“You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5)
A sheep has limited ability to keep flies from buzzing around its head, but Christians are less helpless when it comes to troubling and unwanted thoughts. Flies like garbage and God gives us resources to keep our lives free from stuff that attracts and sustains sinful thoughts.
Our main resources is the anointing oil of the Shepherd. Sometimes He sees my distress and comes to my aid. Sometimes He waits to see how I will deal with the flies. My best option is to ask for His help. He makes a couple of promises in that regard . . .
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:7–8)
So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:22–24)
Yet He gives me some responsibility in this matter of unwanted thoughts. The oil is for after the flies are gathered, but as the psalmist says, there are some “I will not’s” that may keep them from buzzing and bothering in the first place . . .
I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil. Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure. I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me. No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes. (Psalm 101:3–7)
For example, if I can’t get my mind off sinful lifestyles, but watch soap operas on television, can I expect victory? If I join in with those who gossip, can I expect to never have bad thoughts toward others? If I lift myself up over those who achieve, can I win over arrogance? If I spent time gobbling up the garbage of those who tell lies, can I expect no battles with deceit?
Some things must be avoided. Smut of course. Books and television filled with forbidden passion and violence do not do favors to a mind struggling to remain pure. While Jesus said we are defiled by what comes out of us, not by what goes in, feeding the sinful nature only adds to its power to defile. I need to feed the Spirit of God who lives in me with thoughts, words, and visuals that edify my spiritual well-being. No garbage.
Yet my best efforts cannot stop those corrupting ideas entirely. Sometimes I feel bombarded with temptations that seem impossible to escape. I ask God for help and they don’t stop. I try and try to avoid the buzzing flies but without success. Finally, God reveals that these pests were tests, not that He sent them, but that He wanted to show me something in my inner self that needs His renewing and redemptive power . . .
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:12–15)
Those inner desires can attract flies. My good Shepherd can deal with the flies, but sometimes I’ve had to learn the hard way to stop going where flies gather and stop putting out junk or being around junk that attracts them. Instead, I need to stay much closer to the One with the anointing oil.