God's Wonderful Ways
God’s Wonderful Ways; Peter E BarfootThere are things in life which are so marvellous that we behold them with astonishment. People who are not clever with their hands marvel at the handiwork of those who are. How is a house built? How is carpet woven? How is furniture crafted? Most amazing of all are the wonders of nature – God's handiwork. How does a bird fly? How does a kangaroo hop? How does a spider weave its web? It’s why the Nature Channel is so popular.
The Way of a Serpent on a Rock
How Satan Hides Himself
From almost the dawn of time, the serpent has been shunned as a loathsome creature. No wonder: thewriggling, writhing reptile, first mentioned in the book of Genesis, seems to embody all that is evil.
It was not always so. Originally a creature of charm and beauty, the serpent first made its reputation forinsidious evil in the Garden of Eden. When Eve sinned, she blamed the serpent for the shame she felt inherself. That blame continues to this day.
Of all creatures, the serpent is uniquely associated with sin and guilt, lust and disgust. When Adam and Evelost their relationship with God, the serpent lost its acceptance with them. In the Garden, it had offered superior knowledge with enticing words. It was Eve who had first yielded to temptation, then Adam. The sweet juice of the forbidden fruit then turned to bile in their stomachs – the bile of hatred.
From then on, human self-disgust was trodden in the dust, in the form of the serpent, which became thesymbol of all that was satanic – a reminder of the first sinful act. The serpent that God had pronounced “good” (along with the rest of Creation) became to mankind a vile and repugnant creature – a reminder of the subtle evil that lurks below the surface of civilized society, and – if we are honest – hides in the heart of every person not yet ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ.
The snake moves by muscular contractions of its body. These contractions leave telltale marks in the dirt that reveal where the silent and unseen reptile has been. No such trace of its movements can be seen on a rock, for it's very hardness hides the snake's passage. The serpent has been and gone, but who can tell when, or where?
Agur many times pondered "the way of a serpent on a rock," giving the matter the same thoughtful attention he had given the flight of the eagle. How was it that these creatures – one overhead, the other underfoot – could pass without leaving visible evidence of their passing? Despite all his wisdom, Agur was unable to come up with answers. "It's too wonderful for me!" he admitted to himself. "I just cannot work it out!"
Satan is slippery: he slides in a serpentine way through sinful human relationships, leaving behind him strife, lies, murder, and immorality. The lie is his specialty – he created it. (John 8:44) He moves across hardened hearts, leaving no trace of his movements.
What is hard-heartedness? Jesus linked the hardness of his disciples' hearts to spiritual ignorance (Mark 8:17).Pharaoh's stubbornness hardened his heart against God. Pride, deception and unbelief are also hardening agents. (Nehemiah 9: 16. Hebrews 3:12, 13)
In his definitive parable of The Sower, Jesus likened soil, in its differing states, to the conditions of the human heart. (Matthew 13) The hardened "wayside" soil had never been cultivated. This speaks to us of the futility of preaching the gospel to people whose hearts are unreceptive to truth. The same applies to thin soil on belowsurface rock. A rock, by definition, is "a hardened mass" – a thing incapable of receiving life, not to even mention producing growth.
When human hearts become hardened, life too becomes barren. Hard attitudes develop. Hard hearts are as impervious to change as rocks, and some are as immovable as boulders, in that they oppose and resist change of any kind.
For example, a husband and wife have an argument. Jealousy starts the argument. Suspicion and resentment enter into it. Sure, there are obvious reasons why the couple has a problem: he spends too much time away. She has lost interest in her housework. She accuses him of unfaithfulness. He compares her unfavourably with other women, sneering at her plump figure and fading beauty. She makes pointed remarks about his thinning hair and growing paunch. Accusations fly to and fro between them.
Soon it's not just words that are flying but also long-held hurts and recriminations. Small objects at hand also fly. Doors slam! Tears flow. The argument ends, as always, in bitterness and in a deteriorating relationship.
Where is Satan in all this? Oh, he's there, all right, hiding in their wrongs, hissing hatred, coiling resentment in the heart of the woman, striking out through the man's cold criticisms. Satan’s fangs inject venom through the biting words of both. Lingering doubts remain after his departure. Satan has been and gone unseen, leaving the marriage relationship poisoned.
When hearts are soft, the serpent's trail is soon spotted. "This is behind our mutual distrust." "It has been hiding since the time you really hurt me." Look, there are the contraction marks: insinuations, veiled insults, subtle innuendoes. The serpent did its work and went its way, leaving two broken-hearted people wondering how they allowed it to enter in the first place. Jesus faced, resisted, and finally conquered Satan himself; our task is to expel demons that entered people while they were weak, vulnerable, or rebellious. Jesus has given us authority over Satan’s power.
Snakes like rocks because they draw warmth from them. They hide in the crevices between them. No soft soil there to mark their trail; no way of discovering their hidden presence. The "way of the serpent on a rock" is not just difficult to find – it's almost impossible.
Where hardened hearts hold sway, so too does “that old serpent, the Devil.” How to soften hard hearts?
"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with allmalice: and be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." (Ephesians 4:31, 32)
We need to rid ourselves of the hard things in life – those stony looks and stony silences – and more of the soft things, such as kindness, love, compassion, and mutual forgiveness.
God has promised to take the "stony heart" away and give us "a heart of flesh” – a tender heart. (Ezekiel 36:26. Hebrews 8:10) Although God's love softens us when Jesus comes into our hearts, hard attitudes may later develop towards other Christians. A defensive, protective hardness may also result from our being hurt in some way, and a determination never to be hurt again.
The hearts of the Israelites were hardened as the result of their bitter experience at Marah, and theirrebellious attitude at Meribah. (Exodus 15:23; Numbers 20:13) The events were 40 years apart, but much murmuring, complaining and bickering had taken place in between. The people had seen God's mighty works, but had not known his wonderful ways. (Psalm 95:7-11)
Satan is subtle. He identifies himself with the heart attitudes of people. What some call "a bad display of emperament" may in reality be "a serpent on a rock” – a demonic power moving on a heart that has become hardened. I have seen individuals manifest such anger that it was difficult for me to tell whether it was them or a demon! There were times when it was both.
What has always been spiritual is now viewed as psychological. From warning Christians not to see "demons under every rock" the Church has swung to the extreme opposite, and now sees "personality disorders" in every subconscious mind. The term, “personal demons” is now widely used to describe innate personal problems.
It is so pleasant to be with people who exercise self-control (one of the fruit of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:23). Extremes of emotional behaviour in hard-hearted people, such as "love- hate" relationships, allow demons to manifest their malignant nature in displays of "temperament." When the damage is done they "lie low" until the next time.
"He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls." (Proverbs 25:28) A city without walls was one that an enemy could enter and leave at will. Christians need to set up defensive walls of mutual trust and respect around marriage and family life. Satan works through demons, who in turn work through those who are easy to manipulate. As rebellious teens, before being converted to Jesus Christ, we were youthful idiots, but Christian maturity has prevented us from becoming the Devil’s useful idiots.
It takes spiritual discernment to trace the way of a demon on a hardened heart. Where necessary, the Lord exposes what is really at work through the supernatural gift of "discerning of spirits." (1 Corinthians 12:10)
In a time when demons are busily working through satanic New Age concepts, “spiritualist” practices,perverted doctrines, and mind-numbing meditation-relaxation therapies, Christians need to be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. But we cannot be sensitive unless we are soft-hearted – toward God and toward one another.
Forgiveness – God's for us and ours for others – is the only effective way our hearts can be softened, andremain soft. We need to put things right with those we have offended, and we need to forgive those who have offended us. Not to do so leaves us vulnerable to enemy attack.
If we will humble ourselves and seek reconciliation, the “serpent’s way" will be obvious to all of us. Thefellowship that will follow the exposure and rejection of its serpentine methods will be as enjoyable as it is wonderful!
MY HUMBLE PRAYER
"Dear God, forgive me, for I forgive those who have offended me. I will ask for forgiveness from those whom I have offended. I will seek to be loving and kind and compassionate to everyone – especially those whom I find it difficult to relate to. Please help me, in Jesus' Name. Amen."