Angry voices, opposing viewpoints and so many arguments for and against. The world “out there” is chock full of heated debate, but what about the climate inside your own head? That’s where I have historically found some of my most frustrating conflicts. In hard-fought battles between what I want to do and what I know is right. Among the war that erupts across the lines of self-discipline and the desires of my brokenness. In the midst of living the real-life scenarios of the cartoonish little angel and devil that sit atop each shoulder. Ultimately, it’s the conflict within my choices to lead a life submitted to Jesus…or not.
Although this battle becomes easier as faith matures and we learn to rely on His power, it’s still something each of us will have to contend with for the entirety of our lifetime. There is an enemy who will continue to tempt us with our own hot buttons, whether it be fear of missing out, the lure of excessiveness in all forms, gossip, lust, or whatever causes us to stray in big or little ways. Rest assured though, God in His faithfulness always provides a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13). What a great motivator to draw closer to Him, knowing He offers us such protection!
Confession time: it wasn’t always that way for me. Before I knew Jesus and understood the immeasurable value of following Him, my life looked a lot different. Sure, I knew the difference between right and wrong, but I often fell into temptations. I wasn’t equipped to fight a good battle. My inner conflicts often led to one-sided victories and destruction.
When I was 16 years old, I was so excited to get a job and earn money of my own. I loved going to the mall and thought working in a retail store there would be such fun. Combine that with an employee discount-for-purchase, and I thought I had won the lottery of cute fashion for a great price. Indeed, I was in a great situation, but a feeling of discontent stirred in me. Instead of relishing the fact that I was trusted and paid well with the opportunity for growth, I became envious of someone else.
A close relative of mine wasn’t working my same hours or putting in similar sweat equity. Instead, his life appeared to be much easier and more glamorous. Granted, his choice of income involved shoplifting and either selling the items he stole or gifting them to friends, who praised him for his “generous giving”. The more he took, the more those who knew were in awe of what he could get away with…and so the cycle continued as he cleverly and deceptively walked out of stores with everything from gum to ski coats. And I’m ashamed to admit, I was jealous that he was seemingly succeeding in the game of life — winning friends and adoration, despite his methods. (My, oh my, had my perception become twisted!)
Soon enough, I found myself coveting the cutest leggings that had arrived in a new shipment at my work. They were stylishly lace-trimmed, with an intentional nod to Madonna’s 80’s fashion. I wanted them so badly, and even though I could have saved up to purchase them (affordably with my discount), I caved in one afternoon to the devilish suggestion that I should just sneak them out instead. So, into the dressing room I went. I put the leggings on, covered them fully with my own jeans, clocked out of work and went home.
No alarms had sounded. Nobody had stopped me. Victory! Or was it? I arrived at home, and I quickly put the leggings in my dresser. I was so nauseous…mostly from disgust that I had actually gone through with this. I couldn’t even look at them, and truth be told, I never even wore them. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I knew I wouldn’t feel beautiful with the stench of my crime on them.
Frankly, at that point, I knew I just wanted to return them to the store, but I couldn’t figure out how to sneak them back in without being detected. Days later, the store solved that problem for me when they called me in to let me know the hidden security cameras had caught me. I admitted my crime through tears and sobbing apologies, and although I understood why I was being fired over the incident, I was so disappointed that I couldn’t simply return the leggings, having wholeheartedly learned my lesson. Thankfully, they chose not to call the police, as long as I promised to never enter the store again.
I never once returned, nor have I ever stolen anything again. Ever. Looking back, I see the grace they extended by not calling a juvenile center, but I also see so much more than that. I can see a loving God, who allowed me to get caught, so I didn’t build more courage to continue down this path. I see it now as a rescue from my Savior who knew His good plans for my life and future. He was opening my eyes to truth. He wanted to settle the conflict.
He is good, and so are His ways. In fact, nothing is better for your life.
So, why oh why, do we ever wrestle with putting Him above our own desires? Why do we make the same choices and mistakes over and over? Because we are human. Because following Jesus requires a daily decision to die to ourselves and choose Him. And in our fallen state and weakness, we fail to do this perfectly.
Take heart, even the author of the majority of the New Testament shared this same battle. The Apostle Paul fully experienced Jesus in the most transformative way and spent his life thereafter preaching the Gospel. And yet, he too was filled with the conflict of humanity’s brokenness. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do (Romans 7:15).
Part of being human means that we will struggle with sin and temptation. And on our own, we will rack up losses and collateral damage. But praise be to the Lord, who has conquered sin and assured us of victory in Him. We don’t have to suffer in our struggle, nor should we settle for defeat. That little devil on our shoulder is stirring up a conflict that has already been won. It’s time to tell him to go (you know where)!
Lord, help us to remember that we have victory in Your name by Your power and over every evil thought and temptation. Help us take our thoughts captive, so that we may follow You without distraction. You are our peace, our strength, and our eternity. We love you, Lord. Amen.