When our hearts harden towards God’s Word, we lose our discernment and ability to hear the Spirit’s voice, so how do we avoid falling into this deafening, deadening trap?
“They say that the hardest animal in the world to catch is the ring-tailed monkey,” Senior Pastor Tim Dilena once told his listeners at Times Square Church, “It's incredibly difficult for outsiders to catch, but not for the locals. This very rare animal has a love for these certain melon seeds, so what the locals do is hollow out a tiny hole in a tree, just big enough for the monkey to stick its hand through, and then they throw the seeds in the hole.
“The monkey comes along, sticks its hand into the hole, grabs the seeds, but then it can’t pull its hand back out. Even when its captors come up, it will still hold on to the seeds. All it needs to do is let go to slide its hand out, but it won’t. Those seeds are what send these monkeys into captivity.
“A bit like these monkeys, we live in a culture that will not let a grudge or hurt feelings go. People will hold on to something for years, even decades. When we do that, we find ourselves being brought into captivity.
“I once sat in a funeral and watched somebody pull out a letter that was the reason they were offended at someone. It had been in their pocket for 40 years. This letter was so old that there were creases all over it and some of it was falling apart, and they were trying to show me what this one person had written to them 40 years ago. I wanted to say, ‘Seriously, you held on to this thing for that long? Let go of it, monkey hands. Just let it go.’ But this is what we do.
“The number one marriage counseling issue that I have dealt with for the last 35 years has not been finances or intimacy; it has been people not knowing how to resolve a conflict. That’s the number one thing. Bigger and bigger problems begin to grow off of not knowing how to resolve an issue. All of a sudden, people have a broken relationship on their hands, and they don't know how to reconcile it.
Hearing about these scenarios begs the question of how people become so lost. How do any of us end up wandering so far from a healthy life with God that we suddenly realize we’ve kept an angry letter in our pocket for 40 years or ended up in a detonating marriage without a clear picture of how it all began to fall apart?
How do we end up in captivity to lifestyles or relationships that once upon a time we would’ve never thought we’d even entertain?
The First King of Israel
The simplest answer is sin which separates us from God. We all have it in us like a systemic cancer. There’s a difference, though, between the sin we fight and the sin we coddle. The latter gets very malignant and compounds another disease in us: a rebellious spirit.
In his sermon “The Spirit of Rebellion,“ David Wilkerson said, “Let me talk to you about the kind of rebellion that the Holy Spirit is interested in and is dealing with…; it's rebellion against the greatest established authority to mankind.
“That is this book, the living revealed Word of God. When we disobey this in any part of our life, we are in the beginning of rebellion. Rebellion is against the established authority of this book, the revealed Word, the Holy Scriptures. Any believer who will not fully completely obey what he reads in this scripture — he may obey 98 percent of the time, but if even in 2 percent of his life he is walking in disobedience to something clearly commanded or revealed in this book — he is living in rebellion against established authority.”
David pointed his listeners to the Old Testament where Israel was receiving its first king, and God spoke to the people through the prophet Samuel, warning them about how they ought to act with their new king. “If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king” (1 Samuel 12:14-15, ESV).
Not only does biblical history show that Israel did not stay on the right side of this promise, but Saul wasn’t able to manage it just over the course of his own life. He disregarded Samuel’s commands and sacrificed animals to God with his own hand; he spared a pagan king whom God had commanded that he kill; he consulted a witch to raise a dead spirit. All of these things have clear commandments against them in the books of the law, which Saul would’ve known.
“Any disobedience to this book,” David explained, “any disobedience to the word of the prophet at that time, the revealed Word of God, any disobedience was considered rebellion against God.”
Cultivating a Sensitive Spirit
No one wants to be Saul, especially when we further examine his life. He defeated many of Israel’s enemies; he brought security and prosperity to the nation he ruled that it had not seen for generations; he cleansed the lands of demonic spiritualists and mediums. On the surface, he wasn’t a bad king, and he did a lot of good for his country. Despite all of this, something in his heart wasn’t sold out in God’s service, and God had forsaken him.
Reflecting on how to avoid being like Saul, David Wilkerson stated, “The Lord was looking for a man after his own heart…. A man after God’s own heart is simply one who obeys the Word of God explicitly. He does not question it. He does not justify his actions. He confirms his life to the living Word of God. He doesn't go out of those boundaries. The Word of God is the stay of his life.”
This is what set King David apart from Saul, even though David did arguably worse things during his time as king. For starters, he brought a plague on Israel that killed 70,000 people (see 2 Samuel 24:10-17). His heart and relationship with God, though, were clearly different.
In his sermon, David said, “There's no secret on how to obtain and keep God's favor and blessing on one's life. You see people who have the favor of God, the blessing of God, the anointing of God, and you see others who are living clearly in disfavor with the Lord, his blessing, his anointing is not upon them….
“There's no mystery to it. It's very, very simple. Those who have God’s favor are after God's heart and not because they pray more or some kind of greater devotion. It's simply that they fear the Word of God.”
How then do we become people who fear the Word of God? How can we cultivate a spirit so sensitive to the Spirit’s prompting that we know as soon as we start acting in a way that’s not in obedience with scripture?
The True Power of Forgiveness
On this topic of remaining sensitive to God’s prompting, David pointed out, “Folks, when you live with disobedience in your life, the first thing you lose is discernment about your own sin.” Next, he pointed to the Lord’s Prayer where believers are told to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
Jesus gave a very practical example of this in his parable about the unforgiving servant. The king excused one servant from a crushing debt only for that man to go out and nearly choke another servant who owed him a very modest amount but was unable to pay right away. The king found out and threw the first servant into jail. Christ concluded, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).
These two ironclad commands in scripture are the best areas, in David’s opinion, to work out whether or not we are living in obedience or disobedience because forgiveness is such a regularly necessary part of our lives. “Now folks,” he said, “let me tell you, if you have a single root of bitterness in your heart, you have the seed of rebellion. You have a seed in you that will overthrow this authority so that you will bypass every direction about forgiveness.
“You will bypass it all. You will go your own way and then you become what the Bible calls embittered…. You’ll say to yourself, ‘I don't care what anybody says. I know what they did to me…. I've been cut so deep, and I cannot forgive this.’
“There are some of you sitting here right now in total disobedience to the Word of God. You are in rebellion to the scriptures.”
Only when we are willing to submit ourselves to the Word, at the cost of all our personal desires and grudges, will we know true freedom and power in the Spirit. Our spirits must be in obedience to the Bible. Only then will we know the glorious truth that the Psalmist wrote of “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed” (Psalm 34:4-5).