Sometimes what perpetuates a vicious cycle of disobedience is a lack of knowledge.
Hosea 4:6a My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
Getting destroyed from disobedience due to a lack of knowledge has serious consequences. In a quest for better understanding in order to avoid being ensnared, here are some insights to the question: “What is causing my struggle to obey God?”
1. Pride and Self-Focus
This is a painful one to hear but what got me started on this topic was when YouVersion’s Verse of the Day earlier this week was:
Prov 13:10 Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.
When I saw the word “strife”, it struck an inner chord that made me realize that was the feeling inside me, like an ongoing inner argument. I wondered why I wasn’t feeling peace like a river as a child of God. I knew in my head what God was calling me to do but why wasn’t I being joyful about it. The verse says that where there is strife, there is pride.
I wanted to understand what was up inside so I looked up the definition of “strife”.
Merriam Webster’s definition:
:bitter sometimes violent conflict or dissension
:struggle : to try very hard to do, achieve, or deal with something that is difficult or that causes problems
When the head and heart do not agree, a struggle happens. The head knows what is the right thing to do; the heart doesn’t want to follow. An inner argument/strife follows. Questions like “What’s the point of doing this?”, “But I am human with a heart and mind”, “Are my feelings not valid?”, “I know what God wants but this is what I want to do instead”, etc.
God is clear, His thoughts are higher and different.
Isa 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
When self-focused thoughts and feelings set themselves up against the knowledge of and obedience to God, a stronghold that is not from God is building up in our spiritual life. Satan is trying to gain control in our lives by making us go against God, just as he did.
2Cor 10:4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ… which brings us to the next cause for struggle:
2. Spiritual Warfare
Our lives are in the thick of spiritual battle. Satan wants our souls to perish; God wants our souls to be saved. We have free will. If we were made like robots that will automatically obey, we cannot be sifted as to who belongs to the Lord and who doesn’t.
When our prayers seem to be heard, when problems seem to be resolved, that is when we are most vulnerable to surprise spiritual attacks because we may be deceived into complacency from prayer and reading God’s Word when this is one of the most important times to not let our spiritual guard down. During times of distress, it is almost automatic to keep seeking the Lord but when out of distress, the greater challenge is to remain clinging to Him. But we should make no mistake that the devil just pauses for a moment but is waiting for a more opportune time to stumble or sink us… perhaps when we are relaxed, tired, hungry, sleepy, bored, or reveling in a spiritual high.
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
We should be clear on what Satan’s purpose is: our destruction, condemnation, disqualification from the good that God wants for us. But this enemy will not accomplish his purpose by obvious means. Of course, it will be through deceptively delectable snares, lures, and baits that he will make us think are more important and urgent than obeying God.
1 Peter 5:8
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
3. Bitterness and Other Seemingly Little Footholds
“Respectable Sins” (no such thing since all sins to a holy God, all attitudes, thoughts, and actions against Him are still simply sin) are taken up by Jerry Bridges in his book of the same name on the seemingly tolerable littler sins (such as anger, worry, selfishness, etc.) which Satan uses as a foothold or a right of way to gaining control of us.
Heb 12:15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
When left unchecked and not nipped in the bud, the small eensy-weensy cute little mustard seed grows up to be a tree that reproduces thousands more seeds. Same with the seed of bitterness and other “little” sins. And it not only defiles the bitter person, it causes trouble to defile many.
4. Battle of the Flesh and Spirit
A bible-believing, God-loving follower of Jesus is in a progressive sanctification process. Until reaching perfection in unity with Jesus Christ, the inner battle of the flesh and Spirit as written by Paul in Romans 7 is experienced.
Galatians 5:17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
Rom 7:21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Rom 7:25 points to Jesus Christ as the One who delivers us from this battle.
5. We are still Under Construction spiritually.
In the sanctification process, our faith is being perfected so that we may not lose out on the eternal unshakeable faith in and relationship with Jesus Christ instead of being wrongly establishing our foundations around the passing things of this world.
Heb 12:26-28 (NIV) 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”[a] 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.
(Pastor Joey Bonifacio has a neat little book called “The Promise No One Wants” centered on the above verse which is a recommended read.)
We have a natural tendency to worship. While Jesus shows us through the greatest commandment that it is God we must worship fully and only
Matthew 22:36-38 (NIV) 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
we sometimes look for substitutes in other places. Some of these are good such as a spouse, children, family, seeking to do a good job, etc. The problem is, these are shakeable, unreliable, and passing. God wants us to have a firm foundation in Him no matter what our circumstances look like because He remains the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow and He is eternal, reliable, unshakeable. Because He loves us so much, He will shake us off from our wrong pursuits and objects of worship.
Ex 20:3 (CJB) “You are to have no other gods before me. 4 You are not to make for yourselves a carved image or any kind of representation of anything in heaven above, on the earth beneath or in the water below the shoreline. 5 You are not to bow down to them or serve them; for I, Adonai your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but displaying grace to the thousandth generation of those who love me and obey my mitzvot.
This does not mean that we neglect our earthly loved ones or our work. A good witness as a follower of Jesus Christ includes caring for our loved ones, work, and ministries in a manner glorifying to Him, but these should not replace (as idols) God’s spot as Number One in our hearts.
SO WHAT NOW?
God is holy and His standard is holy. Any thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions that set themselves up against God are sin. Delayed obedience is also just a form of disobedience. We want to obey but when we struggle to do so, God Himself gives us a way out of our temptations to disobey.
1 Cor 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
A friend once told me, when you are struggling, you are letting your flesh get the last say. When you allow your soul to submit to God, you will not struggle.
We are called to depend on Him, our unlimited source of strength, holiness, righteousness so that we may live the righteous life that He desires for us.
Jer 17:5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
Struggles are a realistic part of the process. Our encouragement comes from God being greater than our hearts.
1 John 3:20b we know that God is greater than our hearts
God can override our feelings. God’s Truths in His Word are independent of our feelings. When we depend on God, we know that His all-knowing, almighty, ever-present Holy Spirit is our very own Intercessor to help us obey God’s will.
Romans 8:26-27 (NIV) 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
In unity with God the Father and Holy Spirit, God’s Word reveals the appointed mediator between us and God who intercedes in our behalf for our needs for our salvation, for our walk in righteousness, for life transformation along with “these things” as stated in Matthew 6:33.
1Tim 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus
Heb 7:24-26 (NIV) 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
1John 5:18a (CJB) We know that everyone who has God as his Father does not go on sinning
So let’s take heart, though we may occasionally feel that the struggle to obey is overwhelming, we have all the Aces to help us be victorious so that in the spiritual battle for our souls between God and Satan, we would not perish but instead experience God’s eternal victory. As we continue to stick to His plan, in place of the struggle, we will be able to say, not with strife but with peace and joy, “Lord, I surrender everything to You” with the accompanying obedience. Impossible in human strength but possible in God’s strength in Jesus’s name, amen.