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Series Theme: Instruments of God

Meditation No. 1

Meditation Title: God at Work


Jn 5:17,19 Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day… Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.


The intention of this series of meditations is to consider the people and things that God uses in His work. Now from the outset that assumes God is working. There are, of course, those who don't believe in any God, but there are also those who believe in a God but He is one who sits in the background and makes no contact with His creation and leaves it to its own devices. Both positions are tantamount to the same in reality – no God activity possible.

But then, I'm sure, there is a much bigger contingent of us who are believers, who have rarely thought about it and think of God only stirring Himself to speak to special very holy people or who acts on only very rare occasions. All of these positions we have considered so far, I would suggest, are very far from the Biblical testimony. Indeed most of the Bible is taken up with the acts of God or as someone has said, history is really His-story.

Now I have chosen to start this new series with these two verses that are both statements from Jesus himself. This is the Son of God who, after all, should know! He says that "My Father is always at his work” not just occasionally, but always! i.e. God is constantly interacting with His world. Whatever is He doing? Well, the answer has got to be, look at what the Son is doing because he says he only does what the Father is doing! i.e. the Father initiates according to His knowledge and wisdom and the Son acts to bring it about. So what was the Son doing? We need to listen to his own words.

First in Luke we find him applying Isaiah's prophecy: “he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Lk 4:18,19 quoting Isa 61,1,2) Later, in answer to questions from John the Baptist's disciples, Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5). It seems that in expressing the kingdom or rule of God (the activity of God) Jesus was restoring human beings to their former state before sin brought them down. Yes, it was a spiritual thing but it also very much impinged on their physical or material lives.

At the beginning of the Bible we see God as Creator, but we read, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” (Gen 2:2) That was God's initial work, but that was now finished. So does He just stand back and do nothing in respect of this physical world? Again observing Jesus' life and ministry, the answer to that question has to be no. Where it was appropriate Jesus changed material things – e.g. stretched loaves and fishes, and changed water into wine – and also to change things of nature – e.g. stilling the storm. A careful examination of Scripture (which we hope to do in this series) reveals that God intervenes in this material world in a big way. In fact we can go further. The Bible declares that without God, this world wouldn't continue to exist at all. The writer to the Hebrew suggest that the Son is , “sustaining all things by his powerful word,” (Heb 1:3) i.e. Jesus, at his Father's right hand keeps the world existing. This is very much a strong picture of God involved in very practical ways with His world.

The apostle Paul gives us another clue to God's work: “an overseer (or bishop) is entrusted with God's work.” (Titus 1:7) and then goes on later to speak of his role of maintaining or protecting the truth. It would appear (and this can be justified elsewhere in Scripture) that part of God's work is to bring mankind back to the truth – the truth about Himself, the truth about the world, the truth about ourselves and our need and the truth about God's design for us that can only be restored through Jesus Christ. Indeed, when we consider the Bible as a whole, we will see that God's constant work is to reveal Himself to the world and to draw all men to Himself.

Thus the call to Israel was to be a light to nations. Indeed using similar language to that which we saw above, Isaiah spoke of Israel and the coming Servant in the following terms: “I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” (Isa 42:6,7) There is God's activity clearly declared yet again, to bring light to the world that is in darkness (of sin and unbelief and deception) and to release people from the effects of Sin. Bear this in mind throughout this series. God is at work!







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Series Theme: Instruments of God

Meditation No. 2

Meditation Title: Introducing Satan


Job 1:6,7   One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it."


For the next few meditations we are going to consider the subject of Satan and put him in a proper perspective. Possibly no other character in the Bible gets more misrepresented than Satan. There are those who ignore him and pretend he doesn't exist and there are those who see him in every situation. I hope by the time we finish these meditations we will see him as he really is. The primary point we will make as we develop these meditations is that he is used by God. But we need to start off with a basic study of him and see how he is represented in Scripture.

Scholars note two particular passages of prophetic Scripture which, they say, speaks of a figure who must be far more than a mere man, and thus they suggest Satan is being described in the prophecies.

The first is Isa 14:12-17 which notes:

•  the being referred to in these verses seems to have come from heaven,

•  he was cast down on the earth (see also Rev 12:9),

•  he was overcome by pride and wanted to be greater than God.

The second set of verses is Ezek 28:11-19 which note:

•  this being was created perfect,

•  his task was a guardian over Eden , he was made sinless, but he turned,

•  because of his sin he was expelled from God's presence,

•  his perfect beauty became the cause of his pride and for this he was expelled.

Thus it is suggested that he is an angelic being whose origin is in heaven. Let's note his various designations. In a number of places he is described as “Satan” (see Job 1:6 / Zech 3:1 / 2 Cor 11:14) but Satan simply means “the accuser” (Rev 12:10 ). He is also referred to as “the tempter” (Mt 4:3), and “the devil ..... a murderer ..... the father of lies” (Jn 8:44), sometimes just “the devil” (e.g. 1 Pet 5:8) and at the beginning he was seen as “the serpent” (Gen 3:1).

As “tempter” he seeks to lead people astray, as “the devil” he is the leading demon, as “the serpent” he deceived and was a liar, seeking to kill (a murderer), as a deceiver he comes in disguise to lead astray. In Rev 12:9 he is referred to as “The great dragon ... that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan” and we see he also comes as a “dragon” or “lion”, (1 Pet 5:8) indicating his intent to create fear. In Eph 2:2  he is referred to as “the ruler of the kingdom of the air ” and in Jn 14:30 / Jn 16:11 he is referred to as “the prince of this world”. In 1 Jn 5:19 he is simply called “the evil one”.

From the outset it is important, so that we do not get over-awed by him, we need to know:

  • he is merely one of God's created beings,
  • he can only to go as far as God permits. (See Job 1 & 2.),
  • his end is decreed by God ( Rev 20:10 ),
  • he is used by God.

It is this last thing that we will be focusing on in these meditations or studies. God permits him, simply to make use of him in the affairs of mankind. This is absolutely vital for us to understand. He is not equal to God and he is not as big as God. Indeed we need to remind ourselves that he is merely a created being (powerful as he may appear) and so a true comparison would be to speak of God as a great ocean in the world while Satan is merely a single drop of water. Yes, we will see that he is allowed power by God but that is only as far as it suits God's purposes.


We have, in the first meditation, noted that God is working and what we are going to see in the meditations to come that in His work He makes use of Satan to achieve His ends. We have simply quoted a number of references above and so, if you are not familiar with these, may we recommend you jot them down and look them up in your Bible before continuing further. This has been a very compressed study and to get the full benefit of it, you would do well to check out all the references.






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Meditation No. 3

Meditation Title: Hearts Revealed


1 Chron 21:1   Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel .

2 Sam 24:1 Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel , and he incited David against them, saying, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah ."


To examine our first way that the Lord uses Satan, we have to examine this strange incident in the life of King David. As our verses above show, in the account in 2 Samuel it is attributed to the Lord but in 1 Chronicles it is attributed to Satan. Without going into the detail of Job, chapters 1 and 2, it is clear that the initiative is taken by the Lord but He then uses Satan to bring about what He wants brought about.

Perhaps we first need to take note of what actually happened to see what God wanted to bring about. David counted the army; this was wrong and so God declared he would judge Israel and a large number died. Put baldly like that it seems terrible and harsh, so let's examine this more carefully.

Let's lay down a principle that is clear from Scripture: God is a God of justice and whatever happens will always reflect that. We may not understand it at first sight but it IS always so. The testimony of the entire Bible affirms it. So, if God judges Israel , it means that they deserve it. We may not be clear, and Scripture may not be clear about it, but that is so. Justice always prevails with God and He is never unfair. Let that be our starting point.

Now there's something else to be noted in the life of Israel . An examination of the history of Israel shows that the state of its king at any time is largely a reflection of the state of the people. There are exceptions, but that is generally true. What is in David's heart is likely to be a reflection of what is in the heart of the people. So what is in David's heart? Pride! Why else did he want to count the number of those in his army if it wasn't to glory in his own position?

Joab understood this from the outset: “But Joab replied, "May the LORD multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord's subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel ?" (1 Chron 21:3) and also, “Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king's command was repulsive to him.” (v.6) Joab knew that you only counted your people if God instructed it, otherwise it was simply an expression of self-aggrandisement to the exclusion of God. It was, in other words, an act of godlessness.

Israel have come to a point in history where, under David, they have been victorious over their enemies and they now feel good about themselves. There is a great danger of godlessness creeping in to their heart of pride. Now the thing about this is that David didn't have to do this. In both accounts we see that he was ‘incited' to do it. Satan comes, just like he did to Adam and Eve and provokes him to do it. What did he do? He played on David's pride. If David hadn't allowed pride to take root in him, then he would not have been vulnerable to Satan's suggestions and would not have given way and done this thing which, we read, “was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.” (v.7b). But, regrettably, pride was there and David gave way to this act of self-honouring. The thing that Israel had to learn again and again, was that they were what they were, not by their own efforts, but by God's blessing. Whenever they forgot that, the Lord stood back and let them stand on their own, and they soon fell to enemies around them. No, they are who they are because of the Lord.

This was a critical time for Israel because the Temple was yet to be built and when it was, it was not to be a monument to the glory of man. It is important that Israel understood this. Unfortunately we sometimes don't realise this until we have been held to account and experienced the corrective hand of God upon us. So here are Israel with their king, David, who have come into a good place but who are in danger of succumbing to godlessness through pride. This needs correcting for it is a major vulnerability to this nation called into being by God. It actually goes to the heart of who they are and who they are supposed to be – and they need to realise this. Thus the Lord decrees this correction but it has got to flow out of an act of this pride and that will be revealed as He allows Satan to incite David.

It is, in fact, a very simple disciplinary exercise. This is the Lord using Satan as an instrument to reveal David's heart so that he sees it, his men see it and the people see it, which is why we read, Then David said to God, "I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing,” (v.8) adding to what we have already seen Joab feels and what Gad is about to prophesy. Very soon the people realised it and the elders gathered with David in repentance (v.16). The situation was saved, as it always is, by sacrifice. (v.26). Right attitudes have been restored!

Be warned, the Lord uses Satan to come against us when we have allowed ourselves to become vulnerable through wrong attitudes or wrong thinking. The Lord loves us too much to leave us to continue like that, and so He will give Satan permission to stand against us to reveal our hearts. It is a painful but necessary disciplinary exercise.







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Meditation No. 4

Meditation Title: Deceived and Perishing


1 Pet 1:3-2 Thess 2:9-12   The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness .


In the previous meditation we considered the matter of the state of our hearts, specifically considering the pride that resided in the heart of King David. One of the most important facts about humanity, which many would wish to deny, is the fact of Sin. Every human being is tainted with this tendency to self-centred godlessness which results in unrighteousness. Yet as God speaks and moves, there are some who hear, respond and come to Him. They are the redeemed – Christians! For some reason when the Spirit of God started His convicting work, they took note and repented. Others hear Him speak and simply refuse Him. Why some respond and some don't is a mystery that only God understands - but it is a fact of life.

Now there is something else we need to observe in passing, to help our understanding of these things, and it is the fact that God wants the truth to be seen and wants justice to be revealed. Jesus told a number of parables that indicate that God clearly separates out people so it is clearly seen in eternity who are saved and who are not. Now we will see in a later meditation how Satan rules over unbelievers but for now, because it flows on so clearly from the previous meditation about the state of the heart, we will limit ourselves to considering how he deceives people to confirm their state!

These verses of Paul to the Thessalonians are highly illuminating. They speak about those “who are perishing.” Now please note that this is their state and it comes before Satan's activity. The reason they are perishing is clearly stated: “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” The truth has been made clear to them and they refuse to heed it. I once debated the truths of the Gospel with someone for five hours! At the end of that time they said, “I hear what you are saying. I understand and agree with all you are saying, but I like sinning and so I can't go along with what you are saying,” and with that they left. They heard the Gospel and they understood it, yet they purposely chose to reject it. This is the case of a heart that is purposefully turned away from God. It is also a heart that is taken up with self-centred desires. What has gone on here? Why are they like this?

Well, says Paul, it starts with them being godless and refusing to love the truth, but so that their state can be that much more clearly seen, Satan comes along and concretes them in to their wrong beliefs. Note that they start off with wrong beliefs but Satan is allowed to come along and reinforce those wrong beliefs by “ all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil.” Because their hearts are already turned in the wrong direction, they are wide open to receive and believe the works of Satan.

Now we have to admit that these things in these verses apply specifically to one who will come in the last days that Paul calls the “lawless one”. Jesus had warned that “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible.” (Mt 24:24) The apostle John speaks about the “antichrist” not so much as a single individual but as a spirit in the last age that encompasses many (see 1 Jn 2:22, 2 Jn 1:7) . The author of all this is Satan, and he is allowed to do this to confirm the fact that these people are perishing and that they are perishing for a good reason! They set their hearts against God and in so doing made themselves vulnerable (for reasons we'll see in a later meditation) to Satan's lies so their hearts become firmly set in deception.

This deception is, says Paul, “a powerful delusion” that has its origins in the plans of God but brought about by the work of Satan. When someone is ‘deceived' it is indeed a powerful thing that is clearly seen by onlookers. In my experience as a pastor, I believe one area that especially reveals deception is that of sexual sin. For some reason people who enter into forms of sexual sin seem particularly prone to being unable to see the truth about it and, even more, are utterly convinced about it and so lie about their behaviour in a major way!

As we said, we'll see how this works in more detail in following meditations, but for now we will simply note that when we take on board wrong sinful thinking (e.g. self is all-important) then we become vulnerable to Satan who can come and play on that belief and reinforce it. How we like to be reassured in our wrong believes – “You will not surely die” (Gen 3:4) the serpent said to Eve. i.e. it's all right,, you'll be all right. No you won't! “A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7). You won't get away with it – but people won't believe that because it runs contrary to the pattern of thinking they have given themselves over to, and which Satan now affirms as he whispers reassures into their mind. And thus to any onlooker (who is not so deceived) it becomes more and more obvious what their state is. Yes, the onlookers in heaven will have no doubts about God's justice. When this person finally faces the judgment there will be no question about their guilt. Satan will have done a good job confirming it.

But you, hopefully, are not such a person, because you probably wouldn't be reading these meditations if you were. Your heart is not yet set in this way. Make sure it never is. Make sure you keep your heart open to God. Make sure you don't allow wrong patterns of thinking or behaviour to settle in your life, or you will become vulnerable to the chief prosecutor who will confirm you in it before the court of heaven!







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Meditation No. 5

Meditation Title: Ruler


1 John 5:19   We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.


“Control” is a nasty word. We speak about ‘control freaks', people who feel they have to be in control of everything. If you look up ‘control' in a dictionary you find such words as ‘dominate' and ‘regulate' and ‘direct' and ‘command'. Oh yes, we know what control means. We have air traffic controllers who have control of the planes in their air space; they tell them what to do, what level to be in as they prepare to land, and so on. Controllers order or manage or direct. John says that Satan controls the world!

Well of course when he uses the word ‘world' he means the unbelieving mass of humanity, not the globe or planet. Earlier in his letter he says, “everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does.” (1 Jn 2:16) and so it is clear that when he uses this word he is meaning godless humanity. So he is saying that Satan dominates or rules over the lives of godless men and women. In our introductory study of Satan we noticed that he was referred to as, “the ruler of the kingdom of the air ” (Eph 2:2) and as “the prince of this world”. (Jn 14:30/ Jn 16:11). Paul also speaks of Christ's work: “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” ( Col 1:13) A dominion is a territory ruled over by a ruler. It is the same concept: Satan is allowed by God to be a ruler. Is this an active or passive thing? Does God make this happen or does it just happen? It is not clear.

When you start to think about it though, it is fairly clear why this situation prevails. What are the characteristics of an unbeliever? Please, this is not being nasty, just being objective. First of all they are godless. They don't want and haven't got God in their life. That is part of their unbelief. Second, they are self-centred. That is all that is left to them. You will either be God-centred or self-centred. One or other will rule over your life and the unbeliever is an unbeliever because they reject God because they want to have total control over their life (as they see it). What they don't see is that they are prey to the whisperings of Satan. They think they are in absolute control but don't realise that, in fact, they are manipulated by Satan and are therefore, ultimately under his control. Yes, we will see in later studies (and it has been hinted at already in the previous study) that he is even given physical powers by God to carry out his activities.

How, we suggest, most of his activities in respect of humanity are carried out by whispering words. These will either be lies (deception) or of temptation. Again, referring back to the Garden of Eden, we see him employing both with Eve: “You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4,5) The “You will not surely die” was the lie, and the rest was temptation to do what God had said not to do.

The lies of the enemy obviously come in a variety of ways. They may be lies about you – you are all alone, nobody loves you, God is angry with you, you are a failure, you are stupid. These are many of the common lies that Satan whispers into our minds, and as we accept those lies so we allow them to dominate or control us. They may be lies about God – he doesn't exist, he does exist but he is harsh and horrible, he is uncaring, he is powerless, he can't help you, he doesn't want to help you, you can improve your life without God. Again, as we take on and accept these lies they have significant influence upon us and control us. His lies are, I suggest, the main way he controls us. He captures our minds. We become all-important. My will is all-important. That is pure deception.

His temptations are to get us to do what God has said not to do or not do what God has said to do. Temptations from Satan seek to get us to live contrary to God's design for us and when we do that we live with a perpetual sense of guilt, because deep down something is telling us we've blow it. We either sink under guilt and condemnation or we become stressed in a self-defensive mode and angry against God, the truth and anyone who tries to show us the error of our ways. Thus we become even more entrenched in our self-centred, destructive lifestyle.

So why does God let Satan do this? There are a variety of answers. The first one is that because Satan exists and God has given us free will which we exercise in a negative way, it is natural for things to work out like this. But that isn't really an answer; it is more about ‘how' rather than ‘why'. We already touched on this in the previous meditation. One reason is that it simply helps reveal the righteousness of God's actions, it reveals justice, it reveals the folly of mankind that rejects the wonder of God that is revealed in Creation (see Rom 1:18-21), or in the Bible, a folly that is happy to remain in a state of apparent self-centredness yet prodded and prompted by Satan into wrong thinking and wrong doing. Even more, for the most part they do not seek God and so remain godless. A second reason, which is where our next meditation will take us, is so that hopefully we will realise our plight, come to our senses and call out to God to save us. As people bewail the state of the economy or the state of the nation, they may also start to bewail the state of their own lives, and turn and cry out to God and be saved.

For these reasons at least (and there may be others that fit in the plans and purposes of God), the Lord allows Satan this prerogative – he rules over the hearts and lives of foolish, self-centred, godless people. May we not be in that category!







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Meditation No. 6

Meditation Title: Discipline


1 Cor 5:5   hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.


  There are some passages of Scripture that make people uncomfortable. The verses at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 5 are such verses for those who hesitate a little in believing God's word. The context indicates that Paul was rebuking the church for tolerating a member of the congregation who had entered into an unrighteous relationship with his father's wife (possibly second wife and therefore not his mother). Even so it is a wrong relationship and the church were blasé about it. Paul is seriously upset about that!

  Thus we come to this instruction which may upset some of weak belief. What does this instruction mean and what does it imply? When it says ‘hand this man over to Satan' it must surely mean what we refer to when we talk about excommunication; it means putting this man right out of the church (see verses 2,7,11) and forbidding him contact with the church. Now in a day when we never want to say a wrong word of criticism about another, and accept people with Christ's love, this comes rather as a shock.

  It says, first of all, that there are clear lines of demarcation, of what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. Second, it says that where someone breaches those lines of demarcation and refuses to repent, then firm action should be taken. Now Paul hasn't said anything here about calling the man to repentance but that would have been taken for granted for that had been Jesus' clear teaching (see Mt 18:15-17). Failure to repent after increasing confrontation means an unrepentant heart and that is what Paul is now addressing.

  We also need to note, in passing, that God does discipline us. The writer to the Hebrew covered this: My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5,6 quoting Prov 3:11,12) Of course the words ‘disciple' and ‘discipline' are very similar. A disciple is a follower who is being taught or trained to follow the master. Discipline is about bringing conformity to order. We tend to focus on the pain or punishment aspects of discipline, but the outcome of discipline is to be a strong, ordered and controlled life. Army discipline creates soldiers who are strong and in complete control and ready to take orders. The same is true in the spiritual sense.

  Which brings us to the point of examining Satan's activity in this context. The purpose of putting the unrepentant ‘believer' out of the congregation is so that he no longer receives the support or protection of the congregation and thus is now vulnerable to attacks of Satan. What does Paul mean when he speaks about Satan destroying the sinful nature of this man?

Well, how does our sinful nature get dealt with by God when we come to Christ originally? God brings us to a place of repentance by the convicting work of His Holy Spirit, so that we see the awfulness of that old sinful (and self-centred and godless) nature and we want to flee it and be set free from it. We want to die to it and live to God, and so He places His Holy Spirit within us to empower us to live new lives that achieve this. But the crucial point is that we have to first be brought to a place of repentance.

Now that, in our present context, is why Satan is allowed opportunity to come against this person. He may press him to go further and further in his wrong activities (as seems to be what happens when God lifts his hand of restraint off – see Rom 1:24 -28) until it starts having self-destructive effects. Watch the many people who live these sorts of life and you will see it clearly. Alternatively Satan will accuse and condemn and pull down this person until they feel utterly miserable. However he works, the end objective is to bring this man to his senses where he cries out to God for forgiveness and is restored to God and to the local church. Restoration of this man is the clearly stated end goal.

In Job 1 we are given the clearest of pictures of God using Satan to bring adverse circumstances into the life of one of His children for a variety of purposes. There we see he has the ability to bring supernatural powers to bear (Job 1:16 ), to stir up pagans against us (Job 1:17 ), and to affect even the weather (Job 1:19 ) and, of course, even to bring physical affliction (Job 2:7). In all of these ways God uses Satan as an instrument of discipline. We may not like it because it is painful but the end product is a believer who is clean, righteous, stronger and closer to their Lord.

We, in our foolishness, would be happy to stick with our imperfections and our failings, but God loves us too much to leave us like that. He has something so much more for us, but to get us to leave the folly of that way of life, He has to allow us to be tried and tested and such testings bring a new being out of the fires of discipline. Unpleasant but necessary! An uncomfortable teaching but an essential one, perhaps all the more in the relativistic age in which we live where almost anything seems to go! May that not be so in our lives and the life of our local church.






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Meditation No. 7

Meditation Title: Humility


2 Cor 12:7   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.


There are times when we Christians make it all so complex that we perhaps lose track of what it is all about. Ultimately, I believe, we can boil the Gospel and everything we read in the New Testament down to the fact that God wants and works to bring us back into relationship with Him whereby as little children with their Father, we rely utterly upon Him. That latter phrase is vital because our heavenly Father knows best and is the source of all our resources (He is our provider) and also the source of all our security (He is our protector). However, it is not an automatic thing; it is something in which we have a part to play, and that is to come to Him, trust in Him, cry out to Him, call on Him and in every way we can, develop a living relationship with Him. Then we receive all He has for us.

Now of course it is never quite as simple as that for there is a battle going on – a battle that God permits, partly for our benefit. There is the battle within us against sin and there is the battle from without us that comes from Satan. We have already declared that a primary goal that God has is to draw us into an ever deeper relationship with Him, and now we note that sin and Satan seen to war against that happening. So why should God allow that to happen?

Well let's look at it from a slightly different angle now. One of the key things God does with his children is to seek to develop character in them. Part of His blessing comes in the form of Him, changing us more and more into the likeness of His Son, Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18). As that happens we will live more enjoyable, harmonious, fulfilled lives for we are returning to the original design God had for mankind before the Fall, to be people of peace living in harmony with Him and enjoying all of His wonderful provision in Creation. The problem is that we are free agents with free wills and therefore God does not make us conform to His design – He certainly helps us, but ultimately it is down to our free will to choose to allow Him to work in and through us.

Now here comes the problem. Sometimes we get so blessed with this life and with what God is doing in and through us, that we lose perspective and start attributing our success to our own clever endeavours. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth, but that is how we foolishly see it as we allow the sin of pride to root and grow within us. This will take our eyes off the Lord and will attribute glory to us instead. Given free rein it will seduce us away from the Lord and into very dangerous and destructive waters, where we forget to rely on Him and end up doing foolish and destructive things.

So how does God help us, how does He deal with this pride when He sees it creeping in? This is where we come back to Satan as an instrument in the hand of the Lord. Because Paul received wonderful revelations from God, to keep him from getting puffed up, he was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment him and keep him from getting proud. We don't know what that ‘thorn in the flesh' was and there has been much speculation from commentators as to what it was, so we won't join in with more. Sufficient to say, it was something from Satan. Satan was given special access to Paul so that somehow he was able to do something that made Paul feel weak and have to rely afresh on the Lord. You might call this another form of discipline, that we considered in the previous meditation, for it certainly conforms to the definition of discipline for it brings about a form of ordered and controlled behaviour which, in this case, means complete ongoing reliance upon the Lord where we realise that of ourselves we are nothing and He is everything – and we need Him!

How does Satan bring this about? Well, by anything that brings us into a place of weakness or failure where we realise our own inadequacy without the Lord. As we noted in the previous meditation he may lure us into stepping out further into our godless folly whereby we find ourselves on a slippery slope towards destruction. It may be that he simply prods us to speak out foolishly and we are revealed in our folly. He may tempt us to step out in our own security to do something that is in fact wrong and then we are convicted and our sense of guilt brings us to our knees again as we cry out to the Lord. Or it may be, as in Paul's case, that he does something in the physical or material world that puts pressure upon us so that we call on the Lord. I am sure it can include things like bad backs, migraines, illnesses or whatever. He is able to bring these things because we have stepped over the boundary of the kingdom of God with our pride, and have placed ourselves in this place of shadow where we are vulnerable to what the enemy then brings.

At one point James wrote those familiar words, Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas 4:7) This still applies even in the circumstances we have been speaking about where it is a short term folly. Do you see the order that is so important and which complies with what we said at the beginning of this meditation: first, draw near to God! Come back into a place of right perspective and of submission to Him, and then you can resist the enemy. Yet we have to acknowledge that from Paul's experience there do seem to be times when the Lord seems to allow an ongoing affliction because of the ongoing danger of pride, but that you will note was because of the amazing revelations that Paul was receiving: “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,” (2 Cor 12:8,9), and so the greater the possibility of pride, the greater the likelihood of the Lord's intervention using His instrument. For most of us, that is unlikely because we don't move in the same level of ministry and revelation that Paul had, so relax, draw near to the Lord, resist the devil and he will flee from you!







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Series Theme: Instruments of God

Meditation No. 8

Meditation Title: Learning to Resist


1 Pet 5:8,9   Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith


Now the instructions of these verses are not shown as reasons why God uses Satan as one of His instruments but there is clearly an outcome that is seen which only comes when Satan is active. The biggest question that perhaps hangs over the subject of Satan is why he should be like he is. No clear answer is given in Scripture but the fact that a number of angels rebelled against God (see Rev 12:7-9) indicates that God has given them, like us, free will which they can exercise to either follow Him or reject Him. Satan clearly rejected God and seeks to do his own thing, yet within the strict confines of God's will. In each of the instances in Job 1 and 2 where God allows Satan to move against Job, it might be summarised by “Thus far and no further.”

The prophetic word in Isaiah, said by scholars to refer to Satan, speaks of his pride and fall: “ You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." (Isa 14:13,14) Such would appear to be the cause of his initial downfall. Now psychologists link anger with frustration and so his frustration, at realising the folly of his desires against Almighty God who is infinitely more powerful, may be the force that stirs anger within him that makes him desire to act against God and His Creation wherever possible. The Lord allows him that leeway for His own purposes.

Thus we find Satan described here by Peter as prowling around in the same way that a roaring lion does as it looks for prey to devour. Satan will take whatever opportunities are given to him to destroy God's creation.

Now already in Job we have noted the power that Satan is granted by God to work out His purposes, power to stir up enemies of God's people (Job 1:15,17), power to bring lightning (Job 1:16) and power to stir up a hurricane. Note there, two instances of using human forces and two instances of using the forces of nature. Finally of course, he had the power to afflict Job's body (Job 2:7). It is clear from Jesus' ministry that sickness or infirmity was often associated with demonic or satanic activity.

So these are the things that Satan is allowed to do if the circumstances and God permit. However, says Peter, if we hold firm to our faith and give him no cause to maintain his activity, then we have to learn to resist Satan and we will overcome him.. Learning to resist enemy activity is a key learning activity of God's children. In learning to resist we become stronger and we learn to understand the resources that God has given us, and we glorify God.

Of course Satan's activities in seeking to devour us or bring us down, go way beyond the things we observed in Job; they also include accusation and temptation. These we noted in an earlier meditation, but which we now need to note more fully here. One of the things the young Christian needs to learn to resist is the voice of accusation of this roaring lion: “You are a failure! You're a sinner! You don't love God! You are weak! You are hopeless!” and so it goes on. Learning to ‘resist' here means learning to know and declare the truth that is exactly opposite to these lies, or apply the truth of Jesus to them: “I am a failure but God loves me and Jesus died for me. Yes, I get it wrong but when I confess it God forgives me and still loves me. I do love God! I am weak in myself but God gives me His strength. I have a hope that is in Christ that he is going to continue working in me, changing me slowly into his likeness and this will continue until I come face to face with him in heaven!” Unless we learn to resist in this way we become condemned and weak and soon fall.

The fall comes when, because we have been weakened, this roaring lion now comes and says, “Come on stand up, be a man (or woman), choose for yourself, don't let these religious freaks tell you what to do. You do what you like, do what feels good, it will be all right!” And of course it isn't. We give way to the temptation and we go down under guilt and condemnation (which we hadn't previously learned to deal with properly) and we give up and become ineffective Christians who are soon only that in name. Church becomes an embarrassment and boring and so we stop going. Soon we get weaker and weaker and become a prey to the enemy and face destruction.

No, the call to us is to learn to resist. That is why the Lord allows Satan to continue; not so that we fall, fail and go down. Maturity means learning to resist and through it we are strengthened. If we didn't have anything to resist, we would learn to overcome and we would become weak and flabby spiritually. No way! Don't let it happen! Learn to resist!








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Meditation No. 9

Meditation Title: Reliant Overcomers


1 Jn 2:14   I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.


We have considered, so far, alongside the actions of Satan, the way God uses him to reveal the hearts of men and then further how he captures and holds the hearts of unbelievers through deception to confirm God's judgment of them. In that activity he rules over or holds or controls the minds of unbelieving men and women. From there we moved on to consider how God uses him to discipline unrepentant believers and then how He uses him to bring humility into our lives when we allow pride to be established in us. Finally, in the previous meditation, we observed how Satan seeks to destroy or devour us by his various strategies and how we need to learn to resist him.

What we now have is simply the other side of that same coin, which is to become an overcomer and see ourselves as overcomers, i.e. those who have learned to resist to such a measure that we have moved into a place of triumph in respect of the enemy and give him so space or no opportunity to attack and bring us down, for John speaks to the young men in the church and says they have already overcome the enemy.

Now that may have two possible meanings to it. The first meaning would refer to what has happened at conversion . When they surrendered to God and He enabled them to be born again by the power of His Spirit, they were “rescued … from the dominion of darkness and brought … into the kingdom of the Son.” ( Col 1;13) By His enabling we thus overcame Satan's hold over us that we considered in an earlier meditation. We received the word of God and that, with the working of God's Spirit within us, delivered us from out of Satan's hands into the loving and protective hands of Jesus.

The second meaning would refer to the ongoing work in our lives of the word of God and the Spirit of God (although the Spirit is not referred to here.).When John refers to the word of God living in us, he is speaking of lives that are utterly surrendered to the word and therefore the will of God. THIS is how we overcome!

Do you remember how Jesus overcame Satan in the desert? Satan tried to get Jesus to use his power for his own benefit to prematurely end the fast. “Jesus answered, "It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4:4) i.e. I can carry on this God ordained fast by the strength my Father gives me through His encouraging words that He speaks to me. So then Satan tried to get him to prove God's protective power was there by jumping off a high building. “Jesus answered him, "It is also written: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Mt 4:7) i.e. look, I trust my father completely and we are warned not to test him for that would be a sign of lack of trust. Finally Satan offered Jesus a short cut to reach the hearts of men by first submitting to him. “Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: `Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Mt 4:10) i.e. the only person worthy of worship and submission is God Himself.

In each of those three temptations brought by Satan, Jesus overcame by declaring God's will to counter the wrong suggestion that was being proposed. If that had been us, would we have been able to declare the truth with force: God is my provider of whatever I need at this moment, God will protect me and I don't need to test him, and He alone is the only being in my life worth of honour and praise and worship and submission? It is the same thing that we declared in the previous meditation: we need to learn what the word of God tells us so that we learn what His will is, so that we can apply it and declare it in any situation where Satan comes to challenge the truth.

The truth – as it is revealed in God's word – is the vital element that enables us to live lives as overcomers, as those who do not go down before the lies and temptations of Satan.

That is first truth about God: He is all powerful, and all knowing and is everywhere, and He loves me so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for me; He loves me so much that He loves me exactly as I am and He loves me so much that He will not leave me like I am today but works to bring me to an even better place, more like Jesus. Even more, because of what Jesus has done, He will forgive me when I confess my sins and failures. Even more He has a purpose of blessing for my life.

Then there is the truth about myself: I was lost and helpless and hopeless but God saved me. This was through the work of His Son, Jesus, dying for me on the Cross, and the work of His Holy Spirit convicting me of my state and then of empowering me when I surrendered to Him and was born again. It was all His work and I can do nothing to add to that, only receive it. Although I have been born again, I still have free will and can still make wrong decisions and wrong choices and thus I can still think wrong things, say wrong things and do wrong things. Yet when this happens Jesus is interceding with the Father on my behalf for the Holy Spirit to act on my behalf and that may involve Him convicting me or generally bringing me to my senses, and so, when I cry for forgiveness, He does forgive. Even more, I am someone who is now living out a life designed by God and He is leading me more and more into the things He has planned for me, things that will fulfil me and bring a great sense of wholeness in me.

THESE are all truths revealed in the word of God. THESE are all the will of God and THESE are the things that need to anchor my life so that I can overcome and triumph against Satan when he seeks to accuse me, lie to me, sow doubts in my mind, or simply lead me astray. When these things LIVE in me, then I WILL overcome! Hallelujah!









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Series Theme: Instruments of God

Meditation No. 10

Meditation Title: Discerning


1 Jn 4:1   Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.


Our overall task, we may need to remind ourselves in these meditations in this series, is to observe how God works and especially what instruments he uses to bring about His purposes. In the last four meditations we have seen how God works in respect of believers, using the enemy to discipline and train us, to teach humility to counteract pride, to teach us to resist the enemy's activities and to learn to be continual overcomers. Now all these, we emphasise are in respect of believers.

Now today's verse is not specifically about instruments that God uses as such, but it is about how God wants to teach us and how we are being encouraged to learn how to be discerning about spiritual matters. Prior to writing this today, I was reading a blog from someone who had started out being a member of a cult but who had given that up and now accepted that any and every spiritual form in the world had something of merit. That person, I suggest, would benefit from a serious consideration of what John says in his letter. The apostle Paul, in his closing words to the Ephesian elders warned, “from your own number men will arise and distort the truth.” (Acts 20:30). That is a short warning of what often came as warnings in the New Testament – the truth would be distorted by the enemy. When someone comes and teaches, says John, we need to discern whether they come from God or from the enemy.

Similar warnings often came from Paul, for example, “we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (1 Thess 2:2-4) That is a particularly interesting warning because a) it warns against deception, b) it specifically warns against dubious prophecies or apostolic letters (not all are from genuine apostles or are inspired by God – warning not to believe all ancient writings!) and c) it warns about the Last Days when deception will be a major form of attack by the enemy.

Paul also warned Timothy to watch out for these things: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” (1 Tim 4:1,2) This is particularly pertinent in the light of John's verse. People, Paul says, will be led astray and away from the faith by “deceiving spirits and … demons ”. There it is quite clear that he is talking about agents of Satan.

Not only will they seek to distort the truth or lead you away from the truth, they will do it specifically in respect of morals: “No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” (Eph 5:5,6) The empty words he refers to are words of human wisdom, inspired by the enemy that says any form of behaviour is all right. It is not, implies Paul. Why is that so? Because God has designed us to live and work in certain ways and anything contrary to His design is destructive. We need to learn to be discerning, both about the origins of such teachings (false spirits and Satan) and the nature of such things (contrary to God's design and will).

Similarly to Titus, Paul warned, “there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach.” (Titus 1:10) In each of these quotes there are significant descriptions we need to note. It is those who are ‘rebellious' who are likely to teach wrong things, justifying their rebellious spirit. They simply talk untruths and are not inspired by God. They speak (teach) wrong things and they upset and ruin the faith of others.

In his closing words in his first letter to Timothy, Paul warns his young protégé, “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.” (1 Tim 6:20,21) The truth is a vital element in the Christian life for it is the foundation of faith. The person I referred to earlier says all beliefs are equal, which is a statement of pure deception. How can beliefs that say opposite things both be true? Their statement or creed of life is based on ignorance because if they truly looked at what different belief systems say, they would know that they cannot all be true.

The Christian faith is based upon historical facts which can be examined as to their authenticity and validity. The teaching of the faith matches life and observation of what it says means it can be verified. The teachings of the Christian faith as seen in the New Testament are unique and alone provide assurance of eternal life, a life lived in relationship with the One God, which begins here and continues on in eternity, brought about by the work of the Son of God. Accept no substitutes! Be discerning!








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Series Theme: Instruments of God

Meditation No. 11

Meditation Title: Genuine Faith


1 Pet 1:6,7   though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.


As we continue these meditations on the instruments that God uses in His work, we ease away from thinking about Satan and consider broader issues. Now he may be in the background causing these things, but we will consider them in general and not of him as one of their causes. We refer, of course, in the light of today's verses, to the trials that we have to face in life. Indeed as we proceed, we look more and more at the outcome of what happens when God uses these things. Why does He allow them? What is achieved by them? These are the crucial questions that arise.

Really all this goes right back to the Fall, or even before that, to when the godhead were planning the Creation and planning humanity. As Father, Son and Spirit looked into the future they must have seen the consequences of creating beings with great capabilities together with free will. If they had limited our brains to something not a lot more developed than an amoeba then there wouldn't have been a problem, but the Lord determined to make us in His image, which means He gave us the abilities to communicate, think, plan, reason, invent, create, write, work, order, purpose;   He has given us self-consciousness, imagination and conscience, and ability to grow and develop. It is all that AND free will, so that we could choose how to exercise those things. As the Fall shows us, there is the difficult bit, for it includes the ability to go against God's design – which we did – and once we do that things start going wrong. We only have to look at the ills of our modern society to see the myriad ways this works out!

So we live in a world where stuff goes wrong. Frequently, if not mostly, this ‘going wrong' is human originated. We do wrong things, unkind things, bad things, foolish things, and they all have consequences, bad consequences! These consequences are painful and hurtful. You only have to have to consider relational breakdowns that occur in family life to see this – but it occurs in all areas of human life. There is also a very positive side to human life but we have to face this side of it first.

So things go wrong and we “suffer grief”, but that isn't the end of it according to the New Testament writers for they see that for Christians, God redeems these bad things by taking them and using them to change us for the better. Peter, in our verses above, refers to these things, not as miscellaneous, mundane, random things, but as “trials”. A trial, or test, is a specific thing used for assessing a person or situation. We talk about having ‘horse trials' by which we mean a competition where horses and riders are put through their paces to see how well they cope with a course full of different obstacles. It's a good example for this is exactly what we face in life – a number of obstacles designed to see how well we will cope with them.

Now this doesn't say how the trials or obstacles arise. We've just used the word ‘designed' but they are only designed in the sense that the godhead designed life to work as it does, knowing that left to ourselves we will create the obstacles ourselves, if not for ourselves, certainly for others. Trials are simply things that go wrong in life but which are allowed there, at least in God's bigger plan, to teach and train and strengthen us. In fact we will consider these same things more fully in coming meditations. First of all though, we simply note from these verses that such things have been allowed in the Plan to prove the reality of our faith. This is the first of the many outcomes that the New Testament reveals are the outworkings of trials.

Peter is quite clear in his mind that “These have come so that your faith… may be proved genuine.” Faith is all about hearing God and responding to Him. That is true from the outset when we heard the Gospel and responded to it, right through to the present time when we still ‘hear' the Lord through His word and His Spirit and respond to Him. That is what The Faith is all about. It isn't about how we struggle on our own to be nice or good people; it is about how we express our relationship with the Lord in the face of the obstacles that occur in life.

So someone is unpleasant to us. How do we respond? The way we respond reveals the reality of our relationship with the Lord. We suffer an illness. How do we respond? The way we respond reveals the reality of our relationship with the Lord. We get into difficulties at work or in life in general. How do we respond? The way we respond reveals the reality of our relationship with the Lord!

But there is even more to it than this; it is so that this “may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. ” i.e. as Jesus is revealed in you so it brings glory to God. If we handle these obstacles properly, whenever they occur, we will turn to the Lord to receive His help, His guidance and His grace, and will receive His power and His wisdom. That will simply be the expression of Jesus in us by his Spirit, and when that is seen, God will be glorified, whether by people seeing it here on earth (Mt 5:16), or the heavenly watchers (see Eph 3:10) seeing it from above. THAT is the potential of trials. More in the next meditation!