Monday, June 18, 2018

Engaging in the Battle

     Spiritual warfare has been discredited by people who’ve taught that there’s a demon behind every bush. The pendulum has unfortunately swung so far in the other direction that many of us go through large portions of our lives unaware of and indifferent to the concept of a spiritual battle. We’re told in scripture that our "enemy prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). We’re exhorted to put on God's armor so that when -- not if-- the day of evil comes we can take our stand (Eph. 6:10-18).
     The reality of spiritual warfare can be a frightening concept to embrace, which is one of the main reasons Christians ignore it. Coming to terms with the fact that we’re living in a spiritual realm that we can’t see and we’re not in control of is somewhat threatening. It’s much easier to operate as materialists going through life with the misconception that we're in control. Once we’re deceived, we deceive others into believing the lie. The worst part is that by ignoring the spiritual battle we don’t in any way diminish it. In fact, we become even greater casualties as we wander about on the battlefield with no armor, no weapons, no realization of where we are and what’s going on.
     We had huge problems with mosquitoes during the rainy season when we were living in South Korea.  My husband and I were repeatedly woken up in the middle of the night with painful bites on our arms and faces. We would get up, turn on all the lights and search for what we thought was the culprit. Most of the time we weren't able to find a single mosquito. Because we couldn't see anything, we went back to sleep. But ignoring it did not change reality. In fact, our mosquito problem got worse over time until we finally determined that unless we took action we were going to be eaten alive. The same is true with the spiritual battle that is raging. It's there, and it's not going away.
     Spiritual warfare occurs in so many ways that it’s impossible for us to know exactly what is and what isn’t warfare. But, there are certain steps we can take with regard to all difficulties and hardships that keep us engaged in the battle, not fighting with human wisdom, but with spiritual weapons (2 Cor. 10:4).
     Pray for wisdom. If someone or something becomes difficult to deal with in our life, it’s an opportunity to commit that situation and/or person to prayer. God wants us to pray about everything rather than wringing our hands in anxiety and even worse trying to handle it in our own strength and wisdom (Phil. 4:6). We start by asking for his wisdom to respond to the difficulty in a way that honors him and for insight to discern how we've possibly contributed to the problem (Matt. 7:5). God, in his mercy, has promised that he'll provide abundant wisdom when we ask with a trusting heart (James 1:5).
    Put on the armor of God. In prayer, before going out into the day, we submit ourselves to God and his Spirit’s leading in our lives. This means spending time in his word so that we know his will and we're prepared to respond to the lies of the world, the flesh and the enemy. We embark on each day with the certainty that our sins are forgiven, we're counted righteous and that we have a purpose for living that transcends merely surviving problems and trials. Standing upon the word, we take up the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit and we're prepared to speak the truth in love as we meet opposition, all the while allowing God's word to determine what's ultimate truth (Eph. 6:10-18).
     Bless and be a blessing – No matter what our hardship, we're called to be a blessing, not a curse, in the world (Gen. 12:2). If we're having relationship difficulties, our goal is to be salt and light, peace seekers who speak the truth, but who do it in love. Christ has called us to unity in the body, and has already broken down the dividing walls of hostility (Eph. 2:14). His will is for us to live at peace with others as much as it depends upon us (Rom. 12:18). And we're to pray for those we're having difficulties with, asking for God to bless them, to heal our relationship and to give us kind and upbuilding words (Eph. 4:29).
     Claim the ground upon which we are standing. If we're in fellowship with Christ and not living in willful sin, then we go forth in his power, with his presence. We have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), the wisdom of Christ, the presence of Christ, the purity of Christ and the purpose of Christ -- "Christ in us, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). He has also promised that he's with us "even to the very ends of the earth" (Matt. 28:20). We remember these promises and stand upon them, thanking Him for his presence and for the victory we have in him. We can rejoice in difficulties, be kind to rude people, face uncertainties. While we're out engaging in the war we remind ourselves continually that the battle is not ours but Christ’s, and he’s promised to fight it for us if we abide in him (2 Cor. 20:12, John 15).
     Praise him for fulfilling every promise he’s made in Christ, even when we don’t see it. God has filled his word with promises that he's sealed in Christ's blood (2 Cor. 1:20). We’re often prone to take the promises out of context and claim them in selfish ways that he never intended. But if we read and study the word, asking the Holy Spirit to illumine our hearts and minds, he’ll show us a vast array of truths that we can confidently stand upon. For example, we know that he's called us to hope and peace, rather than anxiety (Phil. 4:6); that he desires we walk in wisdom, rather than as fools (Eph. 5:15); that we take hold of opportunities to share the gospel instead of speaking idle, careless words (Eph. 5:15-16); that we speak kind words to those who are rude, showing them grace and mercy (Luke 6:28); that we lead quiet lives and do our work diligently (1 Thes. 4:11). We can thank and praise God for helping us to fulfill these actions in the Spirit. And there are so many more promises that he desires to use in transforming our lives. 
     Acknowledge and make peace daily with the fact that he’s told us“in this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33).When we see trouble as an integral part of our life on earth it loses its power to frighten and discourage us. Jesus said that we were certain to face trials, and James exhorts us to rejoice when we encounter them. We’re to go forth into the day, praising and thanking God for his greatness and his great promises to us, submitting our hearts and lives to him and yet remaining aware of the difficulties we’ll encounter, knowing that he is with us through them all.
     There is a spiritual battle raging in the life of every Christian. We have the choice each day to either live in the power and presence of God, standing upon his promises, or to go out into the battle denying that there’s any such thing going on. We enter the war zone, regardless. We'll be attacked by the enemy, regardless. But only those choosing to live by faith -- putting their hope in the living God and what he’s said is true -- will emerge victorious, bearing much fruit and giving him glory (John 15:8). 

Everyday Faith

     The resurrection reminds us of the life giving, Spirit empowering reality of Christ’s victory over death, sin and Satan. It redirects our often distracted gaze back to the cross with the guarantee that God has restored us to himself and given us eternal life. With the promise of our forever union with Christ, we also gain confidence that every lesser promise will be fulfilled, or as the apostle Paul put it – every one of his promises are “yes’ and amen” in Christ (2 Cor 1:20). The certainty that he’s not only secured our eternal destiny but has taken responsibility for meeting all our needs, enables us to recommit our hearts to seeking first his Kingdom and righteousness, knowing that all these other things will be provided as well (Matt 6:33).
     If…. then….
     If he did not hold back his Son and allowed him to suffer and die on the cross to restore our broken relationship, then why would he not give us everything else we need (Rm 8:32)? God guarantees that if we set our hearts on him and his Kingdom, he will take care of all the other needs. He has written this promise, along with thousands of others concerning his intention to lovingly look after his children, and sealed them in the blood of Christ so that we do not have to wonder if he is really serious. Since he’s already given us the greater gift of his Son and his Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance, he’ll most definitely give us the less significant gifts that we need for life so that we can effectively follow Him.
     It takes trust….
     Too often there is a huge disconnect in our lives and practice with regard to trusting him for “all these other things”. I’ve found this to be true in my own life. I often proclaim without any hesitation trust in his promise that when I die I will go to be with Christ. But ask me on certain days if I’m sure about God’s provision for my other perceived needs and I may flinch. I realize how completely illogical it is for me to say that I’m trusting Christ to save me, to literally raise me from the dead and give me a resurrection body, and still live in doubt that God is going to provide all the essentials for life.
     The only way to bridge the gap of this fear and doubt is through knowing him better, spending time in the Word and prayer.  He says that faith comes from hearing (listening to, trusting and following) his Word (Rm 10:17). The more we learn about his faithful love, along with his many other characteristics, the more inclined we are to trust him to do what he says he’ll do in the here and now as well as the distant future.
     One story that is especially inspiring in overcoming the gulf between trusting in God’s power to transform day to day life and the actual unbelief we’re living in is of the man who came to Jesus for healing of his tormented son (Mk 9:14-29). He came complaining that the disciples could not heal his son, but Jesus turned the conversation back to his own lack of faith when he basically asked him, “What about you? Do you believe I am who I claim to be and can transform your life right now in this moment?” Rather than walk away in shame or even try to cover up his lack of faith he responded with humility and honesty, “I believe. Help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24, NIV).
     Interestingly, his willingness to confess and repent of his unbelief stands in great contrast to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were, as Isaiah prophesied and Jesus proclaimed, “ever seeing but not perceiving” (Is 6:9; Mk 4:12). Their self-sufficiency and self-righteousness kept them from seeing their need for God’s miraculous intervention in salvation as well as daily grace to provide for their needs. Like the parable of the rich man who had so much “stuff” that he built a barn to store his excess, they learned to trust in their own wisdom, resources and strength instead of turning to Christ in childlike faith and asking him to meet their needs, both the greater and the lesser.
     Thousands of years later we realize that we are also immersed in the same kind of culture – one that either denies the need for God’s power or has reduced him to a savior who will eventually keep us from eternal destruction. When we embrace either way of thinking, we miss out on experiencing his all sufficient presence and provision throughout the minutes of our lives.  Instead of truly believing Christ’s command to seek him first, to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to trust him to give us everything, we listen to the lies that tell us we have to seek first our own security and self-preservation. The underlying fear and unbelief in God’s goodness, ability and power, keeps us from looking to him to abundantly care for us and supply all our needs.  And we end up missing out on a whole lot more than we could ever imagine.
     The great news is we don’t have to keep living like this. We can call out to the Father with the same prayer a desperate man prayed almost 2,000 years ago when he saw his need for God’s hand in his everyday life, while also recognizing his own lack of faith – “I believe, help my unbelief!” It’s a prayer of faith the Father loves to answer that will change the trajectory of our lives as we make the shift from trusting in own abilities and resources to allowing Christ to be both Lord and Savior. Letting go of this striving frees us to rest in his all-sufficient love and provision and enables us to live out our true purpose in life.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33).