The church service had just started and my three year old daughter was already causing problems. She wouldn’t be still or quiet and her eyes begged me to hold her during each song. I could tell the whining was about to start when she scrunched up her face at my refusal of the gum she requested, and by the time the children were dismissed for the sermon, anger and impatience had taken over my spirit. She refused to stay in children’s church, so I grudgingly carried her back to the service with strict warnings to ‘be quiet, sit still and don’t bother me because I want to listen’. About five minutes passed before I finally decided to remove both of us from the sanctuary. We sat down on the steps outside and I began to share with her how important it was for me to hear the message of God’s Word and she was spoiling it. It was not a tender and loving explanation and as I continued to talk I realized what was happening in my soul.
I was angry with her for ruining my church experience; my words and tone were obvious signs of that. But I was also frustrated because the sermon was one I needed to hear. For several weeks prior, I had experienced frequent and weighty attacks on my soul and I was weary from the way that Satan was working to pull me away from the Lord. Through the behavior of my children, random inconveniences of everyday life, and various relational conflicts, I was being tempted toward anger, doubt, discontentment, and a general disregard for living in a way that pleased the Lord.
And the sermon that I was being pulled away from was about the role of the Holy Spirit. Not only was I angry with my daughter, I was angry with Satan because here he was again, keeping me from the truth I so desperately needed. But you know what else I realized? By taking out my anger on my daughter I was giving in to the temptation to sin and therefore losing the battle.
“When the heart recognizes at any time sin and temptation at work, seducing and forming sinful imaginations to get you to fulfill its lusts, the heart must immediately see it for what it is, bring it to the law of God and love of Christ, condemn it, and follow it to execute it to the uttermost.” John Owen, Voices from the Past.
Our Women’s Bible study at church this semester has been studying the book of Isaiah. In the middle of the book there is a brief interlude from Isaiah’s prophesy and a short story about the reign of Hezekiah. Israel had been taken captive by Assyria, and the southern kingdom of Judah was under attack because of their rebellion against Assyria. The commander of the Assyrian army came up to the walls of Jerusalem and spoke to the people in an attempt to persuade their allegiance to Assyria. He mocked God and distorted the truth about what Hezekiah had been doing as their King. His words remind me of the way Satan speaks to our souls. Listen to what he said:
Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us.’
Make peace with the King of Assyria, then you will have good food, you will have water from your own cistern. You will have grain and wine and bread and vineyards. Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, ‘The Lord will deliver us’ “ Isaiah 36:15-17
Satan’s tactic is similar–probably not tempting us with cisterns and vineyards–but when he tempts us to sin, at the root he’s saying, “Don’t trust God. Trust in me. Don’t look to God for your satisfaction. Look everywhere else. Don’t live a holy life, it’s not worth it. God can’t save you from this, so just follow me. Conform to my ways and then you will truly live.”
The thing that Satan wants more than anything else is for us to turn our hearts away from submission to the Lord.
Somehow I had lost sight of the fact that there is a daily, moment-by-moment, war taking place in my soul. In Christ we are new creations, but until Christ returns, we will wrestle with our flesh and the daily war in our souls will continue.
It’s been helpful for me to acknowledge this battle in three ways.
1.Satan wants to devour you. He’s actively looking for opportunities to demand our allegiance to him (1 Peter 5:8). He’s smart too because he appeals to our desires and taunts us with things that seem satisfying. But his intentions are never good. This word devour that’s used in 1 Peter, isn’t a slow kind of savoring and eating; it’s best translated ‘to swallow whole’. It’s fast, furious and complete. He wants every part of us and he’ll do whatever it takes.
2.Satan wants you to stop trusting God. This is how he tempted Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:1-5), it’s how he tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-9), and it’s how he tempts us today. By twisting and distorting the word of God, the purposes of God and the promises of God, he causes us to doubt. We begin to question God’s character when life is painful. We question whether or not living a holy life is really worth it when our attempts at godliness don’t bring us what we expected. We question God’s ability to work things for our good when life doesn’t make sense. He attacks our belief and when we neglect the truth we will succumb to his lies.
3.God has given you everything you need to resist Satan. The Enemy is real and powerful, but Jesus is greater. He defeated death through his sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. We have been given the Holy Spirit who helps, convicts, and empowers. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us and we will never experience a temptation too great for us to escape (Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 10:13).
Sitting on the steps outside of the sanctuary last Sunday I finally realized that I wasn’t just missing the sermon, I was missing an opportunity to lean into the power of the Holy Spirit. Was my daughter’s behavior wrong? Yes. But that didn’t mean she needed a harsh lecture about how important God’s Word is to her mother. As I submitted myself to the Lord, he took away the anger and replaced it with a heart of love. I experienced freedom from sin but also great joy in letting go of my selfishness, my ‘right’ to sit through a church service uninterrupted. The Lord allowed me to utilize the time alone with her in a way that hopefully extended God’s grace and love into her soul. In the face of temptation we have to believe that turning from sin will bring life, that trusting and following God’s ways are best and that he has the power to deliver us from whatever sin we’re battling in that moment.
“He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4)
This is a part of a series, Made to Pour: Tending to your Soul