Monthly Encouraging Words
August, 2020 | Barbara Fiscus, M.A., CCLC
It has been an unreasonably rainy summer in Southeast Alaska. I had so been looking forward to working more in the yard, going out on some hikes, and spending time with friends and family enjoying sunshine and campfires. Especially after our city instituted a mask mandate, I dislike being indoors in public, where smiles are imperceptible, if they are there at all. The sky has been gray and drippy and, honestly, so has my mood at times.
It takes a certain level of intentionality for me not to succumb to the negative influences it seems are everywhere these days. From the weather, to the masks, to the government restrictions, to the news…if I am not careful, I can easily find myself slipping into self-pity, and even anger. It is no surprise that daily declarations of, “I’m so tired of this rain!” don’t really brighten the atmosphere for anyone. Similarly, sharing the latest negative news story isn’t very uplifting. Worst of all have been the times when I have heard myself being impolite or short-tempered with strangers. While I really do want to “let (my) light shine before others” (Matthew 5:16, ESV), I am afraid I have sometimes darkened people’s days. Not only is this an attitude I don’t want to live with, it isn’t the Godly witness I want to have to others.
And isn’t that just what the enemy wants--for us to feel disheartened, to sow seeds of discouragement in others or tear people down instead of building them up? It is just like him to try to put out our light to ruin our witness so others remain lost.
Certainly, it is true that, at least in terms of national events, these are some of the darkest days most of us have witnessed in our lifetimes. On a national level, instead of being able to benefit from the unifying effect of a crisis as we did on 9-11, it seems our country is being torn apart at the seams. We are all seeing the same stories, but there are so many different angles that absolute truth is difficult, if not impossible, to discern. The more confusion the devil can stir up, the more division he can create. When there is no objective Source of truth, people will look for other gods--in the form of people, groups or their own opinions.
It takes an incredible amount of focus to resist getting caught up in the chaos. After all, these are real issues with significant consequences. A brief scroll through Facebook can make my blood boil and my heart ache. From literally everything COVID-related, to human sex trafficking, to all of the violence and lawlessness being perpetrated--and tolerated, to the election, to the wildfires, and to everything in between…the devil is certainly putting on the full-court press. I believe he knows his days are numbered, so he is literally freaking out. He is opening up the floodgates and doing as much damage as he can. And the fallout has been tremendous so far, not only in terms of physical and financial consequences, but--and this is the devil’s true aim--emotionally and spiritually.
Some estimates say that rates of depression and anxiety are up threefold since the start of COVID, which seems to be the starting line for what has now become a bad news marathon. Among youth, suicide and drug overdose have claimed more lives than the virus...and then some. Globally, the suicide rate has skyrocketed. In some countries, is expected to surpass by up to ten times the number of deaths due to COVID-19. Clearly, there are so many people who are well past their tipping point.
Even as Christians, it can be incredibly challenging to keep our spirits up when the world seems hell-bent on holding them down. However, I believe one of the primary keys to overcoming this challenge lies in the statement I just made. There are three words, in particular, I’d like to highlight and expound from a Christian perspective in order to clarify what I mean.
First, the word, spirits: it is important to remember that we are spiritual beings living in a physical world. For those who have chosen to follow Jesus, that spirit has been remade: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV). We were spiritually dead, but God gave us new life in Him. “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, NKJV). Our new selves were “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24, ESV). The challenge lies in aligning our bodies and souls (mind, will and emotions) with our spirits, made perfect in Christ--to “keep our spirits up,” front and center, leading the way. We are urged not to “be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2, ESV). Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, ESV). This means expressing reverence to God. We can worship in spirit--through prayer and praise, and in truth--through learning and applying His Word to our lives. Maintaining a posture of worship will renew our minds and elevate our spirits. This transforms us and makes us resistant to being conformed to our world.
The next word is the world: in the Bible, the term world sometimes literally means the physical earth. However, it is also often used to refer to a collective value system that exalts humanity and disregards, or even opposes, God. James said, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:4b, ESV). This is the world I said seems hell-bent on holding our spirits down. John refers to Satan as the “ruler of the world” on three occasions (see John 12:31, 14:30 and 16:11). God did give the devil a measure of control over the world, but He freed His children from that oppression upon salvation. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13, ESV). The rest of the world, however, remains in bondage. “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19, ESV).
Finally, the last word I want to discuss: hell-bent. Given that the world is under Satan’s dominion, it makes sense to say that many of the events that occur in it are designed by the devil himself not only to keep our spirits down, but to utterly destroy us. He is referred to in many ways in the Bible, all of them indicative of his evil intentions toward us. He is called a deceiver (Revelation 12:9, 20:3 and 20:10), a murderer and liar (John 8:44), the tempter (Matthew 4:3, 1 Thessalonians 3:5), the accuser (Revelation 12:10), the angel of the bottomless pit and Destroyer (Revelation 9:11, NLT). Because he knows the key to our destruction begins in our minds, that is where the devil often attacks. Paul said, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV). Satan is not satisfied, however, to only keep unbelievers in darkness; he also targets God’s children. He and his demons want to “hold our spirits down” in the sense of our emotions, courage, etc., but even more, to hold our Spirit down. Satan hates the Spirit of God inside us and looks for every opportunity to get us to doubt, lose faith or wander from our Savior.
Fortunately for us, we have the solid foundation of God’s Word to turn to and rely upon when our hearts and minds begin to waver. That Word emphatically tells believers, “…you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4, ESV). Because we know the Father, the word of God lives in us and we “have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14). Notice the past tense. It is already done. Jesus overcame the devil, and we are in Christ. This is critical for us to remember: we have authority over our enemy! God raised us up with Christ “and seated us with him in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6, ESV). This seat is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named” (Ephesians 1:21, ESV) We are God’s beloved, washed clean by the blood of Christ and given a place of honor in Heaven. Obviously, that makes Satan angry. I believe much of what we are seeing in our world is the result of the devil’s temper tantrum because he sees a huge, soul-winning revival on the way, and he is hell-bent on taking out as many believers and nonbelievers as possible while he still can.
Refocusing our view of today’s events through this spiritual lens can give us great clarity and power! Instead of fearing Satan, we need a fresh revelation of the fear (reverence and awe) of God. He is almighty. All things were created by Him, “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” (Colossians 1:16, ESV). Through the power of His Holy Spirit, He has given us the ability to “resist the devil, and he will flee” (James 4:7, ESV). This power is only effective, however, when wielded.
Paul instructed believers, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11, ESV). After describing our armor of defense, he also said we have an offensive weapon--“the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” Then he added to pray “at all times in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18, ESV). Praying is critical to being battle-ready. It is important not only for our own defense, but for that of our fellow saints (Ephesians 6:19) and for those who are still blinded by the enemy. Though this world may be hell-bent on keeping our spirits down, we can actively resist that pull. Paul asked the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, ESV) Maybe you needed that reminder, too. I think we all do. And while you’re at it, remind your enemy too.