Friday, August 26, 2022

Should We Have to Force Ourselves to Obey God?

 When I originally posted my note about James 3:17, and how we can use that verse to test whether or not God has spoken to us, I received several comments from people who were appreciative of what I had written. I write because I genuinely enjoy it, because I love God, because I am passionate about God, and I want to share what God has shared with me, so that others can be blessed. Furthermore, by writing, I am giving God the glory for all the talents He has given me (I am not saying that I have many talents, just that the talents I do have come from God). All that aside, it is a very strange feeling that I get whenever I see somebody’s comment, telling me how something I wrote changed the way they approach some part of their faith. On one hand, I am really happy that I helped somebody grow in their faith. On the other hand, I recognize that what little wisdom I have comes from God, so it would not be right for me to say “thank you”, as I would be claiming ownership of something that I did not come up with. I am still very new to writing about faith, and I am still trying to understand how to explain the way I feel. I am really worried that people will read the way I describe myself. I have already rewritten this paragraph several times, so that I do not sound like I am claiming to be some wise man, a prophet, or even a good Christian. I am just a man, I have many problems, but God was able to take me and shape me into the man that I am today. The reason why I am so passionate about sharing the Gospel is that I have seen the way God changed my life, and I want others to experience the joy and peace that can only come from a relationship with Jesus Christ. In short, I am very happy that I helped others, but I hope that they do not look at me as an authoritative voice when it comes to the Bible. More than anything else, I want to help others get to the point where they can speak to God all the time, where they can see God work in their life, and where they know that God is in control. I digress. This post is a response to a friend of mine. Her name is Melissa, and she is my friend on the YouVersion Bible app. In the comments of my aforementioned post about James, Melissa asked me a question that has really been on my mind. I do apologize for how long it has taken me to respond to her question. She asked: “What do you think about forcing yourself to do the will of God (such as not listening to certain music even though your flesh is telling you to)? God is a God of free will but do you think it comes from Him when we force ourselves to do His will? I go through this daily and I fail often. The devil has blurred my mind. I used to be so on fire for the Lord and I want to be like that again but I feel like I have failed to listen to Him too many times.” Dear Melissa, In all honesty, I have been struggling to figure out exactly how to answer you. The problem is that I have very little information regarding your situation, and this issue is very serious. I will start by offering you some encouraging information. The fact that you care about listening to God (to the point where you struggle with this on a daily basis), and that you are willing to reach out to others for help in addressing the issues you have been dealing with leads me to believe that you are on the right path. I want to share with you some things that have really helped me in dealing with the same issue that you are dealing with. There is a debate among Christians, regarding whether or not some sin can be worse than other sin, but I am not going to address that here. My current position is that some sins are far more serious than others, so I want you to bear in mind my stance on the issue. When I tell you to purge your life of serious sin, I am talking about sin that will create long-term issues in your faith. For example, if you are a witch, or you are interested in fortune-telling, astrology, tarot cards, etc., you have created a serious problem in your life that will hinder your ability to truly know the Lord. That example was pretty extreme, and I doubt that you are involved in that stuff. One thing that you may be doing (and are likely doing) is idolizing certain things or people. You mention feeling unsure about whether you should continue to listen to certain types of music, which is a problem that I can absolutely relate to. When I was in highschool, I was a metalhead (I still am), and there are many, many satanic bands and songs in that genre. The way I dealt with that issue is by doing my best to discern what I listened to. There are plenty of good metal bands that are not satanic, and there are many satanic bands that are very good. A practical way of dealing with the good satanic bands (good, as in quality of their music) is to not listen to it. It is very difficult to want to listen to a band or a song that you have never heard before. Another way to deal with the issue of music that a Christian should not be listening to is to do some research about what you can listen to. As a teenager, I would visit websites that were specifically designed for people like me who loved metal, but loved Christ more. You are not the only person with this issue, and while it can be difficult to change the way you live your life, you will not regret giving up some things that you enjoy in order to grow closer to God. As for the part about “forcing” yourself to follow God’s Word, I understand what you mean. “Force” is a word that carries a negative connotation in many circumstances, but I cannot think of a better word to use. Yes, if you resist the Lord and refuse to do what He tells you to do, you will be less able to discern the Voice of God in the future. This is a very complicated subject, and I really want to do some more research about the way our conscience works, but I think I have enough information to give you a good answer to this question. Your conscience is like a callus. When I began to play guitar, I remember seeing my fingers and thinking that my hands were dirty. I would wash my hands over and over again, but the dark color on my fingers would not go away. I learned that my fingers were actually bruised, which happens when one first learns to play guitar. When I first learned how to play guitar, I could really feel the effects on my fingers. My fingertips would be bruised, they would hurt, and it would be much more difficult to play while my fingertips were trying to heal. However, as I continued to practice playing the guitar, my fingertips did not bruise anymore. Over time, my fingers developed calluses. The calluses on my fingertips made the skin on my fingertips much thicker, which meant that I could play my guitar for longer, and without feeling the pain that I once felt. At some point, I did not have the time to play my guitar as much. I went for a few months without playing my guitar, and when I finally had the opportunity to play my guitar again, I noticed something that I had not felt in a while: my fingers hurt! When you sin, think of it like you are just starting out on guitar. The first few times you do something sinful, it really makes an impact. You feel bad about what you have done, you regret it, and you tell yourself that you will never do it again. As you continue to sin, that pain becomes less and less noticeable, until you reach the point where you cannot feel that pain at all. By that point, you have reached the point where your conscience has formed a “callus”, and it has prevented you from acknowledging the sin in your life. So, how can you get rid of that callus? I would encourage you to reach out to a pastor or a mature Christian that knows you better. I do care about you, I do care about your situation (I have been praying for you, and I have been doing a lot of thinking and praying about how to respond to you), but I do not know you as well as others do. If you cannot find a pastor or a mature Christian that knows you, find a Christian that does not know you yet, and get to know them. Spend time studying your Bible. Understand exactly what God wants us to do, and when you learn what you need to do, you need to obey the Lord. This process can be very difficult, but if you ask God for help, He will help you. God will honor your desire to be closer with Him, and He will strengthen you so that you can persevere. In short, yes, I think you may need to “force” yourself to obey the Lord in the beginning. After all, the heart of man is “desperately wicked” [Jeremiah 17:9]. We are all sinners, we all fall short of the glory of God, and we are born into a sinful world. However, when we begin to seek the righteousness of Christ, we will be blessed. In the beginning, you may have to force yourself to do or not do something, but as you follow Christ, and as you grow in your faith, you will find that obeying Him will become much easier. It may take some time, and it may be difficult (it was difficult for me), but it will be worth it. I have my shortcomings, I make mistakes, and I sin a lot, yet, from the moment I wake up, until the moment I go to sleep, I have the joy of the Lord in my heart. No matter what you have done, God can help you know Him more. Also, I really do not believe that the devil would tell you not to listen to music when that music is not what you should be listening to as a Christian. The devil is absolutely working in this world, but he does not do everything. As previously mentioned, our hearts are desperately wicked. If we do not know God, we will be comfortable living in a life of sin. It is when we grow to know Christ that we can recognize our sinful nature. If you seek Jesus Christ, if you seek His righteousness, and if you are willing to give up the things that have kept you from a closer relationship with the Lord, you will experience a faith that is unlike anything you have felt before. You will be “on fire” for God all the time, and it will get even stronger as you continue to walk with Christ. Of course, there will always be moments (or days, or weeks, or even longer) where you do not feel as close to God, but that is something we all deal with. What matters the most is that you earnestly seek God and trust Him completely. One of my favorite verses for understanding how to overcome the desires of the flesh comes from Galatians 5:16: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” As for how you can “walk by the Spirit”, I would encourage you to pray and ask the Lord to help you. Study your Bible, pray without ceasing, and seek first the Kingdom of God. Life can be overwhelming when we look at it from a distance. Instead of asking yourself, “how do I fix my life so I can know God more”, ask yourself, “what can I do today in order to grow in my faith, and what do I need to address in my life right now”. When you know your Bible, you will be able to apply God’s Word each day. You will have the ability to address issues as they arise, and you will be able to discern God’s Will more clearly when you are closer with Him. When you wake up, ask God to guide you. When you are having a hard day, tell God. If you are having a good day, thank God. If you are just wanting to talk to God, you should talk to God. If you do not want to talk to God, you should talk to God anyway. I heard a pastor explain how “God is so much more excited when you pray than you are.” God loves you, and He wants to help you. Ask Him for help, and He will guide you. Take your life a day at a time, trust in the Lord always, and He will make straight your paths [Proverbs 3:6]. God bless you! - Daniel Teberian

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