I wasn’t aware of the severity of spiritual battle until this year. I began this year with those sermons about the figless fig tree in Matthew and I had to ask myself, have I born any fruit? In my 20 years of walking with Jesus, do I know him as well as I do a friend who I have known for that long? Sadly, I couldn’t say yes to these questions. I had a lot of leaves. I had a pastor title. I had a church to serve. I had ministries that needed to be run. I had people asking for my time. But in my own heart, I was frustrated that I couldn’t confidently say that I knew Jesus at the level that one would expect after 20 years. If you do anything for 20 years, you should be half decent. I have had a career in computers for about that long and I know my way around computers and I can design websites and I can do a lot of stuff with technology. I have been married to Jackie nearly 14 years and I can say I know her very well.
But what about Jesus? The numbers don’t add up. I’ve been walking for 20 years and I don’t know Jesus half as well as I know Jackie. Something is not right.
At this point, I had a choice. Prioritize seeking Jesus over everything else or stay the course. I really wanted to seek Christ and to prioritize my relationship with Him. Every Christian wants that. But I found that so many other things got in the way. How can I seek God when I have a sermon to prepare for? Or when I block out a day to spend with Jesus, I get a call and someone wants to meet. How can I not meet that person? That’s what a pastor is for.
What about my responsibility to my family? I have to provide for their financial needs so I got to do some tentmaking. What about my spiritual leadership? I got to spend time with Jackie and the kids. And weeks and months went by and somehow my times with the Lord took a back seat to sermon prep, bible studies, family, ministry, meetings. There is no end. And I thought, Lord, at least I am serving you.
But through a couple of conversations with Christians from other churches, God showed me an important truth. God doesn’t want me to come to Him as a pastor. He is my Abba Father and He wants me to come to Him as a child. That was an important paradigm shift for me. I thought, isn’t the role of the pastor to shoulder all the burdens of the people? No, it’s my job to be a child before God and to cast all my burdens and all ministry burdens at the feet of Jesus because Jesus is the Head of the church, He is the Head Pastor of this church and every other local church, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and I am only an undershepherd. This helped me to feel less burdened so that I could be free to enjoy Jesus.
But even if my desire to prioritize my relationship with Jesus had grown, I found this desire difficult to maintain. It’s around this time that God began to teach me about the fierceness of the spiritual battle. The reason why I kept forgetting that God wanted a Father-son relationship with me and the reason why I kept returning to my default state of treating God like He was an employer and I was the employee who needed to work for him was a deep stronghold. I grew up needing to work hard and perform well in order to gain approval from my parents and I recognized that to this day, I am operating at of this bondage. God is the Father whom I feel like I need approval and I believe that I can gain this approval through hard, constant work and service.
I was at a retreat in Stockton several months ago and after one of the messages, the pastor encouraged us to pray as far as the Holy Spirit revealed to us about our past so that we can experience freedom and healing. And I felt absolutely nothing going into that prayer time, but suddenly, without warning, I recalled memory after memory of my childhood. And I saw how my need to perform before my parents growing up had become a stronghold that caused me to live with this performance mindset before my Heavenly Father. No wonder I kept working hard because I would offer my service to the Lord and I wouldn’t receive any sense of approval so I concluded, I guess God is not happy with me so I got to work harder. I wept and kept saying sorry to God for treating God as if He is an angry Father who is never happy with what I do for Him. I sensed during that time that God was healing me for the first time and breaking the bondage of performance. And He was teaching me to come to Him as a child rather than an employee.
This experience gave me a new lens into ministry. We all have strongholds, even as believers. We have areas that are still locked up, where Christ has not touched, where we have yet to experience His freedom.
When Christians act out of their flesh and they slander and they are arrogant or nasty and they gossip and they are judgmental, I used to get angry with the person. But now I get angry at Satan. He is deceiving this brother and sister in some way and they are still bound and they are just operating out of their bondage.
12 For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.
I have come to see the truth of this verse. Our battle is not against people when they sin against us. When they sin against us, they are just revealing their bondage. We shouldn’t get angry with them. We should get angry at Satan and do battle with Satan and ask Jesus to demolish the strongholds in this brother or sister’s life.
I want to end with one last passage.
7 But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Let’s pray that this can be our confession in 2014.