Sunday, August 9, 2009

Blame the Devil or Praise the Lord?

In the Book of James, which has been called the Proverbs of the New Testament, we read in chapter 1:2-4,
(2) My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,
(3) knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
(4) But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

Since coming into my position as a hospital chaplain, I have been somewhat “forced out of necessity” to look at the issues of pain and suffering and sorrow from perhaps a different perspective than I had before.

Somehow or somewhere we've been made to believe that anything we perceive as bad must be from the devil and must be rebuked as an attack from the enemy. And if we can muster up enough faith and pray the right words and formulate the right confession that all will be well. But as you know, that is not always the case.
- People with great faith still battle great sickness
- People with great faith still lose their loved ones to disease and accidents and senseless acts of violence.
- People with great faith still lose their jobs.
- We often struggle when our personal experience does not match our professed theology.
- Our faith gets tested, so we rebuke the devil with a bit more fervor and volume.
And nothing changes.

I wonder how many things happen that the devil gets blamed for when it is, in fact, the hand of God at work.

As a child of God and a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, I believe that He is with me, He guides me, He cares for me and that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

I believe that in the life of a true follower of Christ, nothing happens apart from the purpose, permission, providence or predestination of God. Believing this removes a lot of frustration from faith.

Take, as an example, two people with the same affliction.
One believes that his affliction is an attack of Satan. He is frustrated and discouraged because his healing hasn't been manifested. He believes that God loves him and just doesn't understand why this has happened to him.

The other believes that his affliction is the will of God for some reason beyond his limited understanding. He is at peace in spite of his situation because he believes that God loves him and that there is a divine purpose for what he is going through.

Now, we can argue theology or we can compare fruit.

Consider the following statement:
“I am really going through something; I feel like I'm being attacked from every direction.” How do you immediately interpret that?

1. He's really under the spiritual attack of the enemy.
2.He's being molded and shaped by the Master Potter into a beautiful vessel for His purposes.
(The “attack” is , in reality, pressure from the hands of the Potter.)

Far too often we immediately attribute the trials of our faith to being an attack of the enemy, when, in fact, it is the hand of God at work in our lives!

Look at the story of Joseph being sold by his brothers to the Ishmaelites (Genesis 37:1-36). Our first impression is that this is a bad thing. If this were to happen today, we would likely blame the devil for a direct attack on a godly man of God. But when you get to the end of the story we read the words of Joseph (Genesis 50:20): “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
- This wasn't God's “Plan B.” This was His plan.
- He didn't simply turn a bad situation into good, He purposed it to ultimately save the entire nation of Israel!

Philippians 4:11-13
(11) Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:
(12) I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
(13)I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Verse 13 is a favorite of many, but is usually taken out of context and applied to accomplishing something for God, carrying out some great exploit for the Kingdom or reaching some personal goal.
- In the context, Paul is talking about being content in spite of circumstances.
- What Paul is saying is, “It doesn’t matter if I’m up or down, rich or poor, full or hungry, healthy or sick, well liked or despised, honored or shunned, in a crowd or alone… I can be content in any situation because my strength comes from Christ - not from the circumstances in and around my life.”
- Some people “can’t do” being: down, poor, hungry, sick, despised, shunned, alone, but Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”

In 2 Corinthians 11:24-28, Paul lists what he suffered as a Christian.
(24) From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.
(25) Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;
(26) in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
(27) in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness--
(28)besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.

Then, just a few years later, writing to the Philippians, Paul says, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12)

Paul saw that nothing in his life happened apart from the purpose, permission, providence or predestination of God. He not only said, “in everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18), but also spoke of, “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).

The next time you're going through something, or if you are currently going through something, don't be so quick to blame the devil, but consider maybe, just maybe, God is at work in your life, shaping you into the image of Christ.

1 Peter 4:12-13 NKJV
(12) Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
(13) but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.