Tricks and Tips
The apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia, 5:16-17, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to one another, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” This was valuable instruction to the first century Christians, but obviously great advice for us in 2023, too. We are bombarded with worldly messages, temptations, and news reports that seem to constantly remind us, that we live in a broken world. Mankind has messed up God’s wonderful creation to a point, where good is now bad and bad is good. What can we do about it? I’m suggesting we work on self, not on others. Paul’s message above, was intended to be taken very personally. Work on self! So, the question is how do we do that?
I’m not sure. But I have some suggestions, that I call “tricks and tips” when I find myself struggling with doing what I should do, when it’s in conflict with what I want to do. It’s not uncommon for me to feel like the person Paul describes in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am…”
And I imagine that I am not alone. Over the years I’ve learned to cite scriptures to myself. I've even categorized them based on my particular needs, e.g., anger, impatience, blaming others, regret, resentment, guilt. My passages for the problem temptations that I want to avoid are found in Romans 12:1-2 and Philippians 4:8. Both passages speak to power of “thinking.” In both passages, Paul instructs his readers to use the power of their minds to elevate their thoughts to higher things than they can see, hear, feel, smell, or taste. The solution sounds easy, but the work is hard, in fact it’s a life-long task. Over time I have gotten better, but I still battle each day. Reciting scriptures is like “hearing the word of God…” which will increase our faith, Rom 10:17. I can say that every time I bring myself to cite scripture, the temptation diminishes and often just goes away. So, I cite it again and again. Some days I’m better at that than others, but it always works.
I want to unpack the Philippians passage a little, so that it might be more useful. Again, this works for me, so I’m hoping it will help you.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, what is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
I found that if I identify things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable, I’m more successful in my efforts to walk by the Spirit. Some of these are similar and overlap, but I try to distinguish them as much as possible.
Lots of things are true; a Ponderosa Pine tree grows straight upward, often described as being “true.” Most of mathematics are true, (2+2=4, 10x10=100). My love for my family is true. I’m sure you can think of some other things that are true.
Honorable or Honest
I think of a fair judge, one who has weighed all the evidence and listened to all the testimony and renders a fair verdict.
I think of a specific elder, who was serving in the congregation, when I was a new Christian. He had a wonderful influence on me, and my first impression of him is that he was honorable.
Very similar to a fair judge. But I usually think of God being just and the justifier. Justice requires penalty for error (sin), and God is just. Yet, He is also the justifier, because He paid the penalty for us in Christ Jesus.
Lots of things are pure; newborn baby’s skin is my first thought. But a mother’s love for her child and the child’s love for his/her mother are both pure. Refined silver and gold are categorized by their levels of purity. The purer they are, the more valuable. A sky filled with bright white clouds on a sunny day is pure (at least to me…and I’ve been amazed at how many days Texas has with bright white puffy clouds).
A long marriage is one of the loveliest things in the world. I think of people, usually Christians, who have long marriages. I name them to myself. It makes me smile, and that often changes my entire thought process. The brain is wonderful at doing that.
This sometimes is like “lovely” to me, but instead of a long marriage, I think of long life of service. It may be a long career, a consistent lifestyle, a person who has proven to me to be trustworthy or reliable. I often think of my high school baseball coach. And there are many Bible characters, who can be described as commendable.
You probably have noticed that almost all of the things I choose to think about are physical, material things or people, rather that heavenly. I have a hard time visualizing heavenly things. I can identify all the things I described above using my God-given senses. All of these things are either created by God or identified by God as worthy. I hope you will think of your own examples and pray that you will become better at walking by the Spirit.