Choices are fragile, necessary things. Tantalizing, agonizing little things. Brimming with endless possibilities. Accoutrement laced anticipations. Funneling into careless cessations. The question is asked, “Which way should we go?” The question echoes, “Does anyone know?” Arrogance answers, “Just enjoy the show.” Ignorance answers, “There’s no way to know!” Malevolence answers, “Don’t rock the boat!” Yet, choices are tenacious little things. Creeping through our minds even while we sleep. Twisting and tunneling deep in our souls. Every action straddled with reactions. Consequences lurk beneath distractions. They ask, “Is day any different than night?” I believe that shadows prove the sunshine. My friend, the sun still burns with fervent light. The night knows it has but a little time. And choices we make determine that time.
The Grace of Falling Leaves – A Poem
Those that run with swifter feet. Know not the grace of falling leaves. Nor the magic of treasures deep. For they move too fast and do not see. Those they love and things they need. They make their lists and miss the trees. The mystics mourn for living peace. Yet moments pass, and no one sees. Deeper wells of hidden gems. Forgetting depths of secret hymns. Humming unheard invocations. They won’t recall, and no one listens. Those that run with swifter feet. Might well find grace in slowing pace. For slow and steady wins the race. Avoiding dungeons, maintaining grace.
The Anatomy of a Failure (A Scriptural Survey of Why Sincere Souls Fail God) – Article + Podcast
The Anatomy of a Failure
During several formative years of my life, Bishop Douglas White ministered to my soul at camp meetings, conferences, and seminars. Time and time again, his stirring sermons send me running to an altar to touch God. His dynamic preaching ministry is in constant demand and has been for as long as I can remember. He has a way of preaching hard truths with love and urgency that compels you to respond. I’m grateful for his ministry. So, when I discovered his newest book, The Anatomy of a Failure: A Scriptural Survey of Why Sincere Souls Fail God, I purchased it faster than you can say “Visa.” Links to buy The Anatomy of a Failure are listed below. I suggest ordering several of them to give away.
Every Apostolic reading this shares the familiar heartache of knowing friends and family members that have forfeited their salvation. And for those of us who genuinely believe what the Bible teaches about salvation and Hell, we agonize over the condition of their souls and the wasted earthly potential. We’ve all seen as White says:
A beautiful soul rushing back to a hideous condition. A victorious spirit tumbling back to a tortured existence. An honorable life stumbling to a dishonorable lifestyle. A blessed home collapsing into a cursed abode.
How does this happen? That’s the question White strives to answer in The Anatomy of a Failure. The book is a spiritual autopsy. A posthumous examination of dead souls that once thrived in the Spirit. More than that, however, White somberly reminds us that we too have the potential to fail God. This book equips us with defensive weapons and understanding that might be vital to finishing the race. Another byproduct of this book is the light it sheds on the process of backsliding. I finished reading The Anatomy of a Failure with a greater understanding of why good, and I mean “genuinely” good people, abandon Truth. My prayer is that by understanding backsliders better, I might assist them in finding restoration.
Losing Salvation is Possible
Grace is probably the most misunderstood, misconstrued, and misused doctrine in the Bible (I’ve written more about that here). It’s at least up there in the top five. With that in mind, White tackles that issue in the prologue titled The Fallacies of a Failing Soul. In what becomes the underlying text for the entire book, White cites Hebrews 12:14-15:
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God.
Because grace is often tragically misrepresented as a Divine blank check enabling us to sin freely without consequence, White doubles down on the meaning of Hebrews 12:14-15, saying, “God’s grace never fails – but people can fail.” And he continues:
Nobody will ever stand before God, look Him in the eye, and say that His grace was anything but glorious and forgiving. However, when an individual spurns the grace that God is offering and continues in his sinful lifestyle, it is he who is failing God’s miraculous grace. It is one of the fallacies of a failing soul to think otherwise.
Nobody will ever stand before God and say His grace was anything but glorious and forgiving. However, when an individual spurns the grace God is offering and continues in a sinful lifestyle, it is he who is failing God’s miraculous grace. -Doug WhiteTweet
White moves on to address the most common objection to the reality that good people can fail the grace of God, “A loving God wouldn’t send anyone to Hell (I’ve written an in-depth study on the biblical doctrine of Hell here).” For me, White’s response was revelatory:
A loving God would not send anyone to Hell. But the moment a person dies, Jesus no longer sees him or her through the eyes of a loving God but through the eyes of a righteous judge that must judge every person by the same standard: Did they walk in obedience to God’s Word?
When a person dies, Jesus no longer sees through the eyes of a loving God but through the eyes of a righteous judge that must judge every person by the same standard: Did they walk in obedience to God’s Word? -Doug WhiteTweet
Ultimately, when sheep refuse to follow God’s ways, they forfeit the benefits and protections of the Great Shepherd. White says it best, “Offering salvation is God’s task; maintaining salvation is our task.” Later he rephrases it like this, “A sinful nature and a saved nature cannot coexist in your life.” It’s important to remember that not every falling away from God is accompanied by a dramatic, loud exodus from the church. Of course, some do, and we remember those moments the best. But more often than not, people slip silently away from God while quietly justifying themselves and ultimately convincing themselves they’re just as saved as ever. That’s the fallacy of a failing soul.
When sheep refuse to follow God’s ways, they forfeit the benefits and protections of the Great Shepherd.Tweet
Offering salvation is God’s task; maintaining salvation is our task. A sinful nature and a saved nature cannot coexist in your life. -Doug WhiteTweet
Not every falling away from God is accompanied by a dramatic, loud exodus from the church. People slip silently away from God while quietly justifying themselves and ultimately convincing themselves they’re just as saved as ever.Tweet
Four Main Reasons Good People Make Bad Mistakes
Bishop White identifies the initial source or the root of every backslider’s eventual failure. He insightfully leans on forty years of ministry to pinpoint four common trouble areas that fit into the anatomy of a body. The four bodily diseased areas that rip people away from the Body of Christ are feet, stomach, head, and heart. Learning to protect, heal, defend, and cultivate these areas is the key to successfully serving God for a lifetime.
Feet: The Instability of an Unsure Foundation
White reminds us that “the only hope we have of standing firm in living for God is determined by the quality of our foundation.” He makes a classic reference to the parable of the man who built his house on the rock compared to the man who built his life upon the sand (Luke 6:48-49). Everything else in our spiritual life is built on our initial foundation. This is perhaps the most crucial area to get right early on in the spiritual journey.
The only hope we have of standing firm in living for God is determined by the quality of our foundation. -Doug WhiteTweet
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Millennium Tower located in downtown San Francisco. The luxury condominium cost a whopping 350 million dollars to build in early 2002. It’s a beautiful structure, made chiefly of elegant glass that towers high into the horizon, reflecting the radiant hues of the sun. Until 2015 everything went precisely as planned. The building became a status symbol of wealthy city living and garnered several awards. It became the residence of choice for affluent San Franciscans. But that all changed when residents began to report loud popping noises and large panes of glass started cracking unexpectedly. And worse, experts noticed the building was sinking and tilting drastically. So far, it has fallen nearly eighteen inches into the ground and tilted another fifteen inches to the northwest. All that lurching, turning, and twisting is breaking all kinds of things from the top of the structure to the bottom. Even after pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the effort, the renovations have done little to stop the problem. Groundwater loss from adjacent construction has been blamed for the issue by the tower’s developers, while geotechnical experts say the key is that its foundation is not rooted in bedrock. You see, where I’m going, it doesn’t matter how incredible the exterior looks if your spiritual foundation isn’t rooted in bedrock.
It doesn’t matter how incredible the exterior looks if your spiritual foundation isn’t rooted in bedrock.Tweet
White points to three crucial materials that must form every spiritual foundation: The Bible, faithfulness, and integrity. He says:
Far too many individuals walking through those spiritual realms struggle with being ‘tossed to and fro,’ in and out of righteousness because their feet are not firmly planted on the sure foundation that is provided by God’s Word.
Too many individuals walking through spiritual realms struggle with being ‘tossed to and fro,’ in and out of righteousness because their feet are not firmly planted on the sure foundation that is provided by God’s Word. -Doug WhiteTweet
In our podcast conversation, Bishop White made a profound statement, “The person in most danger of failing God in your church is the one who loves the music, loves the preaching, loves the worship, loves the fellowship but never settles doctrinal absolutes in their minds.” Without using the words, White spends a great deal of time pushing back against universalism and ecumenicalism, both of which are prevailing heresies of our age. While there might be room for disagreement on some biblical points, central salvific doctrines like the oneness of God, baptism in Jesus’ name, the necessity of the infilling of the Holy Ghost, holiness, and righteous living must become the bedrock of faith.
The person in most danger of failing God in your church is the one who loves the music, loves the preaching, loves the worship, loves the fellowship but never settles doctrinal absolutes in their minds. -Doug WhiteTweet
The second element in the threefold mixture that forms a sure spiritual foundation is deep, abiding faithfulness. White describes it this way:
It is faithfulness that refuses to negotiate with sin or temptation or even emotional upheavals. Those who live on a sure, solid foundation are the individuals who choose daily to live a life of faithfulness to God: Faithful involvement with God’s kingdom. Faithful gathering together with the saints. Steadfast in our walk with God. Authentic in our representation of God to our world. Regardless of how much you claim to believe in biblical truth, this truth is rendered completely ineffective in your life if you don’t baptize it with faithfulness… Your belief in truth is null and void if you don’t act faithfully upon the principles of that truth.
Regardless of how much you claim to believe in biblical truth, truth is rendered completely ineffective in your life if you don’t baptize it with faithfulness. -Doug WhiteTweet
The third and final element in the foundation mixture is unshakable integrity. White defines integrity as “having the ability to see yourself the way God sees you, not the way you would like to be seen.” A life of integrity is devoid of hypocrisy and infused with humility. I consider this to be White’s most impactful quote in the first chapter:
In most cases pertaining to spiritual stability, if you let your feet provide your direction, you won’t have to worry about problems your head could cause.
In most cases pertaining to spiritual stability, if you let your feet provide your direction, you won’t have to worry about problems your head could cause. -Doug WhiteTweet
Stomach: The Pull of an Unholy Consumption
If you could only read one chapter of The Anatomy of a Failure for some strange reason, it should be this one. I consider unholy consumption to be the primary reason the average person falls prey to the enemy. Because our highly advanced, super technological culture allows for instant and nearly unlimited access to the consumption of carnal things, countless Christians develop a habitual taste for dainties that slowly pushes out their desire for holy things. Just like the eunuch thought Daniel would be weakened by abstaining from defiling foods from the king’s table, society views our restrictive lifestyle of purity as fanatical and unsustainable. But our separated lifestyle is the key to our power. Sadly, some have come to view it as a hindrance because they desire to fill their bellies with unrighteousness. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness includes separation from immodest appearance, fleshly vices, worldly entertainment, and unholy speech. White says:
Hungering and thirsting after righteousness includes separation from immodest appearance, fleshly vices, worldly entertainment, and unholy speech.Tweet
While the story of Daniel is old, the principle it promotes is just as true today: The spiritual life of a child of God will either excel or decline depending on what their appetites are… If you fit into the category of someone who constantly struggles in your walk with God, I suggest you take an immediate inventory of what you are putting in your spiritual stomach. Such an inventory is necessary because allowing your spiritual man to exist in perpetual struggle eventually eliminates vital elements like joy, passion, zeal, and even a desire to continue serving God.
The spiritual life of a child of God will either excel or decline depending on what their appetites are. -Doug WhiteTweet
What you consume will affect you spiritually just as surely as the physical things you consume will affect you physically. It’s also important to realize that it’s not just sinful things that can potentially harm you. But if consuming hobbies or benignly distracting things pull you away from faithfulness, you will eventually fail God. White gives a good measuring stick for measuring the quality of your consumption, “Anytime you start feeling a fondness for a former slavery, it is a sure sign of partaking in questionable consumption.”
It’s not just sinful things that can potentially harm you. But if consuming hobbies or benignly distracting things pull you away from faithfulness, you will eventually fail God.Tweet
Anytime you start feeling a fondness for a former slavery, it is a sure sign of partaking in questionable consumption. -Doug WhiteTweet
The conversation surrounding what is acceptable for Christians to consume and still be saved is always fraught with disagreement. At the core of this conversation is wisdom. It takes wisdom to know what is healthy, benign, and unhealthy for a Christian to ingest. Sadly, I’ve been around many conversations revolving around how much junk a Christian can devour and still be saved. White mirrors those questions, “How much poison can I consume and still stay alive? How much filth can I eat without getting sick? How much rottenness can I devour without suffering the consequences?” He continues, “Knowing the challenges every individual has to contend with to serve God with integrity, why would anybody challenge themselves further by deliberately empowering their flesh?”
There’s an old Indian story of a grandfather telling his grandson about two wolves that live inside us all. One wolf is good, loyal, pure, and full of integrity. The other wolf is violent, angry, evil, and dishonest. “Each day, these two wolves fight inside of me,” said the grandfather to his young grandson. Wide-eyed, the boy asked, “Which one will win?” “The one I feed,” replied the wise grandfather.
Head: The Hindrance of an Unbridled Mind
This issue is so important that the Bible speaks of our thoughts 138 times and refers to our minds 137 times. White emphasizes how the battle for our soul begins in the mind. And while temptation is not sin, a runaway thought can morph into an unholy intention if it isn’t taken into captivity and cast down. White puts it succinctly, “Sadly, over time those thoughts became temptations, which eventually developed intentions. Those intentions eventually found an occasion to sin.”
While temptation is not sin, a runaway thought can morph into an unholy intention if it isn’t taken into captivity and cast down.Tweet
The old-timers used to say, “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from settling in and building a nest there.” We can’t keep unholy thoughts from flying through our minds, but we can make sure they don’t make a home there. As White wisely states, “Your mind will either assist you or assassinate you.” Gaining the self-control needed to retrain your mind from dwelling on ungodly things is paramount to every believer. White says it best:
To stop the catastrophic loss of salvation, your unbridled mind is hurling you toward; you must become spiritually mature enough to turn off the flow valve of the deadly sewage of unholy thoughts.
Your mind will either assist you or assassinate you. Gaining the self-control needed to retrain your mind from dwelling on ungodly things is paramount to every believer. -Doug WhiteTweet
Heart: The Delusion of Misplaced Passions
White comes out swinging in this chapter, “Our heart can either be our greatest advantage or our greatest adversary.” It’s eerily possible to be faithful, worship, praise, and go through the motions of godliness without engaging the heart thoroughly. White teaches that passion is the gauge for measuring spiritual heart health, “Passion is the tell-tale sign that our heart is involved; without passion, any work we do has ceased to be a matter of the heart.”
Our heart can either be our greatest advantage or our greatest adversary. It’s eerily possible to be faithful, worship, praise, and go through the motions of godliness without engaging the heart thoroughly.Tweet
This chapter revealed something that had perplexed me for a long time: How can people seem to love God but not serve him passionately? White reminds us that we are commanded to love God with all our hearts in no uncertain terms. He says:
Any time this commandment is casually diminished by placing a greater passion on something else, we have become the victim of a divided heart. The obvious way to tell if an all-the-way-salvation has become a divided-heart situation is to compare your passion for God with your passion for other things.
And here is the revelation that greatly enhanced my understanding:
Most people who backslide don’t fall out of love with God; they just fall in love with something else, leaving a divided heart.
Most people who backslide don’t fall out of love with God; they just fall in love with something else, leaving a divided heart. -Doug WhiteTweet
Conclusion & Summary
Pay prayerful attention, and you will find that everyone you have seen fail God fits into the four categories as defined by Bishop White:
- They had spiritual feet that lacked a sure foundation, leaving them unstable and quick to fall.
- They had a spiritual stomach that consistently fed on unholy things, leaving them weak and defenseless against the adversary.
- They had a spiritual head that refused to restrain their unholy thoughts, allowing temptations to become sinful intentions, which led them to sin.
- They had a spiritual heart that became careless, allowing them to misplace their passion in carnal things, deluding them with the idea that “selling-out” wasn’t as important as merely “claiming salvation.”
We are all susceptible to failing in these areas if we aren’t on guard. Awareness is half the battle. Viewing these anatomical areas invigorates my desire to put on the whole armor of God. Years ago, the Lord gave me a dream of thousands of Christians rushing into battle with incomplete armor. Some had everything but a helmet, while others had a sword. One by one, they fell to the enemy. In that graphic visual, the problem seemed so obvious. But Christians do this all the time, yet they feel safe because they have almost all the armor they need. They have an allusion of safety but lack the fullness of God’s necessary resources. I pray this is not so for you and for me too.
- Link to purchase The Anatomy of Failure by Doug White
- Link to purchase If I Had to Do It All Over Again by Doug White
- Link to purchase The Anointing of Sonship by Doug White
- Link to purchase The Garments of God’s Man by Doug White
- Link to purchase Sure Signs You Want a Pulpit (But Not a Real Ministry) by Doug White
- Link to purchase Hell’s Apostles by Doug White
A relevant apostolic resource that covers biblical topics of interest, ministry, Christian living, and practical insights hosted by Ryan French. An extension of the popular blog Apostolic Voice (www.ryanafrench.com). Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/apostolicvoice/support
Sought after preacher, Bishop of Abundant Life of Silsbee, TX, and prolific author Doug White joins the program to discuss his latest book, The Anatomy of a Failure: A Scriptural Survey of Why Sincere Souls Fail God. Visit www.ryanafrench.com for an in-depth review of The Anatomy of a Failure. In this interview, Ryan explores with Bishop White the four areas (feet, stomach, heart, head) godly people leave vulnerable that can lead to spiritual failure and backsliding. If you’re wanting to safeguard your faith this is the episode for you. If you’re trying to understand or help a backslider you need to hear this program. Stick around to the end where the French Family tries Key Lime Kit Kat bars for a fun edition of Gross-Good-Great.
*The Anatomy of a Failure by Doug White link to buy, www.silsbee.org.
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COVID-19 (A Christian Manual for Navigating Uncertain Times)
An unseen microscopic viral enemy is bringing the world economy to its knees and taking lives. Whether you believe the worldwide response has been warranted or irresponsible the impact of COVID-19 is tangible and far reaching. Secular and religious organizations alike have been forced to make difficult choices in these uncertain times. Churches are closing their doors to corporate worship and frantically ramping up live stream capabilities. Even now, we just aren’t sure how long this threat will last.
Because this is all so unprecedented and strange (for modern times) there’s not many resources teaching us how to think or react to the events unfolding around us. Godly saints are especially vulnerable during this time of disconnection between one another and pastoral leadership. Opinions abound, but wisdom and common sense are precious, hard to find commodities. Consider this a starter manual for spiritually navigating these uncertain times. This beginner manual will certainly need to be updated and revised over time, and applied to new and changing situations. However, it’s at least a start as we all prayerfully wait on the Lord.
Gathering Still Matters!
While nobly attempting to remain boldly optimistic, many leaders and saints have overblown the impact of having virtual church. This sends mixed messages to people about the continued need for the Church to gather together for corporate worship on a regular basis. Just because we temporarily can’t have church, doesn’t mean we aren’t desperately in need of having church.
To clarify, I’m all for live streaming and getting the Gospel out with every high-tech or low-tech tool available. However, nothing can, should, or will replace the necessity of the assembling of the Church. Beyond that, live streaming isn’t some sparkling new thing that just materialized because of the Corona pandemic. It’s been around for a long time and it can be a great blessing in certain situations. But, it simply cannot compare to what happens when God’s people get together and unify in faith, fellowship, worship, praise, prayer, preaching, and power.
Yes. The Church is not a building. Yes. The Church should be the Church outside of the building. But everyone stuck at home, watching live streaming in their pajamas while eating Lucky Charms, isn’t exactly an epic unleashing of the Church. It’s great to be positive, but let’s not be silly and trivial about the importance of corporate worship.
Trust Your Pastor In Times of Crisis
I’ll echo what many wise folks have already voiced: Your pastor has never pastored in a pandemic before, and he wants what’s best for the church more than anyone else. Pastors are doing their absolute level best to love, protect, and care for their flocks during this crazy and confusing time. They have to answer to God for the decisions they make during this season. They don’t need Monday morning quarter backs criticizing their every decision.
It’s important to note that God may direct one pastor differently than another pastor. Every church has a different dynamic. If you’ve ever trusted your pastor, trust him during this time. If you’ve ever supported your pastor, support him during this time. Your support means more to him than you can imagine. Either you believe your pastor is a God-called under-shepherd over your life or you don’t. Times of crisis reveal the heart; take inventory of your heart in times of crisis.
Speaking of the Heart
If mass social distancing and quarantines have taught me anything, it’s that we have taken too many luxuries for granted. Other nations struggle with hunger, but we feel majorly distressed if we can’t find our favorite brand of coffee creamer. We are, without a doubt, a spoiled people. We are totally unfamiliar with genuine sacrifice or deprivation.
We take our freedoms for granted, including our religious liberties, because we have been too busy and distracted with luxuries. As a nation, we have trended towards less and less church gatherings, and many Christians casually skip church for silly non-essential reasons.
We Americans make plenty of time for the internet, social media, Netflix, and sports; yet we struggle to find time for prayer and spiritual gatherings. This reveals an American heart problem. We are busy doing everything, except for the things that matter the most. Suddenly, when church buildings are temporarily closed our deep need for spiritual connectedness becomes crystal clear.
Many Christians are learning for the first time that sports are little more than a frivolous distraction from reality. We can and should spend more time with our families. Careers aren’t everything and economies and markets are fickle friends that will betray us without warning. Governments can’t save us or even really protect us from every threat. In other words, uncertain times clarify the things that truly matter in our lives. It gives us perspective. And, hopefully a fresh wellspring of gratitude for God and family is bursting into our national consciousness.
The things we care about most are far more fragile than we realize when the busyness of life jerks us from activity to activity. Maybe, just maybe, God is trying to slow us down long enough to remember to keep the main things the main thing. No. I don’t mean that God sent a COVID-19 plague upon the world. However, I do believe God would have us learn lessons in our crisis moments.
Speaking of Crisis Moments
Many people’s finances are being adversely impacted by the quarantines. Jobs are disappearing at staggering rates. Others are enduring layoffs and having their hours slashed. Businesses and small business owners are going under while others are hanging by a thread. If you aren’t being financially effected, you probably know many people who are being effected right now.
With that said, churches still need supported so they can survive this crisis too. If you still have income (be grateful) and be sure to get your tithes to the storehouse of God. Don’t take a vacation from giving God what is already His. That’s a sure way to lose His blessings over your life.
I’ve heard many reports of churches that are unable to pay their regular bills. Newer churches, and smaller to midsize churches in large numbers are facing financial collapse if things don’t change soon. There’s no government bailout for churches. And the church shouldn’t need a government bailout anyway. Let’s just keep being the Church like they were in the book of Acts. If the Early Church could find a way to faithfully give (without the internet) in the middle of literal physical persecution, we can too.
We Always Do Better Under Pressure
God’s true Church has always thrived under pressure. In fact, we seem to spiritually flourish in tough times and become spiritually anemic in times of ease. That was certainly true of the original book of Acts Church, and we see that same phenomenon in the great revivals and spiritual awakenings throughout history. Tremendous apostolic outpourings of the Holy Ghost were poured out during the Great Depression. Those revivals continued to spread even during the first and second World Wars. History is replete with examples of powerful revivals in crisis seasons and spiritual decline in seasons of prosperity. Just look at the reports from economically depressed, and physically oppressed countries outside of the United States. They have constant miracles, church growth, signs, wonders, and spiritual hunger in those regions. Why? Because the Church thrives under pressure and persecution.
But why does the Church thrive under pressure? And, why does the Church seem to struggle with prosperity? I could get very preachy and talk about how the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), but it’s deeper than just loving money and stuff too much. That’s just part of the overall problem. I think (and I’m preaching to myself), in times of ease we lean to our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6) rather than leaning on the Lord. We rely on ourselves more and rely on God less. Essentially, we take God for granted without even meaning to do so. But times of crisis push us back into the arms of Christ. Pressure keeps us razor sharp and keenly focused on God. When we run out of options and resources, we come sheepishly back to our Creator for rescue. And, He rescues us because He loves us with a deep love.
This Will Pass
We’ll move from this valley to a mountaintop, and dip back into another valley. There’s a time and a season for everything under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Perhaps God will teach some of us how to cry out to Him in our distress and face our fears and faithlessness (Mark 4:37-41). Maybe God will show some of us that we can walk on water and overcome the impossible if we keep our eyes fixed on Him (Matthew 14:22-33). How wonderful would it be if the Church rediscovered the power and importance of prayer meetings like the book of Acts Church (Acts 2:1-2, Acts 4:23-24, Acts 12:5-12, Acts 16:25)? The Church can and will continue to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6) in the midst of pressure. However, when the pressure passes, let’s keep the lessons and priorities we have learned close to heart.
The Danger of Demonic Distractions
C.S. Lewis opens his classic work The Screwtape Letters with the tale of a fictitious demon named Screwtape detailing how he successfully kept “his patient (i.e. a mere human)” out of the clutches of “the Enemy (i.e. God)”. Screwtape is teaching an underling demon named Wormwood the art of keeping mankind distracted from the reality of God and that pesky thing called Truth. He cautions Wormwood away from arguing with his human “patient” because arguing promotes reasoning, and reasoning leads to logic, and logic ultimately leads to God. Screwtape slyly writes:
“By the very act of arguning, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiances. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream.”
Screwtape goes on to describe a scenario where one of his atheist patients once began seriously considering the reality of God while reading quietly in a museum. He gloatingly writes:
“Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had lunch.”
Lewis was creatively describing the satanic art of distraction, misdirection, and the subtle use of the mundane as a diversionary tactic. Lewis approached the issue from the standpoint of an atheist being demonically distracted from facing the reality of God. Likewise, I see this same demonic strategy being used against unwitting Christians with alarming frequency. Remember, Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in 1942, long before the advent of uber mundane distraction devices otherwise known as smartphones.
I realize that life is hectic, complicated, and a little overwhelming at times. It can be difficult to find time for prayer, busy church schedules, personal Bible study, devotions, and meditating on deep spiritual gems. In theory, most Christians genuinely want to grow deeper in their relationship with God. Yet, they get carried away by what Screwtape called, “the immediate stream of sense experiences”.
How many times have you been on the verge of bowing down to pray only to be interrupted by the ding, ding of an incoming text message? How many times have you looked over during a powerful sermon only to see your neighbor actively scrolling through their uber mundane distraction device otherwise known as a smartphone? How many times has something as trivial as eating dinner kept you from a church service?
I realize there are acceptable distractions; we have to work, we have to eat, we have to relax, and we have to sleep. But if you watch you will begin to notice little ordinary diversions that slip into your mind unexpectedly just as God is calling you to a moment of communion and Divine contemplation. Perhaps, these are not all demonically inspired as Lewis seems to suggest, however, they certainly impede our spiritual progress.
I’ve been picking on cell phones, probably because that’s my Achilles’ heel, but your Trojan horse (I might as well keep opening Pandora’s box of metaphors) might be something more like Edmund’s Turkish delight. For those who aren’t familiar with Lewis’ most commercially successful work, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund is a young boy who happens across an evil White Witch in the mythical land of Narnia. She skillfully distracts him from her evil intentions with delicious morsels of Turkish delight.
That’s the thing about distractions; by themselves, they’re usually not all that sinister. There’s nothing inherently evil about Turkish delight. Although, I’ve tried it and it really is quite dreadful tasting. Regardless, cell phones aren’t evil. But if they keep us distracted from what Lewis called “the universal issues” they suddenly become nefarious. Your Turkish delight might be a job, a hobby, a relationship, video games (check out this disturbing article about male millennials and video games), sports, or whatever else casually draws your attention away from eternal Truths.
Even serving others can become a distraction if it’s not done properly. Luke 10:38-42 records the story of Jesus visiting Martha’s house. Naturally, He began teaching and instinctively Martha’s sister Mary abandoned her chores to sit at His feet. This placed the responsibility of providing a meal and making sure the house was in order solely on Martha’s shoulders. The ESV correctly states that Martha was “distracted with much serving” while Jesus was teaching. Evidently, a resentment towards Mary began to grow in Martha’s heart. She was working. She was serving. She was ministering to people’s needs while Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet.
Finally, all that pent-up frustration was directed towards Jesus:
“Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me (Luke 10:40).”
But Jesus gently admonished her saying:
“…Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).”
Even our best intentions can become a distraction from the actual words of Jesus. Preachers can get so caught up in service they forget what really matters. Church singers and musicians can get so distracted ministering in music they become oblivious to the Word that is going forth. This is true in various different ways for all of us who are busy serving the Lord. So, the next time you find yourself being pulled away from the voice of the Lord, intentionally choose the good part, and don’t let anything take it away from you (Luke 10:42).
9 Signs That You Might Be Weary In Well Doing
Last week, I promised to follow up on the post entitled 7 Things That Make Us Weary In Well Doing, and I’m making good on that promise today. Sometimes we are spiritually worn down, and we don’t even recognize there is a problem until it has spiraled out of control. The following is a series of warning signs that should make our internal alarms start beeping when detected.
1. Lack of Prayer
I could quote tons of Scripture about the importance of prayer, but in the end, prayer is about having a relationship with God. If you are failing to communicate regularly with the Lord, your relationship is not healthy. We instinctively understand this principle in our relationships with other humans, but we often fail to understand it in relationship to God.
2. Half-Hearted Praise
When Mary performed that beautiful act of worship by anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive oil, Judas expressed displeasure at her extravagance (John 12:3-6). Now that we have the advantage of hindsight, we can see that Judas was exhibiting a warning sign of weariness in well-doing. When we begin withholding praise and feel critical of another’s praise, we should quickly make some spiritual corrections.
3. Habitually Missing Church
I should clarify that we all miss services from time to time for legitimate reasons. However, I am referring to those seasons of missing for no good reason. We all know the Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) that commands us to stay faithful in our church attendance, and yet the assembling together of the saints is far more than a stuffy commandment; it is for our edification. Our carnal nature tends to pull away from the very thing that we need the most when we are weary in well-doing. Keep a sharp eye out for this vital warning sign.
4. Murmuring & Complaining
Whenever the Hebrews were about to do something really horrific that stirred God’s wrath, it was always preceded by murmuring (Exodus 16:8; Numbers 14:27; Numbers 17:5). We all become frustrated and need to vent once in a while, but if it becomes the norm, you have a severe spiritual condition that needs immediate attention.
5. Spiked Levels of Temptation & Intensified Longings For Worldliness
When Lot made that fateful decision to lead his family towards and eventually into Sodom, it began because of God’s blessings (Genesis 13:6-12); the trend towards Sodom began during the good times. We must frequently check our direction and our desires. Sometimes we need to desperately pray as the Psalmist did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).”
6. Quick to Anger, Quick to Offense & Quick to Speak
On at least five separate occasions, Scripture describes God as being slow to anger (Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). When we display the opposite characteristics of God, we should always take a spiritual inventory.
7. Unwillingness to Participate In the Kingdom of God
1 Peter 4:10-11 clarifies that every Christian has a calling to be involved in the Kingdom of God according to their specific gifts. Refusal to participate or stay involved is usually indicative of a deeper problem.
The apostle Paul acknowledged the defiling power of bitterness in Hebrews 12:15. The subject of bitterness alone could fill volumes and volumes but know that it is one of the most dangerous warning signs. Bitterness starts small and quickly grows into an unavoidable problem if left uncontrolled. It is possible to be right the wrong way, and one of the most common ways to be right the wrong way is to be correct and bitter at the same time.
Rebellion against God or God-given authority is never ok, and it never ends well; if you remain unconvinced, just consider King Saul, Lucifer, or Judas.
7 Things That Make Us Weary In Well Doing
Paul encourages us in Galatians 6:9 to not be weary in well-doing; I know, I know, easier said than done. I’ve identified seven culprits that can cause us to be weary of doing good even in good times. Next week I will follow up with a list of 9 Signs That You Might Be Weary In Well Doing. Indeed, these lists could be much longer, but they are a good starting point. So, here are seven things that make us weary in well doing:
I think it’s interesting that Elijah found himself in his darkest moment of depression immediately after witnessing fire fall from heaven (1 Kings 19:4).
Time and time again, Moses had to deal with a murmuring congregation that would not trust God’s plan. It took a toll on Moses (Numbers 14:27). Be careful about spending too much time with murmurers and complainers because eventually, it will impact your spirit.
3. Giants (Obstacles)
The entire Israelite army was reduced to hiding in fear because of one Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Scary obstacles still paralyze people today, and they will keep us from living victoriously if we aren’t careful.
We all know them! And they wear us out if we get too focused on them. They often come and go as if they are genuine, and just the weight of knowing who and what they really are causes frustration in the sincere Christian’s life. Don’t allow hypocrites to distract you from the genuine.
5. Slow Moving Miracles
When Jesus healed the ten lepers, he told them to go and show themselves to the priest, but their miracle was not yet apparent (Luke 17:11-19). As they walked in obedience, it became clear that a miracle had occurred in their bodies. Sometimes miracles are slow-moving, and we have to walk in obedience for a season without any real proof of God’s power. This can be discouraging, but if we keep walking, we will see the miracle come to pass.
6. Strange Miracles
Jesus was often unorthodox in his methodology. It must have seemed strange when he spit in the mud and rubbed it on a blind man’s face (John 9:6). I mean, who wants to walk around city walls for seven days straight? But God sometimes does things in ways that seem odd to us. How many people have missed out on what God has for them because they faltered at His instructions?
7. Reoccurring Enemies & Familiar Battles
The Philistines alone are mentioned 217 times in the Bible. Even after David killed Goliath and routed the Philistines, he had to fight them many times after that. Enemies and battles that seem to resurface over and over again will wear us down over time. That temptation that you keep beating down only to face it again will cause discouragement. But remember, if God delivered you, then He can deliver you now.
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