“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” - Eph. 6:12
In my lifetime, I’ve been in many situations that bear out the truth of this verse, ranging from a nearly imperceptible shift in the atmosphere to the undeniable, scary sense of an evil presence in the room.
Over the last few months I have been (and continue to be) on a journey that is exposing me to a different kind of spiritual warfare. As I share my experience with you, I pray that it will be an encouragement in your daily battles and struggles.
It all started so slowly and subtly.
I began to notice that I wasn’t tearing up as much anymore when I watched those stirring videos everybody shares on Facebook. Unconsciously, I was shutting down my emotions in an act of self-preservation, the result of difficult events in my personal life.
I believe that choosing to go into survival mode instead of turning to the Lord to meet and comfort me opened the door to the enemy. Little by little I became less interested in church. I became less interested in spending time with other believers. I began to slip into a season of doubt and fear. And I was blaming myself for it all, heaping on the shame.
It all happened over the course of a few months, but the slow and steady cumulative effect began to change me deeply. I think I got scared into an awareness of the enemy at work in my life when I was in church Easter weekend. A guest was presenting the Gospel message — the Good News of the resurrection of Christ — in a very clear, concise, and moving way. Yet it never touched my heart once.
“How can this be?” I thought. “I have sold everything, left my home, basically given my life to tell this same story, and now it no longer moves my heart?”
I came home from church in crisis mode.
The following day, in a fit of anger, our youngest son shouted something that was very condemning and put into words one of my greatest fears about myself. It was an arrow to my heart, straight from the enemy’s bow. I left the apartment and ambled about, trying to process what had just happened.
I found myself crossing the Danube River and climbing up the stairs to the fortress that overlooks the river. I remember thinking how easy it would be to just walk up to the low restraining wall and step off into oblivion.
Are you encouraged yet?
Despite all the doubt and unbelief that had crept into my heart, I continued praying, asking the Lord to help me make sense of all that was happening in me, but there was nothing perceptible offered in response. The enemy, however, was unceasingly telling me lies, and there was no hope or relief in sight.
Then one morning, something was different. The air felt different. Things felt lighter. My prayers flowed. I had a heart for worship. Yes, I even cried a little after watching one of those stupid videos.
What am I to conclude as I reflect on all of this?
I am convinced that the enemy has been telling me lies ever since we arrived in Serbia. I also believe that the principalities that have authority over Serbia and Novi Sad are powerful and were telling me the same lies that everyone in the city has to listen to on a daily... no... hourly basis.
But here’s where it gets real for me - the Serbs around me do not have Jesus Christ to turn to.
When that voice tells them to jump to their death, many of them do it. When that voice, which is disguised as their own voice or the voice of a family member, tells them that there is no hope, they believe it. When they hear the Good News of the Gospel preached, they are unmoved, just as I was.
The enemy has them in a desperate situation.
They are in great need of some good news. But what is Good News to the Serbs?
As I was relating all of this to my friend Nesha, I saw tears form in his eyes — tears of empathy and understanding. He recognized that I had been ushered into their world, and that it is a dark and difficult place. But I told him that, looking back, I see the whole process as a mercy from God.
God allowed me to go down that path — he didn’t rescue me, for months. He allowed me to live like the Serbs live. And that is something that as a missionary you cannot manufacture.
Now I feel like I can ask, “What is Good News to the Serbs?” from a different starting point. I am hopeful that, as a result, I will arrive at a compelling answer that I can then freely share with those around me. I will be able to say with confidence and understanding:
“I know what you are going through, but I’ve got some Good News for you...”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Hovda and his wife, Jody, have lived and served in Novi Sad, Serbia since 2012. Prior to that, they served in Caracas, Venezuela for eight years. Paul and Jody have three children; two attend university in the US while their youngest lives with them in Serbia.