supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we
loved for ourselves,
or rather loved in spite of ourselves.
The Devil not only hates our intimacy with God – he fears
it. If he cannot push our soul off course into deception,
then he will assuredly try to persuade us that there is
something wrong with us! Envious that we are heading towards
the place from which he has been excluded, our invisible
enemy will try everything he can to frustrate our pilgrimage
and to hinder our fruitfulness. Which of us has not
experienced Satan’s minions torturing our minds with thought
attacks that are perfectly geared to exploit our particular
Before I wrote this book, the Lord urged me to teach on some
of the enemies of intimacy. George Verwer, the founder of
Operation Mobilization, considers condemnation to be the
number one weapon the enemy uses against believers.
Facing this foe therefore merits a chapter in its own right.
Whereas persecution often drives us as Christians closer to
each other, an inner sense of worthlessness merely makes us
feel isolated and despairing.
Alex Buchanan speaks of Satan shining a magnifying glass
intensely on some particular issue, which he then distorts
and enlarges to the point where we find it difficult to
concentrate on anything else. Bob Gass put it this way:
thought left to ramble in your mind can attach
itself to an incident in your past. It will begin to
feed on that incident and grow like a virus. The
stronger it gets, the weaker you become, until your
strength has been drained away by lust or resentment
or fear. The thought you left unchecked today can
become a stronghold tomorrow. Paul says we must take
these thoughts captive before they take us captive.1
The Roots of Condemnation
I said, ‘I have laboured to no purpose;
I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.
Yet what is due to me is in the Lord’s hand,
and my reward is with my God.’
In one sense, all temptation
and condemnation is aimed against God. Since the devil
cannot attack the Lord directly, he attempts to wound Him
indirectly by hurting His children. We need a vigorous
defence. When the devil dredges up matters from our past, or
torments us with some fear, it is vital that we lift up the
shield of faith. These thoughts do not belong, but we do –
to our Lord!
Temperament and character play a large part in how well we
handle condemnation. What one person can reject without
difficulty may be a serious battle for another.
Perfectionists, and those who are unduly hard on themselves,
are especially prone to condemnation.
A condemning upbringing has much to answer for. The endless
put-downs we endure at the hands of critical parents,
pastors, teachers or school mates become in time an
internalized voice that counterfeits the voice of the Lord.
Inevitably, this accumulated deadweight leaves us feeling
that whatever we do will never be good enough. Such thoughts
are like trip wires which the powers of darkness carefully
position for us to stumble over.
For many of us, the end result of being criticized and
condemned is that we allow a hard shell of judgement to form
around our hearts. This leads us to reject many people and
situations that threaten our emotional insecurities, but
which actually could have done us much good had we handled
them better. We need to renounce all the patterns of
criticism and control we have inherited or developed, and to
pray instead for increased humility and discernment.
the specific ways by which condemnation assails us,
Satan’s intention is always the same: to
misrepresent the character of God to us, and to
accuse us within the privacy of our own hearts. To
this end he often sets out to blame us for things
for which we are not even remotely responsible.2
Condemnation often strikes in
direct proportion to the importance of a task we are engaged
in. We feel the full force of the devil’s fury against us as
we set out to fulfil the work of the Lord – or when we are
already weary from having done it. Like gusty squalls on a
stormy night, his spiteful shafts hammer and probe at the
entrance to our mind. ‘Where have we gone wrong?’ we groan,
ashamed to confess aloud the terrible thoughts and feelings
that are plaguing us.
Condemnation turns us in on ourselves, and wrongly makes us
assume that no one else could sympathize with our
predicament. This is when we must reach out for help. The
temptation is to feel ‘I am too young, too old, or too
insignificant to ask for help’ – or, alternatively, ‘I am
supposed to be a mature Christian; I can’t ask anyone to
help me with this problem!’ By keeping these struggles to
ourselves we merely sentence ourselves to more of these
monotonous refrains that churn around our minds.
The Lord can use us to help each other. During one of her
husband’s periodic bouts of depression, Martin Luther’s wife
came downstairs one day dressed in mourning clothes. When
her husband asked her who had died, she replied, ‘Martin,
you’ve been acting as if God had died!’ Her dramatic ploy
jolted Luther out of his self-pity.
Appropriate sharing keeps us in a healthy state of
emotional honesty. Few things will so aid our
spiritual growth as having a soul-friend to share
these matters with.
To rephrase a popular
commercial, ‘The prayers of others reach the parts
our own cannot reach!’
Negotiating the Mind-Field
If we happen to be one of the relatively few Christians who
do not suffer much from condemnation (or who have largely
managed to overcome it) we are still bound to meet many
people who suffer from its crippling pangs. It is important
that we guide them aright. We are facing an informed and
intelligent opponent, whose unswerving aim is to control the
mind of mankind. To that end he deploys a wide variety of
forces, including extremes of both behaviour and belief, as
well as spiritual deceptions of all kinds.
Mercifully, the Accuser of the brethren is not omniscient –
but he does have access to our track record. The ‘father of
lies’ scours our past in order to see which of our many
unkind words and foolish actions he can use against us. As a
master propagandist he knows which thought-patterns and
fears, as well as which circumstances, are most likely to
This is not a game; it is the centre-stage of our spiritual
warfare. It is a great mistake if we hold back or are put
off from doing something because of flashbacks to some past
hurt or failure.
old Chinese saying puts it, ‘We cannot stop birds
from flying over our head,
but we do not need to let them nest in our hair.’
Satan knows how to spin a
good yarn, but since he is nothing but a liar, why should
the particular fear that we are experiencing now be right?
It pays to ‘doubt our doubts’, and to dispute the devil’s
right to disrupt our lives.
once described the battle this way: ‘God is always
voting for us; the devil is always voting against
us, but it is how we vote which decides who wins!’
Simply recognizing what is going on and who we are
dealing with is half way to victory.
Unfounded fears lie at the
root of much of our unhappiness. Some years ago, the devil
concocted what I can only describe as a nightmare scenario
in my mind. It was overwhelmingly persistent and plausible,
and led to a time of acute internal agitation. Because I
knew that such things had happened to other people, I found
it impossible to dismiss the thought as being something that
could never happen to me. I bound the fear, I praised the
Lord; I tried everything I could think of to set myself
free, but still the thoughts persisted.
I hesitated initially to share the matter with Rosalind,
because I had the uncomfortable feeling that she would
consider me foolish to entertain such thoughts. When I did
share it with her, my fears were confirmed: she thought it
was ridiculous to waste so much energy worrying about
something that wasn’t even happening! But when she prayed
with me about it, things began to change. Rosalind’s prayers
put a brick through the devil’s magnifying glass – but I
still need to be careful not to pick up the pieces!
Our Heavenly Advocate
Here is a simple suggestion for dealing with the common but
crippling problem of not knowing whether the guilt and
confusion we are wrestling with comes from God, the devil or
our own unhealed hurts. Should Satan remind us of some sin,
let us by all means deal with any truth that may lie hidden
in the accusation. God can use even these attacks to deepen
the spirit of repentance within us.
then, and with all guns blazing, we must reject
Satan’s lies, and vigorously deny the insidious half
truths that are woven into the accusation. ‘Lord,
I’m not worthy,’ may or may not be the prelude to
holiness, but ‘Lord, I’m worthless’ is the language
Realistically, since many of
the deepest hurts and rejections we experience come through
our fellow believers, then is it not probable, inevitable
even, that some of the things we say and do will cause
others to suffer too? The Ascent of Toil makes us more aware
of these unkind attitudes, but this does not mean that the
Lord Jesus disqualifies us from sharing in the inheritance
of the ‘Kingdom of light.’3 It grieves and dishonours our
Heavenly Father if we fall into the trap of believing that
He will set us to one side. Why despair, when our feelings
are such an unreliable barometer?
Provided that we have confessed all known sin, then we must
call the Accuser’s bluff and hold the door of our minds shut
against these intrusive thoughts. Our adversary has no legal
leg to stand on. There is no condemnation for those who have
confessed their sins to the Lord. Satan can only dangle the
memory of them before our eyes and hope that we will believe
them and become trapped in a slough of despond.4
‘Flashbacks’ are, effectively, a denial that the Lord Jesus
has forgiven our past sins and failures. They are also a
perversion of a spiritual blessing. During those times when
I am closest to the Lord, I am sometimes reminded of
particular prayers I have prayed. They remain ‘on file’ in
heaven – not so my mistakes. Sins confessed are not only
sins forgiven but also sins forgotten: blotted out and
buried in the sea of God’s forgiveness. I like the attitude
taken by John Vianney and Francis of Paola:
Pardon one another so that later on you will not remember
the injury. The recollection of an injury is in itself
wrong. It adds to our anger, nurtures our sin and hates what
is good. It is a rusty arrow and poison for the soul.
|The way to overcome
the devil when he excites feelings of hatred for
those who injure us
is immediately to pray for their conversion.5
Forgiveness is ever a choice
against our natural instincts. It is the most distinctively
Christian form of love we can demonstrate towards those who
we do not naturally get on with. Exercising forgiveness is
proof that the love of God is at work within us. We may
never particularly like the people who have hurt us, and we
may still have to suffer the consequences of what they have
done to us, but when we put forgiveness in motion we are
setting loose the most powerful force in the universe.
Some would say that it is easier to rise to a Christ-like
level of forgiveness of one’s murderer, executioners or
torturers than it is to forgive those who try us in small
ways, every day. Forgiveness within the family is a
Some of us also need to be more willing to forgive
ourselves. If we do not, we may find that we read the Bible
and view God Himself through the shattered image of our
sense of alienation. This is when the very means by which
the Lord desires to communicate with us becomes a source of
further condemnation to our soul. How does this come about?
By the devil first planting and then watering seeds of doubt
But what about those times when we pray for something to
change, and nothing happens? We could hardly expect the
devil to resist so tempting a target. Whenever we are faced
with such a situation we can almost hear him whispering:
‘God didn’t care enough about you to help you overcome your
problems then. You’ll never win through!’ Affirming the
opposite of these lies and suggestions is still our best
form of defence – and it thwarts the enemy’s intentions.
Another means I have found to be effective is to take my
fears to the Lord Jesus, who is our heavenly advocate.6 This
is particularly helpful on those occasions where we simply
do not know whether what we are feeling is right or wrong.
Then we can pray along these lines:
Jesus, I don’t know if this thing that I am doing
(or feeling) is right or wrong; but if it is wrong,
I ask You to show me, and to save me from it – and
if it is right, to bless and anoint it. Whatever
happens, I ask that I shall in no way be ashamed,
nor be the cause of shaming others. Thank You, Lord,
that You can turn even the attacks of the evil one
around for good. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Overcoming the power behind condemnation opens the
way for faith to flow more freely in our hearts.
Are there times when experience has shown that you
are most at risk from troublesome thoughts?
Is there anything practical you can do to avoid
Do they come because you have not dared to believe
that God has really forgiven you for things you have
done in the past?
Or because you yourself are holding on to some
resentment or unforgiveness?
help me during the many times when disturbing
thoughts torture my mind, and I feel oppressed by my
Thank You that You endured far more than I will ever
have to do, first in the wilderness and then in the
Garden of Gethsemane.
Thank You that You have not given me a spirit of
timidity, ‘but a spirit of power, of love and of
Grant me grace to stand on Your word and to resist
the devil’s lies.
I come against these shafts of condemnation now in
the power of Christ, and I pray that You will help
me to speak out words of grace and encouragement.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
1. See 2 Corinthians 10:5. Quoted from The Word for Today,
an outstanding devotional booklet published quarterly by
United Christian Broadcasters. It is available without
charge from U.C.B., P.O. Box 255, Stoke on Trent, ST4 8YY,
2. Many who were abused in childhood feel they must have
been in some way responsible for what happened. They carry
this false guilt with them throughout their lives – often
with disastrous effects on their marriages. It is likewise
common to find that children who were not wanted received
insufficient nurture in their souls and touch in their
bodies. They grow up seriously lacking in confidence and
motivation, possessing little resistance with which to face
3. Colossians 1:12-14; 1 John 3:19-23.
4. Romans 8:1, cf Zechariah 3:1; Revelation 12:10. The book
of Nehemiah likewise reveals a number of examples of false
accusations being directed against God’s servants.
5. Quoted in The Wisdom of the Saints, Jill Haak Adels (O.U.P).
6. 1 John 2:1, cf Romans 8:1, 14:22. Problems with
self-esteem are by no means limited to adults. For a look at
the subject from a teenage perspective, you might like to
read Who do you think you are? by Steve Mawston (Scripture