It was the first time I ever played competitive soccer. There was a team I really wanted to be on and I was incredibly intimidated by their track record. As I walked out onto the field for tryouts my dad said, “You gotta want it more than anyone else on the field. Do your best and you’ll be fine.” There was no question about my desire and as a result of that day, the reputation I had on that team that year was, “Sky fights for the ball, watch out, because he fights harder than anyone here.” I was 13.
Learning to fight is one of the earliest lessons we encounter in life. As I watch my son trying to learn to roll over, he’s fighting gravity and his own weak muscles. When we come up against bullying at school and eventually at work, we have to learn how to handle the pressure, struggle, and sometimes oppression that comes as a result of living in a fallen world. As we grow up we, encounter resistance in all forms, and probably the least obvious struggle is in the spiritual realm.
In the book of Job (probably the oldest book in the Bible) the author says, “Yet man is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward. (Job 5:7)” Struggle is natural to human experience, but our response to that struggle is what creates beauty out of pressure. In our pursuit of God, as we experience pain, He wants to use that pain to drive us away from the things that cause our own destruction and toward His Spirit who gives life (2 Cor. 7:1). In every decision that God puts before us, we have the opportunity to say “yes” to His will, and “no” to our own or another’s will. But when a decision is made, there will always be resistance in bringing it to fulfillment. That resistance is what makes us strong. That resistance is what teaches us to fight and sometimes the source of that resistance is our own selfish desires.
When I have a temptation before me, it is a fight to say no. Watching TV when I should be mowing the lawn as I told my wife I would do. Sending that check to those people I owe rather than using the money for another trip to the beach. In each decision of this type, there is usually some level of internal battle that goes on. And God wants that battle to rage and then resolve in His will. With each battle won the rage is less and the win comes a little quicker. But the fight is necessary. Learning to fight through the resistance of our selfish will is what develops our spiritual tenacity and fortitude. Sometimes the trial is internal and sometimes external. In both cases, this verse applies, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4) The trials that come teach us to fight and though it’s not usually a joy, with God’s perspective it can be.
These trials naturally come when our own desires work against us in our desire to follow Christ and make good decisions. We’re tempted to think it’s an oppression that is brought on us by some outside force, or a spiritual issue when in reality it’s just our own selfish desires that lead us down a path that makes us fight for the wrong things. In the book of James it says,
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” (James 1:13-14)
If I am wanting, striving and even praying for something to happen, and it’s not happening easily it could be because I’m creating a struggle that God didn’t intend. And it many cases it seems that God will allow us to keep struggling until we come to a dependence and submission to him in what we desire to happen. I’m convinced that we often fight for things that God didn’t intend. James says again,
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:1-3)
When we’re fighting for something it’s always a good idea to stop and ask ourselves, “Is this a cause that God wants me fighting for or is this my own desires creating an unnecessary struggle?” Yet, even when we fight for wrong things God can use this to highlight our own selfishness and hopefully bring us back to him. Either way, we should remember that,
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthains 10:13)
When the source of the fight is from outside it may be some evil force but it will always be because God has either directed it to happen or allowed it to happen. Whenever He teaches His people how to fight, He has their good in mind, and His motive is love (Hebrews 12: 10). But we don’t have to respond to His discipline in an appropriate way. In the book of Amos, God is brings hardship in order to bring His people back to Himself but they don’t respond well. God says, “I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord. (Amos 4) The lack of food in their belly was meant to press them to fight toward what they new was right in order for God to restore their food supply. They did not see the hunger as a hint that God was disciplining them, and as a result, things got worse. Sometimes God maneuvers circumstances to enable his people to fight for a restored relationship with himself. Often (not always) he uses pain or disappointment to bring us back to himself.
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of God wanting to teach his people how to fight is in the book of Joshua and Judges. When Joshua moves the Israelites into the promised land, they win wars, but do not completely drive out all the inhabitants. Then, though God is angry about them failing to drive out all the other nations, God says, “I will use them (other nations) to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord… (Judges 2:22). God is ready and willing to use our failings to teach what he wants by bringing us through tests that will develop our fighting skill. The author of Judges explains God’s motive, “These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan. (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience).” They needed battle experience and God intentionally allowed other nations, other problems, other difficulties to ripen on the vine so that the Israelites could the harvest the fruit of fighting experience.
I pray that as we encounter battles we will see them as an opportunity brought about by the Lord to teach us how to fight.
Where are you learning to fight?
What has God put in your path to teach you to fight?