In less than an hour after I finished preaching I was only a few steps out the door of the church when it hit. It’s hard to explain but I think those who suffer depression might relate. It’s a feeling (and yes I’ll have to use that word) of deep emptiness, hollowness and gloom. Doubts began to form in my mind:
‘That was a really bad sermon’, ‘You’ve been preaching this long and you still manage a fail-boat like that?’, ‘So you had two people who liked it; if only you knew what the others were thinking.’
It’s not just psychological. It’s physical. There’s a heaviness of spirit and it isn’t imaginary. I really felt like I weighed an extra 10 kg but with less strength. Everything was an effort. Even opening the car door seemed like work.
If you are in Christian ministry of any kind your spiritual antennae is no doubt starting to twitch – big time. You’re thinking, ‘That’s not just a simple case of the blues. That’s a spiritual battle.’ And you’d be right. Those thoughts of doubt and despair were not merely human in origin; they had another source – Satan. And I happened to be preaching about him – well not him directly, but the place where he is heading. And I was warning others not to follow him. Obviously that’s not going to go down all that well, with him or with any of his helpers. So it was not that surprising that he might show his displeasure with me. I was preparing for his attack in the days leading up to my sermon but not after. I was caught badly off guard.
Paul says in Ephesians 6:10-18,
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints
You may have heard it said, “You don’t have to fight any battle, the Lord fights for you.” That sounds all very spiritual but I don’t think it’s entirely accurate. Paul says we wrestle. He’s talking about believers. We are in a battle. We are facing off with the enemy.
So here I was an hour after preaching a very difficult message, afflicted with disappointment, doubt and great heaviness of spirit. I’m experiencing a spiritual battle and I’m receiving hits from the enemy. So what do I do? What should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?
1. Be strong in the Lord, or seek strength from the Lord. You’re weak. You’re vulnerable. You need spiritual strength. And Jesus can supply it. So ask him for it. Later in the afternoon after I rested I started to do that. I should have started a lot earlier.
2. Put on the armour of God. Fasten the belt of truth, buckle on the breastplate of righteousness, lace up the gospel shoes, take up the shield of faith, put on the helmet of salvation and grab hold of the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God. I want to focus on one of these in particular – the shield of faith. What’s a shield for? Deflecting missiles – in the soldier’s case, arrows and spears. In the Christian soldier’s case – spiritual arrows and spears. Paul calls them “fiery darts.” Satan is continually shooting “fiery darts” at our hearts and minds – lies, impure thoughts, sinful thoughts about others, doubts, fears, suspicions, and misgivings. We need to deflect these darts and extinguish their flames. And we do that with the shield of faith. Faith by definition looks away from self to God alone for help. Faith locks on to God and his trustworthiness. Put your trust in him. Trust his strength, trust his promises, trust his character and trust his wisdom.
3. Stand firm. Don’t go chasing Satan and don’t run from him. Just stand your ground. Be firm in your faith. Hold on to Jesus and there’s not a lot he can do.
4. Pray, pray, pray. Pray yourself and get others praying for you. A friend sent me a text later in the afternoon. When I told him what was going on he replied straight away, “Praying for you.” And it made a difference. Spiritual battles need to be fought using spiritual means and prayer is one of the most (if not the most) powerful.
There are some other practical suggestions I would like to add to this that I have learned by way of experience:
· Share. Tell someone you trust what is going on. You need others looking out for you. That’s what the body of Christ is for. Tell your husband or your wife or a friend that you can confide in.
· Rest. Preaching and teaching is exhausting work. Your body needs some time to recharge. Find some where quiet and close your eyes.
· Eat. Preferably eat something healthy. A good, healthy meal well help replenish the energy that’s been released.
· Serve. Take an interest in the people around you. Ask how they are doing. Listen and respond. Help your wife. Do something for one of your kids. It will help you get your eyes off yourself and slipping into too much morbid introspection.
Postscript: Shortly after writing this (I penned it the same day) my head began to clear, the weight began to lift and my joy was restored. That’s the power of meditating on the Word of God. It really is a sword.