TONY ELDER: Learn the difference between God's guidance and an overly sensitive conscience

Tony Elder

Tony Elder

My wife’s car is equipped with one of those signals which lights up when the tire pressure gets low. Such a device can be helpful for those of us who have a hard time judging whether or not a tire is adequately inflated just by eyeballing it.

However, in cold weather this particular gauge doesn’t function as well. It tends to light up and stay on, even when the tire pressure isn’t low. As such, it’s more bothersome than helpful.

Every time I see that light I wonder if it’s a false reading from the cold temperatures or if one of the tires might truly need some air. So every once in a while I go ahead and check the pressure just to be sure, even though it almost always turns out to be unnecessary.

Sometimes we have to guard against an oversensitive warning system when it comes to our walk with God. Granted, the opposite situation is the more common problem for most people. They don’t pay attention to the warning signs from their conscience, from the Holy Spirit, or from God’s Word when something is malfunctioning spiritually.

But there are others who live under a constant cloud of guilt. The warning light is always on in their lives. They are continuously examining themselves and beating themselves up over their perceived failures to measure up to the standards they’ve set for themselves.

Notice that I’m talking about “their” standards, not God’s standards. We should certainly be seeking to live the way God wants us to live, and we can trust Him to enable us to do so.

But as high as God’s standards are, we sometimes raise the bar even higher by adding our own lists of “dos and don’ts” to the mix.

We are overcome with guilt when we realize we forgot to say a blessing before our meal. “Oh no, maybe the Lord won’t bless this food to strengthen me, but instead He’ll let it make me sick!” Or we are rattled with guilt over the fact that we were too ill to attend church last Sunday. Or we feel like we need to do penance because we didn’t read our daily devotional this morning.

If we’re not careful, we can end up fitting the description Jesus gave of the scribes and Pharisees of His day. They added their own traditions and regulations to God’s commands, making following God more of a burden than a joy for themselves as well as for others.

Jesus said that they were “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). He also pointed out how they emphasized the little, secondary matters, while neglecting the more important issues. He suggested they were those “who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24).

Don’t get me wrong. God is concerned about the little things in our lives too. He wants us to obey Him in everything, big and small. But sometimes we can get so focused on the little things and let them weigh us down that we neglect the more important and clearer teachings about God’s will for our lives.

Let’s be sure to differentiate between man’s ideas and God’s commands. Let’s distinguish between the workings of an oversensitive conscience and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes we have good reason to feel guilty. But God doesn’t want us to live in a constant state of flogging ourselves over our perceived shortcomings. He wants us to rejoice in His forgiveness and cleansing, and to be able to live our lives with the assurance that all is well with our souls.

The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by email at revtelder@aol.com.