The Battles of Life
The Battles of Life
The Christian life is a battle. I have been following Jesus for four decades. As I look back at these years, they have been years of great blessing – more than I could have asked or even imagined. At the same time, there have been many challenges and obstacles. There have been very few periods when I have not been facing some kind of battle.
The nature of these battles has varied enormously. There have been internal battles – times of intense temptation, doubt, fear and anxiety. There have been times of deep sadness, great loss and bereavement. There have been battles over health, sleep, finances, work and relationships. There have been periods of great opposition and criticism.
Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal household, speaks of our battle being against a triple alliance: the world (‘the enemy around us’), the flesh (‘the enemy within us’), and the devil (‘the enemy above us’).
How can you navigate these spiritual battles of life?
Trust in GodPsalm 33:12-22
The key to winning your battles, according to David, is not to rely on your own strength, but to put your trust in God. This goes against the grain, but at the end of the day human strength and power is not enough: ‘No king succeeds with a big army alone, no warrior wins by brute strength. Horsepower is not the answer; no one gets by on muscle alone’ (vv.16–17, MSG).
Rather, God gives victory to those who trust in him: ‘Watch this: God’s eye is on those who respect him, the ones who are looking for his love. He’s ready to come to their rescue in bad times; in lean times he keeps body and soul together. We’re depending on God; he’s everything we need’ (vv.18–20, MSG).
Merciful Lord, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. (From the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.)
Unite around the KingLuke 1:26-38
Raniero Cantalamessa points out, ‘In the tales of medieval battles, there always comes a moment when the orderly ranks of archers and cavalry and all the rest are broken and the fighting concentrates around the king. That is where the final outcome of the battle will be decided. For us too, the battle today is taking place around the King: it is the person of Jesus Christ himself that is the real point at issue.’
The theological battles of the twenty-first century are not those of the eleventh century, which divided Catholic and Orthodox churches. Nor are the battles those of the sixteenth-century Reformation. The battle today is the same as the battle of the first century: is Jesus the universal Saviour?
Luke sets out right at the start of the Gospel a number of claims about Jesus (vv.31–35):
The angel says to Mary, ‘You are to call him Jesus’ (v.31). The name ‘Jesus’ means ‘saviour’.
He is the long-awaited Messiah in the line of David. The angel says, ‘The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end’ (vv.32–33).
- Son of God
The angel goes on, ‘He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High’ (v.32). Jesus’ birth was unique, as is explained by the angel in these verses. Mary was a virgin, and so a ‘normal’ conception was clearly impossible (v.34). Instead she was told, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’ (v.35a). The angel then immediately explains why this is so significant: ‘the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God’ (v.35b). We see here how Jesus is both fully human (born in the normal way), and yet also fully God (conceived by the Holy Spirit).
Christians from all churches – Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Pentecostal – believe in Jesus as our Saviour, the Messiah and the Son of God. To be a Christian is to be a follower of Christ. All followers of Jesus are children of God (John 1:12). This makes us brothers and sisters. Furthermore, if we belong to Christ, the Holy Spirit lives in each of us (Romans 8:9).
This is what unites us as Christians. Therefore, the battle should never be with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In-fighting distracts and destroys. Focus on the real battle, which is around the King.
Mary sets a wonderful example of the right attitude. For Mary, the Lord is with her (Luke 1:28), within her (v.35) and over her (v.38). While, of course, Mary is unique as the mother of Jesus, all believers can know this same connection with the Lord.
The way we fight the triple alliance of the enemy is with the triple alliance of the Lord.
First, just as the angel tells Mary that ‘the Lord is with you’ (v.28), so Jesus’ last words to his disciples were, ‘I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:20). Whatever circumstances you face, you need not fear. The King is with you.
Second, the Holy Spirit is within you (1 Corinthians 3:16). As the Holy Spirit came upon Mary (Luke 1:35), to bring about a physical birth, so the Holy Spirit comes upon you, to bring about a spiritual birth (John 1:13).
Third, the King is over you. You are called to be the Lord’s servant. Mary’s response is one of strong, courageous, fearless and dignified trust. She is the model of faith. In the greatest and most decisive act of faith in history she offered herself to God as a clean page on which he could write what he wanted. Her response is a model for us: ‘I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do whatever he wants’ (Luke 1:38, TLB).
Lord, help us to focus on the real battle and unite around the King: our Saviour, Messiah and Son of God. I want to say, like Mary, ‘I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants.’
Listen to GodNumbers 1:1-2:9
The battles of life need not intimidate you. All the way through history, God’s people have faced obstacles and challenges. The book of Numbers is about how God’s people prepare for battle.
In Exodus we see the people of God as a liberated people. In Leviticus we see them as a holy people. In Numbers we see them as a fighting force. In the chapters for today we see a military emphasis that sets the tone for the whole book.
When we read this through the lens of Jesus, we see that the Christian life is a spiritual battle. The apostle Paul describes this as a battle against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 6:12). You are liberated by the cross. You have been made holy but you have a battle on your hands. As the people of God in the Old Testament prepared for their battles, be prepared.
Here, we see three keys:
- Take instructions from God
‘The Lord spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the Desert of Sinai’ (Numbers 1:1). God can speak to you even in the very dry periods of your life, or in a place that seems completely godless. Of course, it is not enough simply to hear God’s instructions – act on them too. This initial set of instructions ends with the report that the people of God ‘did all this just as the Lord commanded Moses’ (v.54).
- Raise up good leadership
The leaders were appointed from the community (v.16), and represented it (v.4) but, ultimately, they were chosen by God.
Leadership is key in every level and section of society. Parents are leaders in the home. Teachers are leaders in schools. We need good leadership in the church, marketplace, judiciary, government, media, arts and so on.
- Mobilise the people
Everyone had to be listed (‘by name, one by one’, v.2). This expression occurs over and over again in the passage. Each individual matters to God and has an important part to play in his plans. What at first seems to be dry statistics is in fact a key tool in mobilising and equipping the entire people of God.
Eugene Peterson writes in his introduction to the book of Numbers, ‘We need organisational help. When people live together in community, jobs have to be assigned, leaders appointed, inventories kept. Counting and list-making and rosters are as much a part of being a community of God as prayer and instruction and justice. Accurate arithmetic is an aspect of becoming a people of God.’
Lord, I pray that you would raise up good leadership, both in the church and in society, and that you would mobilise your people for the battles ahead.
I am fascinated by Mary. What an extraordinary person she must have been. To be told that you are going to have a baby is a pretty awesome experience. But, when you are young, unmarried and a virgin, to be told that you will be carrying ‘the Son of the Most High’ (v.32) would seem impossible and terrifying. To be unmarried and pregnant in that society was a terrible thing. Her total faith and acceptance of God’s will is extraordinary. You would think that she would have worried for her own reputation. It would have jeopardised her marriage to Joseph, hurt her family and her life itself would have been in danger. But she simply said, ‘I am the Lord’s servant... May your word to me be fulfilled’ (v.38).
Verse of the Day
‘I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do whatever he wants’ (Luke 1:38, TLB).
Eugene Peterson, The Message, (Navpress Publishing Group, 2002) p.169
Raniero Canatalamessa, Come, Creator Spirit: Meditations on the Veni Creator, (Liturgical Press, 2002) p. 287
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