Surprising Discoveries from the Battlefield: Encouragement for the Lord’s Servants

(What follows has been excerpted from the November 1 edition of the monthly newsletter my wife and I e-mail to friends and supporters. We hope we can encourage you with these thoughts. – Dave Shive)

Sometimes I think I’m at an age where I should be fully prepared for spiritual warfare. But the hits keep coming and I still frequently fumble the ball. Most of the attacks come when I’m least prepared.

Every significant war, battle or conflict is characterized by surprise attacks. The enemy looks for the unguarded moment, a chink in his opponent’s armor to launch an assault.

A recent skirmish came in the form of technological failures in the midst of a flurry of ministry activity. Though my computer-savy son might disagree, I don’t think I’m completely technologically hopeless. But significant upgrades to my laptop were long overdue and I had to bite the bullet and jump into the abysss. (I will spare you the details.) Though I’m still in the midst of trying to find my way through the mess, I have found some grace. Perhaps you will find some encouragement here, as well.

One difficult aspect to spiritual attack is the feeling of helplessness we experience. The enemy knows how to attack at a point of weakness where we will feel most vulnerable and unable to fight back. This is frustrating until we realize that we are powerless to resist and our response must take another form.

A second facet is that the enemy attacks at such inconvenient times! At the conclusion of Jesus’ temptation in Luke 4:13, we are told that the devil “left him for a more convenient time.” It was Satan’s intent to come back to continue his harrassment of Jesus, but his return would be at a time convenient to Satan, not to Jesus. Jesus’ next encounter with the devil will not be a conveniently-scheduled appointment, and we should expect nothing less than an attack at the most ill-timed moment.

Finally, spiritual attacks generally come as a surprise. I was not expecting a bout with the enemy, particularly one that focused on my laptop and software. Where do you expect an attack to come in your life? Well, get ready, because the enemy is already looking to surprise you with a whole new means of assault!

These three aspects of spiritual warfare often converge, as they did with me. The attack not only was directed at a point of personal weakness (technology), but it came at a time when I felt that I could least afford the distraction and interruption (a busy time of ministry), and I was blindsided.

For those experiencing these kind of battle fronts in their own lives, C. S. Lewis’ thoughts contained in his Screwtape Letters may prove helpful. It is in that volume that we find “demon Screwtape” teaching his demonic apprentice, Wormwood, to be aware of what God wants of his followers so that Wormwood will know how to launch his attack on a new Christian. The “Enemy” mentioned is God. Says Screwtape:

“He [God] wants them [new Christians] to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.

Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

Typical C. S. Lewis as he nails it with a few well-chosen words.

But then there is serendipity: an accidental and pleasant discovery. In the midst of the assaults of the enemy, there is a metamorphosis. A flower bursts through the pavement in a parking lot. Beauty can emerge from ashes. Mourning is turned to dancing. A candle transforms the darkness. The ugly caterpillar mutates into the beautiful butterfly. And hideous infirmity and weakness is serendipitously transmuted into a work of grace and joy. It’s as if God is just waiting for the most unlikely of opportunities to reveal himself.

When Paul was bedeviled by his “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12), serendipity occurred. Grace showed up to diminish a perceived liability to Paul’s ministry. Infirmity becomes strength. That is so much like God, isn’t it?

Paul’s dialogue with God in prayer in II Cor. 12 was the turning point, as it was for me and can be for you. The solution for these attacks is renewed prayer. The helpless gain power through supplication. Alertness readies us for the “more convenient time” when the enemy will inevitably show up. Persevering in prayer guards us against those surprise attacks that catch us off guard.

May grace show up in your life today.