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Monday, November 3, 2008

Ultimate Fighting

1 Timothy 6:12 "Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses."

A very dear friend of mine is not a strong swimmer and gets nervous when she is in water. When she was little, she almost drowned in a swimming pool. She was telling me that one of the first dates with which her husband surprised her (before he knew of her aversion to water) was going kayaking. Despite her fear, she bravely decided to go forward with the date and stepped into the kayak. The thought of falling into the water did cross her mind though. She anticipated what she would do if she fell out of the kayak. Knowing that it could be a long, difficult, frightening struggle to stay above water, she thought she would rather just give up and let the water overtake her quickly, allowing herself to peacefully sink to the bottom of the lake…

It is not hard for us to see the irrationality of her thinking. After all, she did have a life jacket on. She also had a wonderful date--who is now her wonderful husband, who is a good swimmer, and who would have instantly dived into the water after her. Any amount of time she would spend fighting to stay above water would likely not compare with the probable years and years of life she had ahead of her to enjoy.

Yet, her story provides the perfect word picture for what my faith is like at times. Sometimes, I just want to give up. Sometimes, I don’t want to do the work of fighting. My lack of the will to fight is not rational. I have read about God’s unfathomably good character in the Word (which tells me He is Loving, Sovereign, Powerful, All Knowing, Forbearing, Mighty, Majestic, Just, Merciful, and Compassionate, and He is ALWAYS this way, infinitely). From His Word, from my own experience and from the testimony of others, I know that He is all-powerful, I know that He is all-wise, I know that He can do anything, and I know that all things are in His hands. From His Word and from His past acts of faithfulness to me, I know that He loves the whole world and me personally, and I know that He cares for all the details of my life. I know that He wants me to go to Him with everything. I know that He is my Help (as scandalous as that sounds!) in all things, and I have experienced this firsthand many times. I know that He is enjoyable and that my greatest joy is in Him, and I have tasted this!

Yet, as irrational as it is, sometimes I still want to give up! Usually, this process begins when I indulge my emotional responses to my circumstances. There is usually a triggering event (anything from a flat tire, to a hurtful action of a friend, to unforeseen expense, to a sudden illness, to tragedy striking a loved one, to running late for an important appointment, to an argument with my husband, etc), or I simply start to feel discontent with my circumstances for whatever reason. I begin to feel weary, sad, hurt, overwhelmed, lonely, frustrated, angry, nervous, or whatever. Although there is nothing wrong with these emotions themselves, they lead me to a crossroad. Sadly, instead of going to the cross (the place of access to God through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus where I can find love, guidance, grace, and sustaining power), I too often ride the wave of these emotions into a sea of sinful attitudes—bitterness, despair, faithlessness, self-centeredness, etc. These sinful attitudes (which are sins in themselves) often manifest in sinful behavior—lashing out with my tongue, wallowing in self pity, losing self control, becoming self-centered rather than loving and sacrificial, etc.

Here is an example of how this works: My husband sins against me and I feel hurt. Then, instead of going to meet with the Father through the Son to receive help from the Spirit, I selfishly indulge my hurt emotions and pursue my own interests (wasting time rather than stewarding it, going on a shopping spree, eating comfort food…fill in the blank). I do these things rather than doing the work of sacrificial pursuing love--forgiving him, praying for him, and seeking ways to bless and serve him from a sincere heart of love for God and for him. I feel guilty and without joy. I feel distant from God, and I feel distant from my husband. How do I get to such a place?

This passage comes sheds a lot of light on my wayward journey:

1 Peter 5:6-11 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

I understand that this passage was meant to be an encouragement to Christians who faced the threats of death, torture, and all sorts of persecution for their beliefs. My trials are not as dramatic as that, yet this Scripture has something for me too. When I go astray after facing some type of triggering event or emotion, sometimes I use it as a license to not humble myself (or submit myself) before God—to go to Him, to hear His Word, to obey His Word despite how I am feeling, to give Him my anxieties, to be watchful and aware, to be thankful for who he is and what he has done, to enjoy Him, and to ask Him for help. Instead, I simply allow myself to be devoured by my enemy rather than fighting with and in faith—in the character of my God, in His Word, in the promises of my God to restore, confirm, strengthen and establish me, in the dominion of my God forever and ever, and in the fact that any trial and temptation can be overcome through Him.

It is no wonder that this passage is telling us to be sober and alert. Isn’t it intuitive that our enemy would want to attack us when we are weakened by our circumstances and when we are least alert? A friend of mine wisely told me that she has learned to rebuke the enemy at the onset of accusing thoughts rather than following those thoughts into a downward spiral of despair where she can no longer discern what is a lie and what is in accord with the truth of God’s Word. Just as Eve listened to the Serpent's lies and it led her to sin, so when I listen to Satan's lies, it leads me to sin and away from freedom and joy in Christ. Going back to the example of a conflict with me husband, my mind can go from "See, he doesn't love you" to "Of course he doesn't love you, what is there to love?" to "God couldn't possible love you either". These are lies that lead to despair. After all, where am I without God's love? No where! If God doesn't love me, then what is the point? How different this would have been if I would have fought instead of allowing myself to believe one lie, and then another, and then another.

Yes, the Bible tells me to fight, yet the Biblical means of fighting is not what I might be inclined to think of as fighting—it has nothing to do with mustering up strength or will power or action in myself. It has everything to do with going to Jesus in faith and believing His Word rather than lies. Hebrews tells me in Chapter 11: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” In faith, I must go to him with my circumstances and emotions, confessing my sinful desires, asking Him to renew my mind so that it is inline with His Word, and asking Him for His supernatural strength (Holy Spirit) so that I can obey Him.

How do I go to God? Philippians 4 gives me some great tools:

Philippians 4:4-8 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

From this passage, I get these reminders---

1) Remember the Lord who is the source of your joy! Remember the joy in Him that you have tasted.

2) You know that the Lord is near, act like it! You demonstrate the sincerity of your belief through your actions. Don’t indulge yourself in sinful, unloving, unkind behavior.

3) Rather than indulging your worries, go to God with them. Have a conversation with the Father who loves you. Tell Him what is on your heart. Be honest with Him. Listen to Him too—He speaks to you in the Word all the time!

4) Ask God for help! As you ask though, remember His goodness to you. Remember His faithfulness. Give Him thanks because there is a lot for which to be thankful to Him. (It is amazing what this practice does to lift my emotions).

5) God WILL meet you as you seek Him. He WILL guard your heart and mind in Jesus with peace. He does this in us even when our circumstances have not changed. Whether or not He sees fit to change our circumstances (either way we know He works for our good to conform us to the image of Jesus--see Romans 8:28-30), HE changes the state of our heart when we seek Him.

6) We do have a tool or a discipline that can help us when our emotions threaten to carry us down the wrong path. As my friend, Wendy, says in her book, “Practical Theology for Women”, we can get off the “emotional rollercoaster”. We can meditate on what is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. By the way, if we are wondering what these things are, we need only open the Word of God to find them. 2 Timothy 3:16 "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."

7) There is a peace that comes from obedience of heart and deed.

There is also another comforting thought—the battle belongs to the Lord. Even as the Lord commanded the Israelites on several occasions to fight, He assured them that He went ahead of them on their behalf. (See, Deut 3:18-22; Deut 20:1-4; Joshua 23:9-10; 2 Chronicles 20: 16-17; Nehemiah 4:10-20; Zech 10:5-6) We have victory through Him. HE is the One who will make us stand!

Dear Heavenly Father,

Forgive me for my lack of fighting and for my lack of endurance. Rather than going to you, I am too often content to be a puddle on the floor. I so easily give up, give in, and indulge my own sinful desires. Please help me, grow me, and change me. Thank you that I have access to you through the costly price of your Son’s life. Thank you Jesus, for winning this access on my behalf even though I did not deserve it then and do not deserve it now. Show me how to be alert and sober so that when I find myself in vulnerable times I would not be such an easy target for my enemy who wants to devour me. Thank you for revealing to me in increasing measure my sin and your goodness, as it only demonstrates what great love you showed in choosing me, dying for me, and living with me everyday. In Jesus’ Mighty Name, Amen


Rachel said...

Bina, The kids and are reading a book called "Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends". Some of what you wrote fit in so well with what we were reading today. It's so neat to see how God can reinforce His will for us. You have been given such a wonderful gift from God. I hope that one day you will write a book. I will be one of the first in line to buy and read it.

Heather said...

I will be with Rachel in line! Thank you for sharing your heart and your struggles, along with God's Word!