Fleshing Out the Flesh
“Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”- Galatians 3:3
One of the greatest lessons I have had from the Lord came during one of the most difficult seasons in my life. I served on staff for 17 years at the church I first heard the gospel and gave my heart to Jesus at. It was a place of new beginnings, as I learned what it meant to have a heart of worship, to live a life of generosity, and build everything on the living and unfailing Word of God! It was also a place of numerous blessings, as I received my call to be a pastor, I met Joanie, we dedicated our three sons when they were babies, and I experienced God speaking and showing up time after time! However, in the last three years of my ministry assignment there, things became quite troublesome. It soon escalated to the point that Sundays became my least favorite day of the week, which is a major problem if you are called to be a pastor. There were several factors that contributed to the tension I felt, some of my own sense of transition to become a senior pastor while some had to do with the personality, people skills, and practices of the leadership team. For three-plus years I wrestled with my attitude, my joy levels, and my knowing God’s direction. It was during this three-year wilderness season that the Lord showed me the light and liberty to walk in.
If it had been up to my flesh I would have left in the first year of the struggle. But I knew that it is never a good thing to let your flesh gauge your joy, guide your thoughts, or dictate your responses/actions. I continued to wait on the Lord as I persevered through what felt like an increasingly unbearable battle. By the third year of the season (my 17th and final on staff) I began to sense the Lord releasing me and calling me to step out in faith towards becoming a senior pastor. Despite receiving clear direction from the Holy Spirit, there was still a mountain sized obstacle in my way. It was not the church’s leadership team stopping me from leaving; it was not my wife pumping the brakes due to the uncertainty of being able to provide for the family; and it was not my need to have a specific church and city already in place before submitting my resignation. The obstacle was ME. I began to feel guilty about my decision and began to question whether this was God’s voice or my flesh. During this stalemate the Spirit said something to this effect, “Son, there is no need to prove that you love me and are surrendered to me. I know your heart. In the same way you did not give place to your flesh by leaving three years ago, do not give place to your flesh by staying today, thinking that it will show how faithful you are to Me.” Wow, talk about a wake-up call!
That season became a huge moment, better put a HOLY MOMENT, as the Lord was wanting me to stay continually focused on Him, humbled before Him, and directed by the Spirit of truth, grace, and power. Romans 8:6 tells us, “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” As humans we can be easily distracted by the noise around us, conditioned by our past experiences, and guided by what we feel in the moment. When we step outside of God’s will and move ahead of His Spirit (even if it is just for a quick moment), we will find a pathway that is filled with errors. There can be the error of being conditioned by how God did something last time, which causes us to act presumptuously (think Moses); there is the error of being conditioned by fear and guilt that keeps us paralyzed from moving forward in faith; there is the error of being conditioned by the present circumstance, where if things are good it means you are doing faith right and if things are difficult it means you are doing something wrong; there is the error of being conditioned to respond based on what others are doing.
I am not sure if this season in your life is as difficult as my last three years were at my former church, but I want to encourage you to not walk out any part of your pathway in your own wisdom and strength. In II Corinthians 3:17-18 the Apostle Paul confirms, “Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Friends, let’s not give place or rule to the flesh which will want to respond in like when someone injures/offends us; which will want to address and answer a need through physical means; which will want to feed our need to be right, satisfied, and justified; and which will even want to prove our love and devotion to God through works. As easy as it is to fall into the practices of the flesh, it is essential for us to walk in the power of the Spirit! We are not to WORK for what the Lord has already accomplished and purposed, rather we are to RECEIVE it through asking, believing, rejoicing, and walking with Him every step of the way. Let’s start today’s race in the same manner we started our faith race…surrendered, focused, and anchored to His Word and Spirit!