This is the second post on Thomas Brooks’s great work Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. The first post covered how Satan entices us to commit sin. If Satan cannot succeed in that, his back-up plan is to divert us from the good things we should be doing to experience abundant life and spread it abroad to others. Brooks uses the term “duties” for these activities, and under this umbrella he includes such things as devotional exercises, times of fellowship, acts of service, obedience to God’s commands, etc.
Tactic #1: Prevent the duty
First, Satan will try to keep us from even starting the duty. His arguments have two different targets. He may target the duty itself:
- It is so toilsome and tedious
- Few others bother with it, so why should I?
- It is been so fruitless in the past – I haven’t felt anything in doing it, so why even bother?
Or, Satan may attack our state :
- He engineers circumstances to provide excuses for neglecting it, such has “bodily indispositions” or “a throng of worldly affairs”
- He may suggest that you are currently unworthy of performing the duty, or not properly prepared for it, and to proceed with it would be irreverent and disrespectful to God. Best to wait until another time when you are truly ready to do it right.
- He can assert that Christ has done it all, therefore we don’t need to do anything. In fact, to feel a duty to do it is rank legalism and should be resisted.
Tactic #2: Corrupt the duty
If Satan can’t stop the duty from happening, Brooks says that he will try to derail it, rendering the duty “displeasing to God and unprofitable to us.” Brooks catalogues three approaches the Enemy can take towards this end.
He may try to unbalance the duty, ironically encouraging us to do it, but in a way that is spiritually harmful:
- He encourages a lesser duty to the neglect of a greater duty (consider Martha in Luke 10:38-42 or the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23)
- Put off the duty that is appropriate for you now to grasp for one that is beyond your current reach
- Perform the duty at the wrong time (e.g. praying when you should be working and vice versa)
Or Satan may encourage you to build the duty on a wrong foundation:
- To perform it carelessly
- To perform it in your own strength, instead of the strength of God
- To perform it for wrong motives, such as to win the praise of others, out of mere habit, or to manipulate God into doing what you want
- To perform it without any resolution to leave your sins
- To be more concerned with its outward form than its inward work
- To make human additions to it or to perform it to excess
Finally, Satan may try to distract you as you perform the duty:
- He may engineer external interruptions
- He may inject “sinful, proud, filthy, even blasphemous thoughts” into your mind to unsettle you (especially if you mistakenly identify them as your own)
- Prompts thoughts that are holy, but inappropriate for this moment; “good fruit in a bad season” (e.g. bringing a dozen great sermon ideas on the passage you’re reading instead of meditating on it for yourself)
- He can simply encourage our own flights of fancy
Tactic #3: Spoil the duty
If Satan can’t prevent the duty and he is unsuccessful in corrupting, he has one last ace up his sleeve: he tries to ruin it after the fact. He has two options for this, depeneding on our temperament. If we are the kind of person who runs ourselves down, he condemns the duty, picking it apart and critizing how it was performed. If, however, we are more prone to vainglory, he will:
- Promote our pride by congratulating us on how great a job we did – and drawing our attention to how much better we did it than others
- Promote our security be assuring us that, because we did such a great job, we can relax and be less diligent in the future
Resisting the Tactics
Against these devilish devices, Brooks recommends three countermeasures:
- Remember that “indispositions are no bar to duty; duty is the way to cure them.” Or, in the words of a social psychologist: if you don’t feel like doing something, do it; then you’ll feel like doing it.
- Perform your duties in Christ’s strength, not your own. This is done by constantly asking Him for His strength before and during the performance of our duties.
- The antidote for distractions depends upon their cause:
- A shallow mind – meditate on holy things throughout the day
- A dull heart – meditate on your sins, your needs, and God’s past mercies
- Worldly cares – avoid being sucked into what the world considers important