“Position before submission.”
Those were the words spoken to me by an instructor in a martial arts class as I steadily ratcheted the force on my opponent in an attempt to make him tap out and thus end the match. The problem was not in a lack of force, but in the subtle details of the placement of the force. A corrective nudge with my elbow, a shift in my body posture and then a slight angle change caused a sharp cry of pain followed by the frantic slapping of my leg by my opponent’s hand. The submission followed the position.
What is true in physical combat is also true in spiritual battle.
To the church at Ephesus, Paul writes, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We wrestle against evil. We grapple with it. We do not participate in sterile, long-distance attack but heated, hand-to-hand, close-quarter combat. Satan works to position us for our fall. He is both sneaky and strategic. We are warned to “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). He has wiles and deceitful plots fabricated for humanity as a whole, but also personalized for you.
Those crafty, evil plans executed with patience are designed to lead us astray, not only in the moment of submission, but in the time of positioning. We expect a frontal assault, not a systematic reduction of our defenses.
We make the mistake of believing Satan will always come as a roaring lion instead of an angel of light (1 Peter 5:8, 2 Corinthians 11:14).
Sometimes the subtlety is astounding.
James 1:17 shows us that every good and perfect gift comes from God (an idea I have expounded upon more here), but Satan would love for us to turn a good gift bad and cause us to stumble over the good thing God has given.
“But wait,” some would object. “But every good gift is from God, and Satan always works against the things of God! How could those things be used that way?”
Some things we view as good may not be truly from God, and some good things from God can be used by our flesh (the habits of who you are before you know Christ or that unredeemed part of our humanity) and used by Satan to work against us. But the thing we must remember is this: Satan will allow us to enjoy a short-term victory in order to lead us to a long-term failure.
That is a “blessing from below.” You undertake a cause, begin a relationship or move in a direction, and Satan might fight you at every step…or he just might allow you to have success in that particular area, and you move forward unimpeded not realizing that his plan is a push toward destruction made easy by your forward momentum.
When I learned to drive, my father taught me that, at night, I could accelerate beyond my speed to react to the limited amount of road I could see in the headlights. I could “outrun my light.” In the same way, Satan sometimes removes constraints so you can run freely, only to outrun your ability to slow down and careen out of control.
Sometimes the victory is used as part of the attack.
There is an old Japanese proverb: “After victory, tighten your helmet cords.” Success does not always eliminate the threat entirely. Dropping one’s guard can result in a renewed assault. The best course of action is vigilance in victory – tightening the helmet cords. When you win a spiritual battle, you are vulnerable to attacks because the tendency is to relax and strip off your armor. A win can be as deadly as a loss.
Few things will embitter you as quickly as someone else’s success, and few things will blind you as quickly as your own. The ease of success is not always from God. Satan will allow you to set yourself up for a fall by permitting success while knowing your flesh will seek to betray you. Your flesh will never be satisfied with spiritual wins, but will seek self-destructive gains. The ever-present traitor waits and works to destroy your spiritual well-being. Your flesh is loyal to the old you. Your flesh resists the regime change.
The blessing from below comes not only in the form of fighting the reception of the good thing, but in allowing you to pursue that good thing in the wrong way. Evil does not always come knocking at our front door in an attempt to cause us to hate God in an outright fashion; often it slips in the back door and distracts us with other, lesser things.
We might not hate God, but it is just as destructive to love other things more than Him.
So how do ready ourselves?
Set you mind and be on guard against the blessings from below (1 Peter 1:13).
Test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Walk with care (Ephesians 5:15-16).
Your enemy will help water your garden knowing that it can grow to the point where it blocks out your view of the sun.