Monday, October 1, 2018

Spiritual Conflict Pt 2 - Preparation

Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer and real estate businessman in Chicago. He also was a devout Christian and personal friend of Evangelist Dwight L. Moody. When the great Chicago Fire of 1871 swept through Lake Michigan’s shoreline it took with it much of his fortune.  He lost almost everything overnight. 

He spent the next couple of years trying to help rebuild the city. Wearied by the never-ending task, he decided to take his family for a rest in England, where he would join with Moody in helping with his evangelistic campaigns throughout Great Britain. He booked passage on a ship that would be leaving in November of 1873. But due to last-minute business developments, he had to send his wife and four daughters on ahead while he remained behind. He would follow in a few days.

Somewhere in the Atlantic, on November 22, their ship was struck by another ship. It sank within twelve minutes. Mrs. Spafford was rescued and taken to Cardiff, Wales. The girls were lost. She sent a two-word telegram to her husband: Saved. Alone. Spafford left on the next available ship to Great Britain to join his wife.

Somewhere past the mid-way point in the Atlantic, the captain sent for him. He told him, “This is probably the place the other ship went down.”

Spafford looked long into the empty ocean, straining to see to the bottom and the resting place of his girls. Then he looked up at the captain, thanked him and returned to his room. He took a pen and paper and wrote:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
or When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Some of the most powerful hymns and spiritual songs have come out of unbearable loss and heartache. Millions have sung this song and been encouraged.

Why do we need such profound statements of faith? Are we afraid of our grief and need to push our pain into the providence of God realm? Was his poem trying to convince himself it was okay that they lost their daughters? Stiff upper lip – God’s will be done. Or was he caught in that moment where a natural occurrence was becoming a Spiritual Conflict?

Remember our definition: Spiritual Conflict is any conflict in our life that challenges whether God is enough. His wife had messaged him: Saved. Alone.

In the natural mathematics of what happened, yes, she was rescued and by herself. But was there a subtle lie the enemy was trying to plant in his mind, suggesting that alone meant abandoned by God?

Could it be that his loss was pressing him beyond the foundation of his faith, challenging whether: nothing can separate us from the Love of God, that God will never leave us nor forsake us, that Jesus will be with us forever, even to the end of the age, that God will cause all things to work together for good to those who love Him.

Then the next verse: Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blessed assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Did he suddenly see what was going on? Did he feel Satan pressing against him. That perhaps Satan was trying to take advantage of his grief to interject lies about God? Of course he was. Godly men and women never reach the place where Satan doesn’t attack.

That’s what he does. He takes whatever happens and tries to make it worse. His intentions are to steal, kill and destroy. Steal away our hope. Kill our joy and destroy our faith. Either suddenly or gradually over time.

Elevators have always fascinated our family. First time we ever saw one my dad and I were standing there. An old and haggard lady got on. The doors closed. In a few minutes they opened and a beautiful young lady stepped out. My dad said: Son, go get your mom.

I remember my dad taking me as a kid to the Humble building in Houston to ride the elevator. Coming from Conroe, we were limited in what we got to do for excitement. I had never dropped so fast. The numbers on the dial were a blur. We kept riding it until the security guard made us leave. Then I’ve been in hospitals where there were only two floors and the elevator took half a day to get me from one floor to the other.

The transition between Natural Occurrence and Spiritual Conflict can take either path. I can be overwhelmed and fall like a rock, or I can be worn down in time. But the results will be the same. At some point I misplace the value of the God who was vital to me only moments before.

Job started his story in great shape: Job 1:20-22 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. 

His wife took the express elevator and immediately told Job to curse God and die. Job 2:10 But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. 

But after the long ride of misery his tune changed. Eliphas heard him and said: Job 33:8 Surely you have spoken in my hearing, and I have heard the sound of your words: I am pure, without transgression; I am innocent and there is no guilt in me. Behold, God invents pretexts against me; He counts me as His enemy. He puts my feet in the stocks; He watches all my paths.Behold, let me tell you, you are not right in this, for God is greater than man. 

Job 34:10 Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do wickedness, and from the Almighty to do wrong. 

What took his wife minutes, took Job much longer but in the end, both decided God wasn’t enough for what they faced. And Job began mischaracterizing God. Satan was gaining the upper hand. In a short time, Job would have begun to curse God.

Finally, God spoke: Job 40:1 Then the LORD said to Job, "Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it." 

And Job replied: Job 42:1-3 Then Job answered the LORD and said, I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' "Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me [beyond my view], which I did not know." 

It’s like the moment we recognize we’ve gone too far down the wrong road and discover we can’t get where we’re going from here.

Two monks stood along a roadway holding signs: The End is Near! “Maybe we should change our signs to Bridge Out.”

We have to go back to where we went wrong and get on the right road. The wrong road takes our thoughts in the wrong direction. And if we keep going the wrong way, we’ll never be right.

That’s when God taps us on the heart and says, “Remember me? Remember who I am? Remember what I’ve done? Remember what I can do?”

Our hurts, fears, frustrations, doubts, length of struggle are changing who we know God is. That’s our warning sign we’re on the wrong road. When we see the sign, we have to stop and remember who we belong to:

Rewrite: Psa 23:1-6 I, the LORD, am your shepherd, you will never be deserted nor desolateI will make you lie down in green pastures; I will lead you beside quiet waters. I will restore your soul; I will guide you in the paths of righteousness for the honor it brings to My name. Even though you will walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you have no reason to be afraid because I am with you; I’ll use My rod and My staff, my tools of mercy and grace, to comfort youI will prepare a table so that you may feast in the very presence of your enemies to show My favor over you, that you are My child; I have already anointed your head with the oil of the Holy Spirit, marking you as Mine.  Just look at your cup. It overflows with blessingsSurely you realize that goodness and mercy will accompany you all the days of your life because you are Mine. And then, when this life is over, you will be with Me. I have a place prepared for you, and you will be with Me forever.

Where are the loopholes? Where are the exceptions? Did you hear any unlesses? Do you hear anyplace God changes who He is to accommodate our lack of faith?

2Ti 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. 

Pro 25:28 Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit. 

The Great Wall of China was built to keep the Mongolians out of China. It worked well. The only weaknesses were gates placed in the wall to allow others in and out. As long as the gates remained shut the walls were secure. But when a weak guard with no control over his spirit allowed someone to bribe him to get through the gate, the walls were meaningless.

God has built a great hedge of protection around us. But if we allow an opening, give a single foothold to the devil and his lies, we will initiate our own defeat. By that crack in our faith of whether God is enough, we will let the enemy in. Once he’s in, out goes our joy, hope and faith.

Whether I’m overwhelmed and falling like an express elevator, I must take control over my spirit.
Or whether I’m wearing away in a long-lasting, dragged out struggle, I must take control over my spirit.

By taking control over my spirit I am renewing my focus on the God who is enough.

How do I get my spirit under control? By bulking up.

The males of the Alaskan bull moose battle for dominance during the fall breeding season. They fight by colliding with other moose, head-to-head with their antlers. If anything happens to the antlers, their defeat is assured. The heftiest moose, with the largest and strongest antlers, typically wins. That means the battle fought in the fall is really won during the summer, when the moose eat continually. The one that consumes the best diet for growing antlers and gaining weight will be the heavyweight in the fight. Those that eat poorly will lose. An unprepared moose is an easy target for defeat.

Eph 6:13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 

Eph 6:16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 

Eph 6:18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance

I can guarantee spiritual battles lie ahead. You may be in the middle of one right now. Satan is always ready to attack. Like a shark sniffing the water for blood, he is prowling about, looking for an easy target. Will we stand victorious, or will we fall? Much depends on what we do now—before that war begins. 

1.      The hardest part of the spiritual battle is recognizing it’s already begun.
2.     The transition from believing God is enough to doubting he’s even there is subtle, though it can come quickly or over time.
3.     The best weapon is preparation. If we are prepared, we will more readily recognize Satan’s lies and he will be less able to deceive us.
4.     As part of our daily routine, we need to acknowledge God is always enough for whatever we face that day.
5.     Because God is enough, our shield of faith can defend us when the darts begin to fly.

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