On the prowl

Be sober minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. ~1 Peter 5:8-9

We are at war. We are in the spiritual battle of our lives, not with each other or our husband or children. No, we are at war with an enemy so skilled at combat, so determined to defeat, divide, or discourage us. And many days I forget this. I am offended and furious that so many women are battling, and the enemy is using the same tactics with each one of us. Peter compares our enemy to a roaring lion, so let’s study how a lion behaves and draw parallels.

The lion closely observes its prey long before it attacks. Interestingly, it hunts most often in cover of darkness where it can easily observe and stalk without threat of detection with a final burst of speed at the end. It is incredibly adept at hiding and phenomenally patient.  Lions have been observed  to return again or remain in the same spot where they have had success with a certain herd, and interestingly (or not) the herd of prey does not seem to make adjustments to prevent loss. They will circle the herd and slowly begin driving the prey in a direction with the effect of separating or isolating one or a few from the herd. Finally the straight-line roaring pounce or a paw that swats and knocks the prey off balance allows the lion to suffocate the animal.

We have an enemy who is very real. He is at work, and his chief desire is to destroy. In the life of a believer, he cannot destroy for eternity, but he can sideline. The implication in these verses is that satan as this roaring lion is functioning in a full frontal attack, coming in for the kill. That kill may be persecution like we see in many areas in the world that would push believers to compromise their faith for safety, but here where true persecution is rare, the compromising of our faith happens because of hard life circumstances, doubts, fears, mental anguish, illnesses, isolation, etc. Faith is the only lifeline, and in case you forget, faith too is Spirit given. (Gal. 5:5)

I need the power of Gospel-based community. I need the body corporately and individually pouring into me the truth of the Gospel. So that when I am slammed with doubt, fear, discouragement, or shame, the truth of Jesus’ redeeming work at the cross covers those lies with His victory.

Discipleship is essential to mature the believer as well as heal the believer. The importance of discipleship becomes apparent when we apply these hunting tactics to our enemy. He delights in separating and isolating us. He studies us and has studied mankind for centuries to really know our patterns of thinking. While he cannot read our thoughts, he watches our pattern of behavior and is keenly aware of our insecurities, doubts, and fears. So the desperate need we have to hide ourselves within the Gospel must be understood to be exactly that – a paramount need. On my own I simply cannot navigate the waters of my life. A key component in discipleship is living life in community with other believers.

We need to stop the isolation. Culturally we are isolated – behind screens, within schedules so filled there is no time to sit and share, in distance,  and in belief. We have been sidetracked with issues and left the pursuit of the gospel so that now we are distracted. Titus 3:9 warns us to “avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” But the truth of the Gospel is this: when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7) I am so convicted that I don’t create enough space in my own life for engaging my friends purposefully in light of the Gospel, encouraging them in their Kingdom work here with their family and other areas of influence, and rejoicing or praying with them over the places God may be refining. I know it is hard to create that space. My calendar is always full. But there are things, good things, and then there are eternal things. And I cannot allow the fleeting things of this age to usurp the eternal.

As I have studied this truth for the last few months, God began to really convict me of my busyness. I had very little margin and very little active pursuit of other women for the sole sake of the Gospel – to encourage them, hear what God is doing, pray for them and with them, or challenge them. He began to germinate an idea of women dining together with the express purpose of encouraging one another in our personal walks with the Lord. Rarely do I get to enjoy a slow, relaxed dinner with girlfriends in which we cut to the chase of God’s activity in our lives, confessing our sins or praising His works. We are often interrupted by children or hurried by schedules, or we just don’t get past the layers of small talk about the work we do and the craziness that is life. So my daughters blessed us with a wonderful meal, slowly served so that we could talk around a beautiful candlelit table. Some women had to meet other women first, but the rules were set from the beginning. All conversation needed to center around what God is doing in your life. Purposeful from the outset, meant for encouragement, it felt a little scary, I must admit. Often God is working on the ugly in my life and so it looks ugly in the journey. But the time was beautiful, hearts were encouraged, and I will be purposefully doing this again.

We need to fight with and for each other. We have all seen the Youtube video of the Battle of Kruger – The buffalo are walking to the water and spot the lions near the water. The baby calf is attacked and rolled into the water by the lions, a crocodile tries to steal the kill, and then the amazing begins! The herd returns to protect its own. We watch rooting for the calf, desperately wanting to see the 4-5 lions defeated. The buffalo at first slowly approach as if unsure what to do for their struggling one. Then 1-2 begin to sling and chase – it’s a clear strategy – sling them off and chase them away. Finally the last 2 lions are removed as other buffalo pull the baby back into the middle of the herd. Twice the lion starts to return for the injured baby, and one large buffalo turns fearlessly back to stand and face the predator before returning to the herd.

We have many weak and weary women, struggling on the edge of either drowning by the crocodile or being consumed by the lion. And when we all stay separated, we strengthen the destruction the enemy can bring. Instead we need to function as encircling buffalo, battling with and for our weaker members, standing firm against the enemy in prayer and encouragement, and willing to be at risk, soberminded and alert. The promise at the end of this passage is amazing! God does the work, He provides the faith, He does the healing and restoration needed because of His Gospel truth that Jesus Christ in grace redeemed you. To all of us who have been the baby buffalo or who are walking with a baby buffalo right now – And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. ~1 Peter 5:10-11. 

 

target run

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

My almost 2 year old has a fascination with all things Superman and Batman. He loves to talk about his muscles and wear his pjs with either one emblazoned on them. And I absolutely delight in his cheerful talk about them whenever he spots something else that shows them. This week we were running errands, and I had planned to buy him his own superhero action figure so that he would stop taking his older brothers’. But after the second stop, he rejected the idea of climbing back into his carseat to go any further. So to distract him, I began to tell him my plan to get a Superman or Batman at the next store. Probably not good parenting, I own it. My husband calls me the master of distraction as a parenting tool. But it worked, the bucking and arching stopped, he was clicked in, and we were off. The conversation in the car went something like this, “I would love to get you something special, but you’ll have to wait until the next store.”

“Wait, mommy wait.”

“Yes, we have to wait.”

The entire way into the store the conversation vacillated between “Supman, Batman, wait, Batman,” eagerly insisting I agree with his mantra, scanning the store’s entrance ready for his blessing. Now I know where the superheroes are in this store, I wasn’t worried that they wouldn’t be there, and I was eager to give this precious boy a special gift. But I had other things to gather as well, so I knew the greater plan, the larger goal.

All through the walk to the toy section, all he could think of was “Supman” and all I could change his callings to was “wait, soon.” He would parrot back “Wait,” but almost immediately return to “Supman? Batman?” followed by my reassurances that we were heading there. His eyes remain glued on me, conversing eagerly in his little boy way.

But the moment we rolled out of clothes and into toys, his focus shifted. The intense gaze and concentration that once had been on my face willing to wait was now eyes darting, left to right, a growing desire for everything, anything! He just wanted to hold something! Our precious conversation was replaced with lunging, reaching, pointing and grunting as he saw me roll him right past so many wonderful things. We walked around an end-cap, and he spotted something he could NOT roll past – a large, rubber chicken with eyes that bug out of its head when the belly is squeezed. He grabbed it, and not only did it look ridiculous, but this “amazing” toy made a horrible, croaking, dying frog type noise, so endearing as I could just imagine having to hear that all day long! Yet at that moment longing/desire had surged in and overwhelmed his little heart and mind – this was what he wanted and wouldn’t let go of!

He was willing to forgo the promised for the immediate – how often do I do that?

How many times, Lord, is this me? Walking with You, eyes on You, walking in blessing/relationship, and then a desire springs up. The want completely shifts my focus from the riches of intimate relationship with You into a scrambling to gain the awful chicken of the moment – the easily broken, cheap, desired thing that has become what I long for, what I seek.

Nothing else costs as much as my Savior’s death for me; nothing else will remain for all eternity. Yet often I confess, abiding with Jesus, walking with Him, eyes fixed on Him is hard for me. My eyes slide to the shiny, new, exciting, popular, and then desire washes over me. There are times when I can stand beneath that wave, still rooted but now soaking, and regain my gaze on the only One who satisfies. But often that wave washes me into a current of longing that can carry me along.

God’s heart is for our very best, but sometimes His best requires my waiting. And just like Abraham I feel the need to “help” God orchestrate poorly what He can simply create with excellence. My son quickly put down the hideous chicken when presented with the action figure, for it paled in comparison even to him at his age. Often for me, my chicken takes the form of worry, doubt, or fear about the lives of one of my children – it may look shiny to the world even – a good concern over curriculum choices, goals, and outcome measures to ensure a child receives a good education for instance. But when my eyes set here and my trust is placed in these things, I have grabbed hold of a cheap unfulfilling substitute for His intention, His love and His plan for me in relation to my child.

The wave of mothering well, especially a far away college student, has swept me into a current of fear and worry. I have lost sight of my loving Father and His plan for my child’s life, that He really is the absolute best at drawing men unto Himself and deepening their walk with Him. And instead I pet the chicken of my ability to orchestrate conversations or activities to push my child to my objectives for his life. But the absolute foundational truth is God has plans for my child to grow him or her in faith and maturity, He is more committed and more in love with my child than I am, and He can be trusted to accomplish His will.

Sometimes the desire for comfort becomes the shiny toy I pursue, soaked from the desire to be unconcerned about money or finances. So I would sit in that shopping cart with my rubber chicken of ease and comfort here and miss the superman gift of knowing His faithfulness and supply, the deepening of the faith walk that brings glory to Him for eternity.

Setting my mind on His ways – Psalms 26:3 states, “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.”  I want this to be the testimony of my life.