“A person who follows all of God’s law but fails to obey even one command is guilty of breaking all the commands in that law.”—James 2:10 (NCV)
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)
“Naggers always know what they are doing. They weigh up the risks, then go on and on and on until they get what they want or until they get punched.”—Jools Holland
Yesterday, while sending out an email, I found myself making up a quote that’s relevant to this spiritual shout-out: “Information should be used as food for thought, not poison to the soul.” This is how I pray you process this message because if ever there were a time when I would say this is strictly a “Paul devotional”—my opinion, but I believe with God’s blessing on it—this would be it.
During my journey towards sexual purity, I have two women (especially) who hold me accountable. They call to check in, they pray for me, they rebuke and sometimes (thank the Lord) they just listen. At one point or another, both of them have said, sometimes in my weakest moments, “Shellie, I mean, I know it’s hard, but I’m not sure why it’s such a big deal.”
Did I also mention that these two women are also both married? Now, that’s not to say married sex doesn’t bring about it’s own struggles but the pursuit of abstinence, at least from their mates, should not be one of them!
So, here’s the irony. Christ told us that if we love him, we should keep his commandments (John 14:15). This means ALL of them. If I were to be sexually active at this season in my life, yes, I would be breaking the 7th commandment. Yes, it says “adultery” but because God doesn’t want singles to fornicate (I Corinthians 6:9-10), to do so would be being unfaithful to him, which is a form of adultery. (Isaiah 54:5) Besides, when you are having sex when you are not married, the truth is there’s a great chance that you are sleeping with somebody’s husband (or wife), even if it is their future husband (or wife).
Unfortunately, so many of us seem to be so “hell focused” when it comes to the consequences that come with breaking a command, but I believe that the greater, at least short term, harm in doing it is that it is not a good way of showing our love for God. However, in showing our love, there is not just a commandment that speaks against adultery. No, there are actually 10; two of which speak against stealing and lying:
The 8th Commandment: “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15)
The 9th Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16)
One of my “accountability partners” recently had a birthday. Do you know how old she is telling people that she is? About half her age. She’s been doing it, with a straight face, since I’ve known her and if you try and correct her, she ain’t hearing it. Do you know what that is? Uh, a lie.
My other partner, whenever we go to the movies, if we decide to catch more than one, she only pays for one. Bring that up and she’s like, “Honey, I ain’t there yet. You do your thing and I’ll do mine.” Uh, not paying for all of the movies you see? That is stealing.
Life is so interesting, so full of human contradictions. (I Corinthians 3:19) No wonder God said that as iron sharpens iron, so does a man sharpen the countenance of his friend (Proverbs 27:17). I am a firm believer that, in the human mind, a sin is defined as simply something that we don’t do at the time. My two married girlfriends don’t really get why abstinence is such a struggle for me. At the same time, I boldly share my age (I get it from my Mama) and I can’t remember ever going into a movie and not paying for it (at least since being an adult)! My point? We can’t get so judgmental about someone else’s struggle or so comfortable with our own vices that will miss the fact that God is no harder on someone else than he is on us, and no easier on us than he is on others. WRONG IS WRONG, period and we all need to work to get it right. (Proverbs 31:9, John 7:24)
As I was praying about how to go about illustrating this point, the Holy Spirit led me to the mirror to look at three acne scars that are currently on my face. Now, to some of you, what I am about to share may seem a little gross, but to have the habit of “picking” period is gross…and that’s kind of my point.
I am a self-proclaimed pimple picker and it ain’t a good thing. The moment I see a bump rise up, my mind tells me that it would be better if I take matters into my own hands (literally) and try to squeeze the junk that’s in it out. Never mind that it hasn’t come to a head (so it’s not ready). Never mind that dermatologists say that is one of the worse things you can do to your skin (because it bruises tissue below the surface). Never mind that there is almost a guarantee that premature picking will leave a scar far worse than the pimple itself was. As a picker, 9 times out of 10, I simply don’t care. All I know is I don’t like it being there and I am going to pick, pick, pick at it until it goes away—at least temporarily.
It’s a nasty habit that can be hard to control. Just ask my brother and he will tell you that sometimes my “pick obsession” will carry on to his face as well. His face, mind you…not mine. Now, wise counsel (Proverbs 19:20) says that it’s not good to pick at any bump, especially when it’s not ready, but how intrusive, how out of line, how unhealthy it is of me to try and break the “pimple picking rule” on someone else’s face! I see signs of an infection and so I’m gonna take it upon myself to pick, pick, pick just to satisfy my urge of seeing the growing crater on his face leave? And, to make matters worse, if there’s a good chance that not letting it come to a head on my own face will leave about a greater infection than what was originally there (because professionals say that picking at it ends up forcing the infectious liquid deeper into the pores), how much more of a risk would it be to do it to him or anyone else? (Sorry Jonathan!)
I once read somewhere that pimple poppers are closet control freaks. Rather than letting nature take its course, they want to run things. It manifests in how they handle pimples, but it also tends to “spill over” (no pun intended) into other areas of life. As I was thinking about that fact, that’s when I got what the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:12, I Corinthians 2:13) was trying to tell me; why he was paralleling such a disgusting physical habit with what many of us tend to do in the spiritual realm when it comes to our relationships with others.
Sometimes, and if we are really honest, many times (John 8:32), we will see someone with a “spiritual infection” of some sort and immediately our response will be to starting picking at them. Now, if Solomon said that it’s better to dwell in the corner of a housetop than with nagging, quarrelsome, faultfinding woman (Proverbs 21:9), I don’t know what makes us think that the picking/nagging approach is going to be very effective. Maybe it’s because we are control freaks when it comes to people’s personal lives, huh?
I Thessalonians 4:11instructs us to mind our own business and yet we see someone who’s struggling with sex, who lies about their age, who sneaks into movies and we decide that we don’t like what we see and so we are going to try and force it out of their lives. No where in the Word, at least from what I’ve seen, does it tell us to use/abuse our power, knowledge or strength to try and get people’s “infectious vices” out of their lives. As a matter of fact, if there’s anything we should be doing, it’s setting a good example (I Timothy 4:12, I Peter 5:2-4) and being a good witness (Proverbs 14:25). If anything, we should be patient. (Ecclesiastes 7:8, I Corinthians 13:4, I Thessalonians 5:14). If anything, we should understand that it is not always our job to plant the seed of conviction/change, water *and* harvest it. As one of my favorite Scriptures of all time tells us, timing is not up to us. Timing is the father’s business. (Acts 1:7—Message)
Recently, I came up on a Scripture that I just adore:
“Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings— meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening.
And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evil doings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.”—Isaiah 1:13-17 (Message)
Sin is sin and wrong is wrong and there’s no way around that. I do fear that some of us are either so insecure or consumed with being liked or accepted that we don’t effectively stand on conviction (Proverbs 1:10, Luke 6:26 [Message], Revelation 3:16). But there are far more of us who, because we are opting out of the “be a good example/witness”, “love with patience”, “trust God and his timing” approach, we are doing just what Isaiah said a lot of church folks are doing. We are tearing people to pieces.
So what are we supposed to do when we see a “spiritual infection” on the rise? You might be surprised. The Bible tells us that we are to be anxious for nothing. It doesn’t say “nothing except for cleaning up the junkie in your family”; “nothing except getting your friend to stop being so two-faced”; “nothing except bringing the unsaved you know to Christ”. No, it says be anxious (agitated, concerned, distressed, nervous, solicitous, uneasy, unsettled) for nothing. What are we supposed to do instead of nagging and picking to death? We are supposed to take our concerns to God.
I felt convicted on the spot when God revealed to me that how I deal with people’s “spiritual infections” speaks volumes to my prayer life and my faith in him. No matter how “sick” a habit may be, the truth is that *it’s their habit*. It’s not about me getting in and, with a forceful approach, 9 times out of 10, doing more harm than good. Proverbs 15:4 tells us that kind words heal and help while cutting words wound and maim. If there is a problem brewing and they are not ready to come to grips with it, trying to mess with them before they are ready to really deal with the issue for themselves is only going to wound them, further infect them, and probably leave a scar; not just on their soul, but within our relationship. If I am that concerned about the welfare of someone else, God has told me how to approach it:
“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.”—Galatians 5:22-24 (Message)
The great thing about my two friends is the fact that while we all love the Lord, we also know that we are struggling with, at least, one commandment. The awareness (and admittance) of that is what keeps us humble and tolerant of one another. (James 5:16) Again, God is not giving the virgin props who covets her co-worker or the clergyman props who puts anything, including his congregation, before his Creator. SIN IS SIN…it’s all infectious…and it all needs to come to a head and be released from our lives. But, getting rid of the sin is not our job; that’s God’s. This is what our job is:
“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”—2 Timothy 2:24-26 (NKJV)
My friends have been laughing at me all week because when they bring something/someone up that irritates them, I have found myself saying, “Girl, don’t be trying to pop her/his pimple. It will come to a head in due time.” Whew! That is so freeing. I no longer want to be so consumed with other people’s drama that I find myself not helping the situation but hurting them because the truth is, if people stay in mess, I’m with Dr. Phil: “They must have some kind of a pay off. People don’t stay in mess for nothing.” That kind of revelation/resolve people have to come to in their own time. No sense in me hurting them more by trying to force them into it before they are ready. Their stuff is their business.
This revelation has also shown me how to take more preventative measures with my own self. The three scars on my face are evidence of what happens when I try and move ahead of God’s timing, even for my own life. If a problem is on the horizon, being anxious for nothing and taking it to God also applies to me. When it comes to my own mess, I need to learn how to take my hands off of it and let God lead.
I’ll give you an example. Week before last was a hormonal week from hell. Don’t be offended when I say that because I mean that it was literally from the bowels of Satan! I prayed and said to God, “OK, I’m gonna need some incentive to stay abstinent here, God.” A few days later, I got a phone call. Long story short, I will be speaking at a 4,000+ youth rally on January 10. What’s amazing about that is that it speaks volumes to how God cares about every detail of our lives. The two-year anniversary of my abstinence is January 9!
I could have picked and picked trying to work out a solution in my own strength, but in LEAVING IT ALONE, staying faithful and giving it to Christ, no damage was done. (I John 5:14) What came to a head is that the Enemy tends to tempt me most right before something big is supposed to happen to me. (John 10:10) If I had been so consumed with handling the issue my way, I may have missed what God was trying to show me in his time…in his way—the right way…the best way.
This week, why don’t you try taking your hands off of a few things? If you discern something is wrong, there’s a great chance that you are probably right, but picking, nagging, forcing yourself, your views, your insights in is not going to do anyone any good. Take it to prayer. Let humility remind you that you’ve got your own stuff. Be a good example. Speak truth. Stay patient. And, mind your own business.
The sin that they are in, trust me, is wound enough. Don’t further irritate it. In time, with the help of experience, maturity and conviction, it—whatever “it” is, will come to a head. It’s nature’s way…without our picking at it.
©Shellie R. Warren/2008