Spiritual Warfare


 

 

When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat.

1 Corinthians 4: 12

 

We might dream or wish to live in a civil world where people respect others without regard for what we believe, who we are, or how we view governance or other like issues. Yet, we know that this is not true. The hyper-aware nature of our times makes it hard to ignore issues; so, it also makes sorting out the people that we meet from the positions that they hold a lot more challenging. The world where we live is one wherein people are frequently defined and catalogued by our political, religious, and cultural point of view. We use broad brush strokes such as liberal or conservative, believer or non-believer, nationalist, evangelical, Muslim, socialist, and many others as if those terms fully fleshed out the definition of who a person is and of what worth they might be. Nothing of this sort is truly valid when it comes to the way that we view others or when we determine how we should respond to the world where we dwell.

 

We might think that these issues and concerns are the result of the way that our world has evolved for our fast paced, electronic communication oriented environment is one in which it is hard to ignore what is happening around the world and who is involved in making these things occur. Yet, Paul is talking about some of the same sorts of things as they were current events in his times, too. The nature of people as we live out our brokenness and our sinfulness has not changed much over time. We are hurtful, arrogant, and prideful now just as we were long ago. We seek to make little of others in order to contrast our personal greatness to them, and we don’t much care how much damage we might do to others while engaging in these acts. Far too often labels are used as a replacement for engaging in relationship building, for these wide-reaching descriptors make it far easier for us to sift out and sort people into those that we consider to be acceptable and worthy of knowing and those that we do not value enough to associate with. All of these thoughts, actions, and attitudes cause harm and deny the reconciling work of Christ through us and in the lives of others.

Christ’s reconciling

In fact, we will encounter people with whom we differ on many topics and in many other ways. This is the beautiful reality of the great diversity that God has designed into humanity. We are intended to live in a manner that values these differences and that allows for the expression of our various points of view and perspectives so that, in the end, a fully-formed and balanced perspective is brought to bear upon the concept of living in a loving and considerate manner as we travel through life. This brings me to the partial verse above. I think that Paul is granting us some wise instruction for how we can live in this world as true disciples of Christ. As in all things, our Lord is the example for us to look to and to model ourselves after in our responses to the world. It is inevitable that we will be spoken negatively about and treated unfairly or unjustly by others because of our beliefs and due to the way that those beliefs demand that we think, speak, and act. We may even encounter violence or other severe forms of persecution as a result of standing firmly for what is right in God’s eyes. However, even in these extreme situations, we are still to return loving blessings in exchange for angry and hurtful words, we are to hold onto Christ in all situations by and through His strength and power, and we are to respond to all forms of attack with the truth of the Gospel as we hold Jesus Christ up as our rock, shield, and fortress while praying for the salvation of the souls of those who are seeking to do harm to us.

 

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Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city but we seek the city that is to come.

Hebrews 13: 13, 14

 

There is a popular hymn that in all probability dates from the early years of the twentieth century that starts out with these words,

 

“This world in not my home, I’m just a passing through;
My treasures are laid up Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.”

 

This says what the author of Hebrews was saying, at least in part. In Christ we gain much, but we also loss much, or perhaps more accurately, we leave behind much. Christ is our model and our leading example in all of this. He left the glory of Heaven and His position as Lord over all of Creation in order to live with and among us on this earth. He submitted to all that He was required to endure in life here, and then He allowed us to treat His royal being with cruelty and put Him to death as if the sinless one were indeed the criminal that all of us are in fact. Now, Christ calls upon all of us who submit to Him as His followers to leave the place of our births behind and to join Him in dwelling beyond the walls of worldly comfort and protection.

 

Jesus demands our primary loyalty; so, if we are in Christ, we can not be so aligned with any nation, people, religion, or earthly system of order or governance. None of these things will last beyond their few allotted years. All of this world’s entities, constructs, and rule of law will pass away, and each of them is already subordinate to God’s Word of truth. We should not give our hearts and our souls to any of these earthly orders or pledge our loyalty to any of their rulers, for none of these are worthy of such honor. Not one of them is righteous, holy, and without self-serving purpose and intent. We owe all honor, allegiance, and worship to God, the Father, to Christ the Son and our Savior, and to the Spirit that dwells with and in us. All other adoration and praise are poured out on unworthy recipients and is thus wasted effort and misguided loyalty. Christ alone is to be Lord over all aspects of our lives.

 

All that we do and everything that we stand for in this life should be focused upon Christ. He is the source of all wisdom and guidance for our days, and our Lord is the singular source for all of the strength, encouragement, grace, and love that will be required of us if we choose to live in this God-honoring manner. As otherworldly followers of Christ, we are people who seek out the broken and the oppressed in our world in order to grant them protection, healing, and dignity in the name of Christ. When we choose to dwell outside of the walls of earthly institution, we are setting aside the hard rules of those entities in order to see others as human beings, and so viewing them frees us to enter into their stories as people who can not only be empathetic, but also we can thus travel through hard days and along challenging miles of their journeys with them. As we move out of the city of this worldly life, we do leave behind much, but we also draw near to our Savior and Lord, for He dwells in these hard and rocky places that are beyond the borders of earthly cities. So, let’s gather together and worship our Lord in His true tabernacle of blessing where Christ’s Spirit is mighty and we boldly invite the stranger and the foreigner to come in and join in the feast.

 

I waited patiently for the LORD;

And He inclined to me and heard my cry.

He brought me up out of the pit of destruction,

out of the miry clay,

And He set my feet upon a rock

making my footsteps firm.

Psalm 40: 1, 2 (NASB)

 

There are times and situations in life where waiting on the Lord seems like a pure impossibility. There is too much to handle in front of me, or the weight of the day is so great that breath itself is crushed from my lungs. This is not a fair world, and it doesn’t even pretend to play by fair and just rules. It simply goes after the throat of those who are least able and capable of defending themselves. Then, it seems to sense defeat and pounces upon the downtrodden person with even more ferocity than it put forth at the start of the assault. This sort of scene is, mercifully, not what we go through every day, and it is the exception to what is normal for most of us most of the time. However, when life is like this, it is unbearable, and even one such episode may be enough to undo the stoutest of hearts and unhinge the strongest of minds.

 

David is sharing truth that comes right out of his life. He went through plenty of hard times and faced many stiff challenges. Some of his struggles were of his own making, and many others came to him because of who he was. People seemed to go after him, and it would appear that evil, itself, has painted a target on his back. David, like anyone who loves God, is on the other side from many forces that roam our world and that seek to gain power and advantage over all that is good, righteous, and loving in this place. David’s body, mind, and soul were under attack on many occasions, and these assailants were able to do harm to him on several of these occasions. They did harm, but they did not defeat him. They made his body ache, his heart was grieved, and his spirit was tested; yet, the Lord provided David with the strength and the wisdom that he required to get through it all.

 

In the end, the Lord restored the grieving heart, bound up the gaping wounds in his flesh, and restored the sanity that had been pushed to the brink of breaking. David did not possess the strength to lift himself up. The great warrior, poet, ruler, and devoted follower of the one true God was unable to put himself back together after all that was done to him. But the Lord, sovereign and mighty and also loving and compassionate, was up to the task. God came to the hurting soul and brought the sweet wine of restoration to his lips. So, Christ comes to us when we are desperate and alone, as we are hurting and wounded, and in our hour of darkness and despair, and He speaks love to our hearts. Christ gives peace to our troubled minds, and He counsels us in the ways of truth and justice. We serve a Lord who loves each of us in a way that is impossible for any person to do; yet, He also gives to us a family of His faithful that will embrace and love us for who we are and for who Christ sees within our beautiful souls.

And Christ said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weakness, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

2 Corinthians 12: 9

 

Do you ever wonder about the way that our culture seems to be fascinated with stories about people who possess remarkable skill, power, and dominance over what life throws at them? Along these same lines, look at the popularity of superheroes in books and films; we spend a lot of money on escaping from our reality into one where evil is defeated by someone who seems to have strength and capacity that comes from a source beyond our access or understanding. Thus, they are heroes for saving us, and since their ability to do the saving comes from a seemingly miraculous source, they are super. How odd is this fascination with power that comes from beyond the human realm; yet, it is all actually completely natural.

 

We live in a world that is at least as perilous and as frightening as the ones where these characters of fiction dwell. We may not be faced by an angry god from some other dimension who decides to take his frustrations out on our planet, but we might consider that, in fact, the war that Satan is raging with God and with His creation is an even more intense one than those in the films. It is also real. This fight for survival and for our eternities is going on at this moment. As the struggle is enjoined, Christ does ask His people to engage in it. However, it is in His approach to it where the story takes a dramatic turn from most of the fiction that we encounter. Christ does not grant us great physical powers and send us into the battle to crush our opponents. Rather, He tells us to develop hearts that love them and that pray for their salvation.

 

Christ sends us into the battle without human strength or skill. He tells us to counter oppressive might with a turned cheek of obedience to God. He has us stop arrows with His shield of faith and protect our hearts from fatal blows with God’s unequivocal righteousness. This is all counter intuitive, and it can make us feel very vulnerable and even helpless. That just might be our Lord’s point! We do have a superhero as our Savior, and He has already completed the victory that we desire. He doesn’t need us blindly and wildly attacking a vicious but defeated foe. Christ wants us to yield our selves to Him and to empty our hearts and minds of our impotent power. Then we are truly strong; for then, Christ with His love, grace, mercy, and righteousness stands prominently before evil, and reconciliation comes under the shadow of the all-mighty cross of Christ.

The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.

Deuteronomy 28: 7

 

When the bad of this world strikes, it often seems as if it is coming after its intended victim with all of its furry and might concentrated into a singular moment and point of assault. These are the days when everything that could go wrong does so. The friends that you had been able to count on to get your back are suddenly traveling on the other side of the world, or, even worse, they are leading the charge against you. On these days, which can stretch out over weeks and also years, it is hard to find the strength to just crawl out of bed. In fact, the reasonable thing to do might just be to burrow down under the blankets and pray for divine deliverance.

 

That, in fact, might be Moses’ point. Not the lump under the covers at the foot of the bed part of it, but the praying aspect of that image. There is a war on. Anyone who pledges allegiance to God and seeks to follow Him will become engaged in the fight, whether we want to be so engaged or not. Although today may be calm and there might not be an angry army camped outside your door at this time, you will be under siege from them in the future. It is also an almost absolute guarantee that you will be called upon to do some skirmishing during some part of the most peaceful of days. Satan does not stop. He is not willing to yield, and he will be relentless in his futile attempts to get to and at God’s people.

 

It seems to me that this condition of being in an ever present state of war in this life is the result of God’s very nature. He does not force people to follow Him; rather, He pursues us and graciously loves us. God allows us to stand up and be strong; yet, He is continually ready to sooth our wounds and stand us up when we are knocked over. He also knows that we tend to think that we only need Him when things are tough. We tend to only call upon God when the first arrows of the volley are starting to strike our flesh, when we have shattered our sword, and when our armor is out to be cleaned and polished. God wants us to learn to be dependent on Him in and for all things. He wants us to do this by staying close to Him in prayer, in deep study of His Word, and through close association and involvement in His community of faith. This is how people can stay equipped and ready to engage in the battle. In this way those seemingly mighty forces that are coming after us will be sent fleeing in every direction.

Wondrously show your steadfast love,

O Savior of those who seek refuge

from their adversaries at your right hand.

Psalm 17: 7

 

There are enemies at the gate, and enemies at the door to our houses. There are enemies all around us in this world and even beyond its bounds. This is one of those hard aspects of real life, and it is the sort of thing that we do not always fully appreciate, either. Although there may be a number of these life foes that we can see and who concern us in tangible and even obvious ways, there are myriads more of them that are outside of the visible and beyond the readily tangible. Yet, even with their existence being in the realm of spirit and much of their negative work being accomplished in the area of spiritual life, they are real, and their impact upon people is powerful and significant. The impact that they have on God’s people may be far greater than we realize; yet, their true power is minimized by the presence of Christ, and because of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross, they have no lasting authority over this world or the one beyond.

 

When these foes turn their angry attention to us, we can look to our Lord for protection, for guidance, and for healing from the wounds that they inflict upon us. Christ goes with us into life, and He provides us with His protection and guidance as we journey forth. There is no better preparation for the adventure that is life than prayer and meditation upon God’s Word, and we have no greater source of strength and encouragement for the tasks that we face than that which comes from Christ and through His Spirit. This world is a hard place to dwell, and it is even a harder one in which to reside as a true and faithful follower of Christ. So, seeking after the Lord’s will and wisdom in all that we think, do, and say is of vital importance. When we enter into all of life with Christ as our guide and as our protector, we have gained an unbeatable advantage over these spiritual enemies and over the human ones that operate under their influence.

 

The way that Christ cares for His people is truly wonderous, and it is miraculous as well. There is nothing else in our experience that compares to the love that is poured out upon people by God. There is also no power in our world that is beyond or above that which is used by Christ to save us from Satan and from his vast array of spiritual forces. In Christ we find salvation for our souls, and through His presence in us and with us throughout the balance of our days, we know protection and saving grace and mercy for all that will attack us along the way. Lord, let us turn to You for wisdom and for guidance as we chart our course today. Also, grant us grace for our missteps, mercy for our times of distress, humility of spirit in order to give all glory to You, and cover us in the protection of Your blood, Christ, as we cling to the wonderous and eternal salvation of Your cross.

Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

Colossians 3: 5

 

Here is a really tough personal challenge for most of us. At first glance, we might say that I don’t struggle with those things; they were part of the person that I was before Christ, that was what I did before I grew up and realized that there was a better way, or they are just a casual and a controlled aspect of my much greater new self. The problem with all of that is the standard that Paul sets out in the verse, for he says that we should consider ourselves as dead to them. Dead is a rather absolute statement, and it doesn’t leave much room for occasional involvement or for limited activity. Dead equates to none, to finished, and to buried and put away forever.

 

We are given an important clue to how all of this is to come about in the idea that, as stated previously in Colossians, Christ’s death and resurrection are what make this sort of fundamental change possible for us. Then, it is our own decision to fully accept the gift of grace and the transformation of our essential selves that are its result. For it is the grace that comes to us as a result of the cross that takes these destructive elements that tended to control our lives and that also sets the tone for our relationships and places them into the permanently sealed coffin that is supplied by Christ’s gift of redemption.

 

So, as I look honestly at my life and view the actual way that I think and act, I am forced to note the still active and influential idols of my old self sitting in plain view on their shelf. I am forced to recognize that I still turn to them and allow them to take control of moments and of situations in my days; yet, I also know that Christ has eliminated my real need for them, and He has replaced this need with His far greater and totally loving capacity to deal with life. The Lord tells me that when the voices of lust, anger, fear, self importance, and greed call to me that I need to be prepared to tell them to leave me, for they are nothing but the whispers of the ghosts of my past. Alife that has been put to death on the cross and that no longer holds the power to control my life.

 

 

 

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