Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of Philippians 4:9 in the fight against anxiety. Here it is again:
9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
In this text we see that there is a very active element to receiving God’s gift of peace. God wants us to obediently follow the example of Paul, and as we do so, He promises that his peace-giving character will be with us.
What I didn’t expound on yesterday is why this command is so important in fighting anxiety. If you ever struggle with moments or seasons of anxiety, you know how it can cripple you in your obedience to the Lord. Anxiety keeps you inside yourself, trying to answer questions that you can’t answer, seeking to handle hard circumstances by yourself, and trying to get to the bottom of your struggle. Anxiety leads us to keep spinning our wheels while going nowhere. As this is happening, we are dropping the ball on our spiritual privileges and responsibilities – we forget to pray for other people, we neglect those closest to us, and we stop pursuing the Lord in worship.
This is why it is so crucial for Paul to tell us to follow his example. Anxious people need to be reminded of who God is and what Christ has accomplished for us, but we also need to be told to get busy living again – living a life of devotion to our King. The right feelings might not be there at first, but that’s when we repent, ask God’s forgiveness for not desiring Him as we should, ask Him to provide us with those right feelings, and then keep moving forward by His grace.
Do you ever experience those moments of intense temptation to sin (whether it’s worry, anger, lust, etc.) and find that, although you know you need to set your mind on Christ, you cannot think of the biblical truths necessary to do battle in your heart? In those moments you need God’s concrete promises, the specifics of the gospel, but for one reason or another everything that enters your mind is like a cloud coming of the coast that dissipates in the summer sun.
I have found that the best way to handle those moments is not to waste valuable fighting-time wandering around in your mind until you find something solid and pertinent to your struggle, but rather to create a stack of 3″ x 5″ cards that help you make war with your sin. I know this is old school (I’m sure you can do this with an app of some kind if you’d like), but I find that I need to act fast when I’m being tempted and these pre-written truths help me cut through the ambiguity. In order to do this it would, first, be helpful to know what sins you struggle with most, so you can better tailor the cards to your precise needs.
Here are the categories of cards that I am using currently:
- Bible verses – Remember, these verses do not have to use the name of the sin you struggle with in order to help you. So, don’t just look in the concordance in the back of your Bible and copy down the verses under “fear” or “bitterness”. Use texts that remind you who God is and what Jesus has done for you.
- Wise words – These are pithy statements of wisdom in reference to my sin struggles that I have collected from Christian books or blogs.
- Instructions – These are simple, direct instructions to myself (based on Scripture), telling me to do something specific in service to Christ. Often times, battling temptation keeps us so focused on the fight that we are hindered from practicing active obedience to God, when that may be just what we need to draw near to him in faithfulness. Tip: make sure that if your heart is not in the “doing” that you ask God’s forgiveness and prayer that he would bring it in line with your actions.
- Prayers for others – Since sin is ultimately proud and selfish, praying for others can helps direct our focus away from ourselves.
A couple of months ago, I had the privilege of teaching at a men’s conference called Pure Life: Cleansing the Heart of Sexual Lust. One of the other speakers at the conference was Keith Palmer, associate pastor at Grace Bible Church in Granbury, TX. Keith’s message at that conference continues to minister to me as one of the most biblically-practical presentations on how to battle sexual lust.
In the message, Keith gives several strategies to help men create a battle plan for fighting lust in their hearts. One of those strategies is one I haven’t heard recommended in the past: “Load your iPod (smartphone, iPad, Kindle Fire, etc.) with Christ-exalting, Word-saturated, flesh-battling Christian hymns and songs.” With the goal of battling temptation in mind, Keith says that one of the playlists he has created is made up of songs specifically chosen to “set [his] heart right”. “A good Christian song”, he says, “burns theology into your affections.”
I have experienced the value of what Keith is suggesting and find it helpful not just as I battle lust in my heart, but anxiety, despair, and anger too. It can be a help with any temptation to sin and so I second what Keith is advocating. Also, in case you’re interested, here are some albums I would recommend for this purpose:
I have often written about our need to “preach the gospel to ourselves” on a regular basis. This need springs from the reality that we struggle with a variety of temptations everyday ranging from despair and depression where we need hope to pride and arrogance where we need humility.
One of the ways I find myself preaching the gospel to myself is by way of reminding myself how much greater the love of God is than whatever sinful desire my heart is manifesting. It helps me during these times of temptation to qualify God’s love by telling myself that God loves me more than anyone in the world – more than my dad and mom, more than my closest friends, and even more than my wife. If God loved me and sent his Son to be the propitiation for my sins (that is, Christ experienced the full anger of God for our sins) (1 John 4:10), then there is no one whose love for me exceeds his.
And here’s the kicker, that includes the love I have for myself! The sad, horrible truth is that I love me more than anyone else on this planet. As a sinner, I spend an over-abundance of time and energy living for me, and yet, because God has given Jesus as my substitute on the cross, I am united with him before God and God now loves me as he loves Jesus. Which means he loves me perfectly and fully… in a way that is stronger and deeper than I could ever love myself.
The strongest love in existence is not a mother’s love for her child, it is not a husband’s love for his wife, and it is not a sinner’s love for self – it’s the love of a holy God for rebels who have trusted in his Son for salvation. When it comes to reminding yourself of the gospel in the fight against sin…that’ll preach!
This weekend I had the privilege of speaking at a seminar with two other pastors called Pure Life: Cleansing the Heart of Sexual Lust (Click here for the audio – session 1, session 2, and session 3). One of the other pastors, Keith Palmer from Grace Bible Church in Granbury, TX, spoke on the nuts and bolts of how men can and should battle sexual temptation. One aspect of his message that I thought was particularly helpful was his counsel on how to battle the lustful images that so often enter into our hearts and minds.
At least for men, our temptation to lust is frequently associated with images, even when we aren’t looking at a sexual image in the moment. Because we live in a sinful world, our minds remember images from days past or even from years past, and in all actuality, we don’t even have to see a real image in order to lust because our imaginations can simply manufacture them on their own. So, how can we battle the onslaught of unrighteous images?
Keith reminded us of the principle of “put off/put on” found in Ephesians 4:22-24:
…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
If we want to move forward in our pursuit of holiness for the sake of Christ, we must replace unrighteousness in our minds with righteousness; we cannot simply stop thinking about sinful things and hope that all will be well. So, Keith’s prescription was simple: replace unrighteous images with righteous ones. When your heart attacks you with a sexual image, then replace that image with an image of… let’s say…your kids. Or images of how you serve in whatever ministry you are currently active. For me, I often think of the different aspects of my wife’s beauty, both physically and spiritually. This helps me to think of the ways in which God’s gift to me in her are better than what my flesh wants.
What righteous images will you use?
About two weeks ago, I finished reading the letter to the Colossians in my morning meetings with God. As I was coming to its conclusion I considered chapter 4 verse 2: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” The part that struck me, in particular, is Paul’s admonition to “be watchful in [prayer]”. What he means is similar to what Jesus said to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38). Being watchful in prayer means to use prayer as means of protecting yourself from the subtle, insidious attacks of sinful temptation.
We all have need for this kind of vigilance, but what if we have already fallen into temptation unaware. I mean, we know that our hearts are deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9), right? So what do we do then? I think watchfulness in prayer would have us pray for God to show us our blind spots. We all have them, things we think, say, or do that are dishonoring to God, but because they’ve either been part of our lives for so long or we’re around other people that do them too, we don’t recognize them.
Recently, my wife brought to my attention one of my blind spots, and honestly, I was a bit shocked. I thought I had been so diligent to search my heart and examine my practices, and yet this one wasn’t even on my radar.
Bottom line, I can’t trust me and you can’t trust you, but we can trust God, so we need to ask him to show us our blind spots and give us the grace to prevent other practices from becoming blind spots too. There may be sins in your life that are stealing your joy in Christ and because they are covered by blind spots, you can’t understand why you’re so sluggish to worship God and serve him eagerly. Let us use prayer for those temptations we have yet to fall into and the ones we’re already knee-deep in.
My wife and I agree, this summer has been our busiest summer to date. Vacations, discipleship studies, counseling appointments, preaching, potty training, sickness, and getting ready for our first year of home-schooling have packed out the calendar and made it difficult to muster a sane thought at times. As a result, lately, there has been an increase in temptation for the both of us, as parents, to be angry at our children. You probably know how it goes. You’re busier, so there’s more pressure to get more done in a less amount of time, so the little things your kids do seem to grate on you more than usual.
This reality has led Keri and I to discuss the things we need to remember in those times when our kids’ antics seem like an all-out assault on our contentment. There are many things I could say here, but two points have been particularly helpful:
- Sometimes it’s not out-right rebellion, sometimes it’s just kids being kids – When we’re in the middle of a project and we hear a cacophony of laughing, shouting, and feet rapidly hitting the wood floor, it does not necessarily mean that your kids are executing a well-crafted plot to push you over the edge. Kids are kids and kids play, but we often take their “kid-ness” and make it a personal attack on our authority. It’s not always that way. Parents, let’s remember what it was like to be kids and allow our children to have fun. We must put limits on them, but we should not expect them to act like adults.
- You’re most-likely dealing with unregenerate unbelievers – Especially if you’re dealing with young children, like mine who are 5, 3, and 1, you have to operate under the reality that they have not yet been converted. I understand that you may have children who have professed faith, but many of our children, if not all, do not have the God-given resources believers possess that help them pursue holy lives. Therefore, parents, we should not expect our children to act like people who have trusted in Christ for salvation. As Christians, we are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), which means we have new desires and new abilities that correspond to the commandments God has given us in Scripture. We also have the Holy Spirit living in us, making us more like Jesus. If your kids are unbelievers, we should not expect them to act as if they have these benefits as well. Knowing this should lead us to be patient and compassionate towards our kids, instead of angry and vindictive.
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