The pattern of spiritual attacks

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As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So, humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:6-7 NLT

Almost 20 years passed before I recognized Satan’s spiritual attacks. Of course, I had heard of spiritual warfare and read Ephesians 6 multiple times, and I could see Satan’s hand in life’s suffering.  But a new awakening to spiritual reality took place half way through the most severe religious persecution I had ever experienced.

As soon as I arrived at Carolina Day School in Asheville, North Carolina, the harassment started.  Middle school parents believed stories their children, my French students, passed on, about how I was ‘proselytizing’, how I (an evangelical) crossed myself during class, as do Catholics.  I fervently sought other jobs, clamoring to get out of there, but God kept me at this school.  It was awful.

Cousin Terry gave me a promise to cling to:

No weapon formed against you shall prosper. Isaiah 54:17 NKJV

I asserted that fact over and over, many times in a day as I walked to the copy room or bathroom.

I understood external suffering from outside, but I had never been conscious of the dark world’s incursions into my thought life.  I had always assumed that I was she who gave birth to discouraging notions and feelings. They were products of my mind, or so I had always reasoned.

But half way through my tenure at this school, about six years ago, the Lord opened my eyes to a new facet of spiritual reality.  I was about to travel with other teachers to a conference.  Very demoralized about my French teaching and how students and parents reacted, I didn’t want to go.  Two nights before our departure, I experienced what I’ve heard termed, ‘the dark night of the soul’.

My despair over teaching spread to every part of my life.  Not only did I not think I could or should continue teaching, I saw myself as incapable of being Mike’s wife, of being a grandmother, of continuing to manage our week-to-week finances, even of preparing meals.  So convinced that these changes were true, I awoke feeling unable to carry on with my life. Not suicidal, but in total despair and without hope. Someone or something had flushed my normal enthusiasm down the drain

I don’t know the exact moment God draw back the curtain, but it was later that same day. Suddenly, I knew!  These weren’t my thoughts; they belonged to the devil!!!  Relief flooded my mind and heart.  As fresh energy for life flowed back in, I felt strengthened and enthusiastic once more.

I partook of the conference and even acquired some new ways of engaging students.  I returned to my classroom, feeling ready to carry on.  Praise be to God.

That event and what God taught me propelled me on to enjoying the best three (and final) years of my French classroom career.

Five and half years later, I still experience AND recognize occasional attacks.  But not always do I identify their source.  I still have fallen for the lie that they are MY thoughts and feelings.

The other night turned out differently.  After at least two hours of sleeplessness around what I affectionately call “pee o’clock”, I fell into a nightmare.  Just before the alarm sounded, I was praying in my dream, “Help me! I am under spiritual attack!”

Fifteen minutes later, although tired, I eagerly sat down with coffee, Bible and my journal at hand. As I had been feeding the cats and making the coffee, I quickly recognized what had occurred. With the dream still fresh, I replayed my fearful, desperate cry for rescue against this enemy.

As I started to write about this, God took me in a different direction, his application surprising me. I had spent part of my awake time, worrying about all the self-assigned tasks for the coming week and my desire to have more ‘Maria time’. What God brought to mind turned out to be a picture of my prevailing sin as a bed of smoldering coals.

I hoard time for Maria, and am aware of this top manifestation of my sinful selfishness. Suddenly, I pictured Satan blowing on these coals of ‘Not enough time for Maria’.  Small flames of discouragement had flamed into strong fire during my awake worry time.

What is interesting is that over the past couple of months, I have actually relaxed more about ‘time’, trusting God’s grace to be sufficient. More and more, I have let go of the need to get stuff done.

Thanks be to God, I saw my nightmare for what is is, a desperate dark ploy to keep me tied to Satan’s lie.

I immediately dumped cold water, dousing those roused embers. And Satan fled.

Then I wrote in my journal a version of Paul’s account of his take-away in God’s Holiness School.

Paul wrote:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13 NIV

I composed this:

I have learned to be more content each day.  I know what it is to have little time and what it is to have plenty.  I am practicing the secret of being content in either case, whether I have ‘too much’ to do or the day looks wide open.  I can trust Jesus to provide just what I need for what he has pre-planned for me to do.

In other words, it’s okay to be weak, to be needy, to not have enough time.  As a needy little child, I can safely trust my Father to give me what I need. I’m not wise enough to know about the day ahead.  But he is!

What makes you happy is a clue to who you are

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Matthew 16:26 – What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

“I need to get an A on my Psych test this week!”

  • Why?

“It’ll make me happy!”

  • Why?

“If I do well in my major, then I can get into a good grad program.”

  • Why do you want that?

“So I can have a career as a clinical psychologist”

  • Why?

“I think I’ll be happy in that profession and find it rewarding!”

  • Why?

“When I was a child, my family and I were greatly helped through some sessions with a counselor.  I think that I’d be happy assisting people the same way.”

The pastor who shared this scenario did not go any deeper with his questioning of the college student.  But had he probed closer, a possible subsequent question might have been:

  • Why does it make you happy to help people?

I think the truthful answer to that question is key to revealing the source of our hope, joy, value, identity, purpose – in a word, our VERY essence.

Here is why it matters.  If our hope, our happiness-source is anything but Jesus, we have engaged in a DOOMED quest for 2 reasons:

1) we’ll never be satisfied the way we are wired to be

2) we can lose THAT which we might gain

This reality came to a head for me on Friday.  I started my day at 4:20 am with my ritual worship at the alter of MY WEIGHT, aka the bathroom scale.  Talk about God’s sovereignty – He controls my body to such a degree for His good purposes, that just like previous days and weeks, I was stuck 5 pounds higher than I want to be…..a fact painful to me since November when I realized that I had added to Maria’s substance.

I KNEW that this moment was crucial, that I was battling idolatry and who and what was most important in my life.  I wrestled with this truth on my morning walk, recognizing the approaching ‘line in the sand’.

Line in the sand

Was I going to worship MY happiness or submit to God as Lord of my life?

So once again, I decided to abandon this morning ritual. (I don’t need the scales to help me eat in the manner that provides me with the most energy – we’re talking about something SICK in my soul, an obsession with the scales and a numeral!)  This time, I pray, the decision stays final.  (cynics or realists might rightly ask, “Where have I heard THAT resolve before?!”

Listening to John Piper’s sermon in the car on the way to school and applying his line of probative questions to what I describe as that which makes me happy, I saw the foolishness and futility of imbuing 5 pounds with THAT much power over me.

For MY bottom line with the weight idol is this: If I weigh X lbs, I’ll be happy.

That’s stupid!  Our lives are just a vapor,

As James says in chapter 4, verse 4- ….You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Why should you or I allocate that many resources of mind, heart and strength to the shell, the temporary? Where is my concern with the main part of me that will last eon upon eon of time?  And if, as the Bible teaches, we are going to be completely changed upon seeing Jesus face to face, why am I angsting over what will drop off and decay?

As our pastor Patrick quipped this morning: When we die, the nut that we were leaves behind the withered shell of our body. (That got me pondering: Am I a peanut, a chestnut, a walnut, a pistachio????)   I’m 57 years old.  This weight issue is OH,SO temporary and 40 years from now I won’t be even thinking about it.  So why waste my earthly energy TODAY worshipping the outer casing that is going to disintegrate?

Back to the title of this reflection:

Who are you?  Who am I?  Are we our own god?  or are we worshippers and lovers of the only true and living God?  Truth is – we have souls. We were created and wired only to be satisfied by the best – God, Himself.  Why waste our happiness on junk when we can experience a partial joy NOW learning about and savoring God, all along knowing that ‘fullness of joy‘ awaits us. (Psalm 16:11)

PS:  One final thought about the student who might have answered that her idea of happiness was helping others.  If we help others to FEEL good about ourselves, that is sin.  If we help others to PLEASE our heavenly Father and do that work in His strength, honoring Him in the process, that is what the Bible calls ‘good’.  Inner motivation DOES matter. The Pharisees sought man’s approval and esteem through outward ‘righteous’ behavior.  (Read again Jesus’ words in Luke 18:9-14)

 

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