how do we “resist the devil”?

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:7-10

James cuts to the chase and minces no words. The command to resist the devil needs to be seen in context. Click the link, and you’ll see that there’s a connection to the community yes of believers not getting along. James exposes that, and the reason why: “cravings…at war within you.” And warns against friendship with the world, and becoming enemies with God. So this command needs to be seen in context.

A close friend and mentor of mine expressed surprise that I don’t address the enemy directly, telling it to flee and pleading Christ’s blood, in other words Christ’s death which is the means for our triumph over our spiritual enemy. I think he’s right. We can see that precedent in Scripture, especially in the gospels when Jesus casts out demons. We need to address the enemy’s lie and thus not let the darkness settle in. And trust in God for God’s guidance in everything, as we continue to look to God.

No doubt we need to resist the devil with the promise that it will flee from us. And keep doing that. As we seek to deal seriously with our lives in light of God’s revelation to us in Scripture and in Christ. In and through Jesus.

not for the faint of heart

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
The Lord is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to put confidence in mortals.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to put confidence in princes.

All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
they blazed like a fire of thorns;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

Psalm 118:5-14

Faith in following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. The psalmist here is more than up against it, crying out to God for help. It seems like more often than not that we only seek God with all our hearts when we’re in trouble. Though hopefully we do so as well because of the trouble of others, especially those who are close to us in our own families, as well as in the family of faith in the world. But our concern and love should extend to all. And by the Spirit, God can and will help us that way.

But back to the main point. Following Christ and faith is not for the faint of heart. We’re in a spiritual battle now, definitely not a physical one. The faint of heart don’t obey Jesus’s words to not resist evil against us, but instead to pray for our enemies and bless those who curse us, to do good to those who despise us. The faint of heart don’t even seek to apply faith in the most difficult situations in which their faith is either lagging, or not existent at all.

The devil is often in the details of this life, one of his emissaries attached to me. We have to understand what we’re up against, and as James tells us, to resist the devil with the promise that he’ll flee from us.

Look at God’s people in Scripture. Hebrews 11 into 12 is a good place to start. Real people as flawed as any of us are. All people of faith who were not faint of heart because of their faith in God, in God’s promises. And it ends with Jesus himself who went through so much more than we can understand as we consider Gethsemane and the cross.

Psalm 118, the passage quoted above does not end oddly, though at first glance that may appear to be the case. When we pour out our whole hearts to God and don’t let go, God comes through and rewards us with so much more. Notice how this psalm unfolds and ends:

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 118:19-29

In and through Jesus.

no exceptions to God’s rule

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Ephesians 6:10-11

I don’t ordinarily like to string Scripture passages together, but I think these passage can help us understand something of the devil’s tactics against us and how we struggle to think straight when it comes to God’s rule not only in general, but in our lives. There are no exceptions to God’s rule.

By rule I mean both God’s reign and the rule God lays down for that reign. For me, like I’ve said in posts before, I probably have struggled with anxiety and worry more than anything else. Although I’ve managed that better over the last year or more, I still long for more of a breakthrough in overcoming it.

God’s rule for us his children is that in whatever trial we’re in, we’re to consider it nothing but joy, and that we’re not to worry about anything, but instead we’re to pray with supplication- humble request, along with thanksgiving, we’re to make our requests known to God. With the promise that when we do that God’s peace which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

What we’re prone to do is make exceptions to God’s rule. The devil is in the details of that, just like in the story where the serpent challenges God’s word in the garden (Genesis 3). The same holds true for us today. The enemy and/or our own overactive mind will suggest to us that because we had at least some blame for such and such or whatever, that somehow, that no longer applies to God’s rule. This is when we need to discipline our minds and hearts to insist on keeping to what Scripture plainly says. Yes, in certain passages directly pertinent, as well as considering Scripture as a whole. We have a grace-filled, loving God who watches over us and not only can but will take care of it, will take care of everything if we just trust God.

We have to acclimate ourselves to the truth that there’s no exceptions to God’s rule. The enemy will be whispering, yelling, then again whispering in our ear that indeed there are some things which don’t apply. We have to resist the devil with the promise that he will flee from us (James 4:7).

There are no exceptions to God’s rule. We must hold on to that. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

hold your ground

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the…

Ephesians 6:13-14a

“…stand your ground…stand. Stand firm…” The point in this classical spiritual warfare scripture passage is that we as individuals and together as church are to hold our ground against the powers of darkness and the wiles and schemes of the devil. We do so only in and through the mighty power of God given to us in our weakness, and the armor of God as part of the clothing of Christ which we’re to put on in this world.

Recently something was brought to my attention which I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before, the connection between this passage and Genesis 2 and 3 when humankind’s shame of nakedness, the fear of being completely known due to deception by the serpent came into view. God clothed Adam and Eve in the story, and provides for humankind the clothing of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:11-14).

We have to face this fact whether we like it or not, and actually I don’t care much for it, myself. But we have to realize we’re in a spiritual battle now. Definitely not physical ever, but spiritual. We’re up against forces that we’re no match for. But those forces, even the devil itself are no match for Christ, the victory and mighty power of God that is in Christ.

But we have to take all that’s given to us. We can’t do this on our own. We need each other in this, this passage is actually addressed to believers, plural; we’re all in this together. It certainly does apply to us individually, but we then mistakenly tend to see it as strictly something only we ourselves do day after day. But as the letter of Ephesians makes clear, it is Christ’s body through which God makes known the mystery and reality of the gospel, yes to the principalities and powers in the heavenly realms, these foes against which we’re to stand.

I am pretty strong in at least the wanting to hold my ground, but not yet good enough at putting on what God gives us in the strength he supplies. It is “in Christ.” Our triumph is in him, the good news in Christ. God will break through; God will help us as we stand firm, hold our ground. In and through Jesus.

ignoring the devil?

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7b

There’s no specific Scripture passage I can come up with that tells us to ignore the devil. So I was rather taken back not a few years ago when a respected pastor told us that he prefers to ignore the devil. I’m sure given his tradition that wouldn’t mean he would skip Scriptural passages or teaching about the devil. Just what he meant, I can’t be sure. I remember C.S. Lewis’s thought that Christians either pay too much attention to Satan, or prefer to carry on as if Satan did not exist at all. There has to be a balance. We have to be aware, but not giving more place to Satan and its activities, the demons, etc., than what Scripture gives them.

There is the newer understanding to deal with, the reality that the Satanic powers are at work in human systems. There is no way we can nor should ignore that. That’s another, but important matter. But we’re dealing here with our own struggles. Hopefully from that we can begin to see the struggles of others around us, including society at large in its implicit as well as explicit systemic evil.

I think one of the devil’s main tactics at least from my own experience is to get us distracted, our mind focused on something seemingly important that can’t wait, accompanied by numerous concerns and fears, maybe only one such, but consuming our thoughts, time and day. For each of us, it will be something different, but the main point is the same. It’s something which hits us out of nowhere at any time to the point that if you’re like me, especially in year’s past, I would dread its coming. I think during such times it is probably more than likely that simply ignoring this ploy might be just what we need.

We can’t do that by trying to ignore the thought. It’s in our head and there’s no way we can get rid of it ourselves. I would suggest that of course we can and should immediately ask God for help. But also we can resolutely set our attention on something else. Paul’s word can help us here:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

When something is overwhelming us, just demanding our attention, putting us in a near panic, that’s a sure sign it’s not from God, but from the devil. Or maybe we’re so used to reacting to situations in that way, that’s it’s simply become a part of who we are. Instead we need to discipline ourselves to focus on something else. We might look into our concern a bit, but then we quit, after we’ve committed the matter to God in prayer. And we proceed with something else, something good for us and for others. And fill our minds with that.

I think this is one important way to resist the devil and its schemes. In and through Jesus.

trusting in God no matter what

At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den.When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Daniel 6:19-23

Daniel was faithful no matter what. But underlying that faithfulness was a rock solid faith in the faithfulness of God. Daniel trusted God.

Daniel’s trust was not hinged to good circumstances. It was trust in God through good times and bad times. It was honed and made solid from years of daily practice. The development and growth of faith takes considerable time.

The king, Darius, was led to make a decree which was set up by men who were jealous of Daniel, and wanted to get rid of him. But Daniel payed no attention to the edict to pray only to the king, and continued day after day to open his windows and face Jerusalem, praying to God. According to the edict, whoever prayed to anyone other than the king was to be thrown into the lion’s den.

Daniel trusted in his God no matter what. I’m sure he wasn’t assured of the outcome, but he was assured that through life or death God could be trusted. In this case it was an outcome which for Daniel was good, but not for his enemies. A pretty ruthless day and age.

The passage talks about the king’s emotional state, but not Daniel’s. I’m sure Daniel had emotions throughout it. But above all, he kept trusting God, I’m sure by praying. And if he had scrolls, looking into God’s word, or hearing it at weekly gatherings where it was read. And he continued to do what he was called to do.

We might face fearful circumstances, or quite often just fearful thoughts which frequently are baseless.  The roaring lion, the devil prowls about looking for someone to devour, the context in Peter in the midst of suffering (1 Peter 5:8-9). But God shuts the mouth of the lion. In a certain way now the devil can’t touch us (1 John 5:18). The roar is meant to instill fear. We need to ignore that and continue on in faith. Doing what God has called us to do, and above all continuing to trust in him. God will always see us through to the very end in and through Jesus.

Jesus has won, but for now we still remain in out and out war

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

And don’t forget to pray for me. Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all, the Message that I, jailbird preacher that I am, am responsible for getting out.

Ephesians 6:10-20

In Christ we are above all children of God as well as servants of Christ, and we’re also soldiers in spiritual warfare. There’s no question that on the cross, by his death, Christ won and vanquished the host of Satan (Colossians 2:13-15). But for whatever reason, the result of that victory in finality is future, and in Christ is also present. We can stand and resist, but only through Christ and Christ’s work. We certainly are no match for the devil ourselves. Yes, I am referring to angelic beings who are fallen, in rebellion against God. In case we haven’t noticed, we’re in an out and out war. A decent analogy is World War 2, when after the Normandy Invasion, which came at such a horrific cost of human life, the war was all but over. Unfortunately serious fighting continued. My father was in a tank in Germany, and was definitely in harm’s way. In the same way, but spiritually, not physically, we in Christ must face it: we’re in out and out war. I like the way Eugene Peterson phrases it in the Message: “a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.”

There are countless ways that we can acknowledge this. Anything at all which gets our focus off Christ and the gospel is a sign. And whatever violates love for God, and for our neighbor as ourselves, including even love for our enemies, as Jesus taught us, is also equally a sign that we’re off track.

It’s important for us to realize the nature of what we’re in. God will give us the strength we need, as well as the resources through the gospel, just as Peterson’s rendering of this passage above, makes clear. We have to realize what we’re in for. It is no Sunday School picnic. Expect the worst. But then brace yourself. Again, God will give the needed strength, along with all we need through Christ and the gospel, and from God’s word. That is a given, but we must take it. We must be ready. If we have the attitude of wanting to avoid such, we’ll be in trouble. This is plain and simple reality. And the answer is nothing fancy, but is indeed profound. And makes the needed difference. In and through Jesus.

God’s grace received where we’re at

It’s more complicated than that: right? Yes it is. One has to get serious about sins in one’s life which actually violate love for God and for human beings, as well as respect for God’s creation. And yet scripture makes it clear that in and of ourselves, we can’t fix the problem. And yet we’re called to be grieved over it, but not just because of it’s destructive effect on others, as well as on ourselves, but bottom line, because it’s against our Creator.

Sometimes I have been nailed down in defeat, perhaps in part due to a condemning finger pointing at me from the enemy in an actually confusing, unclear way, but strong and relentless, just the same. Or perhaps there is a sense in which I’m undergoing God’s disciplining love over attitudes that I know aren’t right, but seem to have me in their grip, sin seeming to be a power over me at the time, which won’t let go.

It is good, even important to pray to God during such times, to grieve, mourn and wail, as James puts it, as we seek to cleanse our hands (acts) and purify our hearts (attitudes). Even to confess our faults to one another, and pray for each other, so that we might be healed (James 5).

In the end it’s only God’s grace which will prevail in our lives, and make the difference needed. God certainly accepts us where we’re at, but just as certainly, God won’t leave us there. And we have to leave the convicting work of the Spirit in God’s hands, as well as the final judgment of everything. Paul refused to even judge himself, much less someone else. That’s not at all talking about dealing with sin along the way, but probably referring to the final judgment to come, when God will make known all our hidden motives. But along with that thankfully is God’s grace in Christ, so that God does indeed convict and convince us of our sin, so we can confess such sin to God, and receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing. And go on, not at all competent or confident in ourselves, but trusting in God, and God’s promise to us to always meet us where we’re at as we seek to come near to him, in and through Jesus.

breaking through into prayer

I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.

A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.

Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

Daniel 10

There are times when prayer seems to come easy, most of the time not, and then there are times when it seems like impossible to pray, or that one can’t really pray at all. This passage in the book of Daniel reminds me of that.

Daniel was engaged in spiritual warfare no doubt. A heavenly messenger sent from God, an angel, seemed to be active in accordance with Daniel’s humbling of himself before God, and prayer. God was at work, and there was a battle going on in the heavenly realm. Daniel was seeking insight from God for the benefit of God’s people, and ultimately the mission of God for the world. Yes, every part of the message we find in scripture is one way or another to that end.

I have found at times, and this can go on for days, and it can seem especially so at critical times, but I’ve found that sometimes I simply have to accept the heavy burden, or weakness of my heart and mind, just accept it, and pray. And that can be the turning point for me, to break through out of the doldrums, and actually impasse, so that I can begin to really pray.

It’s not like there isn’t value in praying, and trying to pray when it seems completely empty. Maybe that’s something of half the battle. However one can begin to despair, and give up, exactly what the spiritual enemy wants. They can’t stand up to faith in God in true prayer. They will try to resist that, but they will flee as well, when we resist them through God’s word and the gospel.

We have to remember that this is ongoing. We won’t simply break through never to struggle again (see Ephesians 6:10-20). There will be times, probably strategic, in which it will seem impossible for us to pray. Or times when it can seem more or less empty, just something we do with not enough life or light in it. And then there will be those breakthrough times back into the norm, or something special, something more from God. In and through Jesus.

 

the fear factor

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”[a]

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:5b-11

1 Peter is referring to persecution suffered by Christians. To see a letter and passages (verses) in context is important. We will misinterpret them if we don’t. So I include some context here to the part I wish to highlight on this post.

Even though persecution is a main theme, and the reason for the fear here and whatever might be involved in the devouring, I think this applies across the board as one of the schemes of Satan (2 Corinthians 2:11).

Simply put, it’s the fear factor. The devil here is likened to a roaring lion, perhaps referring to an older lion which no longer has the spring of step, or agility it once had, so that in order to catch prey, it needs to rely on instilling a paralyzing fear. Then, in the spiritual realm, the enemy can take over and begin its destructive work. At least keeping us from being effective in our faith.

Just this realization is half the battle. But what the original readers faced, and what causes us to be afraid now are real problems, or at least we’re convinced they are. We’re told in the text that we’re to resist the devil (also James 4:7). Just how, we’re not told. We can gather from our Lord’s temptation, that a key element of that is to stand on God’s word, directed by the Spirit, and the gospel truth at the heart of it.

What this means in practical terms is that we best get on with life, and not allow ourselves to be overcome with fear, instead trusting in God. God will help us in the midst of all of this, to get beyond it. Something we will need to do again and again during this life. In and through Jesus.