For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing passages that help me in some way. Our faith is a lifelong work-in- progress. It can be high maintenance. The Bible helps us maintain a healthy faith in any circumstance. It counsels us, convicts us, excites us, scares us, and gives us hope for a perfect future.
I once thought I was the only person who liked ketchup on macaroni. Turns out, there’re like four other people on earth who like it, too. Finding out that we aren’t alone in something is super cool!
Maybe we’ve thought, “Man, I don’t know if other Christians struggle as much as I do.” I’ve used these passages in an article before, but they’re very powerful. We aren’t alone in our struggles!
“So I have learned this rule: when I want to do good, evil is there with me. In my mind I am happy with God’s law. But I see another law working in my body. That law makes war against the law that my mind accepts.
That other law working in my body is the law of sin, and that law makes me its prisoner. What a miserable person I am! Who will save me from this body that brings me death?
I thank God for his salvation through Jesus Christ our lord! So in my mind I am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful self I am a slave to the law of sin.
So now anyone who is in Christ Jesus is not judged guilty. That is because in Christ Jesus the law of the spirit that brings life made you free” (Rom 7.21-8.2).
From the title, one might assume I am writing an article about hell. While it is true that God’s Word describes hell as eternal torture for disobedient spirits, my topic is something else entirely. You see, I have become more aware of a disparity between those three parts comprising my singular being with each passing birthday. There is my intellect that still recalls youthful exuberance. In my mind, I can still free climb Mount Yonah in White County, Georgia. My body snarkily responds, “Are you crazy?” And then there is that part of me that will never die. Yes, my spirit. My spirit becomes tired. Not only do I crave to be clothed with my heavenly habitation (2 Corinthians 5.1ff), but I also want to leave this body that is subject to the temptation of sin (cf. Romans 7.14-8.1). I grow weary of hurting God.
Fortunately, God created the “inner man” with the ability to experience daily renewal (2 Corinthians 4.16). Yet, this renewal will not occur if I am passive, sitting around waiting on God. Yes, He provides the inner man with strength through His Spirit (Ephesians 3.16). But you and I must engage in spiritual service, thereby enabling this renewal (Romans 12.1-2). This service requires that we strive for mastery over the boorish flesh holding our spirits prisoner. If we indulge our flesh, we will reap corruption (Galatians 6.8). Conversely, if we sow to the Spirit, we will reap eternal life. This choice makes all of the difference.
So, to facilitate our daily renewal, our mindset plays a crucial role. Following Paul’s exhortation to “be anxious for nothing,” he reminds us that we have better things upon which to meditate (Philippians 4.6-8). In addition, we must follow David’s example of hiding God’s Word in our heart to prevent sin (Psalm 119.11). Thus fortified from within, we positively affect our actions (cf. Proverbs 23.7; Matthew 15.18-20). The execution of this task comprises the majority of our battle against the whims of our flesh. When successful, we maintain a tender heart that retains awareness of sin and prompts swift repentance when we occasionally stumble.
Yes, we are all tortured spirits imprisoned by crude flesh. But “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7.25a NASB1995) His blood will offer continuous cleansing as long as we walk in fellowship with Him (1 John 1.7).
We are imperfect people trying to get to Heaven, and we make mistakes. Throughout scripture is a distinction between people who live to sin and people who struggle with sin, but live for God.
I John 5.16, 17 and Romans 7.5-8.17 are perhaps the most encouraging passages for a Christian who struggles with sin. These passages demonstrate God’s willingness and great desire to keep us pure, even when we struggle with sin.
Paul teaches us that sin is something we struggle with and should hate (Rom. 7.15-20). We don’t want to sin, but we do. We love God’s law, we recognize that it’s good, and we want to live up to it, but we often don’t (7.22, 23). Paul even goes so far as to say, “I don’t understand my actions. I don’t do what I want, but I do what I hate” (Rom. 7.15). It causes him great distress, and he expresses a desire that all creation shares: release from sin’s power and life with God without the possibility of sin’s influence (7.24; 8.22-24). He says twice that sins we struggle against are not held to our account (7.17 and 7.20).
I John 5.16, 17 shows that a Christian who struggles with sin is still pure in God’s eyes. The key idea is struggle. We can’t fool God – He looks at our hearts to determine whether we hate the sin in our lives or welcome it with open arms (Rom. 7.27). If sin is something we hate, grace keeps us pure despite our weakness (I John 1.9, 10; 3.19-24; 4.13-19; 5.18-20; Romans 7.25)!
This is so encouraging because it shows that God does everything within His power to keep us pure. We are lost when we reject Him to pursue a sinful lifestyle, certainly. But if we hate our sin and fight our sin, He keeps us faithful!
Heaven is attainable, God is good.
Over 50 members came to pray Tuesday night for our soul-winning plans, including our “Fill The Void” seminar (photo credit: Randy Simpson)
The cost of leaving God’s presence is more than many fully realize.
It’s interesting how the phrase “away from the presence of the Lord” is used twice in Jonah 1:2-3.
Leading up to the second mention, the text states that Jonah “paid the fare.” In the very next verse we read of a terrible storm that would end with the beginning of Jonah’s three day stent in solitary confinement within the belly of a great fish.
He paid the fare— but the price was a little steeper than he thought. It’s expensive to flee from the presence of the Almighty. Too many Christians run away from the responsibilities that God has given us only to discover that the dark waters of sin and separation just aren’t worth it.
Some discover this when it’s too late, but others are fortunate enough to realize this truth and return to the safety of God’s presence. May we learn from Jonah to go where the Lord leads and not make our own alternative routes.
“But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.” Jonah 1:3
Why do we hurt? In Bible classes and in sermons you have been pointed to scriptures such as James 1:2, which says, “Count it all joy my brethren, when you fall into various trials.” You may then find yourself wondering about that specific trial you are forced to miserably wade through.
Perhaps you think, “But what good could possibly come from this?” Or maybe you even question, “why would God let me experience this kind of heartache?” This is when a faithful Christian may sink into a pessimistic kind of bitterness that slowly steals each smile and smothers even the faintest glimmer of hope. If Jesus could sit with you and lovingly give you some wisdom, I’d imagine this is what He’d say.
I dreaded that cross, the cruel instrument of death. I felt such intense emotion with each painful and strained breath.
Embarrassed, I was stretched naked amid a hateful crowd—
but prayed for their forgiveness, with my bleeding head bowed.
I intimately knew trauma, isolation, abandonment, and shame. I lost everything for everyone, so peace and glory you would gain. It’s that joy I’ve set before you, even seen through tearful eyes,
that will push you, as it did Me, through each valley and each sigh.
No matter what you’re fighting here, don’t worry, stress or fear. Today it hurts, tomorrow it’s over, in the twinkling of an eye I’ll appear. Life is brief and fragile like that of a lowly dove, and like the dove, with broken wing still mending,look hopefully above.
–Dale Pollard (These words were inspired by the words found in Hebrews 12:1-3.)
I’d like to encourage you, if you’re suffering through a trial in life, to read Psalm 69. It’s a lament psalm, which may help you put into words what your aching heart is feeling.
“What we really need and what the psalms of lament provide is a way to live through times of disorientation with God as an intimate traveling companion.”
– Glenn Pemberton
It was in one of the lowest points in his life that David finds himself hiding in a cave praying to God. He says, “With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord” (Psa. 142:1).
David describes the circumstances that have caused him to feel discouraged. He says in verse 4, “Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.”
How often do we find ourselves feeling this same way? It could be the people we work with that don’t see the value of our Christianity. It could be friends at school pushing us to break our Christian values. It could even be our own families that don’t care for our souls.
David felt the loneliness of desertion with his own son, he felt betrayal from Saul, and he even willfully separated himself from God when he went after Bathsheba.
Many times we find ourselves in the cave. It could be that outside circumstances have put us there, or we sinned and are feeling the consequences of those choices.
Put yourself in his shoes, hiding in a dark, desolate and damp cave feeling alone and deserted by everyone. Everyone except God. David never lost sight of God, and he knew that God would answer his prayer.
When we find ourselves in the dark, feeling deserted and alone, don’t lose sight of God. He will never turn His back on a struggling Christian. He cares for your soul.
Rattlesnakes are large, venomous snakes that live throughout North and South America. In my humble opinion, they are one of the most terrifying creatures on the planet–from the hair-raising sound of that rattle to those intimidating fangs that can be up to six inches long. The bite from one of these monsters is excruciatingly painful. If you were to be bitten, at first you would experience a tingling feeling, followed by an intense burning sensation. After this you would feel lightheaded and begin sweating profusely. Your vision would become blurry, and each breath would be more strained than the last one.
If left untreated, it can be fatal to humans. All of that sounds terrible doesn’t it? What good could possibly come from a deadly rattlesnake? Well, at some point in history, somebody looked at these snakes and decided that they would make a beautiful pair of boots. That’s how to make something great, out of something terrible. There is no doubt in my mind that the inventor of snakeskin boots was an optimist. He could see the good, even when staring into the dark vertical pupils of pure reptilian evil.
When faced with hardship, that simply comes from living in a fallen world, it can be a challenge to see the silver lining in each dark cloud. American basketball player, Charles Barkley once said, “Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.” That’s definitely how it can feel sometimes! Although we have books in the Bible like Job and James that teach us how we should view our earthly struggles, here are just a few reminders from our God.
Number one, remember that each day is worth rejoicing over. Psalm 118:24 gives us the reason why— because today is another day that the Lord has made. It’s not my day; it’s God’s day. Reminder number two, what we can’t see in times of difficulty, is worth waiting for. Paul would inform us in Romans 8:27, “But if we hope in what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.” In the muck of life it may feel at times that there’s just no way out. Just because you may not see the end in sight, rest assured that our hope is in a promise that was put in place before time itself began (2 Timothy 1:9). The last reminder is simply this, that God made the world you are living in and Jesus is currently creating the world we will one day live in (John 14:1-3). I firmly believe each day that passes can only mean that heaven will be that much more beautiful. If God created this world in six days, in all it’s beauty, imagine the splendor of our home to come. Now, if that doesn’t make a bad situation a good one, I don’t know what will! Here are the lyrics to an optimistic hymn that I hope get stuck in your head for quite a while.
“I care not today what tomorrow may bring, if shadow or sunshine or rain. The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything, and all of my worry is vain. Living by faith in Jesus above, trusting confiding in His great love. From all harm safe in His sheltering arm, I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.”
Social media has done us no favors, with the temptation it presents to project happiness and perfection while masking the trials and challenges inevitable for such a long-term commitment as marriage is. Not only can we be guilty of misrepresenting our own relationship, but we can unwittingly put pressure on other couples who see these projections and increase dissatisfaction with their less than perfect and happy marriage. Of course, the answer to this is not to use forums like social media to air the sordid stains on our life’s laundry. But, there is a need for some reasoning and common sense that can assist us in building better marriages.
The University of Wyoming’s Family And Consumer Sciences department has an excellent study by Ben Silliman entitled, “Intimacy Means Conflict.” They begin with a profound, if provocative, statement, saying, “To love may not mean to fight, but it does mean to become close, to care a lot, and eventually to discover differences and disagreements. Those who love much have a better chance of conflict” (click here). This great study includes some common sense suggestions for working through the conflict:
Focus on needs, not solutions.
Brainstorm possible solutions.
Choose the best option.
Make a plan.
Implement the plan.
Seek feedback and evaluate both the process and the outcome (ibid.).
He does not overtly come from a biblical worldview. He is not exclusively focused on monogamous marriage relationships. But his counsel is sound and consistent with biblical principles.Cross-check each of his suggestions with Scriptural guidance:
1 Corinthians 10:23
1 Peter 3:7; James 3:17
The passages represent that the Bible talks about all these methods and approaches, but it does not suggest that this is all the Bible has to say about these. I am convinced the devil would love nothing more than for married couples, beset by conflict and even repeatedly addressing the same issue or issues, to just give up on their marriages. Wouldn’t he love for us to be convinced that we’re the only ones struggling and our situations are hopeless? I know such thoughts are not of God, who urges us to see possibilities even through improbabilities because of His capabilities (Phil. 4:13).
It’s fatal to a marriage to ignore or be in denial about the things that produce conflict. And it’s foolish to believe that a marriage is doomed because conflict is present. There is no way to achieve closer relationships without negotiating the unavoidable differences between two individuals striving to be a united couple. May I encourage all of us who are married to redouble our commitment to working through conflict in order to reach closer, Christ-centered relationships.
Paul makes an interesting statement while addressing the successful effort the Corinthian church made in disciplining an erring brother along with the successful outcome of his having repented. He urges them to show him love, comfort, and forgiveness. The bottom line Paul gives for the urgency of their obedience is “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). Back in the first letter, the church’s attitude and actions regarding a brother needing discipline was horrible, and Paul commanded them to act (1 Cor. 5). Here, they have acted and their efforts worked. They were in a prime position to grow and thrive. Yet, Paul reminds them of Satan’s motivation (to take advantage of us) and means (his schemes).
But, when does Satan like to try and employ his schemes and take advantage of us? When we aren’t being sober and vigilant (1 Pet. 5:8). When we aren’t focused on resisting him (Jas. 4:7). When we aren’t standing firm in the Lord or against his schemes (Eph. 6:10ff). When we aren’t exercising self-control (1 Cor. 7:5). If you study those contexts and others that mention Satan more closely, you will see that he would like to take advantage of us in good times and bad times. He may be at work through the willing choices, words, and actions of people who unwittingly aid his cause through their sins.
When might he seek to employ his schemes?
When new elders are appointed
During building programs
As numbers swell through baptisms and families placing membership
When preachers come and go
In a flurry of exciting activities
In the heart of some church problem or struggle
At the center of some personality struggle or conflict within the congregation
Through some controversial doctrinal, moral, or even cultural issue
When brethren put politics, race, or another issue of lesser importance over Christ and His church
Obviously, there are many more examples. The point is that Satan would love to use the good times or bad times we experience as a church to undermine and harm the work of the Lord. That should not make us paranoid, so paralyzed by fear that we refuse to act, or petrified to make needed changes. It does mean that we must not be ignorant of the fact that he doesn’t want the church to grow or move forward, and he will do what he can to stop it. What is so exciting is that he stands no chance against God. James says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (4:7). Let us never be afraid to “dare and do” for God. We can do great things for Him and keep an eye out for the devil’s schemes.
“I.” The late Wendell Winkler once said that beneath most marital conflict is basic selfishness. “What about my needs?” “What have you done for me?” “I am not happy, fulfilled, etc.”The Bible warns of the destructive nature of selfishness (Luke 9:23; Eph. 4:22,24; Phil. 2:3; 2 Tim. 3:2)! One of the most frequent casualties of selfishness is marital happiness.
“You.” This is really the other side of the conflict coin that blows up progress and growth in relationships. If selfishness is blind to the needs and concerns of the other person, blame and deflection is the total denial of guilt or shared responsibility. “You don’t treat me right.” “Why don’t you pull your weight?” “You are not enough of ‘X’ or too much of ‘Y’!” Accusation, which puts one’s mate on the defensive, is a poor framework for resolving conflict. The very first couple played the blame game, to no avail and with no success.
“They.” A mirage is “something that appears real or possible but is not in fact so.” We usually think of a mirage in the desert, an optical illusion created by extreme conditions. How often do married couples in conflict see marital mirages? A couple is hurting, and as they look across the burning sand they see “perfect couples” and “perfect marriages.” We are not helping ourselves by comparing ourselves to what is not what it appears anyway (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12). Every marriage is comprised of flawed, sinful people who are constantly faced with overcoming. Whatever you think you see in other couples “is not in fact so.”
“God.” Now, hear me well. God is the answer to all conflict, if we consult Him. Yet, when we blame God or let conflict affect our faith, then our attitude toward God can become a major landmine preventing resolution. “God doesn’t care.” “God isn’t listening to my cries and prayers.” “Where is God when I need Him?” Trials are going to test our faith, but be careful not to give God credit for blame that rests upon us and our spouses.
The good news is that “I,” “you,” “they,” and “God” can all play a fruitful role in resolving conflict. When “I” am humble and honest and focus on my role and responsibility, good will result. When “you” are treasured, valued, and sincerely loved, things will start looking up. When “they” are reasonably treated as role-models and inspiration, it can be helpful. When “God” is totally trusted and obeyed, there is no insurmountable problem! I wish marriage had no saboteurs or hazards, but the best of them do. Let’s work to avoid triggering them, trusting that God’s pattern for everything, including marriage, gives us the best shot at success.