Thursday, March 9, 2017

Using Scripture in Spiritual Battles

            If there is one thing I have been learning as I have faced the spiritual battles of depression and anxiety, it’s this:  I NEED GOD’S WORD!
            I used to see God’s Word as a good guidebook for life.  And, yes, it is that.  And, yes, it is a history lesson and a prophecy of things to come and God’s message of love, redemption, and salvation. 
            But it is still more than all that. 
            Ephesians 6:17 identifies the Word as the “sword of the Spirit.”  Along with prayer, it is the only offensive weapon we have in the spiritual battle.  The other pieces of “armor” (read Ephesians 6) are defensive, meant to help us resist the attacks of Satan.  But prayer and the Word (and the Holy Spirit) are meant to help us advance against him, to strike back. 
            The Word is a sword . . . and yet so often I treat it like a pillow.  Like a nice soft, comforting, cushy thing to lay my head down on at night to help me sleep better.  I read the Bible, get some good advice, learn about God’s love and forgiveness, check “Bible reading” off my daily list . . . okay, good, now I can sleep easier. 

            I have been sleeping on my sword!

            In Matthew 4, when Jesus was being tempted in the desert, He used only the Word to fight against Satan.  That is quite a picture of the power of Scripture and our need for using it in spiritual battles.  If Jesus Himself needed it and relied on it, how could we think that we can get along without it?  That we can battle against Satan in our own power and wisdom?
            But we cannot fight spiritual battles with earthly, human weapons. 
            It won’t work. 
            We need the Word.  Especially during the trials and heartache and darkness and confusion.  Especially when it feels like God is far away and like He has left us to do battle on our own (which will happen at some point, usually when the internal battle is the fiercest).  Especially when we have been beat down and we are out of strength and on our faces, unable to get up and face one more attack.

            But we are not on our own.  We are not expected to fight the battles alone or in our own strength and wisdom.  We are not beat down forever.  God gave us His Word to lean on, to live in, to give us strength, to use when we need help in this life.  And as Jesus demonstrated for us, He expects us to use the Word to do battle with Satan.   

            This is not a romanticized, frivolous, pie-in-the-sky view of Scripture, as if God’s Word were some silly magic trick.  This is real.  This is war.  And it is a weapon - a powerful weapon that we all-too-often leave on our shelves, collecting dust, because we don’t understand the value of it or the power in it.
            Seriously!  How many of us really know and lean on the Word like we are supposed to?  How many of us just read it occasionally for a little burst of God, to make us feel less guilty about our lazy spiritual disciplines and our lack of serious commitment?  How many of us look at Bible reading as simply one more chore to check off our list?

            But as I have been fighting the difficult spiritual battles of anxiety and depression over the years, I am beginning to understand the incredible need to use Scripture as the sword that it is, as a weapon against evil.  I am learning the value of memorizing Scripture, of posting verses around the house, of praying Scripture back to God and reminding Him of the promises He has made and leaning on them and asking Him to fulfill them now, and of recalling Scripture during times of trial and need and weakness.  (And honestly, when you are battling anxiety and depression, every day is a time of trial and need and weakness.) 
            Even just saying a well-chosen verse out loud - when fear strikes deep and I feel abandoned by God in the trials and like I am losing my mind - can help tremendously.  A verse such as 2 Timothy 1:7:  “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of sound mind.” 
            Feeling like I am losing my mind to fear is NOT from God.  He has given me power and a sound mind.  And not only that, but the Holy Spirit lives in us to help us through the trials, to help us have faith and strength and wisdom, and to help us defeat the enemy.  “… the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”  (1 John 4:4) 
            The Spirit is God in us.  God couldn’t be any closer than that.  And I need to grab onto these truths.  I need to refuse to listen to Satan who tells me that I am alone and that I have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and that I am too weak to do it and that I am going to fail and shatter into a thousand pieces under the pressure. 

           Because that’s not what God says. 

            God says (paraphrased) … “The earth is Mine, and everything in it (Psalm 24:1).  Be still and know that I am God; I am your refuge and strength, your ever-present help in trouble (Isaiah 46:1,10).  Cast all your cares on Me and I will sustain you; I will never let the righteous fall (Psalm 55:22).  Trust in Me and do not lean on yourself, and I will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).  Is My arm too short?  Can I not accomplish all that I promised (Numbers 11:23)?  Just be still, and you’ll see what I can do.  I will fight for you.  You need only to be still in Me (Exodus 14:13-14)!” 
            What He’s been telling me all along is this:  “Of course you are too weak to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.  You were never supposed to be able to carry all that weight.  The world is Mine.  Let Me carry it.  And let Me carry you and your burdens, too, because I am strong enough and big enough.  And I know what I am doing.  You just focus on resting in Me and trusting Me . . . and I will focus on your concerns.” 

            In fact, just this weekend when I began to feel a panic attack coming on (which was then compounded by a family crisis . . . Satan always pours it on when we are most fragile), I knew that I couldn’t fight the fear myself.  I couldn’t sleep it off or talk myself out of it or distract myself or keep myself calm.  (Trust me, I’ve tried before.)  So I immediately went to prayer and God’s Word for help. 
            I called a good friend and asked her to pray for me (she even came and sat with me for a little while, which helped so much).  And I began repeating 2 Timothy 1:7 throughout the day (one of my new favorite, much-needed verses).  And I started working on my “Praying Scripture Back to God” post.  It helped a lot to review the verses that speak to fear and anxiety and heartache.  And it helped even more to put them into prayers to pray to God.  It calmed me in a way that little else can.
            [It also really helped when I realized that anxiety is too exhausting and that I just didn't have the energy anymore to be anxious.  When that thought hit me, I went, I'm done!  I'm too tired to be anxious.  I just can't do it anymore.  Lord, I am giving You the things that I worry about because I am too tired to worry anymore.  At that moment - I kid you not - I felt all the anxiety drain away.  And I was at peace.]    
            We ourselves cannot defeat Satan.  But prayer can.  And God’s Word can.  And we need to get serious about using it as the weapon is it, not just as a pillow or a pretty knick-knack for our shelf. 
            [But remember that Satan knows Scripture, too.  Far better than we do.  And he will do all he can to twist it, to use it against us, and to give us only half-truths.  He did this to Adam and Eve and Jesus.  So we need to immerse ourselves in Scripture, to absorb it, to live in it, and to study it carefully so that we are not misled.] 

            Scripture (and prayer) is our greatest weapon against evil.  Take it up.  Turn it inside and out, until you know it deeply.  Carry it around daily – in your hand, mind, and heart – until it becomes a part of you.  Put verses up in your house where you can see them, and repeat them out loud whenever you need to.  And lean hard on the Word when you find yourself in a discouraging trial, facing fear and heartache and temptations and what feels like God’s silence. 
            When times are the toughest and the battle is the fiercest, rely on Scripture and God’s truth.  If you do, you will grow through the battles and hard times in ways you never dreamed of.  Yes, you will probably have some battle scars and you might be left with a limp, but when the battle is over, you will experience God and faith in a new way.  And it will refresh your soul and your faith will be stronger!
            So where is your sword?  On your shelf or in your heart?  Under your head to help you sleep more comfortably or in your hand to do fierce battle with the enemy?  He will keep coming at you, whether or not you are armed.  But if you want to stand a fighting chance, pray and take up your sword!  And start swinging!