Fighting the Good Fight
Occasionally I'll have folks say to me that, since I'm a pastor, the devil must be particularly after me. I'm not so sure. I don't think God reckons greatness in his kingdom in ways that always sync up with human religious titles or institutions. And it always seems to me to be just a little narcissistic about anyone putting themselves in a category so spiritually powerful that they warrant special diabolical attention.
And yet …
I have known times of intense spiritual ministry to be immediately and strangely followed by intense temptation.
I have known times when it seems like great spiritual work is being done, to be almost intertwined when problems and opposition seem to intensify.
I believe that there is great resistance to the good work of God, and that resistance can come from both within and without.
I know that any time someone says to me "I pray for you every day," I feel something beyond gratitude.
One thing is clear: Jesus pairs deliverance from the evil one with "Lead us not into temptation." The primary path of deliverance involves loving and knowing God.
In the old days when money used to grow on trees (or at least get printed on paper that came from trees), people who were experts at spotting counterfeit bills didn't spend their time studying counterfeit bills; they spent their time studying the real thing so closely that the imposter became obvious. The evil one is called an "angel of light" because of the ease with which we will rationalize giving in to temptation. Our safety lies, not primarily in knowing the enemy better, but in knowing our Father better.
One final weapon
For all the seriousness of this topic, there is a strange thread of something like joy that runs in great writings about it. Thomas More said that the devil, "that prowde spirite," cannot endure to be mocked.
Luther wrote that the best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn. G. K. Chesterton said that one law of hell is that no one can laugh at themselves; the devil fell because of gravity.
It is perhaps the inversion of one of the great observations of ancient Israel: the joy of the Lord is our strength. Those of us in church leadership read or hear with sad frequency of one of our sisters or brothers ending up in a moral ditch. A mentor of mine noted once that when that happens, as a general rule, the person has been living without a deep sense of soul satisfaction for a long time, which is what made them vulnerable. I asked him how often someone who does live with a deep sense of soul satisfaction in God and their life ends up in a moral ditch.
John Ortberg is pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California.