(I recently shared an abbreviated version of this blogpost in A Modern Day Epidemic)
In my late teens and early twenties, I was plagued with sickness after sickness. Nothing serious, usually just the flu. But I would catch it often, sometimes up to four times in one year. These bouts would floor me and leave me with no energy, resulting in weeks off sick from work and, most disappointingly, forfeiting the chance to attend and serve in church.
But as the months and years went on, I began to notice a pattern: I would most often become sick around the same time I would accept ministry opportunities; opportunities to serve in my local church or help pioneer new initiatives.
Upon this realisation, I was then plagued by an even greater sickness: fear. You see, now that I had identified a pattern, I began to anticipate when I might get sick as different opportunities arose. And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.
But it all came to a head in January 2011. It was only one week into the new year; I had already been off sick from work for two weeks over the Christmas period, I had then recovered and returned to my staff role in church for just a few days when another feverish spell hit me during the Sunday morning service and I felt the energy drain out of me once more. I was due to jump up onto the stage after the first worship set to enthusiastically welcome everyone to church and to provide a rundown of the events going on in church that week but I was struggling just to stand and sing.
As I battled my predicament in my mind, God intervened. The Holy Spirit moved and the entire service shifted. The Pastor called forth people who needed healing, as the worship team continued far beyond their planned set. Shaking, I stood up from my front row seat, grateful that I did not need to walk far. With tears streaming down my face – tears of frustration and exhaustion – I shared with the Pastor’s wife what had been previously running through my head and she began to pray for me. Yes, she prayed for physical healing, but, most significantly, she prayed that the habit of fear would be broken. And her words filtered through my fear like a ray of sunshine. As we stood together praying at the front of the church, God gave me a vision of Him protecting me from the enemy and pointing to the clear path ahead.
In a matter of minutes, as the worship team played the final song in their extended set, the energy returned to my body and joy filled my heart. I leapt onto the stage to welcome everyone to church, with them entirely unaware of the miracle that had just happened in my heart. The enemy had used my physical symptoms to distract me from the real weapon: fear. But we had identified it, called it out, and conquered it in Jesus’ name, and it was no longer an issue for me.
Fear is the modern day epidemic that is stealing our dreams and opportunities. As I observe the world around me: the rise in terror, turbulent politics, shocking media headlines, provocative posts on social media, conversations with my peers, it pains me to see the fear and anxiety that dominates humanity.
Society encourages us to worry about our own challenges, and then burdens us with further doom and gloom across all media genres. Whether it is as trivial as the number on our bathroom scales or the devastating reports of war and terror across the world, we rarely receive good news.
The media has most of us thinking that we can no longer visit big cities for fear of terrorist attacks. Or the lies and failed promises of politicians have us doubting whether we can trust anyone.
I believe we are now so immune to fear and anxiety, that we have also become blind to it’s effects on us. Our increased heart rate and restless sleep, night after night, have become acceptable parts of modern-day life.
But these external influences do not have control over how we respond to situations that seek to scare us. Anxiety is only present when we fail to trust God.
We burden ourselves with too much responsibility, and try to solve the world’s problems – effectively trying to adopt the role of god – when we simply need to release them back into His hands. God already has a plan, He has not given up His authority even in the midst of such atrocity, we just need to be quiet enough to listen for His instruction.
Fear declares that we do not trust that God is in control. It tells the world that we count our own efforts to be more effective than His. Worry is a waste of energy and time and achieves absolutely nothing. Overcoming fear is less about us working harder or smarter to solve problems, and more about fighting in the strength that is only available at the feet of Jesus. Imagine how different our world would be if we spent the same amount of time we spend worrying, in prayer instead?
No matter how big or small the concern is that we bear, we must stop immediately when anxiety begins to swell up within us and talk it through with God. Just talk; it is not necessary to use any fancy language or even to sugar-coat your words, just tell God exactly how you are feeling. Perhaps, after the first time you share the concern, nothing changes. You still feel tense and anxious. So tell Him again. And again. And again… until peace begins to dawn in your heart. God hears you and He will respond. God loves His children and never grows sick and tired of hearing their worries and requests. He is infinitely patient with us and it pains Him to see us live in a way that is anything but peaceful.
Now, do not misunderstand me; peaceful does not mean uneventful, or even easy. We will all face challenges and difficulties, whether we follow God’s best for our life or not. But depending on God, instead of our own understanding, will bring us peace in the midst of it. He does not always immediately remove us from the trial, but He promises to be there with us in it. Living at peace is only possible when we trust God entirely, believing Him to be the answer to every prayer.
Today’s culture champions those who appear to have achieved security, comfort, approval and power. The media would suggest that these things are evidence of a successful and happy life. But if we pursue that which the world values, we will stifle the plans that God has for us. God does not call us to a life of comfort and ease, we are called to fight for the good things that God has prepared for us.
Yet this is not a new problem. The Apostle Paul warned the early Christians in Ephesus of the same thing; “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)
You see, while God calls us forward into a life of adventure, we sometimes forget that the enemy is determined to throw us off course. While we are content ‘taking it easy’, the enemy has no reason to bother us because we pose no danger to him or his evil plans; this is one of the greatest threats to our Christian journey in the Western World.
We have to fight to know God; fight against busyness, against distractions, against the doubt and accusations of others. We have to fight against the lies from the enemy that tell us we are not good enough, not smart enough, not beautiful enough. We have to fight to remain in our adventure.
The fulfilment of dreams do not just land on your lap one day, they are the result of relentless effort, overcoming challenge after challenge, passion that energises you to recover from disappointments over and over again, and, inevitably, time. Lots and lots of time. But if there is anything that we can be sure of, then it is this: the time will pass anyway. So use it well. Invest every day in the dreams and purposes that God has placed in your heart.
A life with God in no way guarantees a problem-free life. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The Bible assures us that, when we choose to embrace an adventure with Jesus, we will certainly face opposition from the enemy. When we face opposition, we can be encouraged that we are, in fact, doing something right, because the enemy does not bother anyone who is messing up in life all by themselves. Instead, he focuses his attention on those who are choosing to pursue and honour God.
Romans 5:3-5 encourages us to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Nothing touches us without God’s permission, even though it does not always originate from Him. But He has given us the tools to fight it, and through it we are built into stronger warriors to fight the good fight of faith.
The Biblical account of Nehemiah is a great illustration of the spiritual battle we face daily when we walk in God’s purposes. Nehemiah was serving as cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes in Susa when he received the report informing him that Jerusalem, the city of his Jewish heritage, was in ruins. Jerusalem, and indeed the whole land of Judah, was in a sad state of affairs following the Babylonian exile initiated by King Nebuchadnezzar around 600B.C.
When Nehemiah heard the news, he was so distraught that he wept, mourned and fasted for days. He prayed for the Jewish people, and He asked God to grant Him success when he faced the king, for he wished to return to his home to rebuild the city walls.
God had placed a dream in Nehemiah’s heart (Nehemiah 2:12) to rebuild the city and see Jerusalem restored, but from the very start he faced opposition: “But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel… they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”” (Nehemiah 2:10,19)
These men, feeling threatened by Nehemiah, a man who came bearing letters from the king in opposition to their own desires, were interested only in their own promotion and importance. They employed petty retorts in an effort to discourage Nehemiah, hoping that he would feel foolish or fearful and abandon the vision that God had placed in his heart.
Instead, Nehemiah replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” (Nehemiah 2:20).
Yes, come on! I feel my own faith rise every time I read Nehemiah’s response; words full of power, faith and strength.
Nehemiah did not allow the fear or jealousy of others to dissuade him from obeying what God had asked him to do. God had not only given Nehemiah a practical task to be fulfilled, but He had also placed a burden for His people on Nehemiah’s heart and the desire to make his dream a reality. However, Nehemiah needed to engage bravery and courage to see it through.
Representatives from various lands, numerous families, and a spectrum of religious and social standing joined together to build the wall. Amongst them, a wide range of skills and experience was well utilised in restoring the city to its former glory. Individuals from within Jerusalem itself assisted by working on the wall right on their door step. It would seem that everyone could do something to help.
But those pesky men, Sanballat and Tobiah, continued to taunt the Jews; What do you think you are doing? Do you really expect to be able to rebuild the wall yourselves? What can you do with a city that lies in rubble? If a fox climbed on this wall it would surely crumble! Your workmanship is terrible!
But Nehemiah prayed and continued to dedicate the work to the Lord.
Still unsatisfied that their jeers had failed to scare the Jews, Sanballat, Tobiah, and their men grew angry and began plotting a raid to fight the Jews, to disrupt the building work, and inevitably leave it in disrepair. For a city with breached walls would leave it vulnerable and weak; exactly what the enemies of the Jews wanted.
Nehemiah had to prepare a defence: “So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each laboured on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”” (Nehemiah 4:13-20)
Notice that Nehemiah did not allow fear of their enemies to stop him from walking in obedience to God’s plans. Nor did he choose to ignore the enemy, merely hoping that they would pose no further threat. Instead, he equipped his men with weapons, he was strategic in placing his men at weaker points in the wall, and, above all, he encouraged them all in the Lord, reminding them that He would be the one to fight for them.
Throughout the day and night, Nehemiah and his men kept watch. They were always armed, always alert, yet continued to work also. They did not choose one or the other – defence or labour – they did both.
Nehemiah’s enemies continued to attack him; not in a physical and obvious way, but targeting his character, his fortitude, and his faith. Time after time, Nehemiah depended on the discernment that God had given him to identify and reject the lies of his enemies. They tried to deceive him and wreck his reputation, but Nehemiah stood firm on his faith in God.
We may not experience attacks in obvious ways either, but that is what makes the offence of the enemy much harder to spot. His offence is chaos, confusion, doubt, busyness; anything that breeds anxiety. Like Nehemiah was, we, too, must always be alert for the enemy’s schemes; seeking to injure our character and decimate our faith; to inject us with fear and derail our unique adventure and purpose.
Remember, John 10:10 states that the enemy comes only to steal and kill and destroy. He is intent on stealing our peace, killing our dreams, and destroying our character. His lies speak against all that God says of you: you are loved, you are of worth, you are of value, you hold great potential. Don’t let the enemy steal that which God has instilled in you. Claim it back!
But as Nehemiah was so keenly aware, we do not fight this war alone. Jesus Christ defeated the enemy when he died on that wooden cross over two thousand years ago, then conquered death by rising again three days later. When we surrender our lives to God, like we explored in Adventure Awaits: Beginning the Adventure, we are chosen to fight for the winning side. The victory is already ours, but there are still battles to be fought. Are you content with receiving your spot on the winning side, or do you want to minimise the number of casualties at the same time? When we have Christ, we have the victory, but our call is to recruit as many people as possible to live in victory also.
So how do we arm ourselves against the attack of the enemy?
- We put on the Armour of God.
We have already explored in the previous post how we can prepare for the great adventure God wants to take us on, but the Bible is very clear that if we truly want to live the full and abundant life that God calls us to, we must dress for battle.
Ephesians 6:10-18 takes us through, step by step, our recommended daily dress code so that we may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the enemy. For, as verse 11 reminds us, we do not fight against flesh and blood, but against evil spiritual forces. The battles we face may manifest themselves in the physical, but our best line of defence is on our knees, calling to the One who, alone, has the power to defeat our enemy.
Our armour is truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. Fists and guns are no use here, we need to reach for something far more powerful.
When we value these things and engage them in our daily lives, we can stand strong against the enemy’s lies and deceit. When we remind ourselves who the true enemy is instead of pointing blame at others around us, we disarm the evil one; strengthening our relationships instead of allowing them to fall apart. When we raise our shield of faith, we protect ourselves from the fear that the enemy endeavours to instil in us, and remind him of our Victor, in whom our trust lies.
The Bible describes each virtue as being attributed to a different item of armour. This is no coincidence, for we must protect our heart from discouragement, our feet from the long and difficult journey ahead, our minds from lies. But we cannot fight if we only defend. As Nehemiah demonstrated, it is no use just setting up a defence if you forfeit all progress. We must also arm ourselves for the offence with the sword of the Spirit, which is the unerring Word of God.
When we read our Bible, know our Bible, learn our Bible, recite our Bible, and allow the Word of God to penetrate our hearts, we ready ourselves for the spiritual fights that we will inevitably face on our adventure.
- We learn to discern between the lies of the enemy and the truth of God’s voice.
This is a big one. So many of us battle with insecurities, comparison, rejection, a feeling of worthlessness; our minds circle over these thoughts time and time again and the enemy wins. He wins by feeding these thoughts and whispering lies that we do not even realise are from him. He wins because we accept these thoughts as truth and disqualify ourselves from any type of adventure for fear of not having what it takes.
But the voice we should be listening to is God’s, and this is why delving into the Word of God is so important. The Word of God speaks the absolute truth, and any thoughts contrary to that are lies to be rejected immediately.
However, the truth of God’s Word is received in a war zone. The enemy wants us to misunderstand it, to doubt it, to reject it. So it is not unusual for godly insights to be met with difficulties. We are at war, and any advance will be met with gunfire. But the artillery cannot destroy us if we are dressed in the Armour of God.
Combatting the enemy’s attack is less about learning to reject his lies, and more about learning to receive God’s truth. The more we feed our faith, the less our doubts have to feast upon.
I used to believe a whole host of lies that prevented me from fully embracing the dreams got had laid on my heart. I thought that I was too young and inexperienced; that I lacked the right friends or influence; that I was not holy enough. I believed that I would be no use to God until I was married, or had a family. I compared myself to others and found myself lacking. But God said otherwise.
The voice we must learn to recognise above all else is our Heavenly Father’s. When we have a willing heart, He can and will use us right where we are at. When we lay our lives in His hands, He can mould us and shape us, promote us and position us, equip us and empower us for exactly what He has called us to do.
Cling to those dreams He has placed in your heart and do not let the enemy steal away your hope. The Bible promises, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) God speaks to accomplish, so if God has said it, it will be. No word of God can fail to achieve its purpose. Hold on to that.
- We reject fear and fight with bravery and courage.
Lisa Bevere said, “Brave is not something you feel, it is something you do.” There is no need for bravery if we do not have any fear to overcome. Bravery plays its part when we act despite our fear. Courage is personified when we remember that the outcome does not depend on us, but on God.
Of course we are frightened when we recognise our weakness and feeble attempts at warfare. But no spiritual battle can be fought in the flesh; we must partner with the Holy Spirit, himself.
We can be free from fear if we truly place our trust in God. When we understand who God is and how much He loves us, we have no need to fear, for God will be everything we need. We can trust Him to act; we can trust Him to guide us and protect us; we can trust Him to give us good gifts. We only experience fear when we doubt the character of God. We are afraid when we doubt that God’s ways are anything but perfect. But God is right by our side in everything, so we must stand firm on this truth and step forward with courage and faith.
Be alert and do not allow fear to steal away the opportunities that God presents you with. When we allow fear to have the louder voice, we miss out on the one-of-a-kind adventure that God has planned for us. Don’t you want to live a life full of thrills, suspense and excitement? Wouldn’t you like to witness miracles and inexplicable provision on a daily basis? Then we must surrender the fear that we carry.
New opportunities often require bravery, but open doors do not remain ajar for long. If we allow fear and doubt to speak louder than our faith, then we may miss out on what God has prepared for us. God requires us to be strong and courageous.
While working for my local church in Scotland, my role changed quite considerably after about two years of employment there. The change permitted me to continue growing personally, to develop myself and my skillset, to gain new experiences, and to expand the staff team. But when I paused to consider the magnitude of that new role, I panicked. Fear gripped me because I was afraid I did not have what it would take. I feared the tougher conversations I would have to have, the greater responsibility I would carry, and the wisdom to move forward in that role.
I remember meeting with my Pastor one day, struggling to met his gaze as I barely held back the tears, trying to appear optimistic while inside I felt like I was drowning. But he was not to blame. You see, the promotion was a privilege, and one that the church leaders had considered me ready for. He patiently helped me break down the new role into bite-size chunks so it did not seem so overwhelming. He encouraged me by sharing with me the potential he saw in me. But, at the end of the day, it was I who doubted myself and allowed fear to reign.
I look back on that time now and I am a little sad that I did not embrace that opportunity more readily. I spent a lot of time fighting the change and feeling unworthy, but I had been depending purely on my own ability. If I had only leaned more on God, the challenges I faced would have been far more enjoyable and far more rewarding. If I had only invited God to work through me, I could have achieved far more than the pitiful effort I managed in my own strength. It took me a long time to learn that it is OK – rather, optimal – to simply take one day at a time and fully rely on God.
So when we do face spiritual attacks, it is important that we have defence strategies already in place. We need quick, go-to ways of dealing with challenges and struggles when they arise so that, when the enemy does attack, we know exactly what needs to be done. Be assured, it is far more challenging trying to strategise once emotions are involved.
It proves difficult to think clearly when we are angry or upset or bitter, and if we have not put effective strategies in place, that is when we make mistakes; that is when we sin; that is when we try to do things in our own strength. Responding to an attack while plagued by emotions often causes us to make situations worse, not better; they end badly, and other people (or ourselves) get hurt or become bitter. Once resentful, we build an emotional wall – a divide between us and God – and our blame turns upon Him. Be careful, because this is exactly what the enemy wants. He is really not that interested in the methods he uses, as long as it achieves the same outcome; distance between you and God.
So it is absolutely vital that we have these strategies in place – of knowing how to commune with God on good days – so that when the bad days come, it is far easier to enter into combat.
One such occasion arose not too long ago when I unexpectedly entered into spiritual combat one afternoon. I had been enjoying an afternoon with a close friend, relaxing in her home with a mug of tea, when my peace was rudely interrupted. A few simple text messages were exchanged between my parents and I that stung; their intentions were good but their words had hurt on receipt. I felt anger rise up within me and I could no longer concentrate on the conversation I was having with my friend. I had to leave.
As I walked the familiar route home, I wrestled with thoughts of hurt, anger, rejection, and doubt, and I did not know how best to process these thoughts. As the mix of emotions threatened to overcome me, I plugged in my headphones, swiped to a worship song on my iPhone, and I allowed the words of truth to penetrate my heart.
Within minutes, my heartbeat slowed, my tense muscles relaxed and my tears dried up. The peace of God, that passes all understanding, engulfed me. My perspective corrected itself as my focus shifted off of my parents as the perpetrator, and recognised the true enemy at work in my heart, seeking to destabilise me and discourage me.
I could have allowed the well of emotions within me to rise; I could have allowed them to take root in my heart and grow weeds of bitterness and resentment against my parents; I could have chosen to respond with sharp retorts, intent on hurting them like I had been hurt. If I had had no defence strategies in place, I would have responded sinfully and made the situation worse.
But I didn’t. I didn’t, because I was equipped with my go-to defence strategies. After years of practice, I had learnt to recognise the voice of the enemy, and I knew exactly what I needed to do. I did not have the power or strength to combat him myself, but I knew the One who did. I knew God in me was the only way to fight.
Declaring truth. Reciting God’s Word. Praying for God to step in. Worshipping Him and allowing the voice of victory to shout louder than the voice of pain and defeat. These were strategies I had engaged in the past and they had not failed me. They were tried and tested. I knew they would hold strong again in this battle.
Nehemiah also had his defence strategies in place and he knew that God was with him. When they had finished building the wall just a couple of short months later, fear entered the hearts of Judah’s enemies because they recognised that the wall had been completed, not by the hands of men, but by the hand of God.
Though the wall was now built, there was still much for Nehemiah to do, and he continued to walk in obedience to all that God asked him to do. He placed guards at every gate to the city, always remaining alert for the enemy, and he began to rebuild the city itself. He accounted for all the people of Israel, each according to his own tribe, and ensured they each had a place to live. He, with the prophet Ezra, educated the people in the Word of God and called them to repentance and worship.
God had called Nehemiah, not only to rebuild the physical, but the spiritual too. Through Nehemiah’s obedience to God, Israel was reestablished as a great nation once again. Yes, he faced attacks. Yes, he faced opposition. But he knew his God and chose faith over fear. And his obedience and trust was rewarded greatly.
Throughout history, God’s soldiers have faced (and will continue to face) opposition and hardship, but God’s Word warns our oppressors; “keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39)
And when God acts, He rarely does so in a way that we expect or that makes sense. God saves in His own way, not necessarily in the ways that we can identify with. Facing opposition requires strength, courage, and determination. We need to stand firm on God’s promises and look fear full in the face. The only way to overcome fear is to acknowledge it, name it, call it out, and tackle it with the strength available to us through the Holy Spirit. It is less important that we know how our challenges will be overcome, and essential that we understand Who will overcome them.
No matter what attack we face, we can overcome when we arm ourselves against the enemy’s schemes. When we belong to God, we can rest because He has already won the victory. God will fight for us, if we only let Him. Psalm 34:19 reminds us that, “many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” So do not get so blinded by the physical circumstances that you fail to recognise the spiritual forces at work. We must spiritually equip ourselves so we can claim the spiritual victories. There is no other way to truly overcome hardship. There is no other way to claim ground. There is no other way to advance forward.
This blogpost is part 5 of a blog series, Adventure Awaits.
Part 1: Created for Adventure
Part 2: Beginning the Adventure
Part 3: Designed for Adventure
Part 4: Essential Tools for the Journey
Part 5: Facing Opposition
Part 6: Embracing Challenge & Change
Part 7: The Waiting Game