What Did You Expect? Part 1: Embrace Your Struggling as a Sign of Life!

Friday, September 09, 2011




Many years ago my wife and I lost a child.  His name was Joshua Owen.  And he died the day he was born.  Actually, Owen died before he was born, in my wife's womb.  That's obviously a day I'll never forget.  We went to the hospital on his due date, for a regular checkup, and then were headed with our oldest son to LAX to pick up our mothers.  They were flying out from Georgia to help us with the transition.

We got to the hospital and the nurse couldn't find a heartbeat.  No biggie since that had happened before.  Sometimes Owen would turn his body in just such a way that the little device couldn't pick up the heartbeat.  But because this was his due date, we were sent pretty quickly over to another part of the hospital.  Things were a little more urgent now.

When we got there my wife was checked into a hospital room, and put into one of those annoying hospital gowns.  Another nurse used another machine to listen to the heartbeat.  Nothing.  A doctor came in and wanted to insert some electrical wires into my wife's uterus, and then into the baby's scalp to detect a heartbeat that way.  Scary.  But nothing.  

Now we were scared, but still ignorant of the magnitude of what was really going on.  It was all surreal.  Our first delivery and birth process was all "textbook", right according to plan.  Everything was normal.  But this time...  The nurse and doctor finally brought in the sonogram or ultrasound machine.  It uses sound waves to create a sketchy looking picture of the baby.  It can also let people outside the womb see all the fingers, toes, body parts and....heart.

It wasn't beating.  At all.  Not even the slightest little bit.  I remember staring at his little body in the picture thinking, "surely his heart will beat some time."  But it didn't.  He was dead.  And the reality hit me like a dam break.  I fell to pieces.  My son was dead.  My precious little boy.  My Owen.  

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This horrific event in my life illustrates the greater horror of a person who is not born again.  It's a wonderful thing to be born the first time.  It's a magnificent thing to be born again.  But when a person has not yet been born again, I look and look and look, watching carefully, for legitimate signs of a genuine born again experience.  Anything at all.  No matter how little or small it may seem.  It's a sign of life.  

When there's no sign of life a person could care less about what God thinks of them.  That includes their sex life.  Just like a dead man can't feel anything related to life, a spiritually dead man can't feel anything related to spiritual life.  There's absolutely nothing spiritual going on inside of his head or heart.  That kind of lifestyle does not appear to have any struggle whatsoever with sexual sin.  That kind of a person simply does whatever feels good, and never gives a thought about the spiritual consequences.

The second piece of counsel I give young men struggling with sexual sin is this: take some measure of comfort in the struggle, because it's a sign of life.  Dead things don't struggle.  Spiritually dead people don't struggle.  They just let whatever happens, happen.  They go with the flow, never against it.  Any tinge of conscience about what they've done amounts to nothing more than some sort of a strange feeling inside.  They do nothing with that feeling, and go on about their lives.

But if you are a Christian, and you really know that you're born again, then you will see the number one sign of life in anything living that is under any kind of attack.  You will see a struggle.  If you're a "glass-half-empty" kind of guy, then you see the struggle as the moments preceding death.  But if you're a "glass-half-full" kind of guy - also called a Spirit-filled Christian - then you see the struggle as a sign of the Spirit's life inside of you.  Here's the way Paul described it in his letter to the Galatian church.
"So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.  Then you won't be doing what your sinful nature craves.  The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants.  And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires.  These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions..."
That sounds just like a struggle, eh?  Fighting.  I was in a fist fight...once.  A boy on the school bus was talking trash about me, putting me down in front of the other kids on the bus, just to make himself look cool and tough.  You've been there before.  I got so frustrated with the kid, I did what any weakling could do.  I said, "Yo Momma!"  That basically meant that all the bad stuff he was saying about me, I said about his mother in that one fateful phrase.  It earned me a butt-kicking, although the other kid needed one worse.

When we got off the bus stop, we all hung around.  It had been a few minutes since he told me what he was going to beat me up.  I hoped he forgot.  I was too stupid to walk three doors down to my home!  So I stood around.  Somebody said something funny.  We all started laughing.  Then my jaw started to hurt.  I didn't see it coming.  I got punched in the freakin' jaw by a snotty-nosed bully!

The instant I realized I just got punched, I started swinging like nobody's business.  My eyes were filled with tears.  Rage and pain and embarrassment all worked together to make my blood boil with this jerk.  I couldn't see what I was swinging at.  But I was just swinging.  Within seconds my tears flew off my cheeks and I could see him.  But he was ducking with each swing.  And I continued to miss, time and again, further adding to the embarrassment.  

In that moment I recall thinking that if I didn't start swinging I might be killed by this kid.  In the very least I'd be put in the hospital.  I didn't want that.  I wanted to survive.  So I fought.  I struggled.  To stay alive...and healthy.  And I didn't stop swinging until it was apparent the fight was over.  I don't know how either of us were supposed to know the fight was over.  But evidently it was.  And we parted ways and I ran home.  But up until that moment there was only one thought crossing my mind: don't let his fist cross your face again!  Man!  That hurt!  To this day I have a click in my jaw because of that incident.  I've carried this reminder everywhere since then: don't talk about people's mommas...no matter how mad you are at them.

Your fight with sexual temptation is just like that.  Satan is a bully.  His demons are bullies.  And they punch you not with stuff that hurts, but with stuff that looks and feels good.  That's how he tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, remember?  He didn't throw the fruit at her and tempt her to start swearing.  No, he threw pleasure at her.  He tempted her with something that make her feel good.  His temptation was powerful. 

"The woman was convinced.  She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her.  So she took some of the fruit and ate it" (Gen. 3:6).
Satan is no dummy.  He knows exactly what you crave.  It's sex.  A lot of sex.  He knows your body better than you do.  He knows good and well that your sex drive is extremely powerful.  And if he can get you to use it and satisfy it outside of God's design, he can hurt you....really bad.  So your first step in struggling with temptation is to realize what his game plan is: to make you feel good when it's not God's time.  

When you feel tempted, when your body gets aroused, or when you get turned on by something, that's not a sin.  But you are fair game for sin.  That's why Satan is so crafty. He hides and waits outside of your heart until you see that super hot girl passes by.  Then all your senses are turned on, your sex drive is put into "D" for drive, and your body is ready to hit the gas pedal.  It is at that precise moment in time that a struggle is born, if you are a Christian.

You will see the super hot girl, your body will be turned on, but the Holy Spirit inside of you will tell you, "NO!  Don't go there!  Fight it!  Struggle against it!  You can WIN!"  If you've ever heard that or anything like that when you feel tempted sexually, that's probably the Holy Spirit.  And that's cool.  That should make you feel pretty cool.  It's the  voice of GOD!!!  HE is talking to YOU.  

As you sit there left with a body that's aroused and turned on, listening to the Holy Spirit, you will struggle.  It is not so easy to just turn off a car sitting in "D" ready to drive off!  It takes a few minutes to wind down and cool off.  And it is during those moments or minutes that Satan will throw everything he's got against you to get you to sin, to lust, to go find a private place and masturbate, or to rush home and look at porn.  DON'T do it!  Struggle with it!  Persevere!  Prevail!  Maintain!  Stick with it!  Don't give up!  Hang in there!  You can do it!  The Spirit will do it!  Dig your heels in!  Anchor yourself!  Hold fast!  Stay with it!  Stay.... Stay.... Fight....  Struggle....   Aaaahhhhh.  Relief.  It's over.

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There are two ways the struggle against sexual immorality should be an encouragement to you.  First, struggling before you sin, while you're being tempted, is a good thing.  Again, it is a sign that you're alive spiritually.  Those moments of temptation only last for a few minutes.  And it's then that the struggle is the greatest. That's when you've got to struggle, and fight hard to stay alive, spiritually speaking.  That kind of struggle is a good thing.

This seems like a good spot to talk about the wrong kind of struggle during this bigger struggle.  Many young men mistakenly view the struggle itself as if there's something wrong with them.   I remember that also.  I used to feel so dirty and violated when I was tempted.  My body all aroused and ready to for a homerun!  And then I would hear the Spirit's voice. I would feel guilty. Yet many times I had not even lusted yet!  Enter the voice of the devil, whispering to me right alongside the Spirit's voice.  If he can't get me to lust, he will attack me by making me feel guilty for simply being aroused...simply because my body wanted to have sex.  

Wanting to have sex and actually having sex are two different things.  Wanting to have sex is normal.  Having sex outside marriage is not normal, in God's kingdom.  Learn from me.  Don't give in to false guilt by believing that just because your body is aroused and ready to go for it you must have sinned.  Jesus says that you sin when you lust after a woman, and have sex with her in your mind.  But until that happens, the struggle you have to stay pure in your mind is a sign of life.  Simply because you want to stay free and pure from it and honor God, you must therefore want to follow Jesus.  That means you're born again.  And struggling proves it.


Second, struggling after you'e sinned, is a good thing.  Only the soul with no conscience, no feeling afterward, is the spiritually dead person.  When you don't feel the Spirit of God fighting within you, that's when you know something's up.  But as long as you feel His fighting inside of you, you can know that this struggle is also a sign of life...even though you've already sinned.

The struggle inside says, "I don't wanna DO this anymore!  I HATE this stuff!  I wanna be FREE of it all!  PLEASE! HELP me God!."  After I've sinned, I hear this stuff in my head, and often say it out loud.  It is a sign that I want life...that I'm already alive...that I actually HAVE life inside of me...or else I wouldn't even be thinking and saying stuff like that.  Take encouragement from this part of the struggle.  It's called repentance and grieving, and that's normal.  You've grieved the Holy Spirit inside of you.  He's sad.  So you're sad.  And you start to fight harder to repent and not do it anymore.  Again, this is all a part of the struggle which proves you're really alive.

Most things struggle to be born, as well as to stay alive.  You can't see a tree struggling, but somehow it is.  It is weathering the elements, trying to stay alive, and do what God made it do.  To grow that flower or fruit and look beautiful and smell so good.  But every year the tree seems to come through.  Somehow it produces the flowers, smells, and fruits against all odds.  It struggles, survives, and even flourishes!  This reminds me of Galatians 5 again.

"When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry...drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.  Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control...Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.  Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit's leading in every part of our lives" (Gal. 5:22-25).
Keep on struggling.  One day, you will have fruit to show for it.  And you will eat that fruit and enjoy it.  You'll LOVE it.  It will taste so good.  Oh, you'll get a good mouthful of it now.  But you may not feel it so often because your body is raging so hot for sex!  That powerful part of your inner drives sometimes feels almost too strong to overcome.  You're not thinking about that love and peace and joy crap.  You just wanna DO IT!  But gradually, progressively, as you say "NO!" to the temptation and embrace the struggle, you WILL produce fruit.

Hang in there.  Take it from me.  I hung in there and I turned out alright.  I love Jesus with all my heart.  I married as a virgin.  And even though I struggled like I did, every single moment of struggle with temptation that ended in a victory produced fruit.  Every single moment of failure despite my struggling, ended up proving I was a child of God, simply because I struggled.  I was in a win/win scenario and didn't even know it!  You are too.  Know it.  Enjoy it. Embrace it.  Love it.  You're almost there.

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