Fighting Losing Battles

Over the years,  I have experienced the feeling of defeat wage war on my heart and taunt my mind. This type of ministry is hard, very hard. One day you can be making progress, the type of progress you didn’t dream possible and then, the next day, you are starting back at square one.  It can be a roller coaster of emotions and disappointments that are challenging you to quit.  There have been days where we fought hard to see a girl rescued or a child receive justice and we won. Then there are days where we fought hard, prayed hard and we lost. I have wept on the days where defeat screamed and smirked in my face begging me to throw in the towel.
 I had only been working in anti-trafficking for a short time when I came across a battle story in Judges 20 after hearing it in a sermon. The story jumped out at me as I realized that the fight for justice in the midst of losing battles had been going on for centuries.
In Judges, the tribes of Israel are about to fight their fellow tribes of Benjamin because of sin and crimes committed by the men in Gibeah and Benjamin’s refusal to address the crimes.
The Israelites were fighting for justice. A woman had been brutally raped and beaten. She died as a result of the abuse. A horrible crime had been committed by their brothers in Gibeah, a Benjamite town. The Israelites expected those guilty to pay for the crimes and demanded that the tribes of Benjamin hand over the guilty men. To everyone’s dismay, the Benjamites refuse. Something had to be done, war was inevitable, so all the men of Israel (with the exception of Benjamin) came together and prayed.
Here is that passage:
 Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand swordsmen, all of them fit for battle.  The Israelites went up to Bethel and inquired of God. They said, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Benjamites?” The LORD replied, “Judah shall go first.”

 The next morning the Israelites got up and pitched camp near Gibeah. The Israelites went out to fight the Benjamites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah.  The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day. But the Israelites encouraged one another and again took up their positions where they had stationed themselves the first day. The Israelites went up and wept before the LORD until evening, and they inquired of the LORD. They said, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites?”The LORD answered, “Go up against them.”

Then the Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day.  This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords.

 Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD. And the Israelites inquired of the LORD. (In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there,  with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.) They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?”
The LORD responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.”
Then Israel set an ambush around Gibeah.

Two lost battles, so many dead and all for a good cause. Yet, they pray, fast and seek God if they should still fight? What encourages me so much is not that the Israelites eventually win, but that they are willing to keep fighting even after great loss. God rewards their perseverance for justice and tells them they will win the final battle.

Could God ask me to fight losing battles at times to teach me how to win the war? I  asked myself this question many times in the beginning of our work. Maybe my definition of victory looked different than God’s definition. After all, I have seen that God is about the journey more than the destination and every battle has contained a powerful lesson. Whether we win or lose a battle, I know we will win the war and it is through that confidence in God that I am learning not to fear losing sometimes.

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