The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Protection in the War of Words

“Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” - Psalm 27:14

Have you ever been in a word war? A “war of words,” like a nuclear blast, can cause massive damage and continuing fallout contamination. Just as there is stealth and secret maneuverings in an actual war the same is true in wars where words are the weapons. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). We are jolted by the brutality of mixed martial arts  and cage fighting, but the strikes and choke holds found there are nothing in comparison to a tongue that can break a bone (Proverbs 25:15). Words as weapons can have potentially devastating effect.

When some people speak they fire for explosive effect. They want to bomb you into obliteration with words. Leaders are especially in their cross hairs. To them leaders have a bulls-eye on their back and they take aim. A leader needs to defend against direct assaults as well as rear ambushes. Really anyone who crosses those who war with words is in danger of a banzai attack of words. “The mouth of the righteous is a well of life, but violence covers the mouth of the wicked” (Proverbs 10:11). “A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it, and a flattering mouth works ruin” (Proverbs 26:28). “The hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge the righteous will be delivered” (Proverbs 11:9). Violence, hate, crushing, destruction are words that describe what is left in the rubble of wars of words. But God has provided “knowledge” in His word that where and how we can be protected in the war of words. 

What protection does God offer from this war of words? In the Wisdom literature of the Bible God exhorts, “Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you” (Proverbs 4:24). The words “deceitful” and “perverse” mean to distort or bend to make crooked that which is straight. Ever bend the truth or present an account in a slanted way to favor your position? We may be especially tempted to do that when the fiery war arrows are flying at us. But God says to put that kind of talking away. Such use of words may be found in politics and back room scheming but should not be among the persons seeking wisdom and righteousness. Just think of what the world would be like if politicians, lawyers and everyone spoke words of life and truth. “A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” (Proverbs 15:23). How good it would be!

The person who bends the truth, devises evil against others, and acts deceitfully is a person God describes as “wicked” and “worthless” (Proverbs 6:12-14). “Worthless” and “wicked” mean to be headed for destruction, having no profit, evil, ungodly, and wicked. “the LORD hates, . . .  a lying tongue . . . a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:17, 19). The LORD exhorts, “My son, keep my words, and treasure my commands within you. Keep my commands and live” (Proverbs 7:1-2a). The war where words are the weapons is in reality a war about whether or not a person will keep God’s words. It’s a choice between wicked words and God’s Holy Word. “He who despises the word will be destroyed, but he who fears the commandment will be rewarded” (Proverbs 13:13). The choice is ours.

“Under attack” is an interesting phrase. It speaks of being under, being besieged, beaten down, covered over, being on the bottom with an assailant on top pummeling away. I’m older now and I have come to the conclusion that the old rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names [or words] will never hurt me,” is a bunch of bologna. A knife can pierce skin and hit an organ, but words can pierce much deeper depths of your heart. Words can inflict a much deeper and more painful hurt than any stone ever could.

Words can be potent weapons or a perfect scalpel used in healing surgery. “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health” (Proverbs 12:18). “An evildoer gives heed to false lips; a liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue” (Proverbs 17:4). There is a choice before us. Will we listen to and learn the cutting ways of adversarial combat in a war of words? Will we return evil for evil or rely on God’s good. Wisdom teaches, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

What makes a war of words so devastating is that you can be in such a war and not even know it. What do I mean? Attacks come by surprise like a nuclear submarine prowling beneath the surface of the sea and then, whoosh! The torpedo or missile is fired. A salvo of gossip can be fired from far away. You only hear the whistling missile as it fast approaches. There’s little time to duck and shout “incoming!” so you and others can run for cover. A war of words can occur in a whisper. In fact, the most devastating war words are spoken out of earshot of the target.

All of this makes for a devastating blow. You may see signs of the effect. Your friends are no longer so friendly. People look at you with scornful looks that denounce you as well as communicate they know something you don’t. We begin to wonder things like, why was so-and-so so short with me? Why are they walking away shaking their heads? Why are they so distant? Where are they? I haven’t seen them around for some time? Maybe there are those “you ought to be ashamed of yourself,” or “how could you,” looks that befuddle the unsuspecting victim. By the time the hidden scheme is exposed the campaign of deceit has usually been so thoroughly laid that no matter what the unsuspecting victim responds it doesn’t matter; a character has been assassinated and reputation destroyed. And even if a correction or apology follows, it usually winds up on the back pages. The damage has been done.

A war of words or a campaign of gossip and deceit are ruthless and effective instruments of the enemy. Satan is the father or author of lies; “there is no truth in him” (John 8:44). When people lie and gossip they cross the line into the devil’s territory. That’s not a safe place for anyone. Do you really want to follow a strategy that is authored by Satan? Do you really want to murder and destroy like Him. Has your heart been so deceived and darkened that Satan is more your father that God is?

But all is not lost for the innocent or the targeted. God has a way of bringing truth to light. “You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your countenance” (Psalm 90:8). God never approves deceit. “You give your mouth to evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’ son. These things you have done, and I kept silent; you thought that I was altogether like you; but I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes” (Psalm 50:20-21).  Just because God hasn’t stopped you doesn’t mean He approves of your war of words. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:13). The slanderer should be very uneasy and nervous given these words from the Lord. Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6). Jesus is not lies.

So what is a proper response to wars of words? What protection has God provided? In His Word God tells us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). God’s word tells us very clearly, “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25). We need to realize we are “members of one another.” Jesus died to unite people in Him (Ephesians 2-3). The church of Jesus Christ is God’s instrument to unite people under the banner of His love and in the name of Jesus. Evil speaking, gossip, deceit and manipulating facts to win an argument or outright attack another, especially a fellow believer and follower of Jesus Christ, THAT IS OFENSIVE TO GOD AND A SERIOUS SIN. If you are involved in that sinful activity you need to repent, seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of the one or ones you have been attacking with your words. Do that and there is opportunity for reconciliation and restored unity (cf. Ephesians 4:32).

Our part is to speak God’s truth in the love of the Spirit. Ultimately the fight is the Lord’s. He has promised to fight for us. He has promised to defend His people. He alone is the proper Arbitrator between offended parties. He alone is qualified to preside in a court marshal concerning a war of words. His word is the plumb-line separating right from wrong; the Spirit from the flesh. You may respond, “So are we to do nothing? Are we to just let people assassinate our character?” Well I’m sure the Spirit will direct you about what to say and when to say it. But if we simply entrust our circumstances to the Lord we are in good company. “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not His mouth” (Acts 8:32; Isaiah 53:7). Walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6; 1 Peter 2:21).

Psalm 27 is a source of promise and great encouragement for those who suspect or who know of a war of words being waged against them. This is a psalm of David. David as a king and leader must have known all too well the devastating effects of wars of words against him. His own son waged such a war against him. When family members turn to warring with words it is particularly painful. Absalom started a strategy of deceit against his father that led to his father’s being temporarily dethroned, greatly shamed, and greatly pained (cf. 2 Samuel 15-18). God fought for David and brought victory over his treacherous son eventually, but broad deep scars were left as furrows in his heart.

Mean words may not win the day, but they always leave their mark. Maybe that incident between David and his son was one of the experiences that led to David penning Psalm 27. What can we learn from this psalm about our God provided protection when under attack?

First, turn to God when under attack. David is inspired to open the psalm, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). Light dispels darkness. Light helps one see for direction. Light helps one avoid dangers. Light and salvation are connected because when there is light one can see or handle one’s enemy or other dangers. The light of God’s word leads us out of the darkness of our sin and into the light of saving gospel of Jesus Christ. If we aren’t saved from sin then surrendering to Jesus in faith and receiving forgiveness for our sins is the place to start in finding protection in any war. If we are saved and walking in a personal relationship with Jesus as Savior and Lord then we need to remember and hold on to that reality.

The LORD (note Tetragrammaton – God’s holiest name: He is all He needs to be in order to do all He purposes to do) is the Person David attributes his light and salvation too. Therefore, he concludes, “Whom shall I fear?” The minister or one called by God as His instrument is promised light and salvation in the LORD. If God is for us who of any consequence can be against us? (Romans 8:31-32).

David knows God is the source of his strength. The LORD is “the strength of my life.” Any strength we have comes from the LORD. We don’t rectify life problems by our might or our power but only by the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:6; Acts 1:8). We stand in the power of His might with His weaponry (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Twice David is inspired to mention the idea of fear. Fear is the common link in this first verse. David wouldn’t have mentioned fear unless he was afraid. Life can get scary at times; even for a minister of God. There is the fear of “failing,” the fear of a lack of provision, or a fear of gossiping attacks. There are many reasons that tempt us to fear. We need not fear though when we hold on to Jesus by faith. Fear is the foe of faith. Faith in Jesus overcomes fear.

Second, understand that adversaries can be ruthless. David describes his attackers as, “When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell” (Psalm 27:2). David’s opponents were going for the jugular. They were fleshly flesh eaters. Here are some real walking dead. “Wicked” (Hebrew ra’a) means literally spoiler, one who breaks to pieces, a good for nothing. A wicked person is a relationship killer. Wicked words wreck relationships.

The person called by God can expect to be attacked. David was, Jesus was, the Apostles/disciples were, so will we. But we need not fear because God is for us (cf. Psalm 62:8; Romans 8:31-32). God will cause our enemies to stumble and fall. He will trip them up in their own deceptions. The more lies one tells, the harder it is to keep tract of them. We are not in life or ministry alone. God is with us. God is for us. He will watch over us. God will defend us.

Third, the size of an enemy is not the most important factor. David said, “Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident” (Psalm 27:3). The size of our enemies force is not of primary concern. David said, “My heart shall not fear.” This is a declaration of faith. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is faith to overcome fear. “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” We can be “confident” while under attack. “Confident” (Hebrew batah) means trust, refuge, certainty, trust. David says, “I will”; this is a step of faith. Take a step of faith and keep on stepping in faith. Trust in God no matter the size of the attacker.

Fourth, the one thing you NEED to do when under attack; stay in fellowship with God and His people. David said, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” (Psalm 27:4). When under attack we need to keep our eyes on the LORD. Keep your eyes on “the beauty of the LORD.” Add to that “inquire in His temple.” In other words, go to church and seek the LORD. Get into God’s place of worship and focus on the LORD. Be still and quiet before the LORD. Go to church when a service is not going on and just sit in the presence of the LORD.

When under attack, especially if we feel an injustice has been done, our inclination is to isolate ourselves from people; even God’s people. The temptation is to pout and have a pity party. This psalm tells us we should do just the opposite of that. It is the enemy that wants to isolate us. You’re easier to attack and defeat when you are alone. It is the animal separated from the herd that is easy prey for the predator. Fellowship is a pillar of spiritual health (cf. Acts 2:42). It’s in fellowship that we can help each other with the burdens of life that are too heavy for any one person to bear (Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 10:24-25). And even if the source of the attack you are experiencing is from your fellowship, you need to stay plugged in. Don’t let the enemy run you off. Let the enemy leave. You stay. Work it out. Grow from the situation.

David had a heart that steadfastly sought the LORD even when under attack. This was his key to survival. He did temporarily leave Jerusalem when attacked by his son. But he always had dependable friends around him. And eventually he returned. It’s easy to run away when attacked. But when we run off no true resolution or healing can take place.

Fifth, when under attack, find a secret place to pour out your heart to the LORD. It’s so important to have, “a place.” You need a place that is your place to meet with the LORD; just you and Him. David knew this as he said, “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5). Constant and persistent attack can be debilitating and exhausting. Because of that we need to tap into God and let His presence course through our spiritual veins. This is where we are empowered by the LORD.

When we meet with God it also helps us keep things in perspective. When troubles arise it is God who hides and protects us from the troubles and the enemies. God does this as He will “set me high upon the rock.” God provides an advantageous position for us to see. God gives us perspective. That’s why David was inspired to testify in another psalm – “You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the plots of man; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues. . . . Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the LORD” (Psalm 31:20, 24). Get alone with God. Come into His presence. He will give you rest. He will heal your wounds.

Sixth, when under attack, by faith, be thankful for victory ahead of time. David states by faith, “And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD” (Psalm 27:6). This is a declaration of faith by David. He is not looking retrospectively on what has already happened. He is looking ahead to what he believes by faith God will do to bring him victory. The evidence of this hope is his worship of the LORD. It’s easy to worship God after victory is secured. It’s faith to worship God in the midst of the storm before victory is secured.

Seventh, when under attack pray and seek the face of the LORD! David says, “Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice! Have mercy also upon me, and answer me” (Psalm 27:7). David expresses his reliance on prayer and his call for mercy. Sometimes enemy attacks can be overwhelming so like David we cry for mercy. Then David describes the content of his prayer  saying, “When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” Do not hide Your face from me; do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; do not leave me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation” (Psalm 27:8-9). God called David to “Seek My face.” He calls out to the LORD. Then he listens. He takes in God’s response. And then David obeys. David applies to life what God reveals to him. David’s prayer is a two way conversation.

God told David, “Seek My face.” God tells the hurting overwhelmed David and He tells us “Look at Me.” In other words, “Seek My presence.” David responds in obedience, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.” When you seek the face of the LORD it is enthralling. Once you seek and see the face of the LORD, you don’t ever want to look away. That is what David says. He begs God to not hide His face from him. David acknowledges God “has been my help.” It is in such a memory of God’s past faithfulness that David cries to God for salvation in the present. David knows how dependent he is on God. To David, a worse idea than an attacking enemy is the thought of God forsaking him. What’s most important to you, vanquishing your attacker, or leaving that to God and seeking His face?

Eighth, when attacked remember God is most faithful. David makes this point when he says, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me” (Psalm 27:10). David says God is more reliable and faithful than even his own parents. God is our primary and most important relationship. Even if everyone forsakes us, God never will. Rest in that truth. Even, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

Ninth, when attacked be teachable. David humbly prays, “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies” (Psalm 27:11). He is teachable. He knows there are lessons to be learned in such difficult situations. David doesn’t proudly insist there is nothing for him to learn. Humbly David seeks God’s teaching and direction to learn from his life circumstance. Nothing teaches so thoroughly as a hard trial (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-9).  

Tenth, when attacked bring the specifics of the attack before the LORD. David prays, “Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and such as breathe out violence” (Psalm 27:12). David states the specific danger to the LORD; “false witnesses.” The LORD already knows what David is facing so he is not led by the Spirit to do this for the LORD’s sake. David states his request for his and our sake. When we pray specifically we know when God answers specifically. Pray generally and we might miss God’s answers. Bring the details before the LORD. Ask Him for recollection and insight. Let the Spirit open your eyes (1 Corinthians 2:9-14).

The Christian, (and especially those in ministry) can be sure to expect “false witnesses” to rise against them. That is reality. People will make false statements in varying degrees. Sometimes it will be due to self deception (1 John 1:8, 10). Other times it will be a purposeful use of misinformation or lies to reach a desired end. Just remember, if someone complains or talks negatively about a predecessor or someone else, chances are they will do the same about you when they leave. No accusation should be received that can’t be corroborated by reliable witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28).

Eleventh, when attacked don’t lose heart; trust in the goodness of the LORD. I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). David expresses the value of a close and constant relationship with the LORD. This is emphasized over and over in this psalm. Take that to heart. He says he would have “lost heart” or given up if it weren’t for God. Similarly, we will lose heart if we don’t go to the LORD when under attack.

We need to go to God and believe that we will see the goodness of the LORD. “Goodness” (Hebrew tub) means God’s goodness in the widest sense, concrete actual goodness, beauty, gladness, joy, or things going well. This is what we need to believe in and anchor our hope to (Heb. 6:19). And this promised goodness comes in the “land of the living.” It will come in this life. This is not a dream of eternity, (though God’s goodness will overflow there too) but this is something we can expect in this life. We will experience God’s goodness. That is encouraging truth for the one under attack.

Twelveth, when under attack wait on the LORD to deliver. Lastly David says, “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14). David exhorts the person under attack to “wait on the LORD.” He exhorts the attacked to “be of good courage.” “Courage” (Hebrew hazaq) means to fasten upon, be strong, courageous, get strength from, conquer, cleave to, be constant in. Hold on to the LORD when you’re under attack! “Strengthen” (Hebrew amas) means to be alert physically and mentally, be courageous, be steadfastly minded, determined, prevail, strengthen and make strong, and steadfast. Rely on God to get you through the war of words.

Take courage and persevere in light of David’s psalm. Wait courageously on the LORD when you’re under attack. Load up with the ammunition provided in this psalm and weather the storm of the war of words.  It’s tough in the trenches. There will be times of hand to hand combat. But you aren’t alone. Remember, God has your back!

1 comment:

  1. "Courage." Good word to end on! My keyword for 2015.