You may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything here for a while. Normally I would say something like “life got busy” but that isn’t the whole truth. Actually, my life, home and church over the past month has been an intense spiritual battleground and for too long I was losing the battle.
Below is the devotional I gave on Sunday night at our church’s 166th anniversary celebration, which also happened to be the evening I was inducted as the full-time pastor of the church. I shared pieces of this story with a few people before then and God has been using it to help people with their own battles, so I want to share it with you as well. Partly to explain my absence, but mostly to give glory to God.
I’ve been learning a lot about blessing and discouragement over the past year and a bit since I have been serving here. I’ve learned about the importance of celebrating occasions like this one and the blessing that can come through passing along the story of what God is doing here. The Bible says in Isaiah 52:7:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’”
and that’s what I want to do tonight, to bring good news and say “God reigns!”
To every person involved in the leadership and ministries here, I want to tell you how blessed I am to be serving with you, and what a joy you bring to my heart every week. To be serving with people who love the Lord as you do, and who serve with such passion and love for each other, warms my heart and gives me such an excitement for the future.
Those here who do not attend, and perhaps some who do, don’t know the spiritual battle that has been occurring in this church over the past few months. The Leadership Board was just talking this week about how clear the spiritual attack has been among the people here. A demon has been sent to cripple our church, the servants, the Diaconate and myself. Maybe you’ve felt it too.
I want to share my story with you because as I’ve shared it with a few people over the past week I have heard the same thing – “that happened to me!”, “that’s exactly how I’ve been feeling”, and it is a forum like this – a celebration of the work God has been doing in this church that can combat this demon and send him packing.
My Battle with the Demon of Discouragement
Over the past month I have been relentlessly attacked by a demon named “Discouragement”. Every day, multiple times per day I heard in my mind the demon repeating:
- “The church is dead. Stop beating a dead horse. Don’t be so stubborn. There are lots of other places that you could go. Just leave and find greener pastures somewhere else.”
- “Stop writing. No one’s reading it and you’re only doing it out of pride anyway. Just give up.”
- “You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re a fraud as a leader and a pastor. You’re not fooling anyone. You may as well quit.”
- “No one likes you. The church is tired of you. You’re a one trick pony and you’re all out of tricks.”
- “Quit before you make it worse. Quit before you do more damage. Quit before it’s too late.”
- “There’s not enough money. Taking this position and moving to Carelton Place will put your family in danger. Why enter a hopeless situation and risk financial ruin?”
- “You’re a fool to believe that a little church like this can grow. God isn’t blessing this place. God is closing churches all over North America. Why would you think you’re different?”
Over and over, day after day I heard this – and I started to believe it – until one day, less than a week ago, God spoke. My family and I were listening to an “Adventures in Odyssey” about the story of Moses. Right in the middle of the story a light came on in my mind and I heard the voice of God. He said to me:
“Al, you’re being just like Israel. You’ve seen what I can do. I work miracle after miracle in your life. I deliver you from financial crisis, ministry problems, spiritual weakness and yet you grumble. You sound just like Israel! You’re acting just like Israel! Haven’t I shown you that I’ll take care of you?
Stop worrying. I’ve got you. I will take you and the church to the place I have set in front of you. Start trusting in my provision, my grace, my love for you, my willingness to work miracles. Believe in me and I’ll save you, restore your joy and bring you blessing.
I told you that if you have faith like a mustard-seed, then you can move mountains – where’s your faith?
I told you that if you need workers to pray for them and I’ll send them – don’t you trust me?
I told you that if you need wisdom to just ask – why not just ask?
I told you I will grow my people and defend my church – don’t you think I will?
I told you that I will complete the work I have started – won’t you believe me?”
It was in that moment that I repented from my grumbling (which is a biblical-sin) and asked God to restore to me the joy of my salvation. I asked Him to change my heart from doubt to faith. And He has been faithfully doing that over the past couple weeks. Whenever I hear the voice of Satan in my ears, I remember the words of God and his faithfulness.
Sunglasses and a Gas-Mask
When God spoke to me, He gave me a picture and I want to pass it on to you: Satan had fooled me into wearing dark sunglasses and a gas-mask. He’d slipped them on without me even noticing. The light was there but I wasn’t able to see it. No matter how bright the light of God was around me, it looked dim. The flowers and beautiful smells of summer were surrounding me, but I couldn’t smell them because I was wearing a gas-mask. Sure I could breathe, but the joyful aromas of God’s creation weren’t making it through.
I know with certainly that Satan has been pulling this same trick on many Christians. Though you are surrounded by the light and aroma of God’s blessing, grace and hope, you can’t sense it. And that means that how you feel right now about your ministry, the church, and each other – doesn’t reflect reality! In truth, God’s blessing, grace and hope are all around you, our church, your ministry, and your life – but you can’t see it because the Demon of Discontent has dulled your senses.
The instant I repented and rebuked the Demon of Discontent in the name of Jesus Christ, the dark glasses and gas-mask fell off and I was able to see and feel God’s grace and bounty again. They were there all along! And just like when you take dark glasses off and you have to squint because of the brightness – I have been overpowered by what I have seen. The grace, blessing, hope, love, joy, wonder, delight, and voice of God have been overpowering me as God has been whispering optimistic words into my heart.
My hope is that you will do the same. Rebuke the Demon of Discontent and see your life, your ministry, and the church the way Jesus sees them!
Stones of Remembrance
Let me close with a final picture. Ancient Israel used to erect piles of stones in places where important meetings between them and God would happen. They would do this so they could return back to them during times of doubt and fear and remember that God was there, had made them promises, and had delivered them once and could be counted on to do it again.
I sat down at my computer a few days ago and looked back on the piles of stones God has given us over the past year – the times where I have seen Him work miracles, keep His promises, and show me that God is with His people. So here’s the list of stones I look back on when I feel discouraged and need to remember that God isn’t done with us yet:
- We have been successful in practicing church discipline and have a more connected and inspired group of people than we did a couple years ago.
- We saw a wonderful leadership team raised up who met every week for a long time, passionately praying to God for wisdom and discernment, worked together like champions and crafted THE MOST enviable Strategic Plan document I’ve ever seen or heard of in a church our size.
- I’ve witnessed struggling marriages come together.
- I’ve witnessed major breakthroughs in personal hurts and watched people start down a long-overdue healing path.
- I’ve seen repentance and humility in situations that plagued the church for years.
- I’ve seen a renewal in energy in the musical worship service, a new band form, and watched them commit to working together instead of dividing over stylistic differences. We are WINNING the worship wars at our church!
- Wednesday night prayer and bible study has been faithfully attended, is growing, and has an ambitious plan to minister to many more people over the next while as we start making meals, begin a new dvd-study, and energize people around us to join us.
- I’ve seen people come back to the church who didn’t attend for a long while.
- I’ve seen the Sunday School find new tools, new furniture, new energy and new volunteers and bless the children greatly. The kids are excited to go to Sunday School!
- I’ve watched and participated in forming new mentoring relationships with young men and women, showing hope for the next generation of leaders.
- We’ve heard the stories of how our financial mission contributions have been used by God to work miracles in other lands.
- While other buildings, stores, and churches have been closing around us, we are still here after 166 years of ministry.
- Thanks to the faithfulness of our members we have a good financial reserve in the bank.
- We’ve witnessed renewal of faith and new baptisms, and I’m pretty sure we’ll have more baptisms this summer!
- We have gone through a full series of Peacemaker training and have seen the fruit of it over and over.
- People have been responding well to the sermons, and especially to the Foundations series as people are being inspired to pray more, study their bible, attend more faithfully and serve one another in love.
And that was just off the top of my head! I’m sure you could all add more to this list – and I encourage you to. [Comment below with more!]
Please remain encouraged, rebuke the Demon of Discouragement, trust God to be faithful to us, and let us move forward together towards the Promised Land He has set aside for us and the church we serve!
If Satan tells you that we don’t have enough people to get the job done – remember Gideon’s victory.
If Satan tells you we don’t have enough money – remember that Jesus sent Peter to get money from the mouth of a fish and was able to turn one kid’s lunch into a feast for thousands.
If Satan tells you that we don’t have enough time – remember that God made the sun stand still for Joshua’s army.
Over and over God puts down our excuses and fears with promises from scripture and memories from our lives and ministry in this wonderful church. So be encouraged! God is here and is doing amazing things today at our church, in our area, and in our lives. I look forward to the next year to see what God’s going to be doing here.