Part 1 of 7

The Accidental Wipeout

During my Sophomore year of college, my friend Melissa invited me to go with her to Ontario, Canada to visit an old friend over our Spring Break. The trip to Mississauga was uneventful and we spent a number of days enjoying a wonderful visit with her friend, Dave, and his family. However, our sense of enjoyment and safety was compromised on a lonely, dark road one late evening.

We had been to a church gathering, I believe, and were headed back in Dave’s car at about 10:00 in the evening. Melissa and Dave were up front talking loudly about people I knew nothing about and I really didn’t know any of the other riders very well, so I opted to listen with half an ear while resting my head on the back of the seat. But all of that relaxed camaraderie changed in an instant. 

I heard a sudden screech of the car’s brakes attempting to grip the asphalt followed by a piercing scream from Melissa’s throat. After that, everything moved past the car’s windows in slow motion. Wheels became liquid on the road as the car began to spiral down the highway. Nothing Dave attempted at the steering wheel did any good. We continued to spin, circling crazily on the blacktop as we made our lurching way across the highway, down over an embankment, and into a shallow ditch. 

As slow motion launched itself into accelerated reality, we all sat stunned in that still, unbelievably-upright car gasping with the arrested pitter-pat of our heart’s panic. Someone - I can’t remember who - began asking if others were all right. We felt over our bodies checking for broken bones and working parts and though shaken within an inch of our bones, all of us found that we were completely intact. It felt like a miracle. It probably was.

Dave got on his cell phone and called for the Canadian equivalent of Triple A and they promised to be with us as fast as they could. During that interminable wait - it had to be only about twenty minutes or so- we found some blankets in the trunk that we tucked around our bodies. We knew we needed to preserve our body heat during what might have been a long waiting period. Finally the tow truck arrived and we jumped out into the freezing cold as he proceeded to pull the damaged car out of the ditch. 

As we placed our feet back on the firmness of the highway, the question that was uppermost in our minds was, “What on earth happened?”  The tow truck driver said with a chagrined look, “I bet it was black ice. I pick up a lot of wrecked cars from this stretch of road.” Sure enough, some of the guys from our group walked back down the stretch of highway we had skidded across and found the road was covered in a huge patch of black ice.

Black ice. It was transparent so we never saw it coming. It took on the color of the highway so it blended into the surrounding tarmac as successfully as a winter chameleon. It was unexpected and jarring; that’s the nature of accidents. It was slick, working against our tires’ best efforts to grip its surface. And it was treacherous, which is why we went from well-oiled machine to whirling dervish in seconds. 

Spiritual Driving

It occurred to me as I was thinking back on that black-ice incident, that our lives are somewhat similar to the unexpected “skating” journey my Canadian friends and I took on that black Mississauga night. One moment we can be driving along rather confidently on our smooth stretch of spiritual asphalt, talking and laughing with our friends and the very next moment, we find ourselves in a ditch looking up at the sky wondering, What on earth happened

Questions abound... What hit us? What did we do to invite the unexpected wipeout? Why do we crash and sometimes, over and over again? Could we have been better prepared? How do we navigate the black ice of life, the kind of insidious attacks that send us hurtling into a ditch of shame, or an embankment of guilt, a median of grief, or worse yet, an emergency room of despair?

Life happens. There is no doubt about that. But are we at the mercy of fate? Or is something more overarching at play?

It is true that circumstances seem to rise up against us. Our spouse announces out of the blue that he wants a divorce. We go for a routine checkup that ends with a diagnosis of cancer. We head into work only to be told that we need to pack up our office. Houses burn down. Money runs out. Children rebel. Teachers pile on the homework. In essence, our car crashes because of some unexpected black ice.

There will always be struggles - patches of scary, black ice - here on planet Earth because we live in a fallen, broken, sinful world. Jesus told us this truth through a dialogue with His friends, “In this world you will have trouble…” (Jn. 16:33b). Why are we so surprised, then, when circumstances go awry? Shouldn’t we be more surprised when life is good? We have the mentality, as we traverse the spiritual highways of life, that we deserve a good ride because we are God’s chosen children. Somehow, we’ve got the perspective that God owes us an abundant life based on smooth roads, good driving conditions, and uninterrupted journeys that end in the same location we programmed into our GPS.

Might it be that we’ve got it all wrong, that our viewpoints about life are somewhat skewed? Is this spiritual journey we have embraced supposed to be a glorified highway to heaven, complete with full-serve pit stops and witty companions or might it be a bloody battlefield, one in which God tells us to take up armor and stand our ground and engage our nemeses?

I daresay you know the answer.  This world is not our home; we're just passing through. And while we span the terrain of this sometimes-wonderful, sometimes-awful world, we are to be warriors engaged in a spiritual battle. Yes, bad things happen. Circumstances run amuck, far beyond our ability to control them. Black ice appears out of nowhere. It is easy to be afraid or at the least, to be frustrated and discouraged. But we must remember the essence of Jesus’ closing argument while addressing His disciples’ grief, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33cd). 

Overcome. What a wonderful, liberating word! It means to conquer, crush, and overpower. It stands for one who overthrows, vanquishes and gains the victory. In this spiritual journey of life, you need to know that Christ has already overcome this world. That miraculous work completed on the cross prepared the way for you to gain the victory over any nemesis you may face through Christ (1 Cor. 15:57).  Because you are born of God, you, also, can overcome the world through the victory of your faith (1 Jn. 5:4). This good news means that spiritual driving can take on a new dimension for you when you choose to enlist wholeheartedly in the battles God allows for the betterment of your faith and the conformation of your soul.

Black Ice Ops

If you are a driver living in a cold region of the world, you are probably pretty familiar with black ice. You know what it looks like. Driver’s education has prepared you for it. You may have even had the experience of having driven on it. So while this natural winter occurrence can decimate motorists’ peace and upend travel plans, there are known ways to prepare for and overcome its destructive tendencies in something I will call “black ice ops.”

First, you need to know your enemy. Arm yourself with information about this nemesis. As you learn about adverse weather conditions, black ice will come up in conversation. Recognize it. Learn about it. Know its properties, where it is found, and when it usually occurs. Knowing about black ice and how to navigate it will equip you for the possibility of facing it at one time or another. 

After you are armed with knowledge about black ice, you must prepare yourself for its inevitable possibility. Make some changes in the way you typically drive. When you are creeping out into snowy conditions, remember that wintry adversary may be lying in wait for you. Be alert. Drive according to the conditions; in other words, more slowly. Adjust your speed to the knowledge you have gained. Being prepared for its possibility will give you more reaction time to play with should you ever encounter its attack.

After you have learned about black ice and prepared for its possibility while you are driving, there may come a time that your tires give way to its onslaught. At that point, you have a choice. You can panic and allow your nemesis to drive you into destruction or you can drive in a way that reflects your knowledge. Remember what you have learned. Do not hit the brakes. Do not accelerate to get out of the icy patch. Choose instead, to decrease your reactionary movements. Slowly take your foot off the pedal, stay calm, and try to coast through without endangering yourself or others. Once the car slows down a bit, it is likely that the tires will be able to grip the road better.  

Know about black ice. Be constantly on guard as to its whereabouts and make a choice, even in the middle of a slide, to drive according to the knowledge you have gleaned. These forewarned-and forearmed steps in the thick of panic will give you the greatest potential of bringing you more safely through your treacherous and unexpected circumstances.

The Truth About Your Journey

Our faith journeys generally follow the ‘black ice ops’ procedures I have outlined above. Though we are facing different nemeses than black ice in our day-to-day lives, the metaphor certainly crosses over from real asphalt to our spiritual highways. You are going to face adverse circumstances. If you are not coming out of a difficult trial, you are probably barely catching your breath before the next one begins. In this world you will experience much tribulation.

Trials are meant to test your faith. They are supposed to develop perseverance in you so that you become mature and complete in Christ (Jms. 1:2-4). God’s perspective about the black ice coating your present or future pathway is that it is good for your soul. It is to increase your trust, build your faith skills, give you a platform from which to minister, and above all, to bring glory to His name. All of these spiritual benefits are positive; that’s God’s perspective.

However, you, like me, may struggle to embrace God’s perspective. You can always tell whether your speech about God matches your inner belief if you will just listen to what comes out of your mouth when black ice moments surprise you. You might say “God is good all the time” before you begin pirouetting across the ice, but what do you say about this good Father when you land upside down in a ditch? You may find yourself in church praising God for His mercies that are new every morning before the volcano erupts, but what is your inner rhetoric telling you when your house needs to be abandoned to the lava and falling ash?

What is really inside your heart will be shaken out by black ice circumstances. You may be appalled to realize, if you really listen to your after-shock speech, that your heart is encased in anger or bitterness. You may find yourself saying that God does not love you because of what He has allowed in your life. You may even discover, if you are truly honest with yourself, that you secretly believe that the Christian walk is really not worth all the trouble. 

My friend, what comes spewing out of your mouth while you are skating on black ice truly reveals the congruity of your belief system. The first words out of your heart reveal what you truly believe. If your speech matches the inner belief tape that plays underneath your emotions, thoughts, and will, you will know that you are becoming mature and complete, like James teaches us in the opening verses of his letter.

One of the goals of black ice moments is to train you in integrity and authenticity. Speaking out words that are different than what you know to be true in Scripture reveals either a lack of knowledge about God or a dichotomy in your faith.  God allows hardship into your life to expose the flaws in your theology and the inconsistencies of your faith. Black ice experiences unearth the disparity between what you say you believe and what you actually believe. God’s perspective about black ice in your path is that it is an opportunity to train you in merging what you say you believe (the truths of the Word of God) with what you really believe to be true (what comes out of your life under pressure). 

If these last few paragraphs sound stressful, there is a reason. You see, God did not save you so that you would just coast toward heaven. He did not will His Son to die, rescuing you from the kingdom of darkness to bring you into the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13) so that you could just rest on His work. Discipleship is not meant to be a safari ride: observing the world around you; waving at your fellow travelers; sipping your latte while checking out the wildlife and scenery. No, my friend, discipleship is instead, a struggling, wrestling, battling race to the finish line.  

Paul says that only one gets the prize so you are to run in such a way as to win: going into strict training; running purposefully; beating your body; making it your slave so you are not disqualified for the prize (1 Cor. 9:24-27). This hard race of life that you have embarked on is to be a continual process of throwing off everything that hinders you and the sin that so easily entangles you so that you can run with perseverance (Heb. 12:1). The writer of Hebrews also likens your race to a struggle against sin (Heb. 12:4). Note the word ‘struggle.’ My friend, life is going to be a bit of a wrestling match, a tackling, hustling, striving, sweaty endeavor. Paul takes that thought even further on the stress meter in his warning to Timothy, “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship...For I am already being poured out like a drink offering...I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…” (1 Tim. 4:5-7). 

Hardship. Being poured out. Fighting the good fight. These are words of war. It’s true, my friend, you are in a battle. Not just a battle to see if you can make it through the next few hours or days. No, this is a battle for your soul: a fight for intimate communion with your Creator, a skirmish over the indwelling truths of your identity, and a war for integrity within your mind, soul, and emotions. My friend, this is a battle for the kingdom of light. 

In a similar fashion to the ‘black ice ops’ I detailed above, you will need to know about this battle and who you are fighting. You will need to arm yourself with information about your enemy: how to recognize him; where he typically attacks you; and when you are most susceptible to his wiles. Knowledge is power (Sir Francis Bacon - Meditationes Sacrae, 1597), so understanding the one who is a professional in manipulating your black ice moments for evil will equip you for facing him when he attacks. 

In this battle, you must prepare yourself for icy conditions. Make some changes in how you handle your life. Remember that an adversary lies in wait for you. Be alert and step carefully, knowing he is seeking to destroy you (Jn. 10:10). Adjust your life to the knowledge you have gained and be prepared for the inevitable possibility of his black ice schemes.

Trouble will come upon you. The enemy will engage you in a battle. When that engagement comes, you have a choice. You can panic and allow Satan to drive you into destruction or you can engage your battle in a way that reflects your previously-gleaned knowledge. Do not run away. Do not allow your emotions to react to the detriment of your faith. Slowly take your foot off the pedal of your fear, stay calm, and coast through your black ice trial on the power of the Holy Spirit. Your car will slow down eventually and grip the road better, but in the meanwhile, choose to trust the God who has allowed the struggle to engage your soul. It is for your betterment. Believe that truth and choose to engage your black ice with a battle-savvy mindset.

The B.A.T.T.L.E.

I am in the midst of a belief-battle right now. For months, I have struggled and wrestled with God over some very important questions, some prayers that I have prayed fervently, but about which I have received no affirmative answers. This dichotomy between what I know of God and His seeming lack of response to my pain has led to insidious doubts. On the one hand, I have engaged this faith-struggle correctly because I have taken all of my concerns to the only true Source of wisdom. I have spent hours in God’s Word, seeking to know His heart and plans for me. All of this has been healthy and I have been comforted, in small measure, by the God of all comfort 2 Cor. 1:3). 

But while I am convinced of the importance of wrestling my doubts through with God, I have made one grievous error: I struggled with God face-to-face, but I unknowingly opened up my flank to the enemy. I forgot I was in the midst of a skirmish for my soul. I focused on intimacy and identity in my relationship with God while ignoring the battle of integrity, which includes a very real enemy. Satan has shot so many flaming arrows at my back over these past months that I have neglected to deflect with my shield of faith (Eph. 6:16), for it was down on the ground while I engaged the pain of my heart. 

I have not had a warrior mindset; only a childish victim mentality: Why, Daddy? Why have you allowed this in my life? Don’t you love me? Honestly, I already know why God has allowed this suffering in my life; the Bible is replete with the reasons behind trials. I know He loves me - this is one of the most basic truths of the Bible - but I have focused on my pain to the detriment of bedrock belief and it has undercut my sense of safety. This error has cost me my peace, my rest, and my sense of confident trust in God. In short, I have neglected the bigger battle due to a distracted engagement with my nemesis of unbelief.

Last week, the Lord was very clear with me, “Heather, you have got to make a change. This choice to continually dwell on the negative aspects of your situation is killing your faith.” His word to me, and a few other confirming Scriptures, arrested my down-into-despair motion. I spent a long time with God asking for His forgiveness for my rebellious choice to elevate my pain over His truth and I received the Lord’s merciful forgiveness. My question to God then was, “How do I turn this around? I think I am in a stronghold of unbelief. What do I need to do to move from despair to hope?”

God’s answer came to me in a very familiar way: verses began to flood my mind. There was nothing earth-shaking about His answer except that those verses were personalized to me and my situation. I sat in those truths, soaking up their power for me, and decided to get back into the fight. What came from that revolutionary time with God was a “spiritual ops” procedure for my black ice situation. 

If you are skittering on the edges of an icy situation or just desire to know how to engage the skirmishes that litter your pathway, these devotional thoughts might be just what you need. We will flesh out the six strategies I am personally implementing throughout this devotional, but for now, let me give you a brief introduction:

  • B - Begin with the right choice. As someone close to me keeps suggesting, “Remember, you have a choice.” Yes, you can run and you can try to hide, but if you are a believer, the fight has already come to you. You must make a choice to engage this battle with your eyes wide open.
  • A - Acknowledge the reality of your battle. You can’t see him, but you have an enemy. You must train yourself to recognize the spiritual battle swirling around you. Learn your adversary’s schemes and how he uses your black ice circumstances against you.
  • T - Throw off the entanglements. In your flesh, you respond to black ice situations in ungodly ways. You must learn to recognize those proclivities and know how to remove them. Those ways of reacting will only slow you down on your race to God.
  • T - Transform your mind. The only way to combat a spiritual enemy in a spiritual battle is to renew your mind with spiritual truths. Train yourself to be in God’s word until you cannot live without it. Allow God’s truths to wash away the fog of Satan’s lies. Transforming your mind will transform your faith.
  • L - Live in the truth of who you are. You must reform the way you do life. You cannot live in truth if you do not believe it. Authenticity takes place when you daily walk out the truths of God’s word on the pavement of your life, black ice or not. Your heart and head must align and when that happens, you will find abundant joy in God’s presence (Ps. 16:11).
  • E - Energize your faith-walk. In this fight, you must become proactive about rallying your resources. God has given us so many ways to be victorious. Do you know them? More importantly, are you daily using them to ensure victory? 

Nothing in this battle plan is profound or new. I have taught and lived these truths for years and if you have walked with God at all, so have you. What is new is my choice to engage them daily in this battle for my faith. Knowing the truths does not give you the victory. Only speaking them out in the heavenly places, praying them out over your black-ice situation, and living them out in front of a crouching enemy, will ransom you from the battle unharmed (Ps. 55:18). 

This battle plan will effectively help you to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power (Eph. 6:10). It will enable you to put on the full armor God has given you so that you can stand firm against the devil’s black ice schemes (6:11). Altogether, this battle plan, if prayed into your life, will be powerful and effective (Jms. 5:16) for the breaking down of strongholds.

Naming Your Nemesis

I mentioned that I am currently skidding on the black ice of unbelief. That is my personal battleground at this time, the nemesis that I can see and name. Of course, the enemy stands behind this: obscuring God’s face and favor; stirring up the fog of doubt; throwing more water on these icy conditions; and prodding me to react out of what I can see instead of what my faith knows. 

What about you? What black-ice situations set you off? How do you typically respond to that bewildering circumstance?

I recently saw an article by Todd Hunter that interacted with a Barna survey outlining the top five temptations American Christians face (https://www.faithgateway.com/). I was surprised by a couple of temptations on that list and totally in agreement with a couple of others. Let me list these for you, keeping in mind that this survey was taken in 2014. I daresay that some of these percentages have risen since then:

  1. Anxiety or worry (60% of Americans)
  2. Procrastination (60%)
  3. Overeating (55%)
  4. Overuse of electronics and social media (44%)
  5. Laziness (41%).

Your nemesis may be one of these temptations that are shared by thousands of others or it may be something altogether different. Maybe you are under a cloud of discouragement. Satan has thrown before you a set of circumstances that has worn you down. You do not know how to manage all that has been given to you and you are descending into a slough of despair. What will you do?

Possibly you are battling fear. You know the truths of God’s word but knowing them is not changing how you feel. Lethargy dogs your path and you have become frozen and indecisive. You are too scared to move forward in confidence and too scared to do nothing at all. What will you do?

Discouragement and fear may be easy reactions for you to handle. Your nemesis, on the other hand, may be anger, resentment or bitterness leading to a tendency to harbor unforgiveness. Perhaps you long for shortcuts to success or you wrestle with a sense of entitlement. Maybe money is a huge nemesis; namely, how you are able to handle and manage it, or does it manage you? What about lust or idolatry or significance? Do you wrestle with power, prestige, accomplishments or notoriety? Do you have a sharp tongue, one that criticizes or gossips? What will you do with these nemeses?

I could go on and on describing the types of battles you may face; fleshly reactions that are brought up out of your life by the black ice of this life. You know your flesh. You know your proclivities and you know your weaknesses. Take some time to think about the areas where you typically fall short. Where does Satan get you to fall most every time? In other words, what is your nemesis? What I  want you to do today is name your struggle so you can face it in battle and start winning some victories. Pick your greatest area of struggle and write it here in this blank: __________________. Throughout the rest of this devotional, I want you to work through this battle plan with your top nemesis in mind.