TEXT: Psalm 73:1-9
“Some of you may have seen David Copperfield perform his magic. His act includes a lot of glitzy conjuration, including: levitating himself, being sawn in two, and making things appear and disappear. Using illusion, he has carried the art to the extreme. He has “walked through” the Great Wall of China. He has made very large objects seem to disappear: jet planes, the Orient Express and most remarkably the Statue of Liberty. Magic is really the art of illusion. It makes things appear to be what they are not — or not appear when they are. The trick of the illusionist is to use sleight-of-hand to get you to look at one thing while he is doing something else. He makes you think one thing is happening when something else is actually going on. He makes you think that what you see is real while he is hiding what is really happening. To state it briefly, what appears to be is not what is.” – Rodney Buchanan
That, in essence, is what has happened in Psalm 73. Asaph, the person writing this psalm, was looking at all the wrong things. The enemy, the ancient magician…the ancient deceiver, had the psalmist’s eyes looking at what he wanted him to see. The devil wanted to discourage and depress him. He did not want him to see what God was doing, so he used sleight-of-hand to distract him with what he was doing. The writer of the psalm was looking at the prosperity of the wicked, and because of that, he failed to see what God was up to. As a result, his feet almost slipped and he nearly lost his foothold as far as his walk with God went. It discouraged and defeated him. He was ready to give up and call it quits even though it was an illusion. He looked at the people who scorned God and it seemed like they had it made. He mused: “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills” (Psalm 73:4-5). This was the same complaint that Jeremiah had when he wrote: “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1). But this is the trick of illusionist, of the enemy. HE DISTRACTS YOU WITH WHAT HE IS DOING TO KEEP YOU FROM SEEING WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON.
How do we outsmart the enemy?
The first step in outsmarting the enemy is to:
1. REFUSE TO BELIEVE HIS ILLUSION.
How many people who saw David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear actually believed it was no longer there? How many people who have seen people levitating as metal hoops were passed around them believed the person was actually suspended in space? Perhaps there were some, but most understood that even though it looked like those things were happening, they were not real. It would be pretty foolish to believe that someone had actually removed the Statue of Liberty. But many people are just as naive in believing that what appears to be is actually what is, as far as evil appearing to be the dominant and prevailing force in this world. THE ENEMY HAS THEM FOOLED AND THEY BEGIN THAT EVIL IS STRONGER THAN GOOD AND WINNING THE BATTLE. And when that happens, when you begin to believe that, the ENEMY has done his job. He makes things appear worse than they are. He uses discouragement to try and defeat you when you are trying to follow God. He whispers in your ear: “See, I am winning, and there is nothing you can do about it. You might as well give in. You might as well give up.”
For years William Wilberforce had pushed Britain’s Parliament to abolish slavery. But the battle was very long and it looked as though nothing was ever going to change. The political powers were daunting and seemed unmovable. He was discouraged and about to give up. But his elderly friend, John Wesley, heard of it and from his deathbed called for pen and paper. With trembling hand Wesley wrote: “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be won out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? Oh be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery shall vanish away before it.” Wesley died six days later, but Wilberforce fought on for another 45 years before he saw slavery abolished in England — just three days before his own death. Wilberforce refused to believe the illusion that evil was invincible.
We have to understand that the devil’s best tool is DISCOURAGEMENT, and the only way he can make that work is by getting people to believe his DECEPTION.
It is said the Devil once decided to go out of business and offered his tools for sale. They were attractively displayed: Trickery, Hatred, Jealousy, Malice, Deceit, Sensuality, and many other evil tools, each marked with a price. But in the center was a wedge-shaped, much worn tool priced higher than all the others. “What is that?” Satan was asked. “That is Discouragement,” he replied. “But why so costly?” “Because it can do my evil works better than all other tools. With it I can make the lives of many folks of no value. I can make them just lie down and ‘give up’ and become useless and they don’t even know I am the one who uses it.”
If we are going to outsmart the enemy, we have to refuse to believe the illusion. (Wag mong pansinin yung mga pataranta nya sa’yo…yung mga bagay na pinapakita nya sa iyong sitwasyon, sa iyong paligid.) Like the audience at a magic show, we have to understand that what we are seeing is not real. It may look as though evil is ruling the day and winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the world’s people, BUT WE KNOW THAT GOOD IS STRONGER THAN EVIL. Why? Because WE KNOW THAT GOD WINS ALL THE TIME. No matter how real evil might appear, we have read the last chapters of the Bible and we know how this all turns out; that in the end, evil is defeated! Even when it appears that God is not around we know that he is busy working behind the scenes.
2. IGNORE AND EXPOSE THE ENEMY.
In the movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion return to Oz after killing the Wicked Witch of the West. As they enter the Wizard’s chamber there is smoke and fire and the Wizard says in a thundering voice: “Can I believe my eyes? Why have you come back?” Dorothy says: “Please, sir. We’ve done what you told us. We’ve brought you the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. We melted her.” The Wizard replies: “Oh – you liquidated her, eh? Very resourceful!” Dorothy says: “Yes, sir. So we’d like you to keep your promise to us — if you please, sir.” But the Wizard thunders: “Not so fast! Not so fast! I’ll have to give the matter a little thought! Go away and come back tomorrow!” But Dorothy is disappointed: “Tomorrow! Oh, but I want to go home now!” The Tin Man joins in and says: “You’ve had plenty of time already!” The Wizard again frightens them by saying: “Do not arouse the wrath of the Great and Powerful Oz! I said come back tomorrow!” But Dorothy is not to be denied. “If you were really great and powerful, you’d keep your promises!” she says. The Wizard again tries to intimidate them: “Do you presume to criticize the Great Oz? You ungrateful creatures! Think yourselves lucky that I’m giving you an audience tomorrow, instead of twenty years from now!” But just then Toto, Dorothy’s little dog, runs behind a curtain and pulls it back revealing an old man pushing buttons, flipping switches and shouting into a microphone. “Oh!” he says, trying to pull the curtain closed again in order to carry on the illusion. He tries to continue: “The Great Oz has spoken! Oh! Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The Great, Powerful — has spoken…”
Dorothy’s experience with the Wizard is similar to our experience with the deceiver of this world. HE SEEMS SO STRONG AND MIGHTY, BUT IN REALITY, HE HAS NO POWER AT ALL, BECAUSE THE BIBLE TELLS US THAT “THE GREATER IS HE THAT IS IN US THAN HE THAT IS IN THIS WORLD.
We can outsmart the enemy by REVEALING WHO HE IS. And how can we do that? We do that by BEING GROUNDED IN THE REALITY OF GOD’S WORD, which help us to see behind the deception.
This is what Jesus did during his time of great temptation by the devil. You will remember the devil came to him with powerful illusions. The Bible says, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me’” (Matthew 4:8-9). But Jesus countered with the Word of God. He said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10). It was all an illusion anyway. First of all, the world was not his to give, and secondly, he would not have given him the kingdoms of the world if he had stooped to worship him. The Bible says that the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44). He is a deceiver. Jesus knew that, and he ignored and revealed him for what he was. The devil is a sniveling, smarmy little magician whose only real power is the power to deceive. The way to fool the magician, and beat him at his own game, is to ignore him and quote the Scripture to his face. (KAPAG IKAW NA ANG NILILINLANG NG DIYABLO ANO ANG GAGAWIN MO?) There is an interesting verse that says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). When we ignore the enemy, we see Jesus smiling and saying to us: “Take heart. I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). You can put the enemy on the run when you quote the Scripture and resist being seduced by his delusion.
3. TRUST AND BELIEVE THE UNSEEN REALITY.
The Bible says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). THE ETERNAL IS WHAT IS REAL — the present world is passing away.
The enemy makes evil appear to be overwhelming, and when he does the temptation is to be full of fear. I like what someone has done with the word “fear”: FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL. That is the illusion: false evidence appears real. We have to focus on eternity. (That this world will pass away…) The Bible says that we are to set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2). It is amazing what an eternal focus will do to fear.
- We no longer fear death because we have eternal life.
- We no longer live in fear personal loss because our real treasure is in heaven.
- We no longer fear what others may do to us because we know what God is going to do for us.
The enemy wants to tell you that you need this and you must have that. He tries to say that your life will be unfulfilled unless you follow him and do what he is telling you. He makes these things seem so important and necessary — as though you cannot live without them. As a result, they become the focus of life.
It can become discouraging when you see people succeeding while you are struggling, especially when those people may care nothing for God. The psalmist lamented, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued” (Psalm 73:13-14). But just as he was about to succumb to the illusion, he said, “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny” (Psalm 73:15-17). HE FINALLY GOT AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE. Listen to him as he continues: “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:21-26).
He outsmarted the enemy by getting his focus back on eternity. He realized the end of those who reject God and he remembered the reward that was awaiting him. He understood that if he continued to believe what he was saying, he would be believing a lie. He would also have betrayed those who, like him, were struggling with the circumstances of life. To believe the illusion is to live in ignorance. The Bible says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). The temptation is to believe the illusion and to become discouraged and even defeated. But listen to the Bible as it says, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him” (Hebrews 10:35-38). The psalmist felt himself shrinking back and caught himself. He remembered all those who had gone before him who lived by faith and did not shrink back.
As we look into eternity, we see all those who have gone before and been faithful, and we are encouraged to follow their example. The Bible says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
- Rodney J. Buchanan
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