[This originally appeared in May of 2010. I feel like I am still in the ring fighting this battle, so I thought we would have another look at this topic. JD]
I have been watching a lot of boxing on TV lately. I’ve always liked boxing–”the sweet science”–but had not really watched much in the past few years. Not much has changed though. You still have two men (I have yet to watch two women square off in the ring) who are nearly equal in weight spend three minutes at a time trying their best to hit the other in just the right way to knock him to the ground, hopefully to stay. While it can look brutish and needlessly violent, there really is a lot more science and math involved in boxing than there is raw strength. A skilled fighter can take down a stronger but unskilled fighter every time.
I have been watching a lot of boxing, but I feel like I have been in the ring myself much of this week. The past several weeks, in fact. Maybe the last couple of months. And I feel neither skilled nor strong. I have been battered and beaten, and right now am struggling to make it to my feet before the referee counts to ten. Who knew that when Paul wrote to Timothy about fighting the good fight of faith he meant it would be a real fight?
I am not talking about “spiritual warfare” here, or at least not in the way those words have been misused over the last couple of decades. This is not about hunting demons in your laundry basket or anything like that. As Lewis says, if only it were as simple as that. Smith Wigglesworth supposedly was awakened one night to sense a demon at the foot of his bed. His response? “Oh, it’s just you.” Then he rolled over and went back to sleep.
This is a spiritual battle I am in, no doubt about it. But it affects all areas of the “me” that is, well, me. When I am fighting with my emotions, it affects my body. My back aches so badly I cannot sleep. And without sleep, my emotions are a wreck the next day. And both the physical and emotional pain keeps me from being sensitive of spirit in listening for the still, small voice of the Lord. So this is a “whole man” fight, if you will. I cannot just say it is affecting me mentally or emotionally and the rest of me is fine. No, it is a battle that affects all of me.
I am not going to go into details as to what my battle is about. Does it matter? Not to you, I’m sure. You have your own battles. What I find amazing is the number of Christians who seem to waltz through life always “living in victory,” celebrating the fact they are “overcomers” and never, ever suffering defeat. I see their faces on books telling me that they have the secret for the victorious life, that my miracle is just around the corner, that the breakthrough God wants to give me is just about here. If I watched religious TV–which, other than EWTN, I never do–I would hear them sharing their stories of how they walk in abundance and prosperity 24/7.
It makes me want to take them into the ring for a three-minute dance.
We all face battles. If you are not in a fight for your life right now, you soon will be. Anyone who says differently than that is a liar, a fool, or dead. Biologists will tell you that struggle is the only sign of life in living organisms. And just because one trusts Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and enters into a life of following Jesus as a disciple does not excuse that one from life’s struggles. Life is hell much of the time, for the Christian or the non-Christian. It is an endless boxing match, wearing us down to where we think we cannot go on.
When you said this was a fight You weren’t kidding When you said this was a fight You weren’t kidding, kidding ‘Cuz my ribs are bruised And it’s just round two
Sara Groves wrote these words for her song, The Boxer. It is from the heart of a believer crying out to God. Walking in this life is hard. It feels like I am in an awful fight. Just round two and already I am having trouble breathing from these bruised ribs.
When you said this was a fight You weren’t kidding When you said this was a fight You were not kidding ‘Cuz there’s a cut on my eye And it’s just round five
Now I have a cut over my eye. This is the worst possible place for a boxer to take a cut. The nose, the ear, the cheek–yes, there is a lot of blood, but that is just cosmetic. When there is a cut over the eye, blood streams into the eye so the boxer can’t see. And if he can’t see, how will he defend himself from the next punch about to be thrown?
And I used to be quick I used to see it coming I used to know how to move my feet Now I can’t duck And I can’t land nothin’ And I forgot how to bob and weave, bob and weave
The boxer who lives to fight another day is one who keeps his feet and shoulders and head moving. He ducks punches, he weaves with his feet and bobs with his torso. But when his stamina and strength give out, he stands still like a statue and takes punch after punch. It is brutal to watch. A fight I saw this weekend had a fighter wearing black trunks and a fighter wearing black with a white stripe. They were fairly evenly matched through the first five rounds. In round six, you could see that white stripe was flagging—he was not as fast as he had been, spent more time trying to clinch with black trunks just to keep the round going. Soon black trunks had white stripe against the ropes and landed a left jab to the head. The only thing that kept white stripe from falling over were the ropes. Black trunks reared back and hit him again with another hard left. And again. The fight should have been stopped right there. Three, four, five more punches. Why is the ref not stopping this thing? Six, seven. Even black trunks was wondering why he was still punching. Eight. Where is the ref? Nine. White stripes slipped down the ropes and fell out toward the floor. If the referee had not caught his feet, he would have fallen all the way out of the ring. A brutal beat-down.
I feel like white stripe right about now.
When you said this was a fight You weren’t kidding When you said this was a fight You weren’t kidding, kidding, kidding ‘Cuz this room’s in a spin And it’s just round ten
Just round ten? There are more to go? How much longer, Lord—how much longer?
If you care at all Take that towel from your neck ‘Cuz I’ve reached down deep And there is nothing left I’ve got nothing I’ve got nothing I’ve got nothing
I am ready for God to toss in the towel. I have had about all I can take. Why won’t he throw the towel?
And I was talkin’ big I was talkin’ But now, now what?
Greater is He who is in me Greater is He who is in me Okay, okay, okay Greater is He who is in me Greater is He who is in me Greater, greater, okay
Oh, I can talk the talk all right. I have been around long enough to be able to wear the Christian mask and say all the right things about how God is my victory and all that. And I can make you believe it as I say it. Greater is he, etc. etc. But it ain’t the truth. And if I let you get close enough to me, you would see the bruises and cuts and know I am lying. So I don’t let you get close. I isolate myself and say I am “praying about it.” But I want, long for, something real. Something that will help me to keep my hands up, to get my feet to move again.
And I can’t just know it I’ve got to feel it And I can’t just feel it I’ve got to believe it And I can’t just believe it I’ve got to live it And I can’t just live it (You’ve got, you’ve got to believe it)
Obedience comes easily for me. I can obey God without too much trouble. I obey out of my will. And I can be pretty strong-willed at times. It’s trust that is so much harder for me. Trusting God is a lot more difficult than pleasing God. Trusting means standing on something I can’t see and that I have no control over. It means staggering in the ring with a blindfold on, trusting the Spirit to guide my hands and feet. (Imagine Luke donning the blaster shield helmet while practicing with his light saber. Or don’t, if you don’t like Star Wars illustrations.)
I’m not going to end this on a happy note, I’m sorry to say. I don’t have any nice answers. If I did, I would apply them to myself and get out of the ring. I am tired of being hit, tired of being knocked down and told to get back on my feet, tired of the blood and the cuts. I’m tired. The enemy I am fighting is not so much the enemy of our souls as it is garbage and junk and anger and frustrations I have let build up in my soul over the years. These are principalities and powers just as much as demons are. Or maybe these emotions are demons. I don’t really know, and to tell the truth, I don’t really care. It doesn’t matter to me. A punch thrown is a punch thrown. But to give up now means to climb out of the ring, bloodied and bruised and broken, but with nothing to show for it. So I stay and fight another round.
I don’t have the victory. I don’t really feel much like an overcomer. I have landed a few good jabs, and once a solid uppercut, but my opponent is still standing. I have a great Corner Man–the Holy Spirit–and I have heard encouragement once or twice from the crowd. I have ignored those who are hawking their wares in the isle (Get your red hot Seven Secrets To A Victorious Life book! Get your His Pain, Your Gain t-shirt! Get your I’m Walking In Abundance CD!) and concentrated on standing until the bell sounds. I think I have given up trying to win this fight. Right now, I just want to survive.
Does anyone else ever feel like this?
(The Boxer lyrics used by permission from Sara and Troy Groves. You can hear it on her album The Other Side Of Something. Sara is one of the very few Christian musicians and songwriters I listen to. Why? She is real, that’s why.)