I'll blast out a few sample chapters of this on our blog - enjoy! This is Chapter Six - Spiritual Warfare:
Did you ever wonder why Jesus, at the age of 27 or so, didn't just sit down and write the New Testament? Wouldn't that have been cleaner for everyone involved? Just skip the manuscripts, translations, canon, councils, re-translations of the NIV, the hoopla and basically be done with it!
Did you ever wonder why God allows us to be sifted at all? Why not protect, or warn or be more active in keeping people from harm?
Have you ever questioned the nature and timing of spiritual warfare? Why does God allow it to hit at the worst possible time? It's rarely when we are rested and ready that the conspiring of adversity comes, with a spiritual weight that simply crushes the soul. Life has plenty of trouble, without any spiritual component in play. The consequences of our mistakes and wrong thinking bring extremely difficult seasons of sifting.
Add to that a real enemy in the spiritual realm, who is smarter, more experienced and who knows our history and triggers better than we know ourselves. The deck is stacked against us. With Satan as a real entity gunning for us, and the battle of the mind we experience, there is no way we can emerge intact without God.
Could it be that the realization of our weakness and dependence is ultimately healthy?
We know God is powerful. The work He did on the Cross is sublime. His resurrection is a story of power and death bowing to holy justice and love. So if God is who He clearly is, how can there be a real war, with real casualties and real loss? On the spiritual front, there is no lack of ammunition from heaven. And yet the battles are real, the war is real. The intersection of spiritual warfare in sifting is a critical component.
Sifting plus spiritual warfare is a catalyst of opportunity for us to go deep with Him in three primary ways:
First, He wants us to be a willing and active part of the process.
His work in us and through us is not an afterthought, a silent partner scenario or an unearned trust fund account, but an active, vibrant, vital, and integral part of His working. He led Paul, Mark, Luke and others to put real pen to real paper and (perhaps) to really struggle with how to tell the Story best with real words we could understand. He leads us through our character issues and allows us to suffer, to fail and to try again. He leads us to success, to heartache and to a depth of love and courage we never would have considered possible when we began.
He leads us to be a part of the fight, to share in the cost, to step into His passion and His pain and the glory of the gospel of His peace. It's not just a series of blank checks we cash repeatedly with no trouble in sight. We struggle. He leads us to struggle. He allows us to play (or fail to play) a vital part in even the most important work possible—the sharing of His Gospel with our generation.
When we experience resistance, it's too easy to forget that's actually a good sign. Or that the discouraging blow of spiritual warfare can indicate health.
Paul writes in Ephesians:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand (Ephesians 6:10-13, NIV).
It is a mystery that through His grace and in His grace, it is still our part to struggle. The very nature of grace is that we aren't good enough, and we aren't strong enough to win this fight on our own. But even with God's loving, powerful and unflinching assistance, we have some sense that our victory from day to day is not a given. It is His pleasure that the cost we endure be real, that the fight be a real one. As we examine the armor and weapons of our spiritual war, we come to see that the real battleground is in the realm of the spirit, the soul and the mind.
Second, the realization that spiritual warfare is occurring leads us to perceive seasons of sifting differently.
The question we need to ask in a time of suffering or attack isn't, "How quickly can I get out of here?" It's "What does God want me to learn here?" The discipline to not leave the sifting season until we fully absorb its lesson can result in blessing.
Remember that Job's answer came through God's speaking. Job's heart was at rest— before any restoration to his body, his family or any other circumstance. Remember that Paul's answer to his thorn in the flesh wasn't a miraculous delivery but instead a direct word from the Father to endure. Think about Joseph... Through understanding God's perspective, Joseph turned the evil and tragic circumstances of his life into a positive that his years as a slave and in prison didn't change. And God redeemed Joseph's memory of his difficult times through His work in the heart, as he saw his purpose in the bigger picture.
Don't forget that the thing we carry with us forever isn't the suffering of the moment, but rather the response to it. That moment comes and goes, passing from the now into the past beyond our reach. We carry the mark on our soul, good or bad, to our next step, next day and next chapter.
This is why forgiveness is so crucial. There is no better way to keep our past wounds alive than to hold on to them beyond all reason. Years later, the ones who hurt us probably aren't hurting us now. If we continue to revisit that hurt, the pain we feel continues in our heart, transcending the passing of time. Schemes come to frustrate us, orchestrated to trigger past wounding so that we respond disproportionately and without the love of God.
God allows this, not to pour salt into the wound, but to give us an opportunity to look deeper. To, in the light of His love and His grace, lay our hearts bare before Him and allow our character and thinking to be shaped differently. It is a battle in the spiritual realm, and it will often be won or lost as our human heart struggles with itself. Our response to spiritual warfare is an opportunity to be shaped in His image. It's a chance for us to change for the better in permanent ways.
On the surface, it looks like people are out to get us, or circumstances are conspiring to steal our joy. The reality is that God is moving, and our enemy is resisting. Our battle is to look past the flesh-and-blood nature of the problems we encounter and fill our minds and hearts with a response that puts God's armor, weapons and heart in primary position.
Third, we cannot win the fight in the spirit realm on our own. That realization immediately changes our perspective for the better.
Hasn't that been the case in your experience? When you realize, "Hey, wait a minute! There is something deeper going on here. This is a spiritual attack!" Isn't that a turning point? We need help—spiritual help. We need to pray and ask God, surrendering to Him, His love, His hope and His method. That moment changes everything, and it's as much about letting go of our own ability and understanding as it is being active in the right way.
One of the greatest things we can do to win in spiritual warfare is to lock into God's perspective and trust Him greatly. That surrender can set our minds free from worry and let us rest in His peace and presence even when the actual outward circumstance may not have changed. Don't misunderstand. God is powerful. He can move in any way He wants to move. Scripture leads us to ask and to look for God to actually change things and deliver us in real and practical ways. But the battle of the mind will often be won in our hearts—before it is ever realized in the world we see.
The real key to victory is to see with His Eyes. In the day of trouble, we have to look beyond the surface to a layer deeper than we normally consider. We need to respond with a depth that goes beyond the moment and to a place where faith, truth and the sword of His word rule the day.
Prayer plays a vital role in this process. Any prayer is a conscious and explicit acknowledgement that we can't do this on our own. It's no accident that our deepest times of prayer and burden are during times of sifting and warfare. God knows us! He knows that trouble makes us extremely attentive. It isn't trouble for trouble's sake. The good thing we gain by passing through spiritual warfare is worth the cost.
During seasons of sifting and spiritual warfare, we need to be a willing participant in God's will. Let your perception shift to see beyond circumstance into the spiritual nature and timing of the conflict and trouble. Actively surrender to God, acknowledging that the battle in the mind is won through relying on our Father and His path forward.
If we do that, we stand. If we do that, we win. And it is God's pleasure to let us be sifted along the way. Not with cruel intent, or careless neglect, but with a plan of His Gospel and grace borne in us before the beginning of time. Don't give up. Don't be discouraged. Trust Him with everything you have and with everything He has given. Be the person you were created to become.