With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Q: I was following some of your previous columns on “spiritual warfare.” They got me wondering if some of what I am going through is that. When I have previously thought of “spiritual war-fare” I have thought of us doing battle against the principalities and powers of this world. But I believe you have opened another dimension to the battle. That dimension is what goes on within me.
I want you to comment more on that, and here is why. I am a pastor. I am also driven by feelings of unworthiness. These come over me especially when I have done something that I think is wrong. Also, there are things in my life that I continue to do that I think are wrong, but I feel I don’t have much control over them. These thoughts and feelings plague me. When I preach or teach I feel a little like a fraud (perhaps that is too strong, but it really is there for me). I speak God’s forgiveness and love but I do not really experience it. This saps my energy and depresses me.
I don’t want you to tell me what to do about this. But I do want to know if you think this qualifies as spiritual warfare.
A: It does. While you indicate that you do not want me to tell you what to do about this, I am going to anyway, in the hope that my suggestions will be helpful and lead to action on your part. I offer three suggestions.
One is that you pick up Dr. John Kleinig’s book, Grace Upon Grace, available from Concordia Publishing House. Dr. Kleinig’s understanding of this is sound, insightful and helpful. When you read about spirituality as he understands it within the Lutheran tradition, you will begin to see that one place of focused spiritual warfare is indeed within us — what he calls “conscience.” If Satan can get to any of us, so that we begin to question and doubt the forgiveness and love that actually comes to us as a gift of God, then Satan has a toehold. This will, of course, work on us to rob us of energized ministry. But reading the book should not be the end of what you do.
Second, talking this out with a pastoral counselor or sharing it with another pastor who is wise and mature is a very important step. Going to a father-confessor, spiritual director or pastoral counselor is critical. That is because it allows you to speak out loud to someone else (not just a private conversation in your closet) about that with which you struggle. You specifically name what it is that you lay at the foot of the cross. I have known many folks who have never spoken out loud about what they do or think or feel that vexes their conscience. Nor have they ever heard the forgiveness of Christ spoken directly to their struggle. This is spiritual warfare, because it is this inner conflict and vexation that Satan uses. In the body of Christ, we (including you) should be using this core resource.
Third, I want to share with you another reader response, which follows.
Q: Thanks so much for bringing to light the real challenge of ministry in our time. Too often pastors and [laypeople] alike assume that their chief problems are financial or psychological, when at the root of them is the church’s old evil foe — who continually seeks to work his havoc, undermining Gospel proclamation at every opportunity.
Likewise, there is a lot of misinformation circulating regarding the proper Christian response to demonic activity. Doxology: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel is hosting Dr. John Kleinig … for an overnight pastors conference on spiritual warfare in two locations this October.
A: Check out more about this conference — being offered Oct. 9-10 in Waukesha, Wis., and Oct. 11-12 in Schuyler, Neb. — at www.doxology.us.
The following is from information about that conference:
“The outcome of [the] battle is not decided by the victories of the Church in its crusades for morality, justice and truth in the world but by the victory of Christ with His Word and by His Spirit in the conscience of every Christian.”
I think this speaks directly to your struggle.
The Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is associate dean of Ministerial Formation and director of the M.Div. and Alternate Route programs at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted June 29, 2012