Strength for the Battle
“I DON’T KNOW what’s wrong with me,” I admitted to a close friend. “I’m exhausted all the time, and I’m so irritable with the children. I flip out over the smallest things, then I feel guilty. Instead of praising God for all the good things He’s done for me, I’m almost always depressed. I feel like a failure as a Christian.”
My friend listened. She didn’t judge me as I was judging myself or break in with pat answers. Through the gift of her willingness to listen I discovered the root of the problem.
“I think I’m experiencing burnout,” I said. “I just have too many things to do, too much stress. I know my life is out of balance, but I don’t know what to do about it. I feel trapped. I try to pray. I try to read the Bible, but it only makes me feel worse. I feel as if God is angry with me for not applying the things I know and even teach to others.”
“Condemnation never comes from God,” my friend said. “You’re listening to the wrong voice.”
The tears I’d managed to hold back began to flow after I hung up the phone. “Oh, God,” I sobbed, “please help me to understand what’s happening to me. Please help me to find Your answers.”
My friend’s comment led me to turn to Paul’s letter to the Romans and read, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 8:1). The burden of feeling God was angry and disappointed with me began to lift as I remembered the context in which the Apostle Paul had written those words. He, too, didn’t understand why he did some of the things he did, and why he failed to do the good he wanted to do (Ro. 7:15). But Paul wasn’t chained to feelings of guilt and self-accusation. He experienced the “law of the Spirit of life” setting him free from “the law of sin and death” (Ro. 8:2).
Freeing him from exhaustion and discouragement, too? I wondered as I thought of all that Paul had to endure. Beatings, imprisonments and riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger—Paul certainly endured many hardships that could have caused him to quit. Wherever he went he encountered hostility. He was thrown out of cities and told never to come back. Even his brothers in Christ did not always support him.
“God,” I prayed, “please show me what held Paul steady, what prevented him from giving up.”
The answers did not come immediately, but in the days that followed I began to see some principles I had never before applied to my problem.
Recognize that you’re being tested.
“We want to prove ourselves genuine ministers of God whatever we have to go through” (2 Cor. 6.4, Phillips ). Paul recognized the fact that he was being tested, and he determined, by an act of his will, to meet that test head-on. Rather than succumbing to self-pity or giving up when circumstances could easily have led to defeat, Paul chose to view trials as opportunities to prove to everyone watching that he was striving to live by the principles he taught.
Paul had encouraged the Galatians to “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). In a lengthy letter to the Corinthians he encouraged them to “stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). In his first letter to the Thessalonians he told them to “be joyful always” (1 Thess. 5:16).
We do get tested on the things we profess to believe, but through the testings we have the opportunity to strengthen our own faith and the faith of others. How? Paul went on to say, “We have proved ourselves to be what we claim by our wholesome lives and by our understanding of the Gospel and by our patience. We have been kind and truly loving and filled with the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 6:6, Living Bible ).
But I was too tired to know whether or not I still understood the gospel or was filled with the Holy Spirit. My capacity to be patient and kind was exhausted. I knew it would take more than an act of my will to be any of these things.
Rely on God’s power.
The next verse provided a solution: “We have been truthful, with God’s power helping us in all we do” (2 Cor. 6:7, Living Bible ). I again saw how God wasn’t expecting me to do or be any of these things in my own strength. It was essential to honestly face my inadequacies. It is only as I admit my weaknesses that I come, as Paul did, to rely upon God’s power at work within me.
“Is my tendency to become overwhelmed by my ‘thorn in the flesh’?” I asked the Lord, thinking of Paul’s battle and all the times I had prayed for a stronger personality. I felt God speak to me the same words He had spoken to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Those words freed me, dispelling the fears that had been haunting me. I knew I no longer needed to be afraid of reaching the end of my resources because God’s power takes over when my strength is exhausted.
Go Into the battle equipped.
Finally the Lord reminded me that I am in a battle. To go into it without the “full armor of God” (Eph. 6:11) is as foolish as walking onto the front lines dressed for a game of tennis. I need to pick up and use the defensive weapons God provides for my protection. So every morning, for the past ten months, I’ve been “praying the armor on.” It’s become as much a part of my morning routine as getting dressed and brushing my teeth.
The belt of truth. “Lord,” I pray, “help me to gird myself with Your belt of truth” (Eph. 6:14). “Give me discernment that I might immediately recognize the enemy’s lies and half-truths. Help me to refuse to receive or believe them.”
The breastplate of righteousness. Next I mentally pick up the breastplate of righteousness (Eph. 6:14). It protects my most vulnerable area—my heart, the home of my feelings and emotions. It is so easy for me to be wounded by others, to allow myself to be influenced by fear of what they might say or think. “Lord,” I pray, “help me today to consistently choose to do what is right in Your eyes. Thank You for protecting me from the judgment and criticism I may receive.”
The shoes of the gospel. Just as I would not walk out of the house in the dead of winter barefooted, I take the time to have my “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15).
John MacArthur, in his study notes for The Believer’s Armor, describes a common military practice of the Roman soldiers: “planting sticks in the ground which had been sharpened to a razor-point, and concealing them so that they were almost invisible. This was a very effective tactic because, if the soldier’s foot was pierced, he wouldn’t be able to walk—and if he couldn’t walk, he was totally debilitated.”1
To protect their feet, Roman soldiers wore boots with heavy soles. Pieces of metal protruded from the bottom of the boots, acting like today’s football cleats, to give the soldiers firm footing.
The shoes God provides for me give me a solid foundation upon which to stand. He readies me for His work by instructing and teaching me in the way I should go (Ps. 32:8). When I choose to follow His plan instead of asking Him to bless my plans, I find my feet do not become bruised and weary from going places He never intended for me to go. I also find that when I say “yes” to what He wants me to do rather than to what others tell me I should do, I am filled with peace instead of tension.
The shield of faith. Next I prayerfully pick up the shield of faith to stop the “flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16). I ask God to make me mighty in spirit—to help me to walk by faith, not by sight. I also ask Him to help me not to lower my shield by nurturing doubts. A soldier can be fatally wounded if he lowers his shield for only a moment.
The helmet of salvation. This piece of the armor (Eph. 6:17) protects my mind. As I ask God to fit it snugly over my head, I am protected from indulgence in the negative thinking that tears me down. Each morning I thank God that I do not have to be bound by old habits and thinking patterns. I ask Him to continue His work of transforming me by renewing my mind (Ro. 12:2).
The sword of the Spirit. Finally, remembering that God has not provided any armor to protect my back, I ask Him to help me stand and face the enemy in His strength. I know that God does not intend for me to turn and run. Rather, He wants me to take the offensive by picking up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).
Just as Jesus defeated Satan by quoting Scripture, I can speak God’s promises and see the enemy flee. When I’m exhausted and the pressure is on, I can claim Phil. 4:19—God will meet all my needs. Or 1 Cor. 1:7–8—I do not lack any spiritual gift; He will keep me strong to the end. There is a promise for every lie Satan would use to try to intimidate me. I may still feel overwhelmed, but when I go into battle praising and thanking God, I am victorious.
There are still days when I feel completely drained—when I fear I have nothing to give. If I fail to recognize I’m being tested, if I do not rely on God’s power, and if I go into the battle unequipped, I suffer and my family suffers. But praise God, it doesn’t have to be that way. I can know the joy Paul wrote about. I can “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). Feelings of exhaustion and defeat will flee as I choose to draw closer to the Source of my strength.
1. John MacArthur, The Believer’s Armor (Panorama City, CA: Word of Grace Communications, 1982), p. 41.