Imagine trying to ride an elephant. Elephants are very intelligent creatures with minds of their own. In an attempt to reach your destination, you might struggle to get the elephant to turn right, but the elephant may instead, go straight or turn left. In the end, the elephant will do what the elephant wants to do. Find out what riding elephants has to do with your spiritual journey. Please read more.
In their book Switch, Dan and Chip Heath attempt to explain why we often fail to choose the good we know we should. The authors recognize that the human intellect (the part of us that knows good and evil) and the human will (the part of us that chooses good and evil) are often overwhelmed by our passions. Some passions become so powerful that they exert control over us. Dan and Chip describe our passions as an “elephant.” They describe our intellect and will as the “rider” on the elephant. Most of the time, even when we know where we want to go or what we are supposed to do, the elephant goes where, or does what, it wants to.
When the authors use the word passions, they are not simply referring to sexual passions, they are referring to all types of passions (fame, fortune, control, hobbies, sports, food, etc.). Our passions don’t always lead us astray, but more often than not they sure try to.
The Bible frequently refers to the passions that attempt to rule our lives as our fleshly desires. When it says “the flesh” it is referring to the part of us that is rebellious and alienated from God. It is describing the unruly part of us that resists being told what to do. All of us are disordered in some way. This is sometimes called our “sin nature” or our “concupiscence.” For today’s purpose, think of your unruly nature as your elephant.
Ask yourself this question, “What am I most passionate about?” Now ask yourself, “Have I brought my passions under the subjugation of God?” Simply stated, when we are driven by our passions rather than our will or intellect, we often make bad or stupid decisions.
Our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind. They compete for control. Our rational mind wants to follow God’s teaching, while our emotional mind wants to do its own thing. Our rational mind might want to look fit, while our emotional mind wants an extra-large piece of pie.
Paul describes this conflict perfectly in Romans 7:14. He writes, “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” Further on He says, “For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”
Through this ministry I have counselled many people whose lives are filled with regret. They are haunted by their past. Many are stuck in addictive behaviors. Some struggle with alcohol, drugs, or pornography. Others are workaholics. Still others seek fame or fortune at all costs. The list of bad decisions is endless. All of these things are caused by our domineering passions.
Some people have lives filled with an endless list of poor decisions. It is very easy for these people to become discouraged or in some cases severely depressed. In extreme cases, hopelessness and despair push them towards suicidal thoughts.
Do you have regrets over past decisions? Are you stuck in a cycle of passion driven addictive behaviors? Is your elephant determining the direction of your life? My friends, there is good news. God told Jeremiah in chapter 1 verse 5, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” God knew we would all be riding elephants.
Clearly it is wise to attempt to live holy lives. The pursuit of Christian perfection is a worthwhile goal; however, it is not an achievable goal on this side of death. God knew we would fall prey to our passions. He understood our propensity to make bad decisions. He knew we would sin. That is precisely why He sent His Son to save us.
The battle between good and evil is ever present. The battle between our rational thoughts and our emotions is ongoing. The battle to overcome our fleshly human desires can be relentless. Inevitably we will fall. But falling is not the end of the story. God’s love and mercy will always win out if we acknowledge our mistakes and turn back to Him with a contrite heart. Keep this in mind. If biggest was best, elephants would rule the world. But biggest isn’t best, God is! He just happens to be bigger too! So, the next time the elephant you are riding wants to take you down the wrong path, remember God is bigger and best. Choose the path He leads you down. It leads to everlasting life.
Heavenly Father, far too often I have succumbed to my passions and traveled down the wrong road. Send forth your Holy Spirit to strengthen me in my times of weakness and lead in the ways of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen!
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Some of you questioned the AMDG on the bottom of last week’s 4th Day Letter. Others of you knew right away what it meant. AMDG is short for the Latin phrase Ad maiorem Dei gloriam or Ad majorem gloriam which means “For the greater glory of God”. The practice of writing this on papers dates back to the 1500s. It is a summary of the idea that any work that is not evil, even one that would normally be considered inconsequential to the spiritual life, can be spiritually meritorious if it is performed in order to give glory to God. I have decided to make this practice a permanent addition to all future 4th Day Letters. Perhaps you might want to add it to your emails and texts and make this mentality of offering everything up for the glory of God part of your daily practice.