where the real battle happens

Posted: February 18, 2016 in Uncategorized

I took my first dip into learning about spiritual warfare more than a decade ago; it didn’t take me long to be suspecting demons around every corner.  That’s the tricky thing about the subject – how quickly we can get way too focused on the tricks of the enemy of us all and act like he has some ability to get a leg up on the God of all creation.  Standing back from a distance, it’s pretty easy to see how preposterous that is.  Up close, staring into situations and conundrums and pushing through the struggle?  WAY easy to only notice darkness pressing in on all sides and forget about The Light.  Easy to slide into looking more like a fearful conspiracy theorist than an adopted child of the King.

Our pastor has suggested a book and we are currently amidst a sermon series from it.  I’ve taken it on as my current lunchtime reading project (always gotta have one of those); yesterday I dove in over blackened steak salad and a side of brussels sprouts with bacon that were so good I had to ask for more and let the kitchen know I could eat them every day for the rest of my life.

Here’s one of the very first things I came across, and if I never get another thing from this book it will have been worth picking it up just for this:  we go around talking about attacks of the enemy and temptations of Satan, but most of our actual battle is not with any outer force at all.  Most of our battle lies in 2 areas:  taking our thoughts captive, and resisting our various lust issues.

Rarely has an idea rung more true for me than this.  I am my own worst enemy, and I’m not exceptional or special at all in that.  Most of the things that trouble me are things I’ve brought on myself by my own choices, expectations, and attitudes.  It’s not that I’ve never been messed with by destructive forces, but that’s been pretty infrequent, whereas basically every single day of my life I face the battle with my thoughts and my lust (which, to be clear, should be defined here as the basic insistence within me that I must have what I want, and I must have it when I want it, and I must have unfettered access to as much of what I want as I decide that I want, no matter how bad that thing might be for myself or others around me – basically it sounds like GIMME, and also GIMME MORE.)

For a long time I didn’t understand the phrase “taking my thoughts captive.”  What did that even MEAN?  It wasn’t very apparent to me, the student of words and concepts.  I didn’t know what to make of it.  Having come to understand it, I kind of think it is everything – it’s the key to peace within myself, harmony with others, communion with God, ability to function in the world, mental and spiritual wellness, a filter through which I can sort out reality from deception or fantasy, and much more.

In case you’re still at the what the heck does that mean phase, let me tell you what it means TO ME to take my thoughts captive.

I’m a thinker.  There is almost never a time when there’s not the noise of thinking happening.  I have no idea if y’all are like that are not, since I’ve not been in your heads.  But words and thoughts tumble continuously around in there, any time that I’m even partly awake.  There are all manner of thoughts in there.  Memories.  Ideas.  Judgments.  Stories, both true and fictional.  Stuff I read once.  Things I heard at some point.  Lies.  Complaints.  Plans.  Inspiration.  Victim language.  Accusatory words.  Speculations.  Guesses.  Fears.  What-ifs.  Worst case scenarios.  Murders (it’s in our hearts; if you’re pretending it’s not in yours, I’m just saying I’ve given up pretending it’s not in mine.)

Basically, stuff that honors God and others and brings life is in there all mixed up with stuff that can ruin a day, a relationship, a task, or anything else it encounters.

I get to choose, all the time, every moment, which of those thoughts I focus on.

I get to choose with every breath which ones to play with, and which ones to push away like the poison that they are.

I get to choose, both day and night, which ones to decide to believe, and which ones to view with skepticism or even to say to them, “Ah HELL no!”

Case in point:  a thing that used to happen to me regularly was I’d be in a great mood, on my way somewhere fun, and suddenly an old memory would surface – something bad that happened to me, that wasn’t my fault, that left me wounded and scarred.  I didn’t know about taking my thoughts captive then, so when such a memory would surface, I’d go along with it.  I’d think on it.  I’d poke at it.  I’d turn it over and over.  I’d feel all the feels about it.  I’d let the original pain well back up in me.  I’d reassign blame once again, for the umpteenth time, both to whoever had done the thing and to any bystanders that “should have saved me” from it.  I’d let the shame wash over me.  I’d stoke the anger.  I’d think of things I wish I had said, things I wish I had done, ways I’d like to retaliate.  I’d think about how damaged I was now from it, and how tragic that was.  I’d tell myself I was never really going to be able to be the same again.

Basically, I’d fall down into the morass and just roll around there, wallowing and making myself sicker and sadder by the moment.  I’d grab depression and give it a big wet kiss and tell it to take me, take me now.

And I’d let it ruin at least the moment, probably my day, sometimes a whole series of days.  I’d let it put wedges between me and others.  I’d let it keep me mentally messed up enough to struggle with just doing life.

I don’t suffer that particular problem much anymore.  I’ve learned to take my thoughts captive.  I’ve learned to interrupt early.  I’ve learned to tell unhelpful thoughts that they don’t get to be in charge today.  They don’t get to drag me down into the pit.  They don’t get to own hours or whole days – an old pastor of mine used to note that you can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can sure keep it from making a nest in your hair.  It’s the perfect analogy.  Awful thoughts come, because we are human.  We don’t have to engage with them, other than to command them.  They don’t get to be in charge, unless we decide to let them be.

So today my thing is to stop instantly when a thought tries to take me down a road I don’t want to travel.  That’s taking it captive.  Oh, it might make a hell of a racket.  It might not go down without a fight.  But it’s a THOUGHT and I am a child of God, and I don’t have to surrender.  I speak truth to it, most often in the form of scripture.  I fill myself up with good words and good thoughts, leaving no room for the destructive ones – they just get shoved out.

I’ve got about a million more examples I’d love to share on this one, but it’s past time for me to get in the shower and at already over a thousand words I’ve sent some of you packing already.  Maybe more another day.

May you and I both fight well today the battles of taking our thoughts captive and resisting our various lust issues.

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