Act 2: The Attack. Perhaps not always, but certainly far too often, I think answered prayers, opportunities for ministry and profound breakthroughs are thwarted before they can be fully realized. To put it another way, I seriously question whether anyone can accomplish any real good for the kingdom of God without having to go through a little hell to do it. Imagine this: "Are they servants of Christ?...I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." 2 Cor. 11:23-27.
Why such trouble for the apostle Paul? The same reason the Jews and the nation of Israel have undergone generations of abuse, ridicule, persecution, hatred, and near annihilation: to thwart God's plan. Will you and I face that kind of persecution and hatred? Probably not, but if we carried the gospel with the same vigor that Paul did, we just might.
PLEASE HEAR ME: I am not saying that you should chalk up all of your troubles to the devil trying to stop you on your holy mission from God. I think we can get ourselves into plenty of trouble on our own. But, there are very strategic, well-timed, laser-guided attacks designed to prevent us from realizing answered prayers, being effective ministers of the gospel, or experience profound breakthroughs.
Again, I want to give just a couple of examples from personal experience just to illustrate this point. Not that they were apparent at the time, only that God graciously made me aware of the reality of these experiences in due time.
I do not know anyone who has faced 39 lashes, but something like this may seem a little more familiar:
In March of this year, Lori (my wife, for those of you who do not know us) and I felt particularly led to minister to a family very close to us in tremendous need. If fact, if they read this they would have no idea I was talking about them because we allowed this opportunity for ministry to be thwarted. On a Sunday we committed to contacting this family, inviting them out for dinner and sharing what we felt led to do. On Monday, our dog, Maggie, was hit by a car and died.
This was especially devastating because Maggie was our wedding gift to each other, and she (yes, Maggie) almost singlehandedly held our marriage together early on. The shorthand version is she would not allow us to carry on a fight. If I was in one room upset and Lori was in another, Maggie would go back and forth until we came together. If we happened to be in the car, it was from seat to seat. This unique mediation technique ended more fights than any professional mediator could have, I assure you.
Needless to say, this left us debilitated for several days. A week or two later, the Lord posed a very gentle question, "What were you planning on doing before Maggie died?" It hit me like a ton of bricks. To this day, we have yet to recapture that sense of timing we felt then for this particular situation. I praise God, though, that even in my failures, spiritual training is taking place, and pray that this opportunity opens up again.
Example 2. When I first started this blog at the beginning of November, I simultaneously began researching methods for publicizing it. The surest way, it seemed, to have a successful blog was to publish in a variety of locations and direct traffic back to your blog. Naturally, I began doing this as well.
Surprising though it may sound, it is difficult to promote blog content on all of the social networking sites, social bookmarking sites, stumbleupon, reddit, digg...the list seems endless, without encountering content that is, shall we say, dangerous for a male to encounter. In fact, I became apprehensive enough about this potential problem that I considered shutting this whole operation down early on.
However, I had a vision that I firmly believe was from God. As I was driving, I saw an endless spider web, a very dense but definable spider web. Then, the corners of each obtuse angle (thousands, if not millions) became computer terminals, and God posed this question: "Why do you think there has been such a flood of pornography, and hate, and violence, and evil, and pure distraction on the internet?" The answer was obvious: the church is designed to be that spider web of people, and groups, and organizations, and ministries. The whole interconnectedness thing from Act 1.
Now, over 2K years after Jesus walked the earth, we finally have the ability to be that web (literally the World Wide Web-how cool is that?), but we can't because everyone is scared to death of the internet.
A quick aside, a relevant one, but an aside nonetheless. I was at a funeral recently and I overheard a Pastor and his wife telling a story. The gist of the story was this, "we couldn't find a vacancy sign in 'blank' city except at a hotel next door to a casino. Can you just imagine what everyone would have said if they had seen us, 'Pastor so-and-so and Ms. so-and-so going in to a casino, ha! ha!' So we kept on driving."
What if, and this is just a "'what if?", but what if there were people needing ministry in the hotel bar, or in the lobby, or in the parking lot? It was right next door to a casino, I think it's a safe bet. Did God have a special room reserved for this pastor? But, is this not our view of the internet? There are a lot of people needing ministry on the internet (and not the kind of ministry that preaches how sinful they are, but that delivers the message the apostle Paul endured so much to deliver).
We need to avoid falling into the trap of assuming that an attack of the enemy is God's way of telling us not to do something. It may be just the opposite: The Attack may confirm The Answer.