It was a duel between spiritual super-powers: the false gods of Egypt versus the one true God. Aaron throws down a rod. The stick becomes a writhing snake. What a victory – the raw power of God spectacularly displayed in the very court of Pharaoh. Face it, Pharaoh, you’ve backed a loser! Heathen sorcerers step forward. They drop their rods and each squirms to life. Before Pharaoh’s eyes is Moses’ solitary snake, hopelessly outnumbered by the magicians’ slithering brood.a
A homeward-bound Levite needed to lodge for the night. Though a pagan place was more convenient, he chose the security of an Israelite town. Here he’d sleep peacefully, surrounded by God’s people. But to his horror, he discovered these people, despite having known God’s blessing and his laws, were more depraved than the heathen. Given half a chance, they would have raped him. They abused his concubine all night. She was dead by morning. An Israelite town had slumped to the putrid decadence of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Outraged, the Levite summoned the whole of Israel. God’s law was explicit: those murderous perverts must die. But their tribe refused to hand them over. The entire tribe was so committed to wickedness that the Benjamites resolved to fight, if necessary to death, against the united armies of the whole nation, rather than allow the execution of God’s law.
Greatly disturbed, the faithful sought God. It would have been tempting to by-pass this step. They were obviously in the right and the odds were heavily in their favor. Though the Benjamites had a few skilled fighters, they were their brethren, not some super-race, and Israel outnumbered them, 400,000 to less than 27,000. But they did the right thing. They consulted God, and he so approved that he gave them his strategy. On their side was natural superiority, righteousness, divine approval, and the wisdom and infinite might of the Lord of hosts. In obedience to their Lord, they marshaled their forces, high in faith and in the power of God.
And they were slaughtered. In one day 22,000 of them were slain.
They wept. They prayed. They sought the Lord again. Empowered by a fresh word from God, they mobilized for the second day. And 18,000 more of them were massacred.b
The mighty Son of God came to earth. This was the climax of a divine plan conceived before the earth was formed, and for millennia intricately woven into the fabric of human history. It was the showdown: creature versus Creator, dust versus divinity, filth versus purity, mortality versus immortality.
And Jesus died.
In Pharaoh’s court, occult powers miraculously produce many times more vipers than God. In the time of the judges, God’s forces are routed by an army of inferior strength. At Calvary, God’s Son is dead.
How I thank God for the Bible! Few other Christian books tell it as it really is: you can be flowing in the power of God, following his instructions to the letter in absolute purity and be routed by Satan’s puny forces.
But only for a season.
Moses’ rod swallowed up the sorcerers’ rods. On the third day, Israel crushed the Benjamites. Jesus, on the third day, swallowed up death, having crushed the devil.
When Oppressed, Bless
Three times Paul’s missionary aspirations were blocked. The inspired account attributes two of the blockages to the Spiritc and one to Satan. (Satan’s win was minor – Timothy broke through and Paul ministered by a letter that eventually touched millions of lives – but nevertheless the devil caused a delay.)a
That seems to sum up the possibilities. Ultimately, a bottle-neck is from God, for our final good, or it’s from the Evil One. Either way, prayer, not tantrums, is the appropriate response. Don’t get mad at the music director, the pastor, or anyone with toenails. If they have skin, they are not your enemy.b
Resentment is a deadly heart disease, whether the object of our ill-feeling is God, the agents he has presently allowed to curb our ministry, or those who get all the ‘lucky’ breaks. Harboring wrong attitudes undermines God’s plans to bless us. And the healing referred to earlier in the book will continue to elude us.
People engrossed in the joy of Christian service seldom have time for nitpicking. The ravages of ministry restrictions, however, cruelly needle us to vent our frustration by criticizing other ministries. Though our accusations will seem justified, they are probably more an eruption of our own inner turmoil than we realize. As we writhe in personal torment we could easily squash a work of God in someone else’s life. Be careful. Any fool can crush a flower, but who can uncrush one?
Criticism is spitting into the wind. ‘Give and it shall be given unto you,’ is as fundamental as the law of gravity and it applies to every area of life. Kindness is a homing pigeon. Anonymous gifts bear a return address. So will you give – and afterwards receive – condemnation or encouragement; assistance or hindrance?
CHAPTER 11: CONQUEST
It’s becoming obvious that though roadblocks to fulfillment may originate outside us, our reaction to them is often crucial. Sometimes there may be nothing we can do. Usually, however, the ball sails over the net and suddenly all eyes are on us.
Let’s expose further assaults from the nether world and draw up strategies for counter-attack.
Fear of Pride
The Enemy almost robbed the world of Charles Wesley’s magnificent hymns. Peek over his shoulder as he writes his diary entry for May 23, 1738, immediately after his conversion.
‘I began a hymn ... , but was persuaded to break it off for fear of pride. Mr. Bray coming in, encouraged me to proceed in spite of Satan. I prayed to Christ to stand by me and I finished the hymn. Upon showing it to Mr. Bray the devil threw in a fiery dart, suggesting that it was wrong and that I had displeased God. My heart sank within me until I discovered that it was the device of the enemy to keep back glory from God . . .’104
The Dark Chameleon shines with a dazzling veneer of piety. How can we unmask him?
Note the value of Mr. Bray’s counsel. While the Swindler is focusing his powers of delusion upon a key individual, there will always be other Christians temporarily left in peace. (You can’t stall all the people all the time.) Seek mature Christian advice before assuming your labors don’t have heaven’s blessing.
Pride-avoidance can produce some weird creatures. I’ve convinced myself I’m a spineless yellow-bellied chicken-mouse. That should keep me humble. But something happened recently to change all that.
A woman was praying for the home-fellowship I attend when she saw ‘mighty man of valor’ written above me. I don’t care whether you think that was of God; when she shared her experience with me it put steel in my wishbone. That boost has given me an inkling of why God speared those very words into Gideon’s head.a I’d have worried about Gideon staggering around with a size 20 head. A healthy self-image must be more important to God than I thought. Those ego-inflating words coincided with Gideon’s divine call. I believe faith in those words played a critical role in his future ministry.
We consider it saintly to engage in ego-bashing, especially when it’s our own ego, but is the result saintly? What if we started acting like the witless witness we tell ourselves we are? What if our Lord was serious when he said that as a person thinks in his heart so he is?b I’ve dismissed gibbering about a positive self-image as so much worldliness, viewed self-praise as sin, and largely disbelieved even God’s affirmations about me. The result has been an ailing ego so craving attention that I’ve become dangerously vulnerable to the opinion of others.
Mutilating one’s ego in an attempt to conquer pride is as unspiritual as mutilating one’s body to secure divine favor. Nothing is authentically Christian unless at its core is faith in the work and revelation of the Lord Jesus. A key weapon for slaying ego-related hindrances to ministry is faith in a two-edged sword from heaven. On one edge is written, ‘I can of myself do nothing’a and on the other, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’.b Wield that sword in faith and I can’t conceive of an ego-related problem that could resist you.