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How do we prepare to exercise faith during trials and spiritual battles? 

I once attended a men’s ministry weekend with the Church of God in South Carolina.  A seasoned minister who had pastored for a few dozen years gave a rousing teaching—as only an old-school Pentecostal preacher can.  His mantra throughout the teaching to men was, “In the time of peace prepare for war.”

His Scripture text was the Biblical witness of King Asa.  The account of King Asa’s reign over the nation of Judah is summarized in 1 Kings 15, “And Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as David his father had done…the heart of Asa was wholly true to the Lord all his days.” (1 Kings 15.11,14)  Of his reign, the author writes, “And there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days.”  1 Kings offers a few more details about his reign and actions, but if we look to 2 Chronicles we learn even more about the king.

We can learn at least two essential elements of the Christian faith from the chronicler.  We learn, as the preacher said, to take advantage of times of peace to prepare for war.  We can also learn that we must always seek the Lord first and develop our devotion and dependence on him.

When Asa became king, he had peace and the land had rest for ten years.  During these ten years of no war, King Asa was active on two fronts.  Firstly, he cleansed the land of idols and inspired a revival to the Lord.  As an example of his spiritual fervor, “He took away the foreign altars and high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment.” (1 Kings 14.3-4)

King Asa’s second project was to fortify the nation of Judah—during a decade of peace and rest.  The chronicler emphasizes this point in the following verses,

“He built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest. He had no war in those years, for the LORD gave him peace.  And he said to Judah, “Let us build these cities and surround them with walls and towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the LORD our God. We have sought him, and he has given us peace on every side.” So they built and prospered.  And Asa had an army of 300,000 from Judah, armed with large shields and spears, and 280,000 men from Benjamin that carried shields and drew bows. All these were mighty men of valor.”  (2 Chronicles 14:6-8)

During the decade of peace, Asa was preparing for wars.  Wars came for King Asa and Judah.  We read that a million-man Ethiopian army comes out against Judah.  King Asa, even with his robust army, called upon the Lord for victory.  The Ethiopian army was “broken before the Lord and his army.” (1 Chron 14.13)  The king had prepared for battle by building up his military and his devotion to the Lord.  Both were essential and led to victory for Judah.

This Biblical witness instructs Christians today; it emphasizes an ongoing, mature obedience to James’ command and encouragement,

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”  (James 4:7-10)

King Asa submitted himself and his nation to God, and they prepared for resistance against their enemies.  Asa demonstrated a prescience that an enemy existed and would come against them from one place or another.  He knew they had to be humble, holy and fortified.  The same is true for us.  We will face a trial from some place or something.  Within our trials, the enemy, the devil and his demons, always come to tempt, deceive, accuse and oppress.  We must know how to submit to God and resist the enemy.  This includes holiness and godliness lived out individually and corporately.

Sometimes we will be alone—just us in the silence facing our trials and enemies.  At that time, we have to be able to endure and overcome.  Other times, we need to call on praying brothers and sisters with whom we have developed interdependent ministry relationship—this is why we need to go to prayer meetings even when we don’t think we need prayer or simply don’t want to go.  As King Asa developed a standing army of armed warriors, our churches need a standing army of prayer warriors who know how to engage the spiritual forces of evil and to intercede for others.

If we have not developed the skills and disciplines during peaceful times, we may not be able to stand during trials.  I recently watched an episode on the Military Channel that documented a hostage rescue performed by a British SAS unit.  Before going into the enemy camp and rescuing their mates from a hostile force, they practiced every maneuver and step they would make in the battle.  That precise training came on top of years of grueling discipline and training in preparation for a real conflict.  These soldiers knew what to do.  Christians need to take note and similarly train for spiritual battles.

Following King Asa’s and his army’s victory over the Ethiopians, they gathered the bounty of victory and then “they returned to Jerusalem.” (2 Chron 14.15)  This significant verse illustrates that for God’s people victory comes from the Lord, and he gives us blessings that are merited on his work.  He is gracious, kind and generous to his followers.  His generosity and goodness is based on the righteous sacrifice of Jesus and not our own merits, even if we have been obedient and have done good works.  The reward belongs to the Lord who blesses his followers graciously.

So after we have been blessed victoriously through a trial, we must not boast in or applaud ourselves or our churches.  It is so easy for Christians and churches to look at visible blessings and accomplishments and applaud themselves.  Even when we are faithful and obedient and receive God’s abundant blessings, Jesus shows us that our proper posture ought to be like the obedient servant, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'” (Luke 17.10)

The Lord puts it another way through his word to Isaiah, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66.2)  Now I am aware of and firmly embrace the many Scriptures that confirm our sonship (or daughters who have the same status as firstborn sons), our belovedness, our exalted position in Christ, our righteousness in Christ, etc. The key here is that our good positions are “in Christ” rather than in ourselves.  We cannot boast of anything but Christ.

When we experience a victory from the Lord, especially some blessing in the world or glorious ministry, may we urgently resolve to know nothing except “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2.2) Paul writes, “I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Corinthians 11:30) Humility and wisdom teach us to boast of Christ and our dependence on him who works through and for us.

After his battle, King Asa returned to Jerusalem, the seat of the Lord and his king.   We, too, must return to the Lord and to the “place” where God speaks to us and reveals himself to us.  As King Asa approached Jerusalem, the Bible tells us that a prophet of the Lord, Azariah, received a word from the Spirit of the Lord for the king and the nation of God’s people.

“Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The LORD is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.  For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest and without law, but when in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them.   In those times there was no peace to him who went out or to him who came in, for great disturbances afflicted all the inhabitants of the lands. They were broken in pieces. Nation was crushed by nation and city by city, for God troubled them with every sort of distress. But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.” (2 Chronicles 15:2-7)

To me, this word from the Lord is remarkable for a few reasons.  First, it demonstrates the Lord’s posture to people.  He stands toward us with arms opened wide to embrace; yet, people turn from him, and he will not gather us to himself against our will. It is always his prerogative to chase us down and confront us with his glory, as he did to Saul of Tarsus.  We can be sure that he is present to us and longs to be found by us and desired by us.

Secondly, without a commitment to the Lord and his presence in our lives—as Lord, we have no peace; in fact, without his centering hold on us, we are broken in pieces by the pressures of the world.  Distress, disturbance, dissipation and despair are the lot for those not devotionally committed to the Lord. When we recognize such distress and turn to the Lord, he will come to us and help us.  We cannot let this truth allow us to slip into complacency, though.  I don’t subscribe to the axiom that it is never too late to turn to the Lord.  I believe that the Scriptures indicate clearly that at some point it will be too late!

Thirdly, King Asa and his army have returned from a bold victory against their enemy, and God tells them now to “take courage” and not to “let your hands be weak.”  Courage now? They just conquered and showed their strength.  In the lives of Christians, the Lord never shrinks back from going forward and conquering more evil in and through them.  The Lord will not become complacent with the state of our lives or the world.  Therefore, he “does not faint or grow weary.” (Isaiah 40.28) We must continually take courage and not become lazy, slack or complacent which is what letting “your hands be weak” indicates.  I believe Emerson was correct when he wrote, “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”

Finally, our work will be rewarded.  On one hand, we cannot boast in our works, and on the other hand, our work will be rewarded.  It is not our passiveness, our leisure, our niceness, our success, our personality, etc.; it is our obedient, faithful work in and through the Lord that will be rewarded by him.

King Asa and the people respond obediently to the Lord.  The Scripture says, “They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul.” (2 Chron 15:12) The Lord rewarded their obedience to him with rest from their enemies all around them until the thirty-fifth year of King Asa’s reign.

The Self-Destruction of Self-Dependence

Sadly, in addition to the above, King Asa’s life holds another lesson equally important.  In the thirty-sixth year of King Asa’s reign, King Baasha of the northern nation of Israel led his army against the nation of Judah.  Rather than turn to the Lord for help, as he had done in previous battles, King Asa turned to another king.  Listen to what the godly King Asa does,

“Then Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the LORD and the king’s house and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria, who lived in Damascus, saying,  ‘There is a covenant between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.’” (2 Chronicles 16:2-3)

King Asa’s strategy works.  King Baasha withdraws to defend himself against the betraying, bribe-induced King Ben-hadad.  King Asa and his army are able to go out and pillage the supplies of Israel’s army that have been left behind.  Seems like a win-win for King Asa.  Students of Scripture know otherwise and mourn at King Asa’s failure to turn to the Lord.  King Asa has followed the way of the world and trusted in bribes, horses and chariots rather than in the Name of the Lord.

The Lord rebukes King Asa through a word that comes from a prophet named Hanani,

“”Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you.  Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand.  For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”” (2 Chronicles 16:7-9)

What a turn of events.  It gets worse.  Upon hearing this rebuke, King Asa hardens his heart against the Lord.  Instead of repenting and humbling himself, he cruelly attacked the prophet and others with him.

The blessings we receive from the Lord can propel us to a new level of stability in life.  In that stability, peace and rest, we will be tempted to relax and become complacent and secure.  We need to often take the warning of the prophet Amos to heart, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria.” (Amos 6.1)  Whether you are at ease among God’s people or feeling safe in the world, you are in danger of falling.  The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)

In the silence of God’s presence, he reminds us to maintain spiritual fervor and courage.  King Asa lost his nerve and his verve.  In his “competency” as king, he literally stole from the Lord and relied on an alliance with a peer.  The treasures of the Lord he gave to the King of Syria are also figurative for the faith and trust he took from the Lord and gave to a man and worldly power.  The Lord called him on it.  Jesus called his followers on it, too, when he said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)  Jesus’ statement caused his listeners to marvel.  God will speak to us in the silence and through Scripture and cause us to marvel at his presence and revelation.

Three years after his rebuke from God, King Asa developed a disease that became severe.  He looked for help from everyone but God and died a few years later apparently still bitter against the Lord.

In the time of peace, we must prepare for the next worldly trial and spiritual battle.  We must continually submit to the Lord and resist the devil.  I take a lesson from a movie quote that seemed to scream at me at the close of the movie To End All Wars.  The movie follows Allied prisoners of war in a Japanese prison camp during WWII.  When they are liberated, one of the freed prisoners asks a seasoned colonel, “What are you going to do after the war?”  The colonel responds gruffly, “Start preparing for the next war.”

This may seem pessimistic.  It may seem despairing.  Does it lack faith or hope in Jesus’ blessings to us? Does it conform to the Biblical witness? In light of the book of Revelation, is this a good spiritual discipline? We face wars and rumors of war, as the spiritual battles rage, until Jesus returns.

This is reality in this world for Christians.  We are not at home; we are at war.  If we are feeling comfortable, content and complacent, it might be time for us to go on the attack and win a victory of the Lord.  I appreciate the initiative and faith of Jonathan, son of Saul.  While his father and other Israelites were hiding in caves from the Philistines, Jonathan snuck off with his armor bearer to attack the enemy, as the Lord would lead him.  He said to his armor bearer, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.”  And again, as they approached the enemy, he said, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised.  It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:1, 6)

The Philistines mocked Jonathan and cajoled him to come and learn his lesson, but when Jonathan and his armor bearer began to fight they struck down dozens of the enemy warriors: “And there was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people.  The garrison and even the raiders trembled, the earth quaked, and it became a very great panic.”  (1 Samuel 14:14-15)  This initiative led to a rout of the Philistines by Israel’s army.

We have the power to overcome the spiritual enemies of God’s kingdom and people.  We may need to take initiative to take the fight to the enemy.  What camp of the enemy is God leading you to attack in prayer?