Newsletter for Sep 2010
Some Christians I have encountered over the years are firmly convinced that if they could only quit their secular job and go full-time in ministry, life would be so much better. Their thinking is that if all the hours on the job could be freed up, they would be able to devote that time to prayer and Bible study. In theory, this is true; but in reality, it is a different story altogether.
You see, it doesn’t matter if you work 10 hours a day at a secular job, are retired or serve full-time in ministry, dedicating time to be with God is always a challenge. Not only does Satan fight us over every minute, but there is another battle continuously raging. Pay close attention to the following segment of Jesus’ parable of the sower as it is recorded in the gospels of Mark and Luke:
The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. (Mark 4:14-19)
Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. (Luke 8:11-14)
In Mark, it is the cares of this world, deceitfulness of riches and the lusts of other things entering in which choke the word and cause it to be unfruitful. But in Luke, it is rendered as the cares, riches and pleasures of this life which choke the word. It is true that both problems and challenging circumstances can distract us from the time we need to spend with God; but what we sometimes fail to understand is that pleasures can be even more devastating to our walk with the Lord.
Our soul is always after the pleasures of life. The soul only wants to “feel good.” Pleasures are the goal of the soul. There are never any exceptions because the soul opposes anything that it determines is displeasure. Whatever your soul has concluded is enjoyable, that is what it will seek. This is why we find Christians who cannot seem to give up such things as cigarettes, pornography, drinking alcohol, over-eating or untold hours of watching television: it is because the soul wants what it has concluded are the positive feelings associated those activities. The soul only wants pleasure.
If faced with a choice of two “displeasures,” the soul will always lean toward the one that seems to offer the least displeasure. This is why students will typically choose to do the easiest homework first. It is also why a person may choose to commit adultery: the soul esteems the pleasure of being with another person to be greater than the displeasure of being guilty of adultery; all of which the soul resolves is of less displeasure than remaining faithful in a difficult marriage.
The soul is like a spoiled, little child. It will stomp and kick and throw a fit just to get its way. This is why it seems to be such an intense battle to stay consistent in seeking after God. What we must get settled in our heart is that the soul is never going to change, it can only be controlled. The soul wants to be in charge and it absolutely rebels against anything that challenges its authority in your life.
This is why we find it so hard to commit ourselves to extended times of prayer, especially praying in the Spirit. Praying in tongues empowers our born again spirit to a place of dominance over our extremely selfish and rebellious soul. But the soul fights being brought into subjection. This explains why, immediately after sitting down to spend an hour or two in prayer, we suddenly rationalize that cutting the grass in 100o heat and 90% humidity is more appealing than praying in a comfortable, air-conditioned room with a glass of fresh iced tea by our side.
On the other side of this is another type of pleasure that will ultimately lead to our benefit.
Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives. (Ezra 10:11)
Under the Law of Moses, the Jews were forbidden to intermingle with pagan nations or marry women from other cultures. But their soul had reasoned that there was greater pleasure in breaking the Law than in obeying it, in spite of the fact that doing God’s pleasure – keeping the Law – resulted in tremendous blessings. Ezra told them they needed to get back to doing what God desired and repent for yielding to the desires of the flesh.
The path of God’s will for our life is the only place where we will find the fullness of His blessings. The more we acquiesce to those things which pleasure the soul, the further we drift from that divine path. In contrast, the more we exercise dominion over the soul to seek after God, the more His will begins to manifest.
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)
God will never do anything to pacify our soul; He only wants to see our spirit edified and conformed to the image of Christ. What we struggle with is understanding that God’s good pleasure – our spiritual maturity – really is the best thing for us. Many Christians hear terms such as “holiness,” “righteous living,” “sanctification,” or “living for God” and immediately translate them to mean “restrictive,” “boring,” or “lacking any fun.” Yet the truth of the matter is that Christ-like living actually produces more joy and contentment than anything else. But it is the soul which refuses to accept this, telling us otherwise.
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. (Proverbs 3:5-7)
When we trust in our soul we are missing the pleasures of the Lord and the direction in which He wants to lead us. The soul tries to convince us that we are doing the right thing by constantly giving it satisfaction. But if we are going to acknowledge God in all our ways we have to suppress the soul. In doing God’s pleasure we find His will; in His will is His joy, and in His joy is His strength that will empower us to complete His will.
As I mentioned earlier, the soul will always battle our born again spirit for control of our lives. But one way we can gain an advantage over the soul is revealed in Hebrews 4:12,
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The word of God originated in the heart and mind of God. It works directly with the mind of Christ we have received (1 Corinthians 2:16), producing a thought process that aligns with that of God. Thus, when we sow the word into our life through reading and meditating, it contrasts greatly with the pleasure-seeking thoughts of the soul. Then, with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel, it begins cutting away the soul’s grip on our life so we can live according to God’s pleasure.
As I was thinking about all of this, the Holy Spirit began to speak to me, “How much of your soul is standing between the life of God in your spirit and the flow of God’s power to others? The word works to cut away the things of the soul so the anointing in and on your spirit can flow.”
This is the part that Satan wants to keep hidden from us. He knows that as long as our soul dominates any part of our spirit, God’s anointing in us is hindered. But when we value the pleasure of the Lord to be greater than the pleasure of the soul, we will see the battle worthy of all our efforts so that our life truly becomes a reflection of Christ. This is part of what Paul was talking about when he wrote to Timothy:
But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. (2 Timothy 4:5)
Making full proof of our ministry includes pressing deeper into Christ when afflictions of any kind cause the soul to scream out, “Stop! I can’t take any more! I just want to kick back, relax and enjoy life for a change!” This willingness to fight the soul to fulfill God’s good pleasure was constantly demonstrated in Paul’s life; he revealed as much in 1 Corinthians 9:27 when he wrote, But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. Even Jesus fought this battle, becoming our example of victory over the soul: Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
As God’s word is cutting away the grasp the soul has on our spirit, not only does His anointing begin to flow more freely but His promises begin manifesting in greater abundance. Read the last part of the parable of the sower as recorded in Luke,
But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
The word “patience” comes from the Greek word “hupomone” which means persevering toward an intended goal and not succumbing to trials, pressure, afflictions or hardship of any kind. In other words, when the soul says it’s not worth the trouble to press further into God, we look through our spiritual eyes to see the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14) and we keep pressing on.
No, it is not always easy. But God’s message to us is the same as what He told the Apostle Paul when he was facing Satan’s worst, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). God’s grace will sustain us through our daily battles with the soul. Though the soul will always be around, we can do all things through Christ which strengthens us, and this includes bringing the soul into subjection to the life of God in our born again spirit. Make this variation of Romans 6:14 a cornerstone for your life:
For the soul shall not have dominion over me: I am not under its authority, but it is under my authority by the life and grace of God.
May you know the good pleasure of the Lord!