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Breakthroughs & Breakouts

by Dennis Pollock

Most of us have at one time or another found ourselves praying for a breakthrough. It feels like we are in a war. The struggle is exhausting. We have been working and waiting for some blessing or relief in our situation, and wondering why it is taking so long. A breakthrough is defined as an offensive thrust that penetrates and carries beyond a defensive line in warfare. The Bible and the histories of God's servants are filled with breakthroughs of various kinds.

Implied in the idea of a breakthrough is a lengthy period of prior resistance and difficulty. Immediate answers to prayer are wonderful and our Heavenly Father is sometimes willing to give them, but don't call them breakthroughs. Bloody, sweaty, exhausted believers who have prayed long and hard, waited until they felt they could wait no longer, and then waited some more – these are the ones that can rightfully call their victories breakthroughs.

Spiritual Warfare

The Bible reveals that we who are God's children are engaged in a great contest of spiritual warfare. Paul writes:

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 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. (Ephesians 6:11-13)

There is no war without an opposing army. To be engaged in a war means to have an enemy. We who are Christ's face an enemy army that will constantly oppose and harass us. They carry no guns, employ no cannons or mortars, and wear no uniforms. Their best work is done when we are not even aware of their presence. They are spirit beings, unseen to the human eye but deadly nonetheless. They carry sickness and disease, spoil relationships, split churches, transform cute babies into cruel, wicked monsters in a couple of decades, foster wars, promote famines, and spread resentment and jealousy with joyful abandon.

Our fight is called the fight of faith: Paul exhorts Timothy: "Fight the good fight of faith…" (1 Timothy 6:12). Any fight requires a certain measure of aggressiveness. Passive, laid-back people who go around singing, "Que sera, sera" don't make great soldiers. And in our Christian fight of faith, we too need to be aggressive in dealing with sin and evil. In our dealings with people we are to be gentle and forbearing, but not so in our struggle with the prince of this world and his malicious minions.

Need for endurance

A prolonged fight demands a healthy measure of endurance. Heavyweight fights are sometimes settled in the early rounds, but many times they go the distance. By the fifteenth round it is almost painful to see the two gladiators staggering around trying to knock each other down. They are absolutely exhausted but still they must fight on until that final bell. It is here when endurance training pays off big time. The match will not be decided by the best puncher or the one with the fanciest footwork, but by the boxer that has the endurance to fight well in spite of supreme fatigue. This is why boxers don't simply punch bags all day long as they train. They run constantly to build their endurance. They hope it won't be necessary, but if they end up going to those terrible last rounds, they must be prepared.

Breakthroughs are needed when we have been bottled up by our enemy into a confined position that blocks us from reaching our full potential, or hinders us from receiving a major blessing that the Lord has promised us. We pray and wait and work and pray and wait and work some more, and still nothing seems to change in the slightest. We need a breakthrough!

Hedgerow Fighting

A good example of a breakthrough in the history of modern warfare may be found in the days immediately after the famous Normandy D-day invasion. America and Britain achieved tremendous success in their beach landings, but in the weeks that followed the going proved very slow and very tough. The word "stalemate" began to be heard. A major problem was the hedgerow country in which the soldiers found themselves. The area was filled with small farm fields, and each field was separated from the next by a row of brush and trees growing on mounds of earth four to six feet high. The trees and brush were allowed to grow wild and they formed a nearly impenetrable thicket which made a perfect cover for the German defenders to mow down the invading American troops. Machine guns were placed at the corners of each field where they could set up a crosspattern of fire turning the area into a deadly killing zone. Once the Americans finally were able to take the hedgerow, the surviving Germans would regroup behind the next hedgerow, and the process would start all over again.

Stephen Ambrose wrote: " There were, on the average, fourteen hedgerows to the kilometer in Normandy. The enervating, costly process of gearing up for an attack, making the attack, carrying the attack home, mopping up after the attack, took half a day or more. And at the end of the action, there was the next hedgerow, fifty to a hundred meters or so away… From June 7 on, GIs labored at the task. They heaved and pushed and punched and died doing it, for two hedgerows a day."

After seven weeks of fighting like this, very little territory had been gained. The Allies had tons of tanks, jeeps, guns, and supplies of various kinds arriving on the beaches behind them, but until they achieved a breakthrough, most of this equipment was just sitting on the beach, useless. They were in desperate need of the open country where they could use their superior resources to their advantage and rout the enemy. Finally the top generals conceived a plan for a breakthrough. They would concentrate their forces in a small area. But before the infantry did its thing, they would soften the enemy defenders by laying down the greatest barrage of bombs the world had ever seen in such a tiny area. This was the first use of the concept of carpet bombing – covering a fairly small area with so many bombs it was like laying a carpet of destruction over that region. It proved deadly to many and unnerving to those who survived. The defenders were left dazed, disoriented, and confused. When the infantry began advancing through the bombed out patch of land, resistance was minimal.

Stephen Ambrose wrote, "The results for the Germans were near-catastrophic. The bombed area looked like the surface of the moon. Craters had overlapped each other in many areas. Entire hedgerows were blasted away. (German) General Bayerlein reported that he lost "at least 70 percent of my troops, out of action – dead, wounded, crazed, or numbed." General Omar Bradley wrote to General Eisenhower the following day, "This thing has busted wide open. Things on our front really look good!"

They would get better and better. In a short time 100,000 U. S. troops poured through that opening and began a circling movement to surround the German army. General George Patton was turned loose with his army and began to attack with speed and ferocity hardly ever seen before. Whereas during the hedgerow fighting gains were measured in yards per day, now Patton's army was romping through France in gains that measured many miles per day. George Patton, after a long period of inactivity, was like a child at a carnival. He sometimes split his army and attacked in two or three directions at once. His constant order was, "Advance, and keep on advancing." The Germans were soon forced out into the open ground and proved no match for the superior numbers, weapons, and air power of the Allies. They began to retreat and in a short time the retreat turned into a rout. What the Americans had planned as a breakthrough turned into a breakout, and led to the speedy liberation of the entire nation of France.

Leadership

Let us look at the spiritual equivalent of this kind of breakthrough and breakout. The first necessity for a breakthrough is good leadership. The Allied breakthrough in Normandy did not come because some army privates accidentally stumbled into the right place at the right time. This operation was meticulously planned. Options were discussed, risks were weighed, calculations performed.

In warfare most of the fighting is done by young men, men in their late teens or early twenties. While these men are wonderful in marching, fighting, doing without sleep or food for days on end, and sleeping in foxholes, they would be utterly incompetent to lead entire armies. The real leaders are the generals, mature men in their forties and fifties who stay behind the battle lines and plan and strategize. These men have been studying military strategy since their youth. They are almost never seen by the enemy, but if they are great leaders, the enemy will feel their presence. The best generals are the ones who are not only smart and wise, but who also inspire their men. Their men come to trust them and to love them to the point that they will go anywhere, risk everything, and obey their every order.

We, who are involved in a great spiritual warfare have the greatest Leader of all – the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, Joshua was a fore-runner and symbol of Jesus who is our great Leader, the One who brings us safely into our promised lands. Our leader is more than smart; He is God. He makes no mistakes, and His plans and strategy for our lives are always absolutely perfect. He asks us to simply trust and obey Him, and in doing that to recognize that all will be well. There is no foe He cannot vanquish, no situation too complex for His wisdom, no trap beyond His ability to save and deliver.

Patient endurance

Just as with Normandy there will always be the need for hedgerow fighting. Breakthroughs are awesome, but they are always preceded by day to day, patient endurance in our daily struggle with evil. The Bible describes Christians as "those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality." We will have our own hedgerows to conquer, our enemies to drive out as we wait for God's ultimate breakthrough. So, how do we fight this fight of faith? It is by patiently continuing to daily follow Christ and do the good works He has ordained for us. Paul writes, "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart" (Galatians 6:9).

Growing weary is always a danger when we are fighting the slow, small battles and seeing little progress in our situation. A major part of the fight of faith is daily doing our duty and living responsibly in small matters that do not seem particularly glamorous. Winning the little battles that don't seem too impressive. Yet without them, the bigger victory will never come. Without those seven weeks of hedgerow fighting, the breakthrough and breakout that led to the liberation of France could not have happened.

The Bible describes the Gentile Cornelius this way: "a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always." One day an angel came for a visit and told him, "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God" (Acts 10:4). Cornelius' day to day faithfulness in giving to the poor and prayer had somehow piled up all the way to heaven. God responded with an amazing breakthrough in his life and in the life of the church. The first Gentile heard the gospel and was saved. Breakthrough became breakout, and today Gentiles comprise the majority of the church.

With every new step of faith, every new ministry, every fresh blessing from heaven, and every inch of ground you take for Christ, you will be challenged. You will often feel hemmed in, restrained, and resisted. It is time to move forward, take the hedgerows day by day, and be content for a time with small victories. The day will come when God's big bombers will appear over your skies and blast the enemy out of his position. A door will open before you that no man or demon can shut.

Keep your eyes on your wise and holy Commander, the Lord Jesus Christ!

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