Against The Tide: Introduction
Natural thoughts, emotions and desires. The dictionary calls them “the movers of our soul” because what we think and feel is usually what we choose to follow.
Both Christians and non-Christians alike struggle with these elements of life. Our thoughts stir up our emotions; our emotions influence our desires (or our choices); and, our choices produce our lives. In other words, everything we say and do is built upon these driving components of our makeup. Our days are even defined by how we feel. We have “good days” and we have “bad days.” We constantly ask one another, “How do you feel?” “How are you?” Most of the time it’s not our physical health that we are inquiring about, it’s our mental and emotional status.
What we think and how we feel determines every aspect of our life, as seen in some of the following comments from letters I’ve received lately:
“How do I get beyond my emotions when I am so hurt that I can feel it in the deepest part of my stomach? I just can’t seem to get free from these emotions and I feel like I’m tottering on the edge.”
“I really want a relationship with Jesus again, like it used to be. I pray daily for strength and that I would be able to walk in Love, but I can’t seem to break free from these horrible feelings that explode when I am confronted with another situation. What do I do? Please help me.”
“What do I do now? How do I get rid of my bitterness and resentment? Where do I find the genuine love that I need?”
“I simply don’t love him anymore. I used to, but I don’t any longer! What am I supposed to do, fake it?”
These are very good questions! And they’re questions we all ask at one time or another. The bottom line is, how do we change what we really think and feel in order to do what God wants, and not be phony?
“I Feel How I Feel”
If we are not able to control and tame these “movers of our soul,” they can easily overwhelm and drown us. Someone once dramatically expressed it this way, “I just can’t seem to change how I feel. I am a Christian, but I feel how I feel regardless of how much you prove to me that I shouldn’t feel this way!”
Should our thoughts and emotions carry this much weight? Should they be the basis of our choosing, our acting and our existence, especially as Christians? How do we control them? How do we tame them? And, most importantly, how do we get beyond them?
Again, the bottom line is, how are we able to go against the tide of our thinking and feeling, choose God’s will and still be genuine?
This is the subject at hand, and what we want to explore over the next few months. How do we as Christians overcome the “justified” hurt feelings, the anger, the bitterness, the resentment, the fear, the unforgiveness, the insecurity, the guilt and the memories (the movers and shakers of our soul) that consume us daily? Is it possible to make choices to follow God when we really don’t feel like it, don’t want to and don’t think it will work? Will God honor something we choose simply by faith, but that we really don’t feel? The following story is a remarkable real-life example. Read it, and then you decide.
“A Damascus Road Experience”
It was the last day of our trip home to Florida to visit our family. I was at my husband’s parents’ house, packing alone. All the kids were at the beach and Ken, my husband, was out fishing with his two brothers-in-law. The Lord had me stay home alone and soon I would find out why. As I was packing, the Holy Spirit led me to Ken’s suitcase and had me lift up the bottom of the inside of it to find an address book with over two pages of women’s names, phone numbers and descriptions.
At first, I froze, as tears of unbelief welled up deep inside of me. I wanted to run (I felt like I had finally found my ticket out of a very unhappy marriage), but the still, small voice of the Spirit of God within constrained me. ‘Remember, I’m in control,’ He said. ‘How you handle this and the choices you make are critical. Choose to walk by faith, not your feelings, and your life will change.’
I called a friend and placed myself under her accountability and received some wise counsel as to how to proceed. My husband arrived home shortly after that and with the book in hand, I asked him, ‘What’s going on?’ ‘Are you in touch with these women now?’ All he said was, ‘yes.’ He just looked at me and said, ‘I am going to hell. You know Jesus, will you please pray for me’?
Those were perhaps the most honest words I have ever heard him say. So, I did pray and asked God, ‘May Your will and not mine be done. I give this to You and it is now in Your hands.’ (My own feelings inside were screaming, ‘run, get out, this is your chance!’ but I chose, by faith, to really mean what I had said in my prayer.)
Immediately, Ken began to confess everything. He took the book from my hands, ran into the adjoining bathroom and lit it on fire. When he came back he said, ‘It’s time to expose my sin.’
A dear pastor that we knew in that city came over later that night and spent three hours with Ken out in the street. After a couple of hours, the pastor asked me to come out and told me, ‘Ken has just had a Damascus Road experience.’ I wouldn’t have believed him, except that I had prayed those exact same words for my husband many times. And in a prayer meeting just a month earlier, someone gave me a word for my husband, again using the Damascus Road analogy.
Then the pastor said to me, ‘God has heard your prayer. Ken was saved tonight and baptized out in that street.’ Well, you can imagine the elation and also the confusion that I was feeling!
The next few weeks involved a lot of pain, but an unfolding of the Glory of God like I have never seen before. Ken confessed to all the men he is close to. He confessed ‘he was a false convert living a life headed for hell’ to our four teenage children, to my mom, sisters and two pastor friends. He even named all his sins, sparing the grossness of the details to protect their imaginations.
Telling the children was the hardest of all. They each began to cry. They thought their dad was already a wonderful Christian. But God’s glory shined, even through this horrific time, and He began to heal all of our hearts.
Eventually, Ken asked me to marry him again and our lives have never been the same. He now calls me from his car and holds the phone up to the marriage tapes he is listening to, so I can hear. For the first time in 19 years, we are experiencing the oneness in the Spirit that God so desires. We are continually in the Word and praying together. We have had more conversations in the past year than we’ve had in all our 19 years put together. Our children are alive as never before. I didn’t realize till now how they, too, were dying.
There is so much more to share, but God has given me a heart filled with the joy that is born out of pain, a great new love for my Savior and a hunger to know God’s Love in an even deeper way than ever before. Isn’t He wonderful!
Choices: The Key to Our Christian Walk
What makes the above story so miraculous? It’s miraculous because in spite of how Anna felt, in spite of what she thought and in spite of what she wanted, she chose to trust God and, by faith, do His will. God then supernaturally changed her feelings to align with her choices and restored her marriage. This story is miraculous because Anna made non-feeling choices that allowed God to intervene and, thus, change the course of her life.
The choice to obey God’s will, however, must always come first.
What would have happened had Anna chosen not to follow God, but go by her own justified feelings? She had Scriptural reasons! She would have immediately split with Ken and her story would have ended up like hundreds of others that we see and hear about all the time.
Our choices are critical, because faith is simply a series of choices-choices to go against the tide of emotion and do what God wants. If we can learn to make these kinds of choices, like Anna, they can change the course of our lives.
Naturally, even as Christians, we are still full of “self,” our own natural thoughts, emotions and desires-especially in trials. Now, some of our hurts, unforgiveness, bitterness, and resentment are fully “justified” by the world’s standards. But by God’s standards, because we hold on to these things, mull them over in our minds and usually act upon them, these negative thoughts and emotions can end up quenching God’s Spirit in us.
If we can learn to give our real feelings and thoughts over to God, however, like Anna did in the above example, and choose by faith alone to follow God’s will, then He will align our feelings with the choices we have made and make us genuine.
Matthew 16:24 tells us that, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”
To “deny” in the above Scripture does not mean to push down and bury our real feelings, nor does it mean to negate their existence. As Christians, many of us have been doing this, thinking we are not supposed to feel the way we do. But one of the beauties of the freedom that Christ has given us is that we can be honest with Him, acknowledge these things, confess and repent of them, give them over to Him, and then be free from them altogether. Thus, to “deny” simply means to bar ourselves or to prevent ourselves from following what we naturally think and feel. We’re all human and we’re all going to have these kinds of negative thoughts and feelings until we see Jesus.
Thus, it’s important we look at these “movers of our soul,” and call them for what they are so we will know exactly what we are dealing with. Next, we must learn how to make faith choices to “bar ourselves” from following what these negative elements of our lives are telling us, and choose, instead, to give them to the Lord. Then, we will be free to follow what He desires, like Anna in the above example. God, in His timing and in His way, will then change our thinking and feeling to match what we have chosen, making us genuine.
Thus, the question the Lord continually asks us is: “Are you willing?” Are you willing to choose by faith to follow Me? Because being willing is all that’s necessary. God, then, will give us the strength we need to go against the tide and carry out His will. Just as He did in Anna’s.
Choosing by faith explains a little more clearly how we can walk out Ephesians 4:29-32:
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God…Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you with all malice; And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.
from Against the Tide: Getting Beyond Ourselves by Nancy Missler
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