Challenged to Change
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Emotional Stability No. 3
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
We’re studying the book The Release of the Spirit by Watchman Nee. For me, the subject of the spirit and the soul and the breaking of the soulish powers has something in common with an experience we used to have when we rode bicycles.
In Belfast when my wife was young — which was much earlier than me! — but when she was young there were trams. They’re not raised up above the road but they’re set into the road. They run on steel rails, and then they get the electricity through the aerial from the overhead wires. From time-to-time we would, in riding our bicycles especially on a wet Irish day, be chugging along happily and then you’d get your wheel caught in one of those tram lines — because the thin wheels would catch in the tram lines.
Of course, it was disaster! All you could do was try to stay in the tram line until you could get the bike stopped, because if you tried to yank it out it was very difficult to do it. You usually tried to turn, and then you just fell over because the wheel kept stuck in the tram lines.
In fact, in riding a motorcycle, we had a saying. If you came into a bad corner with telescopic forks, as you braked the telescopic forks went down, and all your weight went on the front wheel. That’s good because that’s the stopping wheel. But if your wheel is turned a little you go skidding off. So we had a saying: “carry on to depot,” a saying we took from the tram lines. The idea was you kept on the tram line right to the depot where the trams stopped. And on a motorbike if you came to a tight corner, if you were wise you kept her upright and you braked. You didn’t turn her down.
I never told my wife about the time my girl and I fell off the bike because I did turn. Well, I tried to keep it “straight to depot” — but I hit the hedge before I got her stopped. But anyway, what came to me was — this business of the spirit and the soul is a bit like getting caught in a tram line. Your spirit is given to Jesus, and you want to do what he wants you to do. But the tram line of your soul, your mind, or your emotions, or at times your body, have been used to going in a certain direction for years — and you want to yank the thing out of the tram line. You want the mind to do what Jesus’ Spirit wants it to do. But it’s like trying to wrench it out of a habit, or a way of thinking that it has had for years.
And I think often we feel, “Well, it’s just a matter of exercising more and more will power, isn’t it?” But after years, we are all horrified at the way in which our minds have gotten used to a certain way of operating, and they just keep operating that way. We’ve all used the illustration: you’re going at it through the week, and you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t care what the sales are. I know Jesus will fulfill all my needs. My God will meet all my needs from his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. I know that. I know it. I know it.” Yet as you come to the end of the week and the sales are not there, you find the mind just automatically getting depressed. That’s part of it.
Your spirit is with Jesus. But your mind just keeps on going down — down the way it’s been trained for years, because it’s been trained to be governed by either what people think, or what other people do. So that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the need for God to break us of those soulish powers. Not so we’ll have no soulish powers. Not so we’ll have no mind or have no
emotions — but so they will be moldable and will be submissive to the Spirit of Jesus within us.
I think probably all of us, even this just past week, have had moments when we just are horrified at what seems to be our own impotence. It’s not the old impotence. It’s not the old rebellion, where we were kind of born of God but we didn’t want really what God wanted. We do want what God wants. But we’re horrified at our own expression of that in the outward life. And often we think it’s just a lack of wisdom. But often it’s just the mind is working the wrong way — and we’re horrified at it.
So that’s what we’re talking about. There are a couple of verses that I thought express it very clearly. Matthew 9:17 is one of them: “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins.” That’s a bit what it is like. It’s like the new wine of Jesus’ Spirit, going into the old wineskin of the old soul, the mind, and the emotions. “If it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” In fact, that’s what happens: the spirit comes in and into the old soul, and actually bursts it and breaks it.
I’d say that to each of us: we need to take courage and be satisfied that God is working, and that it is going to be sore and it is going to be painful. And at times, Satan will jump in and say, “You aren’t born of God. You’re not filled with the Spirit. You don’t want what God wants.” And you’ll have to stand and examine yourself before the Holy Spirit, and allow yourself to look in and see, “But, I do really want it. I do. I do admit that my mind and emotions are not submissive.” And see that you’ll have to go through breaking experiences like that.
Another verse is not great in the RSV translation, but I’ll give you the translation of the Greek. It’s one of the verses that certainly persuades you that the RSV needs checking at times. Luke 21:19: “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” Of course the word “psuche” can be translated life, but it also of course can be translated soul. And you can see that for the word “gain”, the Greek word actually means “possess.” The King James Version is correct: “In your patience possess ye your souls.”
I think the killer is — often we find we are not in possession of our own souls. We’re not in possession of our minds or our emotions. For example, you know how especially at school, especially in the early weeks and the early months, everybody is new. So everybody is trying to find their way, and it’s very hard not to do what everybody else is doing. “Okay, they’re all telling jokes,” or, ‘They’re all taking this attitude. So, of course, I take that attitude too.”
I remember when I started University feeling almost embarrassed with myself. I felt, “Oh you idiot, why did you go with them just because it was the easy way to go?” But it was almost impossible not to. The soul so wants to identify itself with the crowd. It’s not that you’re evil or something, and it’s not even at times that I wanted to please them and get along. It’s just that you think, “Okay the whole jokes are going that way.” So of course, you go that way too.
And I think we found the same thing. I think the temptation is just there for us as a salesman in a store the same way. The whole conversation is going one direction, and it’s so easy. The mind and the emotions are so connected with the rest of the world’s soul that they’re kind of pulled along. And actually we’re not in possession of our own souls.
That’s why God says, “Impatience possess your souls. Impatience gains possession of your souls.
Take possession of them. Get to the right place, and it will take place. It’ll be breaking experiences. It will be things that come down, and down, and down — until you get so fed up with that miserable soul that you want rid of it completely.” Then you begin to see, that’s exactly what God is doing with you — breaking it, breaking it, breaking it.
And sometimes, we come to each other and say, “Oh, I just can’t believe myself. I think I’ll never come to the end of this.” And that’s what God has to do. He has to bring us into a realization that only he can break the power of the soul. Only he can break the power of the mind to want to go with the crowd, with the world’s soul.
So that is what Nee is saying. I don’t think we’ll get more than a bit of a paragraph today. “Thus it is that God must crush our outward man. He breaks our will by taking away the things in our will’s ‘hand’ so that it cannot act independently.”
We find our will kind of goes on its own. It’s good of God. He does his best to get us to voluntarily lay the thing down. But if he sees our heart is truly going after him, he will actually take stronger measures. He will part us from the thing. He’ll separate us from it.
Sometimes it may come through your body. I think we’ve all probably seen it with things like caffeine and food. God has his own way of showing us that there is a way of peace and gentleness, and there are certain things he just has to break us of by letting us see the horror of the alternative. It’s not that caffeine is so horrifying. But after you’ve worn yourself out in hyper-mental activity night after night, bit-by-bit God breaks you. That’s one example.
I don’t know how often you’ve got into the worry business, where there’s just one temptation by Satan: where’s the money coming from? Just one little temptation — and you know as sure as anything you’ve been down that line before. That’s why Jesus gave the example: “Get thee behind me Satan.” He didn’t even look at him twice.
You’ve been down this road. God’s word says, “Bring every thought into captivity of Christ Jesus.” But you just let your mind go one step. “Well that’s true. Where is the money going to come from?” And then just another step: “Well, I could get it from here. No, I could get it from . . . Well no. Okay I couldn’t get it there. Well, I could . . .” Before you know it, you’re right down into the depths of despair, depression, and anxiety over the money. It’s as if God has to let you get right down that way — to break the power of that miserable mind that insists on following that way.
So that’s what he means by saying, sometimes he takes the thing out of the will’s hand. Sometimes he wrenches it out of you, and sometimes it’s the only way. And if he knows we’re really serious, he does it.
Nee continues, “Not that we have no mind, but that we do not think after the flesh according to our wandering imaginations. Not that we are devoid of emotion, but that all our emotions are under the control and restraint of the inward man. This gives the inward man a will, a mind and emotions that are useable. God wants our spirit to use our outward man in loving, in thinking, and in deciding. While it is not his thought to annihilate our outward man, we must receive this basic dealing of being broken if we aspire to effectually serve God.”
It’s funny when you think of it, but in a way, if Jesus doesn’t control through your will, your mind and emotions, he doesn’t have a mind and emotions to use. Often that’s the situation. Often our
mind and emotions belong to everybody else you know. Belong to the school that we were brought up in, belong to the home we were brought up in, belong to the way of thinking that we learn from other people, belong to the environment in which we operate, belong to the media. I would almost say 50% of America’s population belongs to the media — because everybody thinks the way the media thinks.
And you can see that if your mind is under control of those things, or of yourself — it isn’t available to Jesus. So what Nee is saying is: there is a need to break the power of the way your mind and emotions operate, so that Jesus has a mind and emotions to express himself through. And we’ve said several times, that we have an idealistic way that we think Jesus will work in our friends. We kind of think, “I’ll pray, and Jesus’ Spirit will somehow come down upon them directly.”
It never works that way. If his Spirit doesn’t come through us to them, it doesn’t get to them. His Spirit has to come through us, and it’s not going to do it by some circular route or fiber optic system. It’s going to come through our mind and emotions, and if our mind and emotions don’t express what Jesus’ Spirit expresses, there’s going to be nothing that they touch.
So I think it’s good the things we go through. I think it’s good that God is determined. He’s taking us at our word, and he’s determined to break the independent working of our minds and emotions so that they come under him. I think we all developed ways when we were children of getting our own way, and I think we all developed ways of taking it out on people who didn’t give us our own way. And those operations and activities of our minds and emotions are just ground into us, and it’s just our natural way of working. It’s the natural way we operate. And that has to be broken, and broken, and broken.
I used to think, “Well, God maybe deals with you by kind of passing over those things, or maybe leaving them aside.” But he doesn’t. He’s so good. He wants us to see all that Christ has delivered us from — every inch of it. And he wants us to see all that Christ has suffered for us. That’s why he allows us to come through those things.
I don’t know that there’s any easy way about it — I think it’s just God’s plan. I think in a way every time you feel, “I messed it up again,” or, “I fell again,” or, “I stumbled again” — there’s a need to look up and say, “Lord, I see how strong this thing is. And Father, whatever breaking it takes, I ask you to bring it to me — because I want these powers broken.”
The truth probably is — you are only freed from them when you just hate them to pieces. Finally, you’re only freed from them when you are broken of your trust in them. And I suppose the truth is not only that our minds are strong, but that our trust in them is strong, and our trust in the way our minds operate is strong.
Of course, part of the reason is, it doesn’t matter how good or bad our dads or our mums were — we got from them a strong set of soulish equipment that operates not according to Jesus’ Spirit, but according to their spirits and according to our human spirits. So it’s a very basic inherited part of us that we’re dealing with. But God is faithful, and he says, “If you really want to be free, I will free you.” And that’s what he’s in the business of doing. Let us pray.