We must not underestimate our adversary, life itself. Uncomfortable even at good moments, difficult and unfair usually, and a complete nightmare much too often, life will stubbornly resist betterment, always finding new ways of being more than we can stand.
— Ian Frazier
Blessed be the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation. Selah
Our God is a God of salvation,
and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death.
— Psalm 68:19-20 (ESV)
This idea (life is hard, and God gives us the strength to persevere) seems to be following me around lately – showing up in tangible ways, like my daily Bible reading email (which I only sometimes open and/or read) or the Reflection in the front of the church bulletin. And I’m not one to really believe in coincidences.
I don’t plan to make it a frequent habit — regurgitating great sermons that I hear (while I may be many things, pastor isn’t one of them), but Sunday’s sermon was just so appropriate that I can’t help but write a bit about it (you can also listen to it straight from the mouth of Tim Keller).
The passage was the first 13 verses of Luke 4, ie, the temptation of Jesus by the devil in the wilderness. Now I realize I just wrote several words that are controversial for many – namely, Jesus and devil. I believe both are real, but regardless of whether or not you do, bear with me.
So the sermon was about the depth and complexity of evil in the world, the strategies of evil, and how to defeat evil. It especially resonated with me because of how clear it is to me that my battle with depression, and the ongoing onslaught of negativity and hopelessness, is not one “against flesh and blood, but against . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6: 12, ESV).
And in some strange way, it was a bit uplifting to hear a sermon on the conniving, shrew ways of evil, evil’s place and work in the world, and how to fight it.
A few points particularly resonated with me. First, the idea that evil is nuanced and shrewd, and that it slowly takes hold of our hearts without us being completely aware of it. Scripture says, “Satan entered Judas” (Luke 22:3), but what does this actually mean? It doesn’t mean that all of a sudden Judas grew purple horns and started spitting fire and could cast a spell with just one look. It does mean that a little bit of evil in the heart of Judas, left alone without guardian and without defense, allowed Satan to grow the evil until it took over Judas’ heart. For Judas, this little bit of evil was his doubt of Jesus, his desire for power, and his bitterness against Jesus and those who were truly following him.
This stopped me cold on Sunday. I struggle with doubt (sometimes often). I struggle with resentment and bitterness (all the time). Every time I give in to these temptations, the thoughts in my head taunt: Who is your God, anyway? He’s not really there for you, He’s not really on your side. Or they whisper, You are just as good as he is/she is, and yet you aren’t getting the praise or recognition that you deserve. It’s not fair.
I let these thoughts run wild some days, and those days – I am realizing – are my weakest. When I let my guard down, and indulge in the bitterness, the resentment, the envy – I allow evil into my heart. And if I’m not careful – if I’m not guarding against this, and fighting this – it will grow and grow.
When I let that bitterness grow, it separates me not only from God, but also from my husband. I become jealous of him. I envy his career, the ease with which he leaves the house, the praise he receives. And when I let this jealousy fester, it grows into bitterness and resentment, further separating us.
I become lonely. And then we fight. I grow cold-hearted towards him, unwilling to serve him or love him well (or even at all). And when I am lonely and sad, resentful and bitter, this effects our son as well. I need to be on guard. Evil can get a foothold so easily in my heart – in fact, it’s already there.
What am I doing about it?
Evil works in our hearts not just by growing the bad temptations, but also by twisting and manipulating our good desires. These good desires become ultimate desires that control us. In Tim’s words, “Any good thing that you make more important than God becomes a demonic force in your life.”
How many good things have I allowed to be distorted in my heart and life?
There’s more to say on this favorite Presbyterian topic – idolatry (I’ll be posting about it soon) – but what resonated most with me on Sunday was the way Tim broke down the strategies of evil into Temptation and Accusation.
Temptation – according to this model – makes you over-confident of God’s love. I know this is wrong for me, but God will forgive me. He loves me. Accusation makes you under-confident of God’s love. Am I really a child of God? What does that even mean? Is He paying attention? If He was, would these things be happening to me?
My struggles with depression and my struggles with doubt are so entangled in both of these concepts. Lately, I have been thinking about the various things I’ve used over the course of my life to self-medicate, to avoid and dull, distract and redirect. Exercise, food, alcohol, my cell phone, Facebook, cutting, burning, an engrossing book, my favorite TV series. Sometimes I have even caught myself thinking beforehand, I know I shouldn’t, but God will forgive. Or I know I shouldn’t, but is God even there? Temptations of the devil.
And the Accusations. Every low moment, and doubt creeps in. He doesn’t love you. God isn’t real – not for you. The bitter voice when someone tells me to pray about something — No, thanks. You pray. God listens to you, not to me. Accusations of the devil. They are both there, the temptations and the accusations, growing in a dangerous symbiosis while draining my soul.
Lord, protect me. Help me to fight this evil within me. There’s a reason Jesus prayed Lead me not into temptation, and deliver me from evil. The temptations are all around us, and we WILL fall into the trap of evil.
Final point – how to defeat evil. Jesus uses the means and the message of Scripture. There is no way to fight evil unless you are saturated with Scripture. But it’s not a magic charm – it’s the content, the message, that’s important.
What content is that?
You can’t be your own savior; you can’t accomplish your own salvation or do anything to give yourself worth. When you try to do this – through your work, your family, your romantic relationship, your kids, your money, your body – you will fail, and in this weakness, you will be prey for evil.
If Jesus did not think that he could handle his temptation without the truth of the Bible, how can we? (Thanks, Tim.) What are the truths of my heart that come out when I am in agony, when I am in the worst pain, when I am at my lowest? What do I cling to? What do you cling to? And how do I keep evil from getting a foothold, from growing, festering, infecting? When I am in despair, how do I resist the lies that will further drag me down?
God, lead me not into temptation. Deliver me from evil.