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spirituality shelf

spirituality shelf (Photo credit: professor megan)

There is no greater protection against false teaching than knowing the Word. If you are not going to study it for yourself, expect to be led down a lot of rabbit holes, even in church. And just as God has a plan for your life, so does the enemy. Your best strategy is to study, pray, and stick to truth and common sense.

When I was in counseling, there were a lot of wacky forays into trendy territory that profited little and did more harm than good. Many of our local Christian counselors were caught up in the ‘recovered memory‘ phase that undermined marriage and family therapy in the eighties and nineties. Families were referred to as ‘dysfunctional’ and cutoff was encouraged. No mention of grace, mercy, or forgiveness. No allowances for differences of opinion or habit. Then along came the ‘boundaries’ phase, which was heavily endorsed by those with a strong need to control everything from relationships to conversations.

If I were the enemy, and couldn’t tempt people with obvious sin, wouldn’t it make sense to have a different strategy, aimed at people’s emotional vulnerabilities and unstable belief systems?

A few years ago, a friend had asked some of us to co-facilitate a group for mothers and daughters. Sitting in her beautiful living room, with our girls sprawled listlessly in front of us, we taught and encouraged each other. As my friend was speaking, she said something that seemed to stand out in neon lights in front of me. She said (to the girls) “Whatever demon has been following you [through life] has been keeping a notebook.” She was sitting on one side of the fireplace, and I on the other, and the words hung in the air between us. I don’t even think the girls were paying attention. That thought stayed with me, and over the next few weeks, I had several different experiences.

While driving one day, and thinking about what was said, I was suddenly in the Spirit. As I was on the highway passing the church, I suddenly saw a group of dark figures in a huddle, and realized they were talking about me. As I listened, I realized they were discussing strategy, and I was observing from the side. One of the figures suddenly said ” We’ll just do the usual.” And I suddenly got angry. The vision abruptly ended, and I thought “Really? Am I so predictable to the enemy that all he has to do is say “We’ll just do the usual” and it works?

After several days more thinking about this, it finally dawned on me [so to speak] to ask God to help me develop my own strategy to counteract the enemy, and strengthen myself spiritually.

Shortly after this experience, I asked God to reveal the names of these three figures who were exerting such influence on my life. What eventually came to me was Fear, Grief and Shame. No matter how hard I tried; no matter what effort I put into lists, plans, goals, and resolutions, I saw that I could be blind-sided by any one of these at any time. I suddenly saw it as a strategic plan to keep me from even remotely making progress in fulfilling the purposes of God in my life.

I have severe social phobia, which means that I am highly unlikely to head off to a bar, or casino for an evening of mindless fun. It also means that I generally make a complete idiot of myself whenever I leave the house and attempt any adult interaction, but it at least limits the trouble I can get into out in the world. (Well, except for the getting fired part.) If the enemy has a strategy for me, it almost always involves unwitting church leaders, counselors, and elders. As well-meaning as they are, they unknowingly play into a strategy that was developed long before they met me. The major themes of my life: shame, fear, rejection and grief, get played out in the church theater; the actual players may change, but not the strategy. At first, the only counter-strategy I could come up with was to just keep going and not quit. And this works, to some extent, but it makes for an awfully depressing life.

What is far better is to develop a strong and steady core, or center, where nothing, absolutely nothing, shakes you. A determination to be polite, kind, strong, steady and stable regardless of how others act or treat you. I have been reading a lot of Gordon MacDonald lately. Gordon is the editor-at-large for Leadership Journal; his writing is sincere and truthful. In the book Ordering Your Private World, he describes the day he ‘hit the wall’, and what this did to him spiritually. He goes on to write about the importance of developing your inner life to the extent that what happens publicly doesn’t derail you spiritually.

I have hit a lot of walls; I expect there will be more. The best strategy is to become so strong, and so focused on the end goal  (that final affirmation on the part of God: “Well done, good and faithful servant”) that no slight, insult or unkindness on the part of another affects us to the degree that we react in kind.  Forgiveness.  Grace.  Mercy.  These are our weapons;  the best strategies for peace in times of turmoil.  Always err on the side of love;  it disarms any weapon the enemy will try to use against you.