When my children choose to resit my prompting, leading, and guidance, they know they can always return to my arms and be accepted with grace. I try to be a compassionate mother full of grace and truth, but you better believe that when the situation calls for it, I ask my children the question, “If you had obeyed me, would that have happened?” I know, I know. “I told you so” doesn’t seem like expert-level parenting. Yet when they choose to move in opposition to the clear directions I have given only to find themselves suddenly overwhelmed with the consequences of their choices, I believe it is important for them to reflect on how they arrived there. I have been gently reminded of the importance of reflection on how I came into messy situations myself, and have learned some of my greatest lessons there. I’ll be honest, there have been many times where the Spirit of God had warned me to listen and obey, and I simply ignored, resisted, or flat out said, “Don’t wanna.” By God’s grace, I’ve lived to see the consequences.
Why Do We Resist God’s Spirit?
Too often we ignore the power of the Spirit given to us through Christ. Remember this is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead! We do not lack a guide for the parts of life that leave us lost. Isaiah 11:2 describes the Spirit that rested on Jesus, the Spirit also given to us, “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD.”
When we have such wisdom and understanding available to us, such power and might, why do we resist the leading of the Spirit? Most of the time it is because our flesh sings sinister lullabies in attempts to lull us from the promptings of the Spirit. It mutters lies that we are missing out and being foolish in our obedience to God, and we begin to allow our thoughts to return to the ways of man and away from a holy God. The quest for instant gratification is one our flesh takes on daily, and it seeks to bring us along as its faithful companion. The good news is that we can instead choose to walk by the Spirit, because though the flesh is deceptive and persistent, the Spirit will forever be more powerful. The flesh will one day find its end, but the Spirit is Eternal.
Each day we must look for the ways we resist the promptings of the everlasting Holy Spirit because rarely are we in a place of perfect obedience. Do take note that the following signs of resisting the Spirit can be brought on by other things (biological, sleep disturbance, environmental, or loss) but these can also be strong indicators that we should examine our lives and let our hearts be searched for any resistance to the Spirit.
If we push past the boundaries that God has given us the strength to live in, we will find an end to our own capabilities. Things we loved will hold no pleasure. What was once done with ease will feel like a chore, and soon burnout will meet us at our doorstep. We may have hopes and dreams, but we should never deem ourselves to know better how to achieve them than God.
We ask for his leading, and we listen to his voice, or else our dreams and ministry can quickly turn into idols that will ask that we sacrifice the richness of what God has called us to in service of our own slaughter. If we chase after acclaim, power, or love that God has not given the grace or favor for, we will only wear our own spirit down to the point that there will be nothing left. When we ignore the Spirit’s direction we will find a charred path behind us, and ultimately find ourselves exhausted in the ashes of what once was a life devoted to God.
When we move away from the leadings of the Holy Spirit, anxiety will increase, because if we are true followers of Jesus our deepest desire is to be near him. When we begin to move outside of his plans, even when we are not conscious of it, we will sense that we are distancing ourselves from peace. Look at the rise of fret in Peter when he denied Jesus in Matthew 26:70-75:
“But he denied it before them all. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, ‘This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ He denied it again, with an oath: ‘I don’t know the man!’ After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, ‘Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.’ Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’ Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.”
We can see the nerves of Peter being ever tightened with each denial of Christ. His fight or flight impulse is on high as he insists on resisting the truth. We can see the panic beginning to control him until finally, he remembers the words of Jesus, faces the truth, and the tension breaks into tears. When we deny the Spirit of Jesus we deny Jesus himself, and this naturally causes us to experience more fear, and that fear will mount into a foreboding dread.
3. A Sense of Dread
This is a sign that we have moved past anxiety and now outright expect something bad is on the horizon. The disheartening thing is that when this sense of dread is present in our lives because we refuse to listen to the Holy Spirit, the dread is self-imposed. We might be experiencing it because we know we are walking outside of God’s will for our lives, or this sense of dread could be a warning from the Holy Spirit—the last plea for us to change direction before we experience the consequences that will befall our disobedience.
We cannot dare to treat the Spirit like the Israelites treated Jeremiah and the prophets,
“And though the LORD has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention. They said, ‘Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the LORD gave to you and your ancestors forever and ever. Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not arouse my anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you. But you did not listen to me,’ declares the LORD, “and you have aroused my anger with what your hands have made, and you have brought harm to yourselves.’” (Jeremiah 25:4-7)
Yes, it could be just a lack of hope that brings fearful anticipation; but beware, do not miss the repeated chances to listen before disaster befalls you.
Maybe it isn’t a fear that plagues us, but a deep sadness that slowly chips away at your will to even move towards God. This is the torment of depression. You may be able to identify what is wrong but be convinced of the lie that you don’t have the will to do anything about it. The great news is that even if you do not have the will to move, the Spirit within you, even if you’ve been resisting him, does. If you give full reign over to the Spirit he will show you the way in which you should walk to once again find hope and life abundant.
What great hope there is in the presence of our Savior. The psalmists rightly remind themselves of this when they preached to their own souls. Look at this passage from Psalm 42 by the Sons of Korah:
“My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’ These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you…” (Psalm 42:3-6)
Here the psalmist even during his feast of tears finds a way to remember God. A slight shift of the mind, a directing of the thinking patterns is all that happens here, but it is enough to move him from despair to hope. When we remember what God has said to us and begin to hope that we can repent and return to his will, we will begin to experience the supernatural energy that comes from obedience to the Spirit of God.
Remember “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11). The Spirit of the Lord is a gift to us. Jesus himself said, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [the Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). It is a dire situation indeed to be resisting the Spirit. Not only will it most likely lead to destruction, but disobedience takes us captive and stunts our growth as people who bear the image of God. We fight for freedom when we choose to surrender to the Spirit and the Spirit leads us towards ever-increasing glory in Christ (2 Corinthians 3: 17-18).
Written by: Chara Donahue
Chara Donahue is a co-author of the Bible study 1, 2 & 3 John: Experiencing Transformation and is working on her next book. She enjoys serving as a biblical counselor, speaking to women, and savoring coffee when her four kids are out playing with dad. She holds an MSEd from Corban University, is passionate about seeing people set free through God’s truths, and is the founder and editor of Anchored Voices. She is also the host of the podcast The Bible Never Said That, which you can listen to on LifeAudio.com. Get in touch with her on Facebook or Twitter.