As we come to the closing sections of Morning Prayer, we are prepared for emerging into our home and community, re-energised for the challenges of our daily life. First, we have two special prayers or “collects” – the first for peace:
O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life, to serve you is perfect freedom: defend us in all assaults of our enemies, that we, surely trusting in your protection, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Why should we need a prayer for peace, when we have already met with God and have enjoyed his comforting presence for half an hour or so? The reason is not related to our relationship with God or with those we have already forgiven. Rather, we will soon find ourselves back in a world that is broadly hostile to God; with the forces of darkness still struggling to take control, even though ultimately Christ has triumphed over evil, suffering and death. Those with power and riches still seem to flourish at the expense of the majority who are crushed and downtrodden. Although we may not face the personal attacks from enemies experienced by David and expressed so directly in the Psalms, we are all aware of the cruel regimes in the world today – even if we are not personally exposed to their harsh demands. However, we are all challenged by external forces and to our own inner troubles – of which we may have been made even more aware during the turbulent times currently being experienced.
Do you believe in the devil? Christians are divided in their response to this question, but most people, even those without a faith, will acknowledge the presence of evil in the world. We see this personified particularly in the genocide, greed and racial abuse which is still prevalent in the “civilised” 21st Century. If we look through Scripture we find references to the devil and satan (I am treating the two as synonymous) in two key stories in the Old Testament, in the ministry of Jesus and the life of the early church and in the book of Revelation. Many of us will have read “The Screwtape Letters” by CS Lewis, in which a senior and junior devil plan a campaign of attack on an unsuspecting young Christian – a very entertaining story, but it helps us to understand better the reality of the spiritual battle which we encounter every day.
We recall the snake or serpent in the Creation story and how his trickery persuaded the woman and the man to disobey God. In the Book of Job, God allows Satan to attack Job who is described as “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 2.3). The devil is given free rein to torment Job and his family in every conceivable way, sparing only his life. However, Job, in spite of having unsympathetic friends, is able ultimately to emerge with his faith and restored prosperity.
Jesus was confronted by the devil at the beginning of his ministry:
and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.Mark 1.13
We recall the three specific temptations that Jesus had to address, and after refusing to be compromised by any of them, we read that: “when the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4.13).
In his ministry, he goes on to make several references to the devil, both in parables and in addressing the Jews:
Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.John 8. 43,44
We read that the devil was the one who secured the move that would ultimately take him to the cross:
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.John 13. 2
In the early church, there are also several references to the work of the devil, and Paul, writing to the Ephesians, writes: “do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4. 27). However, we should not be obsessed with fear about the devil: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas. 4.7)
It is in the final book of Revelation that we are assured that:
The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.Rev 12.9
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.Rev 20.10
Many of the spiritual attacks we face today take place within our own thoughts and affect our mental well-being. I thought the following quotation was helpful in considering this topic:
Within our Christian context it is perhaps difficult to acknowledge our enemies. For we are constrained by Christ to love our enemies. Here in the UK we are also taught to conceal our real feelings. Social interactions can easily be built upon insincerity. After a while we lose our ability to distinguish between what’s genuine and what’s false.
Most often we personify the word ‘enemy’. I find that I react to another person and contest what they say and who they are. They annoy me and I respond. Yet my primary enemies, as far as my walk of faith is concerned, are not other people but the internal tormentors that seek to breach the walls of my confidence in God. This provides the traffic noise that continually rumbles through my thought life. It serves one purpose: to distract me from my first love for God and divert my energies.
In reality, all such tormentors have already known defeat through the redemptive work of Christ. Yet, awaiting the Lord’s return, or my own death, they contest every ounce of confidence I’ve chosen to place in God. They wilfully exploit every disappointment and anxiety. In such moments I lose sight of God and am lost within the storms of my vivid imaginings. Yet God was able to see beyond the horrors of Jesus’ crucifixion to the victory of redemption. So I must train my eyes to see beyond my immediate terrors and consider the complete and utter victory which is my true state. I need not succumb to their terrors but quietly affirm God’s complete victory and reaffirm my total trust in God’s provision. Not that I can avoid the many of the consequences of life’s reverses, but I can find hope in the darkest of skies and perceive the first glimmers of the dawn. I choose to await the daybreak that drives all the shadows of the night away.
Your real enemies are the thoughts that seek to undermine your confidence in God. Seek to see beyond the immediacy of your current reality.”
(Premier Christian Media Trust, August 2020)
Ultimately, we need to have both a realistic understanding of the continuing power and influence of evil in our society, but also to remind ourselves of God’s final victory through Christ’s work on the cross.