Every day is a battle.
I don’t mean that every day is awful. My days are often full of joy, meaning, laughter, fruitful work, and love. Yet, life is hard, too, and full of struggle. It seems that so much can so easily undermine my heart and ability to live by my highest values and convictions.
The battle I’m talking about, then, is a perpetual struggle between what we want our lives to be and all those forces that work against our hopes, dreams and commitments. In this conflict, sometimes we are own worst enemies. Even at our best, when we want to serve Christ wholeheartedly, we can usually detect crosscurrents within us—be they mixed motives, at best, or outright sinful impulses, at worst.
At other times, our struggles are not self-generated, though. Sometimes, we get some “help” in our fearfulness, our struggles with temptation, our doubts, our distractions, and our entanglements. Scripture teaches that we are in a spiritual battle with forces of evil that are working to undermine our faith and faithfulness (Ephesians 6:12).
At the same time, we are assured that the Holy Spirit within us is stronger than the Tempter (1 John 4:4). Our job is to have confidence in God’s power and then strategically engage in the battle to overcome our spiritual adversaries. (See Ephesians 6:10-11, 13-18.) Likewise, we must actively draw on the Holy Spirit to overcome our sinful tendencies by daily surrendering our will to God’s and by praying for grace and strength in our time of need. (See Galatians 5:16-25; Hebrews 4:14-16.)
Six Strategies for Successful Struggling
When we know that sinful temptations, negative thinking or counter-productive reactions are going to arise within us uninvited, we are wise to get ready for them. When we expect a fight, and prayerfully prepare for it, we are much more likely to wage the war successfully.
Here are six strategies you can begin employing immediately:
1. Know your Achilles heel and do all you can to protect yourself from falling into sin. This is just common sense. However, how often do we ignore what is in our best long term interests to indulge in short term gratification?
Example: If you’re tempted to gamble away needed resources, don’t even enter the casino or make a bet. If you know that drinking alcohol is going to bring out your worst or work against what God wants to do in you and through you, find alternative social beverages, new hangouts, and even new friends, if need be. If sexual temptation is your nemesis, work hard to develop appropriate contexts in which you can get your affection and intimacy needs met. Regardless of what your specific weakness is, expect to be tempted, expect to want to engage in sin at times, and decide now, ahead of the temptation that no matter how you may feel at any given moment, sin is not what you want for your life.
2. Believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in you and cannot be ultimately thwarted by your failures or evil forces. God is a God of resurrection. Accept God’s forgiveness and seek the Spirit’s renewal and leading no matter where you may be.
Example: I spent years kicking myself for a number of poor decisions I made that took a big toll on me emotionally until my spiritual director reminded me that God is a God of resurrection. You and I are going to make mistakes—sometimes serious ones—but God forgives, and the Holy Spirit continually brings forth new life from what seems dead. To change the metaphor, the Holy Spirit is like a GPS navigation system that begins “recalculating” as soon as it detects that we have missed our turn or gone the wrong way. We may have to suffer the consequences of our mistake, but God is able to create a new path from wherever we are to lead us once again in a fruitful life of fellowship and service.
3. Know how God most wants to use you, expect various kinds of interference, and plan accordingly.
Example: I know that my best contributions often come from teaching and writing, but I can expect many distractions and much inner resistance to getting started on my preparation work. So, I don’t wait to feel like writing to get going. Instead, I block out time, expect to be tempted to procrastinate, and push through the resistance. Almost without fail, getting started is all I need to do in order to turn the tide in the battle.
4. Face fears head on, and don’t let them keep you doing what you need to do.
Example: My marketing and fundraising responsibilities always make me feel anxious. I’m afraid of failing and afraid of being rejected. Not a good combination. So, even when finding new clients or raising money is most needed, I can still freeze up. Fighting this battle means simply reminding myself that I must attend to this part of our ministry and that putting it off will make the situation worse not better. I then make a plan and work the plan. I start today.
5. Pick your battles and give your best efforts to fight for what matters most.
Example: On any given day I will be annoyed or frustrated with someone else for not doing or saying something the way that I think they should. If I’m not careful, I can let this perfectionist tendency produce judgmental attitudes and harsh reactions to others, undermining my greater goal of working well with others for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. Thus, I have to remind myself of my highest values and choose wisely when exerting my energy. When I choose love and serving Christ over self-righteousness or perfectionism, I usually know instantly I have chosen well, and the power of the temptation is cut significantly.
6. Ask the Holy Spirit to do in you what you cannot seem to do on your own. Sometimes no matter how much you want to stay focused and do the right thing or the best thing, you will still stumble or fail to follow through. In such cases, acknowledge the powerlessness you feel and ask for motivation, grace, and strength—or simply divine intervention—to lead you to higher ground.
Example: Sometimes when I have been hurt by someone, letting go of my anger seems beyond my ability. Yet, when I have exhausted my own effort to draw on God’s power to fight the battle, the best thing I can do is simply to let go of trying. I don’t indulge in the feeling, but I admit that I have reached my limit and I need God’s help. And I let go of my own efforts to change myself, and wait. Often my deliverance will surprise me, and I will be set free without doing anything more on my own.
Facing your own inner weaknesses and struggles may feel discouraging. Fully engaging in your spiritual struggles may be daunting. However, admitting the reality of the ongoing, daily battle is actually helpful, and is the first step toward getting the help you need from within yourself and God.
What battle are you fighting today? What’s your strategy to win it?
“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:10-11, NIV)