“Beware the Saboteur.” The text on my phone did not make sense when I first looked at it, but as I thought about it for a moment, things became clearer.
The text had come from a good friend. Later that night Katie and I had plans to meet with him and his wife at their home. We had been trying to get together for a couple of weeks and had found a night that worked for us. The text was a warning to keep an eye out for things or situations that might take the day off the rails and put the night’s plans in jeopardy.
It might seem silly to think about at first glance. But I can recall many instances of planning on doing something good that have not worked out. These are ‘good for the soul’ types of activities. Plans with friends, time outdoors, even simple breaks from the day to pause and be present.
It is easy to chalk these instances up to bad luck or unfortunate circumstance. But if we acknowledge that evil exists in the world, why would it not try to oppose the things that are good for us? Things that help us to be better people, healthier, and stronger?
When bad things happen, we blame others and ourselves. There is accountability to go around, but is it not also possible that it is more than dumb luck? Could it be something opposed to who you are and could be? How we react is on us, but we need to acknowledge that there is an enemy of the Good and prepare ourselves on how to respond.
When it comes to how our times and culture looks at the devil, there is a common saying that applies well: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world that he doesn’t exist.” Today most people do not consider the impact of the devil, evil, bad forces, or whatever you want to call it on our day to day lives. When things go wrong, it’s just the way it is.
There have been times in my life when the way things turned out was more than an unfortunate coincidence. The pattern usually emerges when I am preparing to do something that I know will be life giving for me. Something that is good for my soul.
A couple of years ago, I was invited to speak at a retreat and talk about my experience from the prior year. This experience had a profound impact on me. The primary goal of my talk was to help other men open up to a possibility of something amazing happening to them.
Preparing for the talk in the weeks leading up to it, I began to feel a sense of deep discomfort about the whole thing. Usually this would happen when I was alone and therefore isolated from support. A feeling of despair would creep in accompanied by negative self-talk.
“Nobody wants to hear what you have to say. If people knew who you actually were, they would want nothing to do with you.”
“Don’t waste everyone’s time. What could you say that would change anything?”
I felt like I should email the guys running the event and tell them that I was not going to do it.
It was not nerves or anxiousness. It felt like an attack on what I was hoping to do. And I do not think it was a coincidence that this feeling overcame me when I was alone. Rather than give into it and quit on my preparation, I called my brother and shared with him what was going on.
Almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth, the feeling began to lift. My brother reassured me that what I was doing was good and would benefit others. After I spoke to him, I felt more confident that I was on the right track.
Reflecting on this occurrence, two things struck me. First, this was the first time I had ever experienced this feeling. And second, why was this the case?
Weeks later, I was unpacking the experience with another friend. When I finished explaining, he paused and simply said, “You can’t get checked if you’re not in the game.”
For most of my life, I had been a spectator in my faith life. My activities and intentions were of no threat to anyone. Now that I had stepped into the arena, I realized that in doing so, I had placed a target on my back.
Imagining an evil spirit or the devil, you might think of a scary image from a horror movie. But often the tricks are a lot less obvious and do not even seem to be that sinister.
Think of wanting to start a task or project. Something that has been on your mind for some time and something that will be good to do. How often is it that we get distracted by subtle thoughts or diversions? Food, inherently not a bad thing, is a common thing that pops up for me. I often find myself hungry at the same time I also want to be pressing into an important task.
Fear and anxiety can be another trap. I have been reading The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis recently. In a chapter on time and eternity, Screwtape notes, “…The present is the point at which time touches eternity.” His recommendation is to keep the human concerned with the future and what might happen. All the different potential outcomes of a difficult situations. Reading this, I began to recognize the hours I have spent worrying about how things in my life would work out. Relationships, jobs, housing, and finances are but a few topics I have worried about. How much time have I spent thinking about what might happen instead of being present to what is happening?
This thought might be enough to put me into a tailspin. But rather than focus on what I cannot undo, I am choosing instead to use this knowledge as a tactic in my own battle moving forward.
It might sound dramatic to hear that we live in a world at war. But if you take thirty seconds to reflect on it, it is not far fetched at all. There is an ongoing war for your attention, your time, your wallet, and most of all, your heart.
When we recognize the ways we can get taken out every day, we become better at withstanding these attacks. Recognizing the specific ways that I can be set off helps me to watch for them and prepare myself. When they come, I do not let them take me out. This requires a great deal of grace and seeking strength through prayer – on my own, I am no match for this warfare.
I am going to go back to the visit Katie and I planned with my friend and his wife. During the day, there were several points when things happened and a part of me wanted to react. None of it was of any consequence, except that they were landmines. Had I stepped on one, I could have kicked off an argument and put our plans in jeopardy.
This is not to say that every stress-filled moment or frustration is the devil in action. But the more aware we are that our seeking of the good and the true is opposed, the higher the likelihood that we will be ready for what comes. As we journey forward and seek God’s plan for our lives, we will be attacked. That is not a question. What is in question is our response. Will we be taken out and lulled back into a lie that this is all fairytale stuff? Or will we become sharper and seek the strength that comes from above to protect ourselves?
Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Seeking the highest calling in our lives is not easy. The promise of life that comes through relationship with God, however, is also the source of the strength needed along the way.
 For those who are unfamiliar with the book, its premise is that a demon, Screwtape, has written a series of letters to his nephew, Wormwood, about Wormwood’s ‘patient’ and the different tactics for taking him off course in his life as a Christian. The book was first published in 1942, but the content is as relevant today as it was then. I would highly recommend reading it.
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