Faustina and Josie are frenemies. One minute they’re peacefully grazing side by side in the pasture and the next, they’re butting heads. Faustina has 20 pounds on Josie and yet somehow Josie not only holds her own, but comes out on top most of the time. This fascinating slo-mo "clash of the titans" calls to my mind not just the thought of frenemies but of very real enemies: Satan and his minions who wage war on followers of Jesus from the moment their feet hit the floor each morning.
Wanna know how I know? For this shepherdess, it starts with the alarm clock. I used to be a night owl but since buying a farm several years ago, lazy mornings in bed are no longer an option. Sloth (one of the seven deadly sins) would still have me hunker down under the covers and listen to the wind or the rain, pitying the pour souls who have to be out and about in it. Now, I’m one of those poor souls and it’s all I can do to resist the devil tickling my ear saying: it’s okay, the horses, sheep, chickens, and dog can wait for their breakfast. They won’t die. Probably not. But that’s not what the Lord asks of his shepherds and I’m pretty sure Jesus never “slept-in.” He was all about his Father's business! I’ve since disciplined myself to roll out of bed before the alarm rings, to start my day with prayer, and to give thanks for the strength to “chop wood and carry water.”
Throughout the rest of the day, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to blow my Christian witness. Whether in bouts with impatience, intemperance, ingratitude, indignation, or ire (hmmm, notice they all start with “I”?) my downhill tumbles come swiftly and often unexpectedly. But Jesus understands my struggle. After all, He spent 40 days in the desert resisting the sly and powerful temptations of the devil. He, better than anyone, knows that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12).
Even the great St. Paul, Christ’s hand-picked ambassador to the nations, was kind enough to provide us with some brutally honest words of commiseration, saying of himself: "For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:19-20)
Truth is, I’ve sat atop the dung hill of sin and self-loathing more time than I’ve stood victorious on the mountaintop like our Josie, mostly because I didn’t see temptation coming. Jesus sternly warned his sleepy, trusted three (Peter, Andrew, and John) in the Garden of Gethsemane that “the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Thankfully, in that same conversation, he also gave them (and us!) a two-pronged strategy to gain the upper hand.
"Watch and pray." (Matthew 26:41).
Really? That’s it? According to Jesus, that’s everything.
Too often, we fail to notice the temptation to sin meandering down our spiritual lane. Other times, it careens toward us like an out-of-control dump truck and slams us by surprise. Either way, if we remain watchful, we'll learn to discern when Satan is on the move. But the truth is, we can’t deflect evil, resist temptation, or conquer sin by ourselves, mere imperfect, human beings that we are. That’s why Jesus commanded us to both “watch and pray.”
So ardent was His desire for us to understand that our deliverance comes through Him and not our own savvy or strength that he taught his disciples to pray the ultimate prayer, the Our Father, and specifically to implore:“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The battle is real. There’s a titanic clash going on between good and evil every minute of every day. But the good news is, we already know how the final battle ends. There's a mountaintop with our names on it. Our victory is, was, and shall forever be found in the perfect sacrifice of the Lamb. But if you, like me, need a little extra reassurance, take heart from these words:
“My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ the righteous one. He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
Despite our downhill tumbles and uphill climbs, let's never give in to the devil of despair for God’s mercies are fresh each morning. By grace and by grit and with the sword of the Spirit in hand, we can be “that kind" of woman or man…the kind who watches, prays, resists, and prevails in the name and power of Jesus!