“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”Ephesians 6:16 (NIV)
“He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”John 8:44 (NASB)
One of my hunting companions tells a story about tent camping with some friends on Kodiak Island while bow hunting. After everyone crawled into their sleeping bag, he walked around and noticed a guy’s head bulging like a melon against the wall of one small nylon tent. He reached his hand out and cupped it over his the man’s head and said quietly, “Research has shown that when bears attack campers in tents they always try to identify the head for the first bite.” The lump on the wall of the tent suddenly disappeared. Unhealthy thoughts were getting into his head.
Have you ever had an unhealthy thought just “burst” into your mind? Have you ever wondered where the thought came from? Did it come from you or from somewhere else? Did the thought leave you feeling ashamed, condemned, conflicted or even afraid? It’s important that we discover where our unhealthy thoughts come from.
Okay, so guys like attention. When you are married, and especially if you have kids, you don’t always get the attention that you feel like you need from your wife. You know she loves you but life is crazy sometimes and it’s not always easy to stay enthusiastic 100% of the time. It’s at that exact moment, when you are feeling like you aren’t getting enough attention, that the enemy will push in little lies to send you his own negative message. So, you are feeling the “poor me’s” and suddenly your old high school girlfriend wants to be Facebook friends and sends a message to you about how she can’t believe you are still such a stud. (Okay so maybe she didn’t call you a stud specifically, but you and I both know she meant it.) Now the opportunity is ready for the enemy to strike. With just a few clicks and a “you look great too” response, you could start something that could easily turn into something worse. All so that you can get a little bit of your ego stroked. You know it’s not worth it, but it sure feels good at the time, doesn’t it?
This is how the enemy gets into our head, just like my friend grabbing the man’s head from outside the tent. But where are these thoughts coming from?
How many of us have unhealthy thoughts on a daily basis? Most of us, even believers do. But why? Where are they coming from? Maybe we aren’t having unhealthy sexual thoughts. They could be thoughts like; “I’m not having sexual thoughts so I must be more Spiritual then other men”. Or maybe thoughts like; “If I just had more money I would have more value,” or something even less obvious like; “Boy, that third Krispy Kreme donut would sure make me feel better right now!”
If you look through God’s lens, you’ll see that all of those unhealthy thoughts are based on coveting, or “wanting what I don’t have.” So, where are these thoughts coming from? Does it make me a bad person because these thoughts sometimes burst into my head?
Let me ask you a question. If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, do you want to be having those unhealthy thoughts? What about God? Is he wanting you to be having those thoughts? I think the answer in both cases in an emphatic “NO”. So then, if we don’t want to have them and we know God isn’t…where are they coming from? You got it, Satan.
So, how does the enemy keep us bound to his lies? One way he does it by what we’ll call unhealthy “Past and Future Thinking.” I want to clarify this issue for you. You can have healthy past and future thoughts. For example; remembering the day my son caught his first fish or a healthy future thought like imagining walking my daughter down the aisle. In this application, we are focusing on past and future flaming arrows that are lies from Satan.
Here are a few examples of “past” thoughts that might keep you awake:
- If only I’d listened better to my parents when I was young I might not be in this current position.
- If only I wouldn’t have bought that new car I probably wouldn’t be in this financial bind.
- Maybe if I’d treated my wife differently she wouldn’t have left me and taken the kids.
- What if the bank forecloses on my house?
- What if my spouse leaves me?
- What if my daughter gets pregnant?
- What if my son gets into drugs?
Most of us can relate to those issues, but do they really have to cause us to lose sleep with a huge list of unhealthy emotions? How do we tend to try to fight back? We try to cover up those unhealthy thoughts and emotions with watching TV, looking at porn, over-working, over-eating, excessive drinking or some other unhealthy behavior.
If the enemy can keep you busy trying to put out his past and future arrows, he’s got you. It’s important that we understand something. We live in the “present” and so does God. You don’t live in your past or the future and past and future thinking keeps us locked in an emotional prison. Look at what the Bible says in Matthew 6:34 about worrying about tomorrow;
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (NIV)
Here’s another passage from James 4:13-14;
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” (NASB)
In C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Screwtape Letters”, Satan is trying to teach his nephew how to destroy the Christians. The enemy states; “If we can just get them to live in the past or the future…we’ve got them!” Don’t sleep with your head bulging on the tent wall. Make good decisions. Live in the now. This is how the enemy grabs us by the head and begins to sink his lies deep into our thoughts. This is not just simply about “doing the right thing”. When the desire is removed to do the “wrong thing”, you will do the “right thing!”
Nearly all unhealthy emotions are rooted in the future, but many are rooted in our past. Regret causes us to look to the past while fear, anxiety, doubt, worry and the like cause us to be trapped in future thinking. So, how do we fight back?
Paul talked about this form of Spiritual attack in Ephesians 6:16 when he wrote: “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Those flaming arrows are the thoughts Satan sends at our minds. Paul didn’t make-up the arrow story. In ancient times, Roman archers used flaming arrows to intimidate opposing armies. A variety of materials were used to ignite arrows. One method was to pour melted pitch on an arrowhead, allow it to harden and then ignite it before shooting the arrow. Those arrows didn’t kill many men, but the effect was exactly as anticipated. Intimidation! Armies would turn and run in fear as they saw the flaming attacks coming. Fear can paralyze.
U.S. Armed Forces use fear and intimidation today in the war on terror. You can go to YouTube and watch some graphic segments of bad guys in hostile territories planting an I.E.D. via night vision from a monitor in a chopper. We can see them busy setting the bomb and then hear the command to take them out. Next a silent Apache chopper sprays them with a 30 MM Chain gun- from a half-mile away. The result is carnage and fear. When the bad guys watch this footage they know that there is an unseen force that is vigilant about stopping them in their tracks.
Our Predator drone strikes are another weapon of intimidation. One day some bad guys in Afghanistan are identified via a drone flying at 25,000 feet above the sand by a pilot sitting at a desk at an Air Force base in Nevada. Seconds later, a Hellfire missile closes in on them. That’s a modern day flaming arrow with the same intended effect. We are getting into their heads with the fear of the unknown.
Unhealthy thoughts are not new. When I was a kid, I’d sometimes lay awake at night worrying about the big kid who said he’d kick my butt at school the next day, just because. Then there was the fear that I would not be accepted by the cool kids and be shoved out of their circle and made fun of because I was not an athlete or extremely skinny. Or that I’d be chosen last again in gym class, as sides were picked for the basketball game. I’d spend a lot of time worrying about “What ifs.” Satan’s barrage of lies is not new.
As I’ve grown older, the thoughts that keep me awake at night have changed. They’ve gone from childhood fears to adult nightmares, worrying about the future. Thoughts like: “What if I can’t make my house payment this month?” or “What if I lose my job tomorrow?” Sometimes our unhealthy thoughts connect to the past and regret. “Why didn’t I pursue what I really wanted to do rather than being stuck in this dead end job?” “Maybe if I had married the girl from down the street, my marriage might have been better.” One train of thought is about the future: the “what ifs.” The other is about the past: “What might have been?” Both based on unknowns. Satan’s arrows often come from the “What ifs.”
Satan knows how to keep us awake at night and often aims arrows at our mind in an effort to disrupt our life. If he can land a flaming arrow, he knows the blaze can spread like wildfire. One minute we can worry about one situation, and then the worry spreads to another problem, and then another. Sometimes Satan’s plan is to just keep us staring at the sky and worrying about another flaming arrow. Satan is the great deceiver (Revelation 20:8-10) and the father of lies (John 8:44). He would love to derail us with fears, doubts, and untrue thoughts. The resulting actions from those feelings can be disastrous unless we learn how to take him out!