When we think of Satan, the first thing that usually comes to mind is how he tempts us to sin. He typically does this by dangling something evil in front of us, hoping that we’ll take the bait. Because he is so devious, however, the temptation is often “gift wrapped” in shiny bright paper to make it look attractive. But you probably know that already, right?
What you may not know (or recognize) is one of Satan’s subtler tricks. By planting seeds of discouragement in our mind, he can accomplish his goal of separating us from God with little effort. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, by understanding how he operates, we can mount a defense and emerge victorious. Satan may be sneaky — but he’s not all powerful!
The first thing we must accept is that the devil is real and is out to get us. In his first letter, St. Peter makes this crystal clear:
Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Dissecting this passage will provide us with a few key pieces of information about Satan. Let’s take a closer look.
Satan is your opponent
The Greek word for “opponent” used by Peter in the original manuscript is translated as “adversary” elsewhere in the Bible. Make no mistake about it, the devil is not on your side. He is your enemy and his main goal is to drive you away from the Lord.
He is on the prowl
That’s quite an image, isn’t it? Before you get completely frightened by the thought of a wild animal stalking you, I want to call your attention to something very important. St. Peter doesn’t write that Satan “is” a roaring lion, but that he is “like” a roaring lion. The last thing I want to do is downplay the threat posed by the Evil One, but I also have to point out that his bark is worse than his bite. He’s got a big mouth and roars loudly, but he can’t force you to commit a sin. His power is limited.
Now that we know the devil is real and a force to be reckoned with, let’s take a closer look at one of his most effective tactics — planting discouraging thoughts.
His bark is worse than his bite.
As we have already discussed, Satan’s main goal is to drive a wedge between us and God. Because he is very intelligent, however, he will not use the same approach on everyone.
Some individuals are very susceptible to falling into mortal sin, but others are not. Do you think that someone who had the audacity to tempt Jesus will just throw in the towel and leave those folks alone? No way!
Refusing to give in, Satan often uses discouragement to attack them. Think about it for a minute. If the Evil One can get you to lose confidence in God, you will eventually stop praying. When that happens, the devil wins. Anything that puts distance between you and the Lord makes him happy.
What, if anything, can be done to combat the lies planted in our minds by Satan every day? Fortunately, St. Paul gives us a good place to start:
For, although we are in the flesh, we do not battle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
By taking these discouraging thoughts captive and turning them over to Christ, we can stop the enemy in his tracks. Whenever a situation appears “hopeless,” remind yourself that “nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:37).
When you begin to doubt the effectiveness of prayer, call to mind how Jesus healed the woman who hemorrhaged for 12 years (see Mark 5:25-34) and how he raised Lazarus from the dead (see John 11:1-44). Revisit the parable of the unjust judge (see Luke 18:1-8) and recall the message about “praying without losing heart.” The lies of the devil are no match for the truth of Jesus Christ!
While the battle against Satan is winnable, it does require a decent amount of work. Because he hates God so much, he doesn’t give up easily. Once again, the words of St. Peter give us a way forward:
Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. (1 Peter 5:9)
Peter uses the Greek word, anthistémi, which means to “oppose fully”, but note that he doesn’t tell us to do it by our own power. The only way we can consistently emerge victorious over the devil is through the power of Jesus Christ. By firmly (or steadfastly) standing on the rock of our faith, we can withstand the enemy’s attacks.
So there you have it. As long as you cling to the Lord and tap into his power, Satan will have no power over you. He’ll probably keep trying, but you’ll know how to respond. Finally, here’s something to consider: If you find yourself under attack on a regular basis, you’re probably doing something right. Satan likes to target those who pose a threat to his evil ways. The fact that he considers you a threat is a good thing.
Keep up the great work!
So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)