Feeling worn down? – Andrew Price

“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.  

Activation

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

Four ways to shift your perspective and strengthen yourself in the Lord – Emma Duncan

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I know that’s a brazen theft of a classic opening line, but for me it describes the situation we are in.

For some of us this is a time to slow down, reflect and reconnect, filled with meals around the table and deep conversations. For others; a time of loneliness, worry and sorrow, fraught with financial and relational anxiety and pain. What strikes me is that we are all in the same boat. I have never experienced anything on a global level like this that so unites us in our experience of humanity. Perhaps this is a good time to think about what it means to strengthen ourselves in the Lord.

Paul, in Acts 27, was literally in the same boat as his fellow travellers when a great storm came. Actually, he had predicted the storm and the loss of life in v10, but they set sail anyway. For 14 days and nights they were tossed on open seas by hurricane-force winds and all hope was lost, but then Paul steps up and tells everyone not to worry because he has spoken to an angel who said that God had graciously given him the lives of all those on the boat. What a promise, wrought through the prayers of Paul, to save every life on board! But there are so many more examples where faith is lived out, even when no angelic visitation has occurred.

“Perhaps this is a good time to think about what it means to strengthen ourselves in the Lord.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace because they would not bow down to any other god but Yahweh. They were in the same boat as every other exiled Jew in Babylon for whom the penalty of not bowing down was death. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were confident that God could save them; in a move of unbelievable faith and obedience, in v18, they said that even if He did not, they would not bow to another. What courage.

David returned with his army of malcontents (1 Sam 22:2) to find that all their women and children had been taken by the Amalekites. The army discussed stoning David to death in their distress, even though he was in the same boat – his wife and children were gone too. But it says that David ‘strengthened himself in the Lord’, he sought the Lord’s advice in that moment, and they went after their families and each one was restored. I could go on listing examples of times when our heroes of the faith were in the same boat as everyone else, but their perspective was shaped by something other than the earthly vision or understanding of what was going on. But how do we strengthen ourselves in the Lord?

Strengthening a muscle means to use it repetitively until it builds up and can work harder or bear more weight. To strengthen a structure means to add support to the structure to carry the load. To strengthen a cocktail means to add spirit until it makes more of an impact! To strengthen a metal means to boil away the impurities. I would argue that we go through the same processes to strengthen ourselves in the Lord and there is no better time to get on with doing so than when we are in the same boat as everyone else, whatever our personal circumstances happen to be.

So here are some practical ways that we can ‘strengthen ourselves in the Lord’:

Strengthen your spiritual discipline muscles by learning God’s word, meditating on it day and night (Psalm 1:2); singing praise and bringing a sacrifice of praise even when we don’t feel like it (Psalm 50:23); praying at all times with thanksgiving (Eph 6:18); speaking in tongues to edify, or build yourself up (1 Cor 14:4); fasting and praying (Matt 17:21). The more we do this, the more we can bear in times of difficulty because our lives are planted deep, like oaks of righteousness (Psalm 1).

Add structure to help you carry the load – in other words, we need our lives to be built on the truth of what God says about who He is, first and foremost, and then who we are and what our purpose is here on earth. Read about God, spend time talking to Him about who He is and what He thinks about you, so that those things are unshakeable, immovable truths that shore up every part of your life. If you feel a part getting shaken, find a scripture or a promise that God has given you in your own quiet times that speaks to that shaking, and build your life on truth.

Add Spirit to make your life stronger (this might be my favourite!). The beauty of Jesus returning to the Father was so that He could send the Holy Spirit to be with us (Luke 24:49). The access we always longed for into the presence of God is ours for the taking – being in fellowship with Holy Spirit is our ticket to power, comfort, peace, joy, hope, healing, wisdom and so much more. Make getting to know Holy Spirit a priority in your life.

And lastly, allow God to burn away our impurities (Prov 17:3). This is a really strange time to be alive, but God is shaking up our ‘normal’ and I don’t think He is keen for it all to shake back down as it was before. What is He refining in me through this process? My reliance on routine and predictability, health and wellbeing, freedom, intellect? Whatever it is, don’t fight the fire, allow God to purify you and be sure that even this is a strengthening process. David strengthened himself in the Lord, and so can we.