Monday, June 1, 2015

Satan? Or Me?

A common refrain when a ministry, saint or church falls on difficult times is that “Satan is attacking.”

Satan attacking has become evangelicalism’s equivalent of secular victimhood.

And while Satan is, indeed, real, he is not in control of God’s Kingdom inhabitants.

First Peter 5:8 says
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

This is true.

But there are also many verses in Scripture that attest to our turning our backs on God through our own ideas, philosophies and pride.

So while Satan can tempt us, just as he did Eve, God, just like He gave Eve, gives us a way to refuse temptation.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

That takes discipline and the constant reading and internalizing of Scripture, which is how Jesus Himself defeated temptation in the wilderness. Satan does prowl. He does tempt. But he is not in control of Christians. God is.

First John 4:4 reminds us that,
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

We often let ourselves off the hook for our lack of diligence, self-control and not putting others and the Bible first by a belief that we can be over-powered by Satan.

So when we are overworked (especially in ministry), and not getting the results or support or even joy from the work that we expected, “Satan is attacking.”

When our marriage is cold we blame Satan.

When our finances are in disarray we blame Satan.

When our addiction takes precedence over the power of the Holy Spirit, Satan is attacking.

When we click on the illicit image or the department store sale advertisement that pops up unbidden on our laptop, alas, Satan strikes again!

But has he? Have we succumbed to Satan being in control of God’s people and not God? Have we ourselves forgotten the biblical call for self-control? Have we handed off the sins of our pride, poor judgment and not seeking wise counsel to Satan?

If we are overworked, is it because, against the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, we proudly answered “Yes” to serving more, doing more and traveling more? Have we lost the ability to obey the Holy Spirit when He is telling us to say “No?”

We have no one to blame but ourselves if we take on too much, be it family, work, service or sports, against what Scripture warns about self-ambition.

And what if we do seek God, only to have our decision blow up in our face? Again, I think we too often give credence to the power of Satan, never reviewing whether or not we were willing to hear the Holy Spirit correctly. In other words, the Spirit may have been guiding us through the Godly counsel of others and our own “red flags,” but the “voice” we chose to listen to was simply our own. So we are to blame, not Satan. The flesh is yet another aspect, and while Satan can tempt, again, we are the final arbiters of who we listen to: God, Satan or our own intrinsic pride.

Many books have been written about listening to the Holy Spirit and discerning the will of God. But not many espouse the act of personally retracing our very own steps that got us into trouble.

Can we really blame Satan for our car breakdown when we haven’t changed the oil in two years, or for a low credit rating when we haven’t managed our monthly payments well? Clearly we have some accountability to our current state of affairs and cannot attribute every hiccup to Satan.

Did we marry without a firm financial foundation from which to begin to support a family? Did we bite off too much in attempting to work full time, raise children and attend night school? Did we take that bite willingly and in full knowledge? Or were we simply duped by Satan? I think we know the answer.

One of the problems with making decisions, especially when we are young, is that we have no point of reference. We’ve never taken a full time job before, or married before, or lived on our own. So we have to start somewhere. And sometimes, we decide wrong. Sometimes, we make mistakes. That’s okay. 

But I think we need to be cautious about blaming every struggle on Satan because doing that prevents us from looking at our own part in our downfall: our motivations, our pride to plow ahead in spite of misgivings, our insisting on our own way, acquiescing to please other Christians instead of God, etc.

Blaming Satan also promotes the misguided notion that everything we do, since we are saved Christians, must come without pain. Yet no matter what we do, in God’s will or outside of it, there will be suffering, roadblocks, bad weather, crime, failure, defeat, fatigue, loss and disillusionment. And, as many of us already know, many of these “setbacks” are what ended up making us humble, contrite, closer to God and able to experience true joy. 

Satan, while attempting to lull us into his lair in various ways, is real and we are to be on guard. But a shoot-from-the-hip “Satan is attacking” gives him way too much credit—credit, by the way, which I think he loves and therefore will be happy to accept because it empowers him and not God.

I believe that blaming Satan distracts us from coming to know how we are culpable for our own mistakes. It keeps us from true Christian maturity and Christ-likeness. I believe we do better to search ourselves and confess and repent if need be, and then do what we can, Biblically, to fix the situation or to be patient in affliction. 

Our attention needs to turn to God and His ability to grant us wisdom from our experience so as not to repeat the mistake and so as not to be discouraged. And as we go forward, we put our trust in Jesus Christ to lead us, not in Satan to trip us up.

copyright Barb Harwood

...“but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:7-8

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:10

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Ephesians 6:10

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