Spiritual Warfare


No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15: 15

 

Let me simply state where I am going in this. The life that I am called to live in following Christ is not one of compulsion; rather, it is a journey of faith in which God takes me into His presence and provides a form of counsel and guidance that I willingly surrender myself to follow. Now, in truth, the level, degree, and consistency of that following are highly variable. None of that inconsistency has anything to do with God’s involvement in my life or with His remaining true to His desire to see me be a willing follower. It is also not so much a result of some form of rebellion on my part as it is caused by my stubborn refusal to give up aspects of my life that are contrary to God’s righteousness and loving truth. Even when I am off course, the Lord tends to bring me back into my redeemed reality by way of gentle yet direct reminders and prompting.

 

It is through the presence of Christ in my life, the Spirit within me, that I gain deep and thorough knowledge of the nature and character of God and that I come to understand the underlying reason and rationale for how the Lord thinks and what He feels. This is a significant part of what distinguishes followers of Christ from the rest of the people in our world. We possess this knowledge and comprehension of God that allows us to apply His foundational truth to making all of the choices and decisions that we need to make throughout the day. Unlike most people in positions of authority, God takes us into His reason and reveals His heart to us. He has given His Word to us, and the Spirit brings that word to life and provides us with an unending narrative regarding intent, interpretation, and application.

 

So, Christ treats me and every other person who follows Him as true and enduring friends. He reveals His pain and His joy, and He entrusts us with doing the redemptive work in this world that is the Father’s greatest calling for Him and for us. In fact, we are taken out of a form of bondage that sin and the powers of evil in our world have surrounded and captivated us with from birth, and He brings us out of its darkness into the full-sun brightness of God’s love, grace, and renewal. Christ releases us from a form of slavery that leads to death, and He sets us free to live life in the fullest expression of the way that God designed and created us to live. In Christ there is joy to be known that has nothing to do with circumstances, and there is peace to be experienced that comes from the security and the certainty of the Father’s unceasing love for us. Jesus truly holds each of us who know Him as deep and intimate friends, and He desires to be able to call everyone friend as well.

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And Joshua captured all the kings and their land at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel.

Joshua 10: 42

 

We all engage in battle. Seldom are they as dramatic, violent, and far reaching as were the ones that the Israelites under Joshua fought on this particular day. As for me, I have never needed the sun to stand still until it was all accomplished, which was an accommodation that the Lord granted to Joshua; in fact, there have been more times when I wished that the hours would go by more quickly. The point is that Israel’s experience here did involve the miraculous and was facilitated by the hand of God working on their behalf, and our own experience of life’s struggles may not seem to be the same. However, I submit that there is more similarity of our days to Joshua’s than we might think and more than we do appreciate.

 

Israel was following God’s instructions and entering into the outworking of the Lord’s plan. In this instance, they were doing things exactly as God dictated, and they were granted great success in the process. Our battles are different, the tools that we use are not the same, and victory is defined in ways other than in conquest and death. Still, we have God’s direction to lead us, prayer to encourage and to help us to focus, and the Spirit with us to explain and to direct it all. Like Joshua, we are called to go to war against powers and forces that desire to control the territory around us. We are engaged in an on-going contest with these forces of the world for the most precious real estate that there is in the hearts, minds, and souls of people. There is nothing more significant for us to do than to enter into Christ’s calling to bring His Gospel to everyone that we encounter.

 

This work can be very hard and takes us into the harsh terrain of deception, deeply held beliefs, and angry opposition. We may find that there are times when all of our companions and supporters seem to have disappeared into the background so that we feel totally alone. Yet, this is never the case, for the Lord is committed to us and to the campaign that He has called us to wage, and He never leaves us truly alone. In fact, Christ is the one who is doing all of this fighting for us, and He is the source for all of the strength and the courage that we need to enter into the struggle. As followers of Christ we will encounter the hostility of a world that is fighting against God’s righteous truth with all of its might and vigor; however, in Christ, we already have His victory, and we go into each of these encounters with the Lord leading the way and His loving grace, truth, and heart of redemption as our strong weapons.

So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD.

Joshua 9: 14

 

This is one of those strange moments in the story of the conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. In fact, this is a point where the story seems to take a sort of left turn into the realm of Theater of the Absurd. The story tells us that this one group of people from within the land sent representatives to Joshua in order to act out a drama in which they convinced the Israelites that they were actually from far away. So, the Israelites entered into a covenant with these Gibeonites that they would not harm them. It was only after this that it was learned that the seemingly road weary, worn down and dusty travelers standing before them were actually skillful actors who were dressed in costumes and were using stage props in order to convince Joshua of their sincerity.

 

The true point in all of this is found in this simple statement. Although God had been consistently providing wisdom, guidance, and counsel for Joshua and for the people for a very long time by now, they chose to make this decision on their own. In the overall scheme of things, this was not a very big deal. These were a few people who could do little harm, and they told a very convincing story. Yet, history has demonstrated that small decisions and little events can have extraordinary and ever-lasting consequences. Consider what impact a few deceptive words from a serpent had on us all after Adam and Eve acted upon them. This bit of grand theater that was carried out by the representatives of Gibeon is very similar in tactic to the way that Satan deceived our ancestors in the garden. Also, in both instances, the answer to the problem at hand would have been easy to discern by simply taking a few moments to turn to God and seek out His counsel and wisdom.

 

There is universal truth to this human dilemma and failing. We want to take charge of our lives and to make our own decisions along the way. Yet, we also know that God is in life with us and that He provides us with multiple sources for His ageless and universally applicable wisdom. So, we determine which issues and under what circumstances we will go it on our own or seek out the Lord first. This is what Joshua and the Israelites did here, and for them this self-directed decision would haunt them for generations to come. There was a better way for them to proceed, and there is a better way for us to engage with life also. The Lord provides us with His Word of truth to guide our journeys through this world. His Spirit also speaks wisdom to us, and the body of faith surrounds us with people who are similarly informed. God intends for His people to turn to Him and to trust Him to lead us through all of life. His counsel is ours, and it brings life, peace, and righteousness to our days. So, why would we ever join Joshua in saying, “Never mind, Lord; I’ve got this one handled?”

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

John 5: 21

 

God is the creator of all. There is noting that exists in the universe that comes from outside of His touch. Now there are certainly aspects and elements of the world around us that have gone radically off track from the Creator’s design and intent, but the initial work and crafting were engaged in and completed by God. As He is both the force and the intent behind all that is in our visible world and in the unseen realm of the spiritual, all that was set into existence by God’s hands was good and perfect in its inherent state of being. When things have gone astray, it is because of the brokenness that our sinful departure from God’s will, law, and rule over our lives has caused. Our ancestors listened to the seductive voice of evil, it spoken by a created being that chose to depart from God’s way for one that seemed to offer personal glory. Then they likewise determined that their true fulfillment was to be found in a self-determined path.

 

As we know from the narrative of all that followed, this was a disastrous decision. A life that was lived out in the ongoing presence of God and that was situated in the perfection of a lovingly crafted world had been granted to them, but then, after their rebellion against the one who loved them perfectly, they were forced into a separation that placed distance between people and our God and that brought about death where life had ruled. We are all born into this new reality where life is tenuous and too short and wherein our years a filled with the hard labor that existence demands. There is no other option that we are given except to endure it all and to live out our days in the isolation from our Creator that this beginning of time decision demanded. Yet, God did not desire for it to remain so. Even from those first moments when humanity was estranged from Him and from His holy presence, the Father set out His plan for redemption.

 

First of all, God did reengage with His children. He sought us out and He determined to continue to do this for the rest of time. The Father is a loving pursuer of our souls, and He is relentless in doing this. He also sent His Son, Jesus, into our world to dwell with us and to provide a complete and a perfect answer to the separation that sin had formed in our relationships with God. As the Father is the creator of life and holds it as His unique and total possession, so He has also granted this authority and power to the Son. Thus Jesus, by virtue of His sacrifice on the cross and His overcoming of death in the resurrection, has become the way and the means for all people to know life again. As we come in faith to Christ, we are redeemed from the death that grips our souls and that leads to an unending separation from our Creator. Christ utilizes the authority over life that the Father granted to Him to impart a form of life that transcends the duration of our earthly bodies. He grants to us the touch of eternity in this life, and in Christ we are also given the gift of life that continues beyond our days here into an unending future that is enjoyed in the presence of the love and the glory of the Lord.

Get up! Consecrate the people and say, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the LORD, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.””

Joshua 7: 13

 

The story has taken a very difficult turn. Defeat has come to the Israelite warriors, and this was not just a loss in battle. This was a turn and run, flee for your life after being overwhelmed sort of loss. Soldiers had been killed, and the victorious Amorites were beating their chests and taunting God’s people with all manner of derogatory words. To say the least, this was a very bad day, and there was nothing about tomorrow that looked any brighter. It seemed that maybe the long years of hard journey that had followed upon generations of hard life were just going to continue on without let up from this generation through to the future ones. Joshua was discouraged, and the people that he was leading were down hearted and defeated as well. This was that moment when God seemed far off and they felt quite alone in their struggles with life.

 

Yet, that was not true. God was more near than any of them realized. They were so caught up in the pain of defeat and in their fear for what sort of disaster was to come upon them soon that they forgot to stay worshipful and focused upon God’s faithful promise keeping history with them. The reason that God’s favor had left them was that they had turned from trusting Him. They had gone off on their own and done things as they pleased without the Lord’s guidance. They had also deviated from God’s word of truth and life so that their sinfulness had become a barrier between them and their Lord. This combination of entering into thoughts and behaviors that run contrary to God’s righteousness, this sinfulness, and turning away from a relationship in which we trust God fully is a common process in human endeavor.

 

We reject God’s truth because we would rather do things our own way. Then we take action upon our own desires and wishes so that our lives turn away from God’s path of righteous engagement with our world. Finally, we stop trusting God and placing our faith in Him as that form of closeness has become uncomfortable and our troubled hearts can’t handle that level of intimacy with God. However, God does not go far from us. He may allow the situations and the circumstances of life to become big and powerful. He may, as He did with the Israelites, allow us to experience defeat and very real loss. Yet, the Lord is there with us. He will step in to pick us up and set us back on His course through this world. God will point to our sinfulness, He will work within us to bring about repentance and restoration, and His Spirit will continue to guide us back into the joy of life that comes when we are fully devoted to the Lord and our lives are lived in close relationship with Him.

And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.”

Joshua 6: 2

 

Whether the walls are made of stone, or they are formed out of the harsh and craggy barriers of anger and distrust, we all encounter barriers in our journey of following Christ in the world. The obstacles will be there, and that is something that God has actually informed us about in advance. The simple truth is that much of this world stands firmly in the way of God’s redemptive desire and His related calling to His people to be servants of the Gospel of Christ. After we have engaged in a few encounters with the forces of this world and probably gained some bruises and perhaps even come away with some blood dripping from our wounds, it is easy to be apprehensive about the next encounter and to have our confidence shaken. There is nothing quite like a sharp rebuke or the loss of a relationship to bring about the need for caution, and there is truly nothing to compare with real physical peril in the process of dampening zeal.

 

If we seek to do the Lord’s bidding in our lives and attempt to do it on a regular basis, we will crash into the walls of disbelief that are surrounding many of the hearts and the minds of people that we will encounter. There is no way to avoid this aspect of serving Christ. Although the Lord comes with love as His message and an offering of grace and salvation as His gift, He also demands that we face into the truth of our sinfulness and repent from the direction that it has taken our lives. This is challenging and very hard for many people to do. Humanity has created elaborate systems, institutions, and arguments that are all formed with protection and defense from Christ’s Gospel as their ultimate objective. So, when we go into our world with that same message of redemption through relationship with Christ, we are going up against well-developed and powerfully constructed defensive fortifications.

 

There is only one reasonable way for us to approach all of this, and that is in prayerful submission to Christ and in the power of His Spirit. That is the place that Joshua found himself. His walls were made of stone, and the opposition was armed with spears and swords. Ours may be constructed in these ways, but they will probably be fashioned in some other manner. Yet, the opposition that we face in our day is as real and as potentially terrifying as was Joshua’s, and like it was for him, the Lord is with us and does go before us into each and every one of the contests that we will be facing. For Joshua, the walls were still standing, the angry shouts of the Canaanites could be heard clearly from within those walls, and the glint of the sun off of the swords was flashing in his eyes; yet, he knew that the Lord had already defeated the opposition. Satan is now fighting a futile and final campaign, and Christ’s ultimate victory is coming very soon. Today we can look up at the wall of doubt and disbelief that stands before us and enter into a contest for the souls of the people that we meet in our journey with the full knowledge and confident faith that Christ is fighting the battle and that He will topple over the walls that stand before us.

And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Joshua 5: 15

 

This is a great moment; an amazing moment that is much like the time that Moses encountered God on Mount Sinai. Here Joshua stands before a great and fortified city that is filled with people who stand in opposition to him and to the mission that God is sending him out upon. This would be a time when anxiety and nerves were running high and where the excitement of entering into the coming contest would also be peaked. So, as Joshua seeks to get his emotions in check, his plans fully developed, and the army that he was leading set to engage in siege and conquest, he runs into a mysterious figure, who seems to just appear before him. Yet, the appearance from nowhere is not the strangest aspect of this encounter, for the response of this stranger is even more off-putting for Joshua. It is then that Joshua realizes that he is standing in the presence of the Lord of Hosts, and the presence of God on this soon to be plain of battle makes all of the difference.

 

Joshua’s experience of Christ in the conduct of the affairs of his calling to serve God, in the course of living out life on this earth, seems extraordinary and unusual. This is a very special moment in the narrative of the establishment of God’s people on the earth and in the world. Yet, I question why this is so? Why do we, in this day and place in the history of God’s relationship with people, find it amazing and even miraculous that the Lord would appear and speak to one of us? For Joshua, in his times, this was a different situation than it is for us in ours. Christ has come and dwelt among us on the earth, and when He departed from that in-the-flesh aspect of dwelling here, Christ sent His Spirit to continue to reside in our midst and within people of faith. As we travel through life, we are always in the presence of the Lord, and as we do so in the community of the church, we are going about the Lord’s business in the company of the Lord of Hosts.

 

My challenge in this is that I just don’t fully appreciate that presence. I don’t recognize the Lord when He is with me in all that I do and within all of the interactions that I have in this life. For a follower of Christ there is no aspect of living in this world that does not contain His presence. We may not always see this, and we may not always actually think that we desire it, but the Spirit is here for every step of the journey. We are traveling through life in the company and under the direction of the Lord, and this reality should make a true and a profound difference in the way that our lives are lived out. In Christ, we dwell at the foot of the great walls of this world’s Jerichoes. We are entering into new lands to conquer for our Lord with almost every step that we take. He wants to show us the path to follow so that we can be victorious over the forces that oppose Christ in our world. The Spirit will direct our steps so that we do not stumble or fall as we transit the rough ground before us. So, here we are, ready for a new day, and the place where each of us is standing is truly Christ’s holy ground.

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