WE MUST NOT FORGET
WE MUST BE SOBER-MINDED
WE WRESTLE NOT AGAINST FLESH AND BLOOD
OUR ANCIENT FOE
STILL LOOKS FOR THE WOUNDED
STILL HUNTS EASY PREY
Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
(I PETER 5:18)
The great hymn of Christendom, “A Mighty Fortress,” became the theme song for our personal battle. God gave it to us right away, though we misunderstood what we were fighting. We thought we were fighting cancer.
It was the week after Steve’s diagnosis. We had come rushing home from the Indiana retreat, despondent. He told us that the Lord had told him “to fight.” We were heartened. If the Lord told him “to fight” then the Lord is going to give him this battle. Steve will not die. John and Julie and their kids had also rushed home — this picture was taken that week — all smiles — we were going to face this battle and God was going to give us victory over this terrible cancer! We would not lose our husband and father and grandfather.
That week Steve was so tired, resting on the living room sofa. Sally sat at the piano, singing hymns to him, asking him to choose one for the solo she was going to sing in church on Sunday. When she sang “A Mighty Fortress,” he said:
“That’s it. That’s exactly it.”
I recorded this in my prayer journal, and in The God of All Comfort:
Sally sang “A Mighty Fortress” in church this morning. Annie and Beth on one side of Steve, pressed into him, me on the other. John and family in the pew behind with John’s hand on Steve’s shoulder. Sally sang it as a fighting song — I’d never heard it sung that way — I don’t think I’d ever really understood it before. I’ve heard it sung majestically, but never with righteous anger. Yet, it seemed so right. It is a call to battle against Satan and all the spiritual workers of darkness. Sally kept shaking her fist at Satan, at “the prince of darkness grim,” at the one “armed with cruel hate,” at the one who must not “this battle win.” each verse grew stronger, and our hearts found courage for the fight ahead. But when Sally got to the phrase “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also,” she looked at Steve and faltered. It was too much for her, and she stopped, paralyzed with grief. Suddenly — and I will never in all of my life forget this — Judy [the pianist] began to sing, then the congregation rose — standing in the gap for us, finishing Sally’s song for her.
Thankful for the support of our congregation, still, it was the shadow of the cross. A foreboding. Were we to let kindred go?
No. My denial kicked in. Sally just was overcome by fear momentarily. We will win this battle.
It wasn’t until ten months later, in the same church, after a strong message on 1 Corinthians 10:12 (Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall) that Steve leaned over to me and said:
“I’m seeing the fight differently.”
I looked at him, confused.
“It isn’t a fight for my life.”
I was still. Finally, “Then, what?”
“Satan wants me to deny God.”
We both thought of the message. How a man who said he would never deny God did, to avoid martyrdom — and how the man who asked for prayer glorified God as flames burned up his body. I was silent. Then weeping. Steve put his arm around me.
The photo below is one that was in an emergency room where our own Chris S. brought her son who died — she drew strength from it and tells about it in the last post. Though the waters rage, the LORD is our MIGHTY FORTRESS. When Steve told me the fight was different, again, I was overcome with fear. This meant the waters might actually take my husband. Overwhelming. Sense of drowning. And he, simply wanting to glorify God. But his pain was becoming overwhelming and his sadness at the thought of leaving us. Where could we go? Only to Him, our Mighty Fortress in the storm.
Did we in our own strength confide
Our striving would be losing
Were not the right Man on our side
The Man of God’s own choosing
Doth ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabbaoth, His name,
From age to age the same
And He must win the battle
The LORD strengthened Steve to glorify Him to the end. He spent a week in the Milwaukee hospital just two weeks before he died at home. He made such a strong impression on the doctors and nurses that there were about twenty who came into his room as the helicopter was coming to get him to say good-bye. When one young doctor said to me, “I’ve never met anyone like him,” I was able to tell her it was Jesus in him. The Lord is strengthening us in our grief, and we do better know His heart, His love.
Sally sang “A Mighty Fortress” without faltering at his funeral. All the children shared how their Dad loved God — to the end. You can see a video of Anne sharing and also a memory film she played at her wedding at this link: http://www.deebrestin.com/about/steve-brestin/
A few years later, Sally and I went to see a production of Screwtape Letters in Chicago, the C. S. Lewis book inspired by the story of Job, and his fight against Satan, his fight to glorify God no matter how bad it got.
Max McClean played Satan, but he also had a helper. A gymnast costumed as an ugly little demon. She would climb a ladder up from the pit of hell to send mail in a “bank tube” like machine to Screwtape’s helper, “Wormwood” on earth.
She would read the mail when it came back.
If the news was good — if Wormwood’s “prey” was backing away from God during sufferng, she would leap to the ground in joy, cartwheeling across the stage.
But if the news was bad, if Wormwood’s “prey” was actually pressing into God during suffering, she would fall, somehow not breaking her back, screeching and clawing the air as she fell back to the pit of hell.
When we left the theatre, I asked Sally, what have you learned in these five hard years?
She said, “If God gives me the desire of my heart, I will praise Him. But if He does not, I will press into Him, and the enemy will fall, screeching, in defeat!”
And though this world with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, For God hath willed
His truth to triump through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure.
One little world shall fell him.
This week I watched Soul Surfer with my teenage grandchildren and thought it was definitely one of the better Christian movies I’ve seen.
Because it is a true story, it showed that real suffering comes into the life of the Christian — and that the “happy ending” may not be health, wealth, or winning — but maturing of character. As Joni Eareckson Tada says: “God’s purpose is not so much to make us healthy, wealthy — or even happy, though it pleases Him to do so — but to make us holy.” There were some key moments in this film worthy of comment — and I’d love your comments — on how though Satan won the skirmish, the Lord won the battle. Satan only got enough rope to hang himself!
Satan comes whispering lies, but this young girl, because of her faith, was able to overcome those lies.
What is the lie that threatens to undo us? It’s always been, from Eden on, about God’s love.
The lie that Luther battled during The Reformation was “You have to earn God’s love.”
The lie that we battle during suffering is
“You have lost God’s love.”
What is the truth, O my soul?
What stood out to you from the above and why?
Part I. Bible Study
1. Read Job 1:6-12
A. In verse 7, what was God’s question and Satan’s reply?
B. What do you know about Job from the opening of Job, and why might he be of special interest to Satan?
C. Who brings up Job’s name according to verse 8? Why, do you think?
D. Why does Satan believe that Job follows God? What is Satan’s challenge?
E. Who has the upper hand here? Support your answer scripturally.
2. Read or sing the 2nd verse of A Mighty Fortress (see above). Lord Sabboath means Lord of all the good angels and all the evil angels. What stands out to you? (My favorite rendition is Steve Green — can hear on U-tube.)
Michael Card said Job was trying to lament — but his “friends” keep interrupting his dialogue with God. Yet God breaks through — two very famous times — but we are going to look at the first time — a time many have missed — but a wonderful way that combats our ancient foe’s old whisper: God doesn’t love you.
It occurs in Job 14. It is important to remember Old Testament saints did not have the understanding of heaven that post-resurrection believers have. They saw it as a shadowy world. Keller says that Job is lamenting, wishing he could die, but then he isn’t sure he wants to die — because what will death be like?
3. Read Job 14:7-10
A. Why does Job think there might be more hope for a tree than a man?
B. What question do you see in verse 10?
4. Read Job 14:11-13 and describe Job’s lament, fears, and wish.
5. Suddenly the Spirit arrests Job, and a question comes to mind. Find it in the beginning of verse 14.
6. Read Job 14:14-17
A. Job has been given an assurance — how does he respond in the 2nd part of verse 14?
B. According to verse 15, what will God do after Job is laid in the grave, and why?
This thrills me. One day God will call my name, Steve’s name, your name — and we will rise, like Lazarus! He will call for us because he misses the one his hands made.
C. How does this combat Satan’s lie? How could you speak this truth to your soul? Write it here:
7. Meditate on the last verse of A Mighty Fortress (above) and share your thoughts.
PART II. If you can possibly do it, buy Keller’s MP3 on this passage, listen, and give us your thoughts:
PART III. UPDATE: Here is the link to the “God of All Comfort, Part 7″ on Moody Radio: Link
8. Did anyone see “Soul Surfer” or “Luther?” (Both movies relevant to this week.) Comments?
9. What is your take-a-way from the week and why?
The lie that Luther battled during the Reformation was
“you have to earn God’s love.”
The lie that we battle during suffering, and that “this world with devils filled” whispers to us constantly is:
“you have lost God’s love.”
That’s an easy lie to believe. When you are suffering, if you have an awareness of sin, you think, “That’s right. I’m an idiot. I don’t deserve God’s love. ”
C. S. Lewis wrote “Screwtape Letters” in which the devil (Screwtape) writes from hell to his apprentice, “Wormwood” on earth. My daughter Sally and I went to the play that has recently been made out of this classic book. Max McLean played Screwtape, and a female gymnast played a little demon who helped him down in hell. She would lithely climb a rope ladder to send and receive letters to earth via a bank tube. When Wormwood’s response had good news — that the client had believed the lie and was backing away from God, she would leap from the top of the ladder and do cartwheels and flips joyfully across the stage. But if the news was bad, if the client was actually trusting God in the midst of suffering and pressing into Him, she would shriek, claw the air as she fell, and somehow land safely, like a cat with nine lives.
My daughter Sally has suffered a great deal in her young life. When we went to the play she had recently made it through a long and severe depression, but was then battling with infertility. When we left, we were both contemplative. I asked her, “Honey — what have you learned in these last five years of tremendous suffering?”
She said, “I have learned that God is good and that God is in control. If He gives me the desire of my heart, I will be so thankful. But if He does not…” And then she screeched and clawed the air — and we both laughed.
And though this world with devils filled
should threaten to undo us
we will not fear, for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us
The prince of darkness grim
We tremble not for him,
His rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure
One little word shall fell him
Screwtape Letters was inspired by the book of Job. We will return to Job so that we can see how though God gave Satan a lot of rope — it was only enough to hang himself.
Questions — feel free to do one or two a day. They are meaty, so chew slowly.
1. Mike Mason, in The Gospel According to Job, says it is unusual to be rich and righteous, but it can happen. How do you see this in Job’s life in Job 1:1-5? Look carefully at phrases and practices.
2. What did Satan believe about Job according to Job 1:9-11? Can you see, when you look at your own heart, why Satan’s statement might have some legitimacy to it? How does loss reveal our hearts?
3. God is omniscient, so knew Job loved Him for Himself — but Satan did not know this. Summarize Job’s losses in chapter 1 and his response.
4. (Challenge question) In the whole book of Job — God never explains to Job why he is suffering. Why, do you think? (If any of you love Tim Keller like I do — I recommend his series on Job: Job — a Path through Suffering at Redeemer.com — Keller explains why God couldn’t tell Job.)
5. Sing Matt Redmond’s Blessed Be Thy Name — a contemporary version of Job’s response. (I am confident you techy sisters can find the lyrics or video versions!) Share your contemplations.
6. Memorize verse 3 of A Mighty Fortress. Contemplations? One internet source if the blue letter Bible which will give you Scripture references for the lyrics for great hymns. Share your contemplations.
7. Do a little research on Screwtape Letters. Give us some background, some key points, some ways it has impacted you if you read it.
8. What was Job’s second test in Job 2:1-10? What was Satan’s thinking? How did Job respond?
9. What application does this have to your life?
Lord, I ask Your protection over my sisters as they work, for I know the enemy does not like to be exposed. You are greater, and we trust you. Give us wisdom, give us trust, and give us your quickening as we press into You. Thank You for each woman, and for her desire to know You, love You, and love her sisters.
In Jesus Name
P. S. If any of you are in driving distance of Kansas City, I’m giving a free retreat on The God of All Comfort with Amy Shreve on April 17th. More details and registration on my website. (They suggest a donation of $20 — but it really is a donation.) Love to have you fill up your car with friends and come!
Psalm 46 not only inspired Be Still My Soul, but, amazingly, Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God, a song all about spiritual warfare. Martin Luther would often say to his melancholy and frightened friend, Philip Melanchthon, “Come Philip, let us sing the forty-sixth.” They certainly faced a frightening battle, but because of their trust in God, were used by Him to lead the Reformation. Thank God.
Shortly after Steve’s diagnosis, our daughter Sally told him she wanted to sing a hymn for him in church that Sunday. He requested A Mighty Fortress, for God had told him to fight. (We didn’t understand what our true battle was yet, but we did know we were in a battle.)
What happened that Sunday I will never forget. This is from The God of All Comfort.
Sunday, August 17th
Two weeks after Steve’s diagnosis
Sally sang “A Mighty Fortress” in church this morning. Annie and Beth on one side of Steve, pressed into him, and me on the other, John in the pew behind him with his hand on Steve’s shoulder. Sally sang it as a fighting song — I’d never heard it sung that way — I don’t think I’d really understood it before. I’ve heard it sung majestically, but never with righteous anger. Yet, it seemed so right. It is a call to battle against Satan and all the spiritual workers of darkness. Sally kept shaking her fist at Satan, at “the prince of darkness grim,” at the one “armed with cruel hate,” at the one who must not “this battle win.” Each verse grew stronger, and our hearts found courage for the fight ahead.
But when Sally got to the phrase “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also,” she looked at Steve and faltered. It was too much for her, and she stopped, paralyzed with grief. Suddenly — and I will never in all my life forget this — Judy (the pianist) began to sing, then the congregation rose — standing in the gap for us, finishing Sally’s song for her. They are with us.
THE QUESTIONS (Take one or two a day or all at once.)
1. Take Psalm 46 slowly:
A. What do you learn about life and about God from verses 1-3?
B. What is “the city of our Lord?” Who is she, and what do you learn about her from verses 4-6?
C. (Challenge question!) Why do you think that in this context God is called “The God of Jacob?” What lie does this title defeat?
2. Comment on the above story in this post from The God of All Comfort? What application do you see for your life?
3. Do some research on Luther, the battle he had, his friend Philip, the writing of A Mighty Fortress and share what you learn.
4. Tell us about your favorite renditions of this song.
5. Memorize the first verse of A Mighty Fortress and as you do, what do you learn about our enemy? About our God?
6. Memorize the second verse of A Mighty Fortress and as you do, what do you learn about yourself? What does “Lord Sabboath” mean?
7. How does this meet you where you are right now?
You can find more help for these questions in the studyguide The God of All Comfort, but you can also find answers in other ways. We have an amazing group. We are in a battle against the enemy, but we are definitely in it together. Let us pray for one another as we begin this part of the study, for we need one another’s prayers.
Lord, I thank You for the women you have called to this study, and who are diligently pressing into You. I see You transforming their lives and their lives rippling out to transform others. Protect us, put a shield around us, and remind us continually of your great love, for the enemy wants us to believe you do not love us. I ask this in Jesus name.