I awoke in the middle of the night, filled with a vague sense of despondent gloom. Groggily, I tried to make sense of my surroundings. Oh yes. I was at a retreat. I was the speaker. And last night I had made a complete fool of myself.
Shame washed over me as I pictured myself, there on the platform in front of the large group of women attending the retreat. You weren’t very interesting. You rambled. Your attempt at humor totally flopped. They only laughed out of courtesy. And you looked fat. So, so fat.
Groaning, I rolled over and reached for my phone. As I glanced at the time, which read 2 a.m., I noticed a text from my friend Jackie, which read, “Wonderful, Shannon! That’s such an answer to prayer!”
I had reached out earlier that day to some of my praying friends who knew how things were really going in my life that week. I was heading into this retreat weekend feeling completely empty and depleted. I asked them to pray that God would show up in a big way—and He had! I had texted Jackie and the others before bed to tell them that it had gone so well. I had clarity and energy, and the women had been warm and receptive. In my weakness, God had been strong. That was the message I sent at 10 p.m.
But now—at 2 a.m.—I was no longer rejoicing over what God had done. I was cringing over how terribly my message had gone. In those four hours’ time, what had changed?
Arguments in the Dark
Paul says that though we live with our feet firmly planted in the physical, we’re in a war that isn’t. Satan’s attacks don’t come in the form of powerful explosives or guns. Instead they come through arguments (2 Cor. 10:3–5).
Jon Bloom of Desiring God says, “Watch your emotions. They are signals of arguments. Your emotions, which can land on you like vague impressions or moods, are usually responses to an argument. Moods don’t come out of nowhere. When we are angry, discouraged, depressed, anxious, self-pitying, fearful, or irritable, it is likely because we are believing something very specific.”
There in the middle of the night, I was facing spiritual attack. My accuser had snuck into my room and was whispering his arguments into my ear as I slept. He had come once again to steal my joy, kill my confidence in Christ, and destroy my sense of purpose. But God wanted me to fight back.
Dear sisters, as you step forward in ministry and leadership, you’re advancing to the front lines—not of a popularity contest but a war zone. You’ve got a target on your life, and you might as well know it. Your enemy will come, whispering his opposing arguments into your ear day and night, and you’ve got to be ready.
Please don’t mistakenly presume that Satan will only come after the ministry segment of your life. No, our enemy comes against us the way the media comes against a political candidate—as a whole person. Satan will use anything from our past, any personal weakness, or any person we hold dear as leverage against us.
In this past decade of serving as a writer, speaker, and leader, I’ve noticed that there is often a correlation between my stepping out in ministry endeavors and devastation or crisis involving my loved ones. The timing is uncanny!
The night of this retreat was no exception. It had been a horrendously painful week, filled with grief and fear as I watched someone very dear to me lose spiritual ground. Satan had come after my loved one, and now in a one-two combination punch, he was coming after me.
Interestingly, God never instructs us to plan strategic advances against Satan or launch counterattacks. Our instructions are to stand firm. We armor up so that we “may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:13).
Our stand, remember, is in our minds. We take our mental stand by tearing down the arguments that Satan throws up in our face. We choose to believe what God says is true instead of the arrogant, lofty arguments that Satan raises against Him. We cling to Truth and refuse to cave into Satan’s arguments.
And what happens when we resist? James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
Watching the Tape
My son, who is just entering high school, plays football—a game that I am still struggling to understand. My son tries to explain the plays to me, but everything happens so fast. People run in various directions, I can’t find the ball, and then a group of players pile into a heap. (Please pray for me; I really am trying to be a supportive mom.)
But there’s one part of the football program that totally makes sense to me: watching the tape. From a wide angle view, the coaches and players watch a recording of their opponents so that they can prepare their defense. They replay the tape over and over and study what their opponents are doing so that they understand exactly what they’ll be facing on the turf.
As Christians we would be wise to do the same. I think we often approach spiritual battles the way I approach football. We’re trying to understand, but it seems confusing. Everything happens so fast. And we always seem to end up in a heap, with no idea what just happened. To get ourselves ready, we have opportunity to “watch the tape” of Jesus when He went toe to toe with Satan in the wilderness.
Satan’s Attack Tactics
Notice that Jesus’ face-off with the devil was sandwiched between His baptism—when the heavens parted and God proclaimed that Jesus was His beloved Son—and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry of preaching and calling people to repentance (Matt. 3:17, 4:17). The timing was uncanny.
Notice also that Jesus was alone in the wilderness. No one could give a first-person account afterward. So we can assume (since this event is spoken of in several of the gospels) that Jesus told His disciples about the attack afterward—perhaps as a leadership training session. Jesus knew that they—and we—would face the same sort of attack from the same enemy.
As leaders, let’s huddle up and “watch the tape” of three arguments that Satan brought against Jesus. We can assume that as we step out in public ministry, our opponent will use these attacks on us as well.
What kind of God lets His own Son go hungry at all—let alone for forty days? That’s a tone of incredulous disgust underlying Satan’s suggestion to make bread out of stones. If Jesus is truly God’s Son, why in heaven’s name was He suffering not feasting (Matt. 4:3)?
Satan comes at the children of God with the same tone of incredulous disgust today. If God loves you, why are you suffering? Why would He allow this to happen to you? Wouldn’t you be foolish to trust a God who asks you to deny yourself?
See how Satan uses shame to run interception against our faith? He calls into question God’s goodness and our reasonableness for putting up with such treatment. But we can stand firm against shame by trusting God even when we are asked to endure hardship or to remain “hungry” for a while. God is good, He is for us, and we can trust Him.
First Satan wanted Jesus to shrink in shame; now he wants Jesus to puff up in pride. He says, “You’re God’s Son, right? Let’s see what happens if You jump from the temple roof. God has to send angels to catch You. He promised!” (Matt. 4:5–6).
Satan always turns God’s promises into formulas, then suggests we test them out. He wants to paint a picture where God is in our service, and we’re the ones making demands. See how Satan uses pride to juke us? By suggesting we stand up for ourselves and demand that God make good on His promises, our enemy is luring us into pride. And pride comes before the fall.
To stand firm against pride, we must humble ourselves as servants of God rather than entitled children. Humility doesn’t make demands of God but rather trusts that all of God’s promises will come true when God says it’s time.
Satan’s third attack was bold and audacious. He suggested that the Son of God get on His knees and become a Satan-worshiper (Matt. 4:8–9). How ludicrous, right? But when we look around at brothers and sisters in ministry leadership, we have living proof that bold temptation is a legitimate tactic.
Satan either argues that the leader is “the exception” who doesn’t have to follow God’s rules. Or he argues that she is weak and powerless to stop this thing that is happening to her. Either way, Satan uses temptation as a powerful tackle.
Standing firm against the devil involves saying “no” to temptation—trusting that a moment of satisfied cravings will bring devastation and heartache while consistent obedience brings lasting joy.
We usually think of the defensive line as the biggest guys on the football field—with wide shoulders, thick legs, and plenty of meat on their bones. But taking our stand in the spiritual battle is counterintuitive. We are most effective when we enter the field as weaklings, fully aware of our frailty!
This is because God is attracted to weakness, not strength. We fight best—not in our own power but on our knees, in dependence on God (2 Cor. 12:9). When we resist in this way, our enemy runs right off the field (James 4:7)!
Consider Jesus, weak from starvation after His forty-day wilderness fast. He resisted Satan by falling back on the Truth of Scripture and He held firm by refusing to be affected by Satan’s arguments (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). In our weakness, we can and must do the same!
He Will Flee
That night at the retreat, I was completely aware of my neediness. I was emotionally frail and physically drained from grief and lack of sleep. I did not see myself as a spiritual lineman; I saw myself as a weakling. But there, in the 2 a.m. darkness, I took my stand against the enemy. Softly, I began singing songs that anchored me in God's Truth.
And do you know what happened? My enemy fled. The gloomy despondence melted and peace flooded my heart. I had not come to stand behind that podium in polished perfection. I had come as an average, needy, broken girl who was learning to walk in faith and inviting others to do the same.
Friend, as you step out in ministry leadership, are you facing spiritual attack? Let me encourage you to identify the arguments that Satan is using to attack you. What are you facing? Shame? Pride? Temptation? Recognize your neediness and take your stand. Resist the devil, and he will flee!