Satan’s Subtle Art of Destruction

In recent months, I have found myself reflecting on twenty years of ministry in the church. The reflection has inspired me to ponder future years of ministry, if God should sustain me in it. The lessons he continues to teach me are, I believe, not only for pastors and those engaged in vocational ministry, but for all Christians. It is my hope to offer some of these lessons and cautions in a way that is similar to how C.S. Lewis offered his concerns in The Screwtape Letters.

Lewis wrote through the lens of the fictitious Uncle Screwtape, a senior demon who mentored his nephew, Wormwood, in order to tempt and destroy Wormwood’s Christian patient. While we can rest assured that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) — he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4) — we also know that our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). So, I offer the following thoughts to the end that you would not be outwitted by Satan, or be ignorant of his schemes, as you fix your eyes on Christ, the author and finisher of your faith (Hebrews 12:1).

My Dear Wormwood

First, encourage your patient to make a name for himself and build his own kingdom. Inspire him to believe his own press — fondle every good thing he hears about himself and his ministry, especially flattery. It shouldn’t be too hard, since we have almost won the battle on this front. It is almost universally accepted now that Christians, and especially pastors, should try to make a name for themselves, build their own kingdoms, and cultivate cult-like followings — always commending their own books and ministry activities, praising themselves, and getting others to do so as well. In sum, convince your patient that our Enemy didn’t really mean what it seems when he said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1).

Second, seek to persuade your Christian patient that being cool, dressing cool, talking cool, and acting cool really matters. That just the right hair style and just the right look is what can make the difference in the church and ministry, and that being holy and modest is not cool. Acting, dressing, and speaking in a way that doesn’t bring extra attention to yourself is for ordinary people, for uncool people — in short, for losers.

Third, do everything in your power to keep your patient from regular communion with our Enemy, and convince him that being busy in life and ministry is an acceptable excuse not to spend regular time in prayer. If you can, get him to rationalize that because he offers short prayers to the Enemy throughout the day, he doesn’t need to have a dedicated and disciplined time of prayer. And if you can get him to the point where he tells people he prayed for them, without actually praying for them, even better.

Fourth, our Enemy calls himself the “chief shepherd,” and he has called our patient to be a shepherd — a pastor — but you must get this notion out of his head. The Enemy has called him to shepherding, and we must distract him from it. If possible, cause him to despise mundane work. Convince him that he only needs to be a “pulpiteer” or talking head — not a shepherd. Convince him that “preacher” is a legitimate office in the church, and that the daily hard work of pastoring is something from which he can graduate with just a little bit of ministry success. Get him to think that he can someday move beyond dealing with little things and little people in life and ministry.

Fifth, use every scheme available to you to help your patient rationalize the sins in his life that no one sees. Get him to think that keeping up appearances is what matters — not guarding his heart, not caring about what he does when he is alone, or not considering how he treats his wife. Convince him that his public Christianity, his public ministry, is really just a stage play. Convince him that he’s an actor and that he simply needs to act holy, humble, loving, and repentant. He needs to act like he really prays for people, act like he really cares about people’s problems, and act like he is passionate for the Enemy. If you can do all this, you have him right where you want. Get him to think he doesn’t have to examine his heart and that all he has to worry about is not getting caught in secret sin. After all, he’s one of the Enemy’s “special ones,” so he thinks, and too big and important to fall. Rationalization guarantees our long-term success in this regard.

Sixth, persuade him that the ordinary Christian life and the radical Christian life are mutually exclusive, and that he needs to choose a side. Convince him that ordinary is boring and that radical is excessive. Convince him that being ordinary is beneath him, and then convince him that being passionate is amateurish. Thus, leave him slightly bewildered and vacillating. In the end, convince him that he needs to act like and look like the world in order to fit in with the world and win the world. Obscure from him the truth that a radically ordinary life is a great threat to our purpose and mission.

Seventh, convince him that grace is for other people, but not for himself — that grace is for really bad people, but not for pastors. Make him pompous so that he not only thinks he has all the grace he needs from God, but also that he is above receiving grace from others — particularly those he serves. Persuade him to stop fighting for joy in his life, to stop praying for joy, and to think that God doesn’t care if he is joyful because, after all, life is hard and full of complexities and miseries. Be sure to help him realize that not to be joyful is actually a way to trick people into thinking that he is really quite holy and wise.