In hundreds of conversations we have identified six "challenges" our generations face when considering ministry in a missions-related role. The six are: Faith, Finances, Family, Fit, Future and Fight. The purpose of examining these benefits is to help us see that God is really carefully managing our journey, and not getting in the way of a desired goal with all these obstacles.
The sixth "challenge", "obstacle", or "opportunity", depending on your perspective.
It would be hard to get more clear direction for ministry than what Paul received in the account recorded in Acts 9:1-22. I'm sure most of us would love to have such clear instructions when seeking God's next steps for us. Paul heard clearly and immediately began to be obedient to God's call on his life. And what happened? The wheels started to come off! Through the rest of the book of Acts we have accounts of at least 20 times when things were falling apart. Here was a man who thought he had heard God's will, began to do what he felt God had asked him to do, yet everything seemed to be going wrong. What happened?
I think for many of us, over time, probably without anyone directly teaching it, there is a tendency to believe that if we discover God's will, things will start to go right. If we just get on the right path, things will smooth out...God will take care of us...keep us from anything too difficult...and then we can really accomplish His will in our lives.
When we live with this idea, even somewhat unconsciously, and then encounter difficulties, it is easy to begin to question whether or not we are really doing God's will. Did we miss it? Something must be wrong. Where did we get off course? We begin to lose confidence. We doubt. We become uncertain. We lose our joy and commitment. We're confused.
Well...there may be another answer! In fact, the difficulties might be the best sign that we haven't missed God's will at all, rather we're doing exactly what he desires. (As an aside, let me add that if we are experiencing troubles and confusion because of our own sin, that's a different thing. We usually know exactly what we're doing and how we need to change, and that needs to be our priority - confessing our sin, repenting, giving Jesus control of our lives, immersing ourselves in His Word and growing in righteous living.)
What Paul experienced throughout his ministry life was the continual attacks of the enemy. Paul was being effective in rescuing people from the kingdom of darkness and releasing them into the kingdom of light and the enemy didn't like it. He stirred up anger and hatred and any means he could to destroy Paul, his credibility and his ministry effectiveness. But Paul knew his mission, he knew what God had asked him to do, and he kept on being obedient, not because it was easy, because it was right!
Attacks from the enemy can be a sign that we are right in the middle of God's will for us and that we are being effective. But often we look at such attacks as something to be avoided. Our enemy hopes that's exactly what we'll think. He wins. We back off. We get confused and afraid. We are more interested in seeking an easy life than we are in being obedient, so we sideline ourselves. We're out of the game, not being effective for enlarging God's kingdom, so the enemy backs off and things go easier for us.
After over twenty years of working with people God has called into significant kingdom work I can say, without a doubt, that once we make it known that we intend to penetrate the darkness with the light of Jesus, the enemy will attack. This is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when and how.
One of his most frequent tactics, particularly early in a new ministry decision, is what I refer to as "friendly fire." These are attacks from those who should be on our side. They can be from family, from friends and even people in leadership roles in our life through church or ministry organizations. These attacks really hurt. They are surprising. They undermine us. They just shouldn't happen. They can really shake our confidence in what God has placed before us.
Sometimes it's an accusation against us. Sometimes it's a statement regarding our lack of readiness. Sometimes it's unkind comments that hurt deeply. So what do we do when we are hit by friendly fire? The first thing we do is take it to the Lord in prayer asking if there is any truth to the comment or accusation. If so, we deal with it. If not, or if we know it has been twisted, we do what God's Word teaches us to do. We stand firm. We reaffirm our commitment to obedience. We do not cower and run. We stay the course...all with an attitude of humility and kindness. We do not consume ourselves and our time in trying to talk our way out of it. That's fighting on the enemy's turf. What seems to be a great defense actually works in his favor. We use our time, our emotional and spiritual energy trying to make something right that is already right. So he wins...when we're sidelined arguing and discussing, we are not invading his territory, so he's happy.
Many times I have noticed that people in leadership roles, in their sincere desire to do the right thing and protect people, tend to believe the accusation or the lie, and are quickly willing to put things on hold until everything is resolved. It turns out that often such things are never resolved. Those delivering the friendly fire are people in whose lives the enemy has a foothold and they are being used unwittingly by the enemy to keep us from taking back some of his territory. Sometimes the only thing we can do in such a situation is earnest, effective prayer, mobilizing others to pray with us, to break this lie of the enemy and keep us moving forward.
Wise leadership will have the spiritual insight to discern this common approach of the enemy to cause dissension and recognize it for what it is. When they do, they can then go after the real issue...the one causing the dissension, instead of us. This is a great and wonderful moment in our walk of obedience. Everyone grows in their faith and commitment to faithfully follow what Jesus has asked us to do. We emerge stronger and more effective and more like Jesus!
But not all attacks are friendly fire. Many times they are just roadblocks the enemy throws in front of us. It can be health, economic challenges, people challenges, political decisions, terrorism, job issues, children and family issues...any number of challenges. But he will try to use them to discourage us and keep us from effectively rescuing souls from his kingdom and releasing them into the kingdom of light. Again, we stand firm. We resist. We don't try to fight him. We don't turn and run. We stand. And James 4:7 tells us the enemy will be the one to turn and run, because he already knows what John tells us in 1st John 4:4, that the Holy Spirit in us is greater than he is.
Paul had every reason to turn and run himself. Time after time he was running for his life. Everything seemed to go wrong in every town he visited. His own people, the Jews, hated him. At times, other Christians, who should have understood, turned against him. The very people Jesus asked him to evangelize, the Gentiles, were constantly against him. In 2nd Corinthians 1:24-27 he lists the extremely difficult circumstances he lived through as he was following God's will for his ministry. Most of us would probably have given up after just one of those things. What's more, we would have probably written a book and traveled around the country giving our testimony, rather than staying the course of obedience.
So...yes, we are in a fight. Once we make it known that we intend to invade enemy territory, he'll go after us one way or another. Our method of fighting is to stand firm. Stay the course. Pray, because the battle may look and feel physical, but it is really spiritual. It is won through prayer, not because we are so competent. The verse says, "greater is He", not "greater are we."
Finishers Project 2012