How to Pick a Spiritual Fight
February 3, 2019
Pastor Jeff Struecker
For those of you who are joining with us today, if this is your first Sunday with us, we’re studying through the book of Acts. We’re going to be in Acts chapter four today. What I’d like for you to do is to hear what we were talking about last week, because today is going to take last week’s thought, and it’s going to make a huge jump forward. Last week, we described what we called the “fine art of civil disobedience”. This means standing for your beliefs in the courtroom or in the board room when you know it may cost you severely. It means standing up and speaking out on behalf of your faith. Today we’re going to take the idea of civil disobedience and make a huge jump forward. We’re going to describe spiritual warfare today. We’re going to use battle language because the Bible is going to use battle language for us today. The idea that we’re going to discuss for just a few moments is what happens when the saints of God start to do real, heart- level, gut-honest prayer. This is what the Bible describes as spiritual warfare in the book of Daniel. We’re going to see spiritual warfare happen today when God’s people pray.
If you remember this and forget everything else that you heard from this sermon today, the thing that I really need you to understand is, eternity is impacted when God’s people get on their knees and lay out their heart and soul before God and beg or petition God for the hearts and souls of other people. CS Lewis, an Oxford atheist who became one of the greatest voices of Christianity later in life, when talking about prayer said this: “We must lay before him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” In other words, you’re not fooling God when you pray. When you pray, get heart-level, gut-level honest with God. Did you know that right now in a room not far away from here, there are some spiritual warriors who are interceding on your behalf? This very moment they’re praying for me to have boldness. They’re praying for you to hear what the Scriptures say and apply it to your lives today.
I want you to first hear something about this spiritual warfare. In fact, I’d like to point it out to you because I want to ask, how many of you came today ready to pick a fight? Go ahead and raise your hands, because I did. Do you see what it says at the top of that today’s sermon or on the worship guide? Today’s sermon is all about learning how to pick a spiritual fight to do spiritual warfare.
I. Prayer is our primary weapon
The first thing that I really want you to understand if you’re going to do spiritual warfare is, prayer is the primary weapon in Scripture. You don’t find another weapon of warfare that takes this place. Now, for those of you who are in the military or were in the military, you’ll understand this language (the primary weapon language). That’s the thing that you carry with you on the battlefield. Great warriors can pick up any weapon and use any weapon on the battlefield to protect and to defend themselves, but they are so well trained with their primary weapon that they know, with this weapon, they can hit whatever they’re aiming at or they can pull the trigger before anybody else pulls the trigger at them. You would feel naked on the battlefield without the primary weapons system. I want you to see what happens when God’s people come together in the midst of this great persecution that we’re reading about.
After they were released, they went to their own people and reported everything the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Master, you are the one who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You said through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David your servant: Why do the Gentiles rage and the peoples plot futile things?
I want you to notice something about this passage because your hearing battle language today. If you’re not familiar with what happened earlier in Acts chapter four, I’m going to give you the Reader’s Digest version. Peter and John did a great miracle. God did a great miracle through these two. Now the religious leaders (really all of the leaders of the land) are furious. -not at the miracle; they’re furious at the message that Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven. The message that went along with the miracle. So, they call Peter and John together, and they criticize Peter and John. Then they threatened Peter and John last week. Peter and John leave, and this week they go back to the church. What you see in Acts chapter four is the whole church coming together. I want you to notice this isn’t a problem between two people and the seventy-one leaders of the Sanhedrin today. No, this is a problem between the entire church and the Sanhedrin. -because when Peter and John got into the middle of a spiritual battle, the whole church got into the middle of a spiritual battle.
I love this language. I think the language is beautiful. This is very unusual, but do you see the word that the Bible uses today to refer to God? Master. Notice something the church is saying, “Hey, we have a Roman leader in our land. We have a king. We have a high priest. But you know what? None of these guys are really in charge. God, you are master. You are in charge. And God, we’re trusting you. Not only are you in charge, but you’re the God who created the heavens and the earth. You just spoke the word, and they came into existence. And a God who has that kind of power, we’re trusting in that kind of God. I’m not really worried about the power of these so-called religious leaders who are plotting and waging war against us. God, we’re not worried about that. And the reason we’re not worried about that is because we placed our trust in you.”
This comes directly out of the book Prayer by Philip Yancey. For most of us in this room, when we pray, we’re just asking for things from God. When Jesus prayed, that prayer was spiritual warfare itself.
Today the Bible is using battle language. The battle language that we see from Scripture today is the language that prayer is the weapon of warfare. I’m asking us all in this room who claim the name of Jesus to wield this weapon well and to use it powerfully. Can I remind you of something that I need to be reminded of from time to time? Sometimes God assaults my heart first and challenges me about my heart before he’s willing to use my prayers to do business about the heart of other people. Sometimes prayer is not about getting things from God. No, it’s about doing things with the Holy Spirit on behalf of the glory of God. Really, that’s the part that I need you to hear next from the book of Acts. When we pray, prayer is our primary weapon.
II. God’s will is bullet proof
The second thing that I need you to understand is that when you pray for God’s will, you are putting his will as your protection. What happens next is, the early church starts to pray, and they start to get heart-level serious with God in prayer. Then they start to say, “God, we have no power apart from you. So, God, we’re trusting in you and your power right now.” Here’s how the rest of the story goes.
26 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers assemble together against the Lord and against his Messiah.27 “For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your will had predestined to take place.
Look at this list of names and add it to what you’ve already heard. You have the chief priest and the elders of the religious clans of Israel standing up and opposing God’s people. Now you have the Roman leader, Pontius Pilot. You have the king of the Jews opposing you. You have the Gentiles. This is basically everybody in the land. Even the people of Israel are standing against them. But you know what? They’re not freaking out. They’re not worried about that because they are standing in God’s power. They’re standing and trusting in God. They’re asking God to be their source of defense, their shield and protection.
Think of a bullet proof vest that a warrior or a law enforcement officer straps on when he goes to work. This bullet proof vest is God’s way of protecting his people. He’s protecting his people through the act of prayer. God’s people are going to him and saying, “We have no power. We’re powerless without you. But we are trusting in your will as the Rock of Ages to protect us and to keep us safe even if everybody on Earth is standing against us.” This is why, as a church, we speak so often and so strongly about doing life together, because nobody goes onto the battlefield by themselves. It’s insane to do that. You need other brothers and sisters who are right there with you going into battle with you, who are interceding on your behalf, who are praying for you and you are praying for them.
When you go to war this week, when you pick a spiritual fight and you’re trusting in the power of God, I want to ask you to rest in God’s sovereign will. Rest in the fact that God will ultimately be victorious no matter how many people stand up against us. No matter who is opposing us, God’s will always comes to pass.
III. Battle over Jesus’s glory
The battle is Jesus’s, and we when we do spiritual warfare, we are battling for Jesus’s glory. Here’s how this plays out for us.
And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that your servants may speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand for healing, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
That word consider at the beginning of this phrase says, “God, we know you’re already aware of it. We’re not telling you something that you don’t know. You know everything. God, we know you’re aware of it. We need you to act because of what’s happening around us. God consider it and act because of it.” I am so blown away by what you’re hearing from the Bible today because they’re not treating him like a genie. If you rub the lamp, you get three magic wishes. No, this is a very different prayer. They’re not asking God, “God make the men that stand against us go away. We want you to kill our enemies.” That’s not what they asked for. They didn’t ask for God to make the problems and the pressure disappear. Notice they didn’t even ask him to change the rules. “God, here’s all that we’re asking of you today. We know we’re in the middle of a spiritual battle. God, we’re asking to make us bold.”
This week, when I was writing some very specific prayer requests for the spiritual warriors that are interceding on our behalf right now, one of my primary requests was, would you pray that God would make me bold, bold in the pulpit and bold this week? God, would you give me boldness in the midst of great problems? -because I need it, and so do you. The early church needed it. They were fighting on behalf of the souls of their people. Because of that, they were saying, “God, give us boldness. Make us strong. Help us to stand in your midst.”
Do you recognize this Arabic word mujahadin? It’s the word translated “freedom fighter”. Freedom fighters are those Arabic warriors who used to fight against a much more powerful army to liberate their country from foreign oppressors. I’ve always felt like, in the many deployments that I did to Afghanistan and Iraq, the real freedom fighters are not those Arabic men who pick up arms and go use bullets and bombs to defend their country. No, the real freedom fighters are the men and women who are fighting for the freedom of the souls of the people in their neighborhood. You and I are the real freedom fighters begging God to give us boldness so that we could speak to neighbors and deal with our friends so that when we face some problems at work or at school, we’re ready for those problems. Today, what you’re hearing is battle language. But it’s not bombs, bullets, and swords language; this is hearts and minds language.
If you didn’t have a chance to do it, would you go back and read our church blog this week. In the blog, we describe what is so important about winning hearts and minds. When you start to do spiritual warfare, you’re fighting for two things: You’re fighting for the supremacy of Jesus, and you’re fighting for the sufficiency of Jesus. Let me explain what I mean. You’re fighting for Jesus’s greatness. Jesus is over all things, and we’re not going to let anyone (not the Supreme Court of the United States, not the White House, not the Congress) take any authority or any of the glory away from Jesus. That’s the supremacy, the greatness of Jesus. But you’re also fighting for the goodness of Jesus. Here’s what I mean by that. When you have Jesus, you have all that you need. When somebody is introduced to Jesus and at the soul level is changed, they’ve just experienced the greatest thing that will ever happen to them (the supremacy of Jesus) and the best thing (the goodness of Jesus). We need God to do warfare on our behalf. But first, we need God to sometimes do warfare in us so that he can use us to do warfare through us. -which brings me to the fourth and final point.
IV. You are the Holy Spirit’s weapon of choice
You are God’s plan A, and he has no plan B. If God is wielding a weapon in this spiritual battle, it’s you. You are the Holy Spirit’s weapon of choice. When you pray, I need you to remember the relationship that you have with God. He has enlisted you into his army to do warfare on his behalf. It’s really hard for us to understand. God, why do you use me? Why don’t you just write it in the clouds during the day? Why don’t you just spell it in the stars at night? Why would you use me? But what the Bible describes for us at the end of this passage today from Acts chapter four is how immediately the Holy Spirit shows up, and immediately God answers the prayers of his people.
When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God boldly.
Walter Wink is a former theologian who studied spiritual warfare. Here’s one of the statements that he made: “History belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being.” Because they believe it, they cannot accept anything but God’s will for the future. When the people came together, when they were really united in prayer, when they started to do real spiritual warfare in prayer, God filled the place that they were in with his Holy Spirit. It was so noticeable that the foundation of the building started to shake. But it wasn’t just the Holy Spirit. Look at what happened to the people when God filled the building once again and the building itself started to shake. E.M. Bounds from his book, The Weapon of Prayer, says, “Prayerful preachers, prayerful men, and prayerful women only can press the gospel forward with aggressive power.”
I want to ask you, what do you share in common with Abraham? What do you have that Moses had, that Paul had, that Jesus had, and that the first century church in the book of Acts had? What is exactly the same with you as with those great men and women from Scripture? The answer is that you have the power of prayer. You have the same Holy Spirit giving you the same boldness and the same power of prayer. When God visited Abraham, Abraham boldly started to ask God for the souls of people in Sodom and Gomorrah, “God don’t destroy that city if there are fifty righteous there, if there are forty, if there are thirty, twenty, or if there are ten.” When Moses was on the mountain, he was wrestling with God. He was doing spiritual warfare, and he said, “God, I will negotiate for the souls of my people, Israel. I will give you my soul in exchange for their soul. God, don’t destroy this people.” Paul said, “God, I would be a cursed if it would lead to the salvation of my brothers and sisters.” Jesus does great spiritual warfare in the garden of Gethsemane. The church in Acts is doing spiritual warfare today, and every believer is called into this battle. Listen to me. It doesn’t take money, education, power, position, or prestige. This is something all of us can do. This is something that all of us must do. Will you pick a spiritual fight this week? Will you do real genuine spiritual warfare this week?
• I have been on the wrong side of this spiritual war. Today, I surrender my soul to Jesus for the first time.
– I am weak in prayer. Pray with me that God will give me a holy boldness in my prayer life.
+ I will pick a spiritual fight this week.
- Define “spiritual warfare”. How do you know what’s spiritual warfare and what’s not?
- Read 2 Corinthians 10:3-6.
- List all the weapons that are available to you in a spiritual battle.
- Why can’t we fight spiritual battles with bombs and bullets?
- Name a thought that you need to “take captive” this week.
- How do our spiritual battles here and now affect Heaven?
- Can you be a “faithful” Christian and not engage in spiritual warfare? Explain your answer.
- List a couple of important spiritual issues that you should always be ready to do battle over.
- Pray that the Holy Spirit will use you as a spiritual warrior this week.