- One of the greatest sources of insight in the Christian’s battle against Satan comes from the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” Hailed as the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation,” a close consideration of this famous hymn gives pastors and all Christians some extremely valuable insight into the Reformer’s spiritual defense against Satan. More importantly, it may also be a valuable “Healthy Minister’s Manifesto” for pastors who are involved in battle with Satan centuries later in our own time.
- Luther’s Perspective Of Ministry
- First, Luther affirmed that God was a fortress. Intended as a place of refuge to refuel, the purpose of a Fortress is to provide a safe haven and refreshment for those on the fight. Normally, the war does not occur in the fortress, though it may threaten even the walls of the structure. The design, the weapons, the gates, the armory, and guards are designed for defense, not offense. To Luther, God was the greatest—and only genuine—defense against Satan.
- Second, Luther recognized Satan’s true nature. In response to his ministry, the “Old Evil Foe” was rising up with deadly force to overtake and annihilate anyone bearing God’s Word. Indeed, it appears from Luther’s words that he had the sense that he was already “o’ertaken” by Satan. Faced with “deadly woe” he was engulfed in an overwhelming, desperate, sense of overwhelming dread.
- Third, Luther recognized that he was no match for Satan. Humbled by Satan’s powerful frontal and rear attacks, Luther recognized that he was absolutely, totally powerless. Without God, he would be destroyed.
- Fourth, Luther’s recognition of powerlessness also led him to understand that anything he accomplished by himself was vain. No matter how eloquently he spoke, no matter how powerful he felt, no matter how many accomplishments he did, all these could be lost in a momentary flash. Any accomplishment Luther had done, Satan would destroy. No matter how much work, planning, strategizing, hard work, sweat, and labor he had put into his ministry, to the extent it was built on human effort it was destined for destruction. “Soon were our loss effected,” he wrote.
- Fifth, Luther recognized in every testing of Satan the only hope is to realize the “But” of hope. “But for us fights the Valiant One” he wrote. While experiencing the pain of loss, the only thing that would uphold him was the knowledge that Jesus Christ was ever present with all His “Sabaoth” hosts of angels. Of ourselves, we die on the field; but He holds the field forever.
- Sixth, Luther’s confidence in the “Valiant One” gave him not only a sense of hope, but a sense of unbridled defiance against Satan. “You can’t scare me, Satan!” “Scowl louder, Satan, I can’t hear you!” and “You can’t over power me. Christ is at my side!” are but some of the defiant cries one might imagine hurling against a raging Satan. “With just one little word, Satan, God will make hamburger out of you!”
- Seventh, Luther had a sense of acceptance that those who resist the Word will continue to fight on and on and on; And they will fight aggressively. But as the battle rages on the plain he, too, will be on the plain fighting for his very life. With Christ as his Refuge and Strength, even if he has to give up his life, he knows that there is nothing that Satan can do to separate him from God’s kingdom. It’s his by grace; it’s his forever.
- Some Observations
- Having considered the Reformer’s perspective we find there are several insights and applications toward the development of a healthy, Christian ministry perspective.
- First, we are ministers in the Church Militant. We are called to shepherd the sheep; but the sheep are being fleeced, devoured, and shredded by wolves even as we speak.
- Second, only the good shepherds will give up their lives to save the sheep. They will be scarred, hurt, beaten, depressed, discouraged, tired, overwhelmed and severely treated.
- Third, Satan understands that the fastest way to fleece the flock is to feast on the shepherds. To be a “seelsorger” (German for “caretaker of souls”) is to recognize that our ministry is not inside the fortress; our calling is on the plain.
- Fourth, the degree to which we attribute any ministry success or effectiveness to ourselves, our giftedness, our prowess, our genius, our influence, or any of our abilities or actions is the degrees to which Satan can destroy us. The only way to eliminate this vulnerability is to recognize deep within the innermost parts of our soul that by ourselves we are utterly worthless tools. Only God can bring about lasting success; we can do nothing.
- Fifth, the more tightly we hang on to the material things of this world and pursue human ambition and advancement of various kinds (e.g. status, ranking, success, recognition, financial success, etc.), the less use we are to God. Luther released all these things.
- Sixth, in the fight with Satan, one needs to fight free of the trappings of worrying, grieving, and clinging over those things which got in the way of the Kingdom in his life. “Let these all be gone” is good advice for us in our battle. We can be sure that our greatest pain in demonic conflict will be the recognition that we have to give up some earthly thing we love in order to endure…be it “goods, fame, child, and wife…” Christ cannot be beside us as long as the material things are between Christ and us.
- Seventh, we learn that a proper perspective is the most important asset we can have in the heat of Satanic conflict. Such proper perspective is anchored on the confidence that Satan is already conquered…even before the battle has begun. With the snap of a finger, in the momentary speaking of just one word, Christ destroys Satan. Satan knows this; his plan, however, is to keep this truth from us. Unfortunately, in our weakness, we believe the lie.
- Recognizing Christ’s Presence Beside Us
- Since starting Ministry Health Website in August, 1997, numerous pastors and church workers have written of a wide range of situations. No matter how bleak the situation, no matter how battered the pastor or staff, no matter how desperate the congregation, I have discovered one thing: God is most active in those churches which are conflicted; the more severely conflicted, the greater the power that God can demonstrate.
- However, it appears that God’s power will not be demonstrated in its fullness as long as people hold on to their own selfish agendas, their holy wars, their “righteous” causes, and their destructive slander and defamation.
- Indeed, it appears that Christ withholds the fullness of victory for pastors until the moment that pastors experiencing the most severe effects of Satan experience total powerlessness. The pastor, having seen everything he ever clutched his hands to being thrown to the wind, finally sees that only one thing remains: The Kingdom of God.
- In this state of total physical, mental and spiritual impotence, pastors finally recognize that “goods, fame, child and wife” are not, were not, and never will be under our control. Nor are congregational dynamics, outcomes of leadership, or even the response to a pastor’s ministry to a given congregation. The only thing pastors really have is the Kingdom. It’s theirs only because of God’s undeserved grace toward them.
- I believe it is at this moment of recognized powerlessness that pastors and congregations begin recognizing that Christ is beside them on the plain demonstrating His power in their great weakness. It is also at this point, I believe, that pastoral and congregational renewal begin. Satan is defeated. Christ’s Body begins profound healing.
- It amazes me just how quickly such healing can happen in some situations. Examples of churches on the brink of total extinction finding surprisingly sudden resolution and strength are not necessarily rare. Other churches may find that the healing process may take much more time; nevertheless, such churches cannot doubt such healing is occurring in their midst. The healing in such churches is not due to coincidence, luck, or random chance; it is simply and exclusively the miracle of Christ’s power, working through His Word and Sacrament, healing even the most downtrodden pastor, staff member, and congregation.
- What To Rejoice About
- When the seventy-two disciples in Luke 10 returned after having been sent out into the harvest, they approached Jesus with joy. But perhaps they also returned puffed up with human pride and inflated egos. Their report was, “Lord, even the demons submit to us….” “We healed people! We cast out devils! Satan fell before us!” they reported with joy. Jesus in His response told them He “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” and gave them full authority to “overcome all the power of the enemy” (vv. 18-19).
- However, the most important thing Jesus taught them at that time was,
“Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your
names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20 NIV).
- The lesson for the disciples was that the most important thing in ministry was not the authority, the results, the frills, the successes, the numbers, the decisions, or even the miraculous exorcising of Satan’s power in Jesus’ name.
- “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” He told them. These eight words put in all in perspective. Don’t let the miraculous or anything else distract you. The only real reason to rejoice is that your names are written in heaven. Your are God’s chosen and called servants. God is on your side. That’s reason to rejoice!
- If Luther had been there when the disciples returned, I believe he would have told those disciples much the same thing as Jesus, but in different words reflective, perhaps, of Ein Feste Burg.
“Whatever happens in ministry, don’t get overly attached to the
successes, the frills, the enthusiasm, the warm fuzzies, and the power. These may come and go. Indeed, as Satan attacks, and he certainly will, these are the things he will attack.
Don’t get attached to them. Let them go. Let everything else—goods, fame, child and wife—go. Don’t be overtaken by the enormity of the gains or the losses of pastoral ministry.
The only thing to really rejoice about is this: The Kingdom is ours. The Kingdom ours remaineth.“
- God is your Refuge, your Strength, and your Fortress. Yes, it’s nice and secure in the fortress. But whether we’re on the defensive in the fortress or on the offensive against Satan in the plain, He’s by your side. Don’t let anything get between you and Him. If you do, those things will be your downfall. Release them to God’s care and rejoice…because God is with you, He’s by your side, and because your names are written in heaven, the Kingdom ours remaineth. Rejoice!
Thomas F. Fischer
November 10, 1997