We are in a war. And the main enemy is within.
Let me clarify, because this is not a trendy idea.
The Word is clear. We have three enemies which stand against us in our relationship with God. Each is to receive an appropriate response.
We are to resist the devil (James 4:7; Ephesians 6:10).
We are to resist the world and its seductive influences (See Galatians 6:4; 1 John 2:15-17;
But the flesh, that requires a different response. We are clearly instructed to mortify our flesh. Yes, mortify – as in the really dead kind of dead.
The spiritual forces around us get a great deal of air time. 90:1 I hear people lay their life problems at the feet of the enemy and not their own choices. How many times do we hear ourselves pray publicly (or privately) against the forces of darkness vs. the number of times we pray for the Spirit to deliver us from our own turned-in-on-oursleves desires?
Yes, I believe in a literal Satan and his legions. I honor the authority of the Word of God on the topic. I don’t require logical, cognitive understanding to accept truth. Mystery abounds. Besides, I have seen and heard and felt realities in dark places of this world.
However, of our three enemies – the flesh, the world, and the spiritual forces of darkness – we are told to pursue elimination of only one of them. Paul says that by the Spirit we are to put to death the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:9-13). Sobering. But that is the point.
Essential is vigilance about what desires are surfacing in us and what is driving those desires. We tread thin ice here. Too easily are we duped by our own selves.
Persistent Pursuit of Renewal
Throughout the New Testament Epistles we are exhorted to pursue renewal.
Research has shown that one of the key markers of those who finish well is regular seasons of spiritual renewal.
Finishing well is here defined as living one’s life to its end faithfully walking with God and doing what he has show one to do. Such a journey is primarily a relational one, not a knowledge- or skill-based one. Yes, we need knowledge (e.g. Word, doctrine, Theology, history, self-awareness, etc.) and skill (how to do certain spiritual practices, relational skills, professional skills, etc.), but all of this is sourced in relationship. The Trinity is the basis of all reality.
Thus we seek constant renewal. We are in a war. The enemy never stops. There is no half-time or or vacation or sabbatical from the war within. We are utterly, continually dependent on God in this war. He is not lobbing rations from the back line up to the trenches where we live and die. No, he is in the trenches with us. Jesus lived and died in this very trench. He invites us to draw near.
Statistically, Odds are You Won’t Finish Well
Dr. Bobby Clinton’s research has shown that 2/3 of leaders do not finish well. The majority of us will fail at finishing well. What are you doing to be part of the minority? Statistically, the odds are against each of us.
Deliberate, budgeted, scheduled seasons of renewal are in order. These practices happen daily, weekly, monthly annually and seasonally. That sounds like massive investment, maybe a tad self-absorbed, so let’s break this down.
Ways of Renewal – Are your life/spiritual practices sufficient for your life-ministry responsibilities?*
Daily – Word, Prayer, exercise, core relationships, rest, diet, and, yes, sacrificial work
Weekly – Sabbath, day of to play, and rest. Do not be accessible via tech all the time.
Monthly – a day of prayer and solitude, time with community, hobbies
Yearly – Vacation, times to reflect, pray, plan, extended retreat, intake events (where you receive not give as the main purpose of the event – such as a conference or guided retreat).
Seasonally – Sabbatical, further training, extended retreats…
There is much to reflect on here. If you are too busy to live into these let alone to reflect upon them, well you are just playing into the enemy’s hand.
The principle is this: We are in a war and renewal through deeper communion with God and others is key to finishing the fight well.
What facilitates your renewal? Please comment and share.
* Eugene Peterson first put me onto this question in his book Under the Unpredictable Plant.
What is this “Dr. Bobby Clinton’s research”?
You can obtain some of his materials at http://bobbyclinton.com. I have also been in some small gatherings when he has taught.
Scott, Thanks for these great reminders. My word for ‘18 is discipline—that is to be disciplined about my spiritual disciplines. Already I have found myself to be complacent. Just when I think I’m in a good spot I realize that thinking I’m on a high plateau is in reality a slippery slope. Time to get back to basics. Isaiah 30:15, “ In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.”