The Stewardship of Warfare
Ephesians 6:12—Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
II Timothy 2:1—You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
The authority and sufficiency of Christ is tried and proven in the oven of adversity. Our stewardship is to fight (agonize) the good fight of faith (I Timothy 6:12).
This verse from Paul’s instruction to young Timothy was used in both military and athletic endeavors to describe the concentration, discipline, and extreme effort needed to win. The “good fight of faith” is the spiritual conflict with Satan’s kingdom of darkness in which all men of God are necessarily involved. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), we do not war according to the flesh (II Corinthians 10:3), and our weapons of warfare are not carnal (human) but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds (II Corinthians 10:4). In a word, the Bible clearly says, our enemies are not flesh, our war is not a flesh effort, and our weapons are not human! But when our church is fighting, all we encounter seems to be flesh! We read body language, see angry faces, hear cutting words and watch the hallway huddles that curb their conversation when we walk near. All these signs of flesh give us suspicions about the war with the darkness. Let me say it simply and clearly, “A good steward of revival must not be surprised when adversity comes.” Adversity is as much a part of life with the Vine as grace, faith, and worship. Remember, Jesus our Lead Pastor was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil (Matthew 4:1). What our enemy intends for evil, our Father turns for good in the long run. Many a church has been caught off guard, discouraged, disillusioned, and defeated because they thought the reviving of God was a cure-all—the end of all problems. Remember also that trials come from without and from within. The ones from within are the most hurtful and surprising.
Peter helps us here: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;” (I Peter 4:12)
In seamless fashion he continues to equip the believer with six attitudes that will enable him to endure and employ the fire.
1. Expect it. (v. 12)
2. Rejoice in it. (v. 13, 14)
3. Evaluate the cause. (v. 15-18)
4. Entrust it to God. (v. 19)
5. Feed the flock with truth. (v. 5:2)
6. Take oversight willingly. (v. 5:2)
You must lead your flock to do the same. Fighting each other is not an option. Remaining objective when under fire is one of the toughest challenges of ministry.
Don’t fight alone. Two are always better than one and a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
A pastor should always be in the process of enlarging his intimate prayer team and building a team-type ministry. There is a reason why Jesus sent the 70 out two-by-two, why He called Paul and Barnabas, and why Paul only traveled alone once. Paul’s missionary journeys were, for the most part, a team effort. In a multitude of counselors, there is safety (Proverbs 15:22; 24:6).
Ellen S. Lister selected quotes from the letters of Samuel Rutherford and put them together in a tiny book entitled The Loveliness of Christ. Many of his letters were an encouragement to ministers who were suffering adversity. These two quotes are helpful to us here.
“I found it most true, that the greatest temptation out of hell is to live without temptation; grace withereth without adversity. The devil is but God’s master fencer, to teach us to handle our weapons.”
A reviving from God is not the end of all battles but rather an equipping for battles. The sovereign working of God in revival will prepare us for the sovereignly-approved visitation of trials. That’s why stewardship of adversity is so important. God is not about protecting us from all warfare but rather providing us with mighty weapons for warfare.
Rutherford’s second quote introduces another dimension of adversity that is often overlooked. i.e., the ways of God:
“My shallow and ebb thoughts are not the compass Christ saileth by. I leave His ways to Himself, for they are far, far above me. There are windings and to’s and fro’s in His ways, which blind bodies like us cannot see.”
Dear friend, please remember we are living with the vibrant, lovely, and life-giving vine whose ways are past finding out (Romans 11:33). Don’t be surprised by the windings, the reverses, or the quietness. My friend Andy Harkleroad reminds us, “The Teacher is silent during the test, but he is not absent.” He is building His church even when we can’t imagine it.
When hard times come, we often forget the splendor of God’s ways. He knows that grace grows best in winter. Isaiah captured it in classic fashion (55:9).
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
My life changed in 1974 when I heard Bill Gothard teach about the ways of God. His instruction at that time was for us to note this sequence in Scripture.
1. God starts with a vision followed by a –
2. Death of a vision then possibly a –
3. Double death of a vision then a –
4. Supernatural fulfillment of the vision.
Abraham is a picture of this sequence. God’s promise to Abraham to make him a great nation was followed by a barren womb which then produced the promised child in old age. All our faith heroes experience “Death Valley days” so that God would get all the glory.
Again, our Lead Pastor not only wants us to learn God’s Word and do God’s will, He wants us to learn God’s ways and grow.
The temptation for us during those days is to either quit or take matters into our own hands. Neither option is good stewardship. Abraham’s choice to go into Hagar has left some serious side effects. The point here is that our ministry may have to go backward before it goes forward. When it does, don’t defect, and don’t manipulate. This is a time to be still, be obedient, and let patience have her perfect work. Leading your flock responsibly through God-ordained adversity is an art learned at the hand of the Father. He is the faithful husbandman of the vine-branch relationship. He knows how to purge and prop every branch for maximum fruit. While on a mission in Southern France, I was astonished at how brutally the vinedressers trimmed the vines in order to experience a greater harvest. Sometimes it’s extremely hard to know what’s going on. But don’t panic. Just stay faithful.
Here’s a faith-cycle you may notice in your ministry. Turbulent winds, if responded to properly, can help our lives and ministries to soar higher. It’s like setting our sail to catch the wind. It’s like an eagle who soars higher because of the storm. Even the Wright Brothers remind us that, “Birds don’t soar in a calm.”
Here’s a common scenario of turbulence:
1. We experience a lack of threat or need which causes—
2. An inner disturbance in which we—
3. Yield our will—we surrender to God.
4. There is momentary affirmation—
5. Followed by deeper despair (“double death”) calling for greater trust which is rewarded by—
6. An inner rest and inner supply which frees us to—
7. Analyze the situation—
8. Birth a plan of action—
9. Take faith-sized steps.
This cycle is evenly divided into three parts in which we choose (1-3), trust (4-6), and act (7-9). This is a very common cycle used by the faithful servants of Scripture. Moses, for instance, chose to suffer with the people of God (Hebrews 11:25). He trusted God with a long, rollercoaster-type of experience (Hebrews 11:27) until he marched with 1.5 million people out of Egypt (Hebrews 11:29). We revere his endurance to the end as he lived out God’s calling on his life. If you lead your ministry to ride the winds of turbulence, you will be a faithful steward.
This same pattern is seen in the Apostle Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13, 14). In Cyprus, Antioch and Iconium the same sequence appears.
It should be comforting to us to know that this great steward of the mysteries of God (I Corinthians 4:1) also faced great opposition in the process of being faithful. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that, if we find ourselves wearied and faint in our minds, we must fix our eyes on Jesus who endured the contradiction of sinners like no one else. Through perfect obedience, He earned the right to be set down at the right hand of the Throne of God.
Let me conclude this reality with a Scripture that will launch us into our next stewardship. God is working through adversity in order to do you, as a leader, a favor. Listen to this from Paul, “. . . I hear that there are divisions among you and in part I believe it. For there must be also factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you,” (I Corinthians 11:18-19).
Factions and adversity often reveal those who have passed the test of spiritual genuineness and purity. We will not be able to take the mixed multitude to maturity. “Curious onlookers” and “bread and fish” followers do not make the cut during adversity. Through trials, the “cream” rises to the top and the faithful remnant will appear. Honestly, I have often been surprised at who endures through hard times. Again, in the ministry of Jesus, “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more,” (John 6:66). The residual effect of a faithful stewardship during adversity will leave you with a committed remnant who will then follow Jesus by choice.
From Belief to Behavior
• Enlarge your prayer closet with trusted comrades.
• List the trials and give thanks for them—an exercise in picking up the shield of faith (I Thessalonians 5:18).
• Lay down all pride and identify areas of deficiency—and learn.
• Turn your eyes upon Jesus and engage His sufficiency (Hebrews 12:1-3).