In the article two weeks ago, I mentioned that I struggled quite a bit during my first long-term period of being a missionary.  That was when I was serving with Teen Missions and my summer experience turned out to be 18 months in length as I kept extending my time with the mission group.  There were so many new issues to deal with, both cross-culturally and in the relationships I had with my fellow missionaries.

It is now coming up to 35 years for me of being involved in mission experiences, so I guess you could say that I am a “veteran” missionary.  I think I can say that I have grown quite a bit over the years and am able to handle the hard issues that a missionary faces on a regular basis.  And yet at the same time, there are some things that don’t change.  Life is still challenging on the mission field, the Enemy does not let up on his assault, and people can still be difficult to work with.

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I just recently shared with some of my colleagues that there are times when it is good to have a focused time of prayer and fasting.  This would be true when we seem to be facing difficulties that are physically and emotionally challenging, but also when we sense that there is spiritual opposition and/or oppression that is coming against us.

I reminded the group that fasting was a spiritual discipline that was regularly practiced by God’s people throughout the Old Testament period and has continued up until today.  As you might already know, Jesus Himself did not say, “If you fast…” but rather “When you fast….”  One of my translator resources said that “the three primary expressions of piety [for Jews] were charity, prayer and fasting.” (Translator’s Handbook on Matthew for Mt. 6:16-18)

Fasting is normally considered to be a voluntary abstinence from food for the purpose of dedicating one’s self to a time of prayer and drawing close to God.  I certainly recommend this practice as a way to face the difficulties of life and the attacks of the enemy.  James 4:7-8 aptly ties two important spiritual truths together: when we resist the Devil, he will flee from us, and when we draw close to God, He will draw close to us.

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We are encouraged in Scripture to have faith in God, to worship Him and be a praying people when we face difficult times.  James 5:13-15 mentions all of these things as a means to deal with sicknesses that can hit us and sins that we may have committed.  We are also encouraged in Scripture to do battle with our spiritual enemy, the Devil.  Read Ephesians 6:10-18 to understand that many battles we face in life may be spiritual in nature and must be dealt with spiritually.

There are so many more verses that could be mentioned in this whole topic of learning how to stand strong and do battle against the forces that hit us and wear us down.  We must always be ready in our prayers to fight against sickness that disables us, sin that entangles us, and Satan who want to destroy us and our faith in God.

All of this is true, but we must not keep our attention focused solely on the negative side of this great battle that we are in.  If we were to only think about the challenges and difficulties that we face when sickness, sin or Satan come at us, then we probably would end up feeling spiritually fatigued all the time.  I believe that we must also have our focus centered in on the positive side of the victory that is provided for us in Christ.

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When we face great difficulties (whether physically, spiritually or emotionally), we need to pray like Elisha did for his servant when the vast armies of Aram were totally surrounding the city they were in.  Elisha asked God to open the eyes of his servant to see the “REAL” reality of the battle.  God heard that prayer and suddenly the servant saw the vast army of God’s angels who would win the battle for them.

We also need to have our minds opened and attuned to God’s way of thinking.  Romans 12:2 says that we must no longer be conformed to the pattern of this world.  That means that when it is natural to worry, to be afraid, to seek for power, wealth or fame, we are acting in a worldly way.  Instead, the verse says that we can be transformed people when we have our minds renewed by God, and then we will see and understand how good God’s will and God’s ways are and we will be able to follow in that path.

The third part of our selves that we need to focus in on to have a victorious life is to open up our hearts to the full measure of the love of God.  Read Ephesians 3:16-19.  Paul is praying that we all might come to understand just how broad, deep and wide the love of God is for us.  And when we do immerse ourselves into His love, accepting all that the Father has done for us and will do for us out of that love, then Scripture says that our inner being, our heart and soul, will be strengthen by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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So what am I saying in all of this?  I do understand that all of us will face difficult periods in our lives due to the effects of sickness, sin in the world, and the attacks of Satan against us.  But we must not keep our attention focused in on just these problems.  We need to open up our eyes, our mind and our hearts, not physically, but spiritually, to see the victory that God through Christ has obtained for us.  And then we need to walk in the power of that victory as a transformed person, able to overcome these discouragements by our faith.

Sunset Cross

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