“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Strongholds are places that we fortify and places that we defend; places we hide in and hide behind. They are places we rely on and that we think will keep us safe. We build our strongholds with bricks of pain and past hurts, and with the mortar of past offenses and disappointments resulting in a foundation of mistrust and anger. It is in these places we cement ourselves in anguish. When we are in the world these strongholds are our places of survival. We erect these places because we think we will be safe there, hidden there, at home there. Each of us has a past. Each of us has our own private pain. And each of us has erected strongholds in order to cope.
Often our most prominent pain comes from childhood or from poor decisions and consequences of our worldly adulthood. Unfortunately I have found that some of my most painful moments have been in the church. The truth is that people sin, in the church and out of it, and sin hurts people whether they mean it to or not. I got hurt, more hurt than I really understood. And instead of taking it to God and letting him protect me, I built strongholds of my own. What I didn’t understand or intend was that these strongholds that I built to protect myself became places where God’s true protection could not reach me because it was in these places that the word of God was no longer my standard. Certainly I had many areas of my life where I required obedience of myself and the bible was the standard, I was a disciple, but these strongholds were built of hurt and justification and self defense and self reliance and self protection. Truth could not enter there.
My stronghold was a place of self-loathing, a place of silent sadness, a place where insecurity reigned and fear was the watchman. I created a place where I could shut down and try not to feel. A place where sin was acceptable and even justifiable. It was there that I began to believe lies and half-truths. It was there that Satan came to visit most often to chip slowly away at my convictions. I began to believe that whatever people felt about me, especially those in positions of authority, was how God felt about me as well. I believed that I could never do enough or be good enough for God to want me or approve of me. I even believed that God did not love me, but only tolerated me because that was how men felt. I had become so entrenched in caring what people thought about me that I lost what was made so plain in scripture-that God loved me no matter what. I no longer believed even the simplest of truths. The lies had so damaged my faith that my eyes began to close and my ears grew so dull that my heart drifted from my God (Matthew 13:15). My new god was how people felt about me. My new standard was pleasing them. Their opinion had grown so important to me that the true voice of God slowly but surely faded. Relationships with people now became my center, my most valued commodity, and my god. Praise and acceptance from men was now the goal rather than approval and righteousness from God. My standards changed so slowly that I didn’t even notice. They weakened with every hurt and in each instance I justified my decisions based on my feelings and not on the word of God. What I didn’t realize was that when the standard changed I had lost what was so valuable…my freedom.
When the standard changes lies and half-truths are all we have left. The stronghold that I erected to protect myself from being hurt and judged by people had actually separated me from my God, my convictions and…my relationships. I had exchanged the truth of God for my own form of comfortability. I had created my own private prison. I had lost the freedom described in John 8:31-32, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘if you hold to my teachings you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” In my stronghold I was no longer free to be open with feelings, hurts, confusion, anger or sin. I had reclaimed the world’s standard of dealing with hurt; shutting down, retreat, mistrust, justification and quiet bitterness. All things I had been freed from when I got baptized. There was no longer the freedom to learn or room to make mistakes without self-crucifixion or feelings of total failure or fear of how people viewed me. The praise of men is a very dangerous god and when it is coupled with the god of worldly comfort it is a recipe for loosing your salvation without even knowing it. I became a Pharisee, self-righteous, judgmental, comfortable, loving the praise of men and “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). What I came to learn is that the only way to smash this powerful stronghold is to first…desire to do so. The only weapon strong enough to do it is the Word of God, which is in fact, the divine power of God.
God’s method of demolition was what was so disconcerting and often confusing to me. He kept giving me opportunities to smash the stronghold by allowing me to feel all the things I had felt before, all the feelings I built the stronghold for in the first place. What I didn’t realize was that he was giving me the opportunity to choose differently, to choose to trust his word, to trust that He would protect me and that I didn’t have to do it myself. He was giving me opportunity to choose His way instead of mine. Opportunity to see that my way doesn’t work and has never worked-it had only ever caused me more pain. But I got lost in the feelings. How could God keep letting me relive my worst fears? Fears of rejection and people not approving of me, people not respecting me, and people not wanting me. He allowed circumstance after circumstance to continually recreate the SAME feelings. It hurt so much that I was convinced God did not love me and that He did not want to protect me. It was by different people for different reasons but it all felt the same-I have to believe by God’s own design. He was going to keep allowing the same things to happen to me until I conquered them with his divine power, not with my worldly defenses that I set up against the knowledge of God but by taking captive every thought and making it obedient to the word of God-Jesus Christ (John 1:1-14). I had to choose to take truth back by holding to the teachings of Christ and to stop listening to the lies of Satan by choosing to defend myself my way. When I was able to do that, I was once again freed by the grace and power of the divine word of God. It is without a doubt the only weapon that can free us from our own self-made prisons of sin and doubt. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons learned is that I must make the word of God my standard, especially in the places where I hurt the most. That is the only thing in existence that can truly heal me. All other healing is short-lived, self-medicating half-truths that will chain my soul forever.