among thorny weeds, which grew and choked the good plants. Matthew 13:7 (NCV)

That’s exactly what was going on in my yard! The grass wasn’t yet strong enough to choke out all the weeds, the weeds were choking out my good crop of grass. They were also making my fencerow look awful, so I finished up the mowing, and, mentally assessing our temperamental edger, decided to clean off the fencerow by hand.

As I began yanking at those pesky plants, God reminded me that we all have weeds in our lives that need to be pulled up. So just what constitutes a “weed” in our spiritual lives? Well, Jesus was kind enough to explain that in Matthew 13:22:

And what is the seed that fell among the thorny weeds? That seed is like the person who hears the teaching but lets worries about this life and the temptation of wealth stop that teaching from growing. So the teaching does not produce fruit in that person’s life. (NCV)

Jesus compares the weeds to two things: “the worries about this life” and “the temptation of wealth”.

“The worries about this life” could cover just about anything. It could be a financial struggle, a wayward child, a difficult marriage, a hostile work environment, or even a painful past that we’re striving to put behind us. Any situation we deal with that looms so large, it blocks out our view of Christ and prevents us from trusting Him to handle it. Anything that takes our eyes off Him, tempts us to focus only on our circumstances, and derails the teaching God is trying to manifest in our lives.

“The temptation of wealth” could also cover a lot of areas in our lives. First Timothy 6:10 tells us that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil…”. Evil. In other words, sin.

“A root”. Hmmm…interesting.

Well, I was certainly dealing with plenty of roots. When it comes to weeds, it doesn’t do much good to simply pull the leaves off or snap the stem in half. For some reason, weeds– at least the ones in my yard –seem to take this as a challenge to grow back. You have to pull weeds up by the roots in order to get rid of them.

Likewise, if there is something in our lives which “stops [God’s] teachings from growing” or prevents God’s teachings from producing fruit in our lives (see Matthew 13:22 above) we need to have the Master Gardener root out the instigating problem rather than plucking at its leaves ourselves.

For example, if you’re struggling with being a workaholic, you can break off part of the stem of that problem by cutting back on work a few hours a week, but the root of the problem may be that you have made work an idol in place of God, that you don’t trust Him to provide for your needs, or that you are loving yourself and your work more than your family. If those root problems aren’t dealt with you will likely fail in your efforts to cut back on work, or something else, such as a hobby, may spring up to take the place of those hours you would have spent at work.

As I continued to work, I noticed that some weeds were very easy to pull up and some were quite difficult. The easiest to pull seemed to be the weeds that had taken root in the decaying leaf matter on top of the soil rather than in the soil itself. The difficult ones were the ones that had been growing for a long period of time. Some of their roots were over a foot long. These roots had made their way far from the visible plant and into another part of the yard, which meant they were affecting much more than just the immediate area around the plant itself.

And so it is with our spiritual weeds. The best time to deal with sin or turn a troubling situation over to God is early, before it has a chance to take root, because once it does, it’s going to be much harder to deal with and it’s going to begin to affect more and more areas of our lives.

Dealing with sin or difficult situations pre-emptively is even better. Flee temptation before you have a chance to give in to it. Determine to commit your works to the Lord and acknowledge Him in all your ways, and you will avoid some of the heartbreaking circumstances that might otherwise come your way.

As I struggled with one particularly stubborn weed, I noticed that its roots were intertwined with those of a couple of other totally different weeds. As I pulled at the one I was working on, the others were coming up as well.

When God pulls up those really difficult weeds in our lives, we will often find that He is simultaneously uprooting other sins and situations that have become enmeshed with the primary one. Sometimes when this happens to me, I feels like God is “piling on” and wish He would just work on one thing at a time in my life!

By the time I reached the end of the fencerow, I was sweating, my back was killing me, and I had broken two nails, despite the gardening gloves I was wearing. Pulling weeds is not a day at Disney World. It’s tough work!

But as I stood back and surveyed the results of my efforts, I saw that the fencerow no longer looked trashy. It looked clean and neat. Something any gardener would be pleased with. And, something else had happened that I hadn’t even noticed until that moment. As the roots of those weeds came up, they naturally tilled the soil.

It was moist,

loose,

rich;

the perfect condition for good seed to be sown by the Master Gardener.