Have you ever had one of those days, or weeks, that fill your mind with doubt, fear, anxiety, anger, or even worse? There’s someone special in your life, and they are struggling with persecution, pain, rejection, and frustration. They are fed up, and they are about to give up…and that person happens to be you. The clock ticks past midnight, and your mind is simply not capable of shutting out the hazy cloud of turmoil that seems to haunt your thoughts…interrupting your sleep cycle, diminishing your energy, draining your passion, and, ultimately, redefining you. We’ve all been in this situation. If you haven’t, then you’re definitively something of a superhuman, and you should probably go somewhere and be tested, because there’s probably something wrong with you.
Our life is a gift of God, but, to our misfortune, we were born into a world of sin, hatred, and imminent strife. Our physical birth ushered us into this very hostile world, and, for the child of God, our spiritual rebirth placed a very large target on our back…a target that Satan cannot help but notice. Coupled with the insatiable appetite of our sin nature, life can become very complex at times. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed. Too often, the sheer weight of life overtakes us, and we lose sight of everything…everything, that is, except the struggle we’re going through. We’re always clearly focused on that. The problem is the struggle often becomes not only the source of our problems, but our very identity as well.
Strife can be defined as conflict, vigorous or bitter conflict, discord, or antagonism toward someone or something. Strife could include being in a quarrel, struggle, or clash with others. Strife might even include an armed conflict, but it is not limited to competition or rivalry with others. Strife sometimes includes a bitter and even violent disagreement, even with those who are in authority. Take a look around; our world has plenty of strife. The effects of strife on our life are palpable. We find it at home, at work, at church, and we often relive it in our dreams at night. People medicate against the effects of strife, they try to buy their way out, they try to counsel their way through…and some just jump out of the windows of tall buildings. Strife has consequences, and none of them are endearing or healthy to the human body or soul. Strife is a spirit-breaker, a passion-killer, a relationship-ender, and it is dangerous enough redefine the lordship of our life.
Strife can certainly be self-inflicted. It can also be brought upon the innocent, and it thrives in the realm of the supernatural. Spiritual warfare, the battle for your attention, your submission, and your very soul, brings about strife that redefines the words “heavy burden.” Spiritual warfare ushers us into levels of strife that are hard to define, and even harder to combat. It’s all a battle, moment by moment, for the lordship of your life. Who’s winning that battle right now? That’s a serious question. Think about the answer.
I’ve had strife in my life. I have some strife going on at this very moment, and guess what…you do, too. Strife is common, strife is constant, and strife is corrupting. Like rust corroding metal, strife eats its way into our faith, our witness, and, eventually, it takes up a comfortable residence in our life…altering who we are, and quite effectively redefining our identity.
How easily we fall prey to the reformulation of our worth and identity to the effects of strife and struggle. It’s as if our identity is cheap and negotiable, often being transferred over to the sleaziest and lowest bidder who is vying for control of our thoughts and actions. We shouldn’t be so quick to sell out, but the pressure of human life seems to “grease the slide” a bit in favor of strife. And so, the lordship of our life can be redefined quite effectively through the pressures and struggles that are prevalent in the day-to-day operations of our existence. In this, we suffer.
Our lives and identity should be all about Jesus. 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20 tells us that “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” This verse is warning us to honor God with our bodies by fleeing sexual immorality. Sexual immorality defiles our body, which is also the temple of God. Let us not miss that this instruction is relevant to anything that would defile the temple of God within us.
One of the things that defiles the temple of God within us (verse 19) is erecting other “lords” within that temple, a temple that we are held personally responsible to maintain. Allowing sexual immorality into our life is the equivalent of setting up an altar to the glory of sexual immorality alongside the altar of God within His own temple. Be aware that we can also build an altar of strife in His temple, as well…and the outcome is still the same. In doing either, we create — and worship at the feet of — another “lord.” We elevate something other than God to a place of honor, and our identity shifts into servicing the needs of the new “lord” that we have placed into power. Our life becomes a reflection of whom we serve. To the dismay of God’s kingdom on earth, that reflection is often one identified by strife, struggle, and hardship. This compels Christians to behave badly, by altering their perception of what truly identifies them. Life becomes a war on the strife that invades our consciousness, and we are effectively led away from a growing intimacy with God. Strife, at this point, has redefined the lordship of our life.
As we intensely focus all our energies on the problems of life, we are bound to lose sight of God’s promises. As we pursue manmade resolutions and temporal interventions, we begin to build a new altar in our temple. As our life becomes all about our struggle, a redefinition of lordship slowly takes place. Before we are even aware, every detail of our thoughts, actions, and expectations for the future revolve around not God, but turmoil. Our identity is grounded in strife; our outlook is marred by the cloud of frustration; our actions are grounded in emotion; and our faith in God is diminished down to the equivalent of our own abilities. As we kneel at the altar of strife, there has to be a point of recognition where we realize that we are, in large part, worshipping our bad situation, because we have allowed it to take over every aspect of the life God has given us. We’re serving it; it has complete control, and it is now lord.
We can’t hope to repair the complex issues of life, and we certainly can’t pretend to hold any authority over strife, save one…Almighty God. We have authority over our strife, because we are children of an almighty and sovereign God who loves us. We are His creation, and He desperately wants to help us through every situation. However, we’re far too often kept busy worshipping the problems that only God can fix instead of focusing our energies on building faith around the promises of God. We’re too busy changing identities to suit our emotions, instead of claiming our real identity in order to build our faith and relationship with Christ.
Strife is powerful enough in the minds of God’s children to effectively alienate them from God’s influence, to redefine the lordship of their life, to diminish their joy, and to steal their peace. But God’s Word has something to say about these things…
When strife seeks to alienate you from God, know this…
“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”
– Ephesians 2: 18-19 (ESV)
When strife seeks to become your Lord, know this…
“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
– Revelation 1:17b-18 (ESV)
When strife seeks to steal your joy, know this…
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
– 1 Peter 1:8-9 (ESV)
When strife seeks to steal your peace, know this…
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace…”
– Ephesians 2:13-14 (ESV)
We have to be grounded in the promises of God. The understanding of our identity in Christ is at stake. He is our Lord, our Creator, our Provider, our Sustainer, our Hope, and our Salvation. Strife will inevitably arrive at our doorstep, but God’s love for us is far greater than our struggle. As strife seeks to alienate us from faith and separate us from our recognition of God’s love for us, it’s important to know this…
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
– Romans 8:35-39 (ESV)
In the frailty of our weakness, it’s important that we worship only at the feet of Jesus. Allowing our minds to be distracted from God by earthly struggle is dangerous, as that distraction often threatens to reestablish who is our lord. When strife overtakes you, don’t build an altar to its glory in your life; instead, lay that strife on the altar of God’s glory. Let the sovereignty of God reign in your temple, and know that nothing can separate you from the love of Almighty God. Nothing.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!