When I was about 13, some lads turned up on the estate I grew up on, it was a very hot day as I recall. Everyone was just wearing shorts or jeans, which I also remember with gratitude because it meant I didn’t get blood on anything except myself. Because one of the lad pointed to another and said ‘He wants to fight you.’ I didn’t even know this kid. He was my age, called Alan, and had something to prove. It was the first proper fight of my life. I had many more when I was a police officer, but there and then I really wanted to turn and run into the house and get my Mum.
But before anyone gets into the rights and wrongs of non violence and Jesus said ‘turn the other cheek’, I wasn’t a Christian, that would have been a terrible strategy that day, but something told me this was a life defining moment about the kind of person I’d grow up to become. I had to fight, though I didn’t want to.
The Bible portrays many aspects of the Christian life and ministry as a ‘struggle’ or a ‘fight’. The apostle Paul wrote to tell the young leader he was mentoring, Timothy, to fight the good fight of faith.
But how often do we end up in a bad fight?
And how do you know the difference between the good fight you’re called to fight in life, the battles that God has called you into, and the bad fights you really should avoid? The fights that are just distracting, and could even be destroying your ability to really do what you’re made to do and meant to do?
Did you ever find yourself stuck in the middle of a fight and think – how did I ever get into this? And then you realised you’d chosen the wrong battle?
I’ve been reading through the life of supposedly smart King Solomon, who famously started out well when he was young because he asked God for wisdom and became this incredibly wise king. He built the temple, wrote some wisdom poetry and ushered in an incredible time of blessing and prosperity for Israel. But though he conquered many kingdoms, Solomon didn’t win the private battles, and in the end he lost the war for his own soul. The ongoing effect over generations was a terrible downward spiral of morals and idol worship and moving further and further away from God.
About 400 years and a lot of evil kings later on, was King Josiah – a great king who started young and brilliantly, fought the right fight, the good fight – and was winning, when he did battle against the evil, the lethargy and idolatry of his day which ushered in unprecedented revival. But unfortunately, that was not how the story ended. He went on to fight the wrong fight, and paid for it with his life. He won some battles, but lost the war.
The enemy doesn’t always try to defeat us with an obvious attack like he did with Solomon and his sexual lust. Another tactic I’ve seen him use just as effectively to stop people who are accelerating and going great with God is to draw us into unnecessary struggles and conflicts that sap our strength, drain our resources and preoccupy us with the ‘wrong fight’.
Often the people he uses don’t even know they are being used in such a manner and would possibly be horrified at the idea. In church circles I’ve seen really good leaders who are doing their best just throw in the towel from sheer exhaustion and emotional breakdown.
Some great people have walked away from churches, become totally disillusioned with Christianity and to this day still can’t identify why they got taken out of the game, the true cause of their spiritual backsliding, which is that they were wounded in fighting the wrong battles. Battles they were never even meant to fight.
TENACIOUS NOT PUGNACIOUS
There’s a purpose for you and me in God’s plans, and to do it we’ll have to be tenacious, but not pugnacious.
At times you’ll have to tenaciously pursue God’s plan, resolve to live the way he calls you to and fight the fight. The Bible says ‘Resist the devil and he will flee from you!’ There’ll be things God calls you to stand up to or take a stand on that you must not side-step, chicken out of or avoid. That’s the fight the enemy will do everything he can do to distract you from fighting with all our might! Be tenacious!
But don’t be pugnacious. Don’t be that person who just loves the drama, because the potential for getting into the wrong fights is enormous. So many issues, even more people taking sides on them. And if you fight all the fights, you’ll definitely lose the war.
Reflecting back on my own life and thinking about others, especially leaders I’ve connected with around the world, I can see how often, and how easily, we can be set up, suckered and side- tracked into fighting battles God never called us to fight. Sometimes this has disastrous results.
I’ve been off Facebook mostly during my sabbatical and coming back I want to be different on there because I see all kinds of people (and yes, I have been one!) spending energy getting riled up and involved in disputes, some of them would say they’re just ‘fighting for the truth’ – but over time I think, ‘No – the truth is you just like fighting!’
Lynn Swart who used to be and elder and on staff at Ivy and now remains a great encourager of us all had a note over her desk that said, ‘Issues are negotiable, relationships are not.’
‘Issues are negotiable, relationships are not.’
I love Lynn and so many people love Lynn, because you found out when you got with her that she loved people more than opinions. That’s becoming a rare option in our ghosting, cancelling culture.
Who comes to mind who does the opposite? They love opinions more than people. Thinking about that person; how much conflict does he or she experience in life? How much drama? How much happiness? How many friends do they have? Anyone who loves his opinions more than his friends will defend his opinions and destroy his friendships.
Do you know anyone who just loves to argue? Some people do it because they want to assert themselves, to prove something, to make themselves feel important or clever, so they pick fights or dive into them. Or maybe unresolved and hidden hurts make them want to hurt others.
If that’s you today, the person you hurt most is yourself.
Sometimes the structures, the way our systems are set up, don’t help but hinder people being able to get along – because it’s win/lose, us/them and either/or, rather than win/win, us, and both/and.
The story of Josiah that starts in 2 Chronicles 34 is a tragic example, and it need not have been. He began his thirty one year reign at the age of eight. Josiah’s father was a terrible and wicked man assassinated by his own staff, then the big crown was put on the prince’s little head, and the only thing he knew to do was pray and ask God for help. That’s where wisdom is found!
Before long he was providing his people with some of the most God-centred and radical leadership they ever had. When he was only 16 he really pressed into seeking God and at the age of 20 started purging the land Judah of all its sex-god shrines and idol worship.
When he was 26 he began to restore and purify the temple Solomon had built, which was now in ruins. And he did all this even though there were no Bibles to tell him what to do, they’d all been destroyed over the years; until one day a priest ran into the palace excited because they found a copy of the Book of the Law, the first five books of the OT or parts of it, while doing up the temple.
The court secretary reads it out, and as Josiah heard the story of his people, how God had created them, loved them and saved them – and how in response they’d turned their backs on God and did everything he warned them not to do. The king came under intense conviction for the sins of his people. He starts tearing his royal robes because of the remorse he felt. Then he calls the entire city in to repentance and to renew the covenant with God.
‘The king acted immediately, assembling all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem, and then proceeding to The Temple of God bringing everyone in his train—priests and prophets and people ranging from the least to the greatest. Then he read out publicly everything written in the Book of the Covenant that was found in The Temple of God. The king stood by his pillar and before God solemnly committed himself to the covenant: to follow God believingly and obediently; to follow his instructions, heart and soul, on what to believe and do; to confirm with his life the entire covenant, all that was written in the book.
Then he made everyone in Jerusalem and Benjamin commit themselves. And they did it. They committed themselves to the covenant of God, the God of their ancestors.
Josiah did a thorough job of cleaning up the pollution that had spread throughout Israelite territory and got everyone started fresh again, serving and worshiping their God. All through Josiah’s life the people kept to the straight and narrow, obediently following God, the God of their ancestors.
What a fantastic start! And there’s something about how if you keep going in the right direction, you build momentum. That’s what was going on here. Without momentum, even a tiny obstacle can prevent you from moving forward. With momentum, you’ll navigate through problems and barely even notice them. You’re virtually unstoppable.
Momentum makes acceleration accelerate! It makes everything easier, it makes you able to do more without even working harder. Like riding a bike downhill. It exaggerates your strengths and minimises your weaknesses. Very often momentum is the only difference between winning and losing. So Josiah was freewheeling and loving it, a flying start right out of the blocks, then a series of big wins propelled him on faster and carried on through another 13 years of his reign being blessed and productive.
Who could have predicted it would end the way it did?
Some time later, after Josiah’s reformation of The Temple, Neco king of Egypt marched out toward Carchemish on the Euphrates River on his way to war. Josiah went out to fight him. Neco sent messengers to Josiah saying, “What do we have against each other, O King of Judah? I haven’t come to fight against you but against the country with whom I’m at war. God commanded me to hurry, so don’t get in my way; you’ll only interfere with God, who is on my side in this, and he’ll destroy you.”
But Josiah was spoiling for a fight and wouldn’t listen to a thing Neco said (in actuality it was God who said it). Though King Josiah disguised himself when they met on the plain of Megiddo, archers shot him anyway. The king said to his servants, “Get me out of here—I’m badly wounded.” So his servants drove him back to Jerusalem. He died there and was buried in the family cemetery. Everybody in Judah and Jerusalem attended the funeral. Jeremiah composed an anthem of lament for Josiah. The anthem is still sung by the choirs of Israel to this day. The anthem is written in the Laments.
It’s not a happy ending, they didn’t sing a happy song. What a terrible shame. That in the end your life song is a lament. Jeremiah, ‘the weeping prophet’ gets to do the music at the funeral. Because even after everything Josiah had accomplished for God, he takes his eyes off the good fight – what God wanted him to do, loses focus completely – because he can’t resist getting drawn into a battle he should never have fought.
There were two reasons it shouldn’t have happened.
- The fight was nothing to do with him.
Notice – Pharaoh was going to fight Babylon. It wasn’t Josiah’s fight. Neco had no desire at all to fight Josiah, he was going round him. There was no need at all for Josiah to get involved.
2. God warned him off!
Neco even told him to back off – the battle he was marching out to fight was God ordained. God gave Josiah an escape hatch – but Josiah refused it – because he wouldn’t listen. He was so determined to get stuck in, he even dressed up in disguise so he could! What was he trying to do? What was he trying to prove? I don’t know, and it doesn’t say.
Is it because he was feeling defensive? Was his ego bruised? Or did he just get proud and think he could win whatever battles he decided to do?
We don’t know. What we do know is that he died when he was only 39. And he really didn’t need to. He got taken out early.
What a tragedy for a king whose reign was so filled with the blessing of God, whose leadership created and inspired a time of blessing, joy, peace and nation-wide revival. But his life would be not be remembered in songs of celebration and thanksgiving for what God had done, the songs with Josiah’s name in are laments. Sad songs. What a way to go.
That’s not the way I want people to sing about me when this life is done and I go to the best life that’s yet to come with Jesus. How about you?!
Now we need to understand, Josiah was not punished for going into battle. Part of the call and job of being a king in those days was to lead the people into war, but not just any and every fight they might fancy! There were definitely battles God wanted them to fight, with clear instructions about how. It was always meant to be under God’s inspiration and direction. But Josiah fought the bad fight. He lost his head, and it cost more than his crown.
What kind of people would do something so foolish? To stop all the momentum, acceleration and progress going forward, by foolishly getting tied up and involved in uncommanded battles?
Well I know I do! Anyone else willing to be honest today?
Rate yourself 1 to 10 on these questions: ask someone close to you to rate you if you’re brave enough
- Do you like a fight a little too much?
- Do you lose your temper too quickly?
- Do you find yourself getting involved in other people’s arguments, or feel the need to champion every cause?
What’s your score out of 30? If you’re arguing about the score or the questions not being fair there’s probably not much hope to be honest.
So how do we choose the right fights? Before you take another step forward, into that conflict or messy situation, the fight that’s not yours to fight. Three things to check in, to wind your neck in.
Check Your Attitude
John Maxwell says if Jim has a problem with Paul, and Jim has a problem with Karen, and Jim has a problem with Samuel, maybe Jim’s the problem. Do you have friction and conflict frequently, in lots of your relationships? Maybe you need to stop glaring at everyone else and take a look in the mirror instead, to see if your actions or attitudes are the cause?
Josiah’s basic problem was he didn’t listen. He didn’t listen to Pharaoh; he didn’t listen to God, so you can bet he didn’t listen to anyone around him telling him it was a bad idea.
Proverbs says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Haven’t you found that to be true? When there’s a relational fire starting to burn, you turn up with two containers and decide what to do. When you discover the fire, are you someone who pours water on it, or petrol?
People often respond more to our attitudes than our words. Tone of voice affects the temperature. When tempers flare, the size of the problem changes based on the heat applied to it. If the reaction is more heated than the action, the problem usually increases. If the reaction is less intense than the action, the problem usually decreases. So…
Check Your Reaction
Stephen Covey who wrote the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was asked which was the most important habit of the seven and he said it was the first one, being proactive. What he means by that word is to remember the power you always have to choose. That between any stimulus and response there is a space. That space represents our choice— how we will choose to respond to any given situation, person, thought or event. He says nobody can really make you angry. You choose whether or not you give them that power. Two people can have the same thing happen to them but choose a totally different response can’t they?
It’s all about how you view the situation.
He said one day he was sitting on a subway and seeing a man get on who’d totally lost control of his kids running all over the carriage making noise. Finally, Covey got annoyed enough to say, ‘Excuse me, don’t you think you should be controlling your kids behaviour?’
The man looked over sadly and said, “Yes I’m sorry I suppose I should, but you see I just left the hospital where their Mum just died.”
That caused what he calls a paradigm shift of thinking! Of how he responded.
So often if I’m in traffic and some idiot cuts me up Zoe will say ‘Maybe he’s having to rush to hospital.’
And I’ll say “No, he’s just a jerk!’
But if it helps you can imagine a pause button between stimulus and response—a button you can press, to pause, think and pray about what’s the best, God honouring response to the situation.
Check Your Perspective.
The best gift you can give someone sometimes, is the benefit of the doubt. Defensiveness so often stops me focusing on solving the problem. Pressing pause gives me chance to see it from the other person’s point of view.
My friend Paul McGee who’s known as the SUMO guy teaches people about the beachball to help with this. Imagine if I hold up a great big beachball, you see it as red, and he sees it as orange and she sees it as yellow. But that’s because none of us are seeing all of it, just our perspective. And when I see from your perspective that helps me put it into perspective and check my reaction, before it’s nuclear!
I can ask, ‘How big an issue is it, really? Does my reaction match the situation?’ If not, is that because I’m actually responding to an underlying issue I haven’t sorted out, or something from my past. Maybe I’m seeing red and getting in that fight, because it’s easier than the one I really need to have. Which is with myself.
How much less friction would we have; how much more acceleration and momentum would we get into the plans and blessings God has for our relationships, our work, our families and future if we pressed pause next time the bad battle came challenging us to get involved and asked ourselves:
“Does this really matter?”
“Should it really matter to me?”
And “Is this even my fight?”
If not, put that war horse into reverse! Because you’ll never win the fight, you shouldn’t have even got involved in.