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Turn Off the Stew!

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By David Wilkerson
March 9, 1998

Everyone knows what stew is. It's the meat-and-vegetable dish you put in a pot, simmer in a slow boil, and then eat. Yet "Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary" offers another definition. It describes stew as "a state of being agitated, disturbed." This same definition also includes the phrase "stewing in one's own juices" - meaning, "to allow trouble and agitation to simmer; to continue in a disturbed state of mind."

We Americans tend to overlap these two meanings of the word "stew." Whenever we want to describe our troubled emotions, for instance, we use cooking terms. For example:

An upset person is said to be "steamed." And a very angry person is thought of as being "boiling mad." When someone rages excessively, his "mind is fried." Indeed, human emotions are sometimes described in terms of tap water: hot, cold or lukewarm.

Such expressions abound in the workplace. Many people describe their office as a "pressure cooker." The phrase "turning up the heat" means to put on pressure. When someone is lethargic, his coworkers say, "Somebody ought to light a fire under him." And when someone can't handle the pressure, he's told, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Likewise, someone who's making progress is "really cooking."

A house that's overheated is described as being "hot as an oven." And a frigid home is said to be "cold as a deep freeze."

In this message, I want to focus on the expression "stewing in one's own juices." The fact is, Jesus taught eternal truths by using everyday illustrations - parables, stories and familiar expressions of his day. And I believe "stewing in one's own juices" is a modern-day expression that can reveal much to us about our walk with Christ.

I Pray That What I Have to
Share With You About This
Expression Will Offer
Life-Changing Truth!

Not long ago, I preached a message about our need to show charity to those closest to us. In that message, I spoke about the sinfulness of being easily provoked.

I was so convicted by what the Lord showed me on this subject, I determined to deal a death blow to this sin in my life. After much prayer and seeking God, I was convinced I had victory. I thought, "By God's grace, I will never again become easily provoked. I'll always stop and pray, count to ten, and trust the Holy Ghost to calm my spirit. He'll help me to turn the other cheek and walk away."

Well, my "victory" lasted just four days. That's when I received a phone call from a close friend - a call that took me by surprise. My friend said something to me I felt was cutting - and I resented it deeply. It disturbed me so much, I cut short the conversation. I didn't hang up on him - but he knew I was truly provoked.

That conversation lit a fire under my flesh. I was disturbed, hurt, agitated. And all my fleshly juices began to pour out: anger, indignation, grief. In short, I began to stew in my own juices!

I began pacing around my study, trying to pray - but I was so bothered and troubled, I could hardly keep focused on the Lord. I prayed, "God, that call came straight from hell! My close friend put me down, and there was no reason for it. It had to be the devil trying to provoke me. I don't have to listen to that kind of garbage!"

I allowed these thoughts to simmer for about an hour. Then, finally, I came to a boiling point - and I cried out, "Lord, I'm really stewed about this! I'm hot and bothered - really steamed!"

That's when I heard God's still, small voice, saying, "David, turn off the stew - put out the flame right now! You're stewing in your own juices of hurt, anger and hatred, because you've been deeply hurt. But what you're doing is dangerous - and you dare not continue stewing!"

I learned a long time ago that when the Holy Spirit speaks, it pays for me to listen. I repented on the spot and asked his forgiveness. Then I sat down and began thinking: "What was it that so provoked me? And why did I keep things stewing and simmering inside? I can't stay mad at this friend - we've been close for a long time. And I know I'm going to forgive him. So, why am I so upset?"

Suddenly, it hit me: The stewing and simmering inside me wasn't the result of that hurtful conversation. No - I was angry because I'd allowed myself to be easily provoked again! I was troubled, agitated at myself - because I'd quickly fallen back into an old habit I thought I'd conquered.

When I saw that I hadn't learned that lesson after all- that I was still easily provoked - I cried, "Lord, I'll never learn! You gave me this message, and I preached it to hundreds of people. But I don't have the victory in my own life!"

I felt like a runner who had fallen in the race. And I began to weep inside, "Lord, I want so much to win the prize of being conformed to your likeness. But now I see I'll never make it! After all these years of walking with you, receiving your revelation and enjoying your communion, I still don't come near the mark. I still have anger in my heart - and I still react with self-righteous pride. Oh, God, will I ever be like Jesus?"

Here is what the Lord showed me:

Satan Is So Subtle and
Deceptive in His Temptaions,
He Uses Those Closest to Us
To Provoke Us!

Consider Job's experience. Who but the devil could put such hurtful words in the mouth of this man's wife? In the midst of their horrible suffering, she told Job, "Curse God and die!" Imagine how deeply those unloving words must have wounded this godly man - especially when he was so down and in need of encouragement.

It was also the devil who spoke harshly to David through his brothers. When David's father sent him to the front lines of battle to bring food to his brothers, David's older brother Eliab said: "...Why camest thou down hither? And with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle" (1 Samuel 17:28). In other words: "You're here only because you want to see the spectacle of war!"

Who but the devil could have taken hold of Eliab's tongue to say such demeaning things to a young man who had the call of God? Thank God, David didn't simmer over those words and slink his way home. Otherwise, God's plan might have been aborted!

I think also of the angry, accusing words that Joseph's brothers leveled at him. Satan prompted those words - because he wanted Joseph to hold onto bitterness and spend years stewing in the juices of anger, revenge and hatred. Thank God, Joseph laid it all down. He didn't allow it to simmer!

Even Jesus' brothers spoke hurtful words to him. They challenged his claim of divinity, saying, "...If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world" (John 7:4). In other words: "If you're really the Messiah, then prove it! Go perform your miracles in Jerusalem, so the whole world can see."

"For neither did his brethren believe in him" (verse 5). There's nothing quite as painful as being thought of as a fraud by your family. Only the devil could have spoken to Christ that way, through his own brothers. He wanted to provoke Jesus to anger!

It Is Dangerous to Allow Your
Stew to Simmer - to Keep the
Flame Burning and Continue
Boiling in Your Own Juices!

Are you still stewing or simmering over some hurtful thing said or done to you in the past? Is the flame of anger still burning, bringing you to a slow boil, and yet you refuse to shut it off? If so, you are in danger of boiling over! You'll be burned by your own stew - scalded for life! The headlines are full of such examples:

* A Bronx man held a simmering anger against society that he allowed to stew for five years. Finally, in a single moment of rage, it all boiled over into destruction. He ended up suffocating the seven-year-old daughter of his live-in girlfriend. The girl's mother held her daughter's legs while the boyfriend tried to drown her in a bathtub full of boiling water. When that didn't work, he used duct tape to close her mouth and nose, finally smothering her to death.

* A man has been sentenced to life in prison for shooting the driver of another car. The convicted man had been an angry driver for years, seething with "road rage." It all boiled over one day when the other driver passed him, maneuvering one car ahead of him on the highway. The angry man then pulled up beside the driver, drew a gun and shot him to death.

These examples from the world are extreme. Yet, how many Christians have no life at all because they hold onto a simmering bitterness, letting it stew?

* I know a divorced woman - a Christian - who has wasted thirty years of her life. She's still simmering in anger at her ex-husband, who abandoned her. He's been remarried for almost thirty years - and yet she still curses him. She's stewing in the juices of bitterness!

* A woman who's been divorced for eight years has a picture of her ex-husband posted on the wall - and she throws darts at it! All she's thought about for years is the hurt he caused her. And now the only life she knows is spending year after year seething in anger - boiling over in rage!

* A young waitress who waited on my wife and me recently was obviously boiling over with bitterness. When we asked her what was wrong, she told us she was once a Christian - but she quit on God after a series of tragedies occurred in her life.

A few years ago, her brother was riding his bicycle when he was hit by a car and killed. Shortly after that, her mother developed cancer and died. Then, within a few months, the young woman found out she had sugar diabetes.

Now she was stewing in anger at God. She said, "If there is a God, why has he put so much anguish on me? He wasn't there for me when I needed him. He never answered any of my prayers. So I've dropped out!"

That young woman is dying a slow death - stewing in her own juices! She admitted to us, "I'm numb - I don't feel anything anymore. I'm not living, I'm just walking around."

Perhaps you can identify with her. Maybe you're simmering inside, about to boil over. You don't want to curse God - yet you feel he isn't there for you. So you cry out in frustration, "Lord, I feel nothing from you!"

Consider these similar words, spoken by an anguished man of God: "...I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life. I loathe it...for my days are vanity [worthless]" (Job 7:11-16). Job was boiling over with frustration - seething because he didn't understand why tragedy after tragedy had fallen on him.

Yet, Job wouldn't allow the fires of bitterness to keep burning inside him. He faithfully turned off the flame, until he could say, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him..." (13:15).

Scripture warns us: "Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30). "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled" (Hebrews 12:15).

God is saying, "Be careful! Don't let even a tiny bit of bitterness take root. No matter what has been done to you - no matter how you feel, or how unjustly you've been treated - you cannot carry a root of bitterness. It will kill you!"

Beloved, if you refuse to lay down your bitterness - if you keep simmering, boiling and stewing - you can bring judgment on your home, your spouse, your children, everyone around you. And it can literally kill you!

Only the Holy Ghost Can
Empower Us to Turn Off
The Fires of Agitation!

A bitter person will not listen to anyone's counsel. And a bitter Christian won't even heed God's word. Why? Agitation, bitterness and hatred shut the eyes and ears - and harden the heart!

Occasionally, a person who's stewed for a long time may show some evidence of repentance. He'll say, "Yes, I'm trying to put off my anger - but it's difficult." Yet he leaves a tiny flame burning - and over time his bitter stew is brought back to a simmer.

The prophet Hosea likens the human heart to an oven. He says this oven can be heated by the fires of lust, anger, agitation, bitterness, idolatry:

"They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker, who ceaseth from raising after he hath kneaded the dough, until it be leavened...For they have made ready their heart like an oven, whiles they lie in wait: their baker sleepeth all the night; in the morning it burneth as a flaming fire. They are all hot as an oven..." (Hosea 7:4-7).

The bread that's produced in this oven represents the fruit of our life. Think about it: Like a baker, we take the dough of our life and knead in leaven: lust, bitterness, anger. Now, we may leave the dough on a counter near the oven, without baking it. And the fire in the oven may even begin to die out. But the fact is, the leaven is still at work - weaving its way through the loaf, spreading its decaying properties.

Beloved, the leaven in your heart is hard at work right now. You may not be stoking the fires in the oven. But, eventually, the leaven will cause a rise. And, in a single moment of rage, it will bring forth the bread of iniquity!

This describes the lives of many Christians today. They've got a little leaven in their heart - some small anger or hurt they've never dealt with - and they won't face it and repent. Instead, they simply turn a blind eye to it. They may believe their heart is clean, innocent. They may even testify, "I have nothing against that person. I'm not stewing over anything."

But the leaven of bitterness is still at work in them - reaching into every area of their life. And the time will come when it will surface again, rising up like leavened bread - because it hasn't been dealt with!

"An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression" (Proverbs 29:22). Anyone who has a hidden anger eventually will stir it up - and he'll end up abounding in sin!

There Is a Kind of Stewing
You May Do - and Satan
Will Do Everything in His
Power to Keep You From
Shutting It Off!

Let me return now to my opening story - about the phone call I received from my friend. The kind of stewing I did after that conversation is the kind Satan wants you to do: It's a stewing over your failures in your efforts to be conformed to the likeness of Christ!

The apostle Peter says something very important on this subject: "For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully....Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:19-23).

Peter has just described how Jesus handled every situation in life. When people hurt him, he didn't fight back. When they reviled him, he didn t threaten them. When they wanted to argue with him, he didn't get involved. Instead, he simply walked away. Even when he faced death, he didn't utter a word of protest.

"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps" (verse 21). Peter makes it clear: Jesus is to be our example of behavior.

The apostle Paul adds, "If you don't have charity - that is, the love of Christ - you are nothing!" Yet, what does it mean to have charity? Simply put, having charity means putting up with a lot of things that bug us!

According to 1 Corinthians 13, charity means showing kindness to everyone, with no exceptions...having no jealousy whatsoever...not boasting or promoting oneself...seeking others' interests above our own...not being easily provoked...not thinking evil of anyone...not rejoicing when someone falls, even an enemy.

Both Peter and Paul are stating very clearly in these passages: "Here is our command to you: There is to be no fighting back, no revenge, no threatening among you. Instead, commit all your agitations, fears and bitterness to Christ. Follow his example!"

Our hearts may answer, "Lord, that's what I want!" And we may set out to obey. At first we may get a few victories under our belt, and we start to feel confident about what God is doing in us. We tell our friends, "God is really working in me - and I'm changing!"

But suddenly, out of nowhere, an arrow is shot into our heart. Someone says or does something that plunges an ugly, unexpected, acid arrow into us - and we quickly have a rush of angry thoughts. Then, before we know it, we're shooting poisoned arrows back at the one who crossed us!

Not long after this, we realize we've failed. We'd tried hard - praying, seeking God, clinging to truth, and enjoying many successes. But, suddenly, the enemy came in like a flood - and we failed completely in our effort to be like Jesus!

When We Fail, Acting in
An Uncharitable Manner,
Another Kind of Simmering
Happens - a Brooding That

Suddenly, we're plagued by a sense of unworthiness. We turn inward, thinking, "I did it again! I haven't changed at all. I'll never be Christlike. Lord, I've been walking with you for years - yet I still react like a babe, not a mature Christian. Why haven't I changed?"

Beloved, that is exactly where the devil wants you! He wants you to keep stewing over your shortcomings, worrying about a lack of growth, thinking the race is impossible - so you'll become discouraged and drop out!

The author of Hebrews writes, "...let us run with patience the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1). You simply must have patience with yourself and with your growth. After all, the race is going to continue until Jesus returns. Yes, you're going to stumble, trip and get winded. But if you fail, you're to get up and move on!

God's word speaks of overcoming: "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world..." (1 John 5:4). "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son" (Revelation 21:7).

To overcome is to "conquer and get the best of all temptations and obstacles." What are our obstacles? They are every new reaction in the flesh, every failure to be Christlike, every uprising of temper, bitterness or agitation. These are hindrances to conquer and overcome!

I believe multitudes of people who once served the Lord are now living in sin and unbelief because Satan convinced them they could never be Christlike. They kept making mistakes - and they reacted by beating themselves down, feeling like compromisers, stewing over their failures. Finally, they just gave up.

I ask you - what if David had simmered and stewed in his failures? This man was exposed before the whole world as an adulterer and a murderer. He wrote, " sin is ever before me" (Psalm 51:3). "For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me....I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long" (38:4-6).

Yet David did not stew in his failures. He repented wholeheartedly - and he could say, "Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness" (30:11).

The fastest way to "turn off the stew" is to trust in Christ s forgiveness. And Christ is ready to forgive at all times: "For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee" (86:3). "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities..." (103:5).


Mt. Zion School of Ministry

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