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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Recognizing Strongholds

Dr. Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).

Our Christian walk is a glorious adventure, but with hidden spiritual warfare dangers. One of the most pernicious is strongholds. Os Hillman has a very clear definition of a stronghold:
A stronghold is a fortress of thoughts that controls and influences our attitudes. They color how we view certain situations, circumstances, or people. When these thoughts and activities become habitual, we allow a spiritual fortress to be built around us. We become so used to responding to the "voice" of that spirit, that its abode in us is secure. All of this happens on a subconscious level.1
Strongholds produce strong passions and emotions including fear, anger, jealousy and rejection, among many others. Strongholds frequently go unrecognized given that they habitually center on God-honoring activities and motives. I struggle with work-related strongholds of perfectionism and affirmation addiction in which “the job” sometimes becomes a “god,” giving a foothold to the fear and cares of this life, thereby sowing tares in my wheat fields. We become so busy laboring in God’s name, we forget that we are under His authority in a God-directed partnership. What are some of the key indicators of a stronghold’s presence? One factor is that we are driven to succeed irrespective of the cost.

God always leads us, while strongholds compel us with an exaggerated sense of duty, obligation and compulsion that extinguishes the joy, peace and satisfaction of working in harmony with the Lord. In effect the stronghold becomes our master, as we begin to rationalize that our fleshly motives are synonymous with God’s will. A second factor is that the stronghold becomes more important than obeying God. When our ministry becomes a god, we refuse to walk up our own personal Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22) and sacrifice what is most precious to us. Like Peter after the resurrection in John 21:15, God is asking me, “Gary, do you love me more than these? And I say, “Yes, Lord you know I do,” but our actions contradict our words. In effect, we have become desensitized to the pain. We prefer living in bondage with our known stronghold than facing the fear of an unknown future in which the stronghold “splinter” is removed. In essence Jesus is asking us the same question as the man at the pool of Siloam, do we want to get well? Often the answer is really no, and like the crippled man at pool, we always have an excuse, as we grow fond and accustomed to the pain.

A third element of a stronghold is an unrelenting rumination, obsession and “what-if” focus dominating our thinking patterns. In essence, where your treasure is, there is where your heart (and thoughts) is also. It seems at times that my work took precedence over my wife’s cancer, at least at a mental thought frequency level. Strongholds overwhelm our spiritual peace when we assign them a higher precedence given an endemic double-mindedness. When I was with my wife, my thoughts frequently focused on the work that needed to get done. When I was working, I experienced guilt over neglecting my wife. What is the underlying root cause of a stronghold? The motives are always self-promoting, and in my case it was the fear of failure and the perceived negative judgments of others in my desire to gain approval and affirmation. Godly motives are founded upon agape love, the unselfish placing of the needs of others over our own.

Each stronghold possesses a unique set of causal factors, but the underlying principle is relying on a counterfeit source for unconditional love, forgiveness, affirmation and significance. For example, we can confuse God’s will with that of our ministry or vocational work. When we are driven by affirmation anxiety, we are always concerned about appearances and what would my fellow Christians think. We operate under the mistaken assumption that other Christians are hearing or speaking for God, and that is clearly not always the case. The central question is to focus our thoughts on what motivates and grieves Jesus, what does He think and what would He do?

When we are committed to success irrespective of the cost, place our ministry above God’s will, and find our thoughts dominated by the issue, we need to confess, repent and renounce our sin. The first step in overthrowing a stronghold is to recognize its presence by asking the Holy Spirit to reveal and illuminate the flawed thought and behavioral patterns. We must “test our spirits” and confess what the Holy Spirit reveals. This is much more difficult to implement in practice given our proclivity for denial and the stronghold’s resistance to discovery and identification. We then must seek the Holy Spirit’s power to change our thought patterns. We cannot accomplish this task based upon self-will and effort.

The good news is that when we recognize and challenge our strongholds, our trust in God grows as we begin to view our situation from an eternal perspective. The strongholds that Jesus frees us from become a great source of ministry, healing and a demonstration of God’s victory. So please do not weary in your well-doing, and trust the Lord for victory over every stronghold in your life.

1 Hillman, Os, TGIF-Today God Is First, Spiritual Strongholds, February 16, 2007.

1 comment:

  1. What an amazingly insightful and spot-on article! So timely and so needed. So true that strongholds become so ingrained that they are perceived as personality traits rather than offenses to God requiring the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to illuminate and route them. Time for a personal inventory of my own thought patterns. This is a keeper! Thank you for your transparency, Dr. Roberts! This will help many! Praying for wide readership.