My husband and I met at a church function for a church I’d just started attending when I moved from another state. We knew very early on the connection between us was bigger than just attraction. We dated for almost two years prior to getting married. When we discussed getting married, we prayed and asked God to confirm His will for us. We wanted to make sure that God had ordained our union. He gave us confirmation about what we’d known since we met. I’ve always felt there was a great purpose in the two of us being paired together for life. I cannot imagine who I’d be if I had married someone other than my husband. I’m just as grateful for the difficult times we’ve had as I am for the good times. It’s in the times of hardship and suffering that we’ve been transformed and we’ve grown closer to the Lord and, eventually, each other.
Just like most marriages, there were times when we experienced difficulties. Our ways of communication were different. We got very frustrated when we felt we weren’t heard. We reached out to those in whom we trusted spiritually to give us wise counsel. Unfortunately, that’s not what we always got. A staff member of the church we were attending at the time gave advice that could have ended our marriage. Not only was it just plain bad advice, divorce could have stunted our spiritual growth by not allowing God to prune the bad fruit of our character. It was God’s will for us to be married and remain married. Like all marriages, we’ve had to put in a lot of hard work. We couldn’t hit the “easy” button or escape through the emergency exit. We had to stand in the fire and allow God to burn the chaff. I was extremely wounded that a leader in the church would give such bad advice because, frankly, he didn’t like me. In addition, I didn’t feel the church leadership was supportive of our marriage. Two other couples were marrying around the same time. I felt like the leadership was much more enthusiastic about their union than they were about our marriage.
I was wounded further when I saw a group of ladies huddled together in conversation after church one Sunday. I was waiting for my husband to load up equipment for the praise and worship team (we were meeting in a school) when I went over to join the group of ladies talking. Within a few minutes of my joining the cluster of women, they dispersed. A few minutes after they scattered, I saw they had reassembled again on the other side of the room. I felt hurt and rejected by these ladies. I wasn’t allowed into their circle of friendship, much less their conversation.
These are only a couple of examples for which offense within the church could have driven me away from coming together with other believers. That wouldn’t have been a wise choice nor would it have been a Godly choice. Hebrews 10:25 says to not forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.” So these folks didn’t encourage me. However, we fight not against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12). The assault on my heart was not perpetrated by the church folks. The wounds were inflicted by the accuser of the brethren.
Be sober [well balanced and self-disciplined], be alert and cautious at all times. That enemy of yours, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion [fiercely hungry], seeking someone to devour. But resist him, be firm in your faith [against his attack—rooted, established, immovable], knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being experienced by your brothers and sisters throughout the world. [You do not suffer alone.]
I Peter 5:8-9 AMP
The enemy roams to and fro seeking whom he may devour . . . you’re probably thinking about unseemly places that are obviously full of sinful behavior, but the reality is the enemy of God is lurking everywhere. The place you think should be safe from the enemy’s reach is the very place he seeks to penetrate. The devil wants in our church. He wants in through offense. Satan is most effective when he can subtly deteriorate the church from the inside as opposed to attacking from the outside. We all must wrestle with our flesh and surrender our hearts before the Lord when the temptation of being offended occurs. As I share this, I still feel the sting of pain from the judgment and rejection I perceived and endured from that church experience.
However, my reality and perception of that situation may not have been the absolute truth of the situation. There’s a fifty/fifty chance that the rejection I felt from those ladies that left me isolated after church that day was due to my own insecurities. During that time, I was struggling with my own insecurities and worthiness. Could it possibly have been a coincidence that the group of ladies disassembled and gathered together again spontaneously across the room and it had nothing to do with me? Absolutely. Sure, there’s an equally good chance it was intentional. But either way, it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I refuse to allow the enemy to get a foothold in my life and discourage me from assembling together with my fellow believers because I got my feelings hurt.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The more difficult situation to recover from was that of the staff member that insinuated that divorce may have been the best course for my husband and me. First, I thank God my husband discerned the advice given to him wasn’t God’s direction for our lives! Secondly, the staffer in question was young and inexperienced. I don’t say this to be condescending, because we’ve all been there. Maybe he was placed in the position of his calling prior to being ripe for that position. Although God has called us to certain vocations, that doesn’t mean we don’t get on-the-job training after we receive our appointments too. We all make on-the-job mistakes as we grow. I admit I didn’t like this staffer anymore than he liked me. We didn’t gel. Sure, I’d still like to throat punch the guy, but that doesn’t mean that he’s a bad person, a bad ministry leader, or that he’s mistaken about his calling. We’re all human and not all humans are required to like each other; but we are to love one another with the love of Christ. He needs the same grace and mercy in his ministry that my husband and I needed in our marriage. He shouldn’t give up on ministry anymore than we should have given up on our marriage or anymore than I should give up on going to church.
Do you remember playing Red Rover as a kid? Two opposing groups of kids with arms linked together would face off against one another. One team draws the weakest member of the opposing team out by taunting, “Red rover, red rover, let Judas come over.” Then the one called out would charge at the weakest link of the opposing team and try to break the barrier they had created by linking themselves together. Well, Satan is the red rover. He wants to entice the one that is weak in faith over to the side of destruction. That individual in his/her weakness will unwittingly carry the deception of the enemy into the weak link of believers. The church’s guard against this is being strong in our relationship with Christ and other believers.
The church is relational. The core of today’s Christian church should be individuals having a personal relationship with Jesus. The enemy will flank us to get to our relationship with Christ. Satan is going to attack our relationships with other Christians and with church leaders and members. Satan is going to attack the relationships we have with children and family members. Satan is going to come hard against our marriages. Once he has penetrated the most intimate human relationships we have, he will distract us and lure us away from our relationship with Christ. In Satan’s deceptive subtlety, he may not charge directly at your relationship with Christ, but he will attempt to destroy other relationships that were intended to help you grow into a deeper relationship with Jesus. Forgiving and loving your enemy is instrumental in disallowing a spiritual cancer to spread in you and in the church body. We can’t stop having relationships with other believers because of hurt feelings. The red rover will attack us in our relationships in hopes to sever ties and/or cripple relationships with our church family. More than ever, we must pray for unity and choose unity with other faithful Christians. Paul said it best in I Corinthians 16:13-14, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.”