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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Labor pains: Birthing into Something New


“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you,
as though something strange were happening to you. 
But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ,
so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed”
(1 Peter 4: 12-13)

Every Christian circle has a few taboo topics.  Here we are on the first day of a new year, and I’ve decided to take one of them on.  Hmmm, I may be asking for a dangerous year.  But it’s time to live bold.  This topic is critical, and when Christians ignore it, they lose what could be one of the most significant opportunities of their lives – because they don’t know how address it.  It’s a pattern that comes forth when spiritual development is on the brink: obstacle, prayer, victory.  If we don’t know the pattern, we may miss the victory.  What do some call this pattern?  “Spiritual warfare.”

If I am to address such a topic, why would I choose to do so, of all days, on New Year’s Day?  Shouldn’t this be a day of celebrating what is new?  Why talk about something that sounds so evil?  Even demonic?  First, it will become clear that I see this pattern as neither evil nor demonic, but purely natural, as natural as labor pains, and, like labor pains to new birth, surprisingly appropriate for discussion as we begin a new year.

I came into the Christian Family at the age of 15, through a church that loved me into the healing I needed.  A year later, I joined my first mission trip to build houses for the poor in Mexico, which touched a passion in me and began a decade of many more such mission trips.  There was an understanding at this church that “spiritual warfare” often accompanies mission trips.  Invariably, they’d warn us, the van may break down on the way (and do just fine on the way back, by the way), or the luggage won’t make it, or team members will get sick, or some other unexpected and obscure hitch will present itself that delays the mission or threatens it altogether.
                 
My church group never expressed that such obstacles derived from some sinister entity, but explained the pattern as one permitted by God to strengthen our faith.  Sure enough, the obstacles came.  Thankfully, because our group was prepared, we knew what to do: circle up and pray.  We didn’t let the obstacles discourage us, defeat us, or hold us back.  Instead, they emboldened us and brought us to prayer, bold prayer.  Then we watched the Spirit move in remarkable ways.  I learned the pattern: obstacle, prayer, victory.

Meanwhile, I and my biological family traveled extensively for study and pleasure, I also noticed that such obstacles were less frequent and less intense on travels for other purposes.  Such hitches did come for those too, but less often and less intense.  And, please, before casting off these observations as unique to my experience, ask a handful of seasoned missionaries if obstacles are more likely on travels for missions than they are for other purposes, and the knowing ones will smile, nod, and say that obstacles, especially on the way, to mission trips defy the statistics.  Seasoned missionaries know the pattern: obstacle, prayer, victory.

The pattern taught me that it held for moments beyond mission trips.  When a spiritual development was on its way, so were the obstacles.  And I understood the proper response: prayer.  Bold prayer.  To meet with triumph, I learned from this church that it takes bold prayer that calls upon a Great God to do Mighty works against any obstacle in the way of what the Holy Spirit is doing.

Thank goodness it was this church that led me into Christ.  Thank goodness this church had prepared me for a spiritual battle many years later that was misunderstood by everyone around me and that otherwise could have led to the very breakdown of my marriage.  Thank goodness this church had taught me about spiritual warfare and about bold prayer.  My gratitude can no longer remain silent.  Let me share my own battle.

During a 3 ½ month period of time, occasionally hinted at on this site, I lived through what I now affectionately call my “summer in the twilight zone.”  I wasn’t calling it that then.  The nightmares were terrifying, and my toddler was waking with them at the same time as I was.  I’d wake in horror, sweating, heavy breathing, wide eyed and shaken, and seconds later, my toddler in the next room over would let out a blood-curdling scream, waking from her own nightmare.  The sicknesses, the lost passports the day before they were needed, the for-a-separate-post trials facing our marriage, the subsequent wedding rings both my husband and I lost, the story I (Karina) shared here, the car accident, which was separate from but later in the week as the story just linked, and other bizarre trials hit heavy over a matter of six weeks, during which I was also awed by extraordinary spiritual glory.  (See again the link just noted.)  As I’ve expressed before, my “summer in the twilight zone” carried a remarkable mix of glory and terror, and it truly was the time of my own Awakening.

It wasn’t until I faced these battles that I discovered how ignorant most Christians are of these forces that come at peak spiritual moments in our lives.  To everyone around me, all of the bizarre circumstances were chalked up to an odd mix of coincidence.  Be they my Christian friends or my spiritual leaders, were the available during this time, they all found me to need psychological help and gave no credence to my cries for bold prayer against the forces terrorizing me.

I say “were they available during this time” because some friends and leaders were out of the country or otherwise inaccessible during this time, but once my twilight zone had passed, the Spirit blessed me with quite a few who understood.  One, after hearing a litany of craziness, stopped me at “car accident,” cast her index finger out, and exclaimed, “That’s spiritual warfare!”  I breathed a sigh of relief.  Thank you.  Finally, someone understood and gave it a label it deserved. 

I had been so exhausted trying to find anybody who could understand, both for the emotional support I longed for and for the prayer team I desperately needed.  My friends could see that my marriage was in danger, so on their own, they prayed for that and probably for my psychological health, but they weren’t willing to pray with me.  They wanted me to stay put at home at a safe distance from them, while they reported they were praying for me on their own.

So I truly had to learn what I heard Christ whisper and often repeat, “I am with you, My daughter.  Come to Me.  I am with you.”  So I came to Him and I prayed, and I prayed boldly.  I saw the pattern: obstacle, prayer, victory.  I met the obstacles, I prayed, I kept meeting obstacles, I prayed more boldly, I still kept meeting obstacles, I prayed even more boldly, and I found victory.  I still kept meeting obstacles.  This is an important point.  The obstacles persist even when prayers are uplifted, and even if we consider them bold, but victory sometimes comes only after we send up more prayers that are more bold than we could ever imagine to be necessary.

Obstacle, prayer, victory.  I had learned the pattern, and I implemented it when it became necessary.  Tragically, not all Christians understand this pattern.  They see these obstacles at very pivotal moments in their lives, at moments when they see all the signs that the Spirit is about to do a great work in them and through them, and they think the obstacles are a cruel coincidence.  And they moan, groan, and whine over the obstacles.  And then the obstacles defeat them, and they cry, and they cry hard because they had “thought” they were on the brink of something great, but the obstacle held them back.

I have sat and listened in grief to such tragic stories of other Christians.  To me, all the signs were clear: the Lord was about to do something great in them and through them.  “So did you pray?” I’d ask.  “Of course,” they’d reply, insulted.  “No,” I’d say again, “Did you PRAY?”  Then they’d look at me more insulted and shake their head, not at my question, but at me.  I got my answer.  They hadn’t prayed.

Obstacle, prayer, victory.  It’s a pattern noted often throughout the gospels and epistles and in a few Christian circles.  In these circles, it is a pattern that often comes under a label that seems to repel other Christian circles, “spiritual warfare.”  I can see why the label doesn’t work for many.  It conjures up images of angels and demons sword-fighting in Christian sci-fi novels.  I get it. 

Further, in some circles, the concept of “demons” is associated with the pattern, and I’d like to acknowledge here that this concept of “demons” can be a helpful way of perceiving it, as imagining “demons” can embolden people to become the very prayer warriors they need to be in order to have victory.  The way I see the pattern, however, is neither sinister nor demonic, but natural.  Perhaps we need a term that is less off-putting and more precise.

Labor pains.  Isn’t that what is happening?  We are on a path of birthing something new and, just when we’re on the brink of birthing it, obstacles and suffering come forth.  We are laboring to birthing something new.  Very little that is truly meaningful comes without labor and without hardship.  So when we see the obstacles, may we not be defeated.  May we not groan at what we’re told to call “coincidences” and, therefore, lack the boldness to fight.  May we name the moment, perhaps as “labor pains” or the simple pattern of “obstacle, prayer, victory.”  By acknowledging the moment for the pattern it carries, we prepare ourselves to pray with boldness and declare victory.


May any labor pains in our New Year usher in New Birth.  May 2014 be a year of bold prayer and great victory.  Amen.

10 comments:

  1. "Labor pains" was also posted at ChristianMystics.com with additional, more personal comments for the community itself. I am now archiving the comments here, one by one.

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  2. Fred says:
    January 3, 2014 at 12:42 am

    Karina, you have touched upon the topic of spiritual warfare so magnificently. Growing pains as well as labor pains I think can be added to your insight. How is it we who are so timid can be called upon to “boldly” pray? Do we who have so much timidity in the searching for just the right words or expressing our most heartfelt pleas have any assurance of being heard? What is this thing called prayer? These words we speak whether silently or out loud, do they have any recourse or are they just some sort of panacea in soothing our minds? Do they ascend past the ceiling? To see what it means to “boldly” pray let’s try an experiment. Using the Amplified Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a High Priest Who is unable to understand and sympathize and have a shared feeling with our weaknesses and infirmities and liability to the assaults of temptation, but One Who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace (the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners), that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find grace to help in good time for every need [appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it].

    Now, let’s cover those two verses up, hide them away. Now, let’s go back to them and read them again. Hmm, no change. The words remain the same with the same meaning. Let’s try it again. Put your hand over the words, don’t even think of them. Now, remove your hand and read them again. Ah ha! They are still the same. In this regard, God is constant, unchanging. In this same manner, we can “boldly” draw near and pray without reservation of what is on our hearts. And in this way, God invites us.

    Does this mean every prayer must be “bold” in order for an answer to be ushered forth? No, that’s not the case.
    The point of the meaning in Hebrews 4:15-16 is to allow us to see we have an advocate who knows and understands our meager efforts and yet never dismisses us but rather encourages us to not be afraid in approaching God with any utterance no matter how feeble whether whispered, silently thought, or shouted.

    He understands and knows before we make any utterance. The mystery is why does He tell us to ask, seek, and knock if He already knows what we have need of before we even ask? Well, for Him not to know would pretty much put the kibosh on His omniscience and all-knowing ability. And, since He already knows then we can approach Him with a certainty as a child – we can always run “toward” rather than “away” from our Heavenly Father since He loves us and accepts us unconditionally knowing full well, God as our Father has an answer for whatever question or need we might bring up.

    In addition, the Holy Spirit takes our prayers and molds them into utterances we are unable to do. He understands our baby-talk and can translate it into something we can’t quite get across even though the meaning is there. . . .

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  3. . . . (continuing Fred's comment) The intent of the heart is what God looks at. The essence of “boldly” praying is the conveyance of seeking help, the realization of faith actuated in the invisible with expectation of an answer which we may never see or recognize but yet stand firm God is listening and doing something.

    Tapping into God’s power through faith simply by uttering some sounds which to us have meaning sounds rather childish, wouldn’t you say?

    But, that’s the most profound part and how God wants us to come to Him, as a child without fear. A bold prayer can be a simple request: “God, please help me.” It doesn’t have to be shouted loudly, it doesn’t have to be spoken a trillion times, it doesn’t have to be in the presence of others to work. It simply has to be between a loving Heavenly Father and His child, that’s it. And, truly, isn’t that all we can do when the intent of the heart is heartfelt and clearly seeking aid?

    Granted, some of us run to God immediately; but sometimes, the obstacles and the spiritual warfare can in the way and hinder us from praying for any number of reasons. We “feel” defeated or inadequate. The enemy pounds into us condemnation and guilt for failure after failure. Or we add to it, by condemning ourselves.

    In all of this, God still encourages us to “boldly” (without ANY fear) come to Him. In this, there is growth in faith and the labor pains produce what? Love and acceptance.

    Thank you, Karina for your blog.
    Peace
    Fred

    Fred says:
    January 3, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Sorry, missed the word “get” in one sentence:

    Granted, some of us run to God immediately; but sometimes, the obstacles and the spiritual warfare can get in the way and hinder us from praying for any number of reasons.

    Peace
    Fred

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  4. Karina says:
    January 3, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Beautiful additions, Fred.

    I appreciate your clarification that “bold” prayer is about being neither loud, nor endlessly repeated, but instead a genuine communication of the heart in faith between the child and the Father. You stated this so well here: “The intent of the heart is what God looks at. The essence of ‘boldly’ praying is the conveyance of seeking help, the realization of faith actuated in the invisible with expectation of an answer which we may never see or recognize but yet stand firm God is listening and doing something.”

    I like the spirit of Romans 8:26 in this thoughtful comment of yours: “In addition, the Holy Spirit takes our prayers and molds them into utterances we are unable to do. He understands our baby-talk and can translate it into something we can’t quite get across even though the meaning is there.”

    Finally, very good point that the challenge of the obstacles is often that they distract us away from the very thing we need to be doing: praying. At those moments when the Father is calling us to draw especially near to Him in prayer, perhaps at the brink of a heavenly move, we may find obstacles that distract us from prayer. If we can see this, then we’ll remember to pray our way through them. Further, instead of simply praying that the obstacles go away, this understanding will encourage us to pray through them with their eternal perspective in mind.

    Thank you again and shalom,
    Karina

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  5. Dave M says:
    January 7, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    Hi Karina,
    I think you are bold in bringing up this subject, like you said it is touchy, mostly because people perceive spiritual warfare from so many different viewpoints. I come from the assumption that there is a little truth in all of them, but who can really know the grand design of the Creator.
    I suppose there are some who perceive a realm of demons and angels as winged creatures fighting for the fate of the human race with flaming swords and there are others who perceive these as abstract forces, battling out the duality of a universe based on positive and negative polarities.

    One thing I am convinced of is that God is in ultimate control of all creation and the forces of darkness, as they are called, I believe, are used by God’s will to create “opposition”, for the purpose growth. As I stated before, if there was no suffering, how could we learn compassion, and if no one ever wronged you, how could we learn forgiveness?

    In the book of Isaiah 45:7 God says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” So, if you think of God as pure Consciousness and the potential for all forms of creation, then anything you are capable of willing is manifest through His power, then the ultimate control in spiritual warfare becomes your own will, as Christ said in Luke 10:19 “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you”

    I believe Jesus stated this because he understood the power of the will, that what we believe in our higher inner-self determines our lower outer-self’s reality. He proved this in his statement in John 19:11 “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above”, that power which is given from above is the power of our own higher self, the power of our belief.

    Consider Satan, who is our adversary, the one who opposes us, challenges us, tempts us to go against the will of God, but even this is done in accordance with God’s will, for he does not allow anyone to be tempted beyond what they are capable of choosing the right way out of, I Cor. 10:13. So in this sense, the adversary is an instrument of God. Christ faced the adversary in the wilderness and overcame, so we are to overcome as well.

    To really see how spiritual warfare is entirely in our own will consider how Satan came before God’s throne to question the nature of Job. “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.” Job 1:6. The question is, why would Satan even have cause to come before God on behalf of Job. I believe the reason is that Job had already set it in his heart that these things would come to pass, because after all his calamity he admits, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. Job 3:25

    Think about it, in his perfect life of abundance and prosperity Job secretly feared that these things would come upon him, he drew Satan to himself, but even then, the adversary had to first pass through God, so as to be given only enough power to test Job in the level that he was able to overcome. So, if more obstacles happen on the way to your mission than on the way home, perhaps it is because you are expecting them to. You have power to tread on all forms of misfortune, just believe it without a doubt and its yours.
    Just my own thoughts on the matter,

    : )

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  6. Karina says:
    January 8, 2014 at 1:05 am

    Hi Dave,

    Thank you for your insights and for your encouragement on the courage the post took to present. So thank you for your own courage in replying too! We are in agreement over the notion of the Lord’s will and purpose for us in the obstacles, or even in an adversary, that may come our way. I especially like this point of yours: “One thing I am convinced of is that God is in ultimate control of all creation and the forces of darkness, as they are called, I believe, are used by God’s will to create ‘opposition’ for the purpose of growth.” Amen.
    I love the passage you shared from Luke 10:19 with its demonstration of the power we have access to — the victory which is ours. The gem in this promise is the suggestion that the obstacles do not need to keep happening. Most of us will likely encounter some in order to implement this very power that Christ says is ours. But, then, once we’ve practiced this power, seen it work, and had victory, then the obstacles need not continue. We have discovered the truth, and the truth has set free.

    But how about prior to that moment? For the very few who have already heard about the pattern, would it merely be a “self-fulfilling prophesy”? Based on your point about opposition bringing about growth, not necessarily, even for those few who have heard of the pattern. And they are the few: most don’t see it, expect it, or understand it, and discover it through their own surprising experiences. At that point, they wonder, perhaps for the first time, “are there no coincidences?” So I’ll stand against any “self-fulfilling prophesy” view on unstatistical surprises. Instead, it more likely comes back to your other point that the Lord permits opposition for growth. The pattern that presents itself to us may indicate that the Lord is tapping into teachable moments to embolden our growth even more efficiently than could otherwise occur in moments less perfectly teachable.

    So, may we “be not surprised” when we encounter a trial, especially during a teachable moment; may we pray “through” the trial (rather than simply for it to go away), may find victory, and then, as you remind us so beautifully, may we LIVE in that newly discovered victory! May we have transcended the trials into power over any force against us, such nothing can harm us. Thank you again for this reminder.

    Blessings to all in victory,
    Karina

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  7. Dave M says:
    January 8, 2014 at 9:02 am

    Thanks Karina,
    It is a cool subject though, one that’s really open to the imagination. I do think there’s a little truth in all our assumptions, even the very simple idea of having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.

    Maybe when we’re born our inner celestial body guides us towards God’s will, while the darkness that combines to form our outer terrestrial body opposes the light and tries to focus our will on putting ourself above others, the old animal nature that dwells in our flesh, yet which becomes the very nature, that by overcoming, causes us to grow more into the image of God, as compassionate, merciful, and forgiving beings.
    I respect your hesitancy on what you called, the “self fulfilling prophesy”, scenario. Your right, we are but one among billions all seeking there own will, and in the end only God’s will prevails. So even though I still believe there is some truth to the concept that we attract what we think, we still have to submit to the final will of God, no matter how much we desire something. Even Christ had to submit and say, “not my will, but thine be done”.

    Great topic, thanks for bringing it up.
    Dave

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  8. Karina says:
    January 8, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    Nicely said Dave,

    Like you, I think that psychologically, it helps to have an image in our mind, like the one you noted of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. It can be a playful image, with a silly-looking devil (kind of like of our default avatars? ;) ), just something to help us conceptualize what might not otherwise make sense to us.

    I also resonate with the dualistic play you describe. I return to the image of Adam, created in part by the dust of the earth and in part by the breath of God. So I see both forces at play within us, sometimes in conflict, as Paul described. Then, like that expression, “As Above, so Below,” that internal conflict sometimes expresses itself externally, so that the external world mirrors our internal battles.

    I guess that brings us full circle back to the “self-fulfilling prophesy” vs. Spirit using a teachable moment question. Both could be involved. I emphasized the latter because I’ve been observing a lack of understanding of these battles. Obstacles that come forth at moments that are surely beyond “circumstance” are still perceived at my own current church, for example, as circumstantial nuisances at best and, at worst, conditions of misery that steal our joy. And they’ve kept growing, surely beyond what is necessary, and that grieves me. I suppose that is part of the impetus behind this post. If we’re aware enough of these forces that we call upon the Lord for His power into our lives, we may not have to keep fighting so many battles. We can declare the victory you pointed out in Luke 10:19.

    Thanks again,
    Karina

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  9. Chandra says:
    January 9, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    Karina – Thanks for your post. I definitely had to respond, especially since you mentioned me!

    Over the holidays I couldn’t put a book down that I came across, a commentary on the Book of Revelation. A lot of it was on my mind, including Matthew 24:8 (ESV) “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” The verse you quoted in 1 Peter was also mentioned in the book, as well as various mentions of suffering the church would go through. I later went to a New Year’s Eve party, and one of the ladies started mentioning prophesies about things expected to happen in 2014-2015. I’m often skeptical of prophesies, but I find them interesting. Then I came across your article. The timing of my reading, hearing of prophesies, and then your article seemed to be more than coincidence. The idea of spiritual warfare and your words, “obstacle, prayer, victory” stuck in my mind while I thought about how I’d respond.

    A few days later terrible things happened (so bad I won’t describe in detail on the website). I felt my family was falling apart and dividing, and a close family member was lying to me as well as betraying others. She even told me she is very spiritual, knows it’s against God’s law to lie, she’d swear on the Bible she was telling the truth, and to pray for revelation and her innocence would be revealed. Another person claimed to have said such a prayer and received an amazing revelation and believed her. I was horrified by what happened, by what was happening to my family, and by the family member using God in that way (& ignorance of the person who prayed and felt a revelation of exactly what she wanted to hear). Nothing was directed at me, but I was right in the middle of a huge mess. I knew the family member was lying (& had facts to support it), but had some doubts if were pieces of the story were true. Unrelated to all this mess was also major problems with my husband’s business and a possible lawsuit (he had to see an attorney last week).

    The only thing that comforted me was knowing that tribulation is supposed to happen, God is in control, and without realizing it I was being warned before it happened. The only thing I could do was pray. My husband and I asked a few friends and a pastor for prayer, and we even added our family to the prayer list at church. I fasted for 2 ½ days, the first time I fasted that long, to have a clearer mind and for prayer. Amazingly I never felt hungry and could have fasted longer, and I’m definitely a believer in the spiritual benefits of fasting. I learned what I need to learn and had some prayers answered. The potential lawsuit turned into the other party sincerely apologizing and a possible business opportunity. My family was speaking ok with each other. The family member who has been lying is still in a mess, and it will take more than just a couple of days of prayer to help her.

    David M. – I couldn’t agree more with your statement, “if there was no suffering, how could we learn compassion, and if no one ever wronged you, how could we learn forgiveness?” I really hope some good comes out of the mess, even if it’s hard to clearly see at this point.
    I’ve always liked Romans 8:28, but 8:29 is often not mentioned (ESV), “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” God uses all the tribulations in our life to transform us to be more Christlike.

    Peace
    Chandra

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  10. Karina says:
    January 10, 2014 at 12:04 am

    Blessings Chandra,

    I am so glad to hear this post has encouraged you, especially at a time when encouragement was so needed, and that your prayers have been leading you and your family to victory. Blessings for demonstrating the power of prayer. May you persist and continue to see fruit. Thank you for the thoughts and the the encouraging verses, including the addition of the often omitted verse 29. You and your family will be in my prayers.

    Peace to you and your family as well,
    Karina

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