The Basis of Spiritual Warfare: Deception

Since having some understanding of warfare in general is vital to understanding spiritual warfare, the first thing that bears examination, I think, is the basis of warfare. If we do not know on what principles wars are fought, then spiritual warfare will confuse us. That said, the warning against becoming obsessed with spiritual warfare ought to be repeated. Understanding the general principles of warfare laid down by those who understand it is good and applying those principles to spiritual warfare to better understand the battle in which every believer finds him- or her-self is better still, but best is to accomplish both and not allow one’s self to become consumed by the topic.

In human warfare, many sets of conventions have been set down over the centuries to govern how nations wage war, but spiritual warfare predates any such convention and those notions grew out of an idea that human life is precious. In spiritual warfare, one combatant deems human life valuable while the other does not. The Bible tells us that Satan accuses believers day and night (Revelation 12:10) and that Christ gave Himself as a ransom (Matthew 20:28 / Mark 10:45 / 1 Timothy 2:6). One side of this conflict wants humanity destroyed. The other wants humanity saved. We have to put out of our minds entirely all the lovely modern notions of things like the Geneva Convention. Spiritual warfare began sometime between eternity past and the Garden of Eden. At a minimum, our adversary became our adversary in Eden. At a maximum, humanity — believers in particular — became casualties in a conflict that had been raging since before our creation. We may never know and it is probably better for us if we do not know.

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive … Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant…. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

Sun Tzu writes that deception is the basis of warfare. It seems fitting, then, that humanity’s entrance into spiritual warfare begins with the acceptance of a lie (Genesis 3). The serpent, crafty bugger that he is, convinces Eve that God lied to her. Maybe He did not give her the whole story on what the consequences of eating that fruit would be. Maybe He was scared that she could become godlike in her own right. It was a message of (self-)empowerment and (self-)aggrandizement — it was the invitation to pride.

The serpent followed Sun Tzu’s instructions to the letter. He seemed harmless: just another animal hanging around in Eden (when able to attack, we must seem unable). His tone is conversational, not at all like he is trying to lead Eve into sin (when using our forces, we must seem inactive). The enemy feigns ignorance of God’s command, seeming weak and uninformed, and leads Eve into arrogance; into pride (Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant). So no one thinks that Adam is innocent in all of this and just trustingly took a piece of fruit from his wife, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 that death entered into the human race through Adam and Genesis 3:12 makes it crystal clear that Adam knew that the fruit he received was from the forbidden tree.

One of the great deceptions we have swallowed in the modern world is the notion that there are unimportant battles in spiritual warfare. C.S. Lewis may have said it best when he wrote, Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible (Mere Christianity, Book Three, Chapter 9). If we regard any compromise as trivial or inconsequential, then the enemy has won. Worse, the ground we lose must be regained in order to secure victory and the enemy’s deception has caused us to relinquish what we will now have to fight that much harder to regain. Jesus fundamentally said that our modern notions of “It’s okay to look at the menu, so long as I don’t sample anything.” or “I just have anger management issues.” are nonsense when He told us to pluck out eyes for looking lustfully at another person (Matthew 5:27-30) and that even calling someone a dolt would place us in danger of Hell fire (Matthew 5:21-22). Believers excuse our bad behavior or try to rationalize it away when what God has called us to is to execute those parts of ourselves. We have believed the lies of our enemy that there is such a thing as an insignificant battle.

Another, possibly the other deception 21st century believers — indeed, most 21st century people — have accepted is that there simply is no devil. Revelation 12:9 tells us that Satan deceives the whole world and the notion that he simply does not exist is one of his more powerful deceptions. In C.S. Lewis’ novel, The Screwtape Letters, the old tempter writes to an apprentice, I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. … Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. If a believer decides to think that there is no devil or no devil interested in tempting human beings, then that believer will not pay attention to any warning to be on guard against that devil.

If, then, deception is the basis of warfare and God is unable to lie, it may be asked how God is able to engage in combat with the devil. Or, for that matter, how a believer is able to engage in combat. The answer which most fits the facts is that God allows the devil to deceive himself. When Christ was being prepared for the cross, it is entirely possible that the devil thought he had an advantage. Jesus had made only a very few men privy to His close friendship and those were an unreliable and flaky lot. All those who had walked with Jesus were scattered. There were prophecies about striking the Shepherd and scattering the sheep (Zechariah 13:7), but Jesus had made some prophecies of His own about the apostles. If deception is the basis of war, then God has a stark advantage over the father of lies (John 8:44). It is entirely possible that Satan, despite having the same prophecies available to him as are available to every person, is unable to believe them and to concede that he has no hope of victory, because his nature is one of deceit.

Before leaving this entry, it bears note that God is the undisputed Master of appearing where He is not expected. A casual read through the scriptures reveals that He seems to delight in appearing unexpectedly. He drops in on Abraham in the hottest part of the day (Genesis 18) to have a chat about Abraham’s future son and about God’s plan to nuke Sodom and Gomorrah. He appears to Moses and commissions him to go deliver the Israelites when Moses had probably given up all thought of being anything more than a shepherd — forty (40) years of being a shepherd in the middle of nowhere. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego do not hang out with God until after they have been tossed into the furnace (Daniel 3). Jesus appears to John and dictates a few letters while the apostle is exiled to an island (Revelation 1-3). Over and over again, God proves Himself the King of unexpected appearances.

Find None (Psalm 10:15)

Break the arm of the wicked and the evildoer,
Seek out his wickedness until You find none.

Psalm 10:15

This verse read strangely to me this morning and called me to burrow a little deeper. Verses like this one are a simple matter to take as they are translated, but what called to me about this verse is what it implies about God.

In scripture, in most poetry of the ancient world, the arm was symbolic of strength. An odd choice, since the leg is significantly more powerful than the arm, but thighs/loins are also often synonymous with strength. A little digging and I learn that the choice of arm refers to a particular type of strength, namely influential strength. If a person has governing authority, then that power might be referred to as the person’s arm. We, in American English, used to refer to “the long arm of the law.” What the psalmist — David, in this case — is asking God to do is to break the authoritative power of the wicked and the evildoer. And who doesn’t want that? Everyone, except the wicked and evildoer, wants their power broken. The people oppressed by the wicked want the power of the wicked broken. Those wronged by the evildoer want the evildoer to lose authority. Those of us who witness the wicked and evildoer employing their power long for that power to be broken. It may not even be used against me and I want it broken. We, people, long for good and just rulers. More, we want those who wield power to do so for the good of the people they have power over.

The first part is pretty straightforward, really.

The psalmist then asks God to seek out the wickedness of the wicked and the evildoer until He (God) finds none. The seeking out that the psalmist seems to have in mind is an inquiry; a looking into the wickedness; a ferreting out of all the evil done by the evildoer. What fascinates me about the nature of the request is the result that the psalmist wants God to go after the wickedness in the wicked person and the evil in the evildoer until their is no wickedness or evil to go after any more. This result would leave a righteous person. What God does in the life of every believer is exactly what the psalmist is requesting in this verse. God justifies (saves) a believer. We are washed clean. We start anew. But, as Paul noted, there is an Old Man (capitalized to avoid confusion with a person who is merely geriatric) living inside of every believer and the Old Man is full of wickedness and evil. When I offer myself to God, He begins to ferret out the Old Man. God seeks out the wickedness still within the believer and removes it, bit by bit. God’s goal is to render the believer perfect; spotless; free of wickedness and evil deed.

And that may be why this verse struck me as it did this morning. I, just like every believer, began my walk with God as the wicked and the evildoer. I was reprobate. I have lived the vast majority of my life in the church and do not remember a time when I was not aware of God. I recall a time when I was a Pharisee and trusted in my own “righteousness” to get me through, but that ship has sailed. Regardless of how long I’ve walked with God, I began in the same place as all believers: wicked and evil; contrary to God. And God broke what I thought was my strength. Now; today; this very moment, God is seeking out the wickedness and evil deeds that remain in me. He is not looking for them in order to condemn, Romans 8:1 tells me that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. God is not trying to condemn, but to sanctify. He began salvation by forgiving my sins, but the Old Man is still in here trying to mess me up. God wants to cut the Old Man away so that the New Man — the life He put into me the moment He saved me — has power. The more power the New Man has and the less the Old Man has the more like Christ I will become. Like Paul, I do not consider myself to have arrived and those who know me will verify that I am not perfect, but there is progress. God is seeking out the wickedness and evil in me so that He can reach His goal. His goal is to find none. That is His goal. He wants to get me to the place where He looks for wickedness in me and finds none. He wants to look at what I’ve done on a particular day and see not one evil deed. That is His goal. And a grand and glorious goal it is. It makes me grateful that God is faithful to complete what He began in me (Philippians 1:6).

I know that the psalmist had other wicked people in mind when he wrote those words, but they just fit so well into what God is doing in the life of the believer that I felt I must write it down. God, please break what power I may think I have and seek out the wickedness; the evil deed in me until You find none.

Pits and Nets (Psalm 9:15)

The nations have sunk down in the pit which they have made;
In the net which they hid, their own foot has been caught.

Psalm 9:15

Near as I can tell, the nations is generally meant as a contrast to “the people of God.” It’s mention generally seems to be in phrases like “the nations took their stand against God” and “the nations raged against God and His Anointed” and other such. The term the nations seems, in fact, to be a parallel to what the believer often terms the world. It’s not that either one is a specific group of people per se, but that each is a group of people bound by a particular set of beliefs and goals and such. The goyim (the nations) and the kosmos (the world) are both hostile toward God in their thoughts and actions.

So I really shouldn’t be surprised to find that these folks find themselves caught in the pit that they dug and snared in the net they put together. But what does that even mean? The way I understand it — and this is just my understanding, it could be totally wrong — is that the traps that the world lays for believers often catch the world up in them. For example, the world sets traps of intellectualism and entices believers to know about something or another. The world invites the believer to study and puts emphasis on those words — knowledge, study, intellect, academics — as if they were inherently valuable. Those things are all excellent, but only if we take them out of the rarefied atmosphere of Academia and apply that knowledge to transmute it to wisdom and study problems with an eye toward solving them and use our intellect to do so. Academia is, I think, one of the nations that has dug a pit or set a snare for believers. In a twist befitting my God, He turns it all on its head and those who set the traps are caught in them. Those who, possibly inadvertently, as mercenaries for Academia find themselves caught in the traps of Academia and fighting beneath its banners. Why does that spring to mind? I suspect because I spent several years as a teacher and was able to see the traps set by Academia. This is not to say that all educators are mercenaries or champions of Academia — most of the teachers I know champion academics as a means to an end, not as an end unto itself — but to say that the net of academics for academics’ sake is always present. This is equally true of things like television and comic books and video games (including and perhaps especially mobile games) which have the ever-present nets of obsession and neglect of life lurking about. Much of life is potentially a pit into which the believer might fall. I’ve seen in myself the temptation to fall into the pit of preferring work to home. It is not always there, but when home life is difficult and work life is cut-and-dry then the temptation puts in an appearance.

The nets of the world and the pits that it digs are all over the place. It’s like a back yard (garden, to the Brits) full of holes because the dog has been trying to catch a gopher. If I’m not watchful then I’m likely to injure myself by stepping into one of those holes. There was a schtick in a video game I once played where the staircase disappeared behind you. The pits of the world are like that. One or two steps in, you can probably get out fairly easily. Few more and you’re jumping to escape. Few more and you’re in serious danger of falling deeper into the pit if you don’t manage to scramble up the side. After that, you need Someone (*cough*God*cough*) to get you out because there is no practicable way of getting yourself out without help.

There are two things I take from this. One, I need to be watchful for the pits and nets that the world has scattered around. They may seem harmless and they will likely have disappearing staircases that make it seem like I’ll be bale to get back out any time I want. Until I’m too far in and the stairs have dissolved behind me. I need to watch for them and stay away from them when I see them. Two, the world sets itself against God and God turns the world’s strategies against it. The world digs pits and sets snares and the world’s own get caught in them. Sometimes, this leads those caught to call out for help. And God is very willing to help them. I’ve heard and read stories of academics coming to faith because they got far enough into the weeds of Academia and learned something that, to their mind, demanded the existence of God. I’ve read of people’s obsession with games going so far that they lose everything but their own lives. I hope that those stories sometimes end with the person calling out to God for help.

Let me avoid the pits and nets that the world uses to try to catch me up and hinder my walk with God. And let me also offer hope to those in the world who have been caught in the world’s traps — those traps were not meant for them and there is a God Who is only too happy to get people out of the world’s pits and nets.

Notice (Psalm 8:4)

What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?

Psalm 8:4

David poses a pair of valid questions. The second has two answers, but I do not think that David had in mind the secondary meaning.

What is man? Stop the question there and the whole thing reads very differently. Ask a chemist and you get a small book like Asimov’s The Chemicals of Life. Ask a biologist and you get something else. Ask a naturalist (not many of those left, these days) and you might get Darwin’s Origin of Species. Ask a philosopher and you may be able to cure your insomnia. Ask God and the answer might surprise you. Back in Genesis, God decided to create man — the male and female portions of the species — in His own image. Part one of God’s answer is that man is created after the likeness of God; patterned on Him. Just as a print of the Mona Lisa is not the  Mona Lisa, so, too, is man not God. If we stopped there, God’s notice of humanity would make perfect sense. But the story does not stop there. Humanity falls from its perfect state. We make a choice — the prerogative of freewill — and that choice mars the likeness of God; destroys our perfection; makes us unable to commune with God, to walk with Him and talk with Him and simply have a relationship with Him. If we stop the story there, as David likely had, then we might find ourselves asking the same question: What is man that You take thought of him? Back to Genesis, God promises the first woman (who is later named Eve) that one of her male offspring will set things right between God and man. Why male? Maybe because it was the male, Adam, who willfully disobeyed and God required a male to willingly obey to balance the scales once again. We do not know for certain and any answer given, including the foregoing, is just conjecture. We do know that God promises the woman that everything will come right again. And God never breaks a promise. So David’s question now has two answers: (1) God made a promise to mankind, through the woman, that everything would be set right and that man and God could one day return to being friends and walking together and talking together. (2) God’s promise gives Him a vested interest in seeing that mankind continues until such time as He fulfills His promise. That promise is what gives me a secondary meaning to the second question.

David’s second question, What is the son of man that You take care for him? lends itself to a twofold response. The first response is the straightforward one: God cares about the son of man; the scions of Adam, because they, too, are created in the image and likeness of God and are mangled reproductions of His perfection. He, like any artist, wants to get the prints right. Mangled, distorted, barely recognizable reprints are unacceptable — they ruin the narrative that the Artist intended. Unlike human artists, who might scrap the lot, God wants to fix them. He wants to go back and touch up each and every print until it becomes faithful to His intent. He wanted it to express something and He is willing to put in the effort to make it express that thing. We, as C.S. Lewis wrote in the Chronicles of Narnia, are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. We are the son of man.

In a second, and far more interpretive mode, David could be asking about the Son of Man in title case. In this instance, David would be asking about the Messiah. Jesus, when He comes on the scene, refers to Himself often as the Son of Man. Jesus takes up the mantle of responsibility for us and performs the perfect obedience that would make Him and acceptable sacrifice to wash away our sins. Why would God take care for the Son of Man? Because the Son of Man is also the Son of God. God cares for the Son of Man (title case) because the Son of Man is His beloved Son in Whom He is well pleased. I need to remember that this second way of understanding and answering the question is unlikely to be what David had in mind. This is just one of those times that God made someone’s words capable of bearing more than the author originally intended.

And how do I apply this to myself today? God notices me. He sees what I deal with. He knows that my mind is what it is and He wants to renew it. He knows that my body is what it is and He wants to regenerate it. He knows that my Old Man rebels against the New Man that He has placed within me and He wants to stand beside that New Man and give him victory over the old. God notices. God sees. When Hagar and Ishmael were in the wilderness and she thought they were both going to die of thirst, God made sure that she found a well. She called it the well of the God Who sees. He sees. He notices. All the struggles that I fight in silence are noticed by Him. All the times I fall and all the times I rise. He notices. Because I am His ποίημα; His poem; His masterpiece and He is not content with anything less than a perfect communication of His intent through me. He loves us. Oh, how He loves us.

The Importance of the Art

Believers seem to fall on a spectrum with regard to spiritual warfare. On one extreme are those who look for devils hiding everywhere; nothing goes wrong but these believers think that Satan had something to do with it. On the other extreme are those who think that all this talk of spiritual warfare and devils and such is a bunch of hooey. Every believer I have ever encountered is somewhere between those two.

Regardless of whether or not one side or the other is overreacting, believers are very much in the midst of spiritual combat. Peter tells us that we have an adversary (1 Peter 5:8). Paul warns us to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:11, 13) and tells us that our weapons are not carnal, but are mighty through God (2 Corinthians 10:4). This talk of fighting an being in a battle is scattered all over the New Testament.

The art of war is of vital importance … It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.

The believer who has accepted the reality of being in the midst of a spiritual war is well served to consider how much or little he or she knows about spiritual warfare. Sun Tzu wrote that the art of war is of vital importance … It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. What he wrote pertained merely to physical warfare. For the believer, giving some thought to spiritual warfare and how it is fought is vitally important. This is not to say that believers should become obsessed with spiritual warfare and find themselves on the extreme fringes of things, but that we should consider what has been written in The Bible about spiritual warfare and, perhaps, what we might learn about the art of war in the physical world and how that might relate to the art of spiritual war.

Sun Tzu’s assessment of the value of the art of war holds just as true in spiritual warfare. When Peter writes about our adversary, it is in terms of a lion looking for someone to devour.

The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.

Some may wonder that anyone would make such a fuss about spiritual warfare. “Really,” they might say, “What are the odds of Satan being at all interested in attacking me? I’m no Billy Graham.” While the statement is quite true that no one but Billy Graham is Billy Graham, that does not exempt any other believer from the possibility of attack. Our adversary is not interested in who were are, but in Whom we serve. He attacks not so much to destroy us as we are as to remove us from any possibility of efficacy in combating him. It is foolish of any believer to think he or she will not be attacked. The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming. The enemy will come, of this we can be quite certain. Like all enemies in history, our enemy will attack. We cannot control what the enemy does or does not do, but we can change our own readiness to receive him. Paul’s instruction to the Ephesian believers is to stand and his instruction to Timothy is to flee temptation (Ephesians 6:14 and 1 Timothy 6:11 respectively) — different tactics for different battlefields and soldiers. The promises Jesus makes in Revelation 2 – 3 are to those who overcome (νικῶντι). The Greek word used there is derived from nike, Roman victoria where we get our word victory. In order for us to be victorious, we must be prepared to meet our enemy.

That is why it is so vitally important that believers understand the nature of spiritual warfare and how the believer takes part in that combat. More, we need to understand what makes for victory and how our General (God) can secure that and how we cooperate with Him in securing victory.

Sacrifices of Righteousness (Psalm 4:5)

Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
And trust in the LORD.

Psalm 4:5

Years ago, I was privileged to be able to teach a series of lessons on sacrifice to the youth at the church I was then attending. The thrust of the whole thing was not that we should reinstate animal sacrifice or anything like that, but rather that there are certain things that we would call a sacrifice that God requires of us as believers. David might have called those things the sacrifices of righteousness.

Things like giving. I know that’s an unpopular subject with many in the church and pastors have had people walk out on sermons dealing with giving, but it is expected by God. Jesus did not say “If you give” when He explained the difference between giving rightly and wrongly, He said “When you give” (Matthew 6:2-3).

Another item is prayer. I know that our time is precious, but God expects our time to be His time and part of that is spending some of that time talking to Him. These days, I think of it through the lens of my relationship with my wife. If I never talk to her, we will grow distant and I will find myself married to a stranger. The marriage will not necessarily dissolve, but it will be strained and feel forced at times. If I talk to her often then I learn what is on her mind and give her insight into what is on my mind. While God already knows what’s on my mind, He prefers to hear it from me. While I can simply read The Bible to get God’s counsel, not everything He says to me during our times of prayer are written explicitly on the pages of scripture. Sometimes He reminds me who I am in Him and sometimes He encourages me when things are really tough. The thing is, that time is gone. It is given to Him and I cannot have it back. In that way, the time I spend in prayer is a sacrifice — I could be doing something else with that time. Prayer itself is never a sacrifice. Side note, Jesus also expected that His disciples would pray (Matthew 6:5-6/Luke 11:2).

God also demands our attention. Fasting was and is a method of getting our focus back onto God and off of whatever else it had gotten on. Traditional fasting is to forgo food for a time. Others have fasted from television. I can imagine someone in modern America fasting from the internet. The point of a fast is not necessarily what we forgo but that we forgo it in favor of time with God. God doesn’t need His children to be walking around hungry because they think He wants them to fast all the time. Contrarily, there have been times when I’ve fasted because I couldn’t spiritually see straight and I needed to get my focus back on God in order to see what He wanted me to be doing. Jesus also expected His disciples to fast (Matthew 6:16-17).

There are a fair few things that God demands of us that we would see as a sacrifice. And I think God sees it that way, too. When we forgo a comfort in favor of spending time with God in prayer or in favor of reading The Bible, I think that God sees that as a sacrifice on our part. When we spend time on our relationship with God — in prayer or reading or praise — that our planner says we could absolutely use somewhere else, I think God sees that as the sacrifice it is. I think God sees these things this way because I see them that way when my wife does them and I know that she sees them that way when I do them for her. When I put aside my phone, turn off any screens, put aside whatever book I might be reading, and give her my full attention, she receives that as a gift. She knows how distracted I can be and how little time either of us has for things like reading. So she accepts that attention in the spirit in which it is offered — as a gift to her. Why would God, Who loves me infinitely more and knows me on a level more intimate than anyone else ever will, receive the things I offer Him out of love any differently?

One other thing that David says in this verse that bears note is that I should trust in the LORD along with making the sacrifices of righteousness. Why? When we sacrifice something, we do so in hope. When Israel made sacrifices of animals for their sin, they made those sacrifices in hope that God would receive them and forgive their sin, but also in hope of a day when those sacrifices would no longer be necessary. When Israel brought the first fruits — one of the multitude of mandated offerings — into the temple, they did so in hope that the first fruits would just be the first and that a huge bounty would follow. The people brought the sacrifice to God with the rider of hope that God would return some blessing for that sacrifice. If He didn’t, there was nothing wrong, because He was under no obligation to do so. But, if He did…. The writers of the NT tell me to do such things as pursue peace and all the other fruit of the Spirit. I am told to press in, press on, and otherwise ask, seek, and knock. Even in those things that God has demanded, there is often a promise of blessing snuggled in with it. When God told Israel to do what they should with regard to the tithes and first fruits, He added the rejoinder that He would open the windows (some translations render it floodgates) of Heaven and pour out blessing until there was not enough room to contain it all (Malachi 3:10). Can I outgive God? No, but I often think it’s fun to try.

What does this have to do with me today? Everything. These morning times with God are awesome and I am richly blessed by them. I do not receive any financial or material blessing, but that’s not what I hope for when I sit down to meditate on a verse. I sit down hoping to be reminded or challenged or encouraged or just have my mind blown. God has not once disappointed my hope. In those times I have fasted — they are few and far between — I have gained clearer vision and a definite insight into what God had to say about what concerned me. My hope was not disappointed. I bring my sacrifices to God with hopes and trust that He will return what should be returned for that offering. Many folks read the challenge in Malachi and think God was offering material blessings. And He might have been. But I think that the blessings of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and self-control are far better. Yes, I would like a comfortable life. We all would. But I would far prefer a life lived in God’s joy and peace. If God asks a sacrifice, let me be willing to give it in hope that He will return good to me and trust that the good will be what it ought to be. And let me give cheerfully, knowing that God can redeem anything I offer — even time.

The LORD Sustains Me (Psalm 3:5)

I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the LORD sustains me.

Psalm 3:5

This verse brought with it a flood of memory and thoughts of the present and future. The flood started with my youth. I was reminded of times when sleeping meant the nightmares would be back and I didn’t want to go to sleep. In what most would see as an odd twist, I often read the book of Revelation for comfort. I still do. I was reminded of times when the ache was so intense that sleep felt like it would never come. I remembered a time, a few days ago, when my thoughts refused to spin to a halt and let me sleep — that happens rather more often than I’d like to admit. There are times when Paul’s statement about my belief — that if Christ is not resurrected then I am the most pitiable of all people for my trust in Christ’s ability to raise me — presses in and I feel the weight of mortality and the questions that inevitably come with that state. I think of the things that concern me about the future and how those concerns will sometimes fill my mind to the breaking point and I will not sleep, but stare at the numbers on my alarm clock. I remember all of this and think of more still.

What does all of that have to do with the verse? Quite a bit. See, I cannot sleep if I do not feel safe; secure. If my mind refuses to calm or my heart is troubled then I am likely to lay awake all night. David, the psalmist responsible for these words, says that he lay down and slept. For a guy who spent a good portion of his adult life fleeing from people who were trying to kill him, that is saying something. For a guy who potentially spent much of his young life in the fields with the sheep, in danger of attack by lion or bear or wolf and exposed to the elements and exhausted because sheep are about the most foolish animal ever to walk the Earth and shepherding them takes energy, that is saying something. David writes these words from a position of understanding. He knew what it was to have your mind so full that sleep ran from you. He knew what it was to be in a dangerous situation and need to sleep. He knew these things and he wrote that he lay down and slept.

David adds this next note almost offhandedly, I awoke. Getting up this morning, I would not sum up what happened as I awoke and leave it there. My getting out of bed involves glaring at the alarm clock for having the audacity to claim it’s time to be up again and sighing and stretching and finding ways to feel human before I try to take on the day. David makes no note of such things. Sometimes, getting out of bed is almost as challenging as getting to sleep in the first place. My eyes open and in flood the things that must be done today. This is especially aggravating when it happens an hour or more before my alarm is set to sound. I’ve woken to a sense that something was wrong and I needed to figure out what it was. David looks at everything that is involved in his mornings and says simply that he awoke.

My experiences are not uncommon, sadly. I live in a society that is obsessed with what we are doing tomorrow, so our thoughts of that mythic day crowd our waking moments. The weight of that looming day can be crushing. How did David get through the worries and concerns and daily struggles of the very basic actions of going to sleep and waking up? He writes that the LORD sustains him. It is God Who chases away the worries and concerns about tomorrow and the fears that come at us when we’re trying to get to sleep. It is God Who pours energy into us to rise the next day (or night, for those who work graveyard shifts). I do not know how much energy it actually takes to bring a person out of sleep and to awake. Science could (and probably does) calculate the biological side, but what other energy may be required can only be calculated by those who can see it — and science cannot. In context, however, these words are about safety. The verses preceding spoke of God being David’s shield and the lifter of his head — implying that David’s head was drooping and hanging down, possibly in discouragement or sadness or a host of potentials — and of David crying out to God and God answering. It is after God answers that David lays down and sleeps and awakens afterward.

Am I worried and losing sleep over it? Then I need to cry out to God and He will give me peace. Am I surrounded by people who intend me harm of any stripe? Then I need to cry out to God and He will remind me that I am safe in Him. Whatever steals my ability to rest in God must be taken to Him in order for things to be put right and for me to be able to lay down and sleep and awaken the next day. Because the LORD sustains me. I can look back on my history and say that the LORD sustained me. I need to drag that truth out of the past and keep it solidly in the now. The LORD sustains me. Therefore I am able to sleep in peace and rise to greet a new day with joy.

Right Relation to the Son (Psalm 2:12)

Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

Psalm 2:12

There are folks who think that the whole “Son of God” doctrine is a New Testament thing; a new doctrine. But it really isn’t. This psalm actually speaks of God begetting the Son (v7). So the whole “only begotten Son of God” doctrine can be traced at least as far back as this. That, however, isn’t really the thing that struck me about this verse.

What struck me about the verse is that it gives an instruction then gives two potential outcomes — one for following the instruction and the other for not. The word translated as Do homage here essentially (according to the concordance) means to put together. I think I am best served by thinking of the verse as telling me to relate rightly to the Son, to put myself together with Him in the correct way. Everyone will meet (be “put together”) with the Son at some point. The question is not if we will meet Him; will be put together with Him, but what the nature of that meeting will be.

Outcome number one is the outcome of wrong relation to the Son. We are warned that we should be careful that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, / For His wrath may soon be kindled. The imagery of the language only came out when I looked up the words. To become angry is a decent rendering, but the meanings given include to breathe hard, giving the impression of someone trying to hold back their anger. The image of His wrath being soon kindled could also be rendered His face will soon burn. The picture, when I use the alternate translations, is one of a person who is being enraged — their breath coming shorter, their face turning red as they try to endure the provocation being perpetrated. The psalmists knew a great deal more about the Son; about Jesus than we sometimes give them credit for. The psalmists knew how he was going to die and that He is God (and God’s Son) and a great deal more. There is so much prophecy about Jesus woven into the psalms that it’s a wonder we’re not reading them all the time. But the point here is that wrong relation to the Son angers Him. He came; He lived; He died; He rose again in order that we might be saved from the damnation waiting for us. I feel that He shows remarkable restraint with us in not just nuking the place and starting over. He shows admirable forbearance in not doling out damnation in buckets. He did ALL that was needful to get any person into Heaven — anyone who trusts Christ can be saved. Is it any wonder, then, that John sees Jesus as glowing like bronze that just came out of a fire and like the sun in its glory? Jesus has been holding back for so long, it’s a wonder John could look at Him at all.

Outcome number two is the outcome of right relation to the Son. The psalmist says that those who are rightly related to the Son are blessed. The word used here basically means happy. Those who are rightly related to the Son often have reason to be happy about that relationship. More than once, being rightly related to the Son (i.e. trusting Him to do all that pertains to righteousness in my life and doing my level best not to get in His way while He works) has been the source of happiness as other circumstances fell to pieces and that right relationship held firm; unshakable. More than a mere present happiness which is fleeting at best, right relation to the Son means entry to Heaven where I will see God face-to-face and do so with no reason to be ashamed. Often, I find myself having difficulty praying because I am acutely conscious of the things of which I feel ashamed. But the Son’s promise is a day when I will never again feel shame and when I will be able to run to God with all the undiluted fervor that He deserves. I will be able to come to Him as my daughter has come to me: smiling and full of gladness and eager to lavish Him with affection. For now, I bask in the moments of happiness that come unexpectedly and the ones that I can see coming for miles.

How to apply this? In short, I need to maintain a right relationship with the Son, Jesus Christ. When I sin, I confess. When I do well, I give Him glory. When He blesses, I thank Him. When He disciplines, I endure and seek to learn. In every circumstance (even the tough ones), I give Him thanks for being God and good and merciful and loving and so on. That is what I need to be doing every day. I need to be in right relation to the Son.

Known and Blotted Out (Psalm 1:6)

For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1:6

I’ve heard many teachings on the first psalm and every teaching has focused on some other verse or verses than this. It’s not that this verse is ignored, but that it seems to receive less attention, in my experience. While it is important to know the course of decline into unrighteousness and to check ourselves on that and it is important to know what the righteous person takes pleasure in and what the result of that is, I felt that a reminder of the ultimate outcomes was worthy of consideration this morning.

This psalm tells us that the righteous person delights in The Law of the LORD and thinks deeply on that Law. The righteous person does not spend great amounts of time getting intimate with people who mock and deride God and His standards. The end result of that is that God knows the way of the righteous. Being a word nerd, I felt that I must look up the verb tense of the word. I was pleased that the idea floating around in my head turned out to be correct. It is not merely that the LORD knows the way of the righteous in the sense that we know the information for a test at this moment and forget it a few days (maybe hours) later. This is an unbroken action; a continual knowing. This could be rendered that the LORD has known, knows now, and will know in perpetuity the way of the righteous. He knows and continues to know everything that a righteous person does.

By contrast, the unrighteous or wicked are not rooted and they mock and look for sins to commit. The end result of their actions is that their way will perish. Again, I had to look up the verb tense and found that it is a future action. It has not yet happened. What I find absolutely fascinating about the verb is that the word rendered perish could also be blot out. There are only a handful of things that God speaks of blotting out in The Bible. He speaks of blotting out the remembrance of particularly wicked people from under heaven. This makes sense, as we wouldn’t want the next round of especially wicked people finding inspiration from those who had gone before — just think de Sad and Bathory and you’ll get an idea why this was a good plan on God’s part.

God speaks of blotting people’s names out of His book. The idea is that the name in the book is the record of that person’s existence and they’ve done something so heinous that God simply expunges the record of them. He, being God, will never forget who they are are what they did, but He strikes them from the record. I can only imagine why and speculation does none of us any good.

God also speaks of blotting out sins. This is an understanding of the passage that is stretching things a bit, but I’m going to toss it out there not because it is necessarily in the text but because it does not contradict sound doctrine. The Bible says that there is not one righteous person. Not. Even. One. That the One and Only person to ever achieve righteousness is God in the flesh: Jesus Christ. The Bible also states that God “blots out” our sins and no longer remembers them. Moreover, I am told that if I am in Christ I am a new creation; that old things have passed away; that all things are new. And again, I am told that I have become the righteousness of God in Christ. All of this combines to leave me with this: I am not righteous on my own. Once I put my trust in Christ and His sacrifice, I was made new; had my old ways blotted out; was given the righteousness of God that Christ has always had.

This psalm absolutely is a contrast of the ways of the righteous and the wicked. But I think that it can also be a foreshadowing of what God was planning in salvation. He planned to put to death our old man and his wicked ways (the way of the wicked will perish) and to substitute for that now dead nature His own nature. As mentioned above, this is stretching the text a bit, but it is not undoctrinal (God does, in fact, save us and redeem us and blot out our sins) and poetry allows for a certain interpretive leeway. This morning, I am reminded that God blots out the way of the wicked — including the me that walked in wickedness and those times when I relapse into wickedness. This, to me, is a reminder of God’s forgiveness and an encouragement to press further up and further in. God chooses to remove all record of my wrongs and to make me like a fruitful tree. And I ache for the fruit of love and joy and peace and patience (Lord knows I need it) and kindness and goodness and gentleness and self-control (Lord knows I need a long ton of this). This also serves as a reminder that God knows the way I go. He is intimately acquainted with what is coming today and tomorrow and every day thereafter. He knows the way of the righteous. Not that I have any righteousness of my own, but that God has imputed Jesus’ righteousness to me and I stand in that righteousness alone.

Heard v Seen (Job 42:5-6)

I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes.

Job 42:5-6

Hearing about someone and meeting them are worlds apart. Years ago,  was blessed to be a part of a mobile sound company. We went all over the place setting up sound for concerts — indoors, outdoors, small venues, large venues. And I learned something about musicians: they’re just people. I know this isn’t a paradigm shift for a lot of people, but for a guy in his late teens, that was a bit of a news flash. Shooting the breeze with bass players and trying to encourage vocalists after they’d been chewed out by a manager (not sure if I should have done that, but I was young and dumb and the band did well, so I don’t think any harm was done) taught me that those people that I had looked up to were just as flawed and fragile as me — we all have feet of clay. So it should be no surprise to me that the difference between hearing of God and hearing from God is pretty world-altering, too.

Job and his friends spent the whole book going back and forth about why Job was in that predicament. His friends all insisted that God only blesses the righteous and only punishes the wicked. That God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked are both certainly true, but they are surface level knowledge. Anyone who is passingly acquainted with me is likely to know that I’m a word nerd. It takes someone intimate with me to know why. Job had a deeper understanding of God than his friends. Job starts the book off by telling his wife that they will accept whatever God sends their way — feast or famine, good or bad. As the book progresses, Job moves to wanting to understand why God would allow Job’s circumstances. He wants to know if he did something wrong or if there’s something he doesn’t understand. By the end of the book, Job has moved to justifying himself instead of seeking to understand God. This is where God steps into the frame and everything changes.

Job says that he had heard of God before this book began. He knew God by reputation. He knew that God is good and that God is merciful and that God is forgiving. But he only knew those things based on reputation. He had heard that God was those things and he accepted it. But now, at the close of the book, he sees God for himself. Seeing God results in humbling (I retract) and repentance (and I repent in dust and ashes). Job sees the gaps in his understanding of God not because of some new teaching, but because of a personal encounter with God. People can tell me that God is good all day every day and I can accept their estimation because I have found those people trustworthy. But I will never truly know the goodness of God until I experience it for myself. I can say with the apostle Paul that God is the God of all comfort and that the Holy Spirit is the Comforter in deed as well as name based on my experience with them after the death of my youngest sister years ago. I can testify to the peace of God and how it surpasses our understanding from having experienced it years ago when a relationship fell to pieces in a singularly spectacular fashion. There are times when the world shifts and God is ready to step in and prove Himself to be what we have heard Him to be. Those moments define our relationship with Him. Will we let our Father wrap us in His arms and give us the Comfort we crave? the Peace we need? Will we bury our faces in Him and let Him enfold us or will we push away?

My daughter does both. Sometimes, she wants comfort and daddy’s arms are precisely the place she wants to be. She lays her head on my chest and she’s wrapped in my arms and, for that moment, all is right with her world. Sometimes, she pushes away from me; tries to escape my arms not knowing that my arms are the only thing keeping her from falling and being hurt. We believers are much the same with our Heavenly Father.

In those places where I have heard of God and believe in some truth about Him based solely on reputation, I should expect that He will seek to make that a truth I know based on experience. He wants to be known based on our experience with Him. Just as I want to be known to my wife based on her experience with me and her intimate knowledge of who I am in the depths of my being. Most people see the surface of the oceans that are us and the billows can be frightening. But beneath the surface is a life and depth and drama played out that only those who go below the surface ever know. If I never go below the surface of who my wife is, then I will never truly know her. If she does not go below the surface of me, then she will never know me. But we suffer a far greater loss if we never go below the surface of Who God is. God has promised that I will find Him if I seek for Him with all my heart. I know this promise to be valid from my own experience. Let us; let me seek to know more about the God behind the reputation every day.