In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul speaks about the battles that we fight as disciples of Christ: Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.
There are many strongholds ‘out there’ against which we stand in the name of Christ. In this we are prayer warriors. There is a multitude of ‘arguments’ against which we speak the truth of the gospel of Christ. In this we are apologists. For every ‘proud obstacle’ raised up against the true knowledge of God, we have the name of Christ, a stone that makes them stumble and a rock that makes them fall.
Perhaps the hardest battle of all is against the strongholds within ourselves, the habits, patterns of behaviour and learned responses which remain fleshly, sometimes years after we took our first stumbling steps as Christians. Once, we sought to overcome them, but have grown tired, jaded, and almost used to their company.
What’s instructive for me in Paul’s language is that he doesn’t speak about obliterating bad thoughts or fantasies, but about taking them captive, taming them, turning wild beasts into farmyard creatures who – more or less – behave. And there are several ways in which we can do this. We can
- catch ourselves descending into unhelpful or dangerous spirals of dark or sinful thought, and tell ourselves off there and then. ‘Stop it, you silly fool!’ I say, sometimes aloud. And the wild thought usually listens, and lopes off into the undergrowth.
- crowd the beasts out with beauty and blessing. Against those murderous thoughts that I have when drivers carve me up, I sign the sign of the cross over them and bless the drivers instead. (Well, to be honest, I do on a good day!)
- turn those crazy twisted thoughts into energetic prayers. As someone said to me recently, ‘I have learned to turn my complaints into Kingdom protests.’
It’s the last of these I’d like to illustrate by offering you a short litany of substitutionary prayer to pray, as part of your arsenal against the strongholds within:
Lord, in place of the complaints I have voiced this day, I ask you to transform those unjust situations;
For all my cheap jibes at the expense of others, I ask you to make me humble;
For the congregations and Christians I have written off, I ask for their healing and restoration;
For the discrimination I have exercised in my head, I ask you to bring me to a place of meeting with ‘the other’;
For the little wars that I have waged, defeat my aims and make me a peace-singer;
For the pollution I have spilt through my mind and heart into a needy world, I ask you to cleanse not only me, but the other hearts and minds my actions have sullied.
And all these things I ask in and through the name of Jesus Christ, who hung in our place on the cross, and dying gave us life. Amen.