Sunday, April 27, 2014

Staying on Guard

            I really did intend to be done with this blog after the last post.  I felt that it ended on a good note, and I was ready to put the blog behind me.  But there always seems to be something new (or not so new) that I want to say.  And since I don’t really talk to others about my thoughts too much, I guess I kinda need this blog as an outlet.  So I’m back for now.
            What I wanted to talk about this post is what has gone on since the last two posts, the “impaling my arm on the trellis” incident (posted on 4-14, but it happened on 4-19) and the day that God filled me with indescribable joy and peace (4-15). 
            If you read the last posts, you’ll see that I struggled with a kind of depression for a long time.  And on 4-15, God sent me a deep feeling of peace in Him.  It was wonderful.  Refreshing.  I had ached for that kind of peace and contentment for so long because I was so tired of feeling down.  But it would be misleading to end the blog with that post, to make it seem like once God brought the peace, everything was hunky-dory. 
            The thing is, this spiritual life is a constant battle.  We are never supposed to let our guard down.  Never drop our armor.
            Ephesians 6: 13:  “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”  (Emphasis is mine.)
            We are not supposed to sit and get comfortable after a long battle, but we are to stand and be ready for the next one.  It doesn’t seem fair, I know.  There’s nothing we want more than a good, long rest.  We are used to earning rests, breaks, rewards.  If we put on a good show or endure a long battle, we expect reward and relief.  But that is not how the spiritual world works, not on this side of eternity.  We are always under attack.  And if we do not maintain our spiritual armor (see Ephesians 6) then we will be vulnerable.
            The reason I am bringing all this up is because I have noticed that the spiritual attacks have been coming stronger now, after I experienced that joy and peace on 4-15.  That peaceful rest didn’t last long before the next attack came.  But this doesn’t surprise me.  Because I have learned over the years that the biggest falls seem to come after the biggest victories.  And the times when we feel most at peace are the times the enemy sets his sights on us.  And because we feel so good, we let our guard down and are more vulnerable.
            After 4-15, I felt really good for two days or so.  But pretty quickly, I noticed the fears and negative feelings trying to creep back into my mind.  A negative thought would hit me and my stomach would start to sink almost before I knew it was happening.  And I had to verbally remind myself that God brought me a sense of peace and that I needed to hold on tight to it, instead of letting it slip from my grasp, pushed out by fears and concerns.  And it helped to simply say, “No!  I will not let go of the peace that God gave me.  I will not pick that fear or concern back up again.  God gave me peace and I’m holding onto it.”
            Now, I do know myself well enough to know that I will probably always struggle with unwanted feelings and thoughts.  I will always be fighting to find and hold onto peace and joy.  But the key is to never give up, to keep fighting the spiritual battles we find ourselves in.  These battles are not abnormal.  They are part of a Christian’s journey.  And we have to accept them as typical, to be expected. 
            And I did pretty well for a few days, refusing to let those thoughts back in.  And then, on 4-19, I skewered my arm on the trellis.  This alone didn’t really affect me in my spirit that much.  But what I noticed just yesterday is that I am being filled with panic about accidents more easily.  The wound that I had on my arm is healing really nicely.  No infection.  No problems.   But just yesterday, I felt a tiny odd sensation in a tendon by the wound, like if you turned your arm wrong.  And it got me thinking about tetanus. 
            What if I have tetanus?  I thought.  What are the signs of tetanus, anyway?  And against the sense in my spirit saying, “Don’t do it,” I decided to get online and look up the symptoms.  Just in case. 
            Well, I had assumed that if you had tetanus the wound would look infected and feel infected, with heat, redness, and swelling.  So I was expecting to be able to immediately go, See, I don’t have it.  My wound looks good.  And I would feel better, at ease.
            But what I learned is that the wound wouldn’t look any different than a normal wound.  There would be no signs from the look of the wound that you have tetanus.  The first sign you would notice is muscle stiffness, 7-21 days after the injury.
            Oh, my goodness, I began to think.  I could have tetanus.  My wound looks fine but it could be festering under the skin and I won’t know for days.  What if I didn’t clean it enough?  I didn’t use hydrogen peroxide.  I didn’t open the wound up enough.  Did it bleed enough to let out infection?  Oh no, I think the Spirit told me not to look it up on-line.  Will God be mad at me now?  Will He let me get tetanus just because I doubted His healing?  And now, it’s hurting more.  Is it because of the tetanus or because I have been poking at it a lot to check it?  Could that pain in my back be from tetanus?  My one hand feels cold . . . why?
            I’m not kidding, I was spiraling into panic.  Almost immediately, I could feel a dark feeling come over me like a thick cloud.  I wanted to cry and run and freak out and curl in a ball, all at once.  I felt almost suffocated by fear.  (The crazy thing is, I had just gone to a seminar to keep my counseling license current.  And it was on “Anxiety Attacks.”  And a day or two later, I ran across two other articles or shows on anxiety attacks.  I actually began to wonder if God was trying to tell me something, like, “Get ready, because this is in your future.”)
            For a good hour or so, I was freaking out.  Looking up more info on-line, dwelling on what I might have done wrong in treating it, reasoning with myself, etc.  (My husband was gone for the day so I couldn’t talk to him.)  But feeling how thick and real the cloud of fear felt, I began to look at it as a spiritual attack.  In all likelihood, there was no tetanus infection.  My fear was pretty unreasonable, way out of proportion.  But I could tell that Evil was using that fear as a way into my mind and spirit.
            I find that in moments like these, we can’t just talk ourselves into a better mood or perspective.  We have to approach spiritual battles as spiritual battles, with spiritual armor.  And I needed to bring all that I was thinking and feeling to God.  I needed to call on His help to battle the oppressive cloud of fear.  Demons thrive on and are drawn to fear, panic, anger, lust, depression, despair, bitterness, shame, etc.  All of these things attract them.  And the last thing I wanted to do was attract more evil with my panic.  It gives them an open door into my mind and heart, and it makes things so much worse. 
            So I called on God for His help.  I cannot fight spiritual battles on my own, without the Spirit’s help and God’s power.  It is the power that is in us (the Spirit) that is greater than the power that is in the world (Satan and his evil forces).  We do not have to fight in our own strength.  We should not fight in our own strength.  And so as the kids played in the house, I went outside and sat down.  And I cried and began talking to God. 
            I told Him what I was afraid of.  I told Him I was sorry to doubt His sovereignty and His ability to handle my request.  I thanked Him for being so gracious despite my unbelief.  I asked Him to take this fear and replace it with His comfort.  I called on Jesus’ name to bind the enemy, praying that He sends angelic protection to surround me and keep evil from me.  And I asked Him to give me wisdom to discern if there really was anything to be concerned about. 
            Usually, I find this request is most helpful when I don’t know left from right anymore.  If I can’t see through the fog of my fears and confusion, I’ll ask God to clarify my thoughts and to help me see things the way He does, to see the truth of the situation.  And usually as I calm down, things begin to look clearer and more reasonable.  And eventually, I’ll have a more realistic view of reality. 
            And in this case, I reminded myself that I impaled my arm on a clean, smooth spike, way up high from the ground and dirt.  And I recalled that tetanus affects your muscles.  And the feeling I felt wasn’t in my muscles, but in a tendon.  (At least, I think so.)  So I was able to calm down a little more, confident that I most likely don’t have the symptoms that I think I do. (Of course, I’ll have to wait till day 21 to see if there really were any symptoms or not.)  But my point is that fear blows everything out of proportion and it clouds the mind.  And so I try to turn my fears over to God as soon as I can. 
            But the spiritual attacks didn’t stop there.  Later that day, I was taking a walk with the kids while they rode their bikes.  And I once again began to panic.  I was filled with this intense fear that they would go too fast and flip off their bikes, smashing their heads or faces on the sidewalk.  And I wouldn’t be there to catch them. 
            “Go slower or you’ll fall off your bike.” 
            “Don’t take that turn too fast or you’ll flip off and crack your head.” 
            “Don’t put your hand out when your brother is passing you or you’ll knock him down and he’ll crack his head open on the cement.” 
            Granted, I am always like this when the kids are playing.  But this time, the fear was so thick that it felt like a heavy fog around me that was hard to walk through.  It was a different kind of anxiety than I am used to feeling.  It was almost physical, like an evil spirit was walking along with me. 
            And I have to trace it back to the “impaling my arm” incident.  Accidents can happen so fast, before you even know they are happening.  And I’ve always been a worrier.  (This is why I don’t read the newspapers.  It’s all bad.  And then I am afraid about everything that can go wrong.)  And I think this incident was a way for Satan to get a tiny foothold into my heart and mind.  It was not an enjoyable walk for me.  And after making it home without incident, I sat down and rested for a little while.
            But the attacks didn’t stop there.  That night (last night), I was woken up in the middle of the night with a spiritual attack that I experience every so often.  (You can read about it in the “Supernatural Stuff and Spiritual Armor” post.) 
            I was having a dream that I was washing dishes in a run-down cabin in the middle of nowhere.  And it was storming outside.  And just as the storm really picked up, with lightning and thunder crashing all over, something wrapped itself around my middle and lifted me up off the ground.  Just then, I (not the dream me, but the real me) began to become conscious that something evil was in my room as I slept.  And as I woke up from the dream, I could feel the sense of electricity surging through my middle.  (It’s been a long time since that happened.  Just once, besides last night, in the last few months.) 
            And so I did what I always do.  I called on Jesus’ name.  Out loud (and quietly enough so that I didn’t wake my husband) I said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave this room.”  I said it a few times.  And then for good measure, I added, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, what a beautiful name.”  That, to me, was a little odd.  I have never been compelled to say that before.  But something in me felt like I should praise His name out loud a little more, to further repel the evil in the room.  (Plus, I was still so groggy that I was kind of on auto-pilot.)  And with that, the tingling began to subside, and I went back to bed.
            That was all yesterday.  It was a day of attacks from one end to the other.  Not to mention the week before when the depression kept trying to edge its way back in and when I skewered my arm.  It’s been a long week of attacks.  And it’s kind of a bummer that it followed so quickly on the heels of the day that I got to experience that blessed sense of peace and joy. 
            But that’s my point in sharing all of this: to remind all believers to be on our guards against evil.  Of course, we should enjoy the peace and the rest when God allows it.  But we should not lay back spiritually and kick up our feet and fall asleep.  We cannot get too comfortable, even during the peaceful breaks.  The peaceful breaks are nice, of course.  But there is a battle going on around us all the time.  And the most effective attacks happen when we are least expecting them.  And the even more effective attacks are the ones that we don’t even know are going on, the spiritual attacks that we fail to see as spiritual attacks.
            And so I also want to remind believers that some of the things we go through are in fact spiritual.  Maybe that sense of depression isn’t just in your head; maybe it’s spiritual oppression.  Maybe the temptations that are enticing you are not just happenstance; maybe they are spiritual attacks.  Maybe all of those accidents or obstacles that you face are not just coincidences or “bad luck” but maybe they are spiritual. 
            Spiritual attacks need to be fought with spiritual weapons or else we will fail every time.
            So we need to be on the lookout for spiritual attacks (not overly on the lookout, but alert for them).  We need to be discerning.  We need to continue to read our Bibles daily.  To grow in our spiritual disciplines and in wisdom.  To listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  To be obedient.  To search our hearts, letting them be purified by the Spirit.  To seek God’s righteousness and Kingdom.  To talk to God honestly and transparently about everything that is in us.  To learn to trust in God’s love and goodness.  To train ourselves to call on Jesus’ name.  And to humbly lean on Him and His strength and wisdom and grace and mercy.  This is how we keep our guard up, keep our armor on, and keep on standing.
            Ephesians 6: 13:  “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”