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Spiritual Warfare (2)

Courageously Facing Our Fears

Jim Davis

Uncontrolled fear leads to failure. If we wish to fight a good fight of faith, we must conquer our fears. When Moses led the children of Israel through the wilderness he reminded them of their fears. He reminded them of the dreadful desert and the enemies they faced as they crossed the Red Sea. He reminded them how their lack of courage led to their failure.

Deuteronomy 1:19-33
Then, as the LORD our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful desert that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea. Then I said to you, "You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the LORD our God is giving us. See, the LORD your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."

Then all of you came to me and said, "Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to."

The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe. They left and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshcol and explored it. Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought it down to us and reported, "It is a good land that the LORD our God is giving us."

But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, "The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go? Our brothers have made us lose heart. They say, 'The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.'"

Then I said to you, "Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place." In spite of this, you did not trust in the LORD your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go. (NIV)

God spoke to Joshua as he was preparing to cross the Jordan River to conquer Canaan. This was forty years after the story we just read from Deuteronomy. God spoke to Joshua to give him courage for the battles ahead.

Joshua 1:6-9
"Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (NIV)

As a soldier engaged in spiritual warfare, you must take courage. You can't live in fear and be successful in battle. Fear will cause you to overlook the important battles that must be fought.

How to Become Courageous

Meditating upon God, thinking his thoughts for the purpose of doing his will is the only means to real courage. The Lord commands Joshua saying, "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." Meditating upon God for the purpose of doing his will is the only means to courage. To take courage you must stop thinking about the size of your problems. You must start thinking about the size of your God.

Initially, when the Israelites were afraid to cross the Jordan River to conquer the land, Moses reminded them of what God had previously done for them. Moses said, "Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert." He was reminding them of the availability of God’s power. He was asking them to trust God’s power. As Moses reminds Israel of their failures he says, "In spite of this, you did not trust in the LORD your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go."

In Ephesians Paul wants us to be enlightened about the availability of God’s power in our daily struggles. Paul prays, "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe."

Ephesians 1:18-21
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (NIV)

Success for every Christian is the ability to allow the strength of God to work through our lives. This is imperative for us to become courageous. Paul wants us to become enlightened about the availability of God’s power

Looking to what God has done in the past is the key to understanding what he is capable of doing in the present. Moses reminds the Hebrews of what God did as he led them out of Egypt. Paul reminds Christians of what God did through the resurrection of Christ. Paul God’s power " . . . is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come."

Sadly, the resurrection of Christ has been relegated to the confines of religious doctrines. As a result it has lost its real significance for our modern world. How many of us truly believe that God’s power for living is revealed through the resurrection of Christ? How many of us truly believe we can allow this same power to work through us by meditating upon God’s will for the purpose of doing what God says? The way to become enlightened about God’s power is to meditate upon his word. The way to experience God’s power is through obeying his will.

Joshua 1:6-9
"Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (NIV)

When you can trust that God is in control, then you can obey him as he leads you through life’s battles. When Joshua led the children of Israel against Jericho, he had only the first five books of the Bible to tell him about God’s power. The rest of God’s story was yet to be written.

Joshua 5:13-15
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?" The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so. (NIV)

I believe that it was the commander of the army of the Lord that spoke the following words to encourage Joshua.

Joshua 6:2-5
Then the LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in." (NIV)

The commander assured Joshua of victory before he took the first step around Jericho. Today we not only have the story of Jericho as a reminder. We have every event from creation to the cross and beyond to remind us of God’s incomparable power for those who believe.

Haggai 2:4-7
But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD. 'Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,' declares the LORD, 'and work. For I am with you,' declares the LORD Almighty. 'This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.' "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty. (NIV)

Psalms 31:24
Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD. (NIV)

When I take my eyes off of God and look to circumstances fear returns. How many times during the battles of life do we need to remind ourselves that we must look to God rather than the circumstances of life? Circumstances seek to get us to look at things as they are. Circumstances seek to limit our vision. Faith in God allows us to see the almighty power of God at work in our circumstances. Seeing God in our circumstances allows us to understand God’s potential and it builds courage.

I want to remind you that you can’t do this without meditating upon his power as it is revealed through his Word.

Moses tells us how the Israelites lost their courage, "But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, "The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go? Our brothers have made us lose heart. They say, 'The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.'"

We must put our faith in God and not man. "When Ish-Bosheth son of Saul heard that Abner had died in Hebron, he lost courage, and all Israel became alarmed." (2 Samuel 4:1 NIV) The reason the son of Saul lost his courage was because he had placed his faith in Abner. When Abner died, Ish-Bosheth lost the source of his faith. Israel became alarmed.

Courageous leaders instill courage in those who follow as they help their followers see God in their circumstances. We need leaders today who can see God working in the circumstances they face.

Learning How to Think Courageously

Learning how to think courageously takes a lot of effort. Paul prayed three times that God would remove his thorn in the flesh. No doubt these were agonizing prayers. The fact that he prayed three times tells me that it took time for him to understand the availability of God’s power in his weakness.

Too often we think that the first century Christians were given the courage they needed without having to experience the difficulties of their circumstances. Their courage was developed in the heat of battle. Paul learned to rejoice in his difficulties, because it was during those times that he learned the source of his strength. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) It was his discovery of God’s strength in those times that gives us courage.

2 Corinthians 1:3-11
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (NIV)

The context of these verses is what overwhelms me with God’s power. These verses were written to a church ate up with problems. Just take a glance at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The church in Corinthian was a church totally built upon the flesh. They were carnal minded and proud of it. They had so many problems of a carnal nature. Every chapter is filled with admonition concerning those problems.

I don’t think that it was an accident that Paul concluded that first letter by a discussion of the resurrection. Paul reminds them that God’s power can give them a body that pleases himself in that great final day. God has control of their lives so that they need not be afraid of the sting of death. Therefore, why should we be afraid to die with Christ today as we give up our carnal lifestyles?

Notice what Paul says about God’s power in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians. I think what he says here is ironic. When he closes his first letter he is speaking of the resurrection, and when he opens the second letter he speaks of his trust in God’s power when he was as good as dead.

2 Corinthians 1:8-10
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us . . .

Nothing reminds us of God’s control of our lives more than the resurrection of Christ. Our culture is built around hiding our weaknesses. We are afraid to admit our personal weaknesses. This makes us timid. However, God hasn’t given us a spirit of timidity.

2 Timothy 1:7-10
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life-- not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (NIV)

God has given us a spirit of power. It is the power revealed through Christ as he "destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." The gospel reveals the source of our power. It is Christ’s victory over death, which gives us life and immortality.

To think courageously we must realize God’s presence. The Lord told Joshua, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (NIV)

"In 1896, Glasgow University conferred on the famous missionary the degree of Doctor of Laws. As Dr. Livingstone rose to speak, he was received in respectful silence. He was gaunt and haggard as a result of hardships in tropical Africa. His left arm crushed by a lion, hung helplessly at his side as he announced his resolve to return to Africa, without misgiving and with great gladness. He added, 'Would you like me to tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among a people whose language I could not understand, and whose attitude toward me was often uncertain and often hostile? It was this: "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." On these words I staked everything, and they never failed!'"

Obedience to the good news about Christ is the key to thinking courageously. Power comes to us through obedience to the gospel. You will discover that your courage grows as your obedience allows you to see God bring you victory. You will never discover the availability of God’s power without obedience. The book of Joshua says, "Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go." It was the Israelites willingness to go forward in obedience that paved the way for God to accomplish his will for their lives.

Joshua 3:8-17
Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: 'When you reach the edge of the Jordan's waters, go and stand in the river.'" Joshua said to the Israelites, "Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God. This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD-- the Lord of all the earth-- set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap." So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. (NIV)

Joshua 4:23-24
For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God." (NIV)

Learning to be patient is a key to thinking courageously. When difficult situations press down upon Christians, one of the great lessons God is seeking to teach them is patience. He wants them to learn to trust His leading so implicitly that they become completely conformed to the pattern He has planned. When this Christ like endurance has fully developed in their lives, they will not only accept their trials without questionings, but will continue serving Him in their daily round of activities.

Patience is like the angel that guards the couch of an invalid who never complains no matter how dark his valley. Yet, as George Matherson observed, "There is patience which is far more difficult---it is the patience that can run (Heb. 12:1). To lie down in time of grief, to be quiet under the stroke of adversity, implies a great faith; but nothing requires greater strength than to work---to have a heavy weight in our heart and continue to run the race; to have anguish in our spirit and continue to perform our daily tasks---that is Christlike in its character. The hardest thing is that most of us are called to exercise our patience not in bed, but in the busy street of activity."

Conclusion:

Every believer faces problems that seem like giants (conflicts, temptations, hardships) that hinder our spiritual growth. Here are four strategies for killing them off:

Use the weapons and resources that you already have. Wishing for a better situation will get you nowhere. Wishing for a better opportunity will not avail. You only need one weapon to begin. That is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The better we get to know God through His Word, the less fear will rule our lives. Scripture reminds us of God's faithfulness to those who trust in Him, and of His sovereignty, regardless of how things look.

The J-D-I approach. Just Do It! Be done with talking, wishing, and planning; take action. This is done in simple obedience. Tackle one problem at a time, beginning with the first one you meet. Many times we wear ourselves out carrying giants around with us, or trying to fight off the whole group at one time. Attack Number 1 on your list and get rid of him before going on to Number 2.

Realize that the battle is not yours but the Lord's. He must be the source of your courage and strength. Keep an eternal perspective. Learn to view your life and fears in light of eternity, and your present problems will seem less significant. Remind yourself how much bigger God is than your fears.

If you desire to change, and if you are using personal strength to get it done, you will never have enough courage and perseverance to accomplish lasting change.

 

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