The fight-flight response, also known as the freeze-fawn response, is an idiom described by Walter Bradford Cannon, an American pioneer physiologist. He theorised that an animal’s nervous system is primed to threats in the wild by either fighting, fleeing or freezing. A person can experience a similar adrenal response even without there being any imminent danger, hence the term ‘panic attack’.
I went through a period of years in my early thirties when I experienced depression and a panic disorder. The first time I had a panic attack, I was on my way home from work. It was dark, I got off the bus and my brain seemed to suddenly slow right down. It was like slow-motion real-time. Lifting my feet seemed an exercise in preciseness rather than agility. What normally took 10 minutes to walk home took me an hour and half. Time evaporated. Perception seemed illusory. I collapsed as soon as I opened the door, and then it took me another hour to get myself to a landline to call for help (this was before the days when everyone carried a mobile phone). When I spoke on the phone, my speech was slurred as if I were drugged. I felt like I was just surviving through this one endless moment. The strange thing is, I don’t remember feeling fear.
When I experienced anxiety attacks, however, I could say I was afraid. I was hyper aware of my heart racing, my breathing hyperventilating, as if something was happening to me that I couldn't control. But I could make my brain control those things to bring myself back to a place of calm. I could tell myself I wasn't in danger.
During the panic attacks, my brain seemed to shut down and a survival mechanism seemed to kick in that was separate from my normal ability to function. I don’t know how else to explain it.
Battle is fierce. You don’t fight in combat half-heartedly and expect to win. You throw yourself fully in to the fight to survive. To win a fight, you attack as well as defend. You fight to stay alive. You fight to gain the upper hand. And you fight to take ground.
A panic attack doesn’t seem like you’re fighting – but in actual fact, it’s your body’s most extreme defence.
It was at that time I started to learn about the lack of fight in my life. How my conditioning to be compliant had broken my tender spirit. When I hear some leaders teach that breaking a child’s spirit is necessary to make them obedient, I cringe. That’s just not right. Jesus Christ taught that if we love Him we will obey Him, but He never forces His children to be compliant. It’s a choice based on the purity of a loving relationship. Jesus Himself was impassioned towards righteousness and bringing salvation to the world, according to His Father’s will. He surrendered his own will to be broken in His obedience to His Father. He was dutiful out of His love relationship and His knowledge of the need for righteousness in His creation.
I never learnt to fight. I was taught to be compliant. To "turn the other cheek". Yes, Jesus turned the other cheek, but it wasn't to accept the punch; it was to reject it. There is a flawed and damaging misconception in the church that we are to be doormats because of that verse.
The ability, and the willingness to fight, is important to living a liberated life.
Do you understand what’s at stake if you don’t learn to fight in life? At times it can be important to physically fight. More often it can be important to engage with a survival instinct in emotional crises. But mostly, do you recognise and acknowledge there is a spiritual element that you and I are playing a role in?
We’re on one side or the other of a spiritual war zone and the choices we make each day determine our emotional, mental, spiritual and even physical condition and ultimate victory. This is the sum of the parts of us. A spiritual battle is like hand-to-hand combat. It is up close and very personal. The bible expresses this in terms of spiritual warfare.
Soon after I had recommitted my life back to Jesus Christ, I was spending time with God and the Holy Spirit said to me very clearly, ‘you have many enemies Tracy-Ann’. I was suddenly afraid and literally looked around my empty living room, as if I’d see people lurking behind the furniture or the picture frames. He said, ‘you can’t see them.’ (Yes, He was there, aware of my physical response.) Then, I understood He was talking about the spiritual element.
I began a journey towards understanding that the spiritual dimension we can’t see with our eyes is just as real as the natural dimension we can see with our eyes. The bible says we live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
I eventually stopped having panic attacks but I still lived with depression and a sense of defeat. I began weaving my emotions, mental health and spiritual self together and understanding the inter-connectedness of the spiritual realm with my own personal soul. Even my body could be affected.
As a Christian, our battle is not to be feared. Each battle belongs to the Lord, but it is we who must learn to fight in His Name. He gives us the tools and the weapons, but we must allow ourselves to be trained in how to use them, and to understand what each weapon is for.
DO you know that every part of your life is in that battle – work, marriage, family, rest, recreation, finances, attitudes, ideology, worldview, behaviour, speech?
Since we are in such a battle every day, we need to know how God wants us to fight and remember something important.
The objective of war is to take possession of new land.
The purpose of battle is to acquire what rightfully belongs to the King, whom we serve. We need to learn how to keep ourselves fit and healthy, ever alert to what’s going on around us.
This isn’t a fable. This is real. The bible has many stories that we can richly learn from in this.
Remember the story of David and Goliath and King Saul who sent him out? David became a renowned warrior and all the ladies in the land sang about his conquests. We could say he was a celebrity of his day; one of the first poster boys. King Saul became insanely jealous of his popularity, his good looks and youth, and made it his life mission to destroy David.
Time and again, David went out to fight the enemies of Israel. He was the ultimate warrior because God had anointed him. He wasn't a giant, but he struck his enemies with such ferocity the people feared him and fled before him (1 Samuel 19:8). He knew it was them or him. He knew he fought in the name of the Lord God of Israel, as he famously declared when he went out to fight the giant, Goliath.
David was a man who never surrendered to the enemy; a man who went in to every battle intent on taking the victory (by force); a man who was prepared to do anything it took to conquer; a man who had great compassion for his own people, but would never give ground to the enemy. He knew when to run, when to fight, he sought God for direction, he harboured those needing safety, he delivered those needing deliverance, he had compassion for those suffering, yet he was politically and militarily sophisticated and positioned himself on all occasions to gain the upper hand and to plunder what he saw as rightfully his in battle. He was immensely skilful and immensely successful.
God described him as a man after His own heart.
Now, would you consider something with me?
Mostly, we take this to mean David was meek before the Lord. But can we remember that part of his contrite heart was to be staunchly defensive of the Lord – which also meant fighting, attacking with valour in His name, for the sake of God’s own people, Israel? David’s heart was contrite but his emotions were valiant. He was no wimp. He never held his sword with a limp hand. His body was fight-ready. His mentality was prepared. His eyes were sharp and alert. Saliently, his purpose was to stand for righteousness.
Can this give us a broader idea of God’s own heart and what our heart for God should look like?
He is a God who doesn’t want us to be defeated. A God who tells us throughout the bible, not to be afraid. A God who has equipped us to fight. A God who expects us to fight in His name – because He knows we’ll be spoil if we don’t – but our purpose is to fight for righteousness; in our own lives, the lives of those around us, and for the world, with a clear, Christ-centred, social conscience.
David gave God the glory for training him in warfare. He learnt to kill bears and lions with his bare hands in order to be a good shepherd and look after his flocks. Do you see the duality in that?
Then he killed the giant, Goliath. Then he killed his tens of thousands and had men under his command. Then he became responsible for an army of rebels, shepherding them, before he became king himself and shepherded a nation.
So many stages of understanding how to lead, fight, conquer, and shepherd.
Can you see God is taking us on a journey toward greater victories over sin, and situations in our life?
Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.
David knew God gave him His victories and was also His hiding place from His enemies.
1 Samuel 19:9-10
I will sing a new song to you, my God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you, to the one who gives victory to kings, who delivers his servant David
David knew he was anointed by The King to be king (valiant, reigning), but he was also, personally, the heavenly King’s servant (contrite).
As David made music to God because of His victories, we can carry a song in our heart for God, even in battle, because He gives us skill and courage to obtain the victory in our lives. To never surrender. To be valiant and ruthless with the enemies of God that are directing their attention on us.
John 10:10 (GNT) says, the thief [meaning Satan] comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy
God doesn’t want us to be ignorant of how to fight. Spiritually speaking, when we carry the Name of Jesus, we carry authority over every spiritual enemy of Jesus Christ no matter what our gender, race, age or sensibility. It’s something we have to learn.
Psalm 18:34 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)
He teaches my hands to war and strengthens my arms like a brass bow.
The largest Israelite tribe, Manasseh, was numerous and strong, yet they complained that the land they’d been given was too hard to conquer. There was forest and there were too many people. They wanted somewhere easier. Joshua enforced to them, clear the forest and you will have more land, fight the Canaanites in the plains and you will have more land. He said to them, “though your enemies are strong you can drive them out.” He admonished them not to flight, but to fight.
We like things to come easy. Today, we like to call that ‘favour’. We like to call that ‘blessed’. But actually that’s very limiting and creates limp-handed warriors. How effective are limp-handed warriors?
God is for you. God is for me. He has chosen to give us an inheritance but we have to go and possess it. It doesn’t get handed to us on a dinner plate. We have to fight for the victory in our lives – our land – as the Israelites were told to. But we have to learn to seek God's direction first, as David did, or we'll do it our own way, in our own strength.
We can see how many people opposed Jesus when He finally came. He had to fight to bring the gospel of the Kingdom of God and His new covenant of grace to a misled and lost world – but for Him it wasn’t a physical fight.
John 1:11 (AMP)
He came to that which was His own [that which belonged to Him—His world, His creation, His possession], and those who were His own [people—the Jewish nation] did not receive and welcome Him.
Matthew 11:12 (AMP)
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violent assault, and violent men seize it by force [as a precious prize].
The last time Jesus Christ came He came as Saviour – Messiah. We have a decision to make before we die whether we choose to believe and follow Him. The decision we make on earth will determine how we end up in eternity. Death isn’t the end to any life. It is the beginning of an eternity with or without the Saviour.
One day, very soon now, Jesus Christ is coming back as Judge and He will rule over the world. We will be asked how we lived our life by Him, as our Judge. We will be asked how we served Him. We will even be asked how we spoke about Him.
What will you say?
Who is God to you? What is man to you? Who do you bow to?
Romans 14:12 (NLT)
Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.
Matthew 12:36 (GNT)
You can be sure that on the Judgment Day you will have to give account of every useless word you have ever spoken.
Revelation 20:11-12 (ESV)
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.
How seriously have you been taking your purpose here on this earth? How significantly do you see yourself as living a life of valour but with a contrite heart?
What God has given us is liberation. Like David, we can conquer over unseen enemies that attack our lives; to never accept defeat and to keep gaining ground – be vocal, be healed, be liberated to fight for righteousness within our families, our schools, our communities – yet know how to remain shielded in the safe protection of God’s Presence and carry His love for others through our battles.
When I experienced panic attacks, the last thing I felt like I was doing was fighting. But I was. I wasn't fighting with my own strength but an intrinsic equipping that God designed my body to default to.
In the same way, spiritually, God is our default. He gives us that equipping that we don't have on our own. Further, even when we don't feel capable, or valiant to fight, He has ensured we have tools to learn to use in order to take ground and make gains. One thing to remember.
Ephesians 6:13 (ESV)
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
If you can't do anything else, just determine to stand. God is a God of increase, and more. He is not a God that accepts defeat. Nor should we.
He will see that you stand if you determine your heart towards it. He will see that you are able to fight, if you look to Him. May He bless you and keep you in your battles, to prevail because of His righteousness, in Jesus Name.