Reading for today:
Ezra 5-6 … 1 Corinthians 4
We’re going to hop away from Ezra and the daily readings for a minute here today and turn our focus to the theme passages that the FUEL youth campers will be examining.
I heard once that whenever we read the phrase ‘the flesh’ in Scripture we can plug in ‘what comes naturally’ in its place. So when we read in Galatians that, “the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit” … that makes a lot of sense. What comes naturally to us often (usually, almost always) involves what is contrary to what God’s way is.
For example, Paul gives us this long list of things in Romans 12, that pretty much all fall into that category:
Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in love.
Honor one another above yourselves.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
When you read that list, which ones jump out at you? Which ones most fit that description of not coming naturally to you?
Honor one another above yourself. All of us struggle with selfishness at times, but maybe you really have a difficult time setting your own needs aside. Maybe you would put others first, but you don’t notice their needs.
Never be lacking in zeal—keep your spiritual fervor. Is apathy your go to? Are you difficult to motivate? Maybe you just feel kind of … blah… about spiritual things.
Don’t be proud. Pride is a tricky one, and one that trips up a lot of people. Enough that Paul reiterates his instruction again with ‘Do not be conceited.’ Was he writing to you? Do you care more about what people think than what God thinks?
Maybe it’s as basic as hating what is evil. That sounds like it should be a simple one, but the fact is that evil is often attractive. Perhaps you know that you are drawn to things you know God would not want for you.
The answer to all of these is not to try harder, by the way. Christianity is not about behavior modification. That’s why Paul ends with this, “…overcome evil with good.”
Again—sounds simple, and it is. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Because it’s not.
Starting with a prayer asking God to change your heart toward those things that come naturally to you is a good place to start. I tend to believe these are prayers he loves to answer.
Our hearts and our minds are where everything begins. The way that we think will always affect the way we live our life. Always. And if our thoughts are rooted in a lie (even if we don’t know it) we’ll live like it is true.
Think about this. Imagine you are in a room and your friend, who is outside the room, tells you the door is locked. You try the handle and it is indeed locked. So, you go sit down and spend the day sitting in the room, assuming it’s locked all day, never trying the handle again. All the while, the door is actually unlocked because your friend unlocked it right after you tried the handle. You lived like the lie was true.
If you live like a lie is true, it is true for you. Unfortunately, much of the time we don’t even know we are believing a lie. What we do know is that we struggle with pride, or that we are drawn to things we know God says are evil, or that our life just feels like it’s falling apart.
Hidden lies are hard to identify. Problems are easy to identify. That’s why we start there. Start with the problem and backtrack to find the lie.
If you didn’t read yesterday’s devotion, go back and do that…it has some suggestions to help root out lies, and a book that has some great resources to help you with this as well.
I’m encouraged by the end of the Galatians verse, where Paul says, “They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” What he doesn’t say is that we should somehow expect to magically stop wanting what comes naturally to us (the flesh). What he does say is that we can learn to control our desires, we can overcome them.
I have heard recovering alcoholics say that “Sobriety is never owned, it’s rented. And rent is due every day.” Overcoming desires that come naturally to us is a battle that we must take up daily. The battle gets easier over time, and with help… but be clear: as long as we are walking in a body of flesh, the desires of our flesh will war against us.
And in case that makes you want to lay down and give up, remember that you’re not in this battle alone. Stay tuned tomorrow to find out about the kind of power you have on your side.