For a few years, I had a steady date on Tuesdays with a local coffee shop drive-thru. Like clockwork, I would place the exact same order and then drive to my father’s home. His home was now a memory care facility where he thrived on a gloriously structured and predictable routine.
When Covid restrictions curtailed my in-person visits last summer, I was grateful to discover an app that allowed me to order a coffee and donut delivered at the same time as before. The amazing staff would then allow me to visit via Facetime with my father while I sipped my own coffee or the occasional cup of tea. A few months into our virtual visiting routine, I found out that my father’s health was now declining sharply after years of battling Parkinson’s Disease and Parkinson’s Dementia. Hospice became part of his care team, and our coffee dates eventually had to stop.
In that season of walking with my father into the final months of his life on this earth, I sometimes felt surrounded by enemies.
Chuck Lawless, speaker, and author of Putting on Your Armor, says,
We face three enemies: the world, our flesh, and the devil (Eph. 2:1–3). In some cases, the three are so interwoven that it’s difficult to tell them apart. Our primary problem is not Satan, though. We are our biggest issue.
In Psalm 37:12-17, David shares wisdom about these enemies and their strategies. While they share similar goals of distracting and discouraging God’s people, they employ different strategies. God however is always ready to respond.
The Enemy Within: My Flesh
12 The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, 13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming.
The enemy within gnashes his teeth at me, and because he is so close, I can hear him when no one else can. Culturally, teeth-gnashing would have been a demonstration of disrespect and anger. How often does my own inner critic treat me with that kind of disdain and resentment? This enemy inside my own head knows me all too well and has a keen awareness of my weaknesses which increases the advantage. Sometimes the words sound more like whispers, but they are designed to intimidate and cause shame.
Truly, I can be my own worst enemy.
How does God respond to the strategy?
God laughs at this enemy because He knows the day is coming when this will all be over. God does not listen to the lies of my inner critic spins. My flesh only has access to the past and present. Meanwhile God can see into eternity and know that my flesh will someday fail. God’s truth about me, his child, can silence the vicious inner critic.
Spending time meditating on what God says about me, helps me counter the negative narrative my inner critic tries to overwhelm me.
The Enemy Without: The Devil
14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright; 15 their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.
This wicked enemy appears well-armed and ready and yet God protects his own with a shield that repels the sword strikes and fractures the bows. This external enemy threatens me with harm by drawing his sword and bending his bow. He uses weapons to intimidate and looks for me to cower and flee. This external enemy, the Devil, is active in this world and does strike God’s people with fear and seek to paralyze them and keep them separated from God.
How does God respond?
God promises the sword that threatened me will pierce my enemy’s heart. My enemy’s bow will be broken and rendered useless. God knows the rest of the story. Jesus’ death on the cross has destroyed the works of evil; however, the Devil still prowls around the earth. I must be watchful and remain sober-minded about what he can and can’t do. (Ephesians 5:8) Ultimately God wins in this battle.
Spending time writing down a list of all the times that God has come through for me victoriously helps me see how God is always on my side. Sometimes I need to tend my soul by testifying about God’s faithfulness.
The Enemy Surrounds Me: The World
16 Better is the little that the righteous has, than the abundance of many wicked.
The world displays wealth and prosperity all day every day in every possible way. The lie that those who do not follow God are living an amazing life competes for my attention daily. Being bombarded by that lavishness can wear me down. Envy can sneak right up on me. Conversely, many I know who are made right by the blood of Jesus, have only meager resources based on the standards of the world. Not that all believers or righteous ones are poor, but many are. God tells me that the little the righteous have is better. It is better and more beneficial to live a life not weighed down by excess. God knows what I need and makes sure I have that. Ultimately, If I had to make a list of what really matters to me, it would likely be rather short
How does God respond to the world and the displays of excess?
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous.
He promises to break my enemy’s power and strength. He creates a powerful visual of a reversal of expectations when God promises a victory and to hold me and, His righteous ones, close in His strong and capable arms.
Spending time writing down a list of my blessings can remind me of all that I have that is most important to me. My enemy would like me to focus on what I lack. God calls me to sing aloud of the great blessings He has provided.
Last September, while my father was in hospice care, it was easy to feel surrounded by these three enemies.
My inner critic or flesh often caused me to feel inadequate for the task at hand, and I felt that I had not done enough for my father. Finally coming to the point of realizing that only the Good Shepherd could lead my father to his eternal home. My caretaking role was slowly diminishing.
The Devil certainly prowled around trying to tempt me to feel discouraged and second guess my caretaking decisions.
The World served up images of what death should look like for my father. The reality of watching a loved one slowly diminish in strength and vitality is not what television or movies would like any of us to believe. Sometimes people pass away in amazingly gracious and beautiful ways. Sometimes people die in terribly rapid and violent ways. Other times it is a slower and arduous process that can feel draining. Sitting close to suffering and the dying process feels wrong by the world’s standards. However, Jesus so often entered the space of people’s suffering and practiced the ministry of presence. I was grateful to have some of those sacred and quiet times with my father towards the end of his life.
Lord, thank you that you never leave me alone with my enemies. You are always there to help me. What you provide for me will always be enough. I thank you that you promise to break the arms of my enemies because you are always stronger. Thank you that you are always ready to uphold me in your arms. When you hold me close to you, I can focus on the truth of your words and promises. In Jesus’ name, Amen.