Using Your Winter To Win Your Battles
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King George and his army must have been having a good laugh. George Washington and his Continental Army had been whipped in battle after battle in their campaign to become independent from Britain. British troops had driven the Americans out of New York City, across the Hudson River, across New Jersey, and finally into Pennsylvania. Then came the winter of 1777, at a place outside of Philadelphia called Valley Forge. Washington's troops faced not only a physical winter there, but an emotional winter. Discouragement and defeat may have been their worst enemies. But General Washington wasn't about to let those enemies win. He fought back by immediately deploying his soldiers to fortifying their camp. Then the drills began. A veteran European military officer began to drill those soldiers every day, teaching them a single set of maneuvers rather than the multiple approaches that had created confusion in those past battles. That winter, they were learning one way of doing things while Washington worked on getting more recruits and building his army into a real fighting force. Many historians believe that the outcome of America's battle for independence was decided at Valley Forge more than any battle - an army that came out of Valley Forge to stun the British with major victories. One army went into the winter at Valley Forge - divided, discouraged, demoralized. Another army emerged from that winter. They were unified, they were fortified, they were confident because of what they had done with their winter.
In many ways, the outcome of your battles may be decided, not on the battlefield alone, but in how you use your winter. And you may be in one of those cold, bleak times right now. You could succumb to your fears and your feelings and just surrender. Or you could pull a spiritual "Valley Forge." You could use your winter to get stronger, more together, more focused on what you need to do to win.
In some ways, Jesus' disciples expected their winter to begin with His announced departure to heaven. The One who had called them to be with Him was now leaving them and entrusting to them the work He had started. In Luke 24, Jesus tells them to tell the world about Him and then, "...while He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven." In a way, their winter had begun, as it often does when you lose someone you love. But they knew what to do with their winter! In our word for today from the Word of God taken from Acts 1 and 2, "they all joined together constantly in prayer." Then they got their team of 12 back to full strength by replacing Judas with another disciple. And, "When the day of Pentecost came (that's the day God sent His Holy Spirit), they were all together in one place...and all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit." At that point, they exploded on the city of Jerusalem with the Gospel that would, that day, start spreading around the world.
But they had to use their winter to get together, to get stronger, and to get closer to God. You need to handle your winter that way. Don't just sit there worrying or feeling sorry for yourself or wallowing in your emotions. Take action to get strong. Spend extra time with God right now. Strengthen your relationship with your family and your coworkers. Think through what you need to stop doing and what you need to start doing to focus on what really matters. And prayerfully plan for a future, right there in the middle of your valley, even when the future looks very uncertain. While the bombs were falling on London during World War II, Winston Churchill was in his underground bunker - not worrying about the bombs, but actually planning the invasion of Germany!
Discouragement and fear and drifting from God - those are your greatest enemies, not what faces you on your battlefields. This winter is not dead time or despair time. It's get ready time. What you do with your winter will decide whether you win or lose!