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Posts Tagged ‘the devil’

IMG_20180710_143310824I glance up from my desk and notice a rather impressive visitor sitting on our balcony railing about a metre from my study window—a kookaburra, looking as if it owns everything within view! I move to take its photo through the glass and it turns its head slightly, as if to say, ‘I know you’re there, but I also know I’m safe from you out here!’ Some smaller, noisy birds do not like that larger, alert presence nearby and try to frighten it away by squawking loudly and bombarding it. Yet it remains immovable, save for a slight shuffle along the railing and a few sharp turns of its head. Its eyes are on a nearby prize—perhaps something for dinner that those other birds also want?

As I watch, I marvel at how still that kookaburra seems to be. No doubt it is extremely alert to what is happening around it—and that soon become obvious, when it suddenly flies down to ground level, then plucks a poor, unsuspecting worm from the soft soil. In a few moments, that worm is no more. All that stillness and watchfulness on the part of the kookaburra have paid off—it has found its dinner.

At that point, I begin to suspect God has an important lesson to teach me about being still. I might be physically still, as I sit gazing at that kookaburra—but I am not mentally still. Even as I watch, my mind is darting this way and that. I wonder whether what I am writing makes sense or will amount to anything in the end. And I am not still deep inside me either. Instead, I feel somewhat stressed—I am worried about someone I care about who is facing many difficulties and also about an upcoming speaking engagement, not to mention my writing project. I am aware God knows about all these issues—yet I am struggling to stay in that place of stillness and peace with God and of complete trust that God has it all in hand.

I move my hands off my keyboard and lay them in my lap. I breathe deeply, letting my body relax. I picture God’s loving arms holding me close and sink back into them, sensing God’s Spirit both in me and around me. I still my mind and my heart, knowing it is enough to be in this present moment with God. Then I hear again some words read out at church only days earlier:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea … “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:1, 10

In the stillness too, a gentle voice reminds me I am in a daily battle with an age-old enemy and need to remain so very vigilant.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

Yes, I need to be alert and watchful like that kookaburra—yet also deeply still, so aware my loving, almighty God is with me at all times, don’t you agree?

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Jo 23It was only a small difference of opinion—at first. I was sure I had mentioned some simple thing I had done, but it soon became obvious the other person present had not heard all I had said. Or perhaps it was that I thought I had added my initial explanatory sentence, but it had remained just that in my head—a thought and no more. Who knows? I was tired and cross, however—and I did not want to entertain that quite reasonable possibility. So, casting caution to the wind, I stuck to my guns and maintained I had in fact explained everything. I argued my case with vehemence. With great fervour, I maintained I was right. In my anger and frustration at being accused unjustly, I might even have raised my voice significantly! And all in order to defend myself over something that did not matter too much in the bigger scheme of things.

Later that day, shame at my response kicked in, but my anger at being wrongfully accused still hung on too. Why did I have to apologise when I knew I had been right? Better just to let it all die down—it would probably be forgotten by tomorrow anyway. Yet something nagged at my conscience. And some verses that I knew from past experience make complete sense kept coming to mind:

 … Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:26-27

So at last I apologised—and my apology was accepted with grace. We talked a little more about how much better it is to let differences of opinion over trivial issues go rather than try to justify ourselves, then left it at that.

But I soon discovered God wasn’t finished with me. Still feeling a little disgruntled, I sat down at my desk and picked up a book of devotionals someone had given me a few days earlier. I turned to the relevant page for the day—and almost laughed out loud, despite my negative feelings. Right at the top, standing out in bold, red letters, was James 1:19-20:

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

I don’t know about you, but these words have always been a strong challenge to me. Somehow, that order of ‘quick … slow … slow’ can so easily be reversed—often, I am much more likely to be slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to become angry, as I rush to defend myself and my actions! In fact, I may not even hear exactly what the other person is trying to tell me before I crank up the volume and start talking—sometimes over the top of them.

Hopefully, I am slowly learning not to do this, to hold back more, take a deep breath and give the other person a chance to say what is troubling them. And hopefully one day, I will improve, as I model myself more closely on how God has treated me and still does on a daily basis:

But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 88:15

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Have you ever wanted to discuss something important with someone, only to realise it’s probably not a good idea at that strategic moment? Perhaps the person seems too busy or too grumpy or too something or other. Much better to retreat and try again later!

I’ve certainly done that. But recently, I stumbled upon an example that stopped me in my tracks. I was reading in Luke’s Gospel how Jesus was led out into the desert and tempted by the devil for forty days and nights. At the end of that time, Jesus is very hungry (Lk 4:2) and also, no doubt, weak and tired. It’s then that the devil pounces, suggesting a way Jesus can satisfy that hunger. But Jesus stands firm, immediately quoting Scripture at his adversary:

‘It is written: Man does not live on bread alone.’

The devil then tries to tempt Jesus to worship him and, when that doesn’t work, he tries to persuade Jesus to throw himself down from the highest point of the temple to prove the angels will rescue him. But when that doesn’t work either, he gives up—for the moment at least:

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. Lk 4:13

That last phrase, an opportune time, impacted me with extra force. The devil was watching Jesus, waiting for just that right moment to pounce again—that moment of weakness or selfishness or lack of obedience to his Father. I read on, taking in the momentous occasion when Jesus reads Isaiah 61:1-2 aloud in the synagogue in Nazareth and declares he has now fulfilled those very words. His hearers become furious, drive him out of the town and try to throw him off a cliff. But, as verse 30 says, he (Jesus) walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

It was not the devil in the end but Jesus who called the shots. Jesus simply walked away. Many times over, we read of instances where the devil tried to trap Jesus, yet each time, Jesus saw through his tricks. In fact, it was not until Jesus knew his time had come (Jn 8:20, 13:1) that he allowed the devil to do what he wanted with him (Jn 10:18). Even then, this happened only because Jesus knew it was his Father’s will (Lk 22:42).

I began to think about the many ‘opportune times’ I give the devil on a regular basis to cause trouble in my own life. How often do I decide to ignore what God is saying to me about some attitude or behaviour of mine? How often do I refuse to take time to listen to God, to pray and to read and know Scripture, so I can use it as Jesus did? How often do I make myself easy prey to all sorts of difficulties the devil delights to bring my way?

Yet right now, we have been given an opportune time of a different sort—a time to turn to God, to ask for and receive the forgiveness and love and grace God offers each of us so freely.

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Is 55:6

Right now, I’m doing just that. How about you?

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It’s not too often I’m challenged on my way into church—but that’s what happened this past Sunday morning. After one of our ministers greeted me as I arrived, we had a brief conversation that, rightly or wrongly, kind of took over my mind during the service itself!

You see, we had talked about how amazing our brains are in that we can be fully engaged in one activity, yet be able to take in something else entirely that is happening at the same time. In the process, I had commented how, on occasions, I have found myself speaking from the heart on an important topic in a church or to a group somewhere else, only to find another section of my brain is busily involved in thinking of practical details that have nothing to do with what I’m sharing. I can be in the midst of trying to connect on a deep level with those present, but somehow my brain can be busy on another parallel track as well. For example, in mid-sentence, I can find myself noting how someone is smiling or looking upset—or, worse still, bored! Or I might realise I am taking too long with my input and begin deciding what I will need to leave out. Or part of my brain might even be sending me little messages such as ‘This isn’t making sense! It’s rubbish! You’re making a fool of yourself!’ And if I then notice someone get up and walk out, for whatever reason, these doubts are very quickly confirmed in my mind!

But the profound question my minister friend then asked and that I carried with me into our service was this: What if we used all our mind in whatever we were attempting to do, particularly speaking? What would the results be then? Hmmmm!

Well, much as I hate to admit it at this point, my immediate response was, ‘Oh, we might change the world!’ It was not so much what I said but the facetious way I said it and what I was thinking as I did that makes me shudder now. I say that because, the more I have reflected on my response, the more I have realised that, if our minds were totally filled with God’s message for those present and totally filled with the Spirit of God as we spoke, then yes, it’s entirely possible we could change the world by the power of God at work in us.

In that same church service, we were reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Wouldn’t it be better if, next time I speak, I focus on the One Who is with me forever, the One Who has all authority and can very well deal with any of those extraneous thoughts of mine? Wouldn’t it be better if I were to shut out those destructive messages from the enemy that invade my brain and listen to God’s loving, empowering voice instead?

Yes, in God’s power and by God’s presence within us, I believe we really can change the world!

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A couple of weeks ago, I began preparing two talks for an up-coming teaching morning. The first took many more hours than expected, but, after changing my approach entirely, it seemed I was getting there. The second came together quicker—yet I felt a little uneasy about it. I knew they would still require more work, but at least I now had something substantial on paper.

This week, I began checking the first of these talks again. But as I reached the second page, I became very confused. My notes did not seem to tie in with the accompanying power point presentation I had prepared. What had happened? I seem to have ended up with all these extra points in a strange order. I began crossing out one whole section—how could I have possibly have got it this wrong?

Finally, I stepped back from it all to gain some perspective. Then in a brief moment of clarity, I noticed the heading on the section that seemed so confusing and out of place: ‘The enemy brings doubt and confusion.’ (!)

You see, these two talks are about spiritual warfare and spiritual discernment, about what Scripture says concerning the enemy and what we can learn from this for today. No doubt I should have been ready for the confusion that ensued, but I’m so thankful God graciously opened my eyes to realise what was happening.

Then that night, I had a vivid, disturbing dream. In front of a huge crowd, I was given some music on the spot and asked to play the piano accompaniment as everyone sang. I tried my best, but it all fell apart. Then the master of ceremonies called up someone else from the audience who took my place and played it perfectly, as I stood there in great humiliation.

This time, however, I realised the enemy was up to his old tricks of trying to tap into my pride and my fear of being judged inadequate in some way. I quickly decided that, rather than wallowing in embarrassment, I would ask God to deal with the whole situation.

Later that day, as I again looked over these talks, I began to feel so much doubt sweeping over me. Was what I had prepared really suitable? What if I had completely misunderstood what the women had asked me to do? What if I offended those present with my material? Eventually, I woke up to what the enemy was trying to do. He was heading straight for that self-doubt in me that has been such an issue in the past, trying to make me feel as if I had nothing of worth to share with anyone.

I wonder if you, like me, sometimes forget we are in the midst of a battle each day as we try to stay true to the Lord? In Ephesians 6:12 we read:

Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Yes, the enemy is real. But so is God. Yes, the enemy is strong. But our God is stronger! One day, as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:10, every knee will bow at the name of Jesus and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord!

I can’t wait. How about you?

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