Refresh My Heart: Chapter Three (continued)

There are few things in life that are more satisfying than when faced with a serious challenge, problem or dilemma, to finally come up with a way to solve it. I’m sure we all can remember an example of desperately trying to find a solution or means to a solution and asking yourself, “If only I could find the way; I’ve worked and worked but nothing seems to be working.”  Then all of a sudden the light comes on and the way toward a solution was right there in front of you all along.”  You knew all along it was there but it always seemed just out of reach or hiding in plain sight.  You had the power and ability all along; you just didn’t know the way. When Jesus promised his disciples that he was the way, they were confused, fearful and anxious.  They had placed their trust and faith in Jesus and believed what he had been telling them, but the reality of their circumstances made it nearly impossible to move forward and face the challenges set before them.  So what made the light finally come on for them?  It was the part of Jesus’ promise which once fully understood and then tested, would give them the confidence and means to enjoy the success they had been promised.

The way that Jesus was talking about, the power and means to successful living and facing a world full of dangerous and misleading influences, was for the disciples and is for us the Holy Spirit.  There are numerous verses in both the Old and New Testaments which stress that there is nothing impossible for and with God.  Now this may be comforting, but when we are standing face to face with what seems to be an impossible situation we’re all tempted to respond, “That easy for you to say.”  The problem is that even the most enthusiastic and dedicated follower of Christ can begin to doubt the power of God when faced with the power of evil.  We may intellectually believe that God is with us, but it sure feels like we’re alone and vulnerable.  We look up and evil is looking down on us; we look down and it’s rising before us.  No matter where we turn, to the right or to the left; evil meets us eye to eye blocking our way.  Yet the power to overcome, to power through those seemingly impenetrable walls of evil, lives in all of us who have chosen Christ as our way.

The power we have been given by God is God himself.  Why is this significant?  One reason is that the power of God is unlimited.  But does this mean that we have been granted unlimited power?  The answer is yes and no. Even after we have accepted Christ as the Lord of our life and chosen to follow him, our earthly and sinful nature is still a problem.  The only difference between someone who has yet to accept Christ and those who have, is the follower of Christ can overcome both the evil desires that well up from within and those that come from the outside world.  Secondly, we all know that whenever power is granted or given, the obligation to use it responsibly assumed.  Since God is perfect in every way, perfectly good and righteous, then the power we receive from God can only be used for good and righteous purposes.  Even if we wanted to use it for our own selfish and unrighteous purposes, it is impossible.  Our power to do good is therefore, unlimited.

Now you may be asking, “What about those who are followers of Christ and you know they are exercising their power for self-promotion, selfish pleasure and personal gain?”  One thing you can know for sure, the power they are exercising is not from God.  So how can I know for sure the source of power?  It’s really quite simple.  The power of God will always encourage and nurture those things that are called the “fruits of the Spirit.”  They are the direct result of our exercising the power that comes from the Holy Spirit who lives in the heart of every believer in Christ.  The power that comes to us through the Spirit will always lead us in the direction of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22, 23).  We are also given a list of those things that are obviously not an empowerment of the Holy Spirit; sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, worshipping false gods, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and alike (Galatians 5: 19-21).  When we chose from this list we may feel empowered, but the power we feel is not from God but comes to us from Satan himself.  The end result of yielding to Satan’s power is described by the Apostle Paul in a warning, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other (Galatians 5:15).”

Now it is easy to blame our circumstances or the one sitting across the table from us when we are locked in conflict.  But the reality is this, we have the power to choose from either list and the choices we make will dictate the future of our relationships, both with God and one another.  Another reality is that as human beings the old adage, “seeing is believing,” invariably will come into play.  We can claim we have faith at the top of our lungs, but it’s our nature to doubt even when the truth is right in front of us.  As a result, we always want to test the promises made by both people and God.  It’s like when we go swimming and we know that regardless of the water temperature we are going to take the plunge, yet we always stick our toes in the water first, before jumping in head first. There are a number of passages in the bible that warn us not to test God.  Yet in order for us to come to trust God completely requires both belief and experience.  In fact, this is the very definition of faith and the bible describes faith as a process not an event.  We grow in our faith when we step out, sometimes taking baby steps, and begin to follow the way God has mapped out before us.  The more we experience the power of the Holy Spirit and the positive outcomes that result, the more we will rely on him.  This isn’t testing or doubting God, but learning to live in the Spirit’s presence and power.  Testing God is a demonstration of unbelief, doubting the reality of his power and presence.

A number of years ago I was diagnosed as suffering from manic depression and the toll it was taking on both my family and myself devastating.  At the same time I was working a full time job, serving in church and was a full time student in seminary.  Had my faith protected me from the effects of my condition?  To an extent yes; for my thoughts of suicide always led to the same place; I wanted to escape but I knew that taking my own life was not the answer. Although I was often abusive in my relationships, I always found a way back, through prayer, from that dark place which held me captive and then forgiven by those who loved me.  Finally, I decided that I needed professional help and sought the services of a psychiatrist, somewhat disappointed in both myself and the power of God.  After only one session the doctor told me, “You can be sure of one thing, the solution to your problem will not come from the medications I’m going to prescribe, but from the faith you already have in God and his power to heal you.”  I took the prescribed medication and hour’s therapy but what ultimately healed me, not just relieving the symptoms, was the power of the Holy Spirit.  When the medications were stopped and the therapy sessions over, I will admit that I was afraid of falling back into the darkness but I didn’t; because I had found the way out. My fits of rage were gone, my desire to blame everyone else for the way I was feeling was gone and I was able to think clearly and demonstrate to others what was really in my heart; love for them and love for the God that had rescued me.

So how does one access the counsel and power of the Holy Spirit?  Once again, the method is simple; it’s the conditions or prerequisites that God requires that can be difficult.  The first requires nothing more than accepting Christ as the only way to have a relationship with the only living God, the author of our faith and the creator of the universe.  This may present a challenge to those who are unwilling to acknowledge their need for a savior or who have made themselves the center and creator of their own universe.  It may be equally difficult for those who have accepted false gods and the lies of the author of all lies, Satan.  Yet, once one realizes that God’s favor cannot be earned but only accepted, the way becomes easy and obvious.  The second requirement, for many, is the most problematic.  It’s to really believe and accept that the Holy Spirit lives within you and is anxious to provide whatever you need.  It is our nature to doubt and to try to do it all on our own but believing and then yielding to God’s will instead of our own is the real solution.  It’s about being willing to choose from the list Paul describes as the fruit of the Spirit, instead of the list that contains the desires of our sinful nature.  Once this is accomplished, the method of access to the Spirit is simple and direct.  We are to petition the Father, in the name of the Son, that the Holy Spirit might be made real and effective in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves and then ask that his will be made clear; that the pathway to forgiveness and reconciliation be revealed. By doing so the impossible becomes possible and the way becomes obvious.

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