As a general rule of thumb it’s always better to stay focused on things that are positive than on things that are negative. This is true in the emotional realm and also the physical world around us. When driving at night with oncoming traffic, it’s recommended to stare at the outside white line. The premise is that we steer towards whatever we are looking at and it’s much better to drive onto the white line than into the bright lights driving at comparable speeds while passing by you less than 5 feet away. This concept also holds true in marksmanship. When firing a weapon using iron sights (the aiming mechanism attached to the weapon), you will have greater accuracy if you keep your eye on the front sight post instead of the target. The premise here is that if we stay focused on the solution (the weapon) instead of the problem (the target), we are more likely to hit dead-center. Well if where we are focused matters in our emotions and the physical world around us, then the same should hold true for our spiritual lives. And this is why Paul once said in a letter to the Colossians:
Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.
And this is great advice. He was writing this letter to the people of Colossae, many of whom were new Christians, and wanted to remind them of this important idea: mind your focus. But there’s an additional message throughout the bible as well and it’s one that often times gets overlooked by the message of hope that we Christians like to spread around like Oprah giving out cars at her farewell episode. “You get hope, you get hope, you get hope, we all get hope!”
The message is that there is a very real enemy out there prowling like a hungry lion stalking its prey, and his prey is me. He is the embodiment of everything in this world that is evil and he hates all that is good. His bucket list consists of just one item: to manipulate and isolate me until I am ineffective and eternally his to torment and torture. This enemy, who the bible refers to as a thief, lucifer, ruler of demons, the accuser, devil, serpent, adversary, tempter, and the wicked one, never grows tired of making me suffer. He never sleeps and is always watching, waiting for an opportunity to disrupt my peace and joy.
Yes, the enemy we face is always waiting, impatiently pacing in the shadows while he searches for a gap in the defenses. He’s an enemy that seeks to isolate us from all support, deprive us of hope, and empty us of our will to fight. He’s an enemy who has been studying mankind for centuries and knows how we tick. He knows what thoughts to whisper in our ear to elicit his desired response, if we allow it. Worse yet, he knows where we live. He knows where we work. He knows when we have a fight with our spouse. He knows our insecurities and our fears. The enemy approaches the gates of our minds as a friend offering pleasure or enjoyment or an easy life or satisfaction, only to then deceive, manipulate, and ruin our lives. All of this while making us believe that he doesn’t even exist. Sound far-fetched? Believing that whisper is the gate he’ll come in through.
This reality has become abundantly clear to me over the past year as I see the very visible casualties of this unseen war, and the importance of it is why I am writing it down.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is one of the more intriguing books I’ve read recently. It is a set of fictional letters from a demon named Screwtape, who is supervising the work of another demon named Wormwood. In the book, every demon is assigned a human to manipulate, whisper to, isolate, and claim for eternity. The letters between Screwtape and Wormwood provide details and insights of the methods they use to accomplish their goals. Maybe it’s planting a self-centered, anger-filled thought towards a loved one in order to isolate their target. Maybe it’s allowing a pleasant distraction to prevent a deep and life changing conversation with a friend. Or maybe it’s subtly steering their target towards being focused on the task of “good work” before them instead of the people around them. But here’s what I’ve walked through and more importantly, what I’ve learned about how to overcome this enemy.
Joy and I are foster parents which, if C.S. Lewis’ interpretation of demons is correct, our kids’ personal demons hate us more than anything right now. From birth, the kids we welcome into our home may or may not have ever had a parental figure to stand in between their kids and their demons. Nobody has stood toe to toe with the accuser and defiantly said to him “you can’t have these kids. Not today and not ever.” Evil has had free reign on their lives, and many times has had free reign in their families’ lives as well. Because of this we are very intentional with our parenting strategies in that we want to serve as an ambassador for the unending hope that we claim as our own. It is not our job to be enough for them, only to point them to Who is. If we truly do serve as a conduit for those around us to experience the peace and hope of our God, then the ruler of demons will do whatever he can to isolate us from those people or to make us ineffective. He will exploit our weaknesses and overwhelm us, and here’s a few ways it’s happened to me:
I’m a very justice-minded person and I have a hard time disconnecting myself from things that need to be fixed with a dose of my perfect (that’s a joke) sense of justice. So when I see something that is wrong, my first inclination is always to jump in and fix it. I think “well if they would only do X then everything would be alright.” And then I get angry when I come to the conclusion that I can’t fix it or that if I fixed it, it’s only fixing the symptom of a much deeper problem that I am unable to fix or even see. Frustrating, right? Foster care has highlighted this concept and puts it in my face on a daily basis. The whispers I hear as a result tell me one of a few things:
- They don’t deserve kindness or hope based on their choices. You’re right to be angry at them. You’re actually not angry enough.
- You don’t have what it takes to do this. Clearly you can’t even control your anger, so what makes you think you can raise kids from hard places?
- You are so insignificant and powerless to fix this. To fix anything.
It is the desire of every human to be known. Not just to have someone know your name but to have someone know your hopes, your struggles, and your passions. To have someone who knows you well enough that they can anticipate your emotional response to the world around you. Someone who has your best interests in mind and helps you to get better with age like a good chedda’.
Marriage is supposed to be a good reflection of this, and it’s one of the most exploited areas of our lives because of it. It’s all too easy to leave a marriage in ruins and its participants feeling lonely if we don’t stand guard at the gates. Here’s a few whispers I’ve heard over the past year about loneliness and isolation:
- You’re mad because of foster care? It’s her fault that you’re a foster parent. She must not care about your needs, and she probably doesn’t even know you at all. What are you still doing in this marriage?
- She is frustrated at you again? You’re not a qualified partner for her and you don’t deserve her. She’d be better with someone else.
- You never find rest at home. You have no real home.
These might sound ridiculous as they’re written but if we’re honest with ourselves, we all have thoughts like this at times. Thoughts that quite obviously aren’t based on logic but that lead to loneliness, or inflaming and justifying our anger. In the face of this enemy, what can we possibly do to keep it at bay? In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, King Theoden is facing the annihilation of his people at the hands of a tireless and relentless enemy and he asks the rhetorical question of:
What can man do against such reckless hate?
Well, here’s some ideas:
Acknowledge that the enemy is real and stand guard. The deception that he doesn’t exist is one of his greatest weapons. It causes us to leave the gates open and the walls unmanned. Acknowledging that he is in fact real, and that you are in fact his target means that he is no longer lying in wait in the shadows. In 1 Peter the author says:
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
He cannot be where God is. This might come as a surprise but he and God are as compatible as tofu bacon and…well anything. I mean who actually comes up with this stuff?!
Lately I’ve been feeling chronically overly stressed without finding any reprieve. I just finished reading a book where I felt prompted that if I would actually spend time with God everyday that I would find rest. I gave it a shot by waking up 30 minutes earlier to sip on some coffee and read books that will help me grow deeper. The results? It has not changed my circumstances one iota. But it has changed something inside me that has shifted my perspective of my circumstances. I somehow feel more at peace with the less-than-peaceful circumstances. Philippians 4:7 explains this phenomenon that when we focus on and spend time with God:
Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Spend time where God is and the enemy can not follow. I liken it to being near a camp fire at night. If you need to be able to see, stay near the fire.
He hates being mocked. Despite trying to convince us that he’s equal to or more powerful than God, he knows deep down that he has absolutely zero power over anything. This is why he stays in the shadows trying to manipulate our thoughts and emotions. If he made his existence more obvious, who in heir right mind would welcome him over for dinner? His pride was the cause of his original downfall and he’s insecure in his lack of power. Because of this, he hates being mocked. So when I feel the full weight of things and recognize it for what it is, it’s important for me to remind him in no uncertain terms of the scoreboard and his inability to change it.
He has no power over you. In tandem to the above point, it’s important to remember that he has no power over you specifically. His battle strategy relies heavily on whispering to and manipulating our emotions. While we many times follow the lead of our emotions, his plan requires that we go along with it. His power over my life is limited by my giving or withholding permission for him to do so. I may not be able to control the circumstances around me, but I can absolutely control how I respond to them. And always remember that no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, we can always choose love.
- Acknowledge that he is real.
- Spend time where God is and he cannot follow.
- Remind him of the scoreboard.
- Remember he has no power over you and choose love.