It's reassuring to know that not every spiritual victory will happen instantly.
This truth (like many others) is one that we often know theologically, but struggle with in practice. We get frustrated with ourselves when we struggle in an area. We grow discouraged when someone in whom we've invested time and prayer falls. We want every victory to be a dramatic delivery from Egypt, a parting of the Red Sea and a dance on the banks of the river.
Such divine deliverance is an important part of our walk with Christ, establishing strongly within us an awareness of His character and ability to deliver. In the same chapter, God recounts this deliverance to the Israelites to encourage them toward faith, not fear:
God had a new victory planned for the children of Israel - but He tells them it will happen "little by little". His mighty hand and outstretched arm would be equally at work in the gradual deliverance as it had been in the dramatic one.
What a relief this is to me, and should be to anyone seeking to advance the kingdom of God. One reality God is teaching me lately is that just as ministry opportunities are present in every aspect of my life, the reality of spiritual warfare is also present. When we individually or corporately live with a focus on the kingdom, we will face ongoing struggles with the world, our own flesh, and satan - who wants to stop the kingdom in its tracks. God guarantees that we can walk in victory over all these enemies - but that victory might come "little by little."
"Little by little." That's encouraging, because in some of my ongoing battles I might not see progress over the past week - but I can look back a year and see definite forward movement. My part, especially in battles with my flesh is simply to walk humbly with my God - walking in surrender and obedience, trusting that He truly knows what is best for me in every area of life.
One of the principles that has jumped out at me in scripture recently is that the smallest acts of obedience take back ground and block oportunities for the enemy to gain an opportunity (See 1 Corinthians 7:5; Ephesians 4:27; James 1:14-15; Revelation 12:11). Spiritual warfare is not only reactive, it's proactive. Like the military and the underground in World War II undercut the enemy by sabotage, I can "sabotage" the enemy's efforts in my life by the weapons of worship, prayer,and the word of God - not only hearing it but living it out. This obedience sabotages the enemy by refusing to give him more ammunition and takes back ground he's gained. The purpose? To keep moving forward on mission with God. When we are not distracted by minor skirmishes, we are able to keep moving forward for kingdom gain and be prepared to fight for those still held captive. This does not mean a frontal assault won't come - but we can make it very hard for the enemy in the process.
Psalm 101 teaches a lot about the warfare of obedience. Every morning, we have to silence the voices that come our way which are not from God. We do this by taking in huge doses of the Word and setting our minds on what the Spirit desires by living His way, not our own. We make no room in our "temple" for evil, carefully choose who ministers to us, and refuse to allow the actions of those not walking in faith to "cling" to us.
Friedrich Nietzsche spoke of "a long obedience in the same direction". This describes the "little by little" victory quite well. Ultimately, our obedience is fueled by faith - and our faith is described in 1 John 5:4 as the victory that overcomes the world. Think about that - our faith itself IS the victory. Simply continuing to believe and persevere, to walk in faith, is in itself victory!
Whatever you are facing in your ministry today, in your efforts to engage the kingdom - keep walking forward in obedience fueled by faith. Remember that we don't have to know the 'strategic plan' for the battle. All He asks if for us to walk in him, and allow ourselves to be led by Him - in a word, to surrender. Don't resist the Spirit at any point; don't grieve Him by rebellion or quench Him by shutting out the gifts He gives us. When we do that, we will find ourselves right where He wants us - part of the victory, little by little.