The late Ethel Waters, a performer who often sang at Billy Graham crusades was best known before she became a Christian for her rendition of the popular song, “Stormy Weather.” Later as a Christian she was once asked to sing this song, but replied, “No Sir, I’ll never sing ‘Stormy Weather again, since Jesus came into my heart I’ve never had stormy weather like I had before I knew him.”
By coming to know Christ we escape the results of living in iniquity and degradation. But we do as Christians experience storms in our lives that may seem to sweep upon us like waves, ready to overpower us and pull our boat to the bottom of the deep, never to rise again.
One of the waves we may encounter is that of sensual passion. Sometimes it becomes so strong that we may tell the Lord what the disciples said in Mark 4:38-“Do you not care if we perish?” Many men and women have been overcome by the lust of the flesh, never to rise again. But the living God created our sensual desire for his own glory and honor, and he can bring it under control.
I believe the lust of the flesh begins with uncontrolled eyes. “If your eyes are bad,” Jesus said, “your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:22). He goes on to say, “No one can serve two masters.” It is impossible for us to serve the lusts of the flesh on one hand and Jesus Christ on the other. And if our eyes are uncontrolled, we cannot serve Christ because our body will be full of darkness.
In Proverbs 27:20 we read that “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man.” Our desires can run out of control as our eyes take in various scenes that lead us astray. We should be aware of this temptation at all times, but especially after experiencing spiritual victory, when we may be tired and less alert.
If you are undergoing this kind of temptation now, I recommend to you the book of Proverbs. Read it, study it, and memorize from it.
I believe unclean spirits are orchestrating the impurity, godlessness, and sensuality that are sweeping our nation. They work to squeeze us into the world’s mold, and to send us down to the bottom of the sea. But ask God to turn your raging passions into compassion-his compassion that drives and reaches out for his glory.
A second wave is that of jealousy. It is the opposite of love because it does not desire the success and well-being of another brother or sister. Jealousy results in gossip and hate, and in carnal actions, carnal decisions, and carnal words. It makes Christians attempt to do the work of the Spirit in the power of the flesh.
The disciples had this problem in Luke 9:49. John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
Some people spend their best energy opposing the work of other Christians. Tremendous effort is spent in jealous criticism, and the effect is devastating. “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Proverbs 27:4).
Ask God to turn your jealousy into joy over the prosperity of your brother or sister.
A third wave is that of discouragement-throwing in the towel. As I’ve studied the New Testament I have never seen Jesus Christ discouraged, though he may have come close to it when he found his disciples sleeping when they should have been praying. And he had every reason to become discouraged as he was rejected by the very people he created. They believed, but then turned away. They pretended to love, but then hated him. They hailed him as the Son of David, but then crucified him. Yet somehow he was always filled with hope.
In discouragement we say, “I want to give up. The road is too tough, and I want to find an easier way.” In discouragement we lose sight of the end, and see only the present difficulty. This is the soil described in Mark 4 as being shallow, where the seed springs up quickly, but then wilts under the hot sun of affliction and persecution.
The solution to our discouragement is Christ’s promise in Matthew 11:28-“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” May the Lord give us the attitude of Paul the apostle, who said, “Wo do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Another wave is anger. This surging, I crashing wave seems to come on us unexpectedly, rapidly filling our boat. Yet I think it begins with a quiet smoldering that looks for an opportunity to erupt, and when it does erupt we are powerless to control it.
In anger we say, “I can’t help it; I must act now. I’ll take matters into my own hands and do it my way.” So we try our own violent, imposed solutions.
Then we appear foolish. “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly” (Proverbs 14:29).
Someone has said that losing your temper is like taking a sharp nail and tearing the threads of some durable and lovely fabric. We may use every bit of our patience and skill in mending it, but we cannot make it like new again. The mended place will always be conspicuous.
If this problem is yours, ask God to turn your anger into a holy and righteous boldness.
A fifth wave is that of critical thoughts toward others—the unspoken criticisms we hold within. These are not eruptive like anger, but are much more subtle, yet devastating in their own way. We think, Look at how she dresses or What a stupid thing to say or Why does he joke like that? It puts others down in order to subtly lift up ourselves. Soon it cannot be held within, and it turns to gossip, backbiting, scorn, hatred, and finally murder.
The only solution is to replace these critical thoughts by filling our heart with God’s word. Ask God to cleanse your critical thoughts and give you a praising, rejoicing, and concerned heart for others.
An unforgiving spirit
The sixth wave is that of an unforgiving spirit. Anger is a relatively short-range problem, but an unforgiving spirit is a long-range problem. Saying “I can forgive but I can’t forget” is only another way of saying “I will not forgive.”
Our forgiveness from God is conditional upon our forgiveness of one another. Jesus said, “If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15).
It has been noted before that a Christian will find it cheaper to pardon than to resent. Forgiveness refuses the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, and the waste of resentment.
The only true and lasting basis for any forgiveness of others is the fact that Jesus Christ forgave us. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” Paul said (Colossians 3:13). Forgiveness proceeds from God’s grace to us through the cross of Christ and the power of the resurrection. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
All of us usually have someone who tests us over this point-if not today, then tomorrow. And as C. S. Lewis said, everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has someone to forgive. But we can pray, “Lord, as you have forgiven me, help me to forgive others, and to forget.”
These waves may be sinking your boat today, and they are indeed serious. As we are tempted in these areas, we may reach a point of departure from God’s will into indiscretion and increasing sin. At first, no one sees it except God. Nobody really knows this is a problem with us. Sometimes questions may be asked, but we are able to cover up and say, “No, you’re mistaken.”
But surely at some point the sin becomes known publicly, and as a result we may depart even further, completely away from God’s will.
The time from the first imperceptible point of departure to the public revealing of sin could be one week, or a month, or a year, or several years. I know a missionary who lived in adultery for five years before it became known publicly. He was a clever man, a friend of mine, and I didn’t know what he was covering up. But there is always a limit, and his was five years.
Five steps to purity
To conclude, here are five steps to help overcome these temptations and stay in the will of God. We can call them Five Steps to Purity.
1. I recognize God’s standard of purity. “Just as he who called you is holy, so be ho in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy because I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
2. I recognize and confess my own in purity. “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverb 28:13).
3. I locate my point of vulnerability There is a point in each of our lives at which we are very vulnerable. My point weakness may be different from yours, but nevertheless I have one. I need to know what it is so I can ask God to strengthen me in that area by his grace, and so I can avoid situations where I might needlessly face temptation.
4. I recognize that Christ’s death and resurrection not only give us eternal life in the future, but also allow us to overcome impurity today. “The death he died, he died sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:10-11:5. I recognize that I need outside help a friend, a leader, a counselor. If I have been overcome by struggling alone in the past, must not try again to overcome by myself.
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