So far in our overview of Against the Tide , we've focused on the importance of our day-to-day choices and how they are the key to our Christian walk. We've talked about "faith choices" - choosing something we don't feel by saying, "Not my will, but Thine" - and how God has given us the authority and the power to make this kind of choice. Being able to make a faith choice is what distinguishes a Christian from a nonbeliever. Christians can choose God's will, even when we don't feel like it, because God then gives us the power to implement or perform that faith choice in our lives. Those who don't possess the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit do not have this ability.
But, what happens when we make emotional choices - choices to follow our own feelings, thoughts and desires rather than God's will? Do these choices work in the Christian life? We all make them. In fact, for a lot of us, they are our first response. But, emotional choices in our Christian walk, no matter how we look at them, are lethal ! And this is exactly what I want to highlight in this article: the dangers and pitfalls of emotional choices.
Let's begin with a classic example from one of David Wilkerson's newsletters (Times Square Pulpit Series , 2/16/98) that graphically illustrates the cost of making emotional choices:
"In 1921, two young missionary couples in Stockholm, Sweden, received a burden to go to the Belgian Congo (which is now Zaire). David and Svea Flood (along with their 2-year-old son) joined Joel and Bertha Erickson to battle insects, fierce heat, malaria and malnutrition. But after six months in the jungle, they had made little or no contact with the native people. Although the Ericksons decided to return to the mission station, the Floods chose to stay in their lonely outpost. Svea was now pregnant and sick with malaria, yet she faithfully continued to minister to their one and only convert, a little boy from one of the nearby villages.
"Svea died after giving birth to a healthy baby girl, and as David Flood stood over his beloved wife's grave, he poured out his bitterness to God: 'Why did You allow this? We came here to give our lives, and now my wife is dead at 27! All we have to show for all this is one little village boy who probably doesn't even understand what we've told him. You've failed me, God. What a waste of life!'
"David Flood ended up making drastic 'emotional choices': he chose to leave his new daughter with the Ericksons; he took his son back home with him to Sweden; and, from then on, he never allowed the name of God to be mentioned in his presence. His little girl was raised in the Congo by an American missionary couple, who named their adopted daughter 'Aggie.'
"Throughout her life, Aggie tried to locate her real father, but her letters were never answered. She never knew that David Flood had remarried and fathered four more children, and she never knew that he had plunged into despair and had become a total alcoholic. But when she was in her forties, Aggie and her husband were given round-trip tickets to Sweden, and while spending a day's layover in London, the couple went to hear a well-known black preacher from the Belgian Congo.
"After the meeting, Aggie asked the preacher, 'Did you ever know David and Svea Flood?' To her great surprise, he answered, 'Svea Flood led me to the Lord when I was a little boy.' Aggie was ecstatic to learn that her mother's only convert was being mightily used to evangelize Zaire, and he was overjoyed to meet the daughter of the woman who had introduced him to Christ. When Aggie arrived in Sweden, she located her father in an impoverished area of Stockholm, living in a rundown apartment filled with empty liquor bottles. David Flood was now a 73-year-old diabetic who had had a stroke and whose eyes were covered with cataracts, yet when she identified herself, he began to weep and apologize for abandoning her. But when Aggie said, 'That's okay, Daddy, God took care of me,' he became totally enraged.
"'God didn't take care of you!' he cried. 'He ruined our whole family! He led us to Africa and then betrayed us! Nothing ever came of our time there, and it was a waste of our lives!'
"That's when Aggie told him about the black preacher she'd just met in London, and how the Congo had been evangelized through the efforts of his wife's one and only convert. As he listened to his daughter, the Holy Spirit suddenly fell on David Flood, and tears of sorrow and repentance began to flow down his face. Although God mercifully restored him before he died, David Flood left behind five unsaved and embittered children. His anger towards God had totally wasted his life's potential and created a tragic legacy for his family."
Again, this story clearly illustrates the danger of going with the tide of emotion and following one's own thoughts and desires. Had David Flood chosen by an act of his will to accept the tragic situation and know that somehow God would use it for His glory, who knows what awesome fruit God could have brought forth from his life? God is involved in every aspect of our existence, and there is no sorrow so great that He cannot somehow "recycle" it to bring forth a blessing. The deciding factor, however, is our own choice to release God to work.
Nothing Shall Separate Us
The above story exemplifies that when we choose to follow our own feelings and desires over God's will, we quench His Spirit in us. This, then, blocks His Love not only from flowing through us to others, but also hinders us from experiencing His Love personally.
Psalm 119:70 explains this further. It says that when we make emotional choices, our hearts become "fat as grease" (like kitchen lard!). This grease, then, not only clogs, chokes out and quenches any communication or personal leading from God, it also causes us to become insensitive and unfeeling towards others. James describes this as the "pure water" of God's Spirit getting blocked off and coming out "bitter." (James 3:10-11)
It's interesting to note that in a real life situation, when you put grease or fat on a physical burn, you not only make that area insensitive and resistant to healing, you also cause a scar to be formed in its place. Sin and self are just like that grease - they not only make us insensitive and resistant to God's leading, they also leave scars on our lives. In other words, we always reap the consequences of our wrong choices, as clearly seen in the above story about Aggie.
What Is Sin?
The Bible tells us that "sin" is anything we choose to do or believe that is "not of faith" and that causes us to be separated from God. (Romans 14:23) As Isaiah 59:2 states, "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear." Now, if we are Christians who sin, God remains in our hearts, but His Spirit will be quenched and thus, His Life in our hearts is blocked from coming forth. When I used to think of sin, I thought of the list in Galatians 5:19-21 and I could say, "Hey, I'm really okay. I don't do those kinds of things!" But, then I came across a little book called The Calvary Road by Roy Hession that changed my life. In this little book, there is a list of subtle things that cover our hearts and separate us from God's Life just as much as the big ones of Galatians 5. Let me recall just a few: Self-pity, self-defensiveness, oversensitivity, criticalness, resentfulness, worry, grumbling, bossiness, self-complacency, self-energy, self-seeking, self-indulgence, and self-consciousness.
The above list describes sins that quench God's Spirit and cover our hearts just as much as the "biggies" of Galatians 5. These "little sins" cover our hearts with grease, form a barrier or a blockage and prohibit God's Life from being experienced, not only personally, but also through us to others.
An Example: "Could I Borrow Some Money?"
Joanne was a hairdresser in a Christian salon and a total perfectionist. She never could stand any untidiness or messiness in her booth. She befriended Susie, a Christian who worked in the booth next to hers. Susie was a single mom, who out of necessity (when her baby-sitter did not show up) brought her two little children to work with her. Of course, the kids often brought crackers and cookies, and before long the whole place became a total disaster.
Joanne tried to put up with this situation for a while. She smiled and pretended everything was fine, even sometimes taking care of Susie's children. But after months of the inconvenience and the mess, she unknowingly allowed deep roots of bitterness to grow. Like many of us, Joanne didn't realize that when we don't deal with our real negative thoughts and emotions right away, they form a barrier (grease) over our hearts and can become the motivation for many of our actions.
One day while out shopping, Joanne ran into Susie who was trying to buy some clothes. Susie's estranged husband was coming over the next night for a visit, and Susie was hoping there might be a chance for a reconciliation. When Susie went to pay for the clothes, however, the cashier for some reason couldn't take her credit card. She didn't have any cash in her purse, so she quickly turned to Joanne and asked, "Please, could I borrow some money? I'll pay you back at work in the morning."
Before Joanne could even think, she responded with, "No, I'm really sorry, but..." and then she made up some feeble excuse for why she couldn't loan Susie the money. Joanne actually had plenty of money in her purse, but because her heart was so clogged by undealt-with resentment and bitterness, she reacted out of that grease, rather than God's Love.
Susie responded, "Oh, I understand. I was just hoping to make tomorrow night special. It's okay." And then she left. Joanne was mortified. She could hardly believe what had just came out of her mouth. She could have easily lent Susie the money, because she had plenty in her purse. Guilt and shame consumed her. She finally went to the ladies' room to regain her composure. In the bathroom, she wept, asking the Lord to forgive her. He exposed the bitterness and resentment that she was still harboring in her heart against Susie for always bringing her children to work. Joanne thanked God for revealing the truth, chose to confess and repent of it and then, to give it over to the Lord, knowing that He would forgive her and cleanse her.
When she left the bathroom and went back into the store, she saw Susie's pile of clothes still sitting there on the counter. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, she bought the clothes as a gift for Susie. When Joanne went to work the next morning, she told Susie the whole story, asked her forgiveness and then gave her the "love gift" out of her heart. Once again "the sweet fountain water" of God's Life in Joanne's heart was able to flow. (James 3:10-11) When we daily wash our hearts with that cool, fresh, running water of God's Word by confessing, repenting, and giving our sins to God, our sin and our self will not only be washed away, but no scars will be left!
Chain Reaction of Our Soul
One of the more interesting things I learned when I was writing Be Ye Transformed is that there is a natural mental and emotional "chain reaction" in each of our souls. In other words, if we could peel back the outer layer of our soul, we would see that our thoughts trigger our emotions; our emotions then stir up our desires; and, our desires produce our actions . In other words, every action we take really comes from four split decisions. Since our thoughts are the first to be triggered in this chain-reaction, God puts great emphasis on them throughout Scripture. He knows that if we can catch the negative thoughts when they first occur, then we'll be able to stop the whole chain reaction before it even begins. And thus, we might be able to prevent some of the sin before it occurs in our lives.
What happens, however, when we don't take every thought captive, is that we end up being carried on by the "tide of emotion" (that chain reaction), quenching God's Spirit, and then, His Life in our hearts is thwarted. This is why 2 Corinthians 10:5 exhorts us to: "...bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." In other words, we are to stop and examine the thoughts we have. Now, obviously, we can't examine every thought we think, but we can stop and take a good hard look at the angry thoughts, the hurtful thoughts, the fearful thoughts, etc. Any thought that takes away our peace is a thought that God wants us to "take captive" and to examine.
If we're unable to catch the negative thoughts before they stir up our emotions, then, perhaps we can spot the wild emotions before they become out-of-control desires and before they become actions. Obviously, it's like splitting hairs to examine this chain reaction, but it's imperative that we, at least, see its domino effect.
An Example: David
A Scriptural example of this chain reaction is King David in 2 Samuel 11. David was on his roof top when he saw Bathsheba bathing next door. He thought to himself how absolutely beautiful she was. But, rather than catch those natural thoughts when they first occurred, he allowed them to stir up his emotions, which in turn, fed his desires and finally, influenced his actions . He sent his servants to inquire after the woman. They came back and reported to him that she was Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. But, that didn't stop David. He was already immersed in his lustful thinking and, thus, he chose to act upon those desires and send for Bathsheba. And, you know the rest of the story.
David, to me, is a perfect example of a believer who, because he was totally immersed in the tide of his own emotional thinking, didn't take his thoughts captive and thus, God's Life in him was quenched. And, the same thing can be true of us. If we let the negative thought in, it's almost assured that sinful or self-centered actions will result. This is why the battle for our lives is really waged in our minds. Whoever controls our thinking, will ultimately control our lives.
Jesus, as God in fully human form, was able to live the perfect sinless life, because He was able to perfectly control His thoughts and thus, His emotions, desires and actions. In other words, He was able to catch every negative thought before it triggered the negative chain reaction. Thus, His Thoughts were perfectly Spirit-controlled. While I don't believe we will ever be able to do this as perfectly as Jesus did, He has given us an example to aspire to.
When Are Thoughts "Sin"?
Technically we are not responsible for the first, original self-centered or ungodly thought: it's what we choose to do with that thought that produces the sin or not. If we can recognize the negative thought and choose to immediately give it over to God, then we'll not have sinned. However, if we entertain, mull over and follow what those thoughts are prompting, then it will be sin and we'll end up with a layer of grease over our hearts.
It's interesting because, even if we do nothing with our negative thinking, it still will end up quenching God's Spirit and eventually be buried in the hidden part of our soul. It's absolutely impossible to stand still in our walk with God; we are either moving forward with Him or falling behind. Ephesians 4:29-32 exhorts us to, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
Only faith choices will allow us to walk in the above Scripture. Humanly speaking, it's impossible! Choosing to walk by our own sight and our own feelings will never cut it. This is not what the Christian life is all about! Only choosing by faith to do God's will, regardless of how we feel or what we think, will allow us to be overcomers.
[Next month: "Not Grieving the Holy Spirit." This article has been excerpted from Chuck and Nan's book Against the Tide.]