Being Ornery
By Pastor Diego Mesa

In 1994, Pastor Diego and his wife Cindy founded Abundant Living Family Church which began with twelve people. The weekly attendance now exceeds 6,000 and God continues to add to the church daily.

Pastor Diego is committed to ministering to the whole man–spiritually, physically, financially, and emotionally–with priorities focused on family, youth, and children. His style is simple, allowing the hearer to easily identify and apply God’s Word to his personal life.

The following article is an excerpt from Pastor Diego Mesa’s Book entitled How to Dream When You’re Told You’re Going to Die. To obtain your copy of this book, please contact Porsha Dixon at 909-204-4528 or by e-mailing

“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12).

being-orneryMy faith was tested like never before in June of 2008 when I received a diagnosis of Stage 4 kidney cancer. When watching movies or sports events, most people have a natural tendency to root for the underdog. We love a close competition where a far under qualified competitor defies all odds to hold his own (or even win) against a much greater power. Just say “Miracle on Ice” and most people still flash back to the 1980 winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York, when the United States hockey team stunned the world by defeating the Soviet team.

A boxer may get knocked to the mat time and time again, but each time he stands back up, we cheer louder. Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa represented all the “little guys” of the world, and moviegoers responded in a major way. Rocky took home the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976 and spawned five more movies in the series.

On an autumn Friday night, it doesn’t matter how far behind the local high school football team is on the scoreboard. Give the spectators a hint of a comeback, and the crowd is on their feet.

We do love an underdog—with one exception. We like to watch others overcome insurmountable odds to win the battle. But if we are the ones in the fight, too often we are quick to stay down when we take a blow to the chin. At the first hint of difficulty, we throw in the towel.

During this time, several actors and celebrities were dying of cancer, including Farah Fawcett, Patrick Swayze, and Ted Kennedy. It seemed that every time I turned on the television, I would hear that one had passed away. (Amazingly, even my dogs were diagnosed with cancer during this time.) Immediately, I had to combat my thoughts and refuse to identify with them in their situations. It’s amazing how the enemy will use any means to sow fearful thoughts into your heart.

Our reluctance to struggle for victory is particularly sad when we’re talking about spiritual battles. We are called to stand up against spiritual enemies. Sin is all around us in this world. Evil people oppose God’s truth and righteousness. It’s up to us to train for the fight of faith. I am not trying to be negative or fatalistic. I don’t want to overdramatize Christianity or give undue place to the devil. I’m only acknowledging what the Bible states:

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 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. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Eph. 6:10-18).

As long as we live on this earth, we can expect seasons of battle interspersed with seasons of peace. We will be hindered by opposition, obstacles, and trials. Some people suffer because they are living in sin or have done something wrong. But an even bigger fight may be in store for those in the will of God, who pray, serve, and love and believe in Jesus. Yes, Jesus promises peace in the midst of the turmoil, but we can never afford to let down our guard.

Our enemy is powerful. Even the Apostle Paul was impaired at times. He wrote to the Thessalonian church: “We wanted to come to you . . . time and again—but Satan hindered us” (1 Thess. 2:18). Paul had no doubts that the power of Jesus was far greater than any other power (Rom. 8:28-39), but Satan was still a force that required strength and endurance to contend with.

Here is what I know: we are never unprepared if our faith is in Jesus Christ. Sometimes the unexpected comes into our lives. Sometimes we experience unexplainable losses of finances, jobs, relationships, possessions, or health. But our losses are temporary. What a wonderful blessing is the certainty that we have a loving God who has made provision for the crisis or loss we are currently facing. Thanks to Jesus’ suffering and death on Calvary’s Cross, and His powerful resurrection, we are never without answers, hope, remedies, and a secure future.

Within the first year of the diagnosis, I was at a Cheesecake Factory in San Diego with Cindy, my mom, and dad. After our salads were served, I took a bite. All of a sudden, I felt an object that I had bit down on. I made an odd, grating sound that caused my family to look toward me in concern. I put my finger in my mouth and pulled out a plastic projectile that had a one-inch screw in the middle of it. It seemed to be the base of some machinery. Thank God that I had only bitten into the side of it and not into the screw . . . or swallowed it or choked on it. This was another way that I felt that the enemy was trying to take me out.

The enemy also tried to attack my emotions through bringing strife and division to my family. In other words things, friction points that didn’t exist before suddenly were points of arguments and disagreements. All these things weighed heavily upon me emotionally.

The enemy lands a blow every now and then, but the victory is already ours. So we need to ask ourselves: Why do I fear a fight if I know I am going to win? Why would I run if I know my enemy is more afraid than I am? What would I be able to accomplish if I were convinced I couldn’t be defeated? How bold could I become if I were more assured that Jesus is with me?

God didn’t make tentative provisions and obscure promises for some day, tomorrow, or by and by. No! His assurance is for today. Right now. He strengthens you for your current fight. Notice the following passages that verify His ability to provide whatever your need might be.

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23).

“Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits, the God of our salvation!” (Ps. 68:19)

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).

You have heard the expression, “Fight for your rights.” Sometimes that is what it takes when the enemy is opposing you. If you are going to experience the victory that Jesus has purchased, you must put on your spiritual armor and fight the fight of faith. It won’t be easy. The devil will oppose you with lies and deceit. If you recall promises of God, the enemy will claim that they are not meant for you or that you don’t have enough faith. He will sow thoughts of funerals, divorce, bankruptcy, sickness, defeat, and failure to corrupt your thoughts. He is as relentless as ants in your house or flies on your food. So what can you do? You must be even more relentless in believing what God has said.

I chose to believe that Jesus wanted me healed. I didn’t feel that I was demanding or coercing anything from God. I felt that healing was His gift to me, already paid for when Jesus was beaten, demeaned, and took my penalty of sin upon Himself. He was rejected so I could be accepted. He was despised so I wouldn’t be despised. Not once in the Gospels do we see that Jesus refused to heal someone who asked for help. Tell the enemy you have the right to believe.

I was prepared to fight for my rights. Sometimes extra effort is required to achieve success. I was going to let the enemy know I had the right to believe. Boaz was rewarded for his bold stand in regard to Ruth’s rights (Ruth 4). And at her own personal risk, Esther courageously went before the Persian king to intercede for all Jewish people (Est. 4:9—5:3).

As a runner, I try to set a certain pace when I am on a flat road. I know how much energy I need to expend in order to keep going and stay focused. But when my route brings me to a big hill, everything changes. My concentration, my exertion, my rhythm, my pace, my breathing, and my pain all intensify because I have to match the intensity of the challenge before me. Otherwise, the hill will defeat me and I will not be able to make it to the top. I will fall short and fail.

The rough spots of life demand that we crank up our intensity. We can’t just go through the motions and maintain our usual pace when we encounter spiritual mountains, boulders, mud, or uneven ground. We can’t make progress if we lollygag or are haphazard. We must increase our own intensity to match the challenge we are facing.

I used to have a ’65 Volkswagen. It was cool and fast on flat roads, but if I needed to climb a hill, I had to rev the engine and get a good head start or I wouldn’t get to the top. Many Christians, when facing a mountain or challenge, don’t dig deep or do anything more than they have been previously doing. They don’t show a serious commitment to fight.

I believe that in the spiritual battles we fight, sometimes we need to get just plain ornery as we take our stand against the enemy. When I was sick, I remember times when I simply felt terrible and didn’t want to do anything. But I would tell myself, The devil isn’t taking a day off. Why should I? Get up, Diego! Whether you like it or not, and whether you want to or not, do something.

You have to be tougher than your toughest day. If the devil is going to use everything he can to defeat us, why not use everything at our disposal to fight against him and persevere? If he is going to throw the kitchen sink at you, throw it back. If he is not going to give up or back down, neither do you!

Some people are born fighters. Others are much more passive by nature and have to learn to take a stand when it is called for. Even the meekest people will push back when the situation calls for it. It may be a mother protecting a child, a senior citizen being neglected in a retirement home, a student fed up with being bullied, or any number of other injustices. Press the right buttons, and almost anyone will gear up for a fight. All of us have the ability, but we need to direct our passion toward overcoming our adversity and defeating our spiritual enemy. Get ornery, mean, and bothered toward the devil and fight with all your might.

I remember reading Dodie Osteen’s book Healed of Cancer (1). As I reflected on her victory over cancer, I knew I wanted to follow her example. That lady had gotten ornery, which is what I planned to do, too. I was not going to remain passive, tolerant, and accepting.

What does “being ornery” look like? It meant I was going to fight the attack with my thoughts, words, actions, attitude, spiritual disciplines, medicines, nutrition, exercise, and everything else I could think of. I like the Amplified Bible’s translation of Proverbs 18:9: “He who is loose and slack in his work is brother to him who is a destroyer and he who does not use his endeavors to heal himself is brother to him who commits suicide.” In other words, I should use every endeavor to see to my healing!

The enemy is fighting to make your life miserable and to defeat you. His purpose is“to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). He doesn’t want you to persevere and obtain the promises of God, let alone be healed. He will use anything and everything at his disposal to overwhelm you with doubts and lies. He will tell you: “You don’t have enough faith. You are getting worse. God doesn’t care and isn’t listening to you. You are going to die.”

When Job was first afflicted, his wife was quick to say, “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9) You will hear similar messages, so you will have to ignore the negative messages and fight back. If you want to triumph, you must stand strong as a spiritual warrior.

Thank God we don’t have to overcome the enemy in our own power. Jesus is the victorious conqueror who has already destroyed the power of the devil. We can focus on the victory of Christ rather than the threats of an enemy who is terrified of Him. As Paul reminds us, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).

The enemy acts as if he is in control of your life, but the truth is that he is scared. He is scared because you have chosen to believe God’s Word concerning your future. (Remember that Jesus used God’s Word—“It is written”—to resist him in the wilderness.) He is scared of the testimony that will come forth. He is scared that you have chosen to live and not die, and of the lives that you will touch during the rest of your life.

Before we get saved, when we live according to the world, we tend to be fighters. We don’t let people steal from us, look at us weird, push us around, or cheat us out of anything. When we get saved we fight less and work on peace, humility, love, and other traits. But at times we still need to remember how to fight. When you are under spiritual attack, stand strong in the grace and Spirit of the God that lives in you to resist and win the fight.

One of the first words God gave me in the attack was from the account of Esther’s confrontation with the evil Haman, who was attempting to kill Mordecai and the entire Jewish nation. When Esther finally explained her dire predicament to the king, he was irate at Haman. And in a climactic resolution to the problem, Scripture says, “So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king’s wrath subsided” (Est. 7:10).

Just as King Ahasuerus was angry with Haman, I realized that God was angry with the enemy for putting me in danger. I was greatly encouraged to discover the revelation of how God felt about what had happened to me. And just as Haman eventually faced the consequences of his evil actions, God will put a permanent end to the influence of our spiritual enemy.

Think of how irate you would be if someone were trying to harm your child. Now magnify that anger many times over to try to comprehend God’s wrath on those who attempt to endanger His children. God’s Word is filled with warnings of vindication and retaliation on evildoers, as well as His promises of provision and restoration for His own. God has deep compassion for those who are violated, hurt, broken, or sick.

So when you are undergoing difficult times and the enemy is attempting to make the situation appear even worse, get mad and stay mad. Become ornery and stay ornery. Sure, there are moments when everyone gets tired, discouraged, and even fearful. Those are not signs of defeat, but merely temporary timeouts. Take a moment to catch your breath and then rebound and reengage.

When I say you must have a fighting spirit, I’m not talking about just being optimistic or positive. You need to be strong in the Lord and stay strong in the Lord. You need to keep pressing forward. Don’t stop. Challenge yourself every day to do something that shows you are not defeated or living in failure. As Proverbs reminds us, “A righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity” (Prov. 24:16). When you fall, get up again!

Any solider in a war needs a battle plan—a specific strategy that gives him the best chance of successfully making it through a difficult struggle. Believers also need battle plans for our spiritual warfare. We regularly need to spend time in God’s Word—reading, studying, and meditating. Find appropriate Scriptures that relate to your current situation. Then treat them as medicine. Every day, or several times a day, read them, memorize them, and confess them. We find life in the Word of God.

The oncologist never had anything positive to tell me. After our first few visits, we realized his bedside manner was never going to improve. So Cindy and I would pray in the parking lot of his office, asking God to protect our ears and hearts—to keep us from being affected or discouraged by what we would hear. I also refused to stay in the waiting room to be called in for my appointment. After checking in, I would wait in the lobby because I did not want to identify with being a sick patient. That’s one way I kept up the fight. Sometimes my family didn’t understand my methods or actions, but that never discouraged me.

Another somewhat unusual and personal way of fighting was pushing myself to stay up until 8 p.m. every evening. I wouldn’t let myself go to bed any earlier. It was a reminder that the God who gives me strength was in control, not the attack.

A more traditional element of my battle plan was to personalize Scripture. While reading the Bible, I would ask the Holy Spirit to show me how a promise or outcome for someone in the Bible was also true for me—a practice called progressive revelation. The Word of God is still as alive, as real, and as powerful as it was when the story was originally written. Many times those truths become my story or testimony. I thank God for the variety of weapons for our warfare: the name of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, prayer, fasting, worship, and more. But for me it was spending time every day in the Word of God that gave me faith, hope, encouragement, confidence, and trust in God. It reminded me that our God doesn’t lie, can’t lie, and won’t lie. His Word to you and me is His legal binding contract of love, provision, and protection.

Another way to fight is to remain in the presence of God. We live in a negative world that is subject to the devil’s influence—not a good place to be during a major life crisis. We need to tune out the world so we can hear God’s voice often, and clearly.

Sometimes the presence of God surprises us. I like the story of young Samuel in the temple. God kept speaking to him, but at first he thought it was the priest, Eli. Finally Eli realized what was going on and helped Samuel hear clearly what God had to say (1 Sam. 3).

But we don’t need to wait. We can actively seek God’s presence. It helps to have a specific place where you can focus on God, unencumbered by the demands of the world. Superman had a remote Fortress of Solitude, and Batman had a secluded cave. As strong as we might think we are, we all need a similar place of escape where we can retreat from time to time for protection, provision, comfort, and peace. When you are safe in the presence of God, you won’t have to worry about your enemy.

The psalmists and prophets frequently emphasized this truth. Here are just a couple of examples:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty (Ps. 91:1).

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You (Isa. 26:3).

My friend Jim Cobrae shared with me a wonderful thought to consider. Do you remember how Moses went to Mount Sinai to receive the Commandments of God? It appears that he neither ate nor drank for forty days (Ex. 24:18). How is that possible? People will die without proper hydration. Here’s the truth: The impossible becomes possible in the presence of God. God’s presence sustained Moses, and being in the presence of God can enable us to be supernaturally sustained. A more consistent awareness of His presence in your life empowers your thoughts and words.

When going through a challenge, we are quick to seek the presence of so many people and things, but the most valuable presence is God’s. He provides strength, healing, and peace that cannot be found anywhere else. Acknowledge His presence in your life every day. Take a lot of little timeouts throughout the day to talk to Him and thank Him.
Many times I would go into my backyard just to experience more of the presence of God. It was my escape when fretful thoughts and feelings began to beset me. I would walk and talk to God in my hiding place where the enemy couldn’t get to me. I would tell God how I was feeling. I might cry, shout, scream, sing, quote Scripture, or laugh, but I was honest and real with Him.

I don’t know if we can ever get enough of the presence of God—especially when we are in a battle. I encourage you to escape often to a secret place where you can be strengthened, restored, and filled. The devil is aggressive, ruthless, and unmerciful. Fight back with your God-given authority, arsenal of resources, positive attitude, undying determination, and confidence in God’s grace.

Every day I walk my dogs on a dirt path. In the spring the surrounding fields are filled with some of the most beautiful wildflowers I have ever seen. They are amazing and gorgeous to look at as they proudly display their brilliant colors: purples, pinks, whites, yellows, and blues. If God didn’t water and care for those wildflowers, no one would, so they are a testimony to His provision. How much more does Jesus feel and care about us? It is well worth our effort to get ornery, fight to overcome our spiritual obstacles, and hold tenaciously to the truth that God loves and cares for us. Again, I want to emphasize that if the devil is going to fight to take you out, you must fight to live.

Consider This

  1. What does it mean to you to be an underdog?
  2. There are two seasons in a christian’s life, what are they?
  3. How does this give you peace and perspective?
  4. Sometimes the unexpected comes, but what must we know?
  5. What does it mean to fight for your rights?
  6. What does it mean to match the intensity?
  7. What does being “spiritually ornery” mean to you?
  8. What are some of the weapons we can use to fight against the enemy?
  9. What is “the secret place”?