The War of the Inner Voices

By Keith Miller | December 1, 2009

I am a grown person, and I have tried to commit my whole life to God and really want to do God’s will. Whenever I am tempted to do something immoral or dishonest my head is filled with difficult inner voices debating inside my mind. There are rigid, fearful, and righteous voices on one side, and smooth seductive, rationalizing, shaming voices on the other.

I’m feeling like a real failure as a Christian. Whatever the Saints I’ve read about did to remain so peaceful, I just ain’t got it. Do you have any suggestions about how to get rid of those inner voices (or at least get control of the outcome of their inner debates)?


Wow! That’s a mouthful of difficult (but very real) questions. I have certainly had a lot of time with some very similar sounding and convincing voices, and from what I’ve heard so have many other people.

When I first became a Christian, I was amazed at how hard it was for me to give up certain habits of thinking or acting on certain impulses (everything from exaggerating expenses on my income tax forms to lustful fantasies). Contemporary Christian leaders I’d met didn’t seem to have such grubby problems after they had made serious commitments of their lives to Christ. So I began to read about the lives of the people the church has designated as Saints, figuring that they might be honest about the real stuff.

Fortunately, a wise older Christian mentor told me that he’d also wrestled with temptations, experiencing almost despair until his mentor told him that there are apparently at least two kinds of Christians. Some seem to be blessed with a simple, clear cut way to deal with temptation: when a temptation comes to act against principles that are God’s will, they apparently just pray about the decision and decide to do God’s will.

The second kind of Christian experience is like yours—and mine. We seem to have all kinds of inner voices trying to seduce us away from God and his will. My old friend said, “I try to convince all of my “good” voices to join forces and support me in doing the right thing. I try to get them to the polls early to give me a quick, and overwhelming “No” vote victory to stop the rationalizing, seductive voices from luring me into a decision to move toward the temptation or back into indecision.”

Even using this approach there were some temptations about which it was very hard to get a big majority vote, much less a one hundred percent vote for God’s way—which I thought should be the normal outcome for a really committed Christian. But when I asked about that, my old mentor smiled broadly and said, “I discovered that all you need is a bare majority of one vote. Just enough to make the decision to do God’s will.” He added, “Keith, if you struggled and won the decision to do God’s will by only one vote every day for 20 years, you’d be a real flesh and blood Saint!

“Sainthood,” he continued, “is not achieved by killing off all the tempting voices, but by growing through the struggles in the midst of a world of temptations, realizing that each victory is basically a result of continuing to live life in Christ the best we can. Each attempt adds a kind of spiritual muscle to handle more and more important problems and decisions in God’s Kingdom. And over the years,” he said, “I feel calmer and have more and more confidence that God will give me the strength I need to live for Him one decision at a time.”

He reminded me that in the garden, the night before his trial, Jesus tried three times to get out of doing God’s will, the most loving act in history—and his struggle was so difficult the text says, “he sweated blood.”

Leaving there, he went, as he so often did, to Mount Olives. The disciples followed him. When they arrived at the place, he said, “Pray that you don’t give in to temptation.”

He pulled away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, remove this cup from me. But please, not what I want. What do you want?” At once an angel from heaven was at his side, strengthening him. He prayed on all the harder. Sweat, wrung from him like drops of blood, poured off his face. Luke 22:39-44

Paul describes his experience of this struggle in Romans as follows:

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. … The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. Romans 7:17-19, 25. THE MESSAGE

I guess it’s really the Spirit of living our entire life in Christ that finally lets us relax and enjoy the game.

Lord, thank you that you give us enough strength for each day and we don’t have to worry about having strength for our whole future right now. I am grateful that you have let us see through your honest servants like Paul that building your kind of character is sometimes more like playing baseball than being so focused on perfection. They tell me that the greatest batter in baseball’s history struck out about half the time at bat. Help me to take it easy and just learn the fundamentals of loving and showing up for the practice where you can teach us to love the other person as well as the game—instead of spending so much time fretting about the score. In Jesus’ name, amen.

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny….. Romans 8:1-2, THE MESSAGE

3 comments | Add One

  1. Marie Siebert - 12/1/2009 at 8:31 am

    This really lifted me up. Thanks again for your extremely relevant and meaningful. messages.

  2. Donna - 12/1/2009 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks for this message. Today I really needed it. . .an old friend.

  3. Chareedet - 12/6/2009 at 2:51 pm

    Thanks for posting about this, I would like to read more about this topic.

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With clear analysis and poignant witness, Keith leads us into wise intimacies of the soul with God. The Taste of New Wine, fresh reporting on the life of Christ, was important; this one, wisdom from a veteran, is necessary.
Eugene H. Peterson, author/translator of The Message
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