Sometimes the sins we would consider to be "big" are, in a way, easier to deal with than the "small" ones. After all, it's a lot easier to avoid buying a lottery ticket or playing a slot machine than it is to prevent critical thoughts from jumping into your mind. You can take a different route home from work so you don't even have to drive past that convenience store or that casino, but we take our minds with us everywhere we go (although looking at the behavior of some people these days, you have to wonder! :0)
I'm working through not one, but two heart issues right now that are both really tough. (I'm not sure if God is piling on or being efficient!) I'm glad, though, that both issues finally came to a head in my spirit and that God is gradually working them out of me to make me more like Him. As I began the battle against these two sins, God sat me down and showed me some things I needed to know and do as I moved forward:
- When God reveals sin in our lives, we can't just ignore it. We must face it and fight it no matter how difficult it seems. If we don't, the distance between us and God that was created by that sin won't just remain, it will grow. This is because we're now committing two sins, the sin itself, and the sin of refusing to deal with it and get it out of our lives.(James 4:17)
- Only God can remove sin. We can try, through our own strength, to fix the problem ourselves, and we might even look successful temporarily, but ultimately, without His power, help, and strength, we wil fail. (Romans 7:14-25)
- Prayer is absolutely imperative. Because we need God's strength and power, we've got to ask Him for it at least daily, and preferably continuously throughout the day. I have found that if I don't stay on top of these two obedience issues in my life by praying for God's help every single day, I start slipping back into my old ways. (Matthew 26:41 )
- Commit consciously and completely. Remember the scene in the movie The Karate Kid in which Mr. Miyagi is talking to Daniel about committing to karate? He says something to the effect of, "You do karate "yes", safe. You do karate "no", safe. You do karate "guess so", get squashed, just like grape." Its much the same way with issues of obedience, except that the only safe choice is to "do obedience, 'yes'". It's important to make a firm and definitive decision to give ourselves completely to obeying what God has revealed to us, otherwise we'll be sure to waver when the going gets tough. Sometimes it is helpful to stand in front of the mirror and watch ourselves making a verbal pledge to God to obey, or write out our commitment on a piece of paper. (Galatians 5:1)
- Take all the prayer you can get. While we should be discerning with regard to discretion, it's helpful to enlist as many people to pray for us as God directs. Not only will we have more prayers going up on our behalf, but we will find that being accountable to those who are praying for us helps us stay on track. (Colossians 1:9-10)
- Be ready for the enemy's attack. If there's one thing Satan hates, it's a Christian who desires to be obedient to God. We have to realize that when we determine to set our feet on the road to obedience, he will attack. The obedience issue will suddenly become much more difficult; other things will pop up in our lives that have to be dealt with so we'll feel like putting the obedience issue on the back burner; depression or discouragement may come. Those things are all designed to deter us and keep us in sin, but we have to stand firm and keep moving forward in obedience. (Ephesians 6:12-13)
- Get plenty of rest, eat right, and stay healthy. This is war. We can't fight off an enemy when we're tired and weak. Being in top physical condition when doing spiritual battle helps immensely. (Daniel 1:8-20, Mark 12:30)
- Stumbling here and there is inevitable, but don't give up! When babies first start to walk, they don't just get up in the middle of the floor and walk perfectly from that day forward. They take a few steps and fall, then a few more steps and another fall. But, they keep on getting up and trying again. We're going to mess up when we try to obey, but we can't give up. We've got to keep at it. Eventually we'll get the hang of it. (Proverbs 24:16, Galatians 6:9)
- Be vigilant and always on the alert for opportunities to practice obedience. The main hurdle I've been facing with my obedience issues is that I react automatically, quickly, and without thinking, to the stimuli that trigger my disobedience. It's almost Pavlovian in nature. I literally need God to change my mind and my thoughts. This has prompted me to pray two things: One, that God will help me to stop for a few seconds after a stimulus presents itself so I can think about my response before I give it; two, that every time I enter the presence of the stimuli, God will help me to be focused and alert to opportunities that arise to practice obeying Him. God has answered those prayers, and it has been immensely helpful. Looking for opportunities to obey has now become almost fun, like an Easter egg hunt. It is exciting to find that opportunity and know I'm doing the right thing for a change. (Romans 12:2, II Corinthians 10:5)
- Be patient. If the sin we're battling is entrenched, it's likely gotten to that point over a long period of time (decades, in my case). It is probably going to take a while to eradicate it and replace it with Godly behavior. Although God sometimes sets us free from things immediately, usually with behavioral and thought issues He has us roll up our sleeves and do the hard work it requires to change. We just have to keep plugging away and remember that even if we only move an inch forward, we're still moving forward. (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4)
- Keep score. Something I've found debilitating in the battle against disobedience is that at the end of the day I seem to remember only my failures and none of my successes. This is extremely discouraging and demotivating, so one of the things I have been praying is that God will help me remember what I've done right during the day. It has helped me to see my forward progress and reminded me to thank God for His help and give Him the glory for my successes. Additionally, as God has reviewed my successes with me, He has reminded me that He is cheering me on. He is always pleased when we get it right. (I Corinthians 13:5d)
- Eyes on the prize. "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'" Matthew 25:21 "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." James 1:12 We do what we do for God's glory and the applause of Heaven.
Hang in there with God. It is worth it!