Holy Desires (Part Four)

2 Timothy 2:22

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (NIV).

Every adult ought to take children into toy stores and candy stores. After hearing that statement you’re probably thinking that Pastor David is out of his mind! But having helped raise three children, I’ve thought it through, and I still think it’s a good idea, if the parents are self-controlled and in control of their children. Why? I think we can learn a lot about ourselves by watching children in toy and candy stores. We ought to learn something about our hearts when we hear them say, “I want this and this and this,” which is basically everything in the store!

God has given us the good gift of desires, but since the human heart has been twisted by sin, human desires do not naturally seek what is holy and good. This is true even of those who follow Christ. Those who have been saved by grace feel two competing sets of desires. For example, consider the words of a song written by Eric Grover. In the first verse he writes:

In my heart there is a stirring
One that did not start with me
A love to worship my Creator
To show His love for all to see

But in the second he brings out what is also in our hearts:

In my heart there is a treason
One that poisons all my love
Take my heart and consecrate it
Wash it in Your cleansing blood

While we are on this earth, our hearts will struggle with the pull between these two desires—one to glorify God and the other to walk away from God and live like he doesn’t exist.

In previous articles, we considered the desire that we should have for the law of the Lord, the Holy Scriptures. Now, let’s think of another holy desire—the desire for a godly way of life.

In the words from 2 Timothy, the Lord urges us to flee from the evil desires of youth. What is meant by these words?

This is the only time that this word occurs in the New Testament Scriptures, so we cannot determine its meaning by seeing its usage in other passages. However, since the word is used in a negative sense, we can safely conclude that there are various spiritually immature attitudes and cravings to avoid. We can learn what they are by examining other passages where spiritual immaturity is presented (1 Corinthians 1-3; Ephesians 4:15-16; Hebrews 5:11-14; 2 Peter 1:4-9). To summarize:

  • A spiritually immature person evaluates things based on worldly standards—eloquence, strength, influence, human wisdom and selfish ambition.
  • A spiritually immature person is easily moved from one set of ideas to another; he or she likes to hear something new (cf. Acts 17:21).
  • A spiritually immature person has trouble distinguishing good from evil. This comes from a lack of experience with God and his ways.
  • A spiritually immature person is not spiritually productive.

What areas of spiritual immaturity do you see in your life? We all have some. All of us need to ask the Lord for grace to examine ourselves according to the Scriptures. Perhaps you are struggling with a delight in human wisdom or selfish ambition (pride and jealousy). Ask God to show you.

Grace and peace, David

And So Jehoshaphat Prayed

img_40182 Chronicles 20:5-13

We must never forget that every believer in Christ’s new assembly, the church, is a learner. Everyone who follows Jesus follows after him, striving to know his glory and how to please and serve him. Because of his surpassing worth and redeeming love at the cross, we humble ourselves before him. We call out, “Lord Jesus, what will you have me to do?” As we take this very seriously, neither teacher nor hearer will be arrogant or careless. Everyone will say, “This word from the Lord is for me, in order that I might be transformed by the renewing of my mind.” As I see it, one of our great needs is to be transformed in regard to prayer. In the clash of fear and faith, this is most important, and I am not exaggerating for effect.

In our series “When Desires Clash” we have focused on the life of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. Every person, including followers of Jesus, experiences a conflict between desires for good and desires for evil. The desires for evil come from the sin that is within us, as well as from the world around us. A person who is not a Christian, though ruled by sin, may have desires for good because of what we call God’s common grace, the work of God’s commands on their consciences, and the salt and light effects of believers. The Christian has desires for good not only from those sources, but also from being a new person in Christ, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, the reading of the Word, and the fellowship of believers. What we read of in this section is a clash of fear and faith, in Jehoshaphat and his people. After a short time of relative calm, everyone is in fear for their lives, their families, and their possessions. So they gathered to pray. But how did Jehoshaphat lead them in prayer in this critical hour?

The situation was unpromising for worship and prayer, especially for a people who had wandered from the living God. If they knew of the curses of the law covenant for disobedience, their outlook would be bleak (Deuteronomy 28:25-26; etc.) So what should you a person at such a time? You run toward the Lord, not away from him. This is what David learned after his great sin in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. It is what every godly person learns, because you learn how surpassingly merciful the Lord is! Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16 ESV).  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8 ESV). And so Jehoshaphat prayed.

Jehoshaphat started with worship (20:6-9). We all have much to learn at this point. If we claim to have a Christian world and life view, it ought to transform our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions, especially in the way we pray. Don’t you agree? When we pray, we should not be merely following some set formula or pattern. Any ritualistic or legalistic person can do that. Therefore, I am not simply saying, “Let’s begin with adoration,” as in the well-known “ACTS” prayer pattern. I point to a basic change about our view of God and us. Our culture overemphasizes the individual human at the expense of God and other people. Let’s become counter-cultural and treat God like he is God! We all need to approach in an attitude of worship, being influenced by the truth of who the Lord God is. So then, what can we learn?

Jehoshaphat lifted up God’s majestic greatness (20:6).

  • He knew he was praying to the Lord, the I AM, the living God, and spoke in conformity with the truth of who the Lord is. Do we speak to God like he is Almighty God? Or do we speak to him like he is a clerk in the grocery store? “Uh hello, could you help me get this?” We need to slow down, to think about whom we are conversing with, and to talk like we’re talking to the Creator and Ruler of all. Using a set form of prayer will not help at all at this point. The change must come from the attitude of our hearts, which flows from what we really think about God.
  • He took the truth of the Lord to heart and acknowledged that he is God of heaven (Deuteronomy 4:39). He was not speaking to some mere tribal god, but to the God over all. Read on your own a picture from heaven about the Lord’s glory (Revelation 4:2-11).

Here is a suggestion, if you feel you need help. Put some of the opening words of prayers from the Bible on 3×5 cards, and use them to develop a change in how you begin conversing with the Lord of heaven and earth. This verse (2 Chronicles 20:6) is one to start with. Look in the Psalms and Revelation also.

Grace and peace, David

Thoughts on a believer’s struggle against sin

Most Followers of Christ know that we all are in a spiritual war against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:10-18; etc.) We all have sins that we individually struggle against, even for many long years. Today, I want us to think about what we should do when there is a pause in the battle against one of these sins; that is, when you no longer sense the old pull of evil toward a particular sin. (Yes, I know that some of you are wishing that you could have one day like that!) Whatever the cause, a time will come when you will enter a pause in the active fight in your struggle against the sins that hinder you. How can you improve the opportunity?

Reconnect with Christ. In part your struggle against the same sins points to some sort of weakness in your communion with our Lord. Look at this lull in the battle as an opportunity to draw closer to him. Read John 15 again and ask for grace for its truth to be real in your life.

Rethink your obsession with these few sins. For example, are you bothered by them simply because you suppose “God won’t like you” if you do those sins, while other sins are acceptable? In other words, our struggle is not against a short list of sins that we feel guilty about for various reasons, but it is against all sins. Read Colossians 3:1-17 and take note about what you feel guilty about doing or not doing. Ask yourself, “Am I more concerned about the social consequences of getting caught doing a sin than about how sin disrupts my worship of God? If we are honest, we will admit that some of our attitudes about sin expose the reality of fearing people rather than God. So then, take advantage of this time to correct this tendency.

Redeploy to a new position on the battlefield. What I mean is this: If certain activities of your life lead you into specific struggles with sin, wouldn’t you be better off avoiding exposure to attacks from the enemy. A wise soldier doesn’t wave to the enemy and yell, “Here I am again; shoot me.” For example, if you’re struggling with greed, stop watching commercials and looking at ads that intend to incite greed.

Redirect your efforts. Part of our weakness comes from passivity in what we do with our lives. It is very easy to be self-indulgent in the stress and hurry of our lives. We like to zone out, instead of taking charge of our way of life. The fruit of the Spirit is self-control (Galatians 5:23). But if we let most of our thinking revolve around not doing certain sins, we exhaust ourselves and in the process fail to do what we ought to, like doing good works. (Read Titus and 1 Peter and notice how many times good works are mentioned.) Let me state clearly that we must wage war against sins like anger, fear, greed, and sexual immorality. But I am trying to present a larger vision for our lives. A concern about individual holiness to the near exclusion of gathering with other saints to do good and/or to evangelize is not wise.

Much more can be said on this topic. I hope that this stimulates new activity in your service to the Lord Christ.

Grace and peace,