The clang of metal fills the air, as they practice their cuts–up, down and across–wielding swords until they can no longer lift their arms. They train every day: gaining strength, learning the strategies that will defeat their opponent, practicing the nimble footwork that saves them from an enemy’s thrust.
They are the overcomers, the warrior class among believers: The ones who are not overcome by evil, but who overcome evil with good.
I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:14)
To overcome means that one does not just survive in spiritual warfare… but one has the strength and ability …. to conquer & prevail.
It will never be more important than it is right now, to learn what it means to overcome. Too many of us are being taken out of the fight spiritually… hearts and spirits broken, hating our seeming inability to beat what is beating us… because we do not see the big picture and understand what is at stake.
In the big picture, it doesn’t matter
how many times you suffer defeat.
Your failure is not final, unless you say it is.
The Lord has been pressing me hard to write this … filling my mind with imagery from the 13th century Scottish lists.
The lists were the enclosures where able-bodied men practiced martial arts all day, almost every day. I hear the clang of metal against metal as warriors in training wield broadswords against each other, cutting arcs in the air, grunting heavily as they make and deflect thrust after thrust. The men are tired; their arms are heavy. They’re sweating, dirty, aching and bleeding; but none leave the list to take a break, because they understand that in real battle their ability to endure and persevere will be the difference between life and death, victory or defeat. From age sixteen to sixty they are there, because they belong to the warrior class; and this is their duty to their laird, their clan, their land… their duty to each other and to those they love.
Recognize that everything you face in daily life is a test,
your training in the lists.
Training in the lists brings continual defeat… it’s expected. You begin sparring at the bottom of the ladder having an enormous deficit of skill and strength, but you learn. You taste victory! And shortly after, an even more difficult opponent is assigned to you, insuring your defeat until you master the next lesson in overcoming. The purpose of the lists is to expose every flaw and vulnerability, forcing the warrior to do the deep work that will make him able to conquer and prevail in a future battle when everything is on the line.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you… (2 peter 4:12)
Name the hardest thing you face. (Not a person but a thing.) You are being trained in how to overcome that thing. Adversity, confusion, setbacks, the hardships and heartbreaks you face … these are your opponents in the lists. One of you will defeat, conquer and overcome the other. But this is the point: in the big picture, they will not prevail, unless you give up and turn away.
We are not alone; our Lord is thoughtfully, intimately, and personally training us so that we can learn to overcome. Be assured, the tests we meet are not random or unfair, but judiciously permitted to serve His highest purpose for our life.
But we have to endure, we have to follow through.
Near the end of his life, Moses looked back on the lasting defeat of the generation who perished in the wilderness, never to make it into the inheritance God had for them. That lasting defeat took place at Kadesh Barnea, right on the border of The Promised Land God was about to give them. But when Israel saw the fortified cities and the giants inhabiting the land, they were undone… ceasing to believe that they were able, that God was able to give them victory.
Moses summed up their forever loss as giving in to discouragement. When discouragement stepped into the list, Israel gave up. Caleb and Joshua, alone in their generation, faced discouragement and overcame it, to eventually inherit what God had promised them.
Make no mistake; their battle with discouragement was spiritual warfare. And it was that battle, not battles against flesh and blood, which determined the outcome of what would unfold in history.
Our spiritual battles determine
the space-time outcomes of our destiny.
Caleb and Joshua followed wholly after God. They overcame discouragement and setbacks … drawing strength from the bigger picture they had, of what God was doing … experiencing Him as intimately at work in the mess with them…. believing He was able to do what He had said He would do…. as long as they followed Him wholly through.
The reward of overcomers is that their darkest times do not remain a legacy of pain and shame–but the sacred ground of dramatic release and divine breakthrough. What sets them apart as an elite warrior class among believers is that they do not quit and walk away when the pain becomes more than they think they can bear.
They find the strength to endure from those who fight beside them and from their LORD who is in their midst.
In the Scottish lists, the battle-proven warriors trained side by side with the less experienced … with their laird, their chieftain sweating it out in the lists with them. And when they rode into battle, he fought shoulder to shoulder with them. There is no fight you face, that your battle-proven warrior Lord is not there with you, leading you to overcome.
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Both a warning and an affirmation
The lessons I draw from the Scottish lists are words… words adamantly declaring that whatever comes against us–shame, betrayal, discouragement, despair, hurt or loss–these are our combatants in spiritual warfare. He entreats me to engage purposefully, to make the most of the precious time and opportunities I have… that I might learn how to overcome. He gives me both a warning (we are presently unprepared for coming battles) and an affirmation (we can master spiritual warfare as quickly as we want to.)
Journal From the Rebel Outpost
Every day a few more stagger in to The Outpost, freshly ripped from the Matrix of Deception. Most are impregnated by the light, showing signs of the undaunted life that burns in them. Their conversations around the fires at night reveal their immutable conviction of Jesus’ presence with them, what He is teaching them, how He is leading them.
In each other’s company we find comfort, having suffered the same dislocation … that moment when life took root in us and we became a sudden stranger to the only world we’d known… a world we now understand to be hostile to and alienated from the only truth that matters… the first truth that rightly orders all others into cohesion… The Truth, The One to whom we belong. Our separation from those we love and left behind creates an ache that drives us to become better, stronger, truer.
Jesus broke the power of The Matrix off of us, depriving it of its power to hold us … But it has been the same for all of us who have staggered in. We arrived wounded, some so wounded they have had to be tended in the infirmary for a very long time. Wounds heal here. BUT the mark, that is something else. The mark of The Matrix in our flesh is a scar that never heals; it can only be erased… and until it is erased, it continues to sabotage us, cursed thing that it is. The mark of The Matrix in our flesh keeps us from becoming better, stronger, truer.
All who are able-bodied here spend our days in the lists. We go to the lists because that is where we learn how to overcome, how to prevail. It is painfully evident, our first days as raw recruits, how poorly we handle the sword. We are so easily nicked, wounded and beaten by the most basic of tests. We progress, yes… but every one of us knows the clammy cold that settles over us when fear steps in to spar with us. It is beautiful to watch the best among us. They focus intentionally, their nimble footwork removing them from their opponent’s thrust, intuitively deflecting every sword stroke just in time, drawing upon an unseen reservoir.
It’s always hard to watch the novices, who are sent sprawling in the mud, struggling back to their feet seething with excuses and blame. We remember tenderly all too well those moments of our own humiliation, before we understood the cause of our inability to overcome: the mark in our flesh…
That mark will sabotage the ability of every warrior
to overcome, until it is erased.
Until we realize that this is what our Lord is after in the lists …
We whine. We rebel. We plot. We quietly grumble… wondering why God doesn’t make things easier. We question the fairness of the contenders assigned to us, and we fall prey to their sword thrusts day after day.
It happens slowly, or at least it did for me… we begin to realize that we are being purposefully matched against antagonists who expose the mark in our flesh. That realization… that our trials are not random, but fitting a purpose… is the moment our time in the lists begins to train us in how to overcome.
All my adult life, and many years after finding my way to The Outpost, I bore the mark (many marks) in my flesh, never realizing how it kept me from overcoming.
There were days when I’d step into the list to meet my opponent, taking a blow that brought me to my knees. It was always the same one: Injustice. Whenever I found myself contending against him, I lost… badly. His strategies always worked, causing me to lose it: driving me to fury, self-pity, threats… reducing me to tears. When I faced Injustice I became fierce. I tried to overcome it all the wrong ways… seeking vengeance, demanding the apology that was due, not letting go of the wrong done, going after the one who hurt me, intent on making them see how wrong they were so they would be sorry… thinking it would ease my pain.
Injustice overcame me, prevailing every time,
sabotaging my heart’s desire to become better, stronger, truer.
Limping out of the lists one very bad day, very close to giving up and walking out forever… I saw a look in my daughter’s eye that told me how painful it was for her to see me lose… how much she wanted to see me overcome. That moment sent me back to the lists, even though it meant continued failure for a very long time.
But I began to listen… for The Truth’s voice soft on the air, my Beloved’s coaching rising from His reservoir deep within. I knew His voice. I heard the love and affirmation in it; I drew confidence from His counsel. I began to go to the lists listening.
I began to dimly understand that the opposition assigned to me was working for me, not against me. My repeated losses, when I was thrust into the same circumstances, were pointing to where my weakness lay.
Becoming even more intent on listening, I realized that in some circumstances, I had a harder time hearing my Beloved’s voice. His was drowned out by another voice that I trusted: it was so very familiar, strong. It was committed to what I deemed right and fair; it made sense. For as long as I could remember, that voice had been with me. Looking around for its source, I had the dull brief premonition that it might be coming from the mark … the mark of The Matrix in my flesh. But that weirded me out, so I shrugged it off…
I did not understand that I would never overcome,
until that mark of The Matrix in my flesh was erased,
and its voice was silenced.
A very painful betrayal took place. I staggered in the list, blinded by hurt and thrashing with fury… demanding it be made right, demanding an apology, but none was given. The harder I pressed, the closer that relationship came to its breaking point. The hostility between that person and me left me weeping and broken-hearted, unable to deflect the painful blows, as the voice screaming from my flesh demanded reparation… There would be none.
Driven to deep prayer, at the end of myself,
I heard my Beloved’s voice.
Clearly, authoritatively… He told me in very certain terms that I was not going to be able to move into my destiny, unless I let go of this injustice done to me. I had to lay down my demand that it be made right. I had to let those who had wronged me totally off the hook, leaving it to God to make it right or not. I was to forgive fully and deeply… I was not to ever again, for any reason, ever demand an apology for an injustice done.
It felt like my heart stopped beating as a deadening silence engulfed me…. It seemed totally unfair… but He could be no more clear.
Gently, matter of factly… He was telling me that my destiny, my ability to enter into all that He had been promising me for years was on the line. My future, my glorious marriage, my new home, my ministry, my redeemed family… His dreams for me, all that He wanted for me … These belonged to a new order and I could not enter that new order sabotaged by the voice from the mark in my flesh. If I was going to enter into that new order, it had to go. There was no other way.
Only one thing would erase that mark from my flesh: I had to die to its voice. I had to die to its demand for justice.
He was giving me the rules of engagement, by which I would overcome Injustice: I was to forgive fully and love voluptuously. I was to make no demands. By this I would overcome evil with good. There was no other way.
We can master spiritual warfare
as quickly as we want to.
The moment I agreed, the ability and power to prevail flooded me… and the mark in my flesh began to disappear, as I died to its voice.
I overcame … fully and humbly forgiving, though no apology was ever offered.
I overcame … trusting God with the pain, feeling almost honored to have been trusted with it.
I overcame giants and strongholds in a single sweet moment of decision.
When I look back, upon the long stream of my grievous failures in the face of injustice … I’m kept humble, yes… but my soft grief is overcome by the realization that they mark the sacred ground of an extravagant, sweet breakthrough into the inheritance of my Lord… that was waiting for me, as soon as I learned how to overcome.
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and He will be my son.”
 Numbers 32:6-12