‘A messenger of Satan, to torment me.’
2 Corinthians 12:7 NIV
Satan’s attack can drive you closer to God. That was true in Paul’s life. Think of Paul’s CV: a personal audience with the resurrected Christ, a participant in heavenly visions, an apostle chosen by God, an author of the Bible. He healed the sick, traveled the world, and penned some of history’s greatest documents. Few could rival his achievements. And maybe he knew it. But God loved Paul too much to allow pride to destroy him.
‘To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.’ We aren’t told the nature of the thorn, but we’re told its purpose—to keep Paul humble. We are also told its origin—a messenger of Satan. The messenger could have been a pain, a problem, or a person who was a pain. We don’t know. But we do know that the messenger was under God’s control. Note what Paul says next: ‘Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’
(2 Corinthians 12:8–10 NIV) Here’s a truth that can transform every test into a potential triumph: Satan and his forces are simply a tool in the hand of God to strengthen you.
‘God’s Spirit, who is in you, is greater than the devil, who is in the world.’
1 John 4:4 NCV
Satan is a fallen angel who wasn’t satisfied to worship God; he wanted to occupy His throne. Angels, like humans, were made to serve and worship God. And they were given free will; otherwise, how could they worship? But Satan said, ‘I will make myself like the Most High.’ (Isaiah 14:14 NIV) That got him evicted from Heaven: ‘You are brought down… to the depths of the pit.’ (Isaiah 14:15 NIV) And Satan hasn’t changed. He’s as self-centered now as he was then, and he’s just as limited now as he was then. Even when his heart was good, he was inferior to God. God knows everything; angels only know what He reveals. God is everywhere; angels can only be in one place. God is all-powerful; angels are only as powerful as God allows them to be. So, Satan is still subservient to God. And every time he tries to advance his cause, he ends up advancing God’s cause. In The Serpent of Paradise, pastor and author Erwin Lutzer writes: ‘Satan has different roles to play, depending on God’s counsel and purposes… We must bear in mind that he does have frightful powers, but knowing that those can only be exercised under God’s discretion and pleasure, gives us hope. Satan is simply not free to wreak havoc on people at will.’ Satan doesn’t want you to know that; he’d rather you be deceived into thinking of him as an independent force with unlimited power. But he’s not. And he’d rather you’d never read these words: ‘God’s Spirit, who is in you, is greater than the devil.’
‘You are Mine.’
Isaiah 43:1 NIV
We hear about people being released from prison after serving time for a crime they didn’t commit. It was a case of mistaken identity. Identifying someone means having the ability to recognize and say exactly who they are. Satan wants you to identify with who people say you are, versus who God says you are. And unless you know who you are in God’s eyes, Satan will hammer you with feelings of condemnation and unworthiness. God’s grace and unconditional love for you is the only secure foundation on which to base your salvation and self-worth.
Today He says to you: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine.’ Jesus identified with God’s opinion only: ‘I know where I came from and where I am going.’ (John 8:14 AMP) People said terrible things about Jesus, yet here’s what God said about Him: ‘The stone… the builders rejected has become the… cornerstone.’ (Psalm 118:22 NKJV)
Sometimes we’re so busy telling people what to do that we neglect to tell them who they are. Knowing who you are in Christ gives you confidence to hold your head high. You are ‘complete’ because of your relationship to Christ (see Colossians 2:10). God sees you clothed in Christ’s righteousness (see
2 Corinthians 5:21). Once you accept that, you stop feeling like you constantly fall short. When you have money in the bank and you need to withdraw it, you don’t feel pressured because you know it’s in an account with your name on it. Likewise, you don’t have to struggle for other people’s approval when you know you’re loved and accepted by God.
‘We are not trying to please people but God.’
1 Thessalonians 2:4 NIV
There’s a world of difference between performing for people’s approval, and being free to minister to their needs because you know you already have God’s approval. Striving for approval is like any other drug; you can never get enough of it. And like all drug addicts you go crazy when it’s withheld. It places you at the mercy of other people’s opinions, and as a result you live on an emotional roller coaster. That’s not how God wants you to live!
Paul was free to speak the truth in love: to confront people or to be gentle with them. When someone told Paul they didn’t like him, he didn’t lose sleep over it because his security and self-worth weren’t built on their acceptance. ‘We speak as those approved by God.’ (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NIV) Paul didn’t go around comparing himself with others, demonstrating his superiority by trying to be top dog or the one who’s always in charge. Knowing he already had God’s approval set him free from such anxiety and meant he could enjoy the life God called him to. When we’re immature, we worry about what others think of us. But as we become more mature, we realise that most of the time they aren’t thinking about us at all. They’re too busy thinking about themselves—or worrying about what we think of them! Knowing you have God’s approval gives you the strength to deal with criticism and conflict because you’re secure in your identity. And your identity is this: you’re redeemed, called and approved by God.
‘If you have anything against anyone, forgive him.’
Mark 11:25 NKJV
No matter how much two people love each other, conflicts are sure to arise that call for extending grace and showing forgiveness. Do you know that couples who are happy and stay married have the same number of disagreements and conflicts as couples who are unhappy and get divorced? Statistically, that is true! It’s not the absence of conflict that preserves marriage, but the ability to manage conflict when it happens. So how do you ‘manage’ conflict? By practicing the kind of self-control that keeps conflicts from mushrooming into hurtful and divisive stand-offs. It also means knowing what to do with hurt feelings like anger, disappointment and dashed expectations. In other words, it means knowing how to forgive it and forget it. But emotional hurt and tension are almost impossible to forget; the harder we try, the more we remember. So, what’s the answer? Remember to forget! Try to act like God, who chooses not to hold against us what He knows about us. He says in His Word: ‘I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.’ (Isaiah 43:25 NKJV) That means if you are holding something against your spouse, there’s only one solution: forgive it and forget it. You may never forget how you’ve been hurt, but you can choose to forgive it and move on. No, it’s not easy, but you can do it. How? By remembering the things, known or unknown to others, that God has forgiven you for and extending that same grace to your spouse.
‘All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize.’
1 Corinthians 9:25 NLT
When you’re being stretched spiritually, your faith in God grows. When you’re being stretched mentally, your old ideas are challenged and replaced with new ones. When you’re being stretched relationally, selfishness dies and love grows. So, are you being stretched right now? God allows us to have stretching experiences that prepare us for the race He has called us to run in life—and every so often your soul will ‘hit the wall’. No amount of strength and no amount of pressing will move the problem. This is soul stretch!
Often, these moments aren’t the real test; they are just warm-ups that prepare us for future challenges. They are points of reference designed to keep us from panicking when we’re in the midst of the real race. Remember that God never allows a person to run for Him, or with Him, who hasn’t been stretched in their thinking, their faith, and their ability to live and love. So, when you face a problem that just won’t move, remember to take a deep breath and remind yourself that God is stretching you. It’s the stretching of the soul that enables us to face situations we think will kill us, but don’t; to endure times when we think we won’t make it, but do. Sooner or later we will all face difficult times and relationships, but they are just the deep knee bends of life. So, when it feels like you’re being stretched to breaking point, don’t quit. See it for what it is—preparation for running and winning your God-assigned race in life.
‘As he thinks within himself, so he is.’
Proverbs 23:7 NASB
With practice, you can become a good thinker. Observe two things:
(1) Good thinkers have foresight. ‘The plans of the diligent lead to profit.’ (Proverbs 21:5 NIV) The word diligent means ‘to work, study, and plan’. You don’t stumble into success and figure it out afterwards. Whether you’re in business or ministry, your level of success will increase dramatically if you place a high value on good thinking. Novelist Victor Hugo wrote, ‘A small man is made up of small thoughts.’ People who don’t practice good thinking usually find themselves at the mercy of circumstances—or other people’s thoughts. Unable to solve problems, they find themselves facing the same obstacles over and over. And because they don’t think ahead they’re habitually in reaction mode. An old German proverb says, ‘Better an empty purse than an empty head.’ Good thinkers overcome difficulties, including lack of resources, that often leave poor thinkers at the mercy of good thinkers.
In As a Man Thinketh, James Allen says, ‘All that a man achieves or fails to achieve, is a direct result of his thoughts.’ Do you believe that? If you do, you’ll place a high value on good thinking and make it a priority in your life.
(2) Good thinkers look for the best, not the worst. They live by this Scriptural principle: ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.’ (Philippians 4:8 NIV)
‘The blood of Jesus Christ… cleanses us from all sin.’
1 John 1:7 NKJV
Going to church, doing your best, and subscribing to fuzzy notions about God won’t get you into Heaven. Here’s the testimony of those already in Heaven: ‘To Him who loves us… freed us from our sins by His blood, and… made us to be a Kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father… be glory and power for ever and ever!’ (Revelation 1:5–6 NIV) There’s an interesting story behind a broken rope on display at the Matterhorn Museum in Zermatt, Switzerland. Some climbers who scaled the Matterhorn used it to rope themselves together for the return descent. But one climber slipped. The other team members braced for the shock on the rope linking them all together, expecting it to halt their companion’s fall. But the tug came, and to everyone’s horror the rope snapped, dragging the others with him into the abyss and plunging them to their deaths. Nobody knows why an inferior rope was used. But they do know it wasn’t genuine Alpine rope, which is guaranteed and distinguished by a red strand running through it. There’s a lesson here. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible has a red strand running through it, and it represents the only thing that can save you—the blood of Jesus. Old Testament believers looked forward to the Cross, and New Testament believers looked back to it. By trusting in Christ’s finished work, you’re accepted by God, and one day the door of Heaven will open and you’ll live with Him forever. And it’s all based on this truth: ‘The blood of Jesus Christ… cleanses us from all sin.’ No more is required, and nothing less will get you through the door!
‘Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house.’
Psalm 128:3 NIV
The psalmist writes: ‘Blessed are all who fear [respect, honor and obey] the Lord, who walk in His ways. You will eat the fruit [rewards] of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord.’ (Psalm 128:1–4 NIV) In a favorable climate, grapevines need no coaxing to grow. They’ll produce grapes in abundance, from which comes wine. And wine in the Bible speaks of joy and celebration. It’s the same in your home. As a husband, God holds you responsible for creating a climate in which your wife and family can experience ‘blessings and prosperity’. That means you must spend enough time at home to create and maintain an ideal temperature. When you’re seldom present you can’t do that, because your absence just frustrates your wife and diminishes her sense of worth and self-confidence. When she has to take second place to your career, your sports activities, and your friends—not to mention your television watching—you’ll never build a great relationship with her. To know what your wife’s needs are, you must spend quality time with her. If you want to discover her true potential and know just how wonderful a person she is, create the right climate in your home. One woman joked, ‘I never knew what real happiness was until I married my husband—now it’s too late!’ That doesn’t have to be your story. You can create a climate in which you both thrive and enjoy life.
‘Husbands… live with your wives, and treat them with respect.’
1 Peter 3:7 NIV
You must get to know your wife and respect her needs. When God made woman, He made her to be a receiver and responder. He made her a little softer, a little warmer, a little more emotional in order to respond to you.
A woman responds to a man in such a way that the very thing he wants, he will receive by giving instead of demanding. When your wife feels truly loved and secure you won’t have to worry about her fulfilling her responsibility in the home. You won’t have to wonder if you’ll have an active, intimate, physical relationship. She’ll be right there responding to your needs. But that means you must put your wife and family first. Sometimes that means saying, ‘Sorry, guys, I can’t go out with you tonight because I’m taking my wife on a date.’ When you’re that kind of husband, you’ll get the kind of response you want without demanding it.
But be prepared; there may be issues festering under the surface that need to be dealt with before you can move forward as a couple. If so, be humble enough to say, ‘I’m sorry I’ve failed you. I haven’t loved you the way I was supposed to and I know it has affected our relationship. I haven’t given you the time and attention you need. But starting today I’m going to change. With God’s help, I’m going to try to love you the way you deserve to be loved.’ Now, sir, your wife may faint when she first hears it, but if you follow through, you can have the marriage you always dreamed of.