Saturday, July 8, 2017

Choose Wisely

It's okay I felt His Spirit say.  After what I had just done, it seemed incomprehensible that His message to me would be one of consolation. I had just done the unthinkable, after all.  In a single moment I made the very mistake I had unknowingly been planning to make all along. The waves of forbidden desire finally emerged from my mind's shadow and came crashing into the shoreline of my moral compass, or as Freud would call it, my superego.  The gratification and pleasure I derived from it all slowly faded into a black hole of guilt and shame, despair and confusion. How could I have let this happen? I silently and anxiously questioned as I fought back the tears that tried to fall. I was horrified to have come face to face with the sinfulness and depth of evil in my own heart. You see, we rarely just make a bad decision or engage in a particular mistake on the spur of the moment. Before there's action, there was thought.  Contemplation. Consideration.   We entertained the idea of the sin before we acted out the crime.  You didn't just kill that person.  A thought occurred before the trigger was pulled.  Even in the most instantaneous and reflexive self-defense response, the thought preceded the pulled trigger.  You didn't just fall into bed with the attractive co-worker.  You first thought it through and imagined what it would be like.  Your nose didn't just accidentally snort the line of cocaine.  Your mind ingested it before your body ever did.  You simply followed the thought trail that led you to it.  The wisdom in Proverbs 4:23 that says "carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life" is undeniable for it is in our thoughts that sin is first conceived.  In my own scenario, instead of starving those ruminations, I fed them daily over a period of months. The next step was, inevitably, a painful one. 

Looking back now, almost two years after the situation I vaguely described above, I can recall the smallest decisions that ultimately led to the great fallout of my walk with God at that time. I convinced myself that I was in control and could handle my own weaknesses.  I still prayed and read my Bible and talked with Jesus daily, so defeat wasn't in the cards.  Or so I thought.  As the unacknowledged alcoholic asserts that he can have just one drink, but  hours later grips the bars of a jail cell because he consumed more than he planned and drove recklessly while drunk, I, too, overestimated my own ability to navigate and conquer temptation.  Instead, I flirted with it and danced with the devil at his own masquerade ball. 

Genesis 4:7 says this:  "...sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it."  I swore two years ago that I wouldn't open the door of the sin I fought at that time, and I was certainly convinced that I was ruling over it, yet as time passed, sin's desire to have me reigned victoriously.  I lost the fight and paid for it severely.  It turns out the devil was far more skilled at the waltz of sin than I was at the spiritual warfare inherent in the dance.  In Genesis 39:7-12, we are given a template through the life of Joseph on how to conquer temptation and avoid sin.   In response to the sexual advances of Potiphar's wife, the Bible says that Joseph "refused," and in verse 10, we are told that "she spoke to Joseph day after day," but Joseph continued to "refuse."  Further down the road in her attempts to seduce him, the Bible says in verse 12 that Joseph "ran out of the house." Although it's impossible to know every detail of the multiple encounters between Potiphar's wife and Joseph, one thing is certain - her efforts were relentless, but his responses fixed.  He remained steadfast (1 Corinthians 15:58) in his commitment to God. 

What I've since learned about fighting my own personal temptations, overcoming weaknesses, and ruling over sin is that not only do I need to refuse and run, but also that "the way out is the way in."  Bestselling author, Barbara Brown Taylor, used that phrase in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, when referring to walking through and entering/exiting dark caves, but for me, it boiled down to one word: choice.  As I read her book, I wrestled for days with the short phrase as I endeavored to apply it to my own life's challenges.  What I ultimately came to understand is that I don't even have to choose to go in the cave, but if I do, I must go out the same way I went in: by choice.  I must choose to exit the cave and only you can choose to exit yours. 

I'm at a place in my life where I'm trying to take personal responsibility for my own actions rather than blaming others, and the inner work is both sobering and formidable.  If I'm honest with myself, my desire for sin two years ago was greater than my desire for Jesus, which inevitably shaped the choices I made and the outcomes in which I now find myself. Desire is a powerful force and the truth is, our choices are derived from it, so ask yourself what you're desiring the most and why.  Deuteronomy 30:19 says that God has set before us both life and death, blessing and curse, and to "choose life," which will never be found in sin.  Talking to Jesus and reading my Bible daily wasn't enough to keep me from making the wrong choices when my deeper, unacknowledged desires were greater than my love for Him, a difficult admission to make, but one I was unable to deny after repeatedly entering into the same unhealthy choices.  Jeremiah 17:10 says "I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives," and in 1 Corinthians 4:5, the Bible says God will "bring to light what is hidden in darkness and expose the motives of the heart."  In many ways the last two years for me have been an unveiling of sorts.  Though I never claimed perfection, I was certainly not fully cognizant of my own inner weaknesses and wrong desires.  The beauty, however, in this painful revelation of self, is that I now can take responsibility for my own choices. Unable to push aside the mirror in front of me, I am liberated from the shackles of finger pointing and blame.  No one else is responsible for the decisions I make.  They have always been mine to choose and they are yours to choose as well. 

What battles are you facing?  Or, what battles are you currently losing?  You don't have to wind up defeated.  It's not too late to turn things around, you just have to want something else more than you want to continue dancing with the devil on his terms.  As you walked in, walk back out.  Make the choice and choose wisely.
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"My child, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them."  - Proverbs 1:10

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