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"So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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." - Galatians 5:16-17 (NLT)
Recently a friend asked a few of us to write notes of encouragement to her son as he is at a crossroads in his life. He is an amazing young man, who could either run the world or be run over by it. We’re all praying for the former.
I’ve adapted it a bit and hope it will encourage your day.
It's no secret that you're special. That you've been gifted in many ways. You're impressive, that's clear.
It's also clear that there are two forces living inside you: the flesh and the Spirit. And those two are locked in a heated battle of epic proportion.
The flesh will always lead you toward people and things that look and feel exciting in the moment. It's kind of like jumping off a cliff. The flight is wild and exciting. But the landing will never fail to stink. The flesh will always lead you to momentary pleasure, that will inevitably disappoint you and make you feel awful about yourself. In short, chaos. That's what living for the flesh will ALWAYS bring about.
On the other hand, the Spirit will lead you toward people and things that are peace-filled. That encourage you to climb higher, think deeper, reach greater goals, and be a better human for your time on this Earth. The Spirit will always lead you to a life of meaning, of greatness, of peace.
The battle is fierce. It will last your entire life, friend. I'd love to tell you that you will make a choice one day to live for the Spirit and all the flesh will disappear. But that simply isn't so. Who will win this struggle? Friend, the one you feed will win.* It's that simple.
"But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." - Galatians 5:18 (NLT)
My husband keeps asking me when he gets to have his mid-life crisis. I gently remind him that at 57 years old, unless you’re planning to live to be 114, Darling, that ship has sailed. Sorry about your luck! No perms, shirts unbuttoned to the waist, or gold chains are heading your way. Fortunately, this is a man whose mid-life might more likely include things like fishing poles, hunting blinds, and camo clothing, anyway.
What I don’t tell him is that I think I may have had a mid-life crisis around the age of 35. I bought a little sports car. A black Eagle Talon … Turbo. And boy, would that car fly! It was all fun and games until about a month after buying her (and yes, she had a name), I got three speeding tickets in two weeks. Three! When the police officer patrolling Man O’ War Blvd. knows you on a first-name basis, it’s time to retire the need for speed! Mid-life crisis over. Traded the Black Widow in for a silver Mazda sedan.
I am certainly not cut out to be on the wrong side of the law! In that same vein, Christ-followers live lives that are no longer bound by the law. You see, the Law (the Torah) was given to us by a loving God so that we would know one thing: our need for a Savior. Not a single one of us (besides Jesus) could keep the Law fully. Thanks to Jesus, you and I no longer live under the law. Upo nomon in the Greek, the phrase is believed to have been coined by Paul himself. It refers to legalism, specifically in the context of imprisonment or slavery.
You and I, through the power of the Spirit of God, were made for what? That’s right! F-R-E-E-D-O-M! Oooooh! That’s shoutin’ stuff, friends!
"The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." - Galatians 5:19-21 (NLT)
I can now include in my resume of life experiences: riding out a hurricane. Every year, my husband takes me to the beach -- seven sun-soaked, seafood-eating days at my happy place. Last September, we arrived just as most were exiting. We had paradise all to ourselves. However, within 24 hours, the skies grew dark and ominous. Hurricane Hermine was approaching, promising 10-12 inches of rain and gale-force winds.
Our place is oceanfront and we had a front-row seat for the show. So we said what most stable-minded people would not: “Let’s stay!” The winds and waves were unlike anything I’d ever seen. Inside our condo, I was rocking in a chair back-and-forth at one point, and the chair was literally moving side-to-side! It was like an out-of-body experience. When it ended, beautiful weather ensued for the rest of the week.
When I behave in the flesh, it’s like a hurricane of bad choices. Yes, my flesh is designed to sin. But I’m not merely flesh, am I? I have the Holy Spirit living in me. And every time I live by the flesh, I drag the Spirit of the living God through that mud, making filthy the Kingdom call on my heart.
Living apart from the Spirit brings a storm of sin-sickness into our souls. Worse, it keeps us from living the Kingdom life He wants to give us. A life full of growth and fruit. You see, when I live in the flesh, I’m dying on the vine. My vision can’t reach beyond myself, and I’m never satisfied.
Maybe you’re in the midst of a hurricane of the soul. Jesus can end it, friend. And beautiful peace follows.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control..." - Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
Sadly, no one will ever say of me, “That gal has a green thumb.” I don’t seem to be able to grow much at all. Except for maybe dandelions. Seriously, I killed a cactus in college, y’all!
Every Spring I plant beautiful flowers around my house. And every Spring my husband playfully asks, “So what was our budget for killing flowers this year?” Not nice, Mr. Man. Not nice.
I really try to keep those posies watered and tended all summer. But truthfully, around the middle of August, I just get tired! It’s a lot of work. Those flowers are fragile. And it’s hotter than love out there, people!
I’m so glad the Lord is not as fickle in caring for me as I am to those plants of mine!
Here’s what I know… the garden of my Spirit needs constant tending. I need to be in God’s Word, the soil that lets my roots grow deep. I need the sunshine of worship that raises my thoughts to the wonder of a Savior who loves me lavishly. Finally, I need the water of prayer, a constant connection to the Spirit’s action in my life.
When I stay focused on the work of the Spirit in me, amazing things begin to happen.
Tend to your Spirit. He will tend to you
"Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." - Galatians 5:24-25 (NLT)
I got a Fitbit for Christmas. Now, before y’all go getting mad at my insensitive husband for a gift with a message akin to that of giving me a treadmill, just know that I asked for it. Wanting to track my exercise, water intake, and sleep patterns, I saw it as a personal accountability mechanism.
Then obsession and competition took over. I began to live for that vibrating explosion of light as I reached daily goals. One night, I was short on steps. I couldn’t walk outside because, well, we have coyotes where we live, so you know what I did? I marched a path around my living room until the lights started to dance, indicating my goal was attained! If water intake was low, I’d guzzle a 30-ounce Yeti before bedtime. (However, it didn’t take more than a time or two to realize the folly of that decision.) Every 45 minutes, when the pink light said it was time to move, I’d leave important tasks to keep from disappointing the Fitbit god. It even set a notification to say it was time to get ready for bed. This thing wasn’t a fitness tracker. It was my mom!
I was trying to keep in step with an inanimate object. Here’s my lesson: I must keep in step with the Holy Spirit living inside me.
If my hope is to manage my propensity toward sin and separation from God, I must fix my eyes on the Spirit’s guidance and help. If my desire is to be a light in a dark and skeptical world, I must exercise the truth the Spirit teaches me. If my faith in Christ and belonging to Him are to be in the best shape possible, I must lean into the Spirit’s whispered training -- even in the midst of a world that shouts for my attention.
My goal must be to pay as close attention to the Spirit’s whisper as I do to that black rubber band around my wrist.