Just a home-made children’s game.
It was one of the more creative displays I’ve ever seen at the annual trunk-or-treat kids’ festival that a church in my neighborhood hosts during the fall. One guy connected a large, flat, wooden tabletop to the side of his pickup truck, cut five to six medium-sized holes in it, and draped it with a curtain. Sticking up through five or six holes was a family of wiggly, happy, hand puppets. Kids were standing in line to climb up into the truck bed to try bopping the puppets on the head with a big, cushy hammer before the figures ducked and disappeared down the hole and out of sight.
Whack-a-Mole — the church parking lot version.
One little guy, however, no more than five years old, got tired of waiting. Bored with the shenanigans, he slipped out of line, ambled around to the side of the truck for a better look, and then — for whatever curious reason — grabbed a handful of that curtain and yanked it clean off the playing surface. Suddenly, instead of six cutesy puppets swaying playfully in the evening air, there were three grown adults with both arms poking up through bare wood, a puppet on each hand, their identities immediately revealed.
Even the under-ten crowd got the message that night: there is something you can’t see working underneath the surface, controlling and manipulating what you can.
And in Ephesians, one of my favorite books in the Bible, that’s exactly what the apostle Paul tries to tell us:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [what you can see], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places [what you can’t see]. (Eph. 6:12)
Hear that again: Flesh and blood, skin and bones — those aren’t the places where your real struggles lie. The identity of your real enemy, once the Bible has weighed in, is clear as day. It’s him. It’s all him. It’s always been him. Back there, behind the curtain that divides the unseen realm from the one we lay eyes on every day.
In the rough-and-tumble of life’s exhausting pace, we can quickly lose touch with a passage like Ephesians 6. Even in knowing the truth, we can lose sight of where the most acute and difficult attacks of our lives are originating from. And by failing to take notice and remember, it’s not hard then to lose our cool, our temper, and most of our self-control before we ever find our way back to ultimate reality.
The Ephesians of Paul’s day didn’t need much convincing of the fact that their real problems weren’t on the physical side of things. These first-century Greeks were mostly pagan, of course, and the spirit world was very much alive in their cognizant awareness. So as God drew men and women to Himself from among this pantheistic culture, these early believers in Christ were already well-schooled in the reality of spiritual entities at play in the world. Today, however — in Western culture, at least — our innate tendency is to underestimate Satan’s power. Even his very presence is sometimes imagined as make-believe, no more than a phantom wearing a red jumpsuit and pitchfork, a monster hiding in the closet. We’ve made him no more than a caricature instead of the treacherous, conniving, hell-bent, personalized menace he truly is. As a result, we sort of give him room to scheme and scare at will, while we run around firing off at anyone and everyone except him. But if all we’re doing is whacking at the nearest, most visible symptoms every time they pop their head up, we’re doing two things: 1) wasting precious time and energy that ought to be reserved and refocused on the real enemy, and 2) trying to fight ferocious spiritual forces by using weapons that don’t faze them in the least — weapons that aren’t even designed to hurt them. So the hits just keep on coming.
Here me clearly: The real enemy isn’t your husband. Or your teenager. Or your brother’s wife. Or your mother-in-law. Or the weather. Or the traffic. Or your sweet tooth. Or whatever powder keg of frustration that really gets under your skin and sets you off before you can think straight.
The real enemy — the capital-E “Enemy” . . .
Well . . . you know who it is. And you simply cannot keep letting him go unchecked while you throw money and anger and logic and psychology at your problems in a vain attempt at overcoming or outsmarting them. In order to live in victory, you must call the enemy’s bluff, pull the curtain back, open up your spiritual eyes, and remain continually aware of the one who’s truly behind a lot of the stuff you’re always blaming on your circumstances, your upbringing, your boyfriend, or whoever. Even on yourself.
So pray . . . and keep on praying until you see him for who he really is, what he’s really doing. Then, redirect your focus and employ the divinely authorized weapons onto the real culprit.
Victory is already yours . . . in Jesus Name.
*Adapted from Priscilla’s new book, Fervent: A Woman’s Guide to Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer. (August 1, 2015)