Looking Beyond the Devil

I cringe every time I hear someone headline Satan. He craves attention, feeds on our focus, delights when we make him bigger than life.

That's why I like what James has to say about the struggles that we all face. Rather than making "good press" for the devil, James calls us to look beyond the minor players in the great drama of life to the One who gives us good gifts even when they come wrapped in dirty rags.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything. . .Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him" –James 1:2-4, 12, NIV.

Our tendency is to give Satan credit for what God is doing in our lives. We don't usually look on difficulties as "God-things" meant to help us grow in faith.

There is no doubt that Satan tries to use these "God-things" to produce results other than spiritual maturity. He works hard to turn a test into a temptation that is meant to trip us up rather than grow us up, which is why James adds: "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" –James 1:13-15, NIV.

And this is where we get stuck, forgetting that Satan is only a minor character in our life's play, while God is the Producer and Director of the artistic work. When we forget the source and purpose of the challenges of life, we have a hard time fulfilling the instruction that James gives us to "Consider it pure joy. . ." If we can blame the devil for the difficulties of life we can give ourselves permission not to be joyful about the circumstances. If we acknowledge that God has purposefully sent this circumstance into our lives, we are faced with the challenge of feeling and displaying a totally out-of-character reaction. Joy in the midst of trial doesn't come naturally.

James to wrap up this instruction with this statement: "Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created" –James 1:16-18, NIV.

Even the "bad" stuff is "God-stuff" meant to strengthen our faith and produce more Christlike behaviour in us. Even the "bad" stuff is a "good and perfect gift" from the Father who is committed to making us all that we can be in him for the glory of his name.

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