Wisdom Seeker: Day 21

Proverbs 21

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD.

Proverbs 21:31

This last verse is a great reminder for me today, especially as a parent of teenagers. Some days, I am keenly aware of the spiritual battle all who are in Christ are constantly engaged in.

When I’m correcting a teenager who is never wrong (at least in her eyes) or trying to inspire or encourage one who’s embraced apathy towards God or praying for breakthrough for one who is at perpetual war with anxiety, the battle can seem hopeless.

But it isn’t. Victory isn’t mine. It was never meant to be. Victory belongs to the Lord.

I’ve seen it in my own struggle against sin. I arm myself, dress in my Father’s armor, and prepare myself for battle. Temptations, distractions, discouragement all lie in wait. Sometimes I stand firm, other times a temptation trips me up and I fall.

But ultimately, when victory comes, it’s undoubtedly by the Lord’s hand. It’s in my broken prayer for help, asking Him to change my desires, admitting my own helplessness and my own sinful proclivities. It’s in surrender that I’ve found victory.

Let me say that again.

Surrender brings victory. Death brings life. Dying to self brings life in Christ. A strange and wonderful paradox.

And so I surrender my children up to Him as well. I will continue to correct, to guide, to intervene, to pray. But I know that when victory comes, it will come only by the mighty hand of God. May He be forever praised!

Under the Gun

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 6:10-12)

In the midst of a season where good cheer is often celebrated, it may seem odd to bring up warfare. Yet, truly, I cannot think of a better time. I have said it before and will likely say it again, but I cannot look at the Babe in the manger without recalling the Man on the cross.

Make no mistake: Jesus came to earth as a sacrifice, and as Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed in his excellent book, The Cost of Discipleship:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. . .  When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.

My brothers and sisters, therein lies the irony of Christianity — joy is found not in birth but in death, or more specifically, in rebirth; in resurrection. However let it not be overlooked that one cannot have resurrection without first experiencing death. It is not possible to resurrect that which is already alive.

Though I do not pick up my Bible each day under threat of discovery and imprisonment or death, still yet our enemy constantly seeks to draw our attention away from my God. He strives to distract, stirring up animosity or apathy or whatever he can to keep us from taking every thought captive to obey Christ.

The narrow path is not an easy one, my friends. We will be ridiculed and mocked. Broad and untrue generalizations and misconceptions will be circulated and enjoyed by unbelievers. However, over the course of this year’s election and its aftermath and now on into the battleground of the Christmas season, I have been reminded several times that I need not feel a personal slight or become indignant about such things. Jesus kept silent when mocked. Should I not do the same?

Not only that, but the unbelievers who ridicule or condemn are not my enemies.

Just a couple of days ago, I had this reminder driven home when an old childhood friend, an atheist such as I used to be, posted a meme on social media stating, “Don’t forget to hate refugees as you set up a Nativity scene celebrating a Middle Eastern couple desperately looking for shelter.”

Forget for the moment that the comparison is really apples to oranges — people fleeing their country because of persecution rather than people compelled to travel within their country to their ancestral home by decree of the governing power. Forget, too, that not all who set up a Nativity Scene hate refugees, or even dislike or are indifferent to refugees. Forget the sheer absurdity of the meme and look behind it for just a moment.

Though such nonsense may be inflammatory in nature, it is not my job to become enraged over it. Often comments like these are mere distractions; a way for the unbeliever to feel smarter, more modern, or perhaps as one having the moral high ground against what, to him, is a rather ambiguously defined and hateful group known as “Christians.”

Do the actual Christians in the unbeliever’s life reflect the hypocrisy he rails against? We cannot know. Often, he does not know himself, for the purpose of such posts and statements, if one is brutally honest, is to deflect attention from one’s own sinful state by pointing out the perceived faults of others.

I know this, because I once indulged in it.

I know this because I happen to be fond of the guy who posted it, and my heart sincerely breaks for him because I know that bears a weight of pain and suffering.

Naturally, suffering is a part of life, but we who are in Christ hurt and suffer with  hope. My old friend suffers in the agony of an unending nightmare, currently unwilling to accept that there is a narrow path of escape open to him. May my glorious King have mercy on him and soften his heart as He once softened mine…

As we engage in spiritual warfare, let us not forget that it is not the unbelievers who are our enemies. They are not the enemy, but captives of the enemy just as we once were.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
(Ephesians 2:1-5)

Although our faith may be under the gun, it is important to remember who we are battling, and the Christmas season seems to be a time of increasing volleys on both sides. This year, let’s not get caught up in the wrong battles but as good soldiers, fight the spiritual ones. We are at war, and our enemy does not call a ceasefire for Christmas.

But even in the midst of conflict, we can rejoice because our King has already overcome the world!

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33)