[This Bible Study starts at the bottom of the May posts, with the “Iron Sharpens Iron Bible Study Intro” post. And remember that my answers to some of the questions are in [brackets].]
Do you have any recurring dreams or nightmares? What do you normally daydream about?
Open With Prayer
Read Lesson and Bible Verses:
Matthew 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
We all know that we are supposed to be seeking righteousness and God’s Kingdom. But are we actually doing it? And do we really even know what that means?
The reason I ask is because our country is getting so lukewarm and relativistic about spiritual things. Whole denominations are drifting away from biblical Christianity and becoming social clubs where the speakers tickle the ears of the congregation and make them feel warm and cozy and comfortable. But that is so not what Jesus did and what the Bible is about!
Jesus spoke often of sin and hell and eternal matters and the need to seek righteousness and be on alert. He convicted and challenged and confronted. And here we are, growing weak, lazy, and sleepy in our Christian walks because we only want to hear the things that make us feel good about our lifestyles and choices and priorities.
And the sad thing is, we are too comfortable to care that we are missing the mark. I think many of us want to believe that we are doing “good enough.” We have just enough of God to get by, but not so much that we feel guilty, convicted, or have to change our lifestyle.
But “good enough” falls far short of “great.” Of “godly.”
God does not call us to seek “good enough.” He calls us to seek righteousness. And in order to seek righteousness, we have to set aside our comfort and our focus on earthly things so that we can begin pursuing the Lord wholeheartedly. We have to set aside our desires and plans and priorities, in favor of His. Righteousness involves a “dying to self” so that we can become more and more like Christ and reach more and more people for His Kingdom.
But I fear that we, in America, have become too distracted by possessions, pleasure, people, and pursuits to bother with pursuing righteousness and God’s Kingdom. Pursuing righteousness would just infringe on our comfort and joy, wouldn’t it? It would mean that we have to put God’s plans and desires over our own, that we would have to deal with the selfish and sinful parts of our hearts and lives? And who wants to do that, really?
A main part of the problem is that we (in the USA) live in a very selfish, materialistic age when we get whatever we want, whenever we want. And when we get bored with that, we get the bigger and better version. (We even discard our spouses when something “better” comes along.)
Our hearts and minds are consumed with “stuff.” More stuff, better stuff, too much stuff, someone else’s stuff. It’s gotten to a point where we don’t know how to “do without,” where we evaluate our worth by our stuff, and where we feel entitled to more stuff. (Just notice how many commercials tell you that “you deserve it.” It’s insane.) “Stuff” has become a huge idol in our country, and it’s taking the place of seeking the Lord and holiness, of contentment and gratitude.
[And if you have a lot of “blessings” in your life – a big house, a good position or job, many friends, success, financial abundance, etc., don’t be fooled into thinking that it must be a sign that you are in a right standing before God, that God “blessed” you so much because surely He is pleased with you. Sometimes our “stuff” is there because we fought for it, not because God wanted us to have it. And sometimes, it’s more like a test or distraction than a blessing or an indication of our godly life. And on the flip-side, don’t think that if you don’t have a lot of “stuff” then it must mean that God is not pleased with you and has not blessed you. The best blessings are not tangible anyway.]
Another problem is that we live in an age of relativism where the #1 Truth is “What’s true for you may not be true for me.” “The Bible is not really black-and-white.”
And if we make Truth relative, then anything goes. Because who’s to say which truth should supersede all others.
But as Christians, we believe Scripture supersedes all others. However, in our country and around the world, the authority of Scripture is being ignored, downplayed, or attacked, not just by unbelievers and atheists but also by “Christians.” By churches.
And if we fail to keep Scripture as our authority, then we have no firm foundation on which to stand. If we fail to immerse ourselves in it and evaluate our lives by it and teach the next generation to cherish it, then we are left to float along according to our own whims and views and misconceptions, helplessly bumping along with all the other floaters out there who are doing their own thing also.
The only way to stay on course - to seek the kind of godly righteousness that God calls us to strive for - is to live vitally connected to the Lord, through prayer and His Word.
John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
But isn’t it true that many of us nowadays live like the Bible is optional reading in our daily Christian lives.
Not only are some denominations blatantly walking away from the Word, but there are many Christians who have simply gotten lazy about spiritual disciplines and who have all sorts of excuses for it. We know the importance of the Bible, yet we find ways to excuse our failure to read it and meditate on it. We find ways to excuse our failure to pursue righteousness because we are just too comfortable with the status quo.
I was like that, too. For a long time. Scripture was good and beneficial, but I didn’t eat it and drink it. I didn’t deeply immerse myself in it and absorb it. It was “extra-credit” reading.
But because of the five months of demonic harassment that I went through (previous lesson), I learned the importance of immersing myself in the Word, of maintaining contact with God all throughout my day and night, of seeking holiness and righteousness . . . so that I could stand a fighting chance against evil. There was no way I could do it alone. I have no power in myself. And I have learned to take the spirit world seriously and to remember that there is an eternity out there waiting for us. And what we do on this earth is not nearly as important as what we do in the spirit realm, for God’s Kingdom.
Because of those five months, I am always conscious of the fact that there is an unseen world working right alongside the physical world. And how we live and what we do and if we pray really does matter. Because it really does have an impact on the spirit world. And I became very concerned with how much my life reflected Christ, and if it glorified Him and honored Him.
Not only does how we live and act reflect on Christ and influence people’s views of Him, but I believe that we can give demons access to us by how we live and act.
As I said last lesson, we put out “welcome mats” and give them “open doors” when we give in to temptations, when we say things we shouldn’t, when we watch and read and listen to things we shouldn’t, when we act in a way we shouldn’t, when we give ourselves over to lust, anger, bitterness, rage, jealousy, greed, anxiety, etc., and when we fill our lives, homes, ears, eyes, and minds with things that are not God-glorifying.
And we have more power to keep them back when we live more righteously, are more aligned with the Holy Spirit, and are relying on Jesus.
People today do not want others to tell them how to live. Even Christians do not want their lifestyles, choices, or behaviors challenged by other Christians. But God’s Word is very clear about our responsibility to seek righteousness.
Proverbs 15: 9: “The Lord detests the way of the wicked but he loves those who pursue righteousness.”
Matthew 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
And one of the pieces of spiritual armor is the breastplate of righteousness, which protects our hearts and our vital organs.
The reason that I am bringing up this issue when we all know that it’s something we need to do is because I do not think we all do it. I think that in our country we have gotten far too comfortable and lazy. We are self-serving and building up treasures here on earth. We are overly concerned with the fears of this life and much less concerned the fear of the Lord, with seeking His righteousness.
And if we are not actively pursuing righteousness, we are sliding farther away from it. Righteousness doesn’t just happen; we have to seek and pursue it, letting the Spirit transform us
Okay, now, I want to clarify something here. I think people can get a little nervous when the word “righteous” is mentioned because they think of a Pharisee. But when I say we need to be seeking “righteousness” or living righteously, I am not referring to performing righteous acts out of a sense of legalism, or to make ourselves look better or feel better, or to try to attain some level of favor with God. For God is not pleased with these filthy, righteous acts; these attempts to earn favor, mercy, or grace. And I am not referring to our righteous (eternal) standing before God - because we are not “righteous” in God’s eyes by anything we do but only because of what Jesus did for us.
But we do have a responsibility to do our best to live righteously. To submit all areas of our lives to Him as the Holy Spirit calls us. To strive to be holy, as He is holy. We need to humble ourselves before Him and abide in Him more and more, getting rid of the things that do not glorify Him and adding the things that do, so that our lives reflect Him more and more and bring Him the most glory possible. This is the kind of righteousness I am talking about.
Because of those five months, I began to realize my desperate need to abide in Christ daily, to draw ever closer to Him. And in doing this, I needed to align myself with the Spirit as much as possible, because I couldn’t expect to remain under God’s protection if I was living in a way that displeased Him. And so I became concerned with seeking righteousness, living a more holy life in order to honor Him, and remaining as close to Him as possible, keeping as far away from evil as possible.
And so I began to think about what might not be pleasing to Him in my life. And I immediately thought about a movie that I own about witches. It was a movie that I really enjoyed, even though I knew that it could not possibly be glorifying to Him. These witches where casting spells and doing incantations, glorifying witchcraft in a way that makes it look appealing. And yet for so long, I excused it by saying, “Oh, it won’t affect me. I’m strong enough to not be swayed by it. It’s really more about the sisters’ relationship than it is about witchcraft.”
But now, after those five months, it wasn’t about if it was going to sway me or not; it was about if God was glorified by it or not. I became far more concerned with glorifying Him than I did with feeding my own happiness and desires. And so I dumped it in the trash.
And I am very cautious now about what we allow into our house and what we allow on our TV and on the radio. I try to be very careful about not tinkering with things that are inappropriate for a child of God. No books, shows or movies on witchcraft, vampires, mysticism or the like. No books, movies, shows or trinkets that celebrate false gods. No decorations that honor false religions. And as much as I can, I try to be cautious and discerning about “entertainment” that celebrates and encourages things that God opposes: immorality, murder, adultery, God-mocking, rough language, etc. It doesn’t mean that I completely avoid anything that is “un-Christian,” but I do have a low tolerance level for too much of this stuff in any movie or show. Which means that we watch very few television shows. Even the commercials are so disturbing!
And no offense to those who do, but we do not partake in Halloween anymore. My boys go out to the movies with their dad on that night, if there is a good movie to see. And they love it! And if there isn’t a good movie, we buy one that we have always wanted and pop popcorn and pile in front of the TV and have a “family movie night.” I just can’t bring myself to celebrate a “holiday” that celebrates evil, not when I am asking God for His protection from evil. (I do, however, pass out candy. But I try to make it an opportunity to have a positive impact by either saying a silent prayer for each person that comes to the door or attaching a small “God Bless You” note to each piece of candy. I’m doing my small part to be a light on that dark night!)
And here is one of my soapbox issues . . . yoga. Did you know that yoga is actually a form of Hindu worship? Those poses are meant to join you with the gods and the “universe,” where “all are one”. (Look it up on the internet and see what you think.) I know that there are Christians who would call yoga “morally-neutral, harmless, and even beneficial”. But I would have to respectfully disagree.
I don’t think that yoga can be considered God-glorifying in any sense, considering the whole “spiritual” purpose behind the practice of yoga. And I don’t think you can just go, “Oh, I don’t think about the ‘spiritual’ side of it. It’s just good exercise,” and change the very nature of what it is. It is a form of Hindu prayer. That’s just what it is. Those are prayer poses to Hindu gods. And if this is the case, wouldn’t it be erring on the side of spiritual caution to avoid it entirely, when its very essence is Hindu spiritualism? Aren’t there other good, non-controversial forms of exercise out there?
Now, for those who think I’m being an old fuddy-duddy to suggest that Christians make a break from a questionable practice like yoga, read the Old Testament and see how thoroughly God instructed the Israelites to make a break from the religious practices of the people around them. Deuteronomy 12, for example. Where is our zeal for living God-glorifying lives nowadays? For taking a stand for Him? You just don’t see it that often anymore. We have so many excuses for our unglorifying choices and behaviors.
I think it’s actually quite alarming to see how commonplace yoga is. There are studios all over the place. There are videos on shelves at every store. It’s portrayed in many, many commercials, movies, magazines, etc., and it’s always associated with peace and health and inner light and goodness. What a subtle, sneaky, insidious infiltration. And call it what you will, it is literally idol worship.
Look at the extent to which the Israelites were to go to rid their land of idol worship. Deuteronomy 7:5-6: “This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” And here we are, imitating Hindu worship in the name of health and physical fitness.
You know, I used to wonder How in the world can the people of the Bible go from being wholly devoted to God to following false gods and their own desires . . . in one generation?
But when I look at the world around us today, I think I can understand. It’s not that the older generation didn’t teach the new generation God’s truth. And it’s not that the new generation flat-out rejected God and His truth.
It’s probably that the new generation slowly nibbled their way lost by tinkering with things that do not glorify God, by allowing bits and pieces of the world to enter their lives without really batting an eye. Like a slow dripping poison that you can’t feel at first. A little bit here, a little bit there. Question God in this thing. Get indignant about that restriction. “Morality is not really black and white, is it? This isn’t really that bad? Could it really be wrong, when no one’s getting hurt? Did God really say in His Word, ‘You must not . . .?’”
Meanwhile, there’s the older generation. They don’t like what they are seeing, but . . . “Those crazy kids. I guess that’s just how they do things nowadays.”
Or maybe they are grieved by what they are seeing, but . . . “It’s really not my place to say anything. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad. I don’t want to look holier-than-thou or look like an old fuddy-duddy. And I don’t want to offend anyone. So I can’t really take a stand against anything . . . because it might upset someone.”
And they basically condone and encourage society’s slow drift from God by their passivity, by refusing to speak the truth in love or to stand by their convictions that there is “right” and there is “wrong.” And Satan laughs and slips farther in!
Yes, I am guilty of not taking a stand for so long, for fear of making others feel bad or of standing out as different. And I am guilty of allowing things into my life and home and mind that are not God-glorifying. But God is working on me. And I am getting more and more sensitive to what doesn’t bring God glory. (There is so little out there that is neutral middle-ground, especially when it comes to entertainment.)
And I have become convicted about and more uncomfortable with the ways that I encourage those things: buying the movies, watching the program, listening to the music, saying the wrong things, ruminating on the thoughts, winking at sin, shying away when I should be speaking up, etc. And so I am starting to clean up those things that I never really gave much thought to before. I am finally taking them as seriously as they should be taken. Because when God’s glory is at stake, there is no reasonable excuse for bringing Him disgrace.
[This does not mean you have to agree with my views on Halloween and yoga and such. We all have to figure out for ourselves where we stand on issues before God. Because someday, we will stand before Him and give an account for our choices. I may just be more sensitive and strict because of the demonic harassment I went through. And I certainly don’t want to invite any more of it.
1 John 3:21-22: “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.”]
When We Pursue Righteousness
When we pursue righteousness, God is glorified more, people notice a difference, people might be convicted of sin in their own lives, you will be storing up treasures in heaven, and you will remain (as much as possible) on the path that God wants for you, getting His Will done.
Psalm 37:23 tells us “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm.”
And Proverbs 11:5 says, “The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way for them, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness.”
Psalm 23: 3: “. . . He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Emphasis is mine.)
We cannot expect that God will make our steps firm or that we will remain on the straight path if we are living in sin, in self-sufficiency, or for self-glory. And as I said, if we are not pursuing righteousness, we are sliding away.
So how do we attain righteousness? If we are told to pursue it, obviously it has to be somewhere we can find it.
2 Timothy 3: 16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (Emphasis is mine.)
We need to be immersed in the Word (and I would say daily) and conforming our lives to what God has revealed to us if we want to live a more holy life, to resemble Jesus more and more.
And as we all know, James 5:16 says “. . . The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” And we just saw that Scripture is useful for training in righteousness. I think that there is a link between abiding in the Word, seeking righteousness, and the power of our prayers.
But it’s not our righteous acts that make our prayers powerful and effective. It is His righteousness working through us as we humbly submit our lives completely to Him - for His glory! (And since we will always sin, we need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s convictions and to return wholeheartedly to God in genuine repentance whenever sin has broken fellowship.)
God has been working on me about this issue. And my desire has become to call people up to a higher level of righteousness. And to strive for it myself. I would love to challenge a generation of believers to NOT compromise God’s truth. To not settle for being a “good enough” Christian. To seek Him and follow Him whole-heartedly. And to see what He can accomplish through a generation of people who are wholly devoted to Him.
In an earlier lesson on prayer, we looked at Ezekiel 22:30-31. The Word of the Lord came to Ezekiel about all about the disgraceful, ungodly things that Jerusalem was doing. And then we read this:
“I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
The people’s sin earned them serious consequences and punishment. And God was going to deal with them out of His sense of justice. But He wanted to relent. He wanted to be talked out of destroying them. And He would have . . . if only. If only He could have found at least one godly person who would “stand in the gap” for the people.
God was saying, “I looked for a godly man who would appeal to My mercy - a man who would pray that I would spare the people, who would be an example to the people of how they should be living. I would have relented for one godly man, because I didn’t want to give them what they deserved. But I found no one! So I had to. I had to destroy them because there was no one righteous enough, no one that called out to Me on behalf of the people, that called on My desire to be merciful and to relent. And so I dealt with them in justness, instead of mercy.”
That is so sobering to me. The older I get and the more I learn about the way God works, the more I realize that God doesn’t just “do whatever He wants.” He relies on people who are sensitive to His leading and who are obedient. He looks for righteous people who will do His work. He relies on us and our prayers to get His Will done.
And I used to think prayer was just about connecting with God and showing dependency. But it is so much more powerful and effective than just being a formality. It is so much more necessary to getting His Will done.
The point here is that He needs righteous people to stand in the gap for others. This is why a heart that is sensitive to Him is so important, why reading the Bible and spending quality time with Him is critical. It’s how we find out what God expects from us, how He operates (as much as we can possible understand that), what His Will is, and how we can best live and pray to get that accomplished.
But our country is going the other direction (as are so many other parts of the world). And with the way we are turning our backs on God and telling Him to “get out” . . . well, it’s just a matter of time until He does. It’s just a matter of time until His hammer falls on us. And God knows that we as a country would deserve it. We’re not so special that we are above His righteous discipline.
I am thoroughly convinced that our country desperately needs a spiritual awakening - a revival - because we are headed in some really bad directions. Society is doing everything it can to erase God from the public mind, to criminalize Christianity, and to flat-out defy God and snub their noses at Him. Even churches are getting away from the Bible and true Christianity.
My goodness, I am afraid for us! Because I feel that we have earned ourselves some very serious punishments and consequences. And if He were to deal with us according to His justice - to give us what we really deserve - we’d probably be decimated and become a shell of what we once were. (We pretty much already are a shell of what we were.)
But it doesn’t have to be this way. And it’s time for us Christians to get off of our sorry, lazy, self-serving, pleasure-seeking, finger-pointing, back-sliding butts and to start seeking righteousness in our own lives so that we can “stand in the gap.” It’s time for us to get our heads out of the sand and see what’s really going on and where we are really headed. It’s time to get out of the spiritual fog and get into the spiritual battle. It’s time to get on our knees in humility.
2 Chronicles 7:14-15: “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”
We need to be less concerned with running after toys, desires, and “happiness,” and more concerned with seeking the Lord. We need to stop worrying about how others are failing to live rightly before the Lord and start worrying about how we are failing to live rightly before the Lord. And we need to start passionately and diligently seeking God, aligning ourselves with the Holy Spirit, and humbling ourselves before our mighty God so that we can plead with Him for mercy, pray for revival, call others up to righteousness, and share His Love, Truth, and the only Hope we have.
But change starts with us. Revival starts in our own hearts. And then it spreads to our families and churches and communities and, finally, our country. If you’re not standing in the gap, then you’re standing by and watching our country’s disintegration and eventual discipline under God’s wrath. Come on, Christians . . .
2 Chronicles 16:9: “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”
Our God searches for people who are fully committed to Him - to doing His Will and to following Him wholeheartedly. But how many of us will He find? Will you stand in the gap?
“Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.” (Jeremiah 5:1)
God cares enough about us as individuals to notice one righteous person out of so many people, and to act out of His love for one righteous person, instead of out of His justness for a whole city full of unrighteous people.
I have been convinced to the core that we need Christians who will seek righteousness wholeheartedly, above their own desires and plans. We need those who are abiding in the Lord and who passionately believe in prayer. They have an incredible opportunity and a great responsibility to be an intercessor before the Lord, to be someone who will “stand in the gap” for the people around us. If we don’t, who else will?
Idolatry and Temptation
If we are going to talk about living as righteously as possible, we need to look at the issue of idolatry. In our day and age, idols are not usually golden and bovine. They are usually idols of the heart. The way I define idols is anything that takes your focus off of God, or anything that consumes you or that you set your heart on that is not God.
God wants to be first and highest priority in our hearts and minds. But since we are human, we oftentimes set our hearts and minds on visible or tangible things, things that we can wrap our minds, hearts, or hands around. Other people, success, jobs, money, etc. There is nothing wrong with these things, but when they have become the highest priority in our lives, they become idols.
As long-time Christians, we have all probably been through a lot with God and have experienced Him and His goodness in many ways, and our hearts are quite devoted to Him. So how easy could it really be to replace Him with an idol? Seriously?
Exodus 32:1: “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
How long do you think it was before the Israelites turned their backs on the real God and made their own? Now remember, this was after the plagues, the guiding pillar of fire and the Red Sea. This was after the manna and the quail and the water from the rock. They had just trembled at the foot of Mount Sinai as it was covered with billowing smoke and fire. They had just heard the thunder and saw the lightning. And they pleaded with Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” (Exodus 20:19) They have seen the glory of God and experienced Him in mighty ways.
And then Moses goes up the mountain to meet God. And in Exodus 25 - 31 we read about all the laws that God gave Moses while he was up on the mountain. And while this is happening, the Israelites are making the golden calf.
So how long do you think it was, after all these miraculous events, before they decided to turn on God and make their own? How long before they despaired and felt that God could not be trusted? Before they doubted that He was the One True God?
Are you ready for this?
The verse before the God-given instructions to Moses says this: Exodus 24:18: “Then Moses entered the cloud as he went up on the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”
Forty days and forty nights! Forty days! It blows my mind that after all that they had been through with God, they would forget who He is and run after man-made idols. In forty days! It blows my mind!
And it scares me!
It scares me because I haven’t seen what they have seen. I haven’t experienced God in the amazing, tangible ways that they have. And if all those experiences helped them to last only forty days, how much quicker am I likely to despair and bail on God and run after my own “idols”? How much easier would it be for me to forget who God is and what He is capable of? Do I really think that I am that much more righteous than the Israelites that I can do better? It makes me more sober about my judgment of myself and what I am capable of doing to God.
The reason I bring all this up is to challenge us all to remember that we are all so human. It is easy for us to set our hearts on something else, other than God. It is easy for us to freak out during trials and forget to rely on God, putting our faith in something else instead. It is easy to get distracted by pretty, shiny things and to begin to pursue trinkets and possessions. It is easy to find satisfaction and comfort and our identity in our jobs, our successes, and even our position in church. And it is even easy to make God’s blessings and our prayer requests into idols, to get so consumed with what we get or what we are asking for that they become bigger than the One who provided it.
Now, there is nothing wrong with most blessings and pursuits. Improving ourselves and enjoying life is not inherently wrong. What is wrong is when our focus on God is eclipsed by them. When we focus more on the gift than the Giver. When we settle for temporary, instead of eternity. We can’t glorify God with our lives when this happens. When blessings, possessions, pursuits, and even prayer requests become more than they should be, they end up consuming us. They become idols of the heart and mind! We passionately pursue them, instead of passionately pursuing God.
Now, along with being alert for idols in our lives, we need to be alert for the sins in our lives and for vulnerable areas, the areas in which we can be most tempted to sin.
Satan knows us better than we know ourselves, because he has been watching humans since the beginning of time. He knows what can draw us away from God. He has a bag of tricks that he draws from. Subtle and enticing offers that he dangles before us.
And if we are not consciously watching out for those and consciously pursuing righteousness, it is all-too-easy for us to take the bait. Because we aren’t seeing it for what it really is. To us, it just seems like a little bit of pleasure to be enjoyed in this life. But we don’t realize that there is a big hook in anything that Satan dangles before us.
How many lives have been ruined because someone entertained a fantasy about someone they weren’t married to? Because someone got enamored with their job and money? Because someone ran after the things that they thought would make them happy and fulfill them, while they neglected their duties? Because someone decided that their life and marriage just wasn’t exciting enough?
There are many different areas of temptation. And different ones appeal to different people, their areas of weakness. And almost any “good” thing in life can cross over into being a temptation to sin.
Here are some broad categories of temptation or potential temptation: success, recognition, sex, financial security or abundance, desire to be appreciated or loved, jealousy or envy, our use of food and drink and other substances, pleasure seeking, fears, doubts, anger, shame and guilt (the temptation to beat yourself up or to think so low of yourself that you reject God’s love and forgiveness), the temptation to try to earn God’s grace and love, and the list goes on and on.
The point is, we all have a weak area and we need to be aware of when Satan is poking at it. Awareness is a major part of the battle. It is all-too-easy to get caught up in sin when we are comfortable and sleepy and lazy in our spiritual lives.
Any time we choose against God or disobey Him, there are prices to be paid. And not only that, if we live a lifestyle of dabbling with sin or entertaining temptation, we further deafen ourselves to the nudging and conviction of the Holy Spirit. We risk developing a numb conscience and a hard-heart.
And so, once again, sensitivity to God, the pursuit of righteousness, and the dedication to being radically obedient are critical to our spiritual well-being, our eternity, and our lives. We need to regularly take some time to explore if there are any idols in our lives or areas where we need to be cautious. If is so easy to drift.
Remember the Israelites: forty days!
Sleeping on our Swords
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’
Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’’
Then the devil took him to the holy city . . . ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you and they will lift you up . . .’’
Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Matthew 4:1-11)
Before Jesus officially started His ministry, He was led into the desert by the Spirit. I think we believers can all expect to be ‘led to the desert’ at some point. There will be times in our spiritual journeys when we will feel like we are in a desert, like God has left us and like the temptations and trials are many and like they are wearing us down.
And while we are in that “desert,” we will wrestle with the devil, with the deepest parts of our faith, with our trust in God, with our own desires and wills, and with God’s truths . . . until we learn to lean on Him and His Word in a way we never did before.
And I think that the temptations that Jesus faced are representative of the kinds of temptations we will face in the desert. Bread, testing God, and getting our rewards early.
Bread: Jesus was hungry. Satan knew this and so he tempted Him with bread. When we are in our desert and feeling like God isn’t there and feeling like we are missing something, we will find ourselves hungry. And we will be tempted to satisfy our hungers in ways that God didn’t intend. Hungers for love, sex, companionship, recognition, approval, status, material possessions, security, fame, money, success, etc.
Satan tempts us to meet our needs outside of God’s providence and in ungodly ways. Or he tempts us to hunger for things that we don’t really need. Then he can make us disappointed with life and with God, making us feel like God cannot be trusted. And then we will feel justified in going our own way, in taking the lead and the control. But God provides what we need when we need it, if we lean on Him and trust Him and wait for Him.
Testing God: Satan also tempted Jesus to test God, to test His care and love and goodness. Doesn’t he tempt us to do the same thing?
We pray for something we want, and we let our views of God be shaped by the answers we get. Satan whispers in our ear, “If God really loved you, He would give you what you are asking for. . . If God was really powerful, He would be able to do this. . . . If God was really good, He would answer your way.”
“Testing God” is when we are coming from a place of judgment or skepticism towards Him, when we decide that He has to do things our way or else we won’t trust Him.
We put God to the test when we define His goodness, love, and abilities by how He answers our prayers, when we ask Him to prove Himself to us through little (or big) tasks, when we challenge His God-hood with our requests, when we judge Him based on our own ideas of what He should do, and when we live like we lead and He follows.
[To be clear, it’s not “testing God” when a hurting person asks Him to show them that He loves them or that He is real. That is not “testing God.” That is desperately seeking Him. I don’t want those who are deeply hurting and who are reaching out for Him to feel ashamed of their need to know that God loves them and that He is real. God wants to show all of us that He loves us and that He is real! “Testing God” is when you are challenging His God-hood, not when you are searching for it.]
When we are in a “spiritual desert” and we are waiting on God, all sorts of doubts, fears, misconceptions, and expectations will come up. And we will be tempted to test God, to judge His ability to be God based on how He answers us. But this is putting our faith in ourselves and our wisdom and our timing. It is testing God to fall in line with us. Instead of us falling in line with Him and humbling ourselves at His feet.
Long waits and answers that we don’t like will uncover our deepest fears and doubts and cause great spiritual struggles. Bring them to God. Talk them over with Him. Do not let yourself develop a view of Him based on your expectations, fears, and doubts. Instead, cling to the Word and get to know Him as He really is. This will bring you hope during the desert times.
[The only time God tells us to test Him is when it comes to tithing.
“But you ask, ‘How do we rob [God]?’
‘In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessings that you will not have room enough for it. . . .’” (Malachi 3:8-10)
Basically, He’s telling us to tithe and to trust that He will bless us and that we will have enough. He’s telling us to test this truth: “You can never out-give God.”]
Rewards: And lastly, Satan tempted Jesus to get His rewards early. After the Fall, Satan was given a certain sort of “dominion” (ownership) over the earth. And Satan was offering this to Jesus if Jesus would worship him.
The thing is, all the kingdoms were going to belong to Jesus anyway after He did what He came here to do – die on the cross for our sins. Satan was offering Jesus a way out of the sacrifice, an early exit from the trial. He offered to give Jesus a version (a lesser version) of what He was destined to get in the end, but without all the sacrifice and obedience and dying to self.
We will struggle with this, too. We will be offered opportunities to take short-cuts in life, to get out of the trials early, to get the “blessings” and “rewards” earlier than God will give them, if we would just compromise a little or go our own way.
But if it’s not God’s way, it is really Satan’s way. Those are the only two leaders to choose from, to follow.
Maybe it’s the offer of marriage, as long as you settle for someone who is not right for you. Maybe it’s the offer for success, as long as you step on other people to get there and be just a little dishonest. Maybe it’s the offer of financial security, as long as you cheat, steal, hoard your money, work on the Lord’s day, and fail to tithe. Maybe it’s the offer for fame or popularity, as long as you compromise your beliefs. Maybe it’s the offer to get out of the persecution, as long as you hide your beliefs or deny Christ.
We will all be tempted at some point to meet our needs outside of God’s way, to judge and define God based on how He passes the “tests” we give Him, and to circumvent God’s timing, to get the blessings and rewards early. To enjoy the treasures on earth instead of storing them up in heaven. To count our earthly blessings instead of spiritual blessings. To compromise our faith and integrity for a little bit of earthly pleasure or relief. To see things through earthly eyes instead of spiritual eyes. And we need to be on our guard for these, especially in the desert times when Satan is most likely to tempt us, taking advantage of the fact that we are weak, hungry, and vulnerable.
[We also are most vulnerable to temptations after great spiritual highs. Our greatest falls often come after our greatest spiritual accomplishments, when we think, “Wow! I’m feeling so spiritual and so close to God right now that I could never do that!” I’m speaking from experience here. Be on guard then, too. Always be on guard. Never drop your armor!]
Our Sword: But we not left alone to battle Satan during these times. Even if God feels far away (which will happen at some point, usually when the internal battle is the fiercest), He has given us His Word to lean on, to live in. And He expects us to use the Word to do battle with Satan.
Jesus used only the Word to fight against Satan. And yet we rely on our own wisdom, strength, and character to try to defeat him.
But it won’t work.
We need the Word!
But how many of us really know and lean on the Word like we are supposed to? How many of us let this valuable, critical weapon sit on our shelves, covered in dust?
Ephesians 6:17 identifies the Word as the “sword of the Spirit.” Along with prayer, it is the only offensive weapon we have in the spiritual battle. The other pieces of “armor” are defensive, meant to help us resist the attacks of Satan. But prayer and the Word are meant to help us advance against him, to strike back.
The Word is a sword, and yet so often I treat it like a pillow. Like a nice, soft, comforting thing to lay my head down on at night to help me sleep better. I read it, get some nice comforting thoughts from it, check “Bible reading” off of my list, and then I can sleep easier. I have been sleeping on my sword!
But I am getting to the point where I realize the incredible need to use it for what it’s meant for, to take it up in the battle against evil and temptation. I am learning the value of memorizing Scripture, posting it around the house, and recalling it during times of trial and need and weakness. This is what will beat Satan back. We need to use it as a weapon, not just as a pillow or a pretty knick-knack for our shelf.
But remember that Satan knows Scripture, too. Far better than we do. And he will do all he can to twist it, to use it against us, and to give us only half-truths. He did it with Jesus, and you can bet that he will do it with us. (Just look at how the truth “God is love” has been used to excuse all sorts of ungodly things. “God is love. So it’s all about the love. There are no boundaries or “right or wrong” when it comes to love. He just wants you to be happy and in love.”)
We need to immerse ourselves in Scripture, to absorb it, to live in it, and to study it carefully so that we are not misled.
How many churches are being led astray nowadays, trading in biblical truths for socially-acceptable “truths”? How many people struggle with their view of God’s wrath or His forgiveness because they don’t have a biblical view of His love and justness, two sides of the same coin? How many people enjoy certain “freedoms” that they shouldn’t enjoy because they have only learned half the truth, instead of digging in deeper to learn the whole truth? How many fail to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness because they only know the parts of Scripture that comfort and relax them, not the parts that challenge or convict?
There are many different areas that we are tempted in. And it is wise to think about where you are most vulnerable and what you are most tempted with. Sex, money, recognition, power, impressing others, using others, anxiety, circumventing God’s timing and ways, affirmation, food, comfort, needing to be in control, doubting God, anger, bitterness, greed, self-loathing, a need for excitement, demanding that others meet our needs, stepping on others to get ahead, always wanting “more,” pursuing “happiness” instead of contentment, etc.
Whatever the temptation is – whatever your weak area – Scripture will speak to it and give you the help you need to overcome it.
Scripture is our greatest weapon against evil. [Well, besides the Holy Spirit in us. He is the strongest thing we have against evil. (And Jesus’ name. Never forget that one.) But if we are not aligned with Him, we are vulnerable to attack.]
Dive into Scripture. Chew on it. Drink deeply from it. Turn it inside and out, until you know it really well. Pray for wisdom and insight. Carry it around daily – in your hand, mind, and heart – until it becomes a part of you. And lean hard on it when you find yourself in a desert filled with trials, temptations, and God’s silence.
And take heart! You will not be in the desert forever. After the trials – after Jesus used the Sword of the Spirit to battle Satan and the temptations - the angels came and attended to Him, refreshing His spirit.
You will not be in the desert and feeling God’s absence forever, but just long enough to wrestle with your doubts, fears, desires, temptations, sins, and self-will. Just long enough to learn to do battle, to see things through spiritual eyes, to grow in righteousness and obedience, to learn humility, to grow in faith and trust, to see yourself for who you really are and God for who He really is, to get off the throne and let God back on, and to learn to need Him in ways you never did before. (Yes, sometimes life does seem like one desert after another. Trust me, I know! But hang in there. Life is long, but God is good.)
When times are the toughest and the battle is the fiercest, rely on Scripture and God’s truth. Find biblical truths that speak to your particular area of temptation and cling to them. Saying them out loud regularly, if you have to. And you will grow through the battles and hard times in ways you never dreamed of. And when the battle is over, God will reveal His presence again. You will experience Him in a new way and it will refresh your soul. And your faith will be stronger!
So where is your sword? On your shelf or in your heart? Under your head to help you sleep more comfortably or in your hand to do fierce battle with the Enemy? He will keep coming at you, whether or not you are armed. But if you want to stand a fighting chance, pray and take up your sword! And start swinging!
Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Psalm 4:4: “. . . when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.”
1 Peter 5:8-9: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, . . .”
1. Does this bring up any thoughts or questions in your mind? Any other Bible verses?
2. What does a “good enough” Christian look like? And what are the dangers of settling for being a “good enough” Christian?
[My answer: I think a “good enough” Christian is one who feels like their spiritual life is hunky-dory, yet they don’t hunger and thirst after God. Most likely, they read their Bible occasionally or at least go to church now and then to hear a sermon. Or maybe they diligently read their Bible every day because it is the top item on their “To Do” list. But they read it to check it off the list, without ever really meeting God in those pages.
They try to remember to pray when they have the time or they faithfully recite a traditional, ritualistic prayer every day. Maybe they serve at church or sing in the choir, showing others just how good of a Christian they are. And they know that they are generally a good and intelligent person, so they feel like God must be smiling down on them. These are the “good enough” Christians. (I’m not being judgmental here; I’ve been there before myself.)
The danger of this is that they may not even feel like something is missing, like they are falling short. They have enough of God to make them feel like they are doing fine, but not enough to make them uncomfortable. They are close enough to Him to convince themselves that they must be on His good side, but they do not hunger and thirst for more of Him.
“Good enough” is an enemy of “the best.” “Good enough” makes us too comfortable to be bothered by the fact that we are missing out on “the best.” And I think that the only thing Satan likes better than a rebellious Christian is a comfortable Christian who has gotten so comfy that they fall asleep spiritually. Never settle for “good enough.”]
3. Do you think Christians are guilty of being too comfortable or compromising? In what ways?
[Considering the moral mess that our country is in and the fact that a large percentage of us call ourselves “Christians” (or at least say we believe in God), I would have to guess that we are too comfortable or compromising. Because if all of us who call ourselves “Christian” began to really seek righteousness and to live as God calls us to live, I would have to think that our country would look a lot different. But I fear that we genuine Christians are asleep at the wheel and not doing our part to stop the drift toward apathy and moral decay.
We are so busy getting bigger homes, building better entertainment systems, climbing the social ladder or the ladder of success, chasing our dreams, making ourselves happy, etc., that we don’t have the time or desire to pursue God, seek righteousness, and build His Kingdom. We need to get our priorities straight because the only things that will last are what we do for God’s Kingdom.]
4. Can you think of other reasons why one generation follows God and the next falls away from Him? Is there anything that we can do to try to stop this from happening?
[Maybe lack of respect for the older generation. Younger generations always think they are smarter, more advanced, and more open-minded than the older generations. Also, they take freedoms for granted that the older generation had to work hard to gain. So they don’t value them as they should be valued.
Also, the older generation might become too comfortable or too tired to fight for the younger generation. They did their part when they were young, and now they just want to rest. Maybe the older generation has stopped valuing God’s Word, so they don’t bother to pass it down to the children. They do not pass on their faith for one reason or other. Or maybe they buy into the “morality is relative” idea. And so instead of raising a child up in the Word or training a child up in the way they should go, they let the younger ones figure things out for themselves or choose their own way. It seems more open-minded, tolerant, and accepting that way.
I’m sure there are many more reasons for “moral drift.” But is there really any excuse for it?]
5. How should the awareness of eternity, of heaven and hell, of angels and demons watching us and influencing us affect how we live our lives?
6. I talked about the need to watch out for “open doors and welcome mats for evil” in your home and life. What do you think about this? Does it seem too extreme to you or right on? Why?
7. We looked at this last lesson, too. But what are some other “welcome mats” and “open doors” for evil? Can you think of any open doors or welcome mats in your own life or home? What should we (you) do about these?
8. Do you think that the way we live and how much we immerse ourselves in the Word has a bearing on our effectiveness in the spiritual battle that’s going on around us? Do you think Christians in general are doing well or failing in this area? What makes you think this?
9. Do you live like you take the spiritual battle around you seriously? Is there any way that you need to change to become more effective in this battle?
10. Do you think I am being too unreasonable or extreme by picking on yoga and Halloween? What are your thoughts about this? And can you think of other things that might be ungodly or questionable for a Christian to be doing? Do you have any “soapbox” issues? (And should we be dogmatic in our views? Or better yet, which should we be firm about and which should we let others make their own decisions about?)
11. What are some other things that we turn into idols of the heart or other areas of potential temptation? What do you think are some of the big ones that Christians struggle with these days? What effect is it having on us?
12. Think a moment about things that are “real idols,” those physical and tangible things that we have or do to honor other gods. (Things like Buddha statues and yoga, which is a form of worship of Hindu gods.) Can you think of any other actual idols that we have or idolatrous things that we do, as Christians and as a society? Are these really just harmless? And do you think God does or doesn’t mind them?
13. What kinds of situations can cause us to turn from God to something else? What is the danger in doing this?
[Fears can turn us to something else, making us seek comfort and answers in something more tangible. Tragedies can make us want to turn our backs on God. Bitterness can cause us to turn away, feeling like He let us down or shortchanged us somehow or expected too much out of us. Exhaustion can make us weak and want to take a break from spiritual pursuits. Desires can consume us and make us deliberately turn away from God so that we can pursue what we want without feeling guilty, maybe even making us rationalize or excuse our ungodliness or disobedience somehow. Envy causes us to count our disappointments and all that we don’t have, taking away our ability to find contentment in the Lord and to be filled with joy, peace, and thankfulness. Pride causes us to worship, glorify, and pursue ourselves.
These are just some things that turn us away from God. And of course, the danger in all of this is that our hearts will ache, our joy and peace will be tarnished, we will be vulnerable to spiritual attacks, and our spiritual lives and spiritual growth will suffer, as will the Kingdom of God and our eternal futures.]
14. Do you think we need to be conscious about letting God search our hearts? How can we do this?
[I believe that God looks for those with sensitive hearts, those who want to hear from Him. He does not force spiritual growth on people who don’t want it. (And yet He may put you in a refining “fire” to get you to realize your need for Him.) And so we can’t just live our lives the way we want and think that our hearts will become purified and that we’ll be on the right track spiritually. We have to pursue it.
We have to humble ourselves before Him and present our hearts and minds to Him so that He can lead us to wholeness in Him. We have to listen to what He reveals to us about ourselves, about the areas that we need to work on, the fears and doubts we have, the obstacles in our spiritual relationship with Him, the idols in our hearts, and the broken parts of our hearts and minds that we need to let Him heal.
And this should be done with prayer and with the Word, so that those Truths can set us free. And if need be, it can also be done with a trusted, godly friend or counselor or pastor. Sometimes, we need other people’s help on our spiritual journey.]
15. What do you think it means to be “self-controlled and alert”? How do we “resist” the devil and “stand firm” in the faith?
[We need to be living a godly, self-controlled life and be aware of the schemes of the devil. We cannot live like we are above temptation. Some of our biggest falls come after our biggest spiritual accomplishments and highs, because we are thinking that there is no way that we would fall now. And this is when Satan gets us, because we thought it just wasn’t possible. And so we cannot ever let our guard down for a minute. Satan is always looking for opportunities and waiting for the moments we are overly confident, most vulnerable, at our weakest, or unprepared.
And I think we can best resist him when we are standing firm in the faith and growing in righteousness. (And of course, this is when the attacks are more likely to come. Because a lazy Christian is no threat to Satan.)
But we need to remember that there is power in us (the Holy Spirit), power in the Word, and power in Jesus’ name to resist evil and to battle temptations. We are not left to fight this battle on our own. We are only strong enough because of the power the Lord gives us. And so we need to remain in Him and draw near to Him daily. We are “easy pickings” when we wander off on our own.]
16. Do you think Christians do this (#15)? Or do you think most of us have gotten sleepy, comfortable, lazy, and unaware? Why? And what are the consequences of this? (And what kinds of things might God do to wake us up from our comfortable slumber? Examples from life?)
17. When and in what ways might we let our guard down? What makes us more vulnerable to attacks and temptation? Do you have any examples?
18. Can you think of any heart idols in your life, things that you chase after or that take your focus off of God?
19. Can you think of anything in your home or life that might be displeasing to God because it’s unglorifying to Him or because it honors other gods? What do you think God might be telling you to do with it?
20. What are the areas in your life and heart that are potential “weak areas” – areas where Satan hits you or tempts you in the most?
21. How should we be living in order to best handle these weak areas and the areas of idolatry? Is there anything that you yourself need to do differently? And can you find Scripture that speaks to your weak, vulnerable areas?
22. What do you think this means: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”? What are some other ways we might “test God”?
23. How do we make sure that God’s blessings and our prayer requests do not turn into idols?
[We need to get to the point - sometimes through pain and heartache - where we can finally say, “Lord, answer me as You want to. Your Will be done.” We can pour our heart and desires out in prayer, but after we have exhausted ourselves asking over and over again for what we want or think we need, we have to accept His right to answer in the way He knows best.
Sometimes this means that we have to face and work through our “inability to trust Him” and our frustrations, disappointments, expectations, fears, doubts, etc. But once we do this, we find peace in knowing that He did hear our prayers and He did answer, even if we don’t understand why He answered the way He did. And we might never know until eternity.]
24. In what ways and situations have you had to stand up as a Christian, to take a stand for what’s right and moral, against the things that you don’t agree with? Was it hard to do? And what happened as a result?
25. What is your first thought or feeling when someone tells you that you should be reading your Bible daily? How do you think most Christians feel when they hear that? Why?
26. Is it that important to abide in the Word and firmly hold to the truth of the Bible in this day and age? Why? And what are the consequences of not doing this?
27. Do you agree that there is a link between abiding in the Word, seeking righteousness, power in prayer, and having an effect on God’s kingdom? Explain how you see it.
28. What would you say is the opposite of pursuing righteousness? Are Christians guilty of doing this?
29. What does “seeking righteousness” look like to you? How can we do this? And what effect would doing this have on our lives and on other people?
30. How are you seeking His kingdom and His righteousness?
31. Is God challenging you about anything related to this topic?
32. Are there any other questions or thoughts that you want to bring up?