Life with Jesus is fulfilling, adventurous, beautiful, empowering—and frees one to pack light. However, no one is exempt from the obstacles and tragedies that are common to humankind. I’m certain you don’t need me to remind you of that! There are financial devastations, fertility difficulties, employment issues, and horrific injustices. There is also ungodly relational conflict.
I’ve read and listened to influential, fruitful Christian leaders (whom I deeply admire and earnestly pray for) who have admitted that there are some who oppose their ministries. These opponents will send along disturbing and hurtful messages, have nasty and unholy confrontations, and seem to have no fear of publicly posting on social media platforms their critical assertions—always in the name of “righteousness.” Now, I believe that a few of these opponents I’m describing are actually themselves deceived and thus arranged by Satan to try to hinder the advancement of the Gospel by wounding God’s anointed ones. Some are simply not Christians yet themselves and don’t understand the worldview and priorities of the Kingdom, so they take offense to or are confused by its ways. (Think about Saul before his Damascus experience.) But many, I believe, are in fact Christians who trust in Jesus for full salvation—who love the Lord heart, soul, mind, and strength—who do what they know to do to honor the Lord, His Word, and His people—they genuinely have good intentions, but are nevertheless acting from a place of spiritual immaturity, biblical illiteracy (they don’t know the proper procedures for handling their issues with spiritual authority), previous unhealed trauma, or simple brokenness. A book I read once would call such people “well-intentioned dragons”—the term for this diagnosis I still find amusing.
(And honestly? I’ve never understood what good a person thinks he is accomplishing by publicly criticizing Joel Osteen, for example, or Bill Johnson, or Brian Houston, or Beth Moore—for each of whom I have great respect, by the way. Most of those who criticize such public figures aren’t even remotely connected to them. Why bother?)
Well, friends, I hate to break it to you, but this is not reserved for only those influential, fruitful Christian leaders. At some point in our lives, we all will probably experience this sort of circus—those who slander us, persecute us, are critical of us, who look for ways to tear us down. Sometimes it comes from “well-intentioned dragons,” or maybe from those who don’t yet understand the priorities of the Kingdom, or even from those who are sent on assignment from the enemy.
I do want to be very quick to point out, as you know, that although there exists such relational conflict, our actual battle is not against people but against demonic rulers and authorities (Ephesians 6:12). Don’t be confused, friends.
Somehow in my life I keep coming back to Psalm 27. It has shaped so much of me, and even turning to its page in my old, worn Bible revives me. This may sound weird to you, but at times it feels like putting cool aloe on a burn. It still surprises me, it refreshes me, it cures me. It also gives voice to one of the echoing themes of my heart: “One thing I ask of the Lord, that I may dwell in His Presence and gaze upon His beauty” (my paraphrase of verse 4).
This morning, my soul needed me to recite over and over again, out loud, Psalm 27:1-3, which is,
The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?
When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh,
When my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
Though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.
Well, I wanted to treat myself to a coffee before I came to my church office, so I stopped at a Sheetz—which is arguably not treating myself, but it works for me in a pinch. For those who live outside western Pennsylvania, Sheetz is a glorified gas station that serves surprisingly quality food, beverages, desserts, and more… a chain that is far superior to Wawa. If you know, you know.
While standing in line, a stranger offered to buy my drink. It was a nice exchange; I politely thanked him and moved on, not really thinking much of it at the time.
Later, I had a lunch meeting with a friend, and while I was driving to meet him, the Lord brought to my mind the famous line from Psalm 23: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (verse 5). I went in to lunch, and lo and behold, someone from a different table covered the tab for both my friend and me. As soon as I learned this, the Lord immediately brought Psalm 23:5 to my mind once more, and suddenly, sitting right there in that restaurant, He revealed something to me that had been hiding in plain sight.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
In this Scripture, the Lord is not removing David’s enemies from the equation, nor is He delivering David from the situation. The enemies continue to be quite present! Maybe the sneering is still going on, and the spears are still poised to strike, and the enemies are not backing down! But what’s happening is the Lord is causing David to flourish right where he is. He is invited by the Shepherd-King to relax at a table and drink from a cup that overflows, there in the middle of a circle of bloodthirsty enemies. I can almost hear the Good Shepherd lean into David’s ear and whisper, “Take off your sandals and stay awhile. Enjoy the blessings I’ve personally laid out for you, and don’t worry about those bullies; I won’t let them touch you.”
There, in that restaurant booth, I could feel the Lord’s pleasure and goodness. Now, a free Sheetz coffee and a free soup/salad combo are certainly far from a feast, but the Lord was reminding me that He has provided for me a bounty of blessings, protection, and favoritism—in the midst of my enemies, maybe even in spite of my enemies. (Mind you, I don’t have real enemies—I think! I hope, at least!—but I’m sticking with the language of the Scripture at hand.)
So, friends—yes, the arrows fly. You may feel a bit wounded by well-intentioned dragons, or you may feel deflated by the criticism of an “enemy.” It may even be persecution, especially in the instance of some of my foreign readers who live in a country where Christianity is not so warmly received. My heart’s prayer for you is both Psalm 27:1-3 and Psalm 23:5. Know that anyone, whether good-intentioned or ill-intentioned, whether maliciously or passive aggressively, who attacks God’s anointed will ultimately “stumble and fall”—it’s just a matter of time. Even if a barrage of terrible missiles threatens to assault you, yes, “even then [can you] be confident” that the Lord is your salvation. And sometimes our Father may not deliver you from your “enemies” outright, as in the instance in Psalm 23:5, but He will protect you, provide for you, refresh you, and gently restore you even in their presence.
Now, this post is not focused on how to treat your “enemies,” which Jesus explains in Matthew 5:44. Maybe I will cover that in a future piece. Rather, I hope you are encouraged that God of Heaven sees you, and He knows full well what’s going on. Let me leave you with the entirety of Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.