Blaming the devil for our drama.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 March

Back in college I was one of the organizers for an evangelism project: We were gonna go to downtown Santa Cruz and hand out bibles to passersby.

Yes I know; The Gideons International already do this. Why weren’t we doing this with them? Several reasons:

  • They won’t let you hand out bibles with them, or hand out their bibles for them, unless you’re a member—“a Gideon.”
  • They won’t let you even be a Gideon unless you’re a man, and have a white-collar job. Seriously. The ministry was founded by businessmen for businessmen, and it’s still kind of a big deal to them that only businessmen be Gideons. (Emphasis on business men.) So, no college students.
  • At the time they only handed out KJV New Testaments, and we wanted to give out entire bibles—in an easier-to-understand translation.

I’m not knocking the Gideons; they do good work. Those bibles they put in hotel rooms have been immeasurably useful. But their exclusivity can be a problem. So we did our own thing.

This was a Christian school, so students had to be involved in one ministry a year, and I picked the bible-handout thingy because, honestly, it was gonna be a cakewalk. All you had to do was order bibles, hand them out one Saturday, and you were done. For the year. You could spend all your other Saturdays on intramural sports. Which I did.

My job on this team—my entire job—was ordering the bibles. I told them I could find bibles for cheaper than their usual sources. I did. It took a bit of work (Google wasn’t invented yet; yeah, I know, I’m old) but I found a place which sold NIV bibles for 50 cents each, and bought 200. They were thick, ’cause they were printed in tiny text on newsprint-quality paper, but they were bibles. They took several weeks to deliver, because two-day shipping wasn’t a thing yet, but they arrived when expected, and on time. My role went off without a hitch.

Everybody else’s role? Load the five boxes into a van, take ’em to Pacific Avenue, and hand ’em out. We set up an undecorated plastic table as our home base, carried a handful to different places on the street, and accosted people with, “Would you like a free bible?” Maybe one in five did. But we gave ’em all away. We figured we’d be there for 4 hours, or until all the bibles were gone; they were gone in about an hour, so we went out for coffee.

All in all this was a really easy ministry. Did it have any impact on the people who were given bibles? I hope so; I liked to think so back then. Unless the Holy Spirit tells me any impact it had, I really have no way of knowing.

Okay, now to the point of this story.

Right after we set up the table, our group leader asked to pray for us. So we gathered round the table, joined hands, and he prayed something along the lines of, “Thank you God for letting us do this ministry. Man did Satan come against us. Hard. But thank you for holding him back. Now let people be touched by your word. In Jesus name amen.” And off we went, bibles in hand.

Of course when he prayed this, none of this felt at all hard to me. Like I said, it was a cakewalk. The bibles arrived on schedule, the weather was nice, turnout was decent (slightly lower than expected, but that always happened), and my personal life was running smoothly. Satan came against us hard? When?

Later I found out the details. Satan wasn’t coming after our project all that hard at all, if at all. It’s just our group leader was going through some really intense stuff with his girlfriend. He personally felt like he was under attack by the devil. So he presumed everyone was likewise under some devilish attack; probably because of the massive effect our bible handout might have on the neighborhood, the city, the county, the state, the world.

Yep, projection.

Personal drama, and Satan.

For too many Christians, we expect to have some level of stress in our lives.

We figure Jesus warned us we’ll suffer in this world. Jn 16.33 So if we’re truly following Jesus, likely we should see some forms of suffering. Because the devil should be trying to steal our victories from us. If it’s not… maybe we aren’t following Jesus hard enough.

So these Christians go looking for it. And find it. More accurately, they create it. Either they take minor things and exaggerate ’em way out of proportion (as we’ve seen in certain testimonies), or they indulge in unhealthy or sinful practices and blame Satan for their deficient self-control.

Don’t get me wrong. Yes there are Christians who are legitimately being persecuted for following Jesus. Yes there are antichrists who wanna knock us down. Yes there are effective ministries which Satan would love to undermine, either to render ineffective, or even twist so they’re furthering Satan’s goals instead of Jesus’s. In no way am I saying such things don’t happen.

But many of us Christians aren’t being persecuted. Because why does Satan need to bother? Christians are doing just fine sowing chaos on their own.

Some are irreligious. Some are jerks. All are spiritually immature, lack fruit, lack self-control, and the reason their lives are a mess has nothing to do with Satan: It’s all them. They’re still neck-deep in self-centered human depravity, and create their own drama wherever they go. All Satan need do is sit back and enjoy the show.

Our group leader was one such individual. Satan wasn’t coming against him at all: He couldn’t keep it in his pants. His girlfriend found out, and rightly wanted to end their relationship. He didn’t want that. He blamed Satan. Wasn’t Satan!

He was officially leading a student ministry project; he presumed Satan was “coming after him” so as to derail the ministry. Again: Wasn’t Satan! As far as I could tell, if Satan was attacking our project, it did a mighty sucky job of it. The bibles arrived; we passed ’em out quickly; done. No hitches. Felt almost like we had a hedge of protection round us or something. All the turmoil of this project was entirely limited to the life of our group leader—and all he had to do was drive the van.

How about the other kids in the project? Well maybe they had personal drama in their lives, which is why some of them could so easily respond “Oh yes, amen” to our group leader’s prayer about Satan coming against us. But maybe they didn’t. Maybe they said “Yes, amen” because this was the first they ever heard of a spiritual attack—and wouldn’t you assume a ministry would come under spiritual attack? And yeah, maybe they said “Yes, amen” because they felt they should say something at this point; might’ve been a knee-jerk response; might’ve been hypocrisy. But as a behind-the-scenes guy, lemme tell you: I wasn’t attacked. Other organizers weren’t attacked. We were far more under attack in our intramural football games.

This was when I first noticed this phenomenon, and I’ve witnessed it many times since. I’ve organized and led other ministries. They likewise largely went off without hitches, and the few hiccups we had were easily overcome. Why? Preparation. I love preparation. I get accused of overdoing it—and I don’t care, because I am so prepared. We anticipated hiccups and made backup plans. We didn’t freak out at every little crisis.

And most importantly: We made sure the people we chose for leadership were not people whose personal lives were in a shambles. You never put immature Christians in charge of things. They gotta be people of character, who don’t stir up trouble just so they can complain, “Look at all my adversaries! Satan wouldn’t be fighting me so hard if I weren’t so righteous!”

No: Satan wouldn’t be fighting you so hard, if you didn’t make it look like you’d be so easy to defeat. All things being equal, if we resist the devil it’ll flee. Jm 4.7 But if things aren’t equal, it won’t flee: It’ll fight back harder. Because it’s pretty sure it can intimidate us into not resisting. And plenty of Christians do capitulate, give in to our temptations, blame Satan… and refuse to accept any (or much) of the blame ourselves. Even though we’re the ones with freewill.

When Satan tempted Jesus, our Lord didn’t suffer from massive inner turmoil! These were barely temptations. Jesus knows who he is, knows what the scriptures say, and isn’t gonna do anything to upset his and his Father’s plan. (You think I overprepare for things….) And Satan fled. And we can defeat our devils just as easily… once we get over this ridiculous, self-destructive idea that the Christian life should be constant turmoil. The fruit of the Spirit is peace, folks. If your life isn’t peaceful, you’re doing it wrong.

If the chaos of your life is leaking into the ministries in which you participate… y’know, maybe you need to step away from those ministries and put your own house in order. Gain some maturity. First things first.

Giving Satan too much credit.

In the years since, when people pray at the beginning of other ministry functions, I sometimes hear the leaders talk about all the difficulties they went through in putting things together. And of course blaming Satan for it.

I really wish they weren’t so quick to blame Satan. ’Cause sometimes it’s not the devil. Sometimes it’s just life. Delays happen. People get sick. Unexpected expenses occur. We want to read the devil into them, ’cause they’re getting in the way of something we wanna do for God; we want someone to blame. But meaningless things happen in God’s universe, and neither God nor Satan is behind ’em.

And sometimes it’s God. If you put together a conference, not to train Jesus’s disciples nor further God’s kingdom, but solely to promote your life-coaching business (which you claim advances God’s kingdom, but come on; we all know it’s because you’re sick and tired of your day job at Home Depot) maybe, just maybe, God’s not pleased at your simony and figures if he monkeywrenches things in just the right way, your greed will become obvious and discerning people will realize they really shouldn’t become your clients. I’ve met too many wannabe life coaches whose own lives aren’t much better than their clients’ lives! Not for nothing does Jesus warn us about blind guides. Mt 23.16

Overcoming minor obstacles is part of life. And sometimes overcoming major obstacles is likewise a part of life. And yeah, sometimes these minor and major obstacles are devilish obstructions; and if that’s the case, and we’re listening to the Holy Spirit, he’ll let us know—and show us how to get round the obstructions. But blaming all the usual obstacles of life on Satan? That’s yet another sign of spiritual immaturity. ’Cause shouldn’t it have fled from you when you resisted? Why was it all that hard to fight?