The man was obviously angry at me.
Only the left side of his body was visible to me. The other half was behind a wall.
His words still run through my mind today, almost 20 years later.
“You ’bout got messed up.”
After he spoke those words, the man moved over and revealed a shiny black object in his previously hidden hand.
My first thought was, “What’s this guy going to do with that camera and how was he going to mess me up with it?”
And then I realized he wasn’t holding a camera. It was a gun.
The work I was doing outside of this man’s apartment window early that morning apparently woke him up and made him mad enough to grab a gun, bring it outside and call me out.
This was the scariest moment of my life.
Until a couple of Sunday mornings ago.
For no particular reason, at the start of my sermon, I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of fear that I had never come anywhere close to experiencing in my life. I was seconds away from stopping my sermon and walking out of our building. Just saying one more word seemed ten times more dangerous than being confronted by that man with the gun. For the first time in my life, I wanted to quit preaching a sermon, not because people couldn’t leave their cell phones alone but because I was afraid.
I’ve been afraid before. There have been times when fear has prevented me from doing certain things. But I’ve never been afraid when I was preaching. Not the time when suspicious looking Muslim clerics showed up while I was preaching to men in Uganda and not the time a deeply troubled stranger walked up on stage and interrupted me during a sermon at my own church.
By God’s grace, I finished with almost no one knowing about my struggle. On the way home I told my wife about what I felt. The next day I told some men in my church so that they could pray for me. At our regular Wednesday night prayer meeting, I let the rest of our church know and I specifically asked for the men in our church to pray, not just for me, but for the authority of Christ over any opposition our church may face, whether physical or spiritual.
When our service began this past Sunday, many men were at the front of our building, on their knees and faces before God, praying for our church and for me. A few minutes later, I continued preaching through Ephesians, this time without the fear that I had experienced the week before.
I’m not obsessed with spiritual warfare. I’ve never read a Frank Peretti book. When my car breaks down, I blame it on the manufacturer, not the devil. My favorite teams lose because of inferior talent and questionable coaching not Screwtape and Wormwood.
With regards to spiritual warfare, infatuation leaves us on dangerous ground but so too does denial.
I know that what I felt two Sunday mornings ago was opposition from the enemy. And what happened this past Sunday was men of God fighting back, not with their own power but the power of the One who reigns supreme over thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities (Colossians 1:15-16). It made me thankful to be a part of a local community of believers. You miss out on this kind of thing when it’s just you and your favorite television preacher on Sunday mornings.
Looking back, I’m thankful for what happened to me two Sundays ago. It reminded me that spiritual warfare isn’t confined to strange voices and the crosses you have hanging on your wall suddenly turning upside down. That Sunday reminded me that anytime the gospel is proclaimed, whether from a pulpit or across a table, it is an act of aggression against the enemy. Counter strikes are to be expected.
Sometimes leadership can be lonely. Last Sunday reminded me that I’m not alone. There are men praying with me and for me and there is a conquering Saviour who “strengthens me with power through his Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16).