Believers Are Not Prey Animals

My mouse is dying, and I guess sometimes I am too.

Cougar is an adorable little fancy mouse I bought from a pet store over a year ago, and she’s determined to live up to her name. All my daydreams about holding her in my hand or carrying her in my pocket Mr-Bojangles-style ended when she refused to have any sort of physical contact with me that didn’t involve her teeth.

And now she’s dying–literally killing herself with a form of OCD that involves chronic scratching. It hurts me to see her so weak and in so much pain, knowing that at this point all I can hope to do is make her comfortable.

Fancy mice are prey animals. Prey animals such as these will hide any sickness or weakness as long as they can so they won’t be weak targets for predators. Often, when their weakness becomes too much for them to hide, they’re too far gone to be saved. Once their weakness shows, it’s too late.

I suppose it makes sense if you’re a prey animal living in the wild. It makes a lot less sense for humans, and yet so often we act the same way.

We were meant to live in open community. We were meant to share our concerns, our joys, our sorrows, our fears, and even our sins–not only with God, but also with one another. Yet our instinct, at least in the West, is to put on a happy face or a Christian face or a perfect face while we’re killing ourselves on the inside. We keep pretending we’re fine while we scratch ourselves to death with fear of someone finding out the truth.

For the greater part of this year so far, my family and I have gone through a hell so terrible that words cannot describe it. I reached a point where I was sitting on a bed in a hotel room, completely immobile in my weakness. I literally didn’t know how to survive the next five minutes of my life. I didn’t know how to stand up or walk or shower or get dressed. And I was deeply hurt that no one in our church small group had called to check on us. But here’s the thing: we didn’t tell them what was happening. We had put on a happy face that everything was fine, and we’d hidden our weakness until we were at the absolute bottom of a dark pit, scratching ourselves to death in sorrow.

So I sent a message to some of our small group friends, and they began praying. They shared the request with our leader and others, who also began praying. And somehow our family was able to take one more small step, and one more small step. Hiding our weaknesses weakened us. Sharing our weaknesses strengthened us.

In times of severe weakness, one verse always comes to mind: “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, emphasis added)

Note the communal aspect of his statement: that he was completely honest about his struggles, that many people have helped him by praying for him, and that many people will share in glorifying God as a result of those answered prayers.

The good news is: unless you’re dead, it’s not too late. You’re not too far gone to be saved. It’s not to late to share your weaknesses and sicknesses in a safe community. There are predators out there who will take advantage of your weaknesses. But there are also communities of believers who thrive when weak people are honest about their weaknesses. If you don’t have a safe place among genuine believers, I encourage you to seek one out. You are not a prey animal. You are not meant to go through this alone.

Is there a weakness you’re struggling to hide? Do you have a safe community of believers you can trust with your weaknesses?

about this thing we call spiritual warfare

Let’s talk about it.
I had no clue what it was until one of my friends mentioned spiritual warfare on our trip to China a year and a half ago. I was raised in churches and exposed to lots of different opinions and traditions about God and Satan and angels and demons, but I thought that was all out there and this is all down here and in the back of my mind, I have to confess I thought, “He’s totally over-spiritualizing things.” And now, after having been under siege in just about every way imaginable, I’m beginning to realize it’s nearly impossible to over-spiritualize anything.

I deal with repeated attacks as simple as mentioned in the previous post, when I full well allow Satan to lie to me as I give him an ear to listen. But it goes beyond that. Things like being attacked through my dreams, dreams that go further than “bad dreams” or “restless sleep,” although even in that I think there’s something to be said of attacks when we’re weak and vulnerable, when doing so can impact our focus on Christ and our effectiveness in working for the kingdom. Things like being physically pinned to my bed, unable to move until praying for Christ’s rebuke of whatever was attacking me, or feeling an overwhelming uneasiness while praying for someone so tightly held in bondage by the devil she hasn’t spoken in three years. Things like, while praying on location for a group of people I have a huge burden for, hearing an audible explosion while seeing nothing, feeling an intense heaviness, my Bible falling out of my hands, the praise music suddenly turning to static, and the Holy Spirit speaking to me very clearly and very loudly the words, “Go. Now.” Things like right before I see amazing movements of God, being attacked by friends, being hurt by family, being overcome by physical pain or sickness, or even on some occasions and more frequently as of late, all three.

I could say more, but I know even now some people will read this and think it’s all in my head, it’s just normal aspects of life, I’m over-spiritualizing everything. But the thing is, scripture would disagree.

I’ve had the amazing experience in the past year and a half of working for our church and seeing God move in ways I never thought he could. I have heard testimony after testimony of how God has radically impacted people’s lives, and it’s an incredible honor I love being part of. On the other side of that, I have also seen Satan try radical ways of keeping people from God. I’ve seen the way specifically he’s attacked our pastors and their families, especially right before big weekends where many people were able to meet Christ for the first time. It’s almost predictable at times. I say that but I don’t mean that we welcome it or look forward to any spiritual attacks or persecution. I say that we expect it because scripture tells us it’s going to happen and we need to be prepared. You don’t just run into the middle of a war without being prepared. You put on your armor; you stay alert; you stay persistent. The Bible tells us the same thing. Ephesians 6 tells us to “put on the full armor of God,” because “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” 2 Corinthians 10 tells us that “though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” We know what we’re fighting against, and we know how to fight it. The Bible makes it very clear.

So we recognize it for what it is, and indeed if we pray for the wisdom to see it, God will grant us that wisdom. But, like I said, we don’t desire persecution. We definitely don’t taunt the devil. Jude tells us that not even Michael mocked the devil but instead allowed Christ to rebuke him.

We can, however, be encouraged by persecution and spiritual attacks. We’ve noticed that the times Satan works the hardest to push and pull people away from God is either right before they make commitments to Christ or as they’re being effective for him. So now, having experienced more attacks as I draw closer to Christ and more attacks as I’m able to serve others around me, I begin to find encouragement by these experiences. In fact, Christ told us in Matthew to be happy about it because “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. […] For a great reward awaits you in heaven.”

And not only do I know that these things suggest I’m doing something right for the kingdom, I also continue to find encouragement in Joseph, knowing that what Satan intends for evil against me, God intends for good. God isn’t surprised by Satan’s attacks. God knows how to protect his people and he knows how to use any evil to work out for good. Christ already won the victory, and he’s coming back to defeat Satan once and for all. I praise God that I’m able to assist in working out a continuous victory for God.

Do I like all these things going on around me? No, in fact, I do not, and I’d prefer if life was a cakewalk for here on out. But even Christ, before the crucifixion prayed that, if it be possible, his cup of suffering to be taken away from him, yet not his will, but God’s be done. And still, knowing what he was in for, he allowed himself to be tortured and murdered for my sins. The least that I can do is stand by him while I have this life and celebrate with him in the next.

I could probably talk for hours about these things, but I’ll leave it to Paul, who said it best in Acts 20: “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”