Staying in the Battle
- Brian G. Hedges
- Tue, Jul 19, 2005
Several years ago I was asked a very thought-provoking question: “What is your greatest fear?” My answer was something like this: “My greatest fear is that God might find me unusable and put me on the shelf.”
It happens. Many pastors who once were aflame with passion for God have made choices that ruined their lives and ministries. We’ve all heard the stories. Off the top of my head, I can think of a youth pastor who molested boys, a deacon who embezzled money, and a seasoned preacher who devastated his family through an adulterous affair.
Shortly after accepting my first pastorate, I found in the church records the credentials of a former pastor who had disqualified himself. Across his ordination certificate was written “VOID.” It could happen to any of us. We are all vulnerable to temptation. Through just a moment of indiscretion, any one of us could lose a testimony, a marriage, or a ministry. Therefore, we need strategies to keep us strong in the battle. Let me offer several.
1. Meditate on the Word day and night. David tells us the key to the blessed man’s success: “His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2, ESV). Meditation on Scripture is the key to success in service to the Lord (Joshua 1:8). Someone once said that 1 in 100 Christians read Scripture regularly; 1 in 1000 memorize Scripture; but only 1 in 10,000 meditate! Leonard Ravenhill was once asked for advice by an aspiring young preacher. His answer? “Meditate. Meditate. Meditate.”
2. Be ruthless with sin in your life. Paul tells us to “abhor what is evil” (Rom. 12:9). Do not simply avoid evil. Do not be apathetic towards evil. Abhor evil. Detest it! That means that I should feel about sin the way I feel about snakes. I hate snakes. I despise them. We killed four of them in our yard in one week a few years ago. We didn’t play around with them—we were ruthless.
When exchanging snake stories with a friend, I discovered that he was even more ruthless than I was. After a long battle with a snake in the basement of his house, he cut it into several pieces and buried it in several different places in the yard—just to be sure that it didn’t come back! That’s how we should fight sin. We should take every extra measure to put the sin in our lives to death (Romans 8:13). Jesus said we should be willing to cut off a hand or tear out an eye to avoid lust (Matthew 5:29-30). I don’t think He was advocating asceticism, but I do think He was emphasizing the importance of dealing with sin ruthlessly.
That means some things just have to go. Several years ago, the Lord deeply convicted me that James Bond movies did not belong in my life. I fought for quite awhile. I loved Bond movies—few film series have better combined special effects, spectacular scenery, cool gadgets, and edge-of-your-seat action! But the pervasive sexual innuendo, immodest dress, and partial nudity in the films clearly did not belong in my life as a Christian. The Lord demanded that I say goodbye to those forever.
We all have to do that with our “pet sins.” I’m not advocating legalism. Not everyone’s “rules” will be the same. But we are not likely to be used by God if we are not serious enough about holiness to be so ruthless with sin that some will think we are legalistic. The issue is: what does God think?
3. Don’t let your heart get hard. It can happen in a day. That’s why Hebrews 3:13 says: “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Consider the disciples. Right on the heels of the feeding of the thousands, the disciples see Jesus walking on water in the midst of a storm, and they are terrified. How could they be scared after such a display of power?
The Scriptures tell us, “They considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened” (Mark 6:52, KJV). You’ll have to fight that tendency regularly if you want to stay usable.
4. Walk by faith and take risks for God. There are times when the Lord wants us to take big risks for Him and His Kingdom. He wants us to “go for broke” when it comes to serving Him. It may mean sacrificial giving of our finances. It may mean a missions trip that will put our lives in jeopardy. (Paul did that all the time!) It may mean confrontation with a friendor family member that carries with it the risk of alienation. But sometimes that is the cost of obedience. This is not to say that we should be reckless. Some risks are foolish. But that’s not our main problem. Our main problem is that we don’t trust God enough to put our money, reputation, or life on the line for Him.
5. Be faithful in little things. Jesus taught that he who is faithful in little will also be faithful in much. A failure to be faithful in little things is a precursor to spiritual blow-out. A man who will not keep small promises to his boss, wife, or children is a man who won’t keep his vows to the Lord.
Lome Sanny, president of the Navigators, told about a man named Charlie Riggs, one of the few men he had ever worked with who could be counted on to carry out even the smallest assignment. Once a task was assigned to Riggs, Lome could mark it off as completed without checking to see that it was done. That is faithfulness. Can that be said of you?
6. Surrender. The demands of Jesus for His disciples are high. He said that “no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62, ESV). In other words, we must sell out to Jesus. Fenelon said, “What [God] asks is a will which will no longer be divided between him and any creature, a will pliant in his hands, which neither desires anything nor refuses anything, which wants without reservation everything which he wants, and which never, under any pretext, wants anything which he doesn’t want.” Years ago I was challenged to sign my name to a blank sheet of paper and ask the Lord to fill the paper as He desired. I still keep that paper in one of my Bibles. Have you ever waved the white flag before the Lord? You can’t be His disciple without surrender. Neither can you be usable.
7. Remember that life is brief, eternity is long, and death is certain. Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Jonathan Edwards prayed, “Stamp eternity on my eyeballs!” Those are good prayers. Thomas à Kempis said, “Happy is he that always hath the hour of his death before his eyes, and daily prepareth himself to die.” There are few things that will keep our hearts fitted for God’s use like frequent thoughts of the brevity of life, the certainty of death, and the infinitude of eternity. If I can only remember that “this world’s not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through,” it will give me strength to say no to temptation.
8. Accept rebuke. I wonder how many people could be saved from disastrous decisions by just listening to the rebukes of others. The Psalmist prayed, “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (Psalm 141:5). Proverbs 9:8 tells us, “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” Do you want to gauge how wise you are? Ask yourself this question: “Do people feel the freedom to rebuke me without fear of a negative reaction?”
9. Keep yourself accountable to a faithful friend. To whom must you answer when you mess up? “Oh, I answer directly to God,” you say. Right. You probably won’t last long in the battle. I don’t know anyone who is disciplined enough to live the Christian life without accountability of some sort. The godliest men I know keep themselves accountable to other godly men.We all need someone to ask us the hard questions. I certainly do. James told us to confess our faults one to another, and Proverbs tells us that as iron sharpens iron, so does a man sharpen the countenance of his friend. In other words, you are not an island. You are not meant to fight alone. You need help. You need friends. You need accountability.
10. Never forget Romans 8:28. I’m sure you know this verse: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (NASB). Remembering this will save you from a lot of wrong attitudes and responses that can sabotage your usefulness. It will keep you from getting bitter at other people—because you know God is using the evil intentions of others for good, as He was in Joseph’s life (Genesis 50:20). It will keep you from discontent, because you know God has provided everything you need for your present happiness. It will keep you from anxiety, because you know that whatever the future may hold, God holds the future. If you believe that God is sovereign and in perfect control of your life, it will help you “judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace, [knowing that] behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.” If you really believe that the Lord reigns, even during the hottest part of the battle, you can avoid going AWOL, and you can stay faithful to your post.