Random Blog Clay Feet: March 01, 2009
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Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Problem of Good

Possibly one of the most difficult temptations to discern are desires to do something really nice. I am just starting to recognize this temptation more clearly even though it has been one that has tripped me up repeatedly for many years.

Yes, I know it sounds strange to place a desire to do something nice or good in the category of being a temptation which can lead me into a state of sin. But that is precisely why it is so difficult to discern and relate to properly – because it comes in such a way as to appear to be already something good and therefore I have no need to suspect any evil might come of it. It is so easy to just indulge in it without thinking about it, believing that I can trust the good nature that God has been developing in me over the years. But therein lies the very trap of which I speak.

Now, don't get cynical and think that I am saying that I shouldn't ever do anything nice for anyone or follow my impulses to bless others. That is simplistic thinking and is actually part of the very reasoning that has been my own downfall all this time. The subtlety of this temptation is so deceptive that it needs careful examination to realize the inherent danger in something that appears so patently safe going into it. It is the very fact that a desire or impulse seems so benign as to not illicit feelings of apprehension that gives this type of temptation so much effectiveness.

This was brought to my attention this morning before I once again fell all the way into a slippery trap of yet another one of these little weasels. I was sitting here thinking about something exciting that I had asked someone else to do for me yesterday to make them feel special. As I was sitting here contemplating how nice this could all work out, I felt the quiet conviction of the Holy Spirit asking me if I had checked with Him on this matter. As a result I began to become aware that this could easily slip into yet another one of those frustrating episodes of chagrin that are all too familiar to me, ones where I suddenly discover that things don't work out the way my original motives desire.

I am all too familiar with the terrible results of this trap that is subtly designed to humiliate me, to embarrass me and even to destroy tragically very tender relationships with important people in my life. Of course I can seldom see the dark side of this trap until it is too late and then I usually find myself in a very defensive posture trying to explain my motives to a disbelieving and skeptical crowd. At that point it is very easy to move into anger and resentment which then tempts me to vow I will never ever do something nice like that again to avoid getting into yet another nasty situation that causes me so much pain.

But then I always end up having to repent of that kind of thinking because it stands as a block against doing many of the things that God's Spirit wants to prompt me to do legitimately. So I end up with more painful callouses and memories that haunt me in my collection called Hall of Shame. This has been a source of life-long frustration for me at best and I have puzzled many times as to the loop-hole that Satan accesses in me to keep getting me into these situations.

When I am coming up on the approach side of these circumstances I so often seem blind to any danger signs warning me that there could be inappropriate situations ahead that will cause consequences I don't want. Others seem impatient with me and believe that I am just very dense or stubborn or even in denial to what to them seems like the obvious. But when I consider looking at the situation through their reasons for apprehension I am always put off by the large amount of fear and tradition and even seeming insensitivity that I perceive in their logic. I feel that because they do not appreciate the values that I have for people's feelings and heart needs that they are simply playing it safe and in the process become hardened in their own hearts to the needs of those around them.

Even as I write this I can physically feel the intensity of these defensive emotions swelling up in my chest as I remember various times when I have felt very defensive and misunderstood by everyone around me. I feel betrayed, maligned, shamed and attacked. This is all part of the typical scenario that plays itself out over and over each time this little demon catches me in its cycle of deception. And while I still cannot embrace the reasonings of those who think I am just stupid to fall into what seems to be obvious traps to them, I do want to uncover the real reasons that cause me to find myself repeatedly getting sucked into this nasty pit.

As I began unpacking this over the past few minutes a story came to my mind of someone in the Bible who got caught by the very same demonic trap that specializes in this type of nasty behavior. This Bible character was one of the most respected leaders of God's people and was used by God mightily to accomplish many amazing feats of victory. And yet because he acted on good impulses very much like I have done many times, he found himself in the very same hole of intense criticism, embarrassment and shame that has ended up becoming a part of his reputation for thousands of years afterward.

Since the stories in the Bible were given for our benefit and training, I know that I will very likely find important insights as to the real nature of my blind spots in this area. But I also sense that I need to look much deeper than the simplistic obvious explanations of this story if I am going to find important keys to help me repair whatever it is that keeps getting me into this sand trap.

The story of this ancient encounter is found in chapter nine of Joshua. It is a very familiar story with a seemingly obvious punch line. I just took time to read the whole story and understand that some of the details do not necessarily apply to all of my situations. But the core principle of the lesson of this story does apply very much should be of use for me to apply to my own habits of reasoning. I am also sure that God will remind me of this story over time and continue to impress me with more points that need to be incorporated into my mental early warning system.

One of the main points that is very easy to miss in this story that has come to my attention is what I have previously called the “Elijah syndrome”. It is the great but very hidden danger that a person nearly always finds themselves in after having experienced very rich and exciting times participating in some of God's dramatic exhibitions of power. I have noticed over the years that this is a pattern that is repeated much more than many people are aware of and causes a lot more problems than most suspect. It is one of the most subtle forms of temptation because it approaches us when we feel the most invincible and are enjoying the presence of God at levels that we are seldom privileged to experience. These problem do not always necessarily happen on the heels of intense encounters with God's obvious presence, but the common theme is often a sense of security and peace in knowing that we are in sync with God which can create this most subtle situation of vulnerability that I am looking to expose.

Now, the knee-jerk reaction of typical solution-based religion might be to simply avoid feeling high on God, to believe that allowing emotions themselves to overwhelm us in the presence of God is in itself a mistake to be avoided at all times. This is the tack that I was taught for many years. But long ago I rejected that defensive position because I found it to be a major obstacle to having my heart connect effectively with the heart of God. I have come to see this belief as one of the pillars of legalism which has been a terrible curse for most of my life and has kept me from enjoying intimacy with God that I now see as the central focus of all true spirituality.

I have not changed my mind at all in my opinion about this false approach for avoiding this temptation. I don't think that Elijah should have avoided having his emotions aroused on Mount Carmel or that Joshua should have been dead-pan about the wonderful experiences he had just come through with Jericho and Ai. No, I completely reject a religion that condemns the full participation of our emotions. To the contrary, I believe that a religion that refuses emotions their proper place is a counterfeit religion to be shunned as much as other false doctrines. But that is a peripheral issue at this time even though some would like to make it the main issue.

I believe that a religion that bans the full participation of our emotions is a religion that also bans the involvement of our heart. And since the only true religion that makes a real saving difference in our life is a heart-based religion, then I am committed to a pursuit of knowing God with all of my heart and emotions along with my intellect and every other part of my being as God said we should. But at the same time I need to become aware of how Satan manipulates my emotions to create this loop-hole through which he gets access to my heart and causes me to be deceived by these kinds of subtle temptations just as Joshua got caught in.