Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Holding on

In 1 Peter 5:8, we find these words:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

The past couple of weeks I’ve been reminded of this verse and the reality that believers in Christ Jesus have a real adversary. How easy it is to forget that we have to contend with a real devil—he is not a myth. Of course, I can’t prove anything empirically. I have no photos, no eyewitness accounts or DNA evidence that I can produce. Nevertheless, I know the devil is real for two reasons: 1) Because the Bible tells me so, and 2) Because of the kind of thoughts, feelings and emotions my wife and I have been experiencing.

Currently, except for weekly piano accompanying responsibilities that I have at our church and at our local area’s community college, I am unemployed. This current period of unemployment is the latest chapter in a saga that has gone on much too long. My personal story is no secret to those who have known me long and have known me well, but it is much too long to share in detail here (if you really want to know, talk to me in person, when you have an hour or two to spare). Suffice it to say, years of significant disappointments and unanswered questions have had negative effects on both of us, to the point that both my wife, Catherine, and I have been struggling with negative thoughts and feelings.

Believing in the sovereignty of God over everyone and everything, I know the circumstances that have come upon my family have come from the hand of a loving God, who is also my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ. However, I also know these negative thoughts and feelings that Catherine and I have been experiencing are not of God, but bear the unmistakable marks of our “adversary the devil [who] prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”, whom Jesus called a “thief” who “comes…to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

The best book on trials and suffering that I know is the Bible book of Job. One thing we learn from Job is that it is possible for both God and the devil to be at work through the same events. Job’s story allows us in behind the scenes to see that the devil was at work in the catastrophic trials that fell upon Job. Yet, these same trials came about by God’s permission, enabling Job to correctly proclaim that “the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21). God had, in effect, taken away Job’s health, cattle and children. In the same way, even though the Bible teaches me that my family’s circumstances have come about by the will of God (God “has taken away”), it also teaches me that the discouragement, depression, doubt and despair that Catherine and I have experienced as a result of these same circumstances are from the devil.

It is no wonder then that Peter, speaking of our adversary, writes, “Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:9a). Why should believers need to be exhorted to be firm in their faith? Because our faith is the object of the devil’s attack. The devil seeks to undermine our trust and confidence in God and God’s word. That’s what the old serpent did in the garden of Eden; that’s what’s been happening to me and my wife. At first, I thought it was just me. Then I found out Catherine has also been having a terrible struggle that she’s been keeping to herself. It turn out both of us have been tempted to doubt God’s care and love. Both of us have been tempted to doubt the efficacy of our prayers because certain prayers have gone so long unanswered. We’ve both been tempted in different ways to give up hope. Our faith has been under attack.

But, I read this word: “Humble yourselves…under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). So, this is what I will do, and will encourage Catherine to do: In humility, I will acknowledge that this current period of unemployment and the prior long years of career-related disappointments have come from the hand of our heavenly Father who loves us. I still don’t understand why, and I won’t pretend there is no anxiety about the future, but we have here in the text an invitation from our mighty God—a God who cares for us—to cast our anxieties upon Him. I won’t question God, because He knows what He’s doing; rather, I will choose to obey Him.

There’s something else we must do: “Be sober-minded; be watchful” (1 Peter 5:8). There is a devil, and he is real. Therefore, we need to be “sober-minded”—alert, aware and vigilant—and “watchful”, so that we do not fall prey to the enemy of our souls. The way we can obey God’s command in 1 Peter 5:8-9 is to purposefully, and stubbornly cling to God’s word. God’s word is true, regardless of what happens to us. His word is true even when we can see no evidence that our prayers are being answered. The Bible remains true even when the circumstances of life threaten to smother us to death. God’s word is true!

Maybe you find yourself in circumstances similar to me and my wife. I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to humble yourself under God’s mighty hand. God knows what He’s doing, and you can trust Him. God also cares for you. You can tell Him your concerns. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Get alone so that you can freely pour out your heart to God. Finally, be alert and aware of the work of your enemy. Don’t take the devil for granted; he is real, and he will literally kill you, if possible. Misery loves company, so the devil doesn’t want to go to hell alone, and multitudes are following him to eternal misery. If the devil can’t get your soul, he’ll content himself with rendering you powerless and ineffective in the Lord’s work. Don’t let him do it! “Resist him, firm in your faith.” Stand pat on the word of God. “Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Romans 3:4).

Say, like the late Dorothy Love-Coates (1928-2002), “I’m holding on, and I won’t let go of my faith”. Enjoy this recording, and be encouraged.


Jane Steen said...

I wish I could employ you, Wyeth. It breaks my heart to see a good, talented, intelligent guy like you unemployed when people should be lining up to hire you! Hang on in there and resist all those nasty attacks on your confidence in yourself and your trust in God.

wwdunc said...

Thank you, Jane. By the grace of God, and with encouragement from my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am hanging in there.