Anne Frank, whose Holocaust diary was posthumously published as the famed Diary of a Young Girl, stated, “Our lives are fashioned by our choices. We first make our choices. Then our choices make us.” Miss Frank was a mere fifteen years old when she died in a concentration camp and yet her writings possess a wisdom that continues throughout history.
Consider those words again. We first make our choices. Then our choices make us.
Endowed with free will, we humans have the ability to obey or disobey God. That choice is our right. However, as young Anne—and philosophers through the ages—understood, every choice that we make carries an accompanying consequence, and eventually those individual consequences harden into a consistent reality. In biblical terminology that hardening is called a “stronghold”. And strongholds are morally neutral—they can be either good or bad.
For instance, if I consistently respond to the whisper and prompting of the Holy Spirit in my life I will create a pattern/habit/stronghold of righteousness. Conversely, if I routinely disobey, yielding my mind, affections, or body to sin, I will create a sinful stronghold. And if I consistently won’t obey God (through the exercise of my free will) I will get to a place where I can’t obey Him—I will be gripped too tightly in the stronghold of my sin.
Does this make sense? If I consistently reach for things that are displeasing to God, they will eventually reach back, and then even if I want to let go, I sometimes can’t. I am bound. Addiction counselors understand this. They explain that for an addict the act of reaching for a forbidden, damaging substance is a choice; however, once the choice is made the addiction/stronghold takes over and it is no longer a choice—it is bondage.
I’m not sure if Anne Frank knew that she was paraphrasing a famous adage from the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “Our actions become our habits, our habits become our character, and our character becomes our destiny.” Variations of this quote have been attributed to Stephen Covey, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and numerous others, but it actually appeared in ancient literature that pre-dated the time of Christ, and it has always been true. The exercise of our free will is dangerously powerful—it can create realities that either sabotage us or set us free.
Let’s choose life! Let’s tear down our suffocating, damaging strongholds and let’s build new ones on the rock of Jesus Christ.
“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)
Don’t you love those words from Meghan Trainor’s song, “No”? It is one of my favorites because it is exactly how I want my daughters to respond in awkward or inappropriate situations.
I want them to understand, leverage, and use the power of no.
No can stop injustice or end abuse. It can bolster self-confidence and it can preserve one’s priorities (indeed, a common denominator of effective people and leaders is their willingness to say “no”). No can be one of the most powerful, liberating words in our vocabulary.
Even when God tells us no it can be a good thing. When it comes to my prayer life I usually hate an initial no from God; however, after I’ve lived a little longer I often come to appreciate the wisdom in His noes.
Some of the things I wanted when I was younger would likely have destroyed me. Some of my dreams were birthed out of egoism instead of purity and love for others. Some of my ambition was self-centered not God-centered, and I’m honestly really grateful that those prayers hit a brick wall.
On the other hand I have prayed for some really wonderful things that probably should have received a yes and I’m not sure why they didn’t. Perhaps human free will got in the way. Perhaps God had a bigger plan that I still don’t understand. Or perhaps the answer wasn’t no but rather not yet and maybe they are still going to happen. Regardless, I think we sometimes need a little coaching when it comes to the power of no so here are a few pointers:
- Use it—use the power of no to strike down injustice and forbid oppression.
- Embrace it—let the liberating effects of a good, healthy no (whether from God or your own volition) enhance you.
- Keep hoping against it—even as you thank God for the times He wisely says no, continue pushing for the things that you believe should be a yes. Sometimes no is really not yet and the Apostle Paul’s words will eventually prove true: “No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through Him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20).