July 24, 2021 | Joyce Swingle, IFA Intercessor
The Real Battle: Self v. Savior
As Christians, we know Satan is the enemy of Jesus and the ultimate spiritual war is that of evil against God. And it is true the devil is the first and the final enemy, but the daily battle is “Self v. Savior.” Yes, sadly, it is our own will that wars most insistently against the Savior’s best for us and for the world.
Who is On The Throne?
There used to be a gospel tract that showed a chair or a throne with a big “S” for self seated on it. That throne represented a person living without Christ. The second picture would show a Cross on the seat and the “S” now appropriately before it as if in a posture of kneeling. This represented the believer who had received Christ as Lord and as Savior. It was a beautiful and harmonious picture.
There was a third picture, though, with the “S” seated on the throne and the Cross before it; this was called the carnal Christian. I remember shaking my head at this picture as a newish believer, feeling a mix of pity and disdain for those believers who kept on sinning despite their embrace of the Lord and His Holy, Sanctifying Spirit. After all, I had given up drink, cursing and general cavorting when I became a believer. Poor, poor carnal Christians, I would think. How grateful I am that I am not one.
Reminds you of a parable, doesn’t it? Luke 18: 9-14, in fact, which gives us two pictures of prayer: The Pharisee glorifying himself with his prayer and the tax collector crying out for mercy. Jesus’ judgment of these prayers: I tell you, this [tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In my early Christian walk, I saw myself very clearly as the tax collector. My prayers echoed his; I was cut to the core by my sins and repented regularly before the altar. The Lord was so gracious to convict and change me of inappropriate language, thoughts and actions. One day, for example, He called me to dump into my kitchen drain all the little sample bottles of booze I had collected at various charity balls over the years. Good thing I didn’t smoke or I might have lit the whole apartment on fire from the fumes! In another instance, God loosened the grip of chronic envy of work and social peers. I was feeling more and more free from patterns of sin that had greatly hobbled my life to that point.
I was very grateful for this place of freedom, but as time went on, I began to take it for granted. I seemed to forget the former me as I watched newer, younger believers fall into patterns of sin again and again. “Repent!” I would counsel again and again out loud, while I secretly thought they must not have really meant it when they repented. I lost compassion and patience with their failings. I began to disdain their feeble efforts to get free. I judged harshly, critically, in a worldly — not Godly — way. And it soured my heart toward those struggling.
Becoming a Vessel
Amazingly, I still felt I was in a great place with the Lord, cheerfully striding along in my walk. So when the Lord spoke to my spirit, “You will be My vessel,” I was so jazzed I practically jumped up, shouting, “Yes! Yes! I will be Your vessel.” I felt so chosen and blessed to have received this invitation from the Lord.
But I had completely overlooked an important characteristic of a vessel — the best ones are hollow. True to His Word, the Lord took me up on my “yes” and began the more painful — for me — “hollowing out” process. Even now, it is difficult to describe what it felt like to cede control of my will to the Lord. I don’t know how I had acquired this unhappy trait, but I was unusually suspicious of everything the Lord wanted for me. And this suspicion caused great distrust of Him.
Yes, I had prayed Romans 12:1-2 many times, plopping myself on the altar and choosing again and again to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. The Lord worked in many areas of resistance: I was afraid to teach the Bible; the Lord helped me gain a passion and a skill with it. I resisted making friends with certain people; the Lord helped me with my social skills and my interest. I resisted almost everything, even attending the church to which God had called me, but He sent people into my life whose prayers for my obedience were lethally effective.
Over time, the Lord exposed my habit of resistance and my lack of trust in Him. He helped me yield issue-by-issue to His ministrations. He was gradually changing my mind about many things. I began to make choices that were in line with His will as revealed Biblically, in prayer and through my spiritual elders.
But I still battled regularly with The Lord especially in areas focused on my self image. I didn’t realize it for some time, but how I felt about myself relied almost solely upon how other people viewed me. For example, I thought it crucial to be married, because that would mean that someone valued me and was willing to let the world know it. This over-desire for marriage was my Golden Calf for much of my early adulthood. But when an engagement went belly up in my BC (Before Christ) days, I decided to throw my lot into my career.
So my idol changed form but retained its power. I began to measure my self-worth by the promotions, money and awards. Ironically, prior to the broken off relationship, I was thriving at work; once it became my every thing, work became hard and stressful. But the Lord used it to introduce me to Himself through the prayers and ministry of my boss at the time. And once a believer, everything was right for a season.
Until that vessel word, that is! After that, nothing seemed to go right, and I realized that the Lord was wiggling the Golden Calf out of my arms. He showed me that somehow I was able to survive even great set-backs at work and that I was able to tolerate, even thrive, without a boyfriend! And all this time, He was gradually revealing to me the core issue: Self.
Because I could count on Myself, when fiancés failed and finances flagged, Myself was there to console and to counsel. When everyone else was an idiot, Myself was a wise sage. Myself was always able to make me feel better about myself! Myself wanted to run things! But the Lord was showing me that Myself had — in truth — run my life into the rocks of Pain and Misery more often than not. I was forced to admit that Myself was not just inadequate but simply incompetent. To adapt Pogo’s comment, “I had met the enemy and it was Myself!”
Sick of Myself
Well, that was a difficult realization, and predictably, this set me off into a “Myself-pity-jag” in which I mourned wasted years and my own idiotic decisions. I sank into a sort of endless mental recycling of my woes until one day, I realized that my every thought seemed to be about Myself. I realized my worries about self-image were just a socially acceptable form of this idolatry. And I was sick of it already! So sick of it that I really got down to it with the Lord and I begged Him to change me. Rid me of Myself, please, O Lord, please.
And He did. But ouch. Dying on my cross exposed all my nerve endings. I learned that control was still a refuge for me, but that had to go. Ironically, I tried to control the entire Death-to-Self process, but shock! I was not in control! In fact, I was significantly out of control and my emotions showed it. I raged at the Lord; I wept; I pouted. As a counselor friend of mine puts it, I had a lot of “emotional material cycling.” And after that cycling, I felt deep shame for the childish behavior I had exhibited. It was a pretty bad scene.
The Lord Himself comforted me by showing me two important aspects of going through a crucifixion: First, I couldn’t put myself on the Cross — only the Lord could. So the timing and the process of my inner healing was in His hands. And second, the body fights death by asphyxiation. My emotional responses were almost inevitable…at least in the beginning of the process, when I lacked trust in the Lord.
But there did come a day when I felt “finished” in a way; the most obvious sin was gone from my life and I finally “felt” as forgiven as I was in fact. And I did find some deeper wells of compassion for those who were on the journey of healing from their sin and the sin patterns that were engraved in their lives. And yet, that judgmental Pharisee was still lurking in the corners of my prayers. Extracting him would take another Cross.
The Big Battle
When the Lord asked me to study and serve Him as a counselor, you would have thought the world had ended with the way I went on about it. I wanted to serve the Lord, yes, but I wanted to do it — as the song goes — “My Way.” To have to serve by listening to endless sad stories from unhappy people seemed to be the end of my joy. Emphasis on my joy!
It took several years for me to answer the call to study Christian Counseling. I took a couple of half-hearted runs at it, signing up for a Christian Counseling course or conference, but the Lord restrained me. He spoke to me gently, telling me that He loved me too much to force me to do this that I did not want to do.
This kindness from Him showed me how much detritus remained in the hollowed-out vessel I thought I had become. My heart was not yet aligned with the Lord’s on this call. This was so even when the Lord finally sprang me from the secular work force, leading me into a Master’s Program in Christian Mental Health Counseling. Even though I recognized how the Spirit had healed me in the processes of which I was learning, I still resented the idea of having to do counseling as a major part of my ministry.
I couldn’t get past my vision of how defeating it is to listen to the troubles of others and to feel so utterly incompetent in the face of their suffering. Ah, that was it! There was, in the end, not a blessed thing I could do to help another person in distress. I had to rely totally on the Holy Spirit. This was ultimately the rub. In almost every other kind of ministry or endeavor, there was always a back-up. If the Lord didn’t show up, well, I could do the speech, I could say the prayer, I could put the sandwiches together…vacuum the sanctuary…make the schedule…read the Bible or the books. Yes, I could!
But counseling…intimate, vulnerable, aching with emotion…counseling threatened my hard-won emotional boundaries. In the end, accepting the counseling call was my Waterloo or my Armageddon, if you prefer. Because I was called to be as vulnerable…as naked emotionally …as reliant on the Holy Spirit for hope, direction, healing as my client. This felt like a step too far out of my control. And I finally understood why I fought this call and why the Lord desired it.
There would be no true compassion in me without walking with the wounded. And there would be no real healing without allowing the Healer to move through His vessel. For this reason, Myself — and that judgmental Pharisee — had to go…to be burned up in the fires of the Holy One, to be borne to the pit of despair on the cross.
Is “Self” totally dead in me? I doubt it. I hope so, but now and again, I feel “S” trying to creep back onto the throne. When that happens, the Lord is faithful to show me so I can repent and enthrone the Savior instead. When I remember God’s kindness in slaying Myself in me, I have more assurance that the picture of my prayer looks more like the tax collector than the Pharisee. And I have more hope for the efficacy of that prayer. For it is written: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12: 24-26)
Lord, we choose to allow Your prayer, Your Spirit, Your Power, Your Compassion to flow through us. Put to death self in us. We choose to pray as the apostle did, “by the mercies of God, to present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship. [We do not want to be] conformed to this world, but [to] be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind, that by testing [we] may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” In the Name above All Names — Jesus the Savior and the One Enthroned in our lives. Amen and Amen.