There is a War
The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12:
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 in the heavenly realms.
We are in a battle; there are malevolent spiritual beings that wish to keep the world in darkness trying to do us harm.
Evangelism puts us on the front line. The problem with much of western Christianity is that many of us do not seem to know there is a war going on. When seeking to advance the kingdom of God, conflict is to be expected. Those without a saving knowledge of Christ, those well-intentioned Christians who speak ill of us, and those of other faith traditions are never our enemy. The god of this world who has blinded the minds of unbelievers is our enemy (2 Corinthians 4:4). In the words of John Wimber, “Satan is our ultimate enemy, but not our immediate enemy.”
Those engaged in advancing the kingdom of God don’t have to look for conflict. Conflict will find them. As we announce and demonstrate that the kingdom of God is at hand, we will experience resistance from time to time. Some of this resistance may be institutional as we move against the dominant culture of pluralism. Some of the resistance may be personal as those we are ministering to are made uncomfortable by our boldness. At times, the resistance will be internal, because we must confront our own shyness and fear of appearing foolish.
Jesus Experienced Pushback
Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, He was led into the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil. From there, He returned to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit. While many welcomed His message and ministry, there were others who resisted Him. Those in His own hometown of Capernaum were furious with Him and literally drove Him out of the town with the expressed purpose of killing Him (Luke 4:28-29). The religious leaders grew angry with Jesus and began to plot His demise when He healed on the Sabbath (Luke 6:11). They even attributed His ministry to the power of Beelzebub (Mark 3:22).
Jesus’ own family failed to understand His ministry and at one point, “they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’” (Mark 3:21). He even received pushback from some of His closest associates. Peter was inspired by Satan to rebuke Jesus and dissuade Jesus from His mission, and Judas was moved by Satan to betray Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “began to be sorrowful and troubled.” He said to His closest disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” and out of this pain He prayed repeatedly, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup [of suffering] be taken from me” (Matthew 26:36-43). Luke records that in response to this prayer God sent an angel to strengthen Jesus (Luke 22:43).
Jesus experienced spiritual, family, religious, relational, and even internal pushback, and we can expect the same. Some of the pushback will come from well meaning people, but some of it will be demonically motivated. As with Jesus, the enemy will seek to work through our family, friends, religious systems, and secular institutions. We also have the added weakness of our personal brokenness and appetite for sin. We must receive and actively live in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. It is in our intimacy with God that we find the strength, wisdom and insight to understand the enemy’s schemes and activities.
We are to Expect Suffering
Pushback always involves suffering. The apostle Peter writes (I’m sure from personal experience) that we must:
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8-9)
Jesus didn’t come to give us a life free from suffering. He came to bring us back into right relationship with the Father and give us eternal life. We serve a God who was beaten and hung on a tree. He wasn’t esteemed, and as His disciples, we should expect that following in His footsteps will generate opposition as well. The question isn’t whether or not we will experience suffering and conflict as a result of pursuing the kingdom ministry of Jesus, but rather what we will do with it when it comes. Will our response be to step back into the safety of powerless living, or will we press through the pushback?
I have struggled greatly with the warfare that comes with a life committed to advancing the kingdom of God. The pushback comes to different people in different ways. My biggest struggle has come in the form of assaulting and tormenting thoughts. The enemy comes at me strongly with accusation, condemnation, and fear—tactics meant not only to destroy me, but to keep me from advancing the kingdom of God. If the enemy can get me to stop looking to Jesus and begin looking at myself and the mental warfare, then he not only takes me out, but he effectively prevents me from touching the lives of others and seeing them come into their destinies in God.
Over the years in which I have been stepping out in power evangelism, I have struggled with depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and the physical problems that come with them. During my early twenties, the problems became so severe that I had to seek professional help in order to function. At one of the lowest points I can remember, I was having such difficulty with depression and tormenting thoughts that a friend of mine who is a Christian counselor suggested I might need to meet with a psychiatrist colleague of hers to evaluate if there was a chemical problem that needed to be treated medically. So there I sat in a sterile office, face-to-face with a psychiatrist who didn’t know me, feeling so vulnerable and discouraged that I was longing to get out of the room. In an attempt to diagnose my condition, the psychiatrist was barraging me with questions. At one point he asked, “Do you hear voices?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that. I’d hear the Holy Spirit speak to me, and at times, in the midst of the battle, I could clearly hear the voice of the enemy as well. Would this psychiatrist understand if I tried to explain this, or would I just sound insane? At that point, I wasn’t entirely sure I wasn’t insane. It all seemed very confusing in my mind. I timidly replied, “Yes, but not the kind of voices you are talking about.”
Words can’t describe how low this moment was for me. But then, right in the middle of my deepest moment of despair, I heard God speak to me. I suddenly began to get a download from God of words of knowledge for this psychiatrist. On the one hand, I was filled with hope and consolation knowing that Jesus was right there with me, speaking to me, at my darkest moment. He hadn’t abandoned me. He was with me. On the other hand, I had no idea what to do with those impressions. If I shared them, would the psychiatrist think I was even more crazy? I was bewildered. I decided not to say anything.
After my session was finally over, I went to my counselor’s office and told her what had happened. I shared the words of knowledge with her, and she was glad that I hadn’t said anything to the psychiatrist. She told me it would have freaked him out and he wouldn’t have known what to do, but she offered to go share the words with him herself. She later met with the psychiatrist and said, “You know that guy Brian? I know he’s got problems, but he really does hear from God. This is what God spoke to him about you.” She went on to share the words of knowledge I had received. He acknowledged that all of them were true. As it turned out, the man was in the midst of a personal crisis himself, and he wasn’t a believer. I was in the middle of my own crisis, feeling intense pushback.
In the midst of my crisis, God was speaking to me, bringing consolation to me, and at the same time He was using what the enemy meant for evil to destroy me to bring life and healing to both me and the psychiatrist.
The pushback will come. For me it comes as depression, anxiety, and fear. For you it may come in a different form such as isolationism, complacency, busy living, fleshly temptation, or any number of things. I have learned that the challenge is to rest in God’s love, trust in His goodness and sufficiency, and battle the thoughts from the position of resting in Christ rather than out of my own strength or desperation. I had to learn to take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) and be transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2).
I had to learn to live out of the love of God for me rather than out of the fear and intimidation the enemy dished out to me. It’s a daily struggle, and one I’m still battling. There is a cost to be counted for advancing the kingdom, but we are never without comfort. We are never powerless against the enemy. We must learn to fix our eyes on Christ and commit our lives to advancing the kingdom and pursuing His love for us and others no matter the cost.
Taken from my book, From the Sanctuary to the Streets. Coaching Saints Publications. Kindle Edition.