The wind whistles outside your bedroom window and the roof creaks with the howling blast. You sit up in bed and peer toward the clock. It’s dark, as is the entire house. Outside, a fierce crack punctuates the screaming bluster. You sneak to the window, as if the storm might discover you're out of bed.
Rain pours down in blinding sheets. The street is dark. The aggression rages on as you move back to your bed and shelter beneath the covers. You close your eyes but do not dream until hours later.
The next morning you wake tired. Your clock flashes as if to blink away the memory of that midnight tumult. You climb out of bed and put on enough clothes to go outside.
Leaves and branches are strewn about the yard, but thankfully there isn’t any obvious damage to the house. You turn toward your fruit tree, hoping all is well. You gasp as you approach. It feels like a funeral. In the wake of the grave storm, there stands a mangled mess. Broken branches dangle from the pitiful tree. You don’t touch it.
Instinctively, you rush toward the house where your phone waits. Your feet carry quick on the heels of the tragedy. Your mind races as your body moves with lightning instinct through the house.
“Loola,” you hear your own words as if from a distance. “It’s the tree. It broke in the storm.” You’re surprised at the urgency in your voice. It isn’t until this moment you realize all the tree means to you.
“I’ll be right over.”
“No!” you are forceful. “I’ll come get you.” Her enthusiasm is admirable, but her walking speed leaves something to be desired. You’re in the car in a flash, and in front of her house in mere moments. She comes out carrying a small bag. You’re in too much of a hurry to ask about the contents. Once to your house, in a blur, you rush her to the carnage.
“Yep. That’s a broken tree, alright.”
“Is there anything we can do?”
“Of course.” She moves around the tree cautiously. She handles the broken branches with the most delicate care. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
“It’s not?” You move close, holding your breath as if a gasp could kill the tree. She points as she talks.
“All branches, but one still have some of their cambium and phloem layers connected. That means we can repair ‘em.” You let out the breath you’ve been holding.
She hands you her small bag and points toward the zipper. You open it and hold it out. She reaches for a roll of something. “Grafting tape,” she says. “Here, I’ll show you how.”
She gently takes one of the broken branches and straightens it. She squeezes the broken place between her fingers. “Now wrap the break. Do it tight. Cover the entire broken place.”
You send the grafting tape around in methodical circles, pulling tension with every pass. “Good,” she says in a whisper. You both let go of the branch. “Now, trim off the fruit buds from this branch so that they don’t weigh it down.” You do as she instructs. When you’re done, you move on to the next branch. The process is comfortable by the time you get to the third branch.
“What about this one?” You ask, picking up a branch the storm has completely severed.
“You choose,” she says with a smile. “We could trim the broken place back and leave it as is, or we could try to graft that branch back on.”
“Graft? Do you mean we could reattach it?”
“It might take, it might not, but it’s worth learning the technique.”
“Ok, let’s do that.” She reaches into the bag you’re holding and pulls a knife from the interior. Instead of doing the work, she hands you the sheathed blade. She picks up the broken branch and offers it into your hands.
“Cut the broken part away at a sharp angle,” she says as she points. You take the knife and make a diagonal cut. It’s pretty shabby, so you try again. You get it right on the third try. She uses her fingernail to point at the exposed wood around the edge of the sliced branch.
“That’s the cambium layer. You’ve got to make sure that comes in contact with the cambium of the branch we’re grafting onto. We’re going to use a whip and tongue technique.”
“Tongue and whip?” you ask, feeling an urge to make a corny joke. Loola must sense your distraction.
“Focus,” she says. “Now make a backward cut about halfway up the diagonal slice.” She marks the spot with her fingernail and shows you how to hold the knife. Once you’ve made the cut, you glance at her for approval. She nods and points to the spot where the branch broke off the tree. “Now, we do the same there.”
You work to imitate the same cuts on the tree. As you slice, she talks. “You know, pretty much no one plants a fruit tree from seed anymore.”
“How do they do it?” You hold up the two branches to see if your cuts line up.
“They use the rootstock from one tree and then graft on the species of branches that will grow the fruit they want. You can have a dozen different fruits on one tree. If you’re going to be growing fruit, learning to graft is a must.”
“How’s that?” You hold up your work. She nods.
“Now, they should slide together.” You push the whip and tongue graft into its mate. It drives in with a satisfying tightness. “Ok, wrap it with the tape.” You encircle the graft with a few dozen passes and step back from the tree. It looks like a soldier who’s just come from the medic’s tent, but it’s in one piece again.
Loola pats you on the shoulder and says, “You sure are grafty.”
“And you didn’t even have to whip or tongue.”
Life is packed with its little (and sometimes big) emergencies. Just like a sapling in a storm, sometimes we have to figure out how to graft our lives back together, or better yet avoid breaking down in the first place. How do we handle life’s emergencies?
Jesus said we ought to daily pray, do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from evil.1 If you pray according to the Lord’s prayer, you will daily be asking for help to overcome your sin. As we pray this, God will transform us according to our request and His will.
This is in line with what Paul says when he explains we need to, put to death the deeds of the flesh.2 Whether you realize it or not, it’s sin that is keeping you from abundant life. If you had no sin, your life would be abundant by default. However, since you are still living in the sinful flesh, your life is less abundant than it could be.
There are scheduled prayers, and there are emergency prayers. The Lord's Prayer template is a great model for scheduled daily private prayer. However, sometimes we need to make an emergency call on the red telephone. On a daily basis, when I fall into temptation to sin, I offer up emergency prayers for help to escape without committing the sin.
These emergency prayers don't follow the entirety of the Lord's Prayer template. They borrow just a line here and there. They are snippets, custom fit for the situation at hand. Emergency prayers, for me, are all about escaping temptation and avoiding sin by re-setting my mind on things above. These little one-liners are designed to realign my mind in a hurry. An example of a common emergency prayer for me is, "Lord, take that thought out of my mind." It's all about my mindset.
Sometimes I call this bombing the tracks. Imagine an enemy train rolling down the railroad. You have to call in an airstrike before the train reaches the tunnel. As soon as you call, the dive bombers appear and drop a thousand mega tons of explosives on the railroad tracks and obliterate the train's path forward. The train derails, and the day is saved.
In this little analogy, the enemy locomotive is your train of thought. You can sense when your thought train is rolling in the wrong direction, toward the dark tunnel of sin. This very moment is when you need to make an emergency call. Bring in the big guns. Ring the red telephone in Heaven. You need to ask God to help you remove that thought process. You need him to bomb the tracks that train of thought is riding on. Without fail, when I wind up sinning is when I don't call in the airstrike. The train of thought reaches its destination, and I end up acting on the thoughts. We have to ask God to deliver us from our own mindset in the very moment of temptation.
The way to focus your mental power on God is to constantly call out to Him for deliverance when your mind wanders to those dark places. You ought to do this in a scheduled way when you pray through the Lord's prayer. However, you should also use the emergency prayer concept when you fall into temptation. Call out to the Lord in the very moment you are being tempted, and he'll provide a way out.
This is how you will bring your rotting deeds into the light and murder them in the blazing radiation power of the Spirit that God has placed inside of you. It’s the same Spirit that brought Jesus back from the dead.3 If He can bring life to a dead body, then He can put to death the sin in your flesh. Your greatest tool in overcoming your sin isn't your willpower, determination, or gut-level resolve. It's your open request line that rings the situation-room of Heaven. The Spirit is ready to go to war against your flesh, at your request. What you need to do is ask.
Maybe it's kind of like one of those low-budget action movies from the 90s. You've been plagued by a dark monster that lurks in the shadowy landscape of your flesh. You've tried everything you know. Now, you have to hire a gunslinger with a monster-killing talent. You need a hitman to take down the beast. God's Spirit is the monster killer. That Spirit that lives within you is ready to rain down repeated death blows upon your sin. The best part is, He works for free. Simply call out to God in the moments when that sin monster is dogging you, and he will step to the front and unload both smoking barrels with white-hot blasts of fiery vengeance.
Do you know what would make a terrible movie? Imagine calling the monster hunter to town and then having him ride the bench; having access to the gunslinger but telling him to sit this one out. The monster pulverizes you, while the expert is forced to stand by and watch. "Do you want me to take care of that?" the gunslinger asks. "It kind of looks like he's got you down." The monster continues to pound you while you respond listlessly to the hired gun, "Nope, I've got 'em right where I want him." The words barely escape your lips as the sin beast crushes you to the floor and snarls inches from your face.
That’s what you do every time you DON’T ask for God’s help in the moment of temptation. He’s ready to lead you out without a scratch.4 He's ready to unload his double-barrel boom-stick on the evil beast that lurks in your bones, but you decline the help, thinking you can handle the growling monster in your own effort.
I remember the first time I recognized that it was possible to win against temptation. It was when I was in college. I was plagued by lust. I entertained many sinful thoughts. I knew that the thoughts running through my head were wrong. I was committing adultery in my heart, as Jesus put it.5 One of my favorite bands has a lyric that says, “There’s no difference in the things that happen in my head and happen in my bed.”6 That was the kind of sinful defeat I was experiencing on a regular basis, and I was sick of it.
I was lying on my bed one night. My mind was moving toward that familiar sin. I was creeping in the direction of the old lust habit. I felt helpless and incapable of stopping the images that began to rush in. At that very moment, I called out to God. "Help me!" I said aloud. "I don't want this sin. Take this garbage away from my mind."
To my amazement, something actually happened. My mind cleared, and I got relief from the monster that lives inside. I could hardly believe it actually worked. "Thank you," I said to the Lord, very surprised. I was astonished that it actually made a difference. I now realize that what happened at that moment was exactly what Paul talks about in his letter to his friends in Rome.
I prayed to God. I cried out to Him. I put my mind on Him by requesting His help. In that pivotal moment, the all-powerful Spirit of God stepped to the front, shoved me behind, and blocked the fiery attack of the enemy. I was astounded that it worked, but what is more astounding is how often I have NOT taken advantage of the power that lives inside.
Over and over, after that point, I let the waves of lust wash over me, often until my flesh would act on what was in my mind. How sad it is that I've so often resisted putting my mind in the right place by calling out for God's help.
This is how you beat sin. You pray for God's help at the moment you are being tempted and you keep praying until the monster killer does His work.
Notice how Paul puts it, If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live.7Notice that incredibly important phrase, by the Spirit. If you decide you want to go it alone, relying on your own grit and determination, you can expect to fail. If you're willing to request help from the power that God placed inside you, then He will transform you, and you will experience abundant life.
I think this is why Paul later says, Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.8 Where does the request for Spiritual help come from? It comes from your mind. You ask God, often silently, for help, and He supplies. You set your mind on God, calling to Him for help, and it will be the Spirit that transforms you. Just like a sprig that transforms into a fruit-laden tree, God's Spirit will transform you into a person who experiences abundant life.
Paul once said to his young friend, Timothy, flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.9Notice what he's saying. If you want God to transform you into a person who is righteous, filled with love, peace, and faith, then you need to call on the Lord for help. Transformation comes by request. You can't accomplish abundant life by trying to get your flesh to behave. It comes by calling upon God for help. You don't force transformation directly; you ask God for the change and he supplies.
It's simple but not necessarily easy. It isn't easy to call for help from God in the moment of your temptation. Your flesh will be screaming at you to stay silent. Your flesh wants the pleasures promised. However, if you call out to God for help while you’re being tempted, it changes everything. The times that I have asked for help, especially at the precise moment I need it, the help comes.
This is another reason why I love the Lord's Prayer template. If you follow it daily, you will be asking the Lord for deliverance from sin and for help in avoiding temptation daily. It's another one of those package deals. When you follow the prayer Jesus gave us, you're daily asking for transformation. You add a turbo boost when you send up an emergency prayer, a snippet like, "Lord, lead me out of this temptation, and deliver me from this evil!” He’s happy to answer that prayer! He promises to provide a way out.
1 Matthew 6:13
2 Romans 8:13 NKJV
3 Romans 8:11
4 1 Corinthians 10:13
5 Matthew 5:28
6 Lyrics from Lashes on the 2010 release, Yet, from My Epic.
7 Romans 8:13 NKJV
8 Romans 12:2
9 2 Timothy 2:22