The first year we lived here, the fig tree amazed me! The fruit was abundant and delicious … nothing like a dried fig. Late in the year, though, a pesky vine began weaving through the branches. Friends alerted me to the vine being poison oak. Logic told me, “Get rid of it!”
So my hoe and I dragged it out and chopped it off. I patted myself on the back for a job well done. Year two came–and the vine was back. This time there was more, so I attacked it more aggressively–ripping it from the ground and digging out the roots. Again feeling victorious as the season ended, I prepared for a more beautiful tree in the coming season. This year, the poison oak vine appears to be consuming my tree. When I finally called in someone to look at it and told them the story, they said, “You made the poison oak mad.” My intentions were good; my knowledge and plan of attack, devastating.
“But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15
In our Christian life, we sometimes fall into the same trap. We aggressively attack problems with our best intentions–and often create a bigger mess than we began with. The Word of God, interpreted by the Holy Spirit within us, is the only source of wisdom and truth for life. Ripping up the things that appear to spoil our fruit may actually strengthen the root of the problem. The Holy Spirit is always very specific. He does not work by pointing out expansive errors and whipping us into a frenzy; that is a technique of Satan.
The plan of God is to transform each of us into the image of His Son–He does that with a gentle nudge and focus on the things we say we believe but fail to live out. The Christian transformation takes place one step at a time–or as someone once said, “a long obedience in the same direction.” The Holy Spirit often points out the things we need to change by drawing our attention to the same issue in another person. Our temptation is to help that person get right–and fail to see ourselves in their image. Like the poison oak, our own sin digs deeper and hides behind our “service” to others.
The devil works opposite of the Holy Spirit. He paints with a broad brush, using guilt and shame to send us into hiding. He loves to hear us label things and categorize sins because that is key to hardening our hearts. It is also the key to fracturing relationships and destroying lives. If we are not hiding, he uses the popular fascination with the spirit world to hide himself. The proliferation of ghost stories, mediums and demonic possession television programs glorify evil. We must be wise to the ways Satan works, but we need not immerse ourselves in his ways. A continual study of the Father of Lies darkens our own vision, blinding us to the glory of God.
Discernment must be learned and practiced; the guidance of our Father sought daily. When our children were young, we protected them vigilantly. Music choices, social interactions and television shows were chosen for their God-glorifying potential. That is every parent’s responsibility. Eventually, children must grow up and choose for God themselves. Every Christian must grow up and choose whom they will serve. As we read Scripture, we must ask the Spirit: How can I live this out today?
If I say I believe the Word but live as if I do not–I do not believe. If I say, I believe, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me,” but use “I can’t” on a regular basis, I don’t believe what I say. If I say, I believe God will provide–and then deceitfully handle my money and withhold my tithe “because I have to”–I don’t believe His Word. Our actions reveal our beliefs. Christian discernment is choosing actions and words based on the guidance of God.
We must remember our most precious title is Children of God. Making our choices (our actions) in wisdom from the word–instead of good intentions–is the way to honor God and build the Kingdom.
As you make your study choices, your entertainment choices, your social activities … do you ask how the Father feels about them? If the answer is no, how can you begin today to change the way you act to match what you believe?