This morning we had a phone call from our 6 year old son Benjamin’s school saying that they thought that he had broken his arm. Quite concerned, Debbie went up to the school only to find (to our our great relief) that it was now thought to be a false alarm. Benjamin (like his daddy) is not good with anything accident or health related and had been refusing to move his arm at all. This had made his teachers think he may have broken it during a fall some moments earlier. The situation quickly changed from crisis to calm and we’re pleased to say that Benjamin remained at school and is now doing well. The reason that I share this story is that for the past couple of weeks or so the spiritual battle has raged strongly as we have been working on the details of a new assignment with the Navigators and preparing for our 5 week summer trip to Norway (now only 4 days away).
Last Thursday in particular was the day of a particularly important meeting with our Regional leader and those who have been leading the student ministry in our absence this past year. The meeting was in the evening yet the day itself was very challenging; Debbie found herself feeling particularly low, we had some disappointment (which the following day turned out to be another false alarm) and the children were particularly difficult (over and above the rising excitement ahead of our trip). While none of these examples are especially noteworthy in themselves, I would testify (as would many others in full-time ministry) that the spiritual battle is at its most fiercest when we are on the front-line. Over the years we have often seen this to be the case, ministry nights, the days before our summer trips and significant meetings all seem to attract significant attention from the forces of evil. A coincidence perhaps at times but for me the trend is a clear, that there is a close correlation between the spiritual battle and our involvement in ministry.
The subject of spiritual attack is of particular interest to us as we think about the theme of hope. It will come as no surprise that Satan wants to destroy our hope and prevent us from moving from ‘hopeless’ to ‘hopeful’. Speaking about God’s plan for us in our pain, Dutch Sheets writes “I did not realise, however, that God wanted more than to simply remove my pain; he wanted to use it. God never wastes your pain; before He removes it, He makes it serve you…There are always two plans for your difficult times–Satan’s plan in causing them and God’s plan of redeeming them. Satan’s plan is usually obvious: heart failure. He wants you to give up, retreat from life, and turn from God. God’s plan, however, isn’t often seen until you emerge on the other side of the pain.” I can certainly think of times this year when I’ve felt like giving up, retreating and turning my back on God, times when I have resented all the challenges that we have been facing, times when giving up has seemed a very attractive option. That is Satan’s plan to lead us away from hope and leave us hopeless and floundering for perspective. As I have tried to write this post one thing after another has kept on preventing me from doing so; it has been clear that this is not something that someone in particular wants me to write!
Nancy Missler in her book Hope against Hope speaks of the “Cycle of Trust” and the “Cycle of Defeat”. She says that if we are not careful the enemy pushes his way into our lives with the Cycle of Defeat. First we start doubting God’s love for us and His plan for our lives. That causes us to make emotional choices (to do our own will, not God’s) which prevent us from laying our lives down to Him in love. This in turn pushes us to walk by “sight” and not by “faith”, which then prevents Him from revealing His hands in all the little things. That makes us unable to see His hand at work in our lives (causing us to feel hopeless) and the end result being that we are overwhelmed and left with the feeling of confusion, disorientation and wanting to give up. Instead Nancy encourages us with the Cycle of Trust which is built on the foundation of God’s loves for us and His plan is to conform us to His image. In knowing and living in the light of the truth we are given the confidence to make the appropriate “faith choices” (to do His will regardless of how we feel or what is going on in our lives) which in turn leads us to lay aside our wills and our lives to Him in love. This subsequently enables us to walk by “faith” and not by “sight”, which then allows us to see His hands of love in the little things and to hope in Him even more. The end result is that we are able to overcome the trial and endure to the end. Hope inspires us to persevere (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
There is much written in Scripture about the spiritual battle and you can read a little more on this theme in my 2009 blog post entitled Spiritual Warfare.” In that post I talked about the fact that we are living in “enemy occupied territory” and I acknowledged the two errors we can make in this respect. “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.
More than often for me the temptation to live in ignorance. Yet at times (usually the times when I am closest to the front-line) the battle is very real. At such times we would do well to heed the words of Peter who encourages us to be “be self-controlled and alert” (1 Peter 5:8-9) and the words of Paul who encourages us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and to “put on the full armour of God” so that we can “stand up against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Every Christ loving believer seeking to live for Him and make a difference for Him amongst those we live amongst will face the challenges of the Spiritual battle. There will be times when we are on the front line (where the battle is fiercest) and other times when we are further back (where the battle is less fierce) but either way we should be encouraged that we are not alone and we do not have to be unarmed and unprepared. The “weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world …” but rather “have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Neil Anderson in his books the Bondage Breaker and Victory over Darkness argues that the key issue is to “know the truth” for after all Jesus promised that it is the “truth that will set us free.” Let me ask you (as I do myself); how well do you know the truth (remember Jesus said He was the truth in John 14:6)? How is your walk with Jesus at the moment? Would you say that you feel ‘full of hope’ or ‘hopeless’? The God of Hope calls you to Himself and Hope changes everything. He is your help and shield, your fortress, your rock and your refuge. Trust Him and stand firm against the devil’s schemes. Spiritual attack is a reality and there is no avoiding it, but are you ready for battle?
I don’t know whether you feel like you are in a “downward spiral of defeat” and hopelessness or in the “upward spiral of hope” in the God who loves us and gave His life for us. I don’t know whether you are living by faith in Christ or finding yourself living more by sight. Either way I do want to encourage you (as I do myself) to not lose heart. In the words of Paul “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). The battle is fierce (and we have been really feeling it this past week) but the one we trust is Sovereign and He is with us.