“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” — John 7:38
Halted by Hesitation, by Randall D. Kittle

Our family was watching a historical movie entitled, “10 Days That Unexpectantly Changed America” when suddenly I felt the strong presence of the Lord. Scenes of various Civil War skirmishes flashed across the television screen as the title for the next section appeared … ANTIETAM. Then I heard the Lord say, “Watch carefully and learn the lesson of Antietam, for the Church, also, is in a pivotal battle — and victory means the end of oppression and freedom from slavery. My Church must declare war on the enemy wherever he is found. I have provided you with all you need to know to be able gain the victory, but those who hesitate instead of heeding will not taste victory. Instead, they will taste the bitter tears of loss. Learn the lesson and warn My children so they will be alert, prepared, and able to gain the victory.”

The bloodiest day in United States history was not September 11, 2001, Pearl Harbor, or D-Day. It was September 17, 1862 — the battle of Antietam. More Americans died on that day than any other day in our military history. Though no one knows the exact number, the causalities are estimated to have been about 23,000. After twelve hours of fighting and more than 50,000 artillery rounds, you and I cannot possibly visualize the carnage that must have met the eye when the smoke finally began to settle outside of Sharpsburg, Maryland. All those who witnessed it personally were overwhelmed and appalled.

This battle developed as an attempt by the Union forces to repel the Confederate army’s first invasion into Union territory. After Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had launched a campaign into Maryland, something quite providential happened. On September 13, some of General McClellan’s men stumbled upon a detailed order explaining Lee’s invasion plans. As the general read it, he discovered that his own troops were closer to Lee than any of Lee’s supporting armies. That day he wrote about it to his friend and supporting general John Gibbon saying,
“Here is a paper with which, if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home.”  After telegraphing the news to the President at noon on September 13, he ordered his units to depart the following morning rather than ordering them to set out for the South Mountain passes immediately. The 18-hour delay allowed Lee time to discover that McClellan knew of his plans and to readjust. (The delay also doomed the federal garrison at Harpers Ferry because the relief column McClellan sent could not reach them before they were forced to surrender.)

Almost Victory
On the evening of September 15, the Union army reached Antietam Creek just to the east of Sharpsburg where Lee’s army (presently only 18,000 troops) was positioned. The planned attack on September 16 was put off because of early morning fog. This gave Lee even more time to prepare his defenses and gather reinforcements. You can see why Abraham Lincoln said of McClellan, “The general is always almost ready to fight.”

Despite McClellan’s good fortune and a significant advantage in manpower, the Union narrowly carried the day. McClellan was unwilling to employ his ample reserve forces to capitalize on localized successes, which repeatedly turned breakthroughs into stalemates. As the fighting wore on in the afternoon, the two corps McClellan kept in reserve were in fact larger than Lee’s entire remaining force.

The reason for McClellan’s reluctance was that he was convinced he was outnumbered. Before the battle McClellan had written,
“If I am not reinforced … it is probable that I will be obliged to fight nearly double my numbers, strongly entrenched.” The truth was that McClellan had about 87,000 soldiers compared to Lee’s 40,000. It was he who out numbered his opponent, and by more than 2-to-1.

No Follow Through
Given the information leak ahead of time and the far greater size of his army, President Lincoln was understandably disappointed when the Union did not win a more decisive victory. But he was even more astonished that from September 17 to October 26, McClellan failed to pursue Lee’s battered army across the Potomac. This was even more incredulous because there had been repeated entreaties from the War Department and the President himself had ordered him to do so. In some of his correspondence, Lincoln practically begged McClellan to respond. But time and again McClellan ignored him. He responded with an ever-increasing list of excuses: shortages of equipment, exhaustion of his men, weariness of his horses, and the fear of overextending his forces. In mid October, the President tartly retorted to McClellan’s excuses, “If you don’t plan to use the army, may I borrow it for a while?”

McClellan didn’t cross the Potomac until October 26; one month and nine days after the battle, and three weeks after Lincoln met with him at Antietam and ordered him to cross the river in pursuit of Lee. By then it was too late. Lee had been reinforced. The Army of Northern Virginia remained intact. Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, stood just out of reach. Tens of thousands had died for a partial victory, and hundreds of thousands more would die over the next few years because the battle had not been followed through to completion.

When Abraham Lincoln finally relieved McClellan of his command in November, he noted to the Cabinet that the general
“has a bad case of the slows.” With his dismissal, McClellan’s war career was over.

Five Fatal Flaws
As the end of the age unfolds, we are living in days of the most pivotal battle in history. The outcome will determine whether or not we remain strong in the faith, and whether we live lives that show the world the genuineness of the Gospel and cause them to want what we have. Victory against our enemy will mean glory for God and freedom for those the enemy longs to keep locked in darkness. God has won the final victory, but it is up to us to work out our salvation and appropriate that victory in and through our lives.

As I prayed about what lessons the Lord wants us to learn from the Battle of Antietam, He showed me five specific flaws that caused the Union leader to settle for the enemy merely withdrawing, when he could have had him surrender in defeat. Let’s look at these five fatal flaws.

#1 — Wanting Peace with the Enemy
One reason it was so hard for General George McClellan to whole-heartedly pursue victory was that he didn’t see the South as his enemy, merely his separated brothers and sisters. While this might have been a good political stance, it was a terrible position to take as a general. It must be hard to fight a battle when you are not really at war and your opponent is not really your enemy.

At Antietam, McClellan followed
his battle plan for the Civil War. He couldn’t destroy the Confederate army because he didn’t want to destroy the Confederate army — that wasn’t his plan. He wanted to repel their advance and “punish” them severely so the South would see their error and want to rejoin the Union. But as believers, we need to be soldiers like those Abraham Lincoln commended at Gettysburg … those who give “the last full measure of devotion” to the cause our Commander-and-Chief has given us.

We must remember that “… friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (James 4:4), and that, as it tells us in 1 Peter 5:8, the devil is our enemy. We must not make a truce with the enemy. You may protest, “Well, I would never do that.” But let’s make sure you know what that means. It means we should give no measure of shelter to sin in our lives. I cannot recount the number of believers I’ve dealt with over the years who have told me they were “struggling” with a particular sin. Yet, when I would tell them things they should stop doing in order to avoid being enticed, they would cry “legalism” and go on upon their not-so-merry way.

We need to remember that Jesus said it would be better to cut off our hand than continue sinning (see Matthew 18:8). Too often we don’t even want to cut out our favorite TV show, change a habit, or alter our social circle. We need to declare war on Satan, and battle against every foothold he might have in our lives.

We also need to make certain we are not friends with the world. How worldly are you? In other words, looking at your life, how easy is it for others to tell that there is something special about you — that you are a believer
in and follower of Jesus Christ? The average Christian in American looks just like anyone else except for a few external changes: a different radio station, a different selection of music, a different Sunday morning agenda, and a few different words and phrases in their vocabulary. But we need more than that; we need to choose godly values and godly virtues over popularity with people and acceptance by this world.

#2 — Over-Estimating the Enemy
One of George McClellan’s most obvious flaws was his nearly pathologically paranoid overestimation of his enemy. This wasn’t only the case at Antietam where he thought he was outnumbered by 2-to-1 when it was really the very opposite. It was evident in nearly all of his battle preparations. Preparing for a battle in 1861, he wrote to his wife that the enemy had 100,000 troops when in reality at most they had 40,000. He went on, “… the enemy has 3 to 4 times my force — the President is an idiot … they cannot, will not, see the true state of affairs.”

While it might be easy to joke about the general’s exaggerating tendency, I have seen this in the lives of so many believers that it is no longer funny. Ask them to venture forth in any endeavor outside their current comfort zone and they suddenly act like they are a mosquito that Satan is just waiting to squash. Too many believers see themselves and the enemy like the ten spies saw the people in the Promised Land; they are all giants and we are like grasshoppers.

But according to the Bible, Christ in you is the hope of glory, and you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Since God wants to do exceedingly more than we ask or imagine, it is time for us to start seeing our God as big and our enemy as small. Remember, God is more than able to do great and mighty things
in your life and with your life; Satan had better just get out of your way!

#3 — Holding Back the Reserves
One of the reasons General McClellan didn’t win a decisive, war-altering victory was his unwillingness to fully commit all that he had to win the battle. He wanted to win, but he wanted not to lose even more. He held more troops out of the action and in reserve than Lee had when the Union troops arrived, and more than Lee had at the end of the conflict.

We, too, often settle for the enemy withdrawing instead of pressing forward unreservedly and gaining the complete victory. We hold back in worship, in giving, in serving, in sharing, and in how we live. We give a measured response when God is looking for us to be totally abandoned to Him.

The fact that there is so much more we could do shouldn’t surprise us. After all, it is not our ability but our willingness the Lord is seeking. We need to make certain our lives are completely surrendered to Jesus — every facet fixed upon Him. In the kingdom of God, complete surrender is the only type of surrender the Lord will accept. May our lives declare 2 Timothy 4:6,
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering.” May they be poured out, spent, and “wasted” on Jesus Christ.

#4 — Not Obeying Orders
General McClellan disregarded direct orders by both his superior officer General Henry Halleck and the President to pursue Robert E. Lee and his army. Instead of giving President Lincoln the obedience he deserved, he offered him excuses. Don’t we sometimes do the same with God? Like the apostle Peter, we say, “No, Lord …” a phrase that makes absolutely no sense. Jesus is either Lord of all your life or He is not Lord at all. With God it is all or nothing. If He is Lord, then He is to be obeyed — fully, completely, and immediately.

I will never forget a prayer time I had many years ago at the altar after a service. As I prayed, the Lord told me something He wanted me to do. As I thought about obeying Him, what it would cost and what I would have to change in my life, the Lord spoke to Me sternly,
“Obey Me, or deny Me.” With God, there is no gray, in-between area. It is either black or white. We will either obey Him or we disobey Him. God expects and deserves our complete and instant obedience.

#5 — Hesitation & Indecision
I believe George McClellan’s biggest flaw was his inability to make a decision. One of the soldiers who served in his army said of him, “He sat there with indecision stamped on every line of his countenance.” The general loved to prepare for battle, but the battle itself involved risk, results, and responsibility. You could be wrong! Others could hold you accountable for your decisions. When McClellan had seen the enemy’s battle plans, he rejoiced quickly … but hesitated to act upon them. Not acting on that information cost thousands of men their lives and made victory much harder to attain.

So often we are the same when we fail to act upon what we read in the Bible or learn during a Sunday message or in a Bible study. Like General McClellan, we, too, have been given special information that tells us not only the enemy’s plans, but also what we should do about it. It’s called the Bible. Unfortunately, many believers have acquired more than they have applied to their lives. They may rejoice over what they have learned, but they are slow to actually act upon it. When we hesitate to act upon what God shows us in His Word, we strengthen the enemy’s position and hurt our own.

Do we also suffer from indecisiveness? Do we hear the Lord’s call but also still want to pursue the passing pleasures of this world? Too many believers seem to function as if they were alive to self and dead to Christ. We are called to no longer live but have Christ living in us. We know what Christ died to give us, now we must decide if we are willing to fully surrender so we can be fully His. If we fail to decide, we have already decided to say no to Christ.

A Day of Decision
In these days, the Church is in the valley of decision. The Lord leads us, His sheep, into the valley of decision for one purpose — to make a decision. Those who hesitate, those who halt between two choices, will end up camping in the valley of decision, which only leads to luke-warmness.

As I prayed about this, the Lord spoke to me, saying, “
As I spoke through the prophets of old to My people, so I speak today, ‘How long will you falter between two opinions? Choose for yourselves this day whom your will serve, either the gods of the land in which you dwell, or I, the Lord God.’” I believe the Lord is challenging us just as He challenged Israel in Joshua 24:14-15, “Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord … choose for yourselves today whom you will serve.”

Let us make this day a day of decision, a day to choose to whole-heartedly serve the Lord. This involves more than a quick prayer of recommitment. It involves a willingness to choose what God desires even when it goes against the grain of our culture. It involves renouncing sin and changing anything that might lead us on a path to sin, and it means being instantly and completely obedient to the commands and instruction of our Lord.

Let us say yes to the Lord’s invitation, for He wants to do great things in our lives. God wants to defeat the enemy in our lives and use us to bring His victory to others. Do not hesitate; choose afresh this day to serve the Lord completely with nothing held back.

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