Lori’s life was starting over. After growing up in a dysfunctional family with a distant father and an alcoholic mother, God blessed her with a Godly man who sought her hand in marriage. Before the wedding, the pastor spent many hours with the couple to discern if they were ready to be married.
There were many problems presented. She had suffered sexual and physical abuse as a child. She had been to several secular therapists through the years and was diagnosed with PTSD.
The young pastor helped her to see her new identity in Christ. Over the course of the counseling, her heart softened and she learned how to seek refuge in God. Many in the church celebrated their wedding on that beautiful spring afternoon. After the reception, they headed for the airport to start their honeymoon – an Alaskan cruise.
They landed at the Seattle airport in the early hours of the morning. They headed to the hotel excited to start their new life together. Unfortunately, as they were heading to catch a cab, two large men wearing stocking caps leaped out from behind the bushes and robbed them at knife point.
Needless to say, the couple was visibly shaken when they talked to the police. They were thankful God protected them and were hoping to put the incident behind them.
Lori couldn’t stop thinking about the incident. It seemed to reopen old memories from childhood. She spent the honeymoon mainly in bed – alone. Despite encouragement and counsel from her husband, she was too scared to leave the cabin.
The unseen battle
So what was going on with Lori? Why wasn’t Lori able to leave the past behind? Where was the power of Christ? Why couldn’t Lori catch a break?
In order for us to properly view this situation from a biblical standpoint, we need to remember we do not live in just a physical world. There is also an unseen spiritual world.
Lori didn’t realize it but she was in the middle of a spiritual battlefield. The devil was waging war in her mind trying to keep her eyes off Christ. All Lori could see were the physical dangers of living in a fallen world.
The devil has dominion over the earth for a time (Ephesians 2:2). We can obtain an understanding of this power from Jesus’ 40 days in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). The devil promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if He would bow down and worship him.
These were real temptations from the devil who had the power to bring them to pass. Though the devil has great power, he does not have total control. In the first chapter of the book of Job, the devil needed to obtain God’s permission to test Job (Job 1:12).
Satan’s main goal is to destroy us. One of his schemes is to keep our eyes focused on the physical world, while leading us to think the solutions to our problems can only be found in the physical realm. He desires to keep us from seeing the spiritual world. He can do this by blinding the minds of unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:1).
Breaking down Satan’s crafty scheme
When we were created, we were designed to live in constant companionship with God while in a physical world. Our bodies were designed to extract life from the physical world, taking in food, air, and water. We need the physical world to survive.
After the fall, our relationship with God was severed, leaving us spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). We lost our spiritual discernment. Without Christ, we can only live in a physical world with sin-affected and broken bodies. We have hard hearts (Ezekiel 36:26) and have turned away from God (Romans 3:11-12).
Thus, we seek things in the physical world to replace our relationship with God (Romans 1:24-25). When you combine weak flesh, sin, and the physical world, we end up worshiping and being controlled by the things of the world.
Satan entices our flesh with the things of the world, knowing we will become enslaved to them. The angry man is unable to control his tongue, even when he sees the damage it does. The porn user is obsessed with visual images.
He sees how it is isolating him from the world, especially from his female friends, but he can’t help himself. The people-pleaser can never rest–constantly obsessing over every decision and every word spoken and every action taken, hoping he doesn’t upset someone.
How to fight
Fortunately Lori was a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and was blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 1:3). In Christ her spirit became alive. Her relationship with God was restored. She still lived in a weak body in a physical fallen world.
The devil knows he has lost the battle regarding Lori’s soul. Her soul belongs to Christ, but he knows he can still inflict damage to her marriage and her ability to serve God. Like a good war general, he strives to cut off her supply chain to the heavenly realms which comes through the Holy Spirit. He does this by setting up strongholds in our minds.
Lori heard the devil’s whispers – appealing to her flesh, using the things of the world. He reminded her of the beautiful Alaskan cruise line brochure with the happy couple on the cover. He asked,
Where is God? Isn’t he concerned about your welfare? Doesn’t he want you to enjoy your honeymoon? How come He doesn’t protect you? How come your husband didn’t protect you? You must not be good enough for God. Maybe you aren’t one of His children?
As she laid there in the bed, alone in her thoughts, those questions were answered in the negative.
God must not care about me. He must be an uncaring God. I will never be happy. Why do I even try? I must be bad. Maybe I deserve all of this abuse.
Lori is like many Christians. She didn’t recognize the devil’s schemes and how Christian’s are to fight.
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ESV
The transition from foothold to stronghold
The devil was successful in building a stronghold in Lori’s mind. A stronghold is defined as an “arguments and arrogant opinion raised up against the knowledge of God revealed in Christ.” To build a stronghold, the devil first needs a foothold. There are many things which can allow this to occur. In Ephesians, Paul encourages timely reconciliation between believers to prevent the devil from gaining a foothold. Any situation which causes one to question God’s goodness can create a foothold (Ephesians 4:26).
Lori’s past abuse was the foothold the devil used – suffering and pain will do this to anyone. Using the foothold, the devil gets us to question God. If thoughts are not examined and compared to the truths of the Gospel, a stronghold will start to form.
A stronghold is effective since it quenches the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). After we accept Christ we are given the Holy Spirit. The Spirit teaches, convicts, and empowers. As it works in us, it produces the fruit of the Spirit.
When we quench the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives we live in our own strength – we live as an unbelieving believer. We are still in the kingdom, but our ability to glorify God is impacted.
Complicating influence of an condemning conscience
There was another influence in play. Lori had an oversensitive, condemning conscience. She grew up in a dysfunctional home where affection was withheld and shaming was normal.
She received a double dose of shame, from her abuse, as well as her own sin, which was unrelated to the abuse. The shame she felt from the two sources were mixed together and in some ways, she probably felt responsible for all of it.
Her conscience was trained, condemning herself for the sins committed against her. These developed into habitual thought patterns. There would be times when she would put off these thought patterns and remember Gospel truths, but the experience of being robbed triggered past fears and these old thought patterns emerged.
What can be so debilitating about a condemning conscience is how a conscience informs us of how our actions/thoughts align with God’s will. If we sin, our conscience convicts us, letting us know we are in the wrong. We know we are wrong and God knows we are wrong. This is healthy if the conscience is biblically trained.
If your conscience has been trained to an unbiblical standard, it can create havoc. Lori’s conscience was condemning her wrongly. This resulted in an overload of shame and despair and she thought God was in agreement with her conscience. This is why it is critical for those who have suffered past abuse to seek to realign their consciences with the Gospel.
Although she was a victim, she was also an individual who was caught in a sin (Galatians 6:1). She was embracing sinful thought patterns. Hypersensitivity of a conscience is ultimately a form of doubt and unbelief. In a sense, Lori had two battlefronts to fight, the devil’s schemes and her oversensitive conscience.
She was in Christ and had Christ’s power to participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world (2 Peter 1:3-4). The devil had a stronghold in her mind which prevented her from receiving the Holy Spirit’s help.
The only answer is Christ and the application of the Gospel. The events in Lori’s life were a constant temptation for her to take her eyes off Christ and to focus on the desires of the world (1 John 2:15-17).
Life in a fallen world presents many battlefronts. If we take our eyes off Christ, we will be tempted to choose worldly things to fight back. Whenever her focus was on the world, she was kept from seeking her true need – a restored relationship with Christ.
- She needs to be gently cared for the way Christ brings care.
- She needs to experience Christ. Her husband has an opportunity to display the love of Christ in a tangible way.
- She needs to think correctly about herself. She thinks something is wrong with her. She needs to identify lies about herself and replace them with what the Gospel says. I am not talking about the self-esteem philosophy, but recognizing her guilt before God and resting in the work of Christ. Through Christ, she is now a child of God.
- She needs to face her uncertainties about God by learning more about Him. She needs to wrestle with God’s sovereignty, holiness, and righteousness.
- She needs to see how her heart is involved in her fears. Our hearts are always active, interpreting, and judging.
- She needs reminding of the spiritual battle which is taking place. The enemy might win a few battles, but her victory is secure. When in despair, the proper response is to reopen the supply chain to God’s Spirit through confession and trusting in the work of Christ.
- She needs help and encouragement to recalibrate her conscience to a biblical standard.
This will not occur overnight, but because Christ has overcome the world, Lori can find deep and abiding happiness in God. Guilt will turn into appreciation of Christ, shame will be lifted, and fear will be replaced with confidence in God.