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TEXT: II Corinthians 2:11b
SUBJECT: Precious Remedies #22
In our midweek study, we've been looking at the book, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. The author is Thomas Brooks; the date is late 17th Century; the goals are to expose the cunning ways of Satan and to help us overcome them by grace.
Thus far, we've seen how the devil tempts us to sin; how he disturbs our peace with God; how he sows discord among God's people; and how he uses our knowledge against us.
Tonight, we take up the topic: How Satan keeps us from holy duties. By "holy duties" I mean things like prayer, Bible-reading, and meditation. We know we ought to do these things; we know they're important, too. Yet we neglect them more often than we care to admit.
Why do we do this? There is weakness, of course. Remaining sin plays a part, too. And so does the devil. He is a real and cunning creature who does everything he can to keep us from our holy duties.
How does he do it? By stressing their difficulty, we learned last week. Tonight, we look at another way. The Puritan has it,
"Satan keeps the soul from holy exercises by casting in a multitude of vain thoughts while the soul is seeking God or waiting upon God".
The experience he describes is common, if not universal. As soon as you begin praying, things come to mind. Some of them are downright sinful; others aren't, but they distract you in your devotions. You bow your head and think, "I forgot to mow the lawn!" You open the Bible and it occurs to you, "I've got a lot of homework to do". You go to church and think, "I wonder who's winning the game?"
These are "vain thoughts". All of us have them. What do we do about them?
Thomas Brooks offers seven good remedies to the disease. With the blessing of the Lord, they can be of great help reining in your wandering thoughts.
What are they?
1. "Have your heart strong affected by the greatness, holiness, majesty, and glory of that God before Whom you stand".
If you were with a very great person--someone very important to you--do you think you'd bite your nails while he was speaking? Do you think your mind would wander? Do you think you'd say, "Huh? I wasn't listening".
Of course you wouldn't. Nobody would. The person's greatness would demand your keenest attention.
What do you think you're doing when you're praying or reading the Bible? You are standing before God Himself! What God? The God, so powerful, that heaven shakes at the sound of His Voice. The God, so holy, the Seraphim cannot gaze into His Face. The God, so loving, He sent His Son to die for sinners.
This is the God we approach in our devotions! Though we've lost a lot of it, "the fear of the LORD remains the beginning of wisdom".
The Medieval world had its faults, of course, but at least it got this right. Conducting his first Mass, Martin Luther recited the words,
"We offer unto Thee, the living, the true the eternal God..."
About them, he later said, "I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken. I though to myself, `With what tongue shall I address such Majesty'? Who am I that I should lift up my eyes or raise my hands to the Divine Majesty? At His nod, the earth trembles, and shall I, a little pygmy, say, `I want this, I ask for that?' For I am dust and ashes and full of sin and I am speaking to the living, eternal, and true God".
Shall a benighted monk tremble at the Majesty of God, while we--people who claim to know Him--draw near as though He's nobody in particular? As though He's not worthy of our most focused attention?
Go to those places in the Bible that emphasize His holiness and majesty. Isaiah 6 is a good place to start. Or Revelation 1. Reflect on the greatness and purity of God. And you'll not have so many "vain thoughts" in His Presence.
2. "Be decisive in your devotions".
In other words, make up your mind that you're going to pray no matter how many vain thoughts occur to you; you're going to read the Bible, whatever pops into your mind. "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" is how Paul puts it.
Satan is a bully. He's not looking for a real fight; he wants someone who's quick to give in. Show him you're not!
A man came to me with a problem. "I want to me more consistent in my church attendance" he said.
"It's very easy" I replied. "If you make up your mind to do it on Saturday night".
His problem was one of indecision. Every Sunday morning he had to answer five questions:
1. "Am I going to church today--or not?"
2. "Am I going to Grace Baptist today--or somewhere else?"
3. "Am I going to the prayer meeting--or to the eleven o'clock service?"
4. "Should I make lunch--or eat at home?"
5. "Am I staying for the afternoon meeting--or going home early?"
It's no wonder he missed so often. If I had to make all these decisions, I would too. And I'm the pastor!
Make up your mind ahead of time. I'm going to church; I'm going to my church; I'm going to the prayer meeting; I'm having lunch there; and I'm staying till the end!
If you do this, Satan will find no opening. And often, he'll give up. We have a promise, "Resist the devil and he will flee".
Be decisive. That's the second "remedy".
3. "Remember, when vain thoughts are abhorred and resisted, they are not sinful and will not keep us from being blessed".
Guilt is often paralyzing in its effect. You bow your head, and vain thoughts start occurring to you. They make you feel so guilty and discouraged that, you stop praying altogether. "What's the use?" you complain. In time, your prayer life tapers off to nothing.
The problem is: You're feeling guilty about temptation, not about sin. If resisted, temptation is not sinful and is no cause for guilt. Quite the opposite is true. If resisted, temptation is good for you and encouraging, too. Peter goes so far as to say, "Rejoice greatly" in it.
The Holy Spirit is not "grieved" by your temptations; chastisements don't fall because of them; you don't lose the blessings of God for them, either. Remember this, the next time Satan tempts you, and then blames you for being tempted! The guilt is his--not yours!
4. "Watching against vain thoughts and weeping over them, proves the sincerity of your heart".
The devil's sequence is this: Vain thoughts disturb your devotional life. A bad devotional life disturbs your assurance. A lack of assurance increases your vain thoughts which further disturbs your devotional life and assurance.
It's a vicious circle. How do you break it? By recalling, that though you often think "vain thoughts", you don't approve of them. What does that imply? It means your "vain thoughts" are but the "infirmity" every believer suffers, and not the mutiny of an unrenewed soul.
This knowledge will reverse the devil's sequence. It creates assurance which improves your devotional life which reduces your vain thoughts.
5. "Meditate on heavenly things".
Life is not easily compartmentalized. If you're thinking vain thoughts all day long, you'll be thinking them in your devotional times, too. Some of them can't be avoided. But let's face it: Some of them can be! Billy Bray once quipped,
"You can't keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair".
Make an effort to expel "vain thoughts" during the day, and you'll not be so full of them when you come to God in worship.
But don't stop there! Stock your mind with edifying thoughts. Thomas Brooks says,
"Take it for an experienced truth, the more the soul is filled with the fullness of God and enriched with spiritual and heavenly things, the less room there is in that soul for vain thoughts. The fuller the vessel is of wine, the less room there is for water. Oh, then, lay up much of god, of Christ, of precious promises, and choice experiences in your hearts, and then you will be less troubled with vain thoughts".
We must always beware of legalism. Rules won't make you holier; you mustn't despise people who don't follow your preferences. There is One Lawgiver; everyone is accountable to Him.
But having said this, there is a principle in the Bible we're apt to forget. It goes like this: "All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient". Not every lawful choice is the best choice.
I pass judgment on no one but myself. Do your pastimes, hobbies, or interests tend to fit you for God's service? Or unfit you for it? Do they so use up your time and energy that you've none left for God? Do they so occupy your thoughts, you can't get serious in prayer?
Neil Postman wrote a very fascinating book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. He meant it mentally, politically, and morally. But we could add "spiritually". Not that movies are sinful; that the internet is wicked! But these things have a way of "getting inside of us". When they do, they make the Word unprofitable and put our souls at risk.
If you're looking for something to do with your spare time, take Paul's advice, cf. Philippians 4:8. If you, you might just find those hated "vain thoughts" are no longer there.
6. "Keep up holy and spiritual affections, for your affections will guide your thoughts".
You tend to think about what you love. If you don't love it (like death or taxes or midterms) you try to put it out of your mind.
This means: If you love things Divine, you'll think about them and not be so troubled with vain thoughts. "Oh how I love Your Law--sang the Psalmist--"it is my meditation all the day". He thought of the "Law" because he "loved" it.
Has something replaced Jesus Christ in your heart? It can happen--even to Christians. We can "lose our first love"; and we have! If we lose that, our thoughts must wander into emptiness and sin.
Look at yourself. If Christ is not what He once was to you, "Remember from where you have fallen, repent, and do the first works". A heart full of Christ will do your devotions good!
7. "Avoid excessive worldly business".
Thomas Brooks was a Puritan, with a Puritan work ethic. Neglecting your job or your family for the sake of religion, he could not tolerate! He was not "slothful in business [but] fervent in spirit, serving the Lord".
Yet he knew that "work" may become excessive to the hurt and ruin of souls. He knew there was a time to work, but...
"Let not the world take up your thoughts and hearts at other times. Souls that are torn in pieces with the cares of the world will be always vexed and tormented with vain thoughts in their approaches to God."
If "worldly business" is hurting your soul, you may have to scale back your desires to fit your income. Or give up the promotion you've worked for so long and hard. Your children may not like it; your friends may call you a "slacker".
But..."What would a man give in exchange for his soul"? Is prayer nothing? Is the Word nothing? Is the Church nothing? Is God nothing? No believer says that, but do their actions speak louder than their words? And oppositely, too?
We have to be very sensitive about these matters. But we also have to do what's right. Brothers, beware "the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches". They have ruined many before you. If you let them, they'll ruin you, too.
If you want to abound in "holy duties" don't overbook yourself with "worldly business".
Satan doesn't want you to pray, to read the Bible, and to enjoy the fellowship of God's people. To keep you from these holy duties, he throws up every "vain thought" he can think of. You can't stop him from doing that. But you can resist him. You must resist him. And you can resist him. For you're not alone in the battle. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me".
It is He who gives us strength; it is He who gains the victory. But it is we who resist the devil. Let's be up and doing it, looking to Christ in faith. We won't be sorry.
"We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."
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