Passing the Tests

By Mark A. Taylor

Years ago, when the wife of a popular minister suffered a stroke, a mutual friend said, “If the devil can’t get him any other way, he’ll go after his family.”

This minister was widely known, a sought-after speaker, and the author of several books. Never has there been a hint of scandal or impropriety in his life or ministry. Thankfully, his wife recovered and, by all appearances, her illness never swayed him from service.

200397962-001I thought of that time this week when I sat across the table from an aging saint whose wife died in December. He, too, has had international influence, and his family members lead large, effective ministries. But a sudden onslaught of loss and grief can undermine anyone’s equilibrium, and it seems certain Satan has sought to use death to destabilize the impact of these Christian servants.

It’s not working, but a principle remains. If the devil can’t exploit one of our weaknesses, he’ll try another one, maybe one we’ve never considered before.

Sometimes our spiritual lives seem like that classic arcade game Whac-A-Mole. We recognize one recurring temptation and give it due attention. We talk about it with a trusted friend. We find and memorize applicable Scriptures. We pray. We claim God’s promise: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). But the Bible doesn’t say the devil won’t come back.

In fact, God also says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Satan’s hunger to take down a faithful servant is never satisfied. If he can’t get us with lust, he may try greed. If pride doesn’t ruin our witness, then maybe sickness, death, or discouragement will sap our will to serve.

Charles Stanley included discouragement with other negative emotions he labeled “an attack from Satan.”

Billy Graham once confessed his own “moments of deep discouragement” and said his response was “to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes and say, ‘O God, forgive me’ or ‘Help me.’”

We may deny we’re discouraged until we must admit it to ourselves. And then we may try to hide it, “for the sake of the church” or “for the sake of the family.” More likely, it’s for the sake of our own pride. Who wants to look across the table at someone close and confess his own weakness?

One benefit of Whac-A-Mole is the skill a person develops if he will just keep playing the game. Throw enough quarters into that machine, and you will eventually win.

The men I mentioned above have overcome the devil’s threats to their stability and strength because they’ve spent a lifetime studying and applying his Word to their own lives. This crisis was not the first time they had trusted God and shooed away Satan.

The tests will not stop with age. But maturity gives us greater determination and dexterity to deal with them. Therein lies our challenge to vigilance and our prescription for peace. And the apostle’s exhortation, “Be alert and of sober mind” (1 Peter 5:8), is a plea for every Christian.

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