This may sound strange, but one of the main reasons I believe in God is because I've been in an ongoing relationship with the devil. Before you get to wondering if I've gone off to join a satanic cult, let me explain.
Growing up, I always believed in God. When I did something wrong I was quick to say the devil made me do it. So I guess I believed in the devil too. Yet, even though I believed in both of those things, and they really were just things to me, I didn't have an emotional attachment to either one. Oh, I suppose I cursed the devil a time or two for getting me into trouble and thanked God on the few occasions he mercifully bailed me out of it, but in between mistakes and punishments, I thought little of either.
That all changed in my mid twenties. That's when my life, running desperately low on hope, crossed paths with a man who overflowed with it. One day, having had just about enough of his relentless joy, I asked him how he could possibly be so positive all the time. Without giving it a second thought he told me that his love for Jesus made it difficult to be negative about anything else. Over time, those words changed my life. They started a prolonged conversation about this man's personal relationship with Jesus. These chats ultimately transformed my belief in God the thing into a personal relationship with a God who unconditionally loved me. (To read more about this encounter read: A Timely Encounter with a Carpenter).
For the first time in my life I loved God with all my heart. I began to feel an emotional attachment to him I didn't feel through the prayers I'd memorized and recited to him since I was a little boy. I also began to feel something else for the first time. The stronger I loved God, the stronger I felt something trying to pull me away from him. All of the mistakes I'd made in my life, and there were many of them, the darkness in my life that kept me from wanting to see God as anything other than a noticeably absent concept, these things were suddenly being used to convince me that God could never love me the way I was loving him. Day and night thoughts of my unworthiness overwhelmed me like they never had before. Most days these thoughts were so loud I could physically hear them.
Here's what I came to understand. For most of my life the devil had rested easy within my life. I'd given him very little reason to worry he might lose me to God. But now, the intense feelings of love and devotion I was suddenly feeling for his biggest enemy - God - had awakened him from his peaceful hibernation. I guess this called for drastic measures. He went straight for his biggest weapon. With other worldly accuracy and determination he began to influence my mind. He was committed to making sure I didn't for a minute think God could possibly value me the way I was imagining he did.
This isn't hard to believe. It's forever been the devil's motivation. When God created the first humans for the sole purpose of filling the earth with people who would love and worship him, the devil appeared in an instant. We all know the story. God gave Adam and Eve the garden of Eden. This garden and all the earth was theirs. There was only one stipulation - they had to ignore one tree. The countless others were all theirs, but this one they were instructed to ignore.
Stage left: enter the devil.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die'."
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-3)
That was always just the Adam and Eve, Fall of Man story to me. A lot of entertainment, zero application to my life. Then I made this commitment to follow God's plan for my life and without any warning I'm suddenly standing in the garden of Eden listening to the serpent tell me God's plan is nothing but a tree full of lies. I found the timing of this to be more than a coincidence. The fact that the devil showed up in my life to wage a war against my love for God at the precise moment I started loving him was all the proof I've ever needed that God is who he says he is.
I've also come to understand this. As much as the devil was and is still intensely invested in waging a war against my personal love for God, he's also committed to waging it against our families, our churches, and our society. He knows Godly families will breed generations of people who love God, Godly churches will only foster that love, and a Godly society will spread God's love like an out of control wildfire that even the powerful devil himself can't stop.
It doesn't take but a few minutes on social media or a glance at the front page of your local newspaper to realize that, in this world, the devil is winning that battle by a landslide. Here's the thing, though, and I fear more and more each day we don't see it. The devil is not ultimately in a battle against us, he's in a battle against God. As much as God wants to unite each and every one of us through our love for him, and to grow that love through our love for one another, the devil sees standing in the way of that as his ultimate road to ruling the world. The more he can make us useless in God's plan, the more he makes us pawns in his own.
The devil's strategy isn't hard to dissect. The longer he can keep us fighting against one another the less likely it becomes we'll unite in a war against him. He understands what Dr. Tony Evans so eloquently says: "God does not work in a context of disunity." The devil incites our disunity by keeping us focused on our differences with one another instead of a common love for a common creator. While we fight one another with anger and hatred and tears over our differences in color, politics, sexual preferences, and more, the devil just smiles. To understand just how big he smiles, you need to be awed by the power he has to coordinate the near daily images of heartbreak and tragedy playing out throughout our world.
In 2 Corinthians 10: 3-5, Paul warned us against becoming pawns in the devil's war against God. Paul wrote the following in a letter:
For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.
You see, Paul knew our minds and our thoughts are up for grabs. And he knew the devil had the power to create strongholds - to grab hold of our minds - in a way that distracts us from loving God. Maybe the strongholds in your life are drugs or other addictions. Maybe they are racial biases. Maybe they are hobbies or interests that keep you from being interested in your families. Maybe they are an unhealthy reliance on politics to change the world in ways that only God truly can. Paul is acknowledging that the devil has the awesome power to create these strongholds in our mind that only a reliance on the power of God can break down. Paul also acknowledges this:
We have the power to take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.
Here's the elephant in the room. The ultimate challenge to this whole article.
Not all of us believe in Christ.
I'm not here to cast judgment on anyone for that, but it does present problems when it comes to creating a world that lives in the peace and harmony we all seem to long for.
So when it comes to choosing one authority to rally around, why do I promote Christ? That is simple. Because Christ is the one God who openly recognizes the power of the devil I feel, see, and hear working in my life each and every day. Thousands of years ago Christ put one ultimate check on that power, though. When Christ came to earth to willingly die on the cross only to rise from his grave 3 days later, he sent the devil - and us - one enduring message: you can intimidate my family with everything you have at your disposal, but I will not let you intimidate them with death. I've conquered death so that my family knows they will live forever.
As a citizen of the United States, and really of this world, some days can be very discouraging. The current battles we are waging with one another here at home around race and politics only exacerbates it. But I place my hope in the words of Paul in Romans 12:2. Paul says:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
No matter what kind of stronghold the devil puts on our thoughts, God has giving us the personal power to renew our mind each day. We have the power to look at each and every one of our neighbors and hijack the thoughts we have toward them. Thoughts that say I love you because you and I were both created in the image of one common father. As much as the devil would like me to see you as a black woman or a republican man or a drug addict or a homosexual, I'm reclaiming my thoughts from him and loving you because you are a child of God.
My prayer today is that God will offer me the full power of his encouragement to renew my mind daily, that I will not conform to the conflicts of this world that leave the devil constantly rejoicing, and that I will be a source of hope that rallying around the one true God who loves each of us for who we are will bring peace to this world in a way that hating one another because of who we are not never has. And never will.