Choose Life

A few nights ago, I had a very disturbing nightmare. I dreamed I was in staying in a hotel, and my hotel room was infested with rats and snails. As I walked the halls of the hotel, I felt pulled into a channel of darkness. I had been fighting the tug, but I finally decided to stop resisting and just give in to it. Suddenly I started to glide just below the hotel ceiling, allowing myself to be carried along in a stream of black toward what I was sure was a black hole from which I would never return. I was even enjoying the feeling of surrender and non-resistance as I floated effortlessly above all the hotel guests.

Then, in my dream, I remembered Jesus. At once I recognized the seriousness of my situation – what in the world was I thinking? Was I really about to allow myself to be overtaken by the dark side? In sheer panic I declared, “Jesus! Jesus is my Lord!” Immediately, I dropped to the floor and my senses were restored. I went to the hotel dining room where my parents were eating dinner, and through tears of repentance I begged their forgiveness for my evil behavior.

My dream reminds me that I’m always, in every situation, faced with a choice – to follow or reject God, to affirm or renounce my commitment to Him. The decision, for me, is truly a matter of life or death. In the Bible, we read of Moses presenting the offer of life or death to the Israelites. After reviewing God’s laws and the terms of the covenant God had initially made with Israel 40 years earlier at Mount Sinai, Moses called upon the people to choose between life, prosperity and blessings or death, destruction and curses:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20; emphasis mine)

It sounds like an easy choice, doesn’t it? Anyone in their right mind would naturally choose life, wouldn’t they? Who among us would voluntarily opt for death, destruction and curses? Yet I regularly find myself faced with the ugliness within my own heart, and I have a choice as to whether I will take the matter to God and seek guidance, forgiveness and life or whether I will do things my own way – the way that Scripture says “appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 16:25).

At the time I had the nightmare, I was dealing with a situation that left me feeling angry and resentful. People weren’t acting the way that I wanted or expected, and I was focused mostly on what I wanted and needed and not about the other parties involved. The nightmare I had showed me that my “room”, i.e. my heart, was full of “snails” and “rats”, what I interpret as wickedness and filth. The pull of evil and my willingness to go along with it clearly indicated that I was choosing death. Through my dream, I believe that God was revealing to me that I needed to recognize the ill-will I harbored in my heart, and that I needed to come to Him for help and to surrender to Him yet again as my Lord.

Despite Moses’ warning to the Israelites, the people chose death, destruction and curses over and over again. Moses’ caution to “choose life” occurs in chapter 30 of Deuteronomy, yet in chapter 31 Israel’s rebellion is already being predicted. How it must break the Lord’s heart when we turn from Him! And how gracious He is when we return to Him to lovingly take us back time and time again! If the Lord didn’t shower His grace and mercy upon me, I would have been destroyed by my own selfishness and self-will long ago.

What will your choice be today, Warrior? None of us will ever be perfect, but will you choose this day to “love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws” (Deuteronomy 30:16) to the best of your ability? Joshua challenged the Israelites by making them decide, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15a). I pray that we would commit ourselves to God with the same conviction as Joshua, and that we would choose life.

But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15b)

Enjoy Big Tent Revival’s “Choose Life”

Finally, Be Strong in the Lord

My climb out of the valley of depression and chronic illness has been a journey requiring stamina. Many times I’ve been ready to quit and succumb to the darkness. During those times I felt I could not possibly endure the suffering one minute longer, I would sense God’s voice saying “Don’t give up!”

The unfortunate truth is that we do have an enemy who wants to destroy us. Satan will especially attack with force those who threaten him and his desire to replace God in the world in general and in our lives specifically. God was probably telling me not to give up because He had a mission for me and a plan and a purpose for my life that remains to be fulfilled. Satan certainly wants to thwart any plan for good that God may have.

Satan even tried to tempt Jesus away from God’s plan for our redemption and salvation. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus and a voice from heaven declared, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Immediately after this event took place, Jesus went into the wilderness. After He had fasted for forty days and forty nights, i.e. when Jesus was alone and hungry and particularly vulnerable, Satan came to tempt Him. The devil tempted Jesus in ways in which we are all susceptible: with power, pride, possessions and physical needs/pleasures. But Jesus did not give in, and the devil left Him (Matthew 4:11).

I am convinced that, like Jesus in the wilderness, you, too, will survive your times of trial by picking up the spiritual tools the Lord has supplied for us. In the day of evil, you will be able to stand your ground by putting on the full armor of God:

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:14-18a)

The full armor of God emphasizes truth, righteousness, readiness to spread the Good News, faith, salvation, the Word of God and prayer as the keys to victory over Satan’s attacks.

Despite all of the spiritual weapons in our arsenal, we may still at times feel that we’re losing the battle. When we sense impending defeat, it may help to remember how Jesus’ disciples must have felt after they had given up everything to follow Jesus only to see Him arrested, tortured, crucified and buried in a tomb. The feeling of utter defeat must have been overwhelming! But then the resurrected Christ appeared to them, explaining how He was the fulfillment of the Scriptures and suddenly standing among them and greeting them by saying, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).

How heart-wrenching it must have been for the disciples when it came time for Jesus to again leave them to ascend into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand! But Jesus wasn’t abandoning them. Before His suffering and death, He had promised that He would soon send his faithful disciples the Holy Spirit to be with them to guide them and teach them:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

 “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:15-21, 25-27; emphasis mine)

Before Jesus departed and ascended into heaven, He gave His disciples the great commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). Then he left the disciples with these comforting words, ensuring us that He is always with us:

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b).

Like the disciples, we are never on our own if we’re in Christ. We may not be able to physically see or touch God, but if we pray for spiritual vision we will be able to see the works of His hand in our lives. And Scripture assures us that the ultimate victory belongs to those who are in Christ:

Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:4-5)

Beloved Warrior, keep fighting the good fight! If you are in Christ, the ultimate victory is yours.

Enjoy some encouragement with this song from Mandisa!