5/20/2014 12:00:00 PM
We may not expect our small decisions to have a great impact. But they inevitably lead to significant results – which makes our “small” decisions pretty important.
The apostle James must have known this because he warned us: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you
” (James 4:7, ESV). We often focus on the last admonition in that verse, and rightly so. But we should also take seriously the instruction to submit to God, because that ultimately prepares us to resist the devil.
Submission isn't a popular topic in our be-all-you-can-be, make-a-name-for-yourself culture. But it's essential to staying on track in the Christian life. And failing to stay on track can have tragic consequences, both for you and your loved ones.
The Greek word translated “submit” is huppotasso
, which carries the meaning of “to line up under.” It's used in the New Testament to describe Jesus's submission to his parents and how believers are to hold themselves accountable to human government. Here, James tells us to willingly acknowledge God's authority over us – to allow Him to be sovereign over our lives, to let Him be the standard against which we measure every choice we make.
When we submit to God, He becomes our partner and our ally as we face temptation. And that allows us to reject thoughts that have no place in our lives. That's important, because an inappropriate thought left to fester becomes an imagination. And an imagination can quickly become a stronghold, which nobody can overcome on his or her own.
As a pastor I've enjoyed life-long relationships with men and women of the clergy and lay people alike who have finished strong. That's one of the highest compliment you can pay about a seasoned saint, isn't it? Lots of people start out in the Christian life burning bright and hot, and many of them make quite a name for themselves along the way. My mentor, Dr. Lester Sumrall, was such a man. So was my father, James. They are shining examples of faithfulness.
But unfortunately, I've also known many who did not sustain a lifestyle of holiness and found themselves far from God, doing things they never would have imagined themselves doing when they were just starting out in ministry. If you probe the life of someone who has strayed from a righteous path, you may find a single dramatic moment when he or she does something profoundly out of character for the first time, becoming prisoner to a stronghold in his or her life. My conviction is that more often than not, that moment is made possible has an antecedent – a seemingly small moment that gives the adversary an opportunity to gain a foothold in what had been a righteous life.
Everyone knows the legendary Billy Graham, for example, but you may not know that he was one of three outstanding preachers of his generation – and he was generally considered the least talented of the three. In the 1940s, evangelical leaders were far more excited about the ministries of Bron Clifford and Chuck Templeton. But Templeton left the ministry to seek fame and fortune as a political commentator, forsaking his faith in God. And Clifford lost his family and ministry to alcohol, dying of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 35 in Amarillo, Texas, where he had been reduced to selling used cars for a living.
It's not a coincidence that Billy Graham is the one who finished strong
. His spiritual disciplines and commitment to keep his life untainted from even a hint of impropriety is legendary – and a model for any believer today.
The noted author and men's ministry expert Steve Farrar tells another story about the necessity of submitting to God in his book Finishing Strong
. It's the story of John Bisagno, pastor emeritus of First Baptist of Houston, which grew to 22,000 members under his stewardship. One night, at the age of 20, he was talking with his future father-in-law, Dr. Paul Beck, who was also a minister. Dr. Beck told young John Bisagno about the importance to a clergyman of staying close to Jesus, and then said something startling: that in the older man's experience, just one out of 10 men who started out in full-time ministry was still on track by the age of 65. He said that some got caught in moral failings, some got obsessed with making money and some adopted liberal theology. But just one out of 10 remained faithful to the call of Christ until the age of 65.
Bisagno was shocked and frankly didn't believe what he had been told. That night he went home and, on one of the blank pages in the back of his Scofield Reference Bible, wrote down the names of 24 of his peers and contemporaries who were on fire for Jesus Christ, trained in the ministry and burning in their desire to be used of God.
Over the years, as he heard of the falling away of one of the names on his list, he would return to his Bible and cross out that name. By the year 2000, out of his original list of 24, just three names remained.
Temptation, when habitually kept at a distance, ceases to exist. Submit your thoughts and other seemingly small choices to God, and they will never have the chance to become imaginations, much less strongholds, in your life. There are too many people counting on you for you not to finish strong.
- May 20, 2014