The Father of Lies
We often fail to be alert, to realize that we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with powers, with principalities, and with the prince of darkness.
Early in my speaking ministry I was asked to speak at a retreat in my state for women ministers from a mainline denomination that I knew to be very liberal in its theology. My book, The Friendships of Women, had just been released, and I think the retreat coordinators felt that friendship would be a light and “safe” topic, one that would not delve into the atoning work of Christ or His literal resurrection—neither of which they embraced. I accepted the invitation and prayed and prepared earnestly. It seemed an opportunity to share the gospel and its power within the framework of friendship.
When I arrived Friday afternoon they welcomed me. A fire blazed in the dining room of the lodge and we sat at tables eating pizza and answering light get-acquainted questions the coordinators had put at our places. We were laughing. The ice was broken.
But I was only about fifteen minutes into my first talk when the ice returned. The talk began well when I opened with how my closest friends and I had had a heated argument right in the middle of my writing The Friendships of Women. I told them we were talking about how to be good mothers, a dangerous topic, and we disagreed. We were full of pride and not careful with our tongues. One by one my friends left in tears. The women were attentive.
The ice began to form when I told them how God led us to forgive one another. None of us wanted to, but when we got alone before God He reminded us of how much we had been forgiven and of the price Christ paid on the cross for us. How could we not forgive one another?
Eyes began to avert and papers began to rustle. The temperature dropped. The gospel is either the fragrance of life if you embrace it, or the stench of death if you resist it.
Afterwards, the plan was for women to stay up and play games. The retreat coordinator approached me and told me I didn’t need to stay. She also told me firmly that she wanted me to stay with the topic of friendship.
I went back to my room, prayed, and called my husband, telling him of the icy response. He promised to pray for me the next morning while I spoke.
That next morning I spoke about the friendship of Ruth and Naomi. I felt compelled to also show them how hidden in the book of Ruth was Boaz, a Christ-figure who paid a ransom for Ruth. I told them the gospel is everywhere, from Genesis to Revelation, and it also turns up in every biblical friendship. I thought if they could just see how it is woven everywhere, it would open their eyes. But they didn’t want to listen. They began to turn to one another, muting me with their whispers.
Afterwards, I sat at the book table, but only a few browsed, and no one bought books. At lunch I was ushered to a table where I sat alone. I decided to pick up my tray and join a group of women, but as soon as I did, their talking ceased. I asked them to tell me about themselves, but they didn’t. One woman asked me why I was so dressed up, since this was a camp. Another asked me icily where I had learned to speak. I wanted to cry, I wanted to run.
I went back to my room and called my husband again, this time in tears. He listened empathetically and he prayed for me. Before we hung up, he quoted 1 Peter 3:13-16.
“I’ll pray for you while you are speaking, honey.”
In my final session, I opened with my testimony, thinking that even if they didn’t believe the Bible, that this might persuade them. I told them how selfish and spoiled I had been–how difficult I was as a wife, how frustrated as a mother. I couldn’t see that the problem was my sin. I didn’t understand that the hunger in my soul was for God. It wasn’t until my sister came and shared the gospel and the dramatic claims of Christ that I began to see and to fear the Lord, which the Bible says is the beginning of wisdom. And it wasn’t until I surrendered to Him that I had the power of transformation in my life.
It was very quiet. Many were looking at their shoes.
Then I turned to the topic of friendship again, using Mary and Elizabeth and their excitement over being part of God’s plan to bring the Savior into the world.
Afterwards the retreat coordinator expressed her disappointment to me. She told me again I had not stayed with the topic of friendship as requested. She also told me I had been insensitive to use only biblical women who struggled with infertility as my models, for many there struggled with infertility. Though I recognized that as a fiery dart from the enemy, it still tore at my heart.
Never was I so eager to leave a retreat. I packed up my unsold books, carried them to my car, and drove home weeping. I had experienced a fraction of the pain that many of the prophets experienced every day all through their lives, and I didn’t like it. As far as I could see, the retreat had been a bust. I wept for the women themselves, for the sheep they were leading astray, and for my failure to break through.
I was so eager to get to Steve, to let him hold me and help me process the weekend. He reminded me that I had been faithful, and that was all God asks. He reminded me the women had a vested interest in not believing, for it’s hard to admit you have been leading whole congregations astray. He also reminded me that I didn’t know what might happen—there might have been someone listening, and with God nothing was impossible. When Ezekiel was his most discouraged, God showed him a valley of dry bones that came to life!
Steve and I didn’t talk in terms of idolatry, though I see it clearly now. If they embraced the gospel, they could lose their jobs, they would have to admit they had done severe damage, and they would lose one another’s approval. For those women, every idol was threatened: comfort, approval, and security. And I am sure the enemy was there, for he had a lot to lose. He was whispering his ancient lies, that God would not be enough for them.
But it isn’t just unbelievers who are lured and blinded. It is a battle every Christian faces every day.
God is on the move!
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