Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Choosing Your Ground

Part 2 In The Spiritual Warfare Series

Stirling CastleIt was a bad situation. His brother had parleyed an agreement that dictated the English surrender their garrison at Stirling Castle to them if they were not relieved by the English army by Midsummer's Day (June 24). Robert hadn't wanted to put his troops in a position where open battle against the English army was necessary. Slash and burn techniques and guerrilla warfare had proven the more effective strategy given the strengths and weaknesses of the Scottish and English armies. Yet what was done was done, and once again, as he had for the past 18 years, Robert was making the best of a bad situation.

That the English would come was without a doubt. Edward II had been humiliated by Robert and his men too many times for him to pass up a chance for one decisive victory to win back the lands that he had ineptly lost - lands that his father Edward Longshanks had so ably taken from the Scots. The setting was already chosen - Stirling Castle, and the time was relatively certain. He had just a few months to prepare for the coming battle.

The English would have heavy cavalry and archers. The Scots would have only light cavalry and a few archers. The English would likely have far better armor and would probably also outnumber the Scots heavily. It was unthinkable to attempt to fight the English in the open field. It would have been suicide. Their superior technology and numbers forbade it. So what could he do to mitigate the strengths of the English army and leverage the abilities of his own?

Schiltrom at the battle of FalkirkAt the Battle of Falkirk, William Wallace had demonstrated that it was possible to repulse heavy cavalry using a bristling formation of soldiers armed with long pikes. Unfortunately, the same battle demonstrated that these formations (schiltroms) were vulnerable to the attack of archers because they were not mobile.

Robert had developed a solution to this problem. He drilled his men, teaching them to be able to move and fight in perfect formation with the schiltroms. Now they were less vulnerable to archers. But that in itself would not be sufficient to give him victory against so large a force. He began to scout the land for a defensible position.

There was little doubt that Edward's army would follow the old Roman road to Stirling. It was the only way that would give his heavy cavalry firm enough ground to be able to operate. But, with the dense Tor Wood to either side of the road, it would be easy to force the English into a narrow formation that would negate their numerical superiority in battle. Robert set his men to the task of digging pits along either side of the road and hiding them under a thin layer of branches and earth. They also cut down trees to make easy passage through the woods impossible and blocked all paths. On the other side of Tor Wood the Bannock Burn flowed through a narrow, boggy floodplain, called the Carse, that created a natural funnel between Tor Wood and New Park - a heavily forested hunting preserve on the other side of the Carse. It was a perfect spot to pick a fight.

Robert the Bruce in battle against Henry de Bohun painting by Mark ChurmsHe didn't have to wait long. Edward arrived on the scene on June 23 and his cavalry made contact with Robert the Bruce's forces in a frontal assault that was easily repelled by the Scots. As expected, the English outnumbered Bruce's army nearly three to one, but Robert's preparations had borne fruit. Edward turned his forces off the Roman road and crossed the fords of Bannock Burn to camp on the Carse that first night. He had fallen into the Bruce's trap. The battle that followed the next day saw the English routed and Edward abandoning his army to flee for his life, leaving them to get home the best that they could. The victory was so decisive that Scottish independence from England was only a matter of time. Edward never ventured into Scotland again.

The victory that day belonged to the Scots because they picked their battleground wisely and forced their enemy to engage them on their terms. Had Edward been wise enough to recognize the trap that he was walking into, he may have refused to engage the Scots until he had a plan to counter their positional advantage.

The lesson that Robert the Bruce taught to Edward that day is one that we must learn if we are to be successful in our spiritual campaigns. A wise commander chooses his ground carefully and refuses to engage his enemy on a battlefield that does not play to the strengths of his force. How well we do this will determine our success or failure in spiritual warfare.

There is only one battlefield that the saints of the Lord should battle on - the battlefield of truth1. All other battlefields belong to the enemy. The battlefield of truth is defined by the Word of God. The enemy will do everything that he can to entice us to fight on his terms and on his battlefield. But we must not do this! We can rest assured that it is a trap every time.

Let's return to a story that most folks are very familiar with:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it — I give every green plant for food." And it was so. Genesis 1:26-30

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground — trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:8-9

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Genesis 2:15-17

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Genesis 3:1-7

This story is a perfect example of the devil's tactic. God gave Adam and Eve a specific command, "you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," and a specific consequence for disobeying that command, "for when you eat of it you will surely die." This was the truth. As long as they believed and acted on the reliability of God's truth they would be fine.

But then the devil showed up. And the serpent immediately began to question what God had said. He probed the defenses to see how firmly Eve knew the truth. He began very broadly, asking, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

Eve's answer was sound. She explained that they could eat from any tree but the one, and she even went further, saying that they couldn't even TOUCH it or they would die. It sounds good, right? She was making sure that she didn't eat any of that fruit, because if she didn't even touch the tree she couldn't eat the fruit, right?

Perhaps God had given them that additional instruction, but we have no record of it if He did. Is it possible that this deviation from the truth that was recorded provided the opening that the devil was looking for? Immediately upon hearing her reply the devil lied to her saying, "You will not surely die" and continued to convince her that she needed to eat that fruit to be like God.

At a recent spiritual warfare conference I attended, Steve Thompson2 taught that the enemy always tries to convince us that we have to do something to become what we already are. How true that was in this case! Both Adam and Eve were the very image of God, and yet the devil tried to convince Eve that she had to do something else to become like God. Unfortunately for all of creation, she and Adam took the bait, trading their lives and their dominion of the earth for a lousy piece of fruit. The rest, as they say, is history.

The devil didn't make it clear what was at stake. In fact, he flatly denied the truth. I can imagine the old serpent handling the fruit, polishing the fruit, perhaps even tasting the fruit before Eve and demonstrating that it was indeed quite tasty and non-lethal. How different things would have been if Eve (or even Adam) had stuck to their guns and remained firmly planted on the truth. "God is my friend. He loves me, and if He told me that it would kill me then it will. I don't care how pretty it is. I don't care how tasty it is. God doesn't want me to die, and He knows what is best!"

However, that is not what happened, and because Adam and Eve allowed themselves to be persuaded to move away from the truth that God had revealed to them, the enemy was able to defeat them and take everything that was theirs. This story is our example of what happens when the devil is allowed to choose the battlefield and define the terms of the battle.

Fortunately, we also have an example in the Bible of how to keep the enemy fighting in the realm of truth. The story takes place right after Jesus' cousin, John, had baptized Him.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. The tempter came to Him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."

(The devil tried the same line on Jesus that he did on Eve. 'If you are the Son of God, you have to prove it!' From the very start he tried to get Jesus to doubt that He was the Son of God.)

Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'[a]"

(Jesus set the battlefield and the terms right there: Man lives on every word that comes from the mouth of God. He gave the enemy notice that this was where they would fight. He wasn't going to listen to the devil, and He wasn't going to listen to His body. He was going to listen to every word that came from God's mouth.)

Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If You are the Son of God," he said, "throw Yourself down. For it is written:

" 'He will command His angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'[b]"

(Impressive. The devil knows some scripture. He pretended to comply with the terms that Jesus set, but he didn't change his premise. He was still trying to get Jesus to question who He is, and he was still trying to dictate what Jesus would have to do to prove it.)

Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'[c]"

(Jesus wasn't fooled by the devil's use of scripture. He recognized that the enemy's tactic hadn't changed at all; he had just wrapped it in a nice religious package. Jesus' thorough knowledge of the scriptures exposed the sin in the devil's enticement. This attack shows us the importance of studying and understanding the scriptures thoroughly - a job that we will never complete in this lifetime.)

Denying satan by Carl BlochAgain, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give You," he said, "if You will bow down and worship me."

(The enemy is persistent, and in this temptation he finally got around to what he was after all along. Please notice that he never left his premise that Jesus really isn't the Son of God. Inherent in this promise was the denial that everything in all of creation already belonged to Jesus as the Son of God. The audacity is staggering.)

Jesus said to him, "Away from me, satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'[d]"

(End of discussion. This was the final word. Jesus was never moving off of it.)

Then the devil left Him, and angels came and attended Him.

Matthew 4:1-11
That is how you beat the devil. You take your stand upon the truth with the help of the Holy Spirit, and you refuse to be moved. Every time he opens his mouth, every time he brings a temptation, every time he attacks you, you must respond with the truth of the Word of God. To be able to stand you must know the truth and you must believe the truth.

To know the truth you must know the Word of God. The Bible tells us that God's Word is truth. It tells us that we shall know the truth and the truth shall make us free. And we also have the important admonition of Paul to Timothy to, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth."

Be diligent! To be able to accurately handle the word of truth we must be diligent in our study of the scriptures. The children of Israel were encouraged:

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

That is constant marination in the truth! If only we were so diligent to do so! But it is what we must do if we are to know the truth and to believe the truth.

Belief goes far deeper than mere mental assent to the veracity of the Scriptures. Belief begins to kick in when you are willing to stake your life on the truth of the word of God. I know no one who is walking in perfect belief, but this is an area where we must begin to grow!

The trials that we suffer are opportunities to transform our knowledge and our mental assent into true belief; for it is in these trials that we find the enemy's assault on the truth that we claim to believe. How do you respond when sickness comes? Depression? Trouble? Persecution? Poverty? Do you still believe the truth of the scriptures in these situations? Do you still fight against the devil with the Word of God when these situations come against you? How long are you willing to fight? Are you willing to lean on the Word alone instead of running to other supports?

I am not suggesting that you run out and handle poisonous snakes to prove the truth of Mark 16:18, but if you should find yourself bitten one day, will you trust that verse for your life? (You might want to refer to Jesus' response to the devil when he suggested that Jesus jump off of the temple if you are tempted to handle them just to prove it. Don't fall into the devil's trap!)

I am also not suggesting that you must fight alone. God gave us brothers and sisters to stand with us and to multiply our strength when we fight together. I had an experience leading up to my trip to Japan that demonstrates what I am saying very clearly.

All winter I was around many people who were very sick. I was in close contact with people who had sicknesses that lasted for weeks and weeks, yet I stayed healthy. Every time I would begin to feel a twinge of something starting to attack, I would declare that it wouldn't take residence in my body and that I was well. I would stand on Isaiah 53:5, Psalm 103:4 and 1 Peter 2:24, and I was victorious in that fight all winter.

However, three days before I was to leave for my mission trip to Japan, I began to exhibit the symptoms of a cold. I fought them all day with the Word of God and with my declarations. I declared that I did not receive it and that I was well, but as the day wore on it was clear that I was losing the fight. I called two friends who are powerful in faith and asked them to pray for me. They did, but the battle still wasn't won. I had not shaken it yet. So, when I went to church that night for worship practice I asked the band members to lay hands on me and pray. They did, and the sickness broke. I got continually better from that moment, and by the time I landed in Japan there was no more sign of any sickness.

I'll make one comment here regarding battle that I expect I'll come back to before everything is said and done. It is easier to keep the devil out than it is to get him out once he has established a foothold. That is why it is so important to not let him get even one inch of ground upon which he can stand. Call in every resource that is at your disposal to defeat the enemy before he can get established.

I have heard that people trained to spot counterfeit money don't study counterfeit bills - they study real money. They become so familiar with the inscriptions, weight, feel, and smell of real money that when someone tries to hand them something that is fake they know it immediately. Similarly, we have to become so familiar with the truth of the Word of God that we recognize his counterfeits the instant that he tries to pass one.

One of the disciplines that I have developed over the past 10 years or so is the reading of the entire Bible over the course of a year. I use the One Year Bible. I have found that it is a good format for me.

When I first began, my stated goal was not to understand everything that I read, it was merely to make sure that I got the entire Bible entered into my brain. That way, if I were ever without a Bible for some reason, the Holy Spirit would already have the resources stored away in my memory that He could draw back out. I figured anything that God wanted to highlight to me was an added benefit.

As I continued the tradition, I began to read with an eye toward various themes. One year I read, paying special attention to all of the passages that I saw about healing. Another year I read paying special attention to the way that God describes Himself in the Bible. It hasn't been a fast process, but it has been a thorough one.

I would recommend such a discipline to anyone. Over the years I would say that the greatest benefit that I have derived from it is the increased understanding of who God is and what He is like. The better I know who He really is, the better I recognize the lies and counterfeits that the devil tries to float past me.

As we diligently input God's Word into our hearts and minds we will become more and more like Jesus and instantly recognize any attempt of the enemy to take us away from the truth. As we let it begin to change us, we will find that we have greater and greater authority. Then we will find it easier and easier to dictate the battlefield and the terms to the devil. If we stay firmly planted on the battlefield of truth the enemy won't be able to stand before us. Learn this battlefield and refuse to be moved from it.

1I am reasonably sure that I got this concept from Francis Frangipane's book, The Three Battlegrounds. I am not positive because I read the book almost 20 years ago, and I cannot find my copy to confirm it. I remember hearing the phrase "fight from the realm of truth" somewhere, and I think it was from Francis. After 21 years of walking with the Lord it is hard to remember where I picked up my information.

2I was attending the MorningStar Ministries Spiritual Warfare Conference that ran from April 16-18, 2009 and Steve Thompson made this comment on Saturday morning, April 18.

No comments: