For just over a year now, we have been talking about the authority and power that God gives us as Christians to make "faith choices" - choices we make by faith and not our feelings. What's sad is that many Christians still don't realize they have the authority to go against the tide of their emotions, and choose God's will regardless of how they feel. This is exactly the kind of faith choice that Jesus made in the Garden of Gethsemane when He said, "Not my will, but Thine." (Matthew 26:39) He certainly didn't "feel like" making that choice; He certainly didn't "want to" make it, but He loved His Father more than He loved Himself, so He made that faith choice out of obedience. Well, we as Christians have that same authority and that same power.
The goal and purpose of being Christians is to reflect Christ in all things. However, the only way we can do this is by learning "how" to say "not my will, but Thine," just as Jesus did in the above example. Our Christian walk depends completely upon our moment-by-moment faith choices. And, this is the message that our Against the Tide articles have been trying to convey.
Then, the question that constantly faces us is: "What do we do with the 'justified' negative thoughts and emotions that perpetually bombard us?" Some of us certainly have sufficient grounds (by worldly standards) to be angry, unforgiving and hurt over what has happened, how others have treated us or what our circumstances are. How do we handle these thoughts and feelings?
As we said last month, we have three choices: We can either vent these things to others (which is what many of us have done for most of our Christian lives); or we can stuff them down in the hidden part of our soul (again, a method many of us have employed in the past); or, we can choose to go God's way and, by faith, give our negative thoughts and feelings to the Lord and be rid of them forever.
It's imperative to also remember that we cannot hold on to negative thoughts and feelings without eventually acting out of them. In other words, undealt with thoughts and emotions do influence our future actions and do often control our behavior. And, even if we try to keep these thoughts and emotions buried, they still will become the motivation for many of our upcoming actions, whether we're aware of it or not. Burying our hurts, memories, fears- justified or not - does not get rid of them; only allowing God to expose them and giving them over to Him, does. We talked extensively about this last month.
Throughout the Bible, God tells us to "cleanse our hearts," "be an open vessel" and "give ourselves over to Him," etc. What exactly does this mean and how do we this on a daily basis? What are the steps to moment-by-moment giving things over to God and leaving them there?
(Our little book The Key goes into these steps in much greater detail than I have space here. So, if the Lord leads, I would really recommend getting it.)
The four cleansing steps that we are learning (we covered the first two in our article last month and will explore the last two here) are not something that I have made up or found in some other self-help book, but are the actual steps of cleansing that the priests took in the Temple of Solomon in order to deal with their sin and be reconciled to God. These cleansing steps, I believe, are God's blueprint or His model for us to deal with our own sin and self and be reconciled to Him.
The Scriptural cleansing steps are: 1) Recognizing and acknowledging our own sin and self; 2) confessing and repenting of all that God has shown us and unconditionally forgiving anyone else involved; 3) giving all that God has revealed back to Him; and finally, 4) reading His Word and replacing the lies with His truth. (Again, all of the Scriptural validation for these steps are in The Key .)
As we said, we covered the first two steps in last months Personal Update article, so the third step of cleansing is that we must now give over to God all that He has shown us that is not of faith . We must not only give Him the specific sin we are dealing with, but also any "root causes" He may have shown us that are involved. In other words, we must present our bodies to Him as "living sacrifices," asking Him to expose all the things in our lives that are not of Him. Romans 12:1-2 validates this, "Therefore, I beseech you, my brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."
This is the point at which we can picture ourselves up on that Brazen Altar in the Inner Court of Solomon's Temple, praying something like this, "My Jesus, I offer all that I am to You. I choose to willingly surrender my will and my life to You. May all that pleases You, and only what pleases You, happen."
A Touching Example: Sarah and Rick
I have a dear, old friend named Sarah. Yes, we are both old, but my meaning here is that I have known Sarah longer than any of my other friends. I think we go back about 40 years!
Sarah is a precious, loyal and wonderful child of God. But, about 20 years ago, the Lord allowed an extremely difficult trial into Sarah's life when she found out Rick, her husband of 25-30 years, was having an affair with a nurse at his office. (Those of you who have read The Way of Agape will remember Sarah's story there.) After a year of counseling, a trial separation, but not much change of heart on Rick's side, they decided to divorce. Sarah, however, because of their children, has remained friendly with Rick all these years.
About five years ago, Rick developed Alzheimer's and quickly deteriorated. At one point, he found himself living alone in a small 10x20 trailer, unable to work, keep a job or shop for himself. My beloved friend, Sarah, prayed intensely about the situation and felt strongly that the Lord wanted her to go over to Rick's every day, fix his meals, clean his trailer and do his shopping for him.
Now, obviously, Sarah was justified by the world's standards to keep her distance and remain unconcerned. After all, Rick was the one who sinned against her and ruined her life! But, by faith, Sarah knew that God wanted her to be an extension of Him and to show Rick unconditional Love (Rick was not a believer). So, she willingly offered her will and her life to God, saying "God, I can't do this, but You can. I give you me, do what You will."
She began to daily go over to his trailer. At first, she said, it was hard and she did it purely out of obedience, but after a while, she said, it became her delight. God went ahead of her, prepared her heart and filled her with His Love for Rick.
It's been five years now, and my precious Sarah is still taking care of Rick. She has moved him into her home to make it easier for her to care for him. She must do almost everything for him now, but because of her sacrifice, they have, once again, become friends. Their two grown children are amazed at what has happened, but are delighted to see their two parents finally getting along again. It's a miraculous story and one that's absolutely true. But, it's only because beautiful Sarah said to the Lord, " My Jesus, I offer all that I am to You. I surrender my will and my life. May all that pleases You and all that You wish, happen. .. through me."
Scripture calls these kinds of sacrifices, the "sacrifice of praise" (Hebrews 13:15), the "sacrifice of righteousness" (Psalm 4:5) and the "sacrifice of thanksgiving" (Psalm 116:17; 107:22). These are called "sacrifices" because, much of the time, we really don't "feel" like praising Him, being thankful or joyful, but, by faith, we do it anyway because it's His will and He has told us to.
Sarah is a beautiful example of this very principle.
The final step of cleansing is that we must now read God's Word and replace the lies with the Truth. In the last step, we gave God everything He showed us that was not of faith and that quenched His Spirit. Now, it's important to replace these things with His Word and His Love. The priests of Solomon's Temple, at this point, bodily got up into the Molten Sea (a huge bathtub holding 2000 baths) in order to totally cleanse themselves. And it's the same thing with us.
As we read God's Word, He promises to heal our souls with the "washing of the water of the Word." (Ephesians 5:26) It's only God's Word that can completely cleanse us, totally restore us and fully heal us. Some great Scriptures to read at this point are: 1 John 1:5-10; Psalm 51, 32:1-5 and 2 Corinthians 7:1.
Now, whether we feel like it or not, God says we have been cleansed, renewed and filled with His Life so we can boldly walk into the Holy Place and God's Presence just as the priests did. This is the time we can worship the Lord at the Altar of our hearts and then, petition our prayers. (1 Chronicles 16:29; Hebrews 10:19, 22)
Worshiping the Lord
George Barna, the president of a marketing research company in California, says that most Christians would acknowledge their responsibility to worship the Lord, but admit that they rarely connect with Him. Again, I believe, it goes back to our not knowing how to make "faith choices." This one principle affects everything else we do. If we don't understand we have God's authority to make faith choices, we won't be able to moment-by-moment "cleanse ourselves." And if we are not cleansed, we won't be able to come into God's presence and worship Him.
Isaiah 59:2 tells us that until we are cleansed - until we have given Him all known sin - we won't be able to fellowship with Him. He will not hear us, nor will we be able to hear Him. Coming into His presence, fellowshipping with Him and being one in the Spirit is what worshiping is all about. We cannot worship when we are in the flesh , but only when we are in the spirit .
See, worshiping God is different than praising Him . Praising God is what the priests of Solomon's Temple did first when they entered the Outer Courts of the Temple. And this is the first thing we are to do when we begin our prayer time with the Lord. Scripture tells us that God "inhabits our praises" (Psalm 22:3), and this is exactly what we are imploring Him to do. Worshiping the Lord, however, is something totally different. Worshiping God is what the priests did last . They worshiped God after they were cleansed, after they brought their incense offerings to the Golden Altar, and after they took off their shoes and prostrated themselves before the Golden Altar.
In other words, there's a proper procedure to follow in order to enter God's presence and worship Him and pray our petitions. Psalm 24:3-4 lays this procedure out for us: "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His Holy Place? [Only] He who hath clean hands (or soul) and a pure heart (or spirit)...."
Once the priests had clean hands and a pure heart, they came into the Holy Place, sprinkled incense over the hot coals, fell on their faces and worshiped the Lord. (Leviticus 16:12-13) In like manner, only after we have been cleansed and offered ourselves as living sacrifices, can we enter God's presence, place our love offerings on the altar and fall on our faces to worship Him in "spirit and truth." (John 4:23-24) We're not asking Him for anything, but simply there to adore, revere and love Him in the same nature as He .
Worship means to kiss, to bow down or to show absolute submission. But the definition of worship that I really like is "to catch fire." I can almost visualize ourselves catching on fire with the Love of God! Because when something catches fire, it literally becomes consumed with it. And, this is exactly what happens when we truly worship God. We become united in the Spirit.
After we worship, then we can pray our petitions "in His Name." "In His Name" simply means that we are now in the same nature as He"literally joined and united in the Spirit. We haven't just attached His name to our prayers, we are literally in His Name . Now, He promises to hear us because, at that moment, we are truly one with Him in the Spirit while praying , and thus, He will act upon our prayers. (John 16:24)
When our prayer time is over, we can then go out and share of the fulness of the Lord that we have received while worshiping Him at the altar of our hearts. This is exactly what the priests did once they were finished worshiping. They stood on the steps of the temple and expounded God's Word. (If you are interested in studying private worship further, I have just finished a new book called Private Worship: The Key to Joy which explores all of this in much greater detail.)
Yielded To The Holy Spirit
In summary, we must pray that the Holy Spirit will continually remind us of the importance of setting aside our own natural, emotional way of thinking and choosing instead to follow the Lord in whatever He tells us to do.
Remember Sarah's story. If we can learn to do this, then, as Romans 12:2 promises, we will be transformed into His Image and we will able to pass on that abundant Life to everyone that we meet. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Transformation is God's goal for each of us. He wants our words and our deeds to match so that we can live the Truth and the Gospel can be passed on. The key to our being able to do this, however, again goes back to our moment by moment choices - our own willingness to follow Him regardless of how we feel, what we think or what we desire. This is the secret to the victorious Christian life - staying an open and cleansed vessel so that God's Life can continually flow through us to others.
Hosea in the Old Testament is a wonderful example of one who totally surrendered himself to do God's will. In other words, he loved God so much that he willingly laid down his life so that God could reach his adulterous wife, Gomer, through him.
It's interesting, because Hosea's story reminds me very much of Sarah's story. Don't you think? In his own power and strength, Hosea could never have loved Gomer the way he did. Yet, because of his faithfulness to love God first, constantly choosing to yield his will and life totally to Him, God enabled him to become the instrument by which He reached Gomer. And, I see the same principle being implemented in Sarah's story also.
Jesus is also our example. He is the Creator of the universe and yet, He chose of His own free will to lay His Life down for us. He was the mediator, the channel and the vessel of God's Love to us. He died so that God's Love could be released through Him to us. "Hereby perceive we the Love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to [choose to] lay down our lives for the brethren ." (1 John 3:16) This is God's purpose for all our lives as Christians.
The inward life of the Spirit can only be gained by a passionate and consuming love for God. How much do you love Him? Enough to surrender everything?
Matthew 7:14 tells us, "Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life , and [only] a few there be that [will] find it."
How about you? Do you love God enough to choose to go through that narrow gate and down that hard path? Sarah did. Hosea did. Will you?
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This is our final article on the book, Against the Tide. We hope you have enjoyed these articles, learned from them and that they have been a blessing. Next month, we will begin a new series on the book, Private Worship: The Key to Joy .