“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another.”(Galatians 5:17)
The following is a very personal story of mine and I share it with you for one reason. While it is wonderful to see that we are rapidly approaching the end of the age and the Second Coming of Christ, we would be foolish to think that it will not also be the time of the most intense spiritual battles. Often the battleground will be in our mind with our flesh on one side and our spirit on the other. Your toughest battles will be the opportunity for your greatest victories. Remember that God is on your side.
The year was 1996. On the first Sunday of the New Year my closest friend and prayer partner said; “This is going to be the best year of your life.” A surge of excitement welled up in me, but just to be sure I said; “Do you mean that in the sense of wishing me well or do you feel that prophetically?” “No”, she replied, “I really mean I think it is going to happen.”
Twelve months later, on December 31st, at a New Year’s Eve dinner at my house, I passed out a certificate to each person in attendance which stated, “I SURVIVED 1996”. We had all come to call it “The Year of Death”. Since 1977 when my marriage broke up, I felt it was the worst year of my life. I lost my church of seventeen years. Waves of fellow church members and my close friends were pulled asunder to various congregations all over Toledo.
I experienced a demotion at work with the humiliation of reporting to a young man nearly half my age that I had hired and who had started off reporting to me. A young nineteen year old boy, Eric, whom I had known since he was a toddler, died of cancer despite an all out prayer campaign accompanied by resolute faith.
Finally and maybe worst of all, we didn’t have the revival we had been praying for many years and believing was finally imminent. Instead of seeing our church jump into the middle of the river of God, we saw religious spirits triumph and it was like a hard slap in the face.
The year had started off with such a sense of excitement. I could just feel in my bones that something was up. I went to Pensacola during the now famous Brownsville Revival at the end of January with the greatest hunger for God I had ever experienced and while there, a deep broken-ness filled me. I told God I wanted to be cleansed of everything that was not a reflection of Jesus.
When I returned, we began to experience a wonderful refreshing in the Sunday school prayer class which I co-taught. The gifts of the Spirit were expressed with regularity and we were praying for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Our small intercessory band totally believed that every member of our church wanted revival to come as much as we did but we were about to find out that for many, “revival” was a word to banter about but the real thing was something scary and to be avoided.
The Pastor of our church was a young man newly elected six months prior. Though he came from a Spirit-filled background, he had never really experienced many of the manifestations associated with a move of God. I think he was frightened to lose control or to exhibit a lack of knowledge about the very things he should be leading.
What a shock we had on April 21st when this Pastor preached against the Brownsville Revival and said that those who followed it were like Christian pornographers and could be compared to Simon the Sorcerer. In the end he stated that each person should think about where they stood and decide if they were with him or not, and if not, to think about whether they wanted to continue in that church. He asked those who supported him to come down to the front alter.
To my utter amazement, over half the church – and many whom I knew had been praying for revival – traipsed down to stand together in his support. I was in horror but one thing seemed incredibly clear: I had to leave that church.
I had asked the Lord to cleanse me of ANYTHING that was not like Jesus and he was about to begin to answer but I had no idea how painful the scrubbing would be. I was in for the spiritual battle of a lifetime. Satan attacked from every front and God was there working it for good but that was sure hard to see. Looking back on it now, it seems that there were three main battle areas for me: offense, pride and faith in God’s goodness.
With the loss of my church, offense tried to encroach a hundred different ways: Why should I have to leave the church, I was here first? How could these blind people choose this foolish Pastor over God’s Spirit?
How could so many people that we had known for so long, simply write us off and be almost anxious for all of us to leave? Many in the church who stayed were offended with us because it seemed to them that in our leaving, we were saying that we were spiritual and they were clueless. I hate to admit it, but it was a struggle not to feel that way.
With the demotion at work, I had to fight pride and the desire to be esteemed by man. It was a great humiliation to suddenly be only part of a division that I had managed for many years. It was almost unbearable to submit to a young, inexperienced man who was clearly the new rising star in our company and under the favor of all.
At first I felt that I must get out and start looking for a new job; that God was saying it was time to leave that company. As I sought the Lord, I could see that my heart was not right within me and that this was yet another “sin” from which I needed cleansing. I had to go into work every day and submit to the authority that had been placed over me and do it without a grudging heart. Oh, it was bitterly difficult for a very long time.
When Eric died in spite of every prayer of faith that went up constantly for him, Satan tried to rob me of the belief in the goodness of God. All of us were numb from what had happened at church but now we had to deal with this young man snuffed out just at the beginning of his adulthood. How would we ever step out in faith again? And when we attended the funeral it was at our old church and we had to lovingly greet every person (including the Pastor) who had brought us all such hurt. Whew!
It’s hard to express all that I went through that year. Just mentioning it brings a shutter to my soul. But, what did I learn from it? Much! First, a greater compassion. Somehow the deep grieving over losing a church and so many friends gave me a compassion for those suffering from emotional upheavals.
Normally more analytical and logical, I had a hard time identifying with people going through great emotional traumas. Now, I could identify and say with confidence, “I understand how you feel and I will pray for you.”
I also came to understand and rely more on the grace of God. There was really no way I could handle it in my own strength. I learned to say with all my heart: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) Self reliance had to go and that was a very good thing.
Finally, this: “Though He slay me, yet will I praise Him.” (Job 15:15) God is worthy to be served. I have made the decision to trust him-regardless!
When we began to call that famous year the Year of Death we meant it in the sense of all the things in our lives that had died: our church, friends, Eric. Now I see it in a different light. I think it was the year for the flesh to begin to die in new ways.
If I think of it like that, then my friend wasn’t wrong when she spoke to me on that New Years day. In that case, it WAS the best year of my life.