Victory Over or Struggling With?

Last night I was reading Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting. I was struck by many thoughts, including his quote from Philip Yancey: 

“Much of what I read on depression, on doubt, on suicide, on suffering, on homosexuality, seems written by people who begin with a Christian conclusion and who have never been through the anguished steps familiar to a person struggling with depression, doubt, suicide, suffering, or homosexuality. No resolution could be so matter-of-fact to a person who has actually survived such a journey.” 

Hill concludes, “I hope in what follows to convey something of what it’s actually like to have survived—or, rather, to be surviving—the anguished journey of struggling with homosexuality.” 

How We Communicate Our Struggles

In Evangelical circles, in pastoral care, and in the biblical counseling world, it seems to me that we spend much more time preaching, teaching, and counseling about “victory over,” and much less time journeying with and pondering “struggling with,” “fighting with,” or even “victory in.” Do we perhaps sometimes mistakenly convey the impression that applying biblical principles eliminates the battle, the struggle? 

I wonder if Yancey is onto something with his diagnosis. It’s one thing to write about overcoming—academically, dispassionately, as an observer. But what about writing and counseling out of our own souls, our own ongoing struggles. 

Many of the leaders of modern Evangelicalism and of modern biblical counseling, like myself, are middle-class, “type A,” academically-inclined, white males. We write, teach, preach, care, and counsel out of this perspective. 

Look again at some of the literature we produce. How often are we writing about our current struggles or our ongoing struggles with issues such as depression, anxiety, heterosexual lusts, homosexual lusts, envy, jealousy, anger, and the like? How often do we preach about our current and ongoing struggles? 

Stop for a moment before you say, “Oh, I just talked about how last year I battled ____________.” That’s part of our problem. We write and preach about the battle after we have won it. We talk about the valley once we are back on the mountaintop

What impact might it have on our fellow-strugglers if we talked about the battle during the battle—while we are still in the valley? How might it connect truth to life if we were honest enough to admit that we have some lifelong, ongoing battles that we struggle with rather than that we always have “victory” over? 

A Personal Confession

I struggle everyday with anxiety, fear, and worry. Given my level of “productivity,” that confession might surprise a lot of people. 

For others, that confession might seem to disqualify me from being a biblical counselor. “If you don’t have victory over these struggles, then what right do you have to counsel others?” 

I view it differently. The fact that I experience daily struggles with, the fact that I daily battle against anxiety, fear, and worry, and that I seek to do so in dependence upon the Word of God, the people of God, and the Spirit of God, may be exactly what qualifies me. Each day I seek God’s daily bread to empower me to have victory in the daily battle as I fight, in God’s power, against the effects of the fall in my life.

Not Recanting, but Re-emphasizing 

But this isn’t really about me. It’s about us. It’s about being biblically accurate about Christian living. 

Anyone who has read any of my writings, and perhaps especially Soul Physicians, knows that I emphasize being “more than conquerors.” I major on our new identity in Christ and on our regeneration—our new nature in Christ. 

I believe in the power of Christ’s resurrection (Ephesians 1:18-23; Ephesians 3:20; Philippians 3:10). That’s why I call my ministry RPM: Resurrection Power Multipliers. Our daily struggles against suffering and sin is the very reason we must cling to Christ’s resurrection power. 

I’m not recanting of any of that. 

I am wanting to emphasize other truths that I have taught but perhaps have not highlighted quite as well. We need the truth about and the implications of living in a fallen world in fallen bodies—the groanings that exist until our glorification (see Paul in Romans 8:19-27). 

I understand that sometimes God works in miraculous and mysterious ways to give what seems like total, instantaneous, ongoing victory. It occurs at times for the person struggling with drinking. It occurs at times for the person struggling with homosexuality (or with heterosexual lusts). It occurs at times for the person struggling with anxiety. Some experience ongoing victory over

Many more experience daily, lifelong struggles against. For many, every day is another day to maintain sobriety in the power of Christ. For many, every day is another day to fight against homosexual lusts or heterosexual lusts. For many, like myself, every day is another day to struggle with anxiety in and through the power of the cross. (The Bible clearly portrays these truths by all the imperatives about continually battling against and putting off…) 

Soul-to-Soul Ministry

Like the Apostle Paul, we need to give people God’s Word and our own souls (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Like the Apostle Paul, we can pray fervently for the removal of a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) or of excruciating suffering (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). But at the end of the day, many times God still says, “Not yet. I never promised to remove you from all suffering and temptation. I want you to cling to Me continually as you struggle with and fight for victory in your situation.” 

As we provide pastoral care and biblical counseling, we need to minister out of the anguish of our own ongoing struggle with suffering and against sin. We need to connect soul-to-struggling-soul. As we write and preach, we have to stop implying that the resolution to any battle is easy and matter-of-fact. As congregations, we need to invite one another to join together as we struggle in the anguished journeys we face as we live in a fallen world. We are all, as Paul Tripp reminds us, people in need of change helping people in need of change. 

Join the Conversation

What is your testimony of daily struggling with suffering and against sin? 

How would our pastoral care, counseling, preaching, and teaching change if we ministered out of our anguished souls?

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