When God asks a question

The LORD said to Cain . . . “Why are you angry and why has your face fallen? (Genesis 4:6) 

Throughout the Scriptures God asks questions for which he knows the answers. He uses these questions to move the listener towards change. As a friend of mine once shared,

A question stirs the conscience, but an accusation hardens the will (Ken Collier)

For Cain, as well as for us, the point is this: inherent in the why question is that Cain had a choice. God was stirring Cain’s conscience when he asked why he chose to respond with anger instead of obedience.

In our English language this is captured in the word responsible; a word we often use without considering its meaning.We are response able – able to choose the right response. I recognize that it often doesn’t feel this way. Self-pity and the ensuing emotions consume our thoughts and feelings; so much so that we believe them to be our only option.  God wishes to challenge our thinking and so he asks, “Why did you choose to respond in the way that you did?”

 Cain chose to feel sorry for himself; so do we. He was not the victim of his emotions or circumstances. Self-pity, while an enslaving habit, remains a choice.  Paul confirms this in the book of Romans: “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” (Romans 6:16, NLT)

God’s question for Cain reveals this liberating truth: when you are embroiled in self-pity you don’t have to be. You choose to be.


Taken from Dead-End Desires: biblical strategies for defeating self-pity.

Available November 2012 through www.biblicalstrategies.com.

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Remembering that life is a “Y”

Years ago someone introduced me to the benefit of viewing my life through the letter “Y.” That singular image has helped me understand the desires of my heart (and the consequences of following those desires) more than any other image. I continue to use it in discipling, counseling, and with anyone who is willing to listen. Today’s devotional is simply this image. Look at it. Study it. Pray through it. And make choices today in the light of it.

Analyzing your temptation

I learned a helpful poem when I was younger. But only recently did I begin to use it as an instrument to analyze personal temptations.

I had six faithful friends,
They taught me all I knew
Their names were: how and what and why
When and where and who.

Next time you find yourself falling to a particularly stubborn temptation, analyze the conditions surrounding the temptation to more effectively prepare yourself.

How. What events further your weakness in this area? Do you feel a certain way before you give into the temptation (discouraged, unappreciated, a sense of injustice, etc.). Cain had those kinds of feelings before he killed his brother Abel (Gen. 4:6). God warned Cain that sin was crouching at the door. He was to rule over the desire that had awakened in his heart. Cain never asked the question, “How can I please God?” He simply followed his desires.

What. Have you ever considered the kinds of temptations to which you are most susceptible? Hebrews 12:1 makes a point of saying that each of us should avoid the sin (singular) which so easily entangles. While all temptations are common to man (1 Cor. 10:13), each of us has different temptations that seem especially appealing to our flesh. Categorize your own. Then find the specific Scriptures that combat those temptations.

Why. Understanding your motive for sinning is critical to victory. This is perhaps the most basic question to address, yet the one most often overlooked. Is this pleasing to God or is this pleasing to self? Eve made the choice in the garden to please herself, and so did Adam. He would rather die to be with his wife than live without her (Gen. 3:6). He chose to please himself rather than to please God. A friend of mine captured it this way:

There are only two choices on the shelf: loving God or loving self (Ken Collier).

When. Bruce Wilkerson surveyed men who struggled with internet pornography. Their answers were anonymous and nearly unanimous. His study revealed that most men struggled with internet pornography late on Friday and Saturday nights. With the work behind them and a free weekend ahead of them, they filled their imagined free time with a costly sinful addiction.  Knowing the most likely time for temptation allows you to prepare spiritually for the battle.

Where. I once helped a man who struggled with drunkenness. I grew accustomed to receiving a call at about 4:30 Monday through Friday. He not only knew the time of his temptation, but he knew where it was most likely to occur: A traffic circle north of his home. That’s where the bar was. He would call my cell phone and I would pray with him. One day he remarked, “It’s amazing how that temptation weakens when I get on the other side of the traffic circle.” Do you know where you are tempted? In our home we have a family policy that the family computer is in the kitchen with the monitor facing the door. Even with accountability software on our computers, location matters. Private locations intensify temptation.  

Who. Who’s with you when you’re tempted? Are they a help or a stumbling block? Do they draw you closer to Christ or away from him? Are they the one’s you most admire? (See Phil. 4:9). Who are you following—both literally and on twitter? The Scripture says,

Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33)

These are the six key questions that help us analyze stubborn temptations, develop a plan by God’s grace, and realize our need for total dependence upon the Lord (Phil. 4:13).