How to Defeat a Stronghold

Do not worry, said Jesus in Matthew 6:25. He wouldn’t have said that if it wasn’t possible to do.

I worry. Like many, I am imaginative enough to be able to envision many fears. I then serve those fears by scrambling to take measures to prevent the fear that I have imagined from coming to pass.

Perfect love casts out fear, says 1 John 4:18. Perfect love comes from God. I could have more of God’s peace if I (somehow) provided more space and more time for surrendering the activities of my soul to him.

Worry is precisely antithetical to this. In worrying, here is the cycle: I spend time on scrambling to head off fears, which leaves less time for pursuing and experiencing peace, which means I am undernourished and therefore more vulnerable to further worry, which sends me off into additional scrambling.

The reason why the enemies within us are able to launch this kind of ongoing, successive attack within our minds is because they occupy bases of operation in our minds. 2 Corinthians 10:4 says the enemies in our minds live in strongholds.

How do you deal with a stronghold?

In biblical times, the military reality was that defensive measures were more powerful than offensive measures. There was no air power to rain down bombs. In biblical times, when faced with a stronghold, the armies often overcame it only with a blockade or a siege.

That is, the armies confronting a stronghold stopped feeding the fortified base. They could not bring it down, so they stopped supplies from getting in.

When I obey worry and try to defeat it on its own terms, I am trying to resist a stronghold by pounding on it. Worse, by taking measures and spending time to head off or guard against some unlikely fear that my imagination has concocted, I am not actually just being prudent, but instead I am directly serving the fear. I am directly serving the dark part of my imagination that keeps on concocting these fears, because I feed that dark part of me by accepting its reality. In yielding to fear in this way, I am like the serf outside the stronghold who perhaps pounds on its walls now and again, but who also keeps growing crops for the stronghold and keeps on giving sustenance to the masters inside of it.

Fear and worry, in this context, are two different things. Fear is the feeling. We can’t help what we feel. But worry is the indulgence—the churning of thoughts or the suffering of wasted energy through unnecessary steps. Jesus’ command, “Do not worry,” specifically addressed the choice, the tangible response.

Here, then, is the way to deal with strongholds: Don’t give them tribute. Worry is the example I have used here, but the principle applies to other tributes to other sorts of strongholds as well. Do not give your energy to refuting the stronghold when the price of this resistance is accepting the stronghold's argument first. Pounding against the stronghold might leave you just as consumed as if the enemy had poured out of it and overtaken you.

Instead, turn away. Give your energy and your time to something better, something fully positive. Indeed, in the context of that previously mentioned verse from 2 Corinthians, we can count on divine weapons able to pull down strongholds—perhaps something like air power after all.

Let the war in your mind therefore be a war of attrition. Your lack of engagement leaves your enemy to gradually wither, and might even clear the field for the arrival of a superior force.

34 Years

One of the top ten greatest books I have read in my life is How to Survive in Your Native Land by James Herndon.

I had never heard of this book until I found a first-edition copy priced for $1 on the clearance rack at Duttenhofer’s used book store in Cincinnati.

Apparently, few people see what I have seen in this book. It is still in print, but not in a mass-market version. That clearance rack at Duttenhofer’s seemed like it might have been the last stop before the recycling bin. As far as I can tell, no one has ever made an e-book version.

But the book touched me. The story of Mr. Herndon’s efforts to liberate and lift up the public school class he taught, and his candid account of what he learned about his failures and success, continues to inspire me with a clear and accessible picture of what real possibility looks like, what real hope looks like, and what freedom looks like—the freedom to create and the freedom to be.

That is success for a book. This book found its target. It found someone (me) whose experience of life and understanding of life were improved by what it has to say. I wish for the books I write to have that kind of success.

And that wish puts a crazy spin on otherwise banal business considerations such as marketing and distribution.

Mr. Herndon’s book came out in 1971. I found my own copy in (I think) 2005. That is a difference of 34 years. To increase the chance for books I write to have something like this kind of success—that is, moving people who will be moved to try to move other people in turn—I will need to keep finding and writing the books that are on my heart to write. More, I will need to keep getting them out there, and not allow my plans to be entirely informed by whatever response I see in the short term.

Some copies of these books will be read and appreciated in the short term (I hope). But other copies are destined to travel a long, slow arc, so that whatever value exists outside of today’s context can be discovered and used. Those copies will wait on this shelf or that shelf, or in this pile or that pile, just as my copy of the Herndon book must have done during those 34 years.

That is, some copies of my books—if those books are any good—are time capsules. They will wait, each copy hopefully to be discovered by the future reader who can be uplifted by it, perhaps when that reader does the equivalent of pulling the book from the clearance rack and taking a small chance by paying a dollar.

[PS. Book lovers should watch the wonderful 5-minute video interview with the owner of Duttenhofer’s. Used book stores are like animal shelters, she says, caring for books and protecting them until they make it to their next home.]

Prayer

I’ve been writing about body, soul, and spirit. Here is another way to think about them:

The body is everything about you that exists in the physical world, and is limited to the physical world. This includes your anatomy, stuff, job, and status.

The spirit is the part of you that has its reality in the realm of the eternal. We tend not to know our spirits all that well. We can even shut off contact with the spirit.

The soul is the part of you that could do this shutting off. The soul is the decision-making part of you, the part that has your opinions and experiences, the part that includes your will, plans, expectations, and feelings. The soul can cling entirely to what’s going on in the outer world, the sphere of the body. Or, the soul can be somewhat broken of this. Through being broken, it can become the opening and the conduit by which the spirit can reach the body, by which the kingdom of God can advance, by which the eternal can flow out into the physical.

Lately, I have been thinking about whether I can give daily care and attention—a workout, if you will—to each of these parts of who I am. A work of the body involves building, lifting, running, repairing. A work of the soul involves studying, choosing, planning, laughing. The spirit is the puzzle here. What is an exercise of the spirit?

It should be something that is not primarily a work of the body. It should be something that is not primarily a work of the soul. The answer that increasingly appeals to me is that a work of the spirit is prayer.

But not prayer the way I have often practiced it. That is, not an experience filled entirely with my own imploring and asking. An odd change I’ve recently made is to set a timer before I settle in to pray, under the premise that God knows what I need to ask, hear, or say better than I do. The timer announces when I am finished with praying, thereby taking this decision away from my soul. Thus, I sometimes find that I outlast my busy thoughts. A renewed hope, a clarity of purpose, or a surprising possibility might come to my mind in the last minute before the timer goes off. Finding a state apart from my ego-bound desires in this way is an exercise some would describe as “meditation,” and I don’t mind that label.

Jesus often went to solitary places to pray, says Mark 1:35. What did he do during these times, and what was this praying like? We do not know, because no one was there to observe. However, because he could pray all through the night, as he did in Luke 6:12, it is hard to imagine that he was appealing, imploring, or calling out in intercession during all of this time.

What is an exercise of the spirit? Perhaps this is the very exertion that it is not for me to choose or make. Perhaps one answer to this question is found in letting the body be still, letting the soul be still, and confessing with my patience that I believe that the Spirit might move.