Volume 21 Issue 3
The Church’s great struggle continues to be the war between the flesh and the Spirit. “The flesh lusteth against the spirit” (Galatians 5:17). It is a constant battle requiring our spiritual discipline to be acutely cognizant of what is truly at stake. As Christians, we must consider this fact a matter of life and death. There is a winning and losing factor (Galatians 1:10).With some reluctance, I will cite a few things I have noted over the years pertaining to my own personal struggles in dealing with the influence of the Holy Spirit upon my life. I say reluctance because it is uncomfortable to admit that although on the one hand I acknowledge the joy and strength attributed to the baptism of the Holy Ghost by which we all are born again, and I would wish to boast that I am completely surrendered to Christ, truthfully I must confess that my flesh, will, desires, ambition and all such fleshly things war against the Spirit, and the Spirit wars against the flesh. I will list four areas where I think this struggle is most intense and wherein I have experienced the most pain.
One note here about pain; do not we all groan in pain? Although we have the “first fruits of the Spirit” we groan within ourselves as the Spirit makes intercession for us. Or, we might say, the Spirit pushes us toward the ultimate and complete redemption, even our bodies (Romans 8:22-26). The point is that we should anticipate this struggle and even embrace it because it points to the victory over the flesh. The pain of this struggle should and does profit us. It is like a matrix that leads to courage and joy. Inverted it is a sign of spiritual development. We know and feel sorrow when the Spirit strives against the flesh, but we understand the coming victory when the Spirit triumphs. We know therefore that the areas where we feel the most pain are where the greatest spiritual discoveries lie. The Holy Spirit will criticize our flesh and we must accept the sting when we are made aware of our inadequacy and surrender to what the Spirit has come to do, which is to cause us to acknowledge Him.
An extreme danger lies ahead for the church when we inflate mediocrity by calling fleshly things “Spirit.” We endanger ourselves and our Apostolic legacy when we carelessly misidentify greatness, morality, holiness and Godliness to the point that we make failure attractive or, worse, when we pass false worship and fleshly pride onto the next generation in some form of institutional arrogance. Examine with me four areas of pain by which the presence of the Holy Ghost brings illumination into our Christians lives.
1. The pain of revelation, or of perception is a constant source of stress for me. A part of me wants to be left to my own thoughts and ideas. This is a selfish pleasure that the Spirit never affords. As in the Old Testament, our offerings (the things we bring to God as the fruits of our labour) must bear the salt of the covenant of God lest they be lacking (Leviticus 2:13). And it is not our perception or our standards by which the slack will be measured. We are subject to God’s covenant, His judgment. When the Spirit of the Lord moves on us to more perfectly align our effort with His covenant our flesh feels the sting of conviction. This conviction brings with it suffering caused by the Spirit. It is truth contrasted against our perceptions. What we may see as right, good, acceptable, effective, clever, smart, cool or important may be in sharp contrast to the Spirit. The struggle comes when we feel the pain of our inadequacy yet to abort or to make correction threatens our ideas, plans and methods. The Spirit exposes our weakness of thought, perceptions, designs and programs but the instinctual self-preservation prevents our surrender. The wiser man knows that when he accepts the pain of correction and turns his vulnerability over to the Spirit his potential exceeds his greatest expectations.
2. The pain of declaration confronts our hearts because the Spirit always demands action. There will be a time when we must declare ourselves servants to the leading of the Spirit. The Spirit will ask that we speak, that we become willing vessels to express, voice, state our pedigree, give, go, do, preach the Gospel to the whole world, witness to the man across the room, put words on the blank sheet of paper. To be fully led by the Spirit demands complete yielding to divine vision. But, too often we feel the urging of Holy Ghost and nevertheless we stand motionless. Perhaps we are short-circuited by our fear of failure or paralyzed by our sense of perfectionism (self-imposed perfectionism can become like a gravitational pull so harsh that no one can break free from its power). The Holy Spirit stands knocking at the door of our closed minds; He comes to breach our self-constructed walls, but we resist. We spend nights tossing and turning in our beds hoping that what we felt in the Spirit is just a bad connection. I do not want to think about the failures in my life caused by those times when I did not respond to a call for declaration.
3. The pain of unfinished tasks torments the lives of so many men and women of God. We fear the challenge of action, and we also fear the completing of things. The unfinished manuscripts, plans we never executed, the projects we dreamed of but never implemented all gather mold in filing cabinets, but why? God spoke. We thought about it. We desired to see it accomplished. But there the plans lay, incomplete. We failed to close the deal. We say, “I was going to do that.” We feel that certain ache when someone else acts upon a similar vision to what God gave to us years before. We are plagued with the realization that our inaction was precipitated by our fear of what others may have thought. We were scared away from the fulfillment of our calling by what amounts to little more than peer pressure. In retrospect it’s all so trite, but the battle of the Spirit that kept God’s plans for your life bound and tied until they are all but dead is all too real. There is much joy lost in incompletion, joy lost by not being free to move on. It is the finishing of a thing that prepares our mind and soul to embrace future projects. The Holy Spirit commands our completion of work. Count the cost. Finish the course. The process leads to new opportunities. Be faithful in the small things and the Spirit will lead from a “few things to many things” (Matthew 25:21).
4. The painful reality of rejection exists when the Holy Spirit comes to suppress that which is against itself. “Church work” can be and often is done in the context of human wisdom and creativity, but the Holy Ghost is the final judge of all things. There are times when we must throw out our attempts to create a move of the Spirit and rely on the Spirit to reveal itself. I often watch the presentation of a worship song that bores a congregation to tears, but the singer just keeps on without ever checking to see if there is a connection with the hearts of the listeners or with the Spirit. Admittedly, I have preached many a sermon, sweating away to get my point across. I have kept right on preaching even when the Holy Spirit was saying, “Throw it out! Toss it! Stop! You’re not connecting!” In response, I have rationalized, “But I spent all day writing this out!” However, the reality is: God has a right to reject our sacrifices (Amos 5:21). And our sermons. We must accept the Spirit’s rejection of our contrivances in exchange for the spiritual unknown, that which will come only by the power of the Holy Ghost.
When we ask for the Lord to come, ask for His Spirit to sweep into our assemblies, and to touch our lives then we must acknowledge that the Spirit will come to overcome our flesh, to contend with our heart, to create our program, to empower our intellect, to fire our ambition, to shape our will, to demand courage of our soul, to guide our steps, to break through our fear, and to fill our mouths with His immutable Word. The Spirit will suppress all inferior work. He does not come to endorse our talents, to flatter our personalities, to support our false definitions, to inflate our egos, or to applaud our sins and unrighteousness. Let the church pray once more, “Come, sweet Holy Spirit!”