“Search me, O God, and know my heart! try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
When is the last time you asked God to show you hidden sin in your life so that you can repent? I think its normal to assume that if we are sinning we will recognize it easily and change it. The problem with this mindset is that, although sometimes true, we often are either unable or unwilling to see our sin. It takes intentionality and a strong desire for change to willfully ask God to make known to us the error in our ways so that we can repent and move forward with freedom. This is not a one time deal either. I want to share of a recent experience where things got bad enough for me that I finally decided to ask God to show me what I, let me say that again, what I was doing to contribute to my problem. You see, I was struggling and I was looking outside of myself to find the cause and fix it. sometimes our spiritual struggles are related to things outside of our control, but often they are a result of something wrong or sinful within ourselves. If we arent willing to look there we can end up stuck and, eventually, in despair. Often things wrong within ourselves are not easily seen, are covert, overlooked, and give the devil place and permission to further harass us without our knowing.
Let me first explain what had been going on for me. I started to notice that I wasn’t feeling as gentle and kind as I normally would have been. There didn’t seem to be a lot of warmth in my marriage, which was really out of the ordinary, and I was getting angry more easily. As a trauma therapist it was normal for me to wonder if I was being triggered by something, or if maybe I was just in some kind of spiritual trial I would eventually fight my way out of. Of course I approached things clinically, but my difficulties remained. I also approached things spiritually, putting on my armor every day, fighting my enemy the way I always had. Things would let up, but the difficulties would return soon after. Things in my home just didn’t quite feel right, nor did things feel right for me internally. I lacked peace. I started to wonder if maybe there was something wrong in me that was allowing these frequent spiritual attacks and also seriously wrecking my joy and peace. I was working really hard and getting really tired of it. I decided to get on my knees before God and I asked him to show me if there was something in me that wasn’t right.
The day I really prayed and asked God to show me what I was doing to contribute to these struggles I started thinking about the fruits of the spirit. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, faithfulness, goodness, Gentleness, self-control. I realized one of the big things I was lacking was gentleness. After that thought came to my mind I grabbed my Bible and opened it up to Ephesians chapter 4 and started to read. I read verses 26 and 27 and immediately knew what was wrong. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” I continued reading through the chapter. Verses 31-32 sealed the deal for me. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
here’s the thing, I’ve read this chapter many times, in fact, I have most of it memorized. Sometimes it takes being in a state of humility and repentance for God’s Word to really speak to us in a real and powerful way. I needed to see those words in front of me in order to clearly hear God speak and tell me exactly what I needed and desperately wanted to know.
I knew I was holding onto anger and bitterness, giving the devil opportunity, but I wasn’t even totally sure who my anger and bitterness was directed at. I knew for sure it wasn’t my husband, despite the fact that he was the one I had taken some of it out on. (This is what often happens). I went back to my room, got on my knees, and asked God to show me. It was almost immediate that God brought the exact people and situation to my mind. Here’s the thing though, as soon as he did I felt that anger and bitterness in a strong way. The thing I had been holding onto to anger over was something very wrong, something my anger was justified over. The problem with anger isn’t anger itself, it’s what we choose to do with it. Anger that isn’t resolved leads to bitterness and sin, and gives opportunity to the devil in a big way. I had unintentionally given my enemy permission to bother me because I was choosing to hold onto my anger and bitterness, rather than deal with it and choose to forgive.
Dealing with anger does not mean we simply let it go and pretend that what happened didn’t happen. I had already talked through the situation and processed my anger and other feelings about it, I just hadn’t been able to forgive and had allowed bitterness to take root. To be honest, I knew that forgiveness in this situation would be a challenge. I decided to once again ask God to help me do something I couldn’t do on my own. I told him about my anger and bitterness, asked him to forgive me for holding onto it and for my lack of forgiveness. I asked him to help me forgive and let go. Afterward I prayed for the people who I had been angry and bitter toward, asking God to help them as well, and I told Satan he no longer had a place and to get out of my house in the name of Jesus Christ. The relief and freedom I felt was incredible. Not only that, I could feel the change, not only in myself, but also in my home. I am so thankful that God doesn’t leave me the way I am and that he always helps me when I choose to humble myself, go to him for help, and admit when I’m wrong.
Galatians 5:1 reminds us of the sobering fact that as believers we can momentarily lose our freedom if we allow it. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” When we give into our flesh and weakness our lives are impacted. The same chapter tells us, “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 each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (5:16-17).
How do we know if we are walking by the Spirit? For me, I noticed that I was lacking gentleness, it was becoming a pattern and I did not like it at all. I wanted to be gentle, but for some reason I wasn’t quite able to be. Why? I wasn’t in the spirit because of the bitterness in me. Read Galatians 5:19-24 below and ask yourself these questions. 1)Am I practicing any of the sins mentioned, or any other behaviors and attitudes we are warned against in God’s Word? And 2)Am I struggling to see any of the fruits of the spirit active in my life? If so, identify which it is, get in God’s presence in prayer, and ask him to reveal whats going on.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Not all of our spiritual struggles are because of our weakness or sin. Sometimes the struggles we are facing are sufferings and trials outside of our control allowed by God to test us. We have to remember though, that even in those times our enemy is seeking to devour us and looking for an open door and a place in our lives. I believe bitterness during these times is an easy way for him to gain access. I encourage you to ask God to search your heart and show you if there is anything in your heart or behaviors that are giving the devil opportunities to attack you. I thank God for this reminder and my need to make this a regular practice so I can remain in the Spirit and not in my flesh, and so that I can remain victorious over my very real enemy.