Tug of World

During the approximately 81 hours of pep rallies I experienced (translation: endured) during my high school teaching years, Tug o’ War between the classes was one of the most popular games played. The freshmen developed school spirit by competing against the sophomores. The seniors usually triumphed over the juniors, of course. What was up with that?

Even this non-athlete knows that Tug o’ War starts with each side determined to win, taking a firm, strong stance. In a good game, things appear equal on both sides as players flex muscles, lean back, and grit teeth. Slowly, the balance of power changes as one side gains the advantage. If it’s still a good game, the advantage might shift again. In a less-than-equal contest, one side wins suddenly with a mighty tug.

In yesterday’s sermon, our pastor tackled the subject of spiritual warfare, beginning a series entitled Winning: Put on the Full Armor of God. He’s dealt with this before, and one of the most useful aspects of his teaching was the technique of naming our spiritual battles. Earlier, I shared how I applied this technique in Battle of Loopy Lie Valley and The War for Independence. Once I identify what mind games the enemy is using in my spiritual battles, it’s harder to ignore them. Sometimes I’m in the middle of full-blown conflict without realizing it, and having a list of battles won previously with God’s help wakes me up and calls me back into the fight. It just occured to me that Could I Interest You in an Appetizer? grew out of my facing The Day of Distraction, another frequent battle.

So what is Tug o’ World and what do I do about it? At first, I’m standing firm, Kingdom priorities in order, viewing the world around me from a relatively mature believer’s perspective. I’m making an effort, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to stay on mission. “This world is not my home” is a growing reality in my life, not just a song.

And then I listen to the news just an hour more one day. And the next. The familiar voices and faces are comforting. And then I leave the television on as I do things around the house instead of listening to Christian music. The tug of the world is so subtle. I scroll mindlessly through Facebook, duped that something there will inspire me–still watching the news, of course. Gradually, my world is very different. If I’m not careful, I might find myself in the Skirmish of Imagination Inflation before I know it, worrying about being an invisible senior locked away forever “for my protection” or plotting a dystopian novel I do not intend to write.

A friend is having a new home built nearby. She’s immersed in design details and appliance purchases, and runs her ideas by me. Recently, I got my neighbors together to have our sad, sagging townhome fences replaced and I had my treacherous front steps rebuilt. Fun, positive conversations and projects providing a welcome distraction from current events. I watched HGTV instead of the news. But then I started salivating over appliances and flooring samples in Home Depot and dropped into bed still thinking about my next project. Tug o’ World had shifted from politics to material things, but I was still losing the battle.

Praise God that He does not leave us alone, wandering about the battlefield like soldiers with amnesia! Much more patient that a drill sergeant, He teaches the same lesson over and over in different ways, presenting me with weapons and showing me how to use them.

Here are a few of these scripture weapons:

Hebrews 12:1-3, in particular the command to “fix my eyes on Jesus” from verse 2. Sometimes a reminder is enough to prepare me for the next tug of the world. Way back when I was taking driver’s ed, one of the students in my car needed a constant reminder to “watch the road.” Scary! Those prompts kept us alive, though. Fixing my eyes on Jesus helps me win the battle.

When Proverbs 3:5-6 “insisted” on becoming my 2020 verse of the year, I admit I was disappointed. Why this oldie instead of something new and challenging? Ha! I had no idea how pertinent this advice would be in 2020! I can’t pretend to understand what’s going on right now or know how it will play out, but God does, and I need a constant reminder to lean on Him. I need to submit to Him in everything–not an easy task, but so important for straight paths and winning my battles. (Preaching to myself again–I’ve forgotten this verse lately!)

The book of Revelation has encouraged me lately. In particular, Chuck Swindoll’s Living Insights Commentary has helped me see in more graphic ways the reality of what’s become a platitude: God is in control. Oh, how the enemy wants me to think I need to be in control, or certain politicians should or shouldn’t be in control! There are so many weapons here in skirmishes of Imagination Inflation that I had trouble choosing. Here’s a sample from page 107 in the application of Revelation 5:1-14:

The One who is worthy to exercise judgment and rule over the earth will accomplish His will through your life. Human history is littered with the wreckage of failed attempts to fix humanity’s problems, but we can turn to Christ, who has paid the price to bring about a glorious future. When we trust in Christ instead of ourselves, the evil and opposition of the world seems much less daunting. It’s all subject to Him! When we see His brilliant splendor looming on the horizon, we can endure this present darkness with ever-increasing hope.

Enough said!

Stay in the battle. Preaching to myself.

Could I Interest You in an Appetizer?

You smile and accept the menu, your mind on catching up with the friends you’ve joined for dinner. The server hovers. “Can I get you started with an appetizer tonight?”

Since you’re with a group, you might settle on something to share and the server hurries off. He returns just as you’ve caught up on your friend’s latest news and begin to hear the rumbling of your stomach.

By the time you’ve polished off the appetizer and your meal arrives, your appetite has diminished. You groan as the server sets a huge feast before you. What possessed you to snack on hot, buttered bread in between bites of steamed mussels or spicy grilled shrimp? How will you ever do justice to your steak and baked potato or your Italian feast?

How did “appetizers” get their name, anyway? Mom was right that eating between meals spoiled your appetite!

If you’re still with me and you haven’t run to the fridge for a snack, you probably want to know what this has to do with our spiritual life, right?

Spiritual appetizers aren’t like restaurant appetizers. 

During the early days of the pandemic, the days often dragged. Like everyone, I missed my daily routine. My house and my entire neighborhood were quiet. (Hard to believe if your entire family was suddenly at home together 24 hours a day looking for a tranquil corner, but I didn’t have that problem.) As she stared at the occasional preoccupied passer-by during our walks, I knew even Angie the dog missed people and fellow canines.

I started to create a new routine centered around time with the Lord and virtual connections centered on spiritual things. A podcast during our morning walk. Noon prayer with one or more churches. A weekly online Bible study. My own worship service on Sunday, followed by others that I might want to visit as well. This became the new normal and was a helpful way to stay connected with God and with fellow believers.

My appetite and need for spiritual sustenance were strong.

Slowly, days have become fuller and noisier. I’ve ventured out a bit. Now the virus wasn’t the only news on TV, and I “had” to stay informed. I tackled some big projects around the house. I had to rush to get up and over to the dog sitter’s so I’d arrive at an appointment on time. The “old normal” tried to reassert itself.

A vague sense of disquiet marred the tranquility I’d cultivated earlier.

I skipped the opportunity to turn on the Christian radio station and allow some music to shape my thoughts.

“I should probably settle down and pray or do my Bible study. I’d feel better,” I would tell myself.

Sometimes, an insidious voice would whisper, “That’s silly. You were really overdoing it before.”

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”

Your face, LORD, I will seek.

Psalm 27:8 NIV

Strangely, when I managed to silence the deceptive voice and sample the appetizer, I wanted more. Spiritual appetizers helped me crave more spiritual food, not less.

And that’s a good thing!

When the Spirit’s voice tries to interest you in an appetizer, say yes!