Saturday, February 14, 2015

NBA #14: Spiritual Highs and Great Big Falls

New Believer Advice #14:  Be warned:  Your biggest falls will come after your greatest spiritual highs!
            When we reach a mountaintop experience and have some great, spiritual high, we are most vulnerable to falling . . . precisely because we do not think that we are vulnerable to falling.  After all, we tell ourselves, I am so close to God right now that I could never do that!  And we let our guard down.  And we fall hard.  (This happens a lot with kids who grew up in the church and who thought they would never behave like “the rest of them out there in the world.”  They just never thought they were capable of it.) 
            Always maintain your spiritual armor, be on guard against temptations that Satan dangles before you, and be aware of your areas of weakness and when you are most vulnerable.  Pride, self-confidence, and the feeling of invincibility always lead to a fall. 
            But also be warned about the other side of the coin:  We are also vulnerable when we are at our lowest and going through long, spiritual droughts.  Because we are exhausted, discouraged, and have lost the will to fight.  At these times, it is too easy to give in to temptation.  And we need to be especially diligent about staying on the straight and narrow. 

            We need to cling to what we know is right and true, to obey even when we don’t feel like it, to draw near to God and resist the devil, and we need to particularly draw nearer to God’s love through His Word and His creation and other godly people.  Do not give in to despair and further ruin your life.  It will only make it worse and so much harder to recuperate from. 

(New stuff for this post.  A repost of “An Opportune Time”)
             “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him [Jesus] until an opportune time.”  (Luke 4:13)   

            Jesus had just gone through that time of testing in the desert.  He successfully beat Satan with Scripture and by resisting temptation.  He was hungry and probably physically weakened.  And I am sure that He would have loved a long rest from Satan’s attacks.  Didn’t He earn it, after all?  A nice, long rest?
            But Satan doesn’t play fair.  He doesn’t run off with his tail between his legs and say, “Okay, I give up.  You win.  I’ll leave You alone now.  You are too strong for me.”  He simply slinks off to the side, into the shadows, and begins watching for an opportune time.
            Until an opportune time. 
            Satan is always watching.  It’s the only way to know when an opportunity arises.  Always looking for an opening.  An invitation.  If he did it with Jesus, you can bet he is doing it with us.  Never drop your spiritual armor.  (Actually, there is only one Satan and he can only be in one place at a time.  But there are multitudes of demons, watching and waiting, looking for open doors.  So to be more accurate, I wouldn’t say that Satan himself is watching me but one of his many demons.  I’m sure Satan has much bigger fish to fry, a much bigger target in mind than little, old me.  So when I say “Satan,” I am talking about his many henchmen.)
            How many of us live like Satan and his demons are out of the picture, like they aren’t just off to the side, hiding in the shadows, waiting for the right time?
            But . . .
            . . . when life is going well and we are happy and praising God, Satan is waiting for a moment that he can steal our happiness and cause us to despair and doubt God.  Or he lets us be happy and lets us gain even more, but he causes us to worship what makes us happy and turn it into an idol, taking our focus off of Christ and eternal things and people’s souls.
            . . . when we have just experienced our greatest spiritual high, he lets us be giddy with excitement and lets us think, I feel so close to God right now that there is no way I could sin like that.  And then he whistles on his little Pied Piper pipe while we dance right along behind him on a spiritual high, not even aware that he is leading us right over the edge of a cliff.  We never saw it coming because we didn’t think we were capable of falling after such a spiritual high.
            . . . when we have neglected God for too long – failing to pray, to confess sin, to examine our hearts and minds, to meet with God in His Word, to connect with other strong believers – Satan knows that we are vulnerable to temptation, to being misled, to following after other “gods” and “truths,” to having our ears tickled by what we want to hear, to following after our own desires, and to falling in line with the way the rest of the world thinks and lives.  And he simply nudges us along a little here and there, not even having to push hard because we are nibbling our way lost all on our own, making his job a lot easier. 
            . . . when we are exhausted after a long spiritual task or spiritual battle, desperate for a rest, weak and vulnerable, and feel like we deserve a time of just being happy, Satan doesn’t have to do much to push us over the edge - just blow a little bit of temptation on us and we fall over like a crumbling statue, too tired to care anymore or to fight back.
            . . . when we choose to sin or glorify evil in any way (with the movies we watch, music we listen to, outbursts of anger, gossip we spread, bitterness that we let take root, prideful thoughts that we tinker with, ways we compromise our standards and morals, lustful thoughts that we entertain, etc.), we give Satan a very clear invitation into our hearts and lives.  He doesn’t even have to force his way in.  He just has to waltz right through the open door, having been given a right to be there.      
            . . . when God has put us in the desert for a long time and has been so silent for so long that we are desperate to hear from Him, Satan dangles his counterfeit rewards, experiences, and promises in front of us, knowing that we might convince ourselves that it is really from God, that our desires for “more” might get the better of us, and that our focus on our emotions and “emotional highs” is the open door into our hearts.   
            . . . when life is hard, when the trials are many, or when a tragedy strikes, he stands on the side of us, whispering into our spiritual ears. 
            “If God really loved you, He wouldn’t have let this happen.” 
            “Does He really care about you?  Is He really listening?” 
            “Did God really say that you shouldn’t do such-and-such?” 
            “He is taking too long.  You are going to have to do something about this if you want things to work out the way you want.” 
            “Uh oh, you see that burden lying there on the floor?  You dropped it.  Better pick it back up again.  You’ve got to keep everything under control.  All the balls up in the air.  Because God can’t be trusted.”

            And he waits to see which hook we bite on to.  He’s looking for an opportunity to get a foothold into our lives and our hearts.  And he will come at us at the worst possible times for us because they are the best possible times for him.  And he will come at us at the best possible times in our lives because we feel so close to God and so spiritual that we simply don’t think it’s possible for us to fall.  (Plus, he hates it when we thank and praise God, so he’ll come and try to discourage us so that we stop doing it.  Which is why I am learning to praise God during the hard trials and the pain.  At least I can win that battle, even if I can’t change my circumstances.) 
            The point is, he is always looking for an opportune time.  He examines our lives more than we do.  He knows our weak points better than we do.  And there are many more of them (demons) than of ourselves. 
            And the only way we can have a chance to live victoriously and to fend off the attacks is to remain in the Lord daily and keep our spiritual armor on.  Because it is the One who is in us that is greater than the one who is in the world.  And if we are not living in Him – aligned with Him, abiding in Him, obedient to Him, living righteously and confessing sins, praying and growing closer to Him through the Word – then we are vulnerable to the attacks and deceptions of the evil one. 
            It is an uphill, constant, daily battle, and yet how little we live like it is. 
            As Ephesians 6: 13 says:  “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”  We are not told to sit down and rest after a spiritual battle.  To take a break, put our armor down, give our muscles a chance to rest.  We are told to stand.  To always stand and be ready for the next attack.
            I know that I would not be living with such a daily awareness of this if I had not gone through five months of clearly demonic harassment.  (In the post, “Supernatural Stuff and the Armor of God.”)  Five scary months that I am so incredibly thankful I went through.  Because I live with this daily awareness of the reality of Satan and his evil ones, of how we give him invitations and open doors, and of my desperate need to abide daily in the Lord, to seek righteousness. 
            Those five months were some of the most faith-changing months of my life.  I could only hope that every believer would have such a humbling, eye-opening experience like that.  (And yet I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.)  But it amazes me how few people took me seriously when I told them about it, how many scoffed instead of really listened, how many live like Satan is just a myth and isn’t real and active in the world today.    
            How aware are you that you are always being watched?  That Satan is real and active and always looking for any invitation you give him?  Waiting for an opportunity to attack your faith, your trust in God, your integrity?  Whispering lies about you and about God in your spiritual ears?  Dangling a million hooks in front of you, hoping you will bite onto just one and give him an opening into your life?  Do you live with this awareness?  With a deep, desperate, daily need for the Lord?  What “opportune time” will Satan find in your life? 
            Make no mistake and do not take this lightly.  He is watching.  Always watching.  And so we need to be abiding in the Lord.  Always abiding.  Always standing.  Always maintaining our armor. 

            Even in - and especially in - the times when you think, I could never do that because I am on such a spiritual high! 
            I wish that the leaders of short-term mission trips would share this caution and warning with the enthusiastic mission-trippers who are inching their way up to spiritual mountain-tops.  Warn them that it’s a long way down when you fall and that the very fact that you think you won’t fall will be what pushes you over the edge. 
            If we let our guard down and drop our armor, we are not prepared for Satan’s attacks and deceptions.  We are especially vulnerable to falling when we don’t think it’s possible, don’t see it coming, when we underestimate our vulnerability, or when we feel like we deserve a rest after doing so much work for God.  I am speaking from experience here.