As long as I can remember I have known Ephesians 6:12, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms... and believed it, but I always struggled to decipher between the activity of spiritual forces and the deadly combination of X-files reruns and spicy Thai. Over the last 8 months, God has honed and heightened my awareness to spiritual warfare in my life. One area I am particularly aware is in the scar scratching schemes of Satan (that alliteration is dedicated to the preaching community).
Since my shaky return to preaching in December, every time I prepare to preach The Accuser works to stop or curb my passion to do so.
Scenario 1: A day before my preaching re-launch I shared a meal with someone I deeply admire and respect. This individual spoke truth and wisdom into my life, challenging me to look deeply into my spiritual state. The Accuser leveraged this conversation, which the individual intended for insight and aid, to get Shame's foot inside the door. Once his foot is in, Shame pushes until he breaks in to declare "I'm your new roomie." Satan wanted me to stand before the community of faith, my first time back in the pulpit, on a foundation of shame rather than on a foundation of God's grace.
Scenario 2: Mary Beth and I were headed to an interview weekend with an amazing congregation. I was supposed to deliver a short thought on Saturday night. That week began with one of the top-ten worst self-esteem experiences in my life. I went to an interview (not with a church) and was absolutely destroyed! Wow! It was painful. After that experience I wanted to cancel the upcoming church interview but did not. In route, we missed our connecting flight due to a delay at DFW. We switched airlines in order to get to our destination on time and managed to catch the last flight before a winter storm blew in, cancelling all flights. We made it, but...our luggage did not. It arrived the day we left the interview. Needless to say, there were some distractions!
Scenario 3: I arrived home late Saturday night after a packed 4-day trip and had to preach two services the following morning. I set the alarm for 5:00 AM and headed to bed. About 2:30 AM my youngest son woke us up with the beautiful melodies of upchuck! It took awhile to detox the bedroom and get back to sleep. My sweet wife handled most of it and sent me back to bed for rest. Groggy preaching is not good preaching.
Scenario 4: The week before joining a friend of mine for a preaching duet, I came down with an abscess tooth. It had me in an arm-bar and I was tapping out! I got meds just in time to dull the pain the day before the sermon, so I headed to Starbucks to put some final touches on my part of the sermon. Simultaneously, as I emailed my draft to my preaching friend I received a Direct Message on Twitter. It read, "Someone is spreading bad rumors about you on the internet," and it had a link. Normally, I would think, "This is a hack attempt," but my past sinful choices gave me reason to doubt. Immediately I felt sick. Guilt and pain overwhelmed me! Once again, Mr. Shame was banging at the door to my heart!
Scenario 5: A friend of mind invited me to preach. Saturday night I had a dream: I had been rehired at a former congregation. I was in the office early on my first day excited and nervous, but I was wearing no pants. I sported only a T-shirt. Although I was uncomfortable in my quasi-nudity I was still able to function until I heard other staff arriving. I thought, "They are going to know that I am not wearing pants. They are going to realize that something is wrong with me, that I'm the only one without pants." The nudity, just like Adam and Eve, was a metaphor for shame. I ran out to my car and discovered a couple of shorts in the trunk. The shorts clashed with the shirt but I threw one on and ran back to the office. As I approached the door to re-enter I caught a glimpse of myself in the window: my hair was disheveled, my clothes did not match, and I was still barefoot. As I entered the office, one of my old high school friends was sitting in a waiting chair. I said, "Hi! Good to see you," and then ran to the bathroom to groom myself. As I leaned on the sink and stared at myself in the mirror I thought, "Everyone will know that I'm messed up! You can't hide it." Thank you, Accuser, for that entertaining brain movie!
God does not need me to preach. There are many voices more talented, better suited, and more effective than I have ever been and ever will be, but I do believe God wants me to preach. And, I believe Satan does not want me to preach. It has nothing to do with talent, experience, or education...it has everything to do with GOD! When I preach it is a testimony that the resurrection is real, that sin will not win, that Jesus is the redeemer, that God is the re-creator - not because of what I say, but because of what God has done. I am a prop of God's grace and goodness! I am a product of grace! When people ask, "What's he doing?" The answer is, "Oh that? That's God's grace!"
The accuser does not want me to preach because he hates grace! He hates redemption! He hates love! he hates forgiveness! He hates the second half of my story! As a result, he leverages anything he can: flights, luggage, teeth, vomit, conversations, dreams, etc - to erase grace with shame, fear, and paralysis.
The Accuser is trying to leverage your circumstances to grow fear, shame, guilt, hate, bitterness, lies... to keep you from embracing grace and living out of grace! Here are a few things I do to silence his voice...
- Quote scripture. I quote passages that disarm his lies with truth! The night Pierson woke up vomiting, I had trouble going back to sleep so I prayed over and over, "It is God who justifies..."
- I use the words of Jesus to speak to Satan directly, "Get behind me Satan!"
- I invoke the name of Jesus: "In the name of Jesus, leave me alone!"
- I pray for protection on weeks that I will be preaching.
- I tell my wife so that she can pray for me and encourage me to hear the voice of truth rather than the voice of lies.