I really should have been more alert. Only a few days after GCD said they loved Gospel Amnesia and wanted to publish it, I got slammed spiritually. Not with some kind of family tragedy, or a medical or financial trauma/drama, but just pure heart turmoil. A spiritual storm.
Spiritual storms can be relentless and ruthless, Satan knows our weaknesses and he exploits them. Spiritual warfare is real and it should not be discounted, especially by those who want to live theologically grounded.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Ever since I woke up again to the gospel a couple years ago, I have known that the spiritual forces do not want to see the power of the gospel lived out in my life and the life of my family. I have said before that the gospel changes everything about a human being. Therefore, it’s to be expected that I would parent my children more in line with the truths of the gospel. It’s to be expected that my marriage would model more and more a picture of the gospel—Christ and his bride the Church. It was also to be expected, that as the gospel (which is the power of God, Rom.1:16) worked its way deeper into my heart, that I would learn to die to the things that tear at grace in my life. Because we can expect the gospel to work in people’s lives like that, we should also expect that every spiritual force for condemnation and evil will war against the work of the gospel in our lives. Spiritual storms do come, and so what do we do? How do we respond?
In Matthew 8:23–27 we read about Jesus calming the storm that attacked the boat while he and his disciples were crossing the sea of Galilee. We see that a furious storm arose and the waves were sweeping over the boat. The disciples were being pounded by the wind and the water and the ferociousness of it all. How did they respond?
And they went and woke him, saying “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.”
How do we respond when storms assail us? Do we harden our face, clench our fists and by golly we’re going to have a stiff upper lip and we’re going to boot-strap ourselves out of the hardships? Do we sit there and tell ourselves, “this too shall pass,” trying to grin and bear it like good Christian women? Do we cower in a corner in the fetal position and wallow in self-pity, self-incrimination, self-degradation, thinking and saying nothing more than “poor me?” There are many knee-jerk, natural tendencies that people fall into whether it is a spiritual storm, or other life storms.
I did not respond well to the spiritual storm that I have been in/under over the last three weeks. This is nothing to be proud of; it’s actually quite shameful. I share it here because with every tiny spiritual movement forward I am convicted that I should take what has been given to me and pour it out for others.
When the storm came three weeks ago, I cowered in the corner. Curling into the spiritual fetal position I had a real good pity-party. I did not go to Jesus like the disciples did. I did not cry out to him and for him. I did not ask or shout out for help. It was almost like I wanted to perish in that storm. My own knee-jerk reaction was to react like there was nothing that could be done; there was no one to save.
We know from verse 27 of Matthew 8 that the disciples were completely amazed at how Jesus took care of the storm:
And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
The disciples didn’t go to Jesus because they were absolutely positively certain he was going to calm the storm. We know this because they came to him panicking and his first response to them was, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” But, they must have had something that drove them to quickly go to him asking for help, even if it was still a fearful pleading.
There are three things this example brings to mind about approaching God in our troubles. First, coming to God at any time is really an act of Grace on the part of God which we appropriate. We can only do this with, and in, the strength and power of the Holy Spirit. So the first and most important answer is: Grace! It was grace that drove them to Jesus.
Second, even with a little faith we can discipline ourselves to turn away from our natural tendencies and train our inner man to rush to the cross. The disciples didn’t dither and debate and vote and conclude that the best option was to go to Jesus. Matthew 8:24, there was a storm, Matthew 8:25, the disciples went to him. (Same in all the synoptic gospels: Mark 4:37 & 38; Luke 8:23 & 24.) This too is a grace because we can do nothing apart from the grace of God. Those whose first response is to fly to the font have learned how to exercise the grace given to them through the Holy Spirit.
Third, we don’t need to give God a proposal or plan for getting us out of the storm. The disciples had no idea Jesus would, or even could, rebuke the wind and waves. They didn’t go to him asking for him to exercise his sailing prowess, letting him know that the closest point of shore was one mile North, and if he could just hold the rudder for them, and maybe give some encouraging words…. Neither did they propose that he just fly them out of there, or any specific miraculous solution. No, “Save us,” was their only cry.
What does that all mean for me personally? Does it mean that Jesus doesn’t love me as much as he loves other people that he didn’t give me the grace to turn to him? No, of course not. And he doesn’t love you any less when you struggle either. I don’t fully understand this but part of the mystery of the Christian life comes in the buffeting. It comes at that intersection between his work, our response, and most importantly, our prayers.
Winfield Bevins has written an article on Spiritual Warfare Prayer which helped me, I recommend it for further reading.