My former pastor taught a sermon last year on the source of all our struggles. In the moment I received his words as truth, I felt a rush of relief in my spirit. My body felt lighter and so did my mind. He taught from Ephesians 6:12 and though I’d read that passage numerous times before, I was able to comprehend it on a whole different level that day and every day since. His simple words were: “Our fight is not against people.”
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. ~ Ephesians 6:12
I had long since forgiven my dad for the destruction he reaped on our relationship and to our family. I had spent a number of years trying to build a relationship with him, but the last three years plus of his life I was “emotionally done” with him. I chose not to exert any more unsolicited energy on him. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t willing to be available if/when he wanted me around.
I believe the challenges we face in our lives are all the same (source or nature) at ages 30 and 60 as they were at 3 and 6. We just process them differently and learn from different elements of the challenge.
For the past few years I’ve repeatedly had issues and conflicts with people in leadership positions who abuse their influence and authority (that may well be my biggest pet peeve for the rest of my days). The last three episodes have been in churches and the three episodes prior to those were in the work place. But the original episode (saga) was in my home with my dad. I haven’t always been able to see the link. But now that I am able to see that these situations are the same challenge in a different wrapper, I seek God immediately and constantly and ask, “What am I supposed to get from it this time? What did I miss last time?” I don’t want to go through it again if I don’t have to.
With each person/episode I learned something more about myself. With the first work situation, I quit the job (I became too stressed from the conflict). The second work situation, I sought God first, then quit in faith that he would provide a better situation for me. In the third work situation, I refused to move until God told me to. That led to the best job and boss I’ve ever had (current position).
With the first church situation, I confronted the leader (as instructed in Matthew 18:15-17 – directly, within the group and then took it to church administration). Nothing was done at any of the levels and I didn’t feel up for the fight, so I stepped away from the church. With the second church situation, I did the same process, however I felt released to leave that particular church (the same church as before, but a couple of years later). I’ve just stepped away from my third church conflict and I took the same steps (direct/group/leadership confrontation). In each of these situations, I have stood firmly on the word of God, but the first time, I identified myself as my mother’s daughter. The second time as my own woman (I’m too grown for this mess!). This time I snapped in my authority in Christ – I am a child of God (you betta recognize!).
The church conflicts got me to vividly see the controlling spirit that has been following me around. All of the people mentioned were attempting to control some aspect of me – my mind, my life, my behavior, my beliefs, my actions. There were some very deep moments of helplessness and hopelessness throughout the years. Moments of disbelief and unbelief, long periods of self-doubt – mostly before I began consciously acting on faith. By and large, the more I’m bombarded by the controlling spirits, the more I resist. The more I resist, the stronger I become. This is only possible through my foundation of belief, faith and obedience to God’s Word.
So, though the challenges present themselves in the guise of people and I am confronted with occasional fears of inadequacy, I am now aware going in, that the outcome will increase me spiritually and the fruit of the spiritual growth will manifest in my physical life. This awareness is the result of years of process. Five years ago, I met each challenge with a woeful cry and a pitiful, “Why me!” Now I’m likely to warn my opponent that they’re not ready for what I’m going to unleash!
Recent culmination: I met with my most recent former pastor a couple of weekends ago regarding an email argument with one of his small group leaders and myself. The issue at hand is that the church is teaching a “condensed summary” of the Bible (the target audience is new believers). It’s a ten week series; I sat in on the first week a few weeks ago. There was misinformation in the summaries from the word “go.” There were a lot of questions in the group and the group leader had no answers and didn’t direct anyone to the Bible. The next day, with the intention of helping, I emailed the group members who were in attendance (and whom were on my FB) and provided viewpoints on a couple of their questions with a lot of scriptural sources to look at (I was clear that they should research for themselves). The group leader took offense and told me to run any emails to the group by him first and that I was basically speaking in direct contradiction to what this church teaches. Then he labeled me a reformist and a couple of other theological terms. All of which I rejected in my final email to him – in the same email I identified myself as “simply a child of God who grounds herself in His Word.” The small group leader forwarded the emails to the pastor who asked to speak with me that week. Can I tell you, had I not been through all the other “situations” with manipulators and controllers, I would not have been ready or prepared for him? Since this whole bru-hah started, I had been meditating on Ezekiel passages, 1 Kings 13 and 2 Timothy 2.
The pastor’s game was to show himself as a “friend.” I had already identified him as the old prophet from Bethel in 1 Kings 13, seeking only to lead me to a spiritual death. I had already determined he was not going to win the battle for control of my spirit (i.e. what I feed my spirit (whose words)). Had the Holy Spirit not put the above passages before me right before all this broke out, I perhaps would’ve gone down, because as I told the pastor, ultimately, I want what was on offer at that church – I want to belong someplace, I want to connect with people, I desire a community, I’m looking for leadership and I would rather not stand alone. Yes, his community-minded church offers all that, but as I also shared with him, community is nice but it doesn’t trump a personal relationship with God. I am not going to believe any man, group or organization over the Word of God – no matter the level of education or years of experience. If their words do not ring true or line up with the Word as I read it and understand it, I have to remove myself their influence. It’s paramount that we not only cultivate our personal relationship with God, we must also protect and nurture it. Cultivation, protection and nurturing by nature means limited, reduced or no exposure to harmful elements with a focus of positioning, directing and feeding that which is being cultivated, protected and nurtured only good, healthy food for growth and strength. That’s how I view my relationship with God and by extension my other personal relationships.
What was the deciding factor to move on from this last church situation? The pastor’s defense of teaching the condensed summaries was that the Bible is derived from oral history (i.e. how are we to know that what is written is as it was said thousands of years before it was put to paper?). I replied that all scripture is inspired by God. He replied that so are the condensed summaries. Before I shut myself up, I reiterated that no one should be taught a man’s version (re-writing) of God’s word with no direct foundation of God’s Word – i.e. they need to be directed to the Bible. From there, they will develop an ear to hear anything he or any other man has to say. The role of a pastor is to teach the undiluted word of God. Interpretation is fine; the Word of God is only manageable in bites. Re-writing and omitting? Not good.
All this to say – challenges build us up – whether they are perceived to come from ourselves or from others. The whole design of our life will be affected by how we handle them. I’ve learned that the worst thing I can do is run away and bury my head in the sand – nothing changes that way, least of all me.
Know that you are blessed in your struggles and God is glorified when you face and persevere in your challenges.