Day: March 10, 2009

anxiety: the devil’s in the detail

This past weekend I preached on the conclusion of Peter’s first epistle (1 Peter 5.6 -14). It can feel a little grab bag-ish — as if there are a bunch of things Peter wants to say by way of encouragement that he just throws in there as he’s wrapping up.

But I actually think the things he says here do all fit together and make sense. When Peter urges us, ‘Humble yourselves … Cast all your anxieties on him … ┬áDiscipline yourselves … Keep alert … Resist the devil’, he’s taking us on a guided tour of how to stand fast in God’s grace (v. 12).

If this is the case, then the question of how┬áto relate these various words of encouragement to each other crops up. In particular, how are we to relate resisting the devil to the call to humble ourselves and cast our anxieties on God? What’s the connection between our worries and anxieties and the fact that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion?

For Peter’s original readers, this question had a lot to do with the hostility and persecution they were suffering. Although it seems to consist largely of verbal — rather than physical — battering (cf. 2.12, 3.9-17 — with Christian slaves as a possible exception in 2.18-21), he does label their situation a ‘fiery ordeal’ (4.12). And that sounds pretty drastic.

So, by linking the pressure they were experiencing for sticking to their guns with the activity of their adversary the devil, Peter transposes their plight into a whole other key. Their day to day struggles are played out against a cosmic backdrop. The ordinary Christian life within a hostile (or perhaps just indifferent) world is the fulfilment of all the kind of talk we get in Old Testament books like Daniel about apocalyptic battles between good and evil. The devil is in the detail.


But what about us? Do you spend much time thinking about this cosmic and apocalyptic struggle going on behind the scenes of your day to day experiences of hostility, contempt, indifference, ostracism, bad-mouthing and whatever else causes you anxiety as you seek to stand firm in the grace of God in a world in which it makes very little sense? What difference would it make if you did?

ADDENDUM:┬áBefore you sound the alarm, I’m not recommending that we start blaming the devil for every little thing that goes wrong — as if the string of red lights that made you late to the job interview was part of some grand conspiracy! If the devil is in the details of everyday life, he’s to be resisted not obsessed over. Nor am I suggesting that those who persecute us are to be resisted as if they themselves are the devil. We’re to resist him, not those who persecute us for doing right (cf. 3.9-17).

Significantly, the connection between the devil and our anxieties runs the other way too. The way we’re to resist the devil under pressure is to cast our anxieties on God, humbling ourselves under God’s mighty hand by turning to him in prayer. Spiritual warfare is not about knowing the right rituals or the right names. It’s about that basic act of Christian faith, crying out to God in expression of our dependence on him.

Remember Job? The devil opposed him, testing his faith. And Job, who never even had an inkling that there’s a cosmic conflict behind his troubles, resisted him simply by turning to God. He didn’t blame God. He humbled himself under God’s mighty hand. Even the boldest expression of pain and frustration to pass Job’s lips doesn’t fail to be an expression of faith. Pain, anxiety, doubt and even indignation laid before God is an expression of faith not unbelief. And it’s the key to resisting the devil!