Usually the month of May is a pretty fun time of year. Days are longer, the weather is nice, and Justin Timberlake memes take over social media.
Those never get old.
This year, though, May didn’t end soon enough for me. My hometown fought off tornado warnings and crazy thunderstorms all month long, and record rainfall caused all sorts of problems. The basement in my new house flooded, resulting in thousands of dollars of repairs and hours of wrestling insurance claims. The air conditioner in my wife’s car broke down — twice — leading to more expensive repairs. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it seems every day last month we were hit with bad (expensive) news after bad (expensive) news.
I’ll admit: These are “first world problems.” I don’t really have anything to complain about in comparing my “problems” to most of the struggles going on around the world.
Still, you know what this feels like, right? “When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year”? (Hi, “Friends” fans.) Sometimes it feels like you just can’t catch a break, and it’s exhausting to get back up time and time again after being hit and hit and hit by bad news, bad breaks and bad luck.
I know it’s (unfortunately) normal to have these trials, but recently I heard something at my church that made me think about my crummy month in a new light.
Greatest strength and greatest weakness
My church recently went through a teaching series looking at the Holy Spirit and our spiritual gifts. One of our teachers brought up an interesting point I hadn’t really considered before:
The devil knows what your gifts and strengths are, and he’s going to attack you the hardest in your strongest areas, because he doesn’t want you to be effective.
Look, I really don’t understand spiritual warfare; the good-vs.-evil spirit world is something I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand on earth. But I do believe it’s real. I believe Satan is real, and I know he is hell-bent on destroying and sabotaging God’s people. We can have confidence he won’t win in the end, but he’s putting up a pretty good fight in the meantime.
For years now I’ve known that my primary spiritual gift is encouragement. “Words of affirmation” is my love language, and in just about any personality inventory or strengths finder test I take, something about encouragement is at the top of my list.
When I was facing all those frustrating setbacks last month, I had trouble putting words to how I was feeling. Yes, I was frustrated, stressed, annoyed, tired — all those things — but they weren’t the primary emotion I was feeling. Hearing that teaching about the devil and spiritual gifts helped me realize: I was discouraged.
That is the word I was looking for. I was discouraged, and that powerful emotion took over. It shifted my mood, altered my thoughts, and actually kept me from using my dominant gift.
When you’re deeply discouraged, it’s a lot harder to encourage others. If your well is empty, you have nothing left to pass on to those around you, and that’s exactly how I’ve been feeling.
Satan doesn’t play fair
That small shift in perspective has been important for me. Yes, sometimes bad things just happen, and I don’t think every single bad thing necessarily has colossal spiritual consequences.
But sometimes maybe it does. I believe God has specific plans in mind for me to accomplish (Ephesians 2:10), and if Satan can weigh me down so significantly that I can’t act in my primary gifting, that’s a major victory for the one determined to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).
What about your vulnerabilities?
I’m still pretty upset about the hand I’ve been dealt the last month. It still seems unfair, and I’m pretty sick of getting bad news. It’s on some level understandable for me to slip into discouragement.
But that’s what the devil wants. He doesn’t want me to write this post that might provide a spark of encouragement to you. He doesn’t want you to realize his dirty, unfair strategies.
Maybe your spiritual gift is giving, and you’ve been hit hard financially or lost your job.
Maybe you love to serve, but you’re facing an illness keeping you from helping in the ways you wish you could.
Maybe you’re a leader, but the teams you’re on shrug you off because of your age.
I think it’s helpful for all of us to do two things:
- Be confident in what gifts we have
- Be on the lookout for attacks in those areas
I don’t think things happen by coincidence. Satan is real, and he wants to tear you down so you can’t live a healthy, God-pleasing life. Recognize that for what it is: an unfair blow from an enemy trying to cheat his way to victory.
Here’s the good news: Any victory of his is short-lived. God has good things in store for His people, and those of us on His team will be on the winning side of history.
In the meantime, be ready. Be on the lookout for hits that feel unfair; you have all you need to defeat your enemy. “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The world needs you and your gifts, so get back up and fight back with all you have.
Copyright 2019 Matt Ehresman. All rights reserved.