When, as a young girl I got mad, frustrated or began whining my mother gave me words of wisdom. At the time, I didn’t know they were words of wisdom. I just thought her words of instruction were normal protocol. Her instruction was this. “Go outside, run around the house six times and kick some trees.” So, I would go outside, count as I ran around the house and begin to kick one of the big pine trees in our backyard. I always felt better.
I thought about this several times this week. One of my most oft-used and very helpful scriptures is short, but profound. It is found in Romans 12:21 –
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is what my mother was training me to do. To replace what was bad with something good. (Exercise and getting rid of frustration was good….and no trees were harmed in this process.)
What an important scripture to practice. I find that I can only find success in overcoming sin, temptations or even annoying habits by applying this verse. It’s sort of like this:
Imagine if I decided that I ate too much chocolate (is that possible?) and that I would quit having chocolate as one of my staple food groups. So, I would then think about how I would avoid all Lindt dark chocolate bars with a sprinkling of chili in them. By no means would I indulge in a molten chocolate cake, warm from the oven with melted Ghirardelli chocolate oozing out of the center – and smothered in ice cream. And whenever I went through a “Wendy’s” drive-through I’d request a vanilla frosty (aren’t “frosty” and “chocolate” synonymous?) so I wouldn’t have to take slow tastes of the creamy chocolate custard that coats my throat in an oh-so palatable way. Needless to say, this is not a smart way to get chocolate out of my life. Even as I type this while in a neighborhood coffee shop, I am now tempted to check out the chocolate goodies staring at me under the glass. You see, God knows that the way to overcome something is to replace it with something else. What I need to do is to take a walk or eat an apple.
Jesus taught this truth with a parable: Luke 11:24-26
“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’  When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”
Too often we try to get rid of besetting sins or bad habits by just “sweeping our house clean” without occupying it with Godly attributes, actions and thoughts. Some practical ways this is to be done is found in Col. 3:5-10
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.  But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices  and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
12-15 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
A couple of days ago I was sharing Romans 12:21 with a young woman who was eager to become a Christian and who was wanting help in overcoming some destructive habits. She decided to “arm herself” with several scriptures she would immediately turn to, with prayer, and with requests for support from a few who she might call when tempted. She decided upon several “courses of action” which she could immediately turn to in order to “overcome evil with good”. She also was thrilled with the promise of God’s Spirit entering her when she was baptized. She was learning to put off…and to put on. To not be overcome…but to overcome.
What a privilege to have an alternative to “being overcome by evil”. What trees do you need to kick today?