Spiritual Warfare in Sifting

The previous posts in our series highlighted that “sifting” is defined as worldly trouble, producing increased surrender to God.  God knows how to creatively allow just the right challenges to bring humility and increased dependence on him.  Today we expand the definition to include spiritual warfare.

Sifted is:  Worldly trouble intersecting with spiritual warfare to produce increased surrender to God.

It’s eternally significant work to launch a new church. It’s crucial to understand that the church planting process is filled with worldly troubles.  Trouble is normal!  Joy comes in knowing that God has equipped us with a great calling, and that many people will find Him through freedom in Christ.

My wife, Zarat, and I are immersed in launching Vertical Church in Atlanta GA in two weeks.   The journey has certainly sifted us.  We’ve had so many opportunities to be discouraged.   We are planting in a very poor, urban context among college students.  Like most planters, we’ve had to raise all of our financial support against seemingly impossible odds.   Our son, Damian Jr., has cerebral palsy and requires special care and schooling.  Our extended families live in other states.

The journey continually reminds us in such a compelling way that we have a very real and active adversary who loves nothing more than to steal, kill, and destroy.  We’ve seen firsthand how spiritual warfare—Satan’s battle for our minds amidst troubles—is more dangerous than the troubles themselves.  We are strengthened amidst the struggles knowing the work God has given us is a threat to the evil one; a threat worthy of his ruthless ways.

Our struggle started with the exit from our previous church. We’d hoped for a smooth transition and the blessing of being “sent.”   Things weren’t quite that smooth.   Zarat and I had been part of the church for 16 years, and upon the communication of our plans to plant a new independent church, things became difficult.  After a short period, Zarat was given her last day of full time employment after 10 years of serving on staff.  I had already left the corporate world to more effectively care for our son who has cerebral palsy.  The result:  we lost our family’s primary income and our health insurance because of our announcing our plans to plant a church.  It was simply heartbreaking.

That was the beginning of financial challenges that would continue. We expected some sifting in this area considering we were planting a church in the midst of college students and the urban poor, but we were not ready for what was to come. We were on the brink of losing our home.  At our lowest point, we had negative $137 in the bank with no income in sight.

Thankfully, we got a series of little miracles here and there to get us through each week. Every month, we would go through a rollercoaster of emotions wondering if we would pay our mortgage, phone bill, gas, etc. We would have random dips in our bank account and even more random moments of financial rescue just large enough to cover our immediate needs. It’s amazing how faith is built in the face of fear.

Sometimes our greatest challenge is remembering that a large portion of spiritual warfare is, “Destroying arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” 2 Corinthians 10:5. We had to continually be renewed in the spirit of our minds. It’s easy to give in to doubt and temptation when you are under high levels of stress. We had to choose to cast down arguments the enemy brings, and resist arguing with each other. Our comfort came from the realization that the same God that called us was faithful to complete His work in us. But it was not an enjoyable process.

Then came the physical attacks. One week to the day before our first preview service, my sister called to tell me that our mother was in the hospital with a pulmonary embolism. A blood clot, which can be deadly, had made it to each of her lungs. Two of her sisters were in the hospital on the same day. I couldn’t afford to fly and be with her.  This added to the mental attacks and anguish, which were already very hard.  Within two days of our second preview service, my son had a serious seizure, which landed us in the hospital. Then one month before our official launch, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Some would call this a series of unfortunate circumstances, but the proximity between the incidents and our gathering times were too closely aligned. These were all spiritual attacks to which we could either crumble under or surrender and submit before God.

Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  We are establishing a new church in a very dark place.  How can we avoid wrestling with the enemy? That is where sifting meets spiritual warfare!

Our confidence remains squarely in the truth of Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” No matter how hard the opposition, God, our God is going to work it out for our good. Our challenge is in trusting Him even though we don’t know when or how the help will come. We’ve learned, you either trust God or you don’t! There is no middle ground.

As I am writing this, we are less than two weeks away from launching Vertical Church, and we are still facing some major challenges. Our adversary is still on the attack. But, this high level of attack has given us insight into how much potential there is to bring light and hope to the community. The greater the opposition, the greater opportunity for God’s glory! Another thing we learned is that our courage in light of our challenges gives others confidence to stand in the midst of their own sifting season. We grew in our faith and those on our team and in our lives are inspired to do the same. It is a reminder that if God is for us, who can be against us!

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