When I was at the height of my seeking, certain verses spoke to me, and I committed them to memory without really knowing why. In the past few years, I have begun to see that I already had in my possession the very thing I sought. And, consequently, the significance of those verses – still marked in that old study Bible – has unfolded gradually, bringing a fresh lesson every time.
One which rises to my memory often is John 14:30 – ‘for the prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me’. The ‘me’ in whom Satan has nothing isn’t, of course, myself. He prowls around hopefully, encouraged by my many failures, thinking he may yet win me back. Some of his tactics I have learned to recognise, though that certainly does not mean that I am always equal to conquering the weaknesses he seeks to exploit. Shrewdly, he appeals to my self-righteousness, my pride, my desire to have the last word. Satan is not about to give up the possibility that I could yet be his.
I know differently, of course. He cannot take me from my Saviour’s hand because my Saviour will not let him. Yet, he can steal my peace and make the journey much more challenging . . . because I do let him.
A friend this week shared a quote from Elisabeth Elliot with me, which contains the key to this conundrum: if I know the devil’s aims and even some of his methodology, how does he keep getting to me?
She wrote, ‘The devil has made it his business to monopolise on three elements: noise, hurry, crowds. He will not allow quietness.’
God is in the silence. He is the still, small voice. It is he who leads us the quiet waters by. And he asks that we should be still and know that he is God.
Satan will have none of this. He wants us busy, hectic, clamorous. If we close out the external noise, if we switch off the WiFi, and withdraw to a quiet corner to pray, there is a real risk that we will meet God. So, at all costs, the devil must circumvent this. The problem is that Christians often think this means ‘other’ noise – loud music, clubs, pubs, violent and profane television shows, slasher films and raucous comedians.
You’ve got to realise, though, Satan is smarter than that. He doesn’t have God’s power, so he goes for the easy options – he persuades us into situations that we were half-attracted to in the first place. His subtlety recognises our weaknesses and predilections, so that he may just as easily prey on our piety as anything else. It would be ludicrous to suggest that the only means to drive a wedge between God and his people would be to have us all out clubbing and taking drugs.
It comes back to that basic truth: want of conformity to God’s law is our overriding sin. And we can be farthest from him when we appear to be doing the most for his cause.
Believe me, I know. Before Covid, I was a one-woman hive of activity: asked to speak at this fellowship or that WFM; churning out blogs; sparring with secularists; and sometimes writing my column for the ‘Record’ in the early hours of the morning, or preparing a Sunday School lesson in the car after the service. Even my ‘non-church’ commitment to the Stornoway Trust came about as a direct result of faith.
I was running, if not quite on empty, certainly at times on mere fumes. And there was no one to count the cost but myself.
The cost was that, into the melee of apparently godly activity, the devil would come creeping. He exploited my tiredness, my sense of being unsupported, the chaos of my week.
God, on the other hand, permitted that I should be blessed in the strange providence of a global pandemic. He removed the noise and the hurry, and he dispersed the crowds. It was as though he had given me a gift and, as with all that he bestows, coaxed me to see its full and beautiful purpose.
I have time now, and peace, to hear that still, small voice. There is no need for prayers as I drive to work, or hasty preparation in the car before bringing Jesus’ message to others. And Sunday doesn’t pass in a haze of getting from A to B and back again: I can wait to hear my Saviour’s voice; there is time for turning his answers over in the quietness of my mind.
Because of this, I am more ready to serve than when I spent myself in keeping up a ludicrous timetable of appearance.
And when I consider John 14:30 now, I can repeat it with confidence. Why? Because in this peace I better know the ‘me’ who stands between myself and the tumultuous wiles of the devil.