Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Surprised by Despair

Sometimes I surprise myself by how clueless I am. Allow me to elaborate, if you will. Lately I've been plagued by a feeling of malaise and pointlessness. It isn't debilitating, and it only seems to appear when I am not caught up in all of the usual things that keep me busy. Between work, family, ministry, and even a hobby or two, I have a lot going on in my life, and I am usually quite busy. And when I'm not busy, I'm ready for some rest.

But as I said, lately whenever I've had some down time, I've been fighting this feeling of pointlessness, even of despair. It's almost like a mild depression. I start to dwell on things that have not turned out as they should, on the roadblocks in my path, on failures, hurts, setbacks, and losses. I find myself focusing on physical pain, and feeling sorry for myself. I know, intellectually, that I am blessed beyond measure, and that God is really looking out for me. But in the quiet, inner places, I still feel this malaise. I've chalked it up to illness, or weariness, or just a response to things that really have gone wrong. And it keeps coming back.

Now, I'm fairly attuned to spiritual warfare. I know God has an enemy, and the only way that enemy can hurt God is to hurt his children. That's you and me, in case you didn't know. Satan likes nothing better than to hurt those who follow Jesus. If he can't keep you from being a disciple, he'll do his best to make you ineffective (usually through sin and addictive behavior), and if he can't do that, he'll steal your joy. I know these things. I've seen them many times. I speak into the lives of others who are under this kind of spiritual oppression, pray for them, and frequently see them set free.

So, why didn't I see it for myself?

I began to get a clue when I realized (thank you, God!) that God wasn't happy with the way I was feeling, but Satan would be. God doesn't want his children to be swallowed up in despair. He wants us to succeed at the tasks he has given us. And we accomplish little when we're sitting around bemoaning the past and worrying about the future. Then Satan tipped his hand. He went a bit too far, and started to remind me of a situation where I thought I was wronged. The idea was, "If you can't have that, what good is it to go on? You deserve better than that."

Nice try, but no dice. That really let me know the source of my troubles. No good purpose is served by rehashing old slights and hurts. No good purpose is served by feeling sorry for myself, or by seeing a brother or sister as my enemy. The only purpose those things serve is to make Satan laugh.

You see, I'd been neglecting to pray about such things, to ask God for protection from such spirits. I'd neglected to take hold of God's promises and instead I'd listened to accusation.

I quickly remedied that, asking not only for protection, but for deliverance. And I'm still asking, because it is going to take more than one quick prayer. I'd allowed despair to establish a beachhead, and now it was going to take some time to drive it back into the sea.

And I'm asking God daily to reveal to me any other footholds I've given to Satan. You see, Satan, being the father of lies, knows how to come after us. He doesn't start with some strange, wild accusation. No, he takes truth and twists it just the slightest bit, at first. Over time he twists it more and more, until truth is standing on its head. I still have physical pain, I still have setbacks, and roadblocks, and losses, and problems. Those are inevitable. What is not inevitable is yielding to despair. God has an enemy and so do we. This is a broken world, and Satan has no reason to stop coming after us. But God ultimately wins.

And we win, too.

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