January 14, 2013
What Is the Adversary’s Role in our sufferings?
When affliction, suffering, or trouble strikes, it is not unusual for those afflicted, or for family members and friends, to suggest that the devil is to blame. We want to affix blame, if not on the devil, then on God or maybe on the one who is suffering. Surely there is a cause, a reason for all this.
We’ve briefly examined events in the lives of Adam and Eve, Job, and the apostle Paul, and we have, in fact, seen that the devil did have his hand in bringing suffering and trouble into their lives. Remember Paul’s comment that his thorn in the flesh was the messenger of Satan to buffet him (see 2 Corinthians 12:7)?
One man, a failed-suicide, expressed the belief that the devil was responsible for his giving in to the urge to do away with himself. He said he felt like a pawn in a chess game going on between God and the devil. He felt he was being manipulated by both sides. This man’s life was spared when a friend came to him before the overdosed medicine could do its deadly work. God, in His mercy, affected that rescue. There is much in Scripture which teaches that God’s sovereign will in the affairs of men and nations will be accomplished. Here are just a few examples:
A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps (Proverbs 16:9).
We . . . being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will (Ephesians 1:11).
The devil is an adversary, and his many schemes to disturb the Christian’s peace and bring unhappiness and suffering upon mankind have been with us since the Fall. However, we must recognize the clear teaching of the Bible that God both orders and controls all things. Satan does not always win. We are told in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that, The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
Satan won a real victory in his temptation of Adam and Eve. They fell into his trap just as many people still do today in so many different ways. Yet, we Christians must recognize that Isaiah 25:8 is also in the Bible when we are confronted with this final blow of the enemy. It is a strong promise that provides sure footing for those who are trusting in God’s sovereignty:
He [the Lord] will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it.
Death is an enemy. Suffering and affliction often precede this enemy. This is all a part of the strategic battle plan between Satan and God, but the final victory for the Christian is God’s. His solution to the thorns in the flesh and to death is to usher us into His presence in His own good time. And when that moment comes, the prophet Isaiah wrote, And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation (Isaiah 25:9).
Those Unfathomable “Secret Things”
I do not pretend to understand why God didn’t stamp out the devil in the Garden of Eden nor why in God’s sovereignty some of the choicest saints, it appears, suffer so greatly. I know of a 65-year-old single woman, an “unclaimed blessing;” who worked hard and supported herself all her life. She was never a burden to others. She finally decided to retire and was looking forward to moving into a small new apartment. “It has a balcony so I can raise geraniums and other plants; she told me. Then suddenly, she was struck down with horrible stroke, which left her totally paralyzed on one side from her face down to her feet. Now she suffers alone in a convalescent center, unable to walk, talk well, or care for herself. I do not understand that.
Nor do I understand why the enemy “death” should rob Mary Dorr of the love and presence of her bright and promising young college-age son. His death came shortly after the tragic death of her husband who died while flying his private plane. It was only through the Lord’s intervention that Mary’s other son, who was with his father when he died, was able to bring that plane safely in for a landing. A year or so after this, Mary went through the death experience again when this second son died in his sleep at home.
When we hear about things like this, we often say, “It just doesn’t make sense.” From our vantage point, many of these things do not seem to have any rhyme or reason. But I like what Barbara Johnson told Rexella, “These are heartache situations, but God doesn’t always promise a quick end to heartache situations:” Then she called attention to Deuteronomy 29:29, The secret things belong unto the Lord our God . . . .
Barbara added, “No, we don’t understand these `secret’ situations – why God allows a beautiful 20year-old Christian boy to go off the deep end and get involved in a homosexual lifestyle (or some other problem), bringing such sorrow and heartache to his family and to others. But through it all, I can tell you, God has used it to mold and shape us and to bring a depth of trusting Him into our lives unlike anything we ever experienced before. Through sorrow there can come joy and peace. It comes as you relinquish yourself and the `secret situation’ causing you such heartache into the hands of God, and then God releases you so that you can reach out in loving care to others who need help . . . .
Barbara and others who have known deep suffering are testimonies to God’s grace. I have heard them say they are glad that God has thrown a veil, as it were, across their way so that they haven’t known what the immediate future held. We may not know the future, but we can know the One who holds the future in His hands and simply take life a step at a time. We can walk moment-by-moment with the One who controls our steps as well as our stops.
I’ve heard people say, “When I get to heaven, I’m going to ask the Lord . . . .” Then they will name the event that has brought such heartache to them or to others. But in the next breath I’ve heard many of those same people admit, “Still, I know that when I get to heaven all that has happened here won’t matter there because all the pain, the sorrow, and the tears will be done.” And how biblical that is. The Bible assures us that God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away (Revelation 21:4).
The apostle Paul talked of the mortal putting on immortality, and then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). Paul is saying that God continues daily to give us this victory.
Doing Battle With the “Prince of This World”
Satan, as the prince of this world (see John 12:31; Revelation 12:9), has a certain degree of power which he wields, especially against Christians. After all, why should the devil go after people in the world when he already has them in his sway? The Christians are his enemies.
The apostle Paul writes of the battle of the heavenlies and the work of the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2).
Satan’s camouflaged attacks come in many forms. We are warned that they will come:
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
But we are also told:
Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world (1 Peter 5:9).
And we are promised:
But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you (1 Peter 5:10).
In Hebrews 11 we have what is often referred to as “The Roll Call of Faith.” There we have a definition of faith: Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (v. 1). What does faith do? It gives substance to our hope.
These heroes and heroines of the faith demonstrated their faith in spite of suffering, affliction, pain, problems, and not being able to understand the “Whys?” of their particularly difficult circumstances. We are the recipients of the lessons their faithfulness teaches. After naming many of the Old Testament people, almost breathlessly, it seems, the writer says, And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of. . .” Then he names others (see verse 32) and goes on to say:
Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (vv. 33-38).
But the writer doesn’t stop with that catalog of horrors. He goes on to remind us that these all, having obtained a good report through faith went on to their eternal reward. He speaks of them as being so great a cloud of witnesses and urges that we lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and . . . run with patience the race that is set before us (Hebrews, 12:1).
Still the writer is not finished. We are told how we can do this:
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds (vv. 2, 3).
Satan’s planned afflictions are designed specifically to wear us down, to weary us, to exhaust us, to make us lose heart, and to turn against God. All too often we are tempted to murmur, complain, and criticize – and in these ways to give up on the Lord. Oh, how much we need to learn that WE CAN BE OVERCOMERS through the blood of the Lamb (see Revelation 12:11). The wedges Satan attempts to put between us and the Father are real, and they are designed to make us stop loving and trusting God. Satan, you see, is attacking God indirectly through His children. At such times we must shout boldly for any and all to hear, “Thanks be to God who giveth the victory through the Lord Jesus Christ!”
That is the only way to do battle with this enemy of our souls.
FROM THE HEART OF DR. REXELLA VAN IMPE
How to deal with negatives
So many people seem to be constantly battling their negative feelings, or relying too heavily upon them. Everyone likes to feel good, and no one enjoys being depressed or tension ridden. While some people spend their entire lives in search of the ultimate emotional high, others seem to revel in feeling low.
Regardless of what kind of person you are, your feelings and how you respond to them play a major role in determining how much you can experience and enjoy satisfaction, or how susceptible you are to feeling baffled, bewildered, or befuddled by the negatives in life.
As we have already learned, being satisfied is not the same thing as being happy. Happiness is our emotional response to what happens to us and around us. Conversely, a truly fulfilled person remains stable in grief, under pressure, and during other times of negative emotional expression. Genuine satisfaction, then, is not an emotion, and it is not dependent upon a positive emotional response to a given situation.
Nevertheless, negative emotions, if dealt with improperly, can destroy our sense of well being and joy. If we see our trials as coming from God in order to bring us to maturity, for example, we can be composed even in the midst of deep tribulation. But if we resist trials and allow them to make us bitter, we destroy the possibility of beneficial gain. This is true for every kind of negative emotion and feeling.
Bitterness, resentment, and an unforgiving spirit
Quite often negative feelings are an indication that there is something wrong in our lives. A personal failure, a broken promise, or something someone said has hurt us or undermined our sense of self-confidence. As a result, we begin brooding over the situation and harboring critical thoughts. Then, before we realize it, we find ourselves on the threshold of bitterness and resentment, baffled and bewildered.
One of the most negative attitudes we can experience is an unforgiving spirit. Nothing is more damaging to a persons spiritual and emotional well being. Yet, often we find it so difficult to forgive.
Following a city-wide meeting several years ago, a young woman came to me in tears. “Oh, Rexella,” she cried, “I cant forgive him, but after your husbands message tonight I can at least say that Im on the road to forgiveness and I no longer hate him.” She then related to me one of the saddest stories I have ever heard.
As a young child, this woman had been left alone and put up for adoption. After many years of struggling to organize her life into one that had meaning and purpose, she was adopted by a Christian family. As a teenager, she had accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior. Later, she married a fine Christian man and God blessed them with three beautiful children. Her life was full and complete.
The couple enjoyed the friendship of many Christians in their local church. One young man was especially friendly to them, and they frequently invited him into their home for fellowship. They appreciated his testimony and apparently consistent lifestyle.
But one afternoon the young mother returned home to find her 10-year-old daughter in tears. The young man they had loved and trusted had come by for a visit and sexually assaulted their child!
Although that horror had occurred two years in the past, the trauma of the experience was still very real in the life of this mother. She wept as she told me how she had harbored hatred and bitterness against the man who had violated her daughter. Now, because of it, her life was in chaos.
I could hardly keep back my own tears as I listened. I shared this mothers anger over what had happened to her young daughter. Together we wept over the child, the crime, and the whole situation. The words choked in my throat as I tried to help her find the strength to forgive this man for his evil deed. God had already given her the grace to stop hating him, and now He could give her the grace to forgive him. I assured her that God shared her hatred for the evil done to her daughter, for Scripture assures us that He cares for children in a special way (see Matthew 18:6). I also showed her from the Bible that we cannot believe everyone who says He knows Christ. Finally, I emphasized that she must forgive this man for his sin against her family, just as God had forgiven her when as a teenager she accepted His forgiveness for her sins.
We prayed, read the Word, talked, and prayed some more. At the end of our time together, the woman was radiant-at peace with the Lord and at peace with herself. She had forgiven that man, but she was the one who benefited most from the act of forgiveness.
Most of us will never know from what depths of Gods resources this woman had to draw in order to forgive. The crime committed against her daughter was unspeakable, and she had carried that memory inside her for two years. But the bitterness that grew inside her because she would not forgive had begun to destroy her, and she could not be happy until she was released from the bondage of an unforgiving spirit.
That incident left an indelible mark on my memory, for it brought clearly into focus the truth that forgiveness is always costly. The awfulness of the sin committed against that woman and her daughter is appalling. I cannot get away from a sense of disgust and righteous indignation over a mans assaulting a young girl. And yet the mother brought to herself harm physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually by refusing to forgive.
On one occasion in the life of the Lord Jesus, Peter came to Him and asked, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? [Jesus answered,] I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven (Matthew 18: 21,22).
The Savior was saying that there can be no limit to the number of times or the depth of forgiveness with which we are to forgive. None of us has a right to withhold forgiveness from another. We are not left with an option of whether to forgive. Jesus went on to emphasize this truth in a parable, telling of a man who had been forgiven of a massive debt but was unwilling to write off a debt of a few dollars someone owed to him. The foolishness of that mans stubbornness shows just why we must forgive-because God has forgiven us of so much.
Forgiving a person for a wrong committed against us is costly. It may cost us our pride, it may cost us money, or it may cost us in terms of violated rights. But Gods forgiveness to us cost even more-it cost His Son. Jesus died to pay the price for our forgiveness, and in that dreadful moment that surpassed time and eternity as He hung on the cross bearing our sin, God the Father had to forsake His only begotten Son. It was an incredible price to pay to forgive undeserving sinners.
Forgiving and forgetting
Sincere, effective forgiveness also includes another important element-forgetting. In her book, It Feels Good to Forgive, my friend Helen Hosier has penned an irreversible truth: “Regardless of how many times you may say to someone who has wronged you, I forgive you, if you have not forgotten then you have failed in forgiveness. If you find it necessary to remind the individual of his or her betrayal, unfaithfulness, or untrustworthiness, then you have not truly forgiven the other person.”
Forgiving and forgetting is truly Gods way, for this is exactly what He does for us when we come to Him through Christ. This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more (Hebrews 10:16-17). If God can forgive and forget our terrible iniquities which sent His Son to the cross, surely we cannot do less. In fact, He will give us the power to accomplish this task, for we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).
Many times our bitterness and resentment become so imbedded within us that we actually extend our anger beyond the person or situation that has hurt us and begin blaming God. Even Christians are prone to ask, “God, where were You? Why did You let it happen? I thought You loved me. What about your promise of guidance and protection in Psalm 121?”
Erwin W. Lutzer, one time pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, has a most enlightening answer for such inquiries. In his book, Living With Your Passions, he states: “Gods love does not prevent us from the tragedies of sexual abuse or any other kind of mistreatment. Christ was Gods beloved Son, yet the Father didnt shield Him from the torture of the crucifixion. That crime, despite its horror, has become for us a fountain of blessing. The horror of Good Friday must be understood in the light of the joy of Easter Sunday. God can do the same with the ugly hurts of life.”
Dr. Lutzer then admonishes his readers to confess their bitterness toward God. “Concentrate on His infinite grace and be forgiven and accepted,” he says. Only in this way will you be able to experience the deep spiritual release and sense of relief which are the beginning of true satisfaction.
How to have right attitudes
Perhaps you are struggling with bitterness or an unforgiving spirit and wonder how you can ever come to the point of confession, forgiveness, and be set free. Let me share with you the secret to removing wrong attitudes and negative feelings. It is the power of the Word of God.
Hebrews 4:12 says, For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. In other words, when you let Scripture fill your heart, it transforms what is in there. It seeks out wrong attitudes, exposes them, and then makes them right.
The best way to let Scripture do that is to get to know it better. Read it every day, memorize it, and meditate on it. James 1:21 speaks of the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. When Scripture gets into your life and becomes a living part of you, it has an incredible transforming power.
Peter wrote something very similar. Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby (1 Peter 2:1,2). Again, Scripture is the antidote to wrong attitudes.
I am convinced that one of the reasons my husband has been so blessed of God in the ministry is that early in life he committed himself to memorizing Scripture. Now he knows thousands of Bible verses by memory and is called “the walking Bible.” I am often asked what it is like to live with a man who has memorized so much Scripture. My answer is, “It is wonderful.” Gods Word is constantly working in Jacks heart to guide him, mold him, shape his attitudes, and direct his life.
All this victory is the result of Jacks tremendous desire, determination, and discipline-and it is an ongoing process. He continues to add to his storehouse of memory verses each month. The most wonderful, miraculous thing about Scripture is that the more we appropriate it, the greater our appetite for it becomes.
Through the years, Gods Word has changed Jacks personality from that of a teenaged practical joker to the mature man he is today. He still has his sense of humor and enjoys a good time, but he also exhibits a seasoned wisdom that comes only from an intimate knowledge of Gods Word. My life has been immeasurably enriched by living with this godly man for whom the Bible is his meat and drink. Jack has not only memorized the Word, but he also puts it into practice daily.
This is the essential element in building right attitudes-a willing and submissive obedience to the teaching of Gods Word. James says we should be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving our own selves (James 1:22). Knowing the Bible intellectually without practicing it experientially can actually harden us to its truth!
Gods ideal for you is a life of victory over negativity. He wants you to cut out all roots of bitterness, regardless of how painful the cutting process may be. He also wants you to receive the engrafted Word, which is able to transform your soul. This where we begin to reach the pinnacle of satisfaction.
CHANGED LIVES-one at a time
Drs. Jack and Rexella Van Impe,
I just got through reading your Newsletter January 7th edition on line.
I really NEEDED to read this, it brought HOPE to me and made me really think about my life and what God wants for my life, NOT what I want.
Thank You So Much for these Newsletters, and I know that God is Blessing you both for sharing the Word of God.
In His love,
Jack and Rexella,
We have been blessed for many years by watching your program, reading your articles, etc. We were both so touched by Rexella’s article in your latest magazine about Fernica. It made us cry at the story of your life with her. We are mainly dog lovers, but did have a cat named Buttermilk. She was a very loving and sweet cat. Our dogs over the years have been like family to us. We had a special bond with each of them. We grieved, when we lost any of them. Your comparison to Jesus and his saving us, as we did with each of our pets really meant so much. We do need to spend more time thanking him and just loving him. Thank you for reminding us of this. God richly bless both of you.
Daniel & Beverly F.
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