For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.—Ephesians 6:12
Can I share some encouragement for spiritual leaders and Christians who are engaged in gospel ministry this week and are simultaneously experiencing spiritual battle?
Thirty-two years into ministry I can say, any time you tackle a big effort to lift up Jesus, you can buckle up for at least some kind spiritual opposition. It’s as predictable as the sunrise.
Let’s break it down.
What It Looks and Feels Like
Sometimes it’s purely an internal, emotional, psychological weight or oppression—The sheer intangibility of this makes it hard to identify. In this case, you just feel in a fog, discouraged, or generally negative. You may also feel amped up, hard to sit still, and generally wired. (Paul called this “affliction and distress” in 1 Thessalonians 3:7)
Sometimes it’s tied to fatigue or growing depletion—During a big ministry week you are expending more physical and emotional energy. This may make you more irritable or sensitive, or it may make you simply feel drained.
Sometimes it’s conflict oriented—I believe Satan loves to stir things up and reverse the image of Ephesians 6:12 as though we are fighting each other. He loves to see us bumping into others emotionally (perhaps also facing similar battles), finding conversations more combustible, running thin, or generally “flaring up” more easily.
Sometimes it’s circumstantial—Have you seen those insurance commercials about “Mayhem”? Well, the right response isn’t fear, because greater is He that is within us than he who opposes us. But don’t be surprised by “Mayhem”—annoying intrusions into your good efforts—a fender-bender, a hard drive crash, a technical systems problem, an irritating or discouraging series of events. In spiritual battle, this is generally more than usual, indicating that it’s more than random. (Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he said “Satan hindered us” in 1 Thessalonians 2:18)
Sometimes it’s personal and functional—this could be an amped up anxiety about your message, your cue card, your weekend events, the details, or teams you are managing. It’s just an added layer of intensity to ministry that you’re carrying, and maybe tossing and turning over. This can also contribute to tension, stress, and inner turmoil or relational tension. Can we say “lost sleep”?
Ultimately, only Jesus can relieve this, which is why we need to see it and respond accordingly.
How to Deal with It
First, see it for what it is. At least for me, this is 99% of the battle. For years I would get neck deep into this before realizing it’s primarily spiritual in nature. Seeing it as deliberate opposition (as opposed to merely random occurrences) would immediately neutralize the vast majority of its “power” over me. This is a kind of differentiating between circumstances around me and the power within me. James 4:7 says, “Resist the Devil and he will flee…”— he’s all smoke and no fire. But he’s really good at smoke! (See Ephesians 6:12)
Second, deliberately take captive and redirect or reframe the inner narrative. The best way to do this is “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ”— 2 Corinthians 10:5. Cast down imaginations and stand on truth. Don’t allow lies, deception, and incriminating thoughts to win the day. Refuse to let the opposition win your attitude or eat away at your relationships as you attempt to “serve Jesus.” Don’t let Satan kill the awesome joy that there is in giving the gospel to others. Decide you won’t allow your opposition to rob you of actually experiencing resurrection power as you celebrate the resurrection.
Ironic isn’t it—we celebrate resurrection in a “living death” sort of way.
Third, breathe and rest and fuel up. Between now and Sunday it’s pretty critical that you rest well and have some down time. If you come into the weekend exhausted and depleted, so much for enjoying ministry and rejoicing in the resurrection! You will barely remember it! Jesus counters this with His invitation in Matthew 11:28— “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
God’s people deserve the best you—the joyful, rested, un-anxious, gracious you. That you only emerges when you’ve rested properly, eaten wisely, and cultivated a healthy soul. Your best weekend isn’t a product of radical overextension and personal depletion. It’s not a product of your exhaustive efforts. It’s a product of resting in Jesus to do the work you cannot do. It’s pretty hard to call people to the “joyful, abundant Christian life” from the prison cell of frustration, depletion, exhaustion, and emptiness.
Finally, link arms with family, co-laborers, and friends. Renew your passion for the gospel of grace, and think for half a second about what it really means to celebrate the hope of resurrection. Choose to enjoy giving the gospel to hungry and hurting hearts this weekend. There’s no greater joy ever.
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”— John 12:32. The spiritual opposition of ministry is hard, hurtful, and just plain frustrating. The spiritual fruit of seeing hearts drawn to Jesus is worth it all. It’s a mind game more than anything else, and Satan’s strategy is all built on lies. He only has the power you grant him by believing his lies. He fears you and your gospel message immensely. He fears what is unfolding this weekend at your church. Literally.
The Lion of Judah is about to roar.
Rest up. Fuel up. Chin up. Head up. Eyes up. Your best Friend rose from the grave, saved you, called you, enables you, goes before you, empowers you, and plans to use you. He’s got this, He’s got you, and He’s got someone in mind that you will reach!
A few years ago at our church prayer time during Easter week, a faithful lady and leader in our church raised her hand and said, “Pastor, I got saved three years ago at our Good Friday service!” Several years later, she’s loving Jesus, growing in grace, and joyfully serving with her church family. This week, she will help lead a large children’s egg hunt for our community.
My heart soared with her testimony for two reasons. First, I needed to hear that and rejoice with her. But second, that particular year, a carnal, argumentative pastor publicly criticized me online for having a Good Friday service. I distinctly remember that year how discouraging that week was. One carnal man kicked me in the gut for no apparent reason. It was just weird. But several years later, fruit remains and speaks for herself. I was reminded all over again that the power of opposition and grumpy people is no match for the power of the gospel.
Yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m preaching to myself (even 32 years in). Don’t let the spiritual battle get you down. Rise up! Jesus has gone before you.
Godspeed in gospel ministry this weekend, friends. We will spend all of eternity rejoicing in the hearts that turn to Jesus, and we will barely remember the fog in which we served.
P.S.—feel free to share, copy, paste, and email this encouragement if you feel it can help someone serve joyfully this week.
By Cary Schmidt, Author of Stop Trying: How to Receive—Not Achieve—Your Real Identity