Facing the Roaring Lion
How to daily grow in Christ
By Stefan Höschele
Hunting a lion is an adventure I would not choose! But among the Masai of East Africa, formerly a warriorlike people group, young men have long taken pride in tracking the king of beasts. Because of their seminomadic lifestyle, their cattle are always threatened by this archenemy. A Masai friend once explained to me how such a hunt works: with their spears, a group of youthful warriors surround the lion; the challenge is to strike at the right time, for the first to strike will be celebrated as the bravest. Once the warrior’s spear is gone, the lion, even if wounded, will seek revenge! If no one strikes, the lion will look for the most fearful boy and attack him.
The Christian Battle
Sometimes life as a Christian feels like being a Masai on such a lion hunt. We have decided to follow Jesus, who said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Yet, after traveling some distance with Him, we remember that the “adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). And if we have not realized it from the beginning, we now begin to understand what Jesus meant when He declared, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24).
There are three options for dealing with the roaring lions in our lives. First, we can ignore them. We can pretend there is no problem, that the evil cannot harm us. We can even profess that God’s adversary does not exist. But such a head-in-the-sand approach will not rescue us from the beast, nor will option two: running away—letting fear reign. Have you ever tried escaping a lion? With its 35 mph (about 50 kph) speed, running won’t save you! Option three, however, will decide the fight. It is based on the good old adage “Attack is the best form of defense,” and it’s God who starts the offensive.
By His death on the cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil. He who subjugated the demonic spirits during His earthly ministry has broken their power and made certain their ultimate doom. Jesus’ victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us, as we walk with Him in peace, joy, and assurance of His love. Now the Holy Spirit dwells within us and empowers us. Continually committed to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we are set free from the burden of our past deeds. No longer do we live in the darkness, fear of evil powers, ignorance, and meaninglessness of our former way of life. In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of His character, communing with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His Word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the Church. As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience. (Ps. 1:1, 2; 23:4; 77:11, 12; Col. 1:13, 14; 2:6, 14, 15; Luke 10:17-20; Eph. 5:19, 20; 6:12-18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:18; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Phil. 3:7-14; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Matt. 20:25-28; John 20:21; Gal. 5:22-25; Rom. 8:38, 39; 1 John 4:4; Heb. 10:25.)How does such a divine attack look? A good illustration is demonic “possession.” As a missionary in Africa, I experienced a number of cases in which possessed people were freed from evil spirits. We can either brush aside the phenomena by attributing them to some other disease, or tremble before the seemingly powerful chief of darkness. Yet Jesus shows us another way. He did not discount the existence of supernatural malevolent beings, but commanded them in a straightforward manner to leave.* And leave they must, for they have already been overcome, and shake at the mere mention of the name of Jesus. Thus the driving out of demons, rather than being a spectacular and strange occurrence, demonstrates in a simple yet forceful manner how God deals with the enemy of salvation. Those on God’s side have all the weapons necessary to overcome him.
Of course this does not mean that the fight is painless. Yes, Jesus’ yoke is easy (Matt. 11:30), but assaults can come in various ways—from outside and even from inside. I still have to meet the person who never faces temptation. Yet, if our Lord encountered them, it is not embarrassing when we also stumble upon such trouble. The really dangerous thing is to think that we can manage on our own. A temptation confessed to God is half overcome. Telling a brother or sister is not as shameful as it might feel, but could mean a temptation is almost defeated.
The Secret Weapon
Fortunately, life as a Christian is not a permanent struggle. Even the best soldiers need enough preparation and times of rest to restore their strength. They cannot constantly engage in warfare. They have to care for their health, learn about supporting each other, get training for their particular responsibilities, and develop their stamina by learning from the experience of others. As followers of Jesus, we also need enough “growing time.” We do not have to seek confrontations with powers opposing God until we have matured to do so. This process of growth may feel slow; or we might not see any signs of growth at all. In reality, though, a crucial development is taking place. This is why the Bible uses several images for discipleship that express a close relationship (“knowing God,” “imitating” Christ, “belonging” to Him) or even a semblance of a pregnancy (“being in Christ,” “remaining in Jesus,” “abiding in His word”).
As with a developing embryo or child, growing in Christ does not depend so much on what the little one does but who feeds him. This is why drinking God’s Word and breathing His Spirit in prayer is so important. I have never seen a baby refusing her mother’s milk for days. Likewise, we need consistent nourishment to grow spiritually.
There are so many methods of devotions and manners of prayer—let me encourage you to choose one that helps you best. To those who have been struggling with, what they consider, an insufficient spiritual life, perhaps this simple recommendation will help: start small, be consistent. Better a few minutes regularly than high-flying but unrealistic plans. In due time more appetite will develop naturally as the young “soldier of Christ” grows.
Personally, I have used about 10 different devotional approaches. In addition to meditation and prayer, I have been paraphrasing the Gospels for some time now, and on weekends I like writing a diary. But “spirituality” is not only praying, reading, and singing. It is our whole life. I am very glad that one quarter of our fundamental beliefs deal with the Christian life (check it out—here are the numbers: 11, 17, and 19 to 23). Following Jesus is something very practical. Being a disciple and growing in Christ is not a set of do’s and don’ts, but a process in which we learn to conquer challenges with the best support we can imagine. We can face the roaring lion as we stick to the Master and hold on to His Word.
* In all cases except one, in which He demonstrated that God’s power is strong enough even to cast out a legion, Jesus did not even dialogue with evil spirits.
Stefan Höschele, Ph.D., a former missionary to Algeria and Tanzania, teaches mission studies and systematic theology at Theologische Hochschule Friedensau, Germany.