Conquering Chronic Sins

My twelve-year-old self had a violent temper. My fuse was short, and my bursts of anger detonated at perceived-insults as unexpectedly as bursts of laughter explode at well-timed jokes. Without the mutually pleasant consequences.

I once chased my older brother Andy around the house with a knife. I don’t remember what he had done (probably something HEINOUS), but I remember him chuckling as he easily evaded my thrusts. His laughter did nothing to calm my storm.

I hated my uncontrollable anger, so I memorized verses about the angry man:

  • A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
  • Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty.
  • But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.

Whenever I sensed an outburst begin to rise, I tried to calm myself by repeating those memorized verses. It even worked a few times, but not for long. I soon boiled over again.

When I was thirteen, a friend offered to pray for anything I wanted. I asked him to pray for my anger problem. Six months later, he asked how I was doing, and I realized I hadn’t lost my temper once since he prayed. I hadn’t even had to fight it.

My explosive temper had been miraculously defused.

Since then, I’ve asked God to take away other bad habits, and he’s never acted again so instantly. He usually works slower, a little less dramatically, and (it seems) less miraculously.

The Inner Captivity of We Who Are Free

. . . and what we can do about it

We’ve been remade through a re-birth; we’ve become new creations and given new hearts; and the walls that imprisoned us have been bulldozed. And yet . . . we still fear our bosses, speak harshly to friends, dwell on anxious thoughts, and obsess about ourselves. Why is that?

Years ago I read an article written by a counselor who worked with concentration camp victims shortly after World War II. The sheer breadth of the war’s destruction restricted the Allies’ ability to help feed and shelter people, so refugee camps were built for the victims.

The counselor noted that many of the victims in the refugee camps acted as though they were still in prison. While they had been freed from the camps, they asked permission for the smallest liberties, such as a nighttime stroll outside their dormitories. The therapist made this observation:

We took the victims out of the camps in an instant,
but it may take decades before the camps are taken out of the victims.

Their story is our story. God has opened the prison doors on the outside, but we still need him to free us from the prisons walls within.

What Is The Essence of Worship?

Several years ago, I joined a local business organization. Their stated intention was to help business people do their job better; a kind of coaching through semi-monthly seminars.

Contemporary Worship

At the opening and close of each session, we sang a song that went something like this: “Yes, I can do it; Yes, I can do it; I have a positive frame of mind.” (I kid you not—truth is stranger than fiction.) By the end of the evening, every face was aglow with expectation; and two weeks later, everybody needed another face-lift.

I also found their teachings to be less substance and more selling. Instead of nourishing tips on handling angry clients, I received frothy, double-shot lattes of motivational, positive thinking. The talks were inspiring but insubstantial; caffeine without fruit or vegetables. Or protein.

Then I began to wonder how close my worship-music experience paralleled that seminar jingle feeling; maybe a boost to my spirits to face another week, but mostly just a jolt of java.

Bear with me. Worshipful music is wonderful. But I began to examine the nature of worship. I asked myself, “What is the essence of worship? Does worship require music?”

I tried an experiment: I took a six month sabbatical from any form of worship music—personal prayer time, worship CD’s, and even singing during a church service—and I found I love it.

Song-free worship taught me how to worship better.

Overcoming Chronic Sins

My twelve year old self had a violent temper. My fuse was short, and my blasts of anger detonated at insults as unexpectedly as bursts of laughter explode at well-timed jokes. Without the mutually pleasant consequences.

kidmad

I remember once chasing my older brother Andy around the house with a knife. I don’t remember what he had done (probably something HEINOUS), but I do remember him chuckling as he easily evaded my thrusts. His laughter did nothing to calm my storm.

I hated my uncontrollable anger, and I memorized over fifty verses about the angry man:

  • A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
  • A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
  • Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty.
  • But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.

When I felt an outburst rising, I tried to calm myself by repeating those memorized verses. It even worked a few times, but not for long. I soon boiled over again.

When I was thirteen, a friend offered to pray for anything I wanted. I asked him to pray for my temper. Six months later, he asked how I was doing, and I realized I hadn’t once lost my temper since his prayer. I hadn’t even had to fight it. My explosive temper had been defused.

It was a miracle.

Since then, I’ve asked God to take away other bad habits, and he’s never acted again so instantly. He usually works slower, a little less dramatically, and (it seems) less miraculously.

Confessions of a Legalist

When I was in the business world, I used to meet with various executives to provide them with projects updates. During one trip I met with a CFO one day and with his president the next day.

Confessions of a self disclosed legalistThe CFO told me of troubles he had with the president. The president, he said, cheated other shareholders by bullying; he coerced them into unfair compensation. The CFO told me that it was hard to work with a man who was so abusive and borderline unethical. He said, “I’d never do that.”

The next day I met with the president. He told me of trust issues he had with the CFO. The CFO’s wife was crippled by a chronic illness, and the CFO actively engaged in pornography. The president railed against this man who was emotionally unfaithful to his bedridden wife. He wasn’t sure he could work with such a man. He said, “I’d never do that.”

Hearing God and Controlling the Conversation

In 1989 the company I worked for was dying; it was losing money like the prodigal son, it had a two-year sales drought, and our owner—though previously successful—was out of cash. The company asked me to demonstrate our software to one of our prospective clients. Actually, our only prospective client. If we didn’t land this deal, we were out of business and I was out of a job.

The night before the demo the client’s consultant Jerry invited me to dinner. He said our competitors had bungled their demos by wasting half of their time showing “cool” features that the client didn’t need. And when the client said they weren’t interested in such functionality, our competitors ignored their requests, and continued showing off the coolness of this or that particular feature.

Jerry went on to say that our competitors had failed because they wouldn’t yield control of the conversation to the client. The competitors thought they knew what was needed, while in fact only the client knew what was needed. Jerry suggested I begin my demo by asking the client to describe their needs. And then he suggested that I use the rest of the presentation to show solutions to their needs. I did. They liked it. We got the deal. And I kept my cubicle.

What does demoing software and controlling conversations have to do with hearing God?

Everything.

Hearing God and Making Decisions

I know a man—let’s call him John—who is desperately seeking God for direction.

John is about 55 years old. He manages a division that until a few years ago had 20 people; it now has less than half that number. But—of course—his division is expected to produce as much as the original group. You know, “work smarter not harder.” Right!

In addition, John is actively involved in his local community, running a Boy Scout troop, coaching his kid’s soccer teams, leading the High School Sunday School program, and running a couple youth retreats each year. He has been trying to offload some of this work, but finding people to step up to the plate in the organizations has been disappointing.

John feels at the end of his emotional reserves. He is exhausted; his gas tank is on empty; and he is running on fumes. His attempts to reduce his stress have failed because he can’t find anyone else with his commitment.

John needs to make changes but he doesn’t know what to do. He longs to hear God say, “do this” or “do that.” He recently read a passage in Acts where God tells Paul not to go to Asia and instead to go to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10), and John said to me, “That’s what I’m talking about! I want that kind of clear direction.” I suspect he’d also appreciate handwriting on the wall.

So far, however, God seems to be silent. So what is John to do? Haven’t we all longed for a specific direction from God at one time or another? Doesn’t God seem silent at times?