Midweek Fellowship – May 4, 2016
“Hunger as Warfare”
Fr. Gary W. Thurman
Last week we learned that God has enemies, and that we as Christians are involved in warfare against those enemies. We learned then that the Bible mentions the enemies of God about 40 times. Later I realized that it also mentions God’sadversaries quite often. I looked it up, and found over 25 references to them. So, between enemies and adversaries, they are mentioned almost 70 times in Scripture. As you can see, this is a real issue!
We took a baby step first - we learned how we believers have things in our character and attitudes that are anti-Kingdom, and that these things are enemies to be defeated. We call this personal warfare, and its goal is to sanctify us for Kingdom work and living, which will be the structure of our lives forever. Regular prayer and fasting play a vital role in helping us win these battles, and defeat our personal enemies that keep us from being fruitful in the Kingdom of God.
Tonight we take a big next step - we talk about spiritual warfare. This is warfare outside our own personal existence. It’s not just about our temptations and bondages. It goes much, much deeper.
Let’s begin tonight with a line in the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth, and of all things: visible and invisible.” There is another realm, an invisible realm, a spiritual realm that is unseen to us. God Himself is invisible, that is why we must come to Him in faith. Although this realm is unseen to us, there is interaction between the two, and sometimes what happens in one realm affects what happens in the other. (Matthew 16: 19; Matthew 18: 18-19) Things don’t just happen - there is a plan, a plan that must be worked out, and God has chosen to give us a role in that working out. Sometimes what we do in this realm moves forces in the spiritual realm, which in turn enables things to happen here in our existence. Things do not just happen, or just fail to happen!
One biblical example is in the book of Daniel. In chapter nine we see that he was seeking the Lord with prayer and fasting. (Daniel 9: 3) Daniel prayed a lot, but this was on another plane. He was confessing the sin of Israel, when something out of the ordinary happened. (vv. 20-23) The Gospel of St. Luke shows us that Gabriel is not just a man, but a spiritual being. And note what he says in v. 23: “At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you …” Daniel’s prayer and fasting moved the spiritual, invisible world. This continues in chapter 10: 2-11: 1. We see here Daniel warring in the spirit through prayer and fasting, and things moving in the spirit realm to the point where his fasting empowered God’s spiritual forces in their fight against God’s enemies. Imagine that! Then they were empowered to come into Daniel’s realm and give him a powerful and crucial understanding which is still part of the Church’s teaching to this day.
So, was this struggle only for Daniel’s day? In the Christian era, do we still need to battle in this way?
Ephesians 6: 12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Our struggle is against God’s enemies in the spirit realm. Daniel knew this; do we?
2 Corinthians 10: 3-5: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses, we are destroying speculations (cf. 2 Tim. 2: 23 from last week) and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” What are these divinely powerful weapons of our warfare? Among other things, prayer and fasting. The Name of Jesus is another. Agreement is yet another. But we must see here, our lives as Christians are more than just going to Church and being good; and our prayer lives are more than just saying grace over meals.
As the old saying goes, “Prayer changes things” - in this visible, physical realm, and the realm of the invisible, as well. James 5: 13-18 again shows how prayer can move the heavenlies, so that in turn things in this physical world can be changed. Elijah knew he was fighting a spiritual battle for the entire nation of Israel, so he prayed earnestly - with his head between his knees. When’s the last time you did that?
This is Kingdom warfare - warfare against God’s enemies. Sometimes we see situations where His adversaries seem to be winning - Roe v. Wade, the RH bill, the foolishness and even filth we see on the net and on our TV screens, the national embarrassment that is our election process - and we feel we can do nothing. Some say write letters. That’s OK. Someone way down the hierarchical ladder might even read them. And of course, we have to make sure our own personal warfare is effective to the point that we are not part of the problem - the enemies in our own character must be under control. But there is a further realm where we as Christians can enter into the warfare in a deeper dimension. Through prayer and fasting, we can destroy strongholds of the enemies of God, and attack wickedness in the heavenly places.
We must stop here and make a point. God is not losing the battle. In fact, it is already over. As we sing, “Jesus won the battle!” Every year the Church celebrates the Feast of Ascension to remind her members that Christ is ascended on high, and every foe has been placed in subjection under His feet. This is not a “do or die” situation. There is no titanic struggle for control of the universe; it is firmly in God’s hands. This is just warfare against God’s enemies, defeated foes who still can’t get used to the fact that our God reigns. As we learned last week, they still don’t like the way it is in the Kingdom of God.
If that’s the case, why doesn’t God just zap them all into oblivion, and get on with His program? And, biggest question of all, why involve us?
Believe it or not, this warfare is for our sake.
Remember what we learned last week? This life, this existence, this age, is to prepare us for the age to come, the eternal age, the Kingdom of God. In that age, starting now, actually, “You have made them (us, God’s children) to be a Kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Revelation 5: 10) As learned last week, this is your eternal destiny. And for this, you need training. What kind of training?
Exodus 23: 29-30: “I will not drive out (your enemies) before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate, and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land.” God leaves the enemy around to help us become abundant in the fruits of the Spirit!
Judges 3: 1-2, 4: “Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them, only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly … They were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the Lord.” The enemy exists for our sake, to help mold us into Christ’s image.
Look at it from the example of boxing. St. Paul was familiar with this discipline; he used it as a type to teach both the church at Corinth and his protégé Timothy. A boxer has what is called a sparring partner. This person is hand-picked by the boxer’s manager or handler. He is there, not to beat the boxer, but to press him, to challenge him, to make him better. He is not quite as capable as the boxer. He is not supposed to win his combat against the boxer. His role is to make the boxer better at boxing.
Now, if the boxer is just clowning around, not taking the bout seriously, and drops his guard, the sparring partner can actually hurt him. He will knock him down, maybe knock him out. Perhaps this is where the Body of Christ is today. Too many of us do not take our spiritual warfare seriously, we don’t even realize we are in the boxing match; and the enemy is knocking us all over the ring. But if we would just pick our gloves up, and take up again the spiritual warfare of prayer and fasting, the sparring partner would have no chance. Remember, the bout is not even a contest - Jesus already won by knockout! (On the third day!)
But we need this opposition, this conflict, to make us grow in God. The great evangelist/teacher of the previous generation, Iverna Tompkins, was once asked the question, “Sister Iverna, will we still grow and mature in Heaven?” Her answer was, “Yes, I think so, but the growth will be very slow, because there will be no conflict in Heaven to develop Christian virtues in us.” Remember, it is the trying of our faith that produces patience (James 1: 3), and that only happens here, not in Heaven.
The Lord is looking for laborers in the harvest field, but He is also looking for warriors in the battle field. This is the call to every one of us. If we want to live in eternity as Kingdom priests, we must be trained in spiritual warfare. I’m talking about warring through prayer and fasting.
But how do we know how to pray in this invisible realm? How can we pray about things we don’t see, or realize? Here is where we segue into another very powerful weapon of our warfare - prayer in the Spirit. Next week Fr. Obet is going to lead us into that teaching, and go on into more of the Spiritual gifts which are actually weapons of the warfare we are called to wage. Don’t miss it!