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  • Writer's pictureAdelee Russell

Characteristics of a Fervent Life Part 4: Sober Awareness

So you’re on fire for God and you’re living the fervent life, but then one day things change. You’re totally shocked at first, but as you take a hard look at the path you’ve been on, you realize those changes began awhile back and you didn’t even notice them.

Thoughts crept in. Lies gently sunk their hooks into your heart—you didn’t even feel the sting at first it was so subtle. Your patterns changed. Good habits slipped. Bad habits began. Compromise. Apathy. Bitterness. Self-pity. Greed. Denial. Stubbornness. Rebellion. And before you knew it those things led to weariness, disillusionment, exhaustion, discouragement, and despair.

What happened? You were doing so well. You felt so close to God. You could hear His voice. You were excited. You were passionate. You were confident. You felt secure.

So what. Happened?

The Opposition

Those thoughts that crept in? Those lies that were so subtle? Those excuses and grudges that led to gradual lapses in obedience and resulted in you feeling so broken and lost? They are the product of the two sources of opposition in our lives.

THE FIRST SOURCE is our flesh. Our sin nature. We are no longer identified by our sin nature. In God’s eyes it has been crucified on the cross. It is dead and gone. Its offenses are no longer counted on our record. We are a new creation in Christ.

But we still struggle with the temptation to live that old life. Like trying to squeeze into old clothes that don’t fit us anymore, sometimes we still struggle to look away from the carnal desires of our old selves and keep our eyes on Christ.

If we're not going forward in our walk with Christ then we’re going backward by default. There is no such thing as staying in one place when it comes to our spiritual life. Without ever-increasing growth in our walk with the Lord our spiritual lives decay (Hebrews 2:1).

Without daily feeding on His Word and soaking in His presence our spiritual walk starts to slip. Then we fall.

The only thing that can deter our flesh is our will. Let me be clear—we can do nothing apart from the power of Christ. But there is only one thing God ever asks of us and that is for us to surrender to Him through a decision of our own will. He does not force human beings to give their lives to Him. He pursues, and He waits. But we must choose Him.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 says it this way: “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life…” (NLT).

These sentiments are echoed in every book of the New Testament. God, in His infinite grace, gives us the ability to choose. And we must choose Him. We must cultivate a life of choosing Him. Or else we will fall prey to our flesh. The moment we choose God, He gives us the strength to follow through. We cannot choose and walk in the fruit of that choice apart from dependence on Him. The beautiful thing is that He is always willing and eager to give us the strength we ask for.

THE SECOND SOURCE of opposition comes from our enemy. And his name is Satan. Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of this arch nemesis of ours:

He hates God. Isaiah 14:12-14 says, “How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weaken the nations! For you have said in your heart, ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also on the mount of the congregation, in the recesses of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High’” (NKJV).

He hates us and wants to destroy us. 1 Peter 5:8 also says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (NIV).

His goal for believers is to lead us astray from sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (NIV).

He wants to cause discord and animosity in the body of Christ. 2 Corinthians 2:10b-11, “I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (NIV).

He is a murderer and the father of lies. John 8:44, “… He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (NIV).

He’s got an army. Ephesians 6:11-12, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (NIV).

How to Stay Sober

So how do we stay soberly aware on our spiritual walk? How do we stay aware of the pull of our sin nature, and how do we keep our eyes open to the enemy’s schemes?

Three Ways to Stay Sober

1. Unbroken communion with God. The moment we take our eyes off of God they become focused on the wrong things. The moment we stop taking our thoughts and feelings and struggles to Him they begin to hold power over us. The moment we forget He’s in the room with us we start to feel lost.

So what does unbroken communion with God look like? I think the answer could involve many different things, but several things that come to mind are 1). Setting aside long periods of time to simply BE with Him. Talking with Him, worshipping Him, and resting in His presence. And 2). Thinking about Him and talking to Him throughout the day. Acts 17:28 says, “For in him we live and move and have our being…”(NIV) Matthew 1:23 declares one of the names ascribed to Jesus is Immanuel which means “God with us” (NIV).

When we recognize that God is always with us, we start to converse with Him throughout our day. And as we converse with Him throughout our day we find ourselves bringing our problems and worries and struggles to Him. We start asking Him for guidance and we learn to listen and respond to the sound of His voice (see John 10:27-28). The more we listen and respond to God’s voice the less likely we are to give into the flesh, and the more aware we are of the enemy’s schemes.

2. Unbroken communion with God’s Word. A lot of Christians these days have stumbled into the lie that the Word of God is not so important. I myself have been carried away by podcasts and inspirational books and have drifted away from digging into God’s Word myself time and time again. Podcasts and inspirational books are great, and they can be a wonderful supplement to our walk with God, but they cannot be our main course. As helpful as they might be, they are not the Holy, infallible, living Word of God.

I cannot deny the difference immersing myself in God’s Word makes in my life. And I cannot deny the dark places I end up when I go too long without it. Check out some verses that illustrate the vital importance of meditating on the Word of God on a daily basis:

Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (ESV).

Psalm 119:9, “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word” (NIV).

Joshua 1:8, “The Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success” (ESV).

Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (NIV).

Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (NIV).

Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” (ESV).

2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking correcting and training in righteousness” (NIV).

Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (ESV).

John 15:7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (ESV).

So meditating on the Word of God: 1). Keeps us from sinning. 2). Keeps us on the right path going in the right direction. 3). Brings success in our spiritual walk. 4). Explores the human heart and reveals and convicts our thoughts and attitudes. 5). Renews our minds, transforms us, and fills us with discernment and the ability to determine what God’s will is for our lives. 6). Teaches and admonishes us. 7). Grows us up in spiritual knowledge and maturity. 8). Encourages us and helps us to endure the storms of life. 9). Helps us know how to pray and ask for things that please God and are according to His will.

Some might claim that all they need is the Holy Spirit and that the Scriptures aren’t very important. But regardless of the fact that God makes meditating on His Word an ultimatum for our spiritual growth, He reiterates how His Word and the Holy Spirit work together when He says, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you” (John 14:26, NLT).

What will the Holy Spirit do? Teach and Remind. Teach what? How to apply the Scriptures to our lives (2 Timothy 3:16, Romans 15:4, Colossians 3:16). Remind us of what? What Jesus has said to us in the Scriptures.

There is an assumption here that we have already been abiding in God’s Word as He has commanded and are immersing ourselves in it. The Holy Spirit helps us interpret what we’ve read and reminds us of it as we go about our daily life, using it to give us wisdom and discernment in whatever situation we might find ourselves in. Our relationship with God is intimately personal. And both the Holy Spirit—who is the Person of God—AND His word are integral parts of that relationship.

The Holy Spirit embodies the full personhood of God. He is not a means to an end; He IS God. And He, as part of the Holy Trinity, has commanded us to immerse ourselves in His Holy Scriptures. Only as we act in obedience by immersing ourselves in the Word of God do our hearts become fertile ground to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and learn from Him. Yes, the Holy Spirit is all powerful and in an emergency He can hit us over the head to save us—in spite of us--from catastrophe, but that is not the life He has called us to. And that is not the life of someone who loves God, and wants to please and obey Him.

3. Unbroken communion with the body of Christ. This one is probably the hardest because it involves other people. And, as we saw in 2 Corinthians chapter two, one of our enemy’s major goals is to create discord and animosity in the body of Christ. On top of that, some of us—when we listen to our flesh—just don’t play well with others.

Some major things that get in the way between us and unbroken communion with the body of Christ are: church hurt, lies from the enemy, codependency, disillusionment, and differences in opinions and theology to name a few.

So how do we overcome these things? For an in-depth look at our relationship with the church, you can check out an earlier post I wrote on the topic here.

I won’t go through all those points again in this post but I will say there are certain things we must exhibit in order to experience unbroken communion with the church:

1). Humility. We will never survive the church if we don’t have the humility to hear others out, consider their perspectives, and discern when to speak and when to keep quiet. Humility is the key to all of these things.

2). Conflict resolution in accordance with the Scriptures. Without biblical conflict resolution we can end up either exploding and hurting others, or glossing over an issue and enabling sin. Biblical conflict resolution requires humility, truth, AND love. Humility to admit our own faults. Truth to hold others accountable and make them aware of lies for their own protection and growth. And love to tell them that truth in a way that offers hope without condemnation.

It's important to remember that at the end of the day we can only do what we can do. A restored relationship requires two willing parties. Which is why Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (NIV). Even if the other person does not reciprocate restoration, we can still live in peace by clinging to God and refusing to cultivate further dysfunction by seeking revenge or retaliation.

3). Accountability and protection of the innocent. Jesus didn’t mince words in Mark 9:24 when He talked about stealing someone’s innocence or harming the vulnerable. He said, “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck” (NLT).

Paul also stresses the need to protect the body of Christ from those who would bring chaos and sinful influence into the church in 1 Corinthians chapter 5. It’s important to keep in mind that Paul instructs us to do so not in hate or anger, but out of love for the disruptive persons themselves. He says of a particularly disruptive, sin-filled man “Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed, and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns” (1 Corinthians 5:5, NLT).

The beautiful conclusion of this situation is revealed in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church where he says, “I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me, Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome with discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:5-8, NLT).

Enabling sin does not help the sinner. Enabling abuse does not help the abuser. Only by confronting in love and taking the necessary steps to protect the innocent while bringing the perpetrator to the end of themselves will they have the chance to surrender to God, experience redemption, and be united back with the body of Christ. These things are hard but necessary in order to retain unbroken communion with the body of Christ.

4). The resolve to go all the way and do what it takes to grow, change, and live in community. Let’s be honest, the biggest thing that keeps us away from the community of believers is ourselves.

It’s the way we live inside our own heads. It’s the way we feed on lies. It’s the way we wallow in self-pity and insecurity instead of focusing on the victory and healing that is ours to experience because of Christ.

It’s the way we run whenever going deeper with the community requires us to be open and vulnerable about things we’d rather keep secret. Sin cycles we don’t want to admit. Guilty pleasures we don’t want to give up. Areas of our lives we really don’t want to be held accountable on.

One huge purpose of living in community is to grow in our relationship with God. But we cannot grow if we are unwilling to change. And we cannot change the way God desires for us to if we do not let our brothers and sisters both encourage and admonish us in love.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (NLT). And Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (NIV). Furthermore James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (NLT).

The bottom line? God has beautiful gifts in store for us: healing and growth. But both of those things require that we open up and are vulnerable with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It requires that we are honest and truthful about how we're doing. It requires letting others into our struggles, and allowing them to speak God’s truth and love into our lives in such a way that our focus on Jesus becomes sharper, that we humbly recognize our shortcomings, and we are propelled towards truth and growth and maturity in Christ.

We must be willing to stick it out and follow the process through to the end in order to experience—in all its fullness and benefits—the loving community Jesus described and the fervent, growing body of believers illustrated in the book of Acts and all throughout the New Testament.

You might notice I didn’t include love on this list of points. That’s because love is in ALL of these points. You cannot have true humility without love. You cannot have biblical conflict resolution without love. You cannot have accountability and protection for the innocent without love. You cannot go all the way with community and grow and change without living in the love of Christ and showing that love to each other. The love of Jesus is what fuels every area of our Christian life. And loving others like Jesus does is what enables us to live as a community and experience all the beautiful gifts God has given us in the body of Christ.

Going Forward

So you got lost. You got off track. You got discouraged. The good news is that because of the Gospel there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). God’s mercies are new each morning (Lamentations 3:22-23) and as long as you have breath in your lungs it is never too late to get back up and follow Him again (Micah 7:8).

God did away with all of our shame at the cross. He cancelled the record of charges against us (Colossians 2:14), and because of that we can start over. We can lift our heads. We can take hold of His outstretched hand. And we can walk on the path He has for us once again.

Ephesians 3:16-17 says, “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Holy Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong” (NLT). The love of God demonstrated through the Gospel is what gives us the strength we need to walk through this sanctification process.

And it IS a process. Paul mentions growth in most if not all of his New Testament letters. Growth implies a journey. Growth implies that we won’t have it all together all at once, and that’s okay. This is not an excuse to stay where we are, on the contrary is gives us the hope we need to move forward. It is the reason we can continue walking with Him—hand in His, learning to trust Him more and more with every step we take.

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