Friday, September 26, 2008

Don't Let the Devil Eat Your Lunch!

In this season of spiritual shaking and financial uncertainty, we must press into the secret place of praise in order to overcome discouragement.

I’m a big fan of newspapers, but I haven’t enjoyed reading mine lately. The news has been intensely negative for the last few months. Plus, the number of advertising pages is shrinking because of the economic crisis. So when I picked up my very thin copy of the Orlando Sentinel today, I had to search hard to find anything positive. (I am happy, of course, that the Florida Gators crushed the Tennessee Volunteers over the weekend!)

On today’s front page, one article explained how the economic downturn is affecting kids. Psychologists are warning parents not to talk about job loss, foreclosures or high gas prices in front of their children because they may internalize fears, causing them to lose sleep or fail classes. Experts call this phenomenon “trickle down anxiety."

That anxiety is trickling everywhere today. How do you deal with it?

“I believe the book of Psalms is in the middle of the Bible because praise must be at the core of the Christian life.”

When discouragement hits me, I know I must fight back immediately. If I wallow in my sorrow or entertain my fears, the devil steals my joy and robs me of the strength I need to serve God faithfully. I’ve made a list of the seven most common things that tend to drag us down:

1. Difficulties. When circumstances don’t go our way, our emotional reaction to the pressure can cause severe stress and even sickness. Whether it’s a devastating hurricane, a family conflict, a wayward teenager or a bankruptcy, a trial can break us if we allow it to.

2. Disappointment. Many Christians become discouraged when they struggle unsuccessfully to overcome sinful habits. The enemy of our souls whispers, “You’ll never stop doing that.” Then he throws more temptation our way and lures us into defeat.

3. Dismay. The dictionary defines this as “a sudden and complete loss of courage because of danger or trouble.” Fear is the greatest enemy of faith. It has the power to paralyze.

4. Death. I have two friends, both ministers, who lost their sons recently in car accidents. Both young men were strong Christians, so their parents at least have the assurance that their boys are with the Lord. But this does not take away the grief. Often, the death of a loved one can trap us in depression.

5. Delays. God gave me some promises a long time ago that have not been fulfilled. As birthdays tick by, I’m tempted to think He’s playing tricks on me. When promises elude us or expectations dry up, we question if God really promised anything or if He changed His mind.

6. Daggers. I get lots of angry letters from people who don’t like something I wrote. Last week, in fact, a person who identified himself as a Christian said he hoped I would “roast in hell” and then described my spiritual condition in profane terms. Normally those kinds of off-the-wall comments don’t affect me, since I know hate mail is part of my job. But if I’m fighting discouragement on some other level and my guard is down, toxic criticism feels like a kick in the groin.

7. Darkness. Demonic opposition is invisible, but it is real. In August I preached in a city in Bolivia where the people practice witchcraft and worship frogs. When my friends and I arrived we were greeted by a row of 10 huge sculptures of the devil, all on proud display along the main avenue. The images didn’t scare me, but there was a heavy blanket of oppression over the entire place that made me feel like catching the next plane home. Thankfully I ignored the feelings and preached anyway—and several people became Christians that night.

So how do we resist discouragement? I believe we must learn King David’s strategy. We must run to the secret place.

When David returned to Ziklag and discovered that the Amalekites had raided his camp and kidnapped all the women and children, he was probably tempted to give up. He had lost everything—and his own men were threatening to stone him. Yet the Bible says: “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam. 30:6, NASB).

How did he do that? We only need to turn to the middle of our Bibles—the book of Psalms—to read what David did when he spent time with God.

I believe the book of Psalms is in the middle of the Bible because praise is at the core of the Christian life. Praise was certainly at the heart of who David was. God’s presence was the “one thing” he sought above all else (see Ps. 27:4).

David wrote: “For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock” (Ps. 27:5). To effectively encourage yourself in God, you must find the secret place, shut the door to all distractions and speak to God until the heaviness has lifted.

David was not reserved when He shut himself away with God. He prayed, sang, shouted, clapped his hands and danced. And he talked to himself. He said with confidence: “Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; though war arise against me, in spite of this I will be confident” (27:3).

We normally think it strange when someone talks to himself. But the Bible actually encourages us to do so when we are praising the Lord. If you are fighting discouragement, one of the best things you can do is hide yourself in a room and begin to tell God how awesome He is. If you can’t sing well, put on some lively praise music and follow along. The important thing is that you open your mouth and speak—because by doing so you are canceling the enemy’s lies.

Many Christians only praise God in church once a week. No wonder so many of us are spiritually frail. We’ve also lost the art of true biblical confession. When our souls have been overwhelmed by bad news, we must counteract by declaring our faith out loud.

After David spent time in the secret place, he said confidently: “And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me, and I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy” (27:6). Praise, when it is uninhibited, has incredible power. It paves the way for breakthrough. It cuts the cords of fear and anxiety. It unleashes holy joy and pulls us out of the pit of depression. It scatters demonic darkness.

Don’t give the devil an advantage in this day of adversity. If you are facing difficulties, disappointments, delays or any other discouraging circumstances, remember the priority of praise.

J. Lee Grady is the editor of Charisma.

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