Why Would They Worship a Beast?

I confess that my expectations were low as I reached for my Bible that day. My bookmark was at Revelation 13, which I knew to be about a beast from the sea, a beast from the earth, and the serpent. For centuries, people far smarter than I have argued over interpretations of this chapter in John’s apocalypse. Frankly, I’m not usually edified much by their debates.

I hadn’t slept well the previous night. I had many things on my mind, among them, some harsh words I’d heard the day before. I knew I shouldn’t take them personally, but I had, and they’d eaten at me. I tried to let them go like water off a duck’s back, but they wouldn’t go. Instead, they soaked in and dampened my soul. And I fretted.

I knew needed God’s perspective and encouragement for my heart. But I didn’t expect I’d find what I needed in this particular passage of Scripture.  However, I’m a strong believer in systematic Bible reading, so with a little prayer and a deep breath, I plunged in.

You can imagine how surprised I was, then, when only a couple of sentences in, God reached out and grabbed me. What I read nearly took my breath away: “The beast was allowed to speak arrogant and insulting things” (13:5, GWT). Verse 7 says that it insulted God and it waged war against God’s people. The Holy Spirit sure had my attention!

I realized that God was pulling the curtain so I could see behind the scenes of my own situation. I wasn’t just being overly sensitive. But I had a completely wrong focus. The insults weren’t coming from flesh and blood—they were coming from the mouth of the beast. I was experiencing the truth of Ephesians 6:12.

I resumed reading. And screeched to a halt again at verse 8: “Everyone living on earth will worship it [the beast], everyone whose name is not written in the Book of Life” (GWT).

“Father, why?” I asked, with genuine amazement. “The beast is ugly! It’s insulting! It’s arrogant! It’s intimidating! Why would anyone ever choose to worship it? I don’t get it!”

I waited for His response—then after a brief pause, I think I heard Him say,

People who don’t belong to Me can’t understand. They only see the beast and its power. They hear its threats. They don’t worship it because it’s beautiful, wise, good, or loving. They worship it because they are terrified of what it will do to them if they do not. They don’t know Me. They don’t realize that I am greater, that I am Lord of all, that it cannot do anything without My permission. So they cower in front of it. They try to please and placate it. Their worship is not love and adoration, like the worship I receive from My children. It’s sycophantic groveling.

As I reflected on all this, God helped me understand. The enemy’s end goal isn’t to insult me—after all, who am I in the Grand Scheme? The enemy’s end goal is to steal worshipers from Almighty God. The enemy wants me to worship him instead of Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords. And when I focus on hurt feelings, when I fret over other people’s words, when I waste energy trying to find a way to avoid being insulted in the future, I have shifted from the holy fear of the Lord to an unholy fear of the enemy.

It’s subtle and so perversely twisted—but isn’t that exactly how he works? The very thought makes me shudder. It prompts me to repent. And it makes me eager to read more in Revelation to discover what else I’ve been missing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The One-Two Punch

Sometimes spiritual warfare prayer seems too complicated. I can get so intimidated by the many experts out there that I’m reluctant to engage. Although I know it shouldn’t be this way, it’s easy to get the idea that unless you’ve passed a 10-week spiritual warfare course, mastered dozens of special techniques, and learned a whole new vocabulary, you’re destined to defeat. Instead of empowering me, all the information on spiritual warfare sometimes paralyzes me.

But I’m wising up to all this. I know that intimidation is one of the enemy’s most subtle but brilliant schemes. If he can convince people like me that I am unprepared for battle, then he can rob us blind because we won’t fight back.

So I’ve been asking the Lord for a simpler strategy, one that I can use in the heat of the moment, even if I draw mental blanks on the difference between vows and pronouncements, or am undecided in the controversy about whether to bind or rebuke the evil one or just ask God to do it.

I realized I needed a streamlined plan of attack. And I knew that God was the one I needed to get it from. After all, He’s the Captain of Heaven’s Armies. He’s the one who “trains my hands for battle” (Psalm 18:34). He knows best how to help me stand firm in this invisible war that is not “against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12).

Last week, when a few things came my way that clearly smacked of the enemy, I brought this up with God again. And here’s what I think He gave me—a simple one-two punch.

One!

First, I am to ask Him to show me the opportunities the enemy has in this situation to rob, steal, or destroy. Is he trying to cause someone I care about to stray somehow? To lose faith? To wander into disobedience? To forget their identity in Him? To embrace deception? Or, if they don’t know Him yet, to remain eternally separated from Him? State those enemy schemes before God and ask Jesus to thwart every one of them.

Two!

Then, I am to ask God to do what only He can do. Instead of asking Him to for the specific changes I want for the people I’m concerned about—things they need to do to affect the circumstances they are in*—I ask God to do the heavy lifting. What does she need from God that only He can do? What does he need from the Holy Spirit that he will never be able to pull off in the flesh? It is the Father who opens eyes and ears, the Spirit who convicts and empowers, Jesus who touches hearts. So it is to God that I take my appeal. This takes the pressure off me to rescue and puts it directly on God, where it belongs. Because this is a spiritual battle, after all.

I’m sure there are times when I will need advanced strategies for exposing and defeating the enemy’s schemes. But this simple one-two punch is keeping me from going AWOL in the heat of the fight. It gives me a great place to start, and I’m sure God will show me anything else that I need along the way—as long as I’m not turning tail and running from the battlefront.

I’m curious—do any of the rest of you intercessors out there have simplified battle tactics that have helped you in your spiritual battling?

 

*It’s easy for me to pray prayers that are more about fixing people than about letting them deeply experience God. For example, I have been known to pray things like “Help her train her children more effectively,” “Cause him to have a better attitude at work,” and “Convince them to get marriage counseling”—but what they really need is an encounter with the living God.

 

 

How Do I Know?

Has your life turned out the way you thought it would? Mine certainly hasn’t. In so many ways it hasn’t!

My family situation turned out different from how I had planned it. I don’t live where I’d thought I would live. I’m not working at the job I went to school for. My ministry is different from what I’d imagined it would be. I’ve gone through experiences I never dreamed I would go through.

Often I would pray fervently about something only to receive an answer quite different from what I had asked. I had wanted for my life to go a certain way, but God, it seemed, wasn’t always concerned with helping me make my plans happen.

I went through an especially hard time a few years ago. During that painful, extended season I was often bewildered by people who always seemed to get their prayers answered exactly the way they prayed them. To make things worse, it seemed that they were the ones who would announce most cheerfully and loudly that “God is good!” as they reported their wonderful answers to prayer.

Of course God is good. I didn’t doubt that. But I couldn’t help but wonder, “So, what does that imply for me? Is God not good because things do not seem to be turning out very well for my family and me?”

Recently I heard Ravi Zacharias recount an old Chinese folk tale that I think lends helpful perspective. It goes like this.

There was this man who lost his horse. After the horse ran away the neighbor came to him and said “Bad luck isn’t it, your horse is gone.”

The man said, “What do I know about these things?”

A few days later the horse came back with 20 other wild horses, and the neighbor said, “Amazing! It’s not bad luck—it’s good luck! Now you’ve got 20 more horses.”

But the man only said, “What do I know about these things?”

One day the man’s young son was taming one of the new horses when a young horse kicked him and broke his leg. The neighbor came and said, “Terrible isn’t it? Your son’s leg is broken. Bad luck that those horses came!”

However, the man only said, “What do I know about good luck and bad luck?

A few days went by and a gang of youths came looking for recruits to join their gang. They went house to house, looking for all the able-bodied young men. They were about to pick this young man but found out that his leg was broken. So they said, “We don’t want him!” and moved on to the next house.”

And the neighbor, predictably, came back and said, “Good luck isn’t it—your son’s leg is broken!”

The point of that little story, of course, is that I usually do not have enough perspective to distinguish “good” from “bad.” But there are some things that I do know:

If I truly know that God is sovereign, powerful, loving . . .

If I honestly believe that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him . . .

If I am fully convinced that His purposes for my life are entirely right and good . . .

If all these things are true, then I can say confidently that God is good. All the time. Whether He answers my prayers the way I prayed them or not.

I’m still working on this. I’m certainly not there yet. If I get difficult news, you still may not hear me shouting “God is good!” (Although He is, and always will be.)

But the longer I live, the more instructive and helpful my decades of doing life with Him are turning out to be. The years have taught me that God has a pretty amazing track record for turning bad-looking things into good. I can recount time after time when what I saw looking ahead through the windshield was unpleasant, but what I saw behind me in the rearview mirror was beautiful. And so, the older I get, the more able I am to say, How do I know what is “good” and what is “bad”?

 

 

I Have a Confession to Make

And my confession is this: confession is sometimes hard for me.

It’s not because I don’t sin—I do, every day, in both action and inaction. I know this. Nevertheless, confession is hard for me.

At some churches there’s an opportunity during the regular Sunday service for everybody, in unison, to make a nonspecific confession. The one I’m most familiar with goes something like this:

Most merciful God,

we confess that we have sinned against you

in thought, word, and deed,

by what we have done,

and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

have mercy on us and forgive us;

that we may delight in your will,

and walk in your ways,

to the glory of your name.  Amen.*

I love that confession. Every word of it expresses the true condition and need of my heart—but in a general way that doesn’t require me to delve into particular sin involving particular actions (or inactions), people, or situations.

Confessing my sin in that general way works for me. Confessing my specific sin, however, is harder. So I’ve been talking with God about this. I started by simply confessing that it’s hard to confess. Then—and I think this is key—I asked God to reveal whatever hinders me from regularly talking to Him about specific sin.

Right away He brought to mind several things. Among them were: an inadequate understanding of His mercy, some bad past experiences, and a tendency toward self-recrimination. Just recognizing some of the problems was helpful because I realized that God is ready to help—now that I know what I need help with.

So I’ve been trying to follow through and be more intentional about confessing specific sin. One day as I was telling Him something I was feeling guilty about, He surprised me. I seemed to ask, rather pointedly, Do you want Me to help you with that?

The thought hadn’t occurred to me. This probably sounds pretty dumb to those of you who are really good at confession, but I am afraid that I had sort of thought that my job was to admit I was wrong and then try harder next time. So this was a novel idea: God didn’t expect me to fix the problem all by myself! Obviously, I replied that I would be very glad to have His help.

And He did help! He responded exactly like good parents do when they see their kids doing something wrong. He didn’t scold, shame, punish, or give me a stern warning. He just stepped in to help. I realized that He doesn’t want me to be alone in my struggle—He wants to walk alongside me, encouraging, coaching, and helping.

I guess I’d thought that confession was mostly about my need for forgiveness. And it’s definitely that—but it’s also much more. Like the best of parents, God wants me to do well. He wants to help me avoid the enemy’s traps. He wants me to experience the abundant life that comes by living His way. Because He knows better than I do what trips me up—He also knows how I can move forward. And He wants to share all this with me—He doesn’t want me to have to figure it all out on my own!

I was wrong about confession. I had thought of it as a rather lonely duty—but God is showing me that it’s just another way He wants to enjoy deeper relationship with me. I’m not planning to sin more just so I can experience that—but I do have to say that I’m considerably less reluctant to admit my sin to Him now that I’m starting to understand this.

*The Book of Common Prayer, 1979