“And he will speak against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One”
Daniel 7:25 NASB
There’s more than one way to win a war. Sometimes when an all-out assault won’t work, a war of attrition might be more effective. Through persistent attacks over a period of time, little by little, an opponent’s morale as well as their strength can be worn away until eventually they capitulate. Instead of being defeated by direct overwhelming force, an opponent’s resources and will to win are steadily eroded until they can fight no longer.
We know that Satan can be like a roaring lion, using fear and intimidation to attack us. We also know that he can appear as an angel of light, trying to disguise wrong as right, death as life. But he has another way, more subtle and often more effective. He wears us down.
Our position as children of God is so strong. After all, if God is for us, who can be against us? Equipped with God’s word and standing shoulder to shoulder with other believers, we can resist and overcome the temptations and accusations our enemy hurls at us. But our enemy’s attacks aren’t always obvious, and instead of trying to land one massive knockout punch he may be happy to probe and land little jabs here and there, until we are so tired and bruised we can’t go on.
Daniel – Integrity in a godless culture
The quote at the start of this article is from the book of Daniel. Daniel had been forcibly taken into exile. His people were defeated; their promised land had been lost. He lived and worked in the greatest city of the time, confronted every day by evidence of the immense wealth and power of Babylon. The intended message was clear: Babylon and its gods are supreme. From the start of his career in Babylon, Daniel was under pressure to submit and conform to the pagan culture that surrounded him. Sometimes the pressure was direct and life threatening, but there was also a more subtle continuous pressure aimed at wearing him down. “Why do you worship a God who couldn’t save his people?”, Daniel’s masters may have asked, “can’t you see that our Gods are winning?”. We in the West might feel some sympathy with Daniel. A godless culture is in the ascendancy, and Christians are portrayed as losers or bigots. Government, media and the educational system are increasingly influenced by secular or even anti-Christian ideas and the pressure to conform or despair is relentless. What can we learn from Daniel? In Chapter 6, we find that he prayed three times a day, and that he still did this even when it could cost him his life. The disciplines of prayer and scripture reading are an anchor to reality and a space for hearing God. And God certainly spoke. He spoke through scripture, dreams, visions and angelic messengers. This regular communication with heaven was a lifeline for Daniel, keeping him rooted in truth and life. We also find that he prayed towards Jerusalem, the city of God. His orientation was always toward God’s Kingdom. His refusal to compromise, his devotion to the disciplines of prayer, fasting and scripture, and his awareness of the unseen realm kept him faithful to the end. Today, the people of Daniel’s God are growing even in the most hostile of environments while Babylon and its gods are just a memory.
Solomon – when desire defeats wisdom
Solomon was less successful. At the start he had everything including wisdom and wealth. Despite all this, Solomon ended his life following other gods. 1 Kings chapter 11 tells us what happened. Solomon disobeyed God. He married women from the surrounding pagan nations – against God’s instruction – and eventually they turned his heart to other Gods. Why did he take this disastrous course? It seems his desire overrode his wisdom. I wonder if he thought he could handle the temptation presented by these wives. I wonder if he said to himself “I’m the king, I’m so wise, I’m so powerful, these laws don’t really apply to me”. Certainly it seems that people in positions of power are prone to see themselves as above the rules that apply to others. Sadly even Christian leaders, misled by their pride, sometimes disobey God’s clear commands. And when leaders allow themselves to be put on a pedestal, this limits the chances of anyone challenging their foolish behaviour. Solomon was wise but became foolish, allowing himself to be worn down by putting himself into temptation.
Ephesus – activity without love
In Revelation we find a whole church that had been worn down. When Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, sometime between 53 and 62AD, they had a reputation for faith and love. But around 30 years later, in the book of Revelation, Jesus is rebuking them for their lack of love. We don’t know exactly what happened in the intervening years but we do know that when Revelation was written, they were working hard, enduring suffering and seeing through the deceptions of false apostles, all good and praiseworthy things. But they had lost the love they had when Paul wrote to them as a young church. By then, Paul and his generation were gone. The Church was still going and, on the surface, still strong. But the fervent love that had been their first response to God’s saving love and mercy had gone. And without love, as Paul wrote elsewhere, they were nothing.
Churches can do many good things, but without love they are empty. Hard work and resilience only benefit if they are animated by love for God and our neighbour. Sound teaching and discernment are essential but without love, useless. The radical love of the first generation had given way to the loveless work of the second. Churches must engage with the world around them, but without God’s love as the motivator, they are no different to any other social service agency. As generation gives way to generation, we must make sure that, above all, love is our legacy.
Learning from their example
What can we take from all of this? None of us want to lose our edge or be worn down into irrelevance. No Church wants to find that, despite their training programmes, social justice projects and well-run meetings, they have lost the love that make them worthwhile. Daniel’s refusal to compromise and his devotion to prayer and scripture are an important message to us as we live in an age which wants to squeeze our faith into a tiny private corner of our lives where its explosive truth cannot offend our intolerant culture. Even when it was likely to cost him not just his job but his life, Daniels’ faith was lived out in public. Although discipline like Daniel’s is unfashionable, having a routine of prayer and study means that even when we don’t feel like it, we make time to hear God. And it’s probably when we don’t feel like it that we most need to hear him.
Solomon’s tragic fall teaches us that humility and obedience are for all of us, without exception. If we flirt with temptation or fool ourselves that we can ignore what scripture says about how we should live, we will find ourselves in thrall to other gods, such as public approval or career success.
Above all let’s nurture love. Love, first for Jesus and also for each other. If we lose our joy, affection and gratitude to God it’s only a matter of time before we are worn down. Even in the busiest day, making time to be grateful, and to worship is vital. Our Church community has adopted the discipline of breaking bread every day. It’s a biblical and practical way of remembering the unlimited love that Jesus has for us and his promise of a new creation.
Do you feel worn down? Take a moment to reflect. Remember your first love for Jesus, your response to the one who gave up everything for us. Consciously lay everything on the altar – your work, your relationships, your dreams, and your worries – and worship him just as you are. He will not reject you. If he brings to your attention things you need to turn from, trust him. He knows what is best for you. Then tell a trusted fellow-disciple what you’ve done and ask them to hold you accountable. Even though you may feel weak and worn out, God will renew you.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God
And renew a steadfast spirit within me
Do not cast me away from your presence
And do not take your Holy Spirit from me
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit”Psalm 51