Sometimes we learn a lot when we think about the flip side of what Jesus said. Take the following conversation:
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)
In the context of the mission of the seventy it is easy to understand Jesus’ caution to not focus on success. But life doesn’t always go so well. Some people listen, some reject (v. 16). Isn’t it possible that Jesus could have added, “Don’t get discouraged when there are setbacks; no matter what happens, keep rejoicing that your names are written in heaven.”?
You see, the world into which Jesus sent us has its receptive men of peace (v. 6) but it also has wolves (v. 3), unwelcoming inhabitants (v.10), serpents, and scorpions. I thrive when I meet people of peace and beat the beasts; but I get downhearted when there are too few successes. My mood swings like the needle of a barometer responding to the weather. I especially resent the truth that I have little influence over the decisions of humans. My lack of control suggests that I am weak and failing. I want to do something to change that impotence. My needle swings away from joy.
Jesus doesn’t want us to live like that. Our real identity (the idea behind “names”) is meant to be in heaven, the dwelling of God—anchored to our intimacy with the Father. Jesus showed few signs of discouragement when people turned from Him or against Him. He also showed little reaction to His many triumphs. Stability came from His relationship with the Father.
We become different people when our lives stop being swayed by how well things around us are going and center on that relationship. Jesus said that our real identity is more important than the authority He has given us (and presumably more important than our failure to understand or use that authority). In fact, doesn’t something happen as we switch focus and develop our inner life with the Father? Don’t we become more effective, more fruitful? Instead of dissecting every play we make in life, or worrying about accomplishing our next goal, we relax in our identity as God’s children. As we do that, He increases our confidence and fills us with more of His nature. We spend more time in heaven and less sweat on earth’s battlefield.
That’s when we see what Jesus saw—Satan falling from the heaven that we were always meant to occupy. We displace him! That’s when we become a container of the kingdom of God so that we can truly say, as we go about our lives: “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” The more that we are in the kingdom, the more it is in us, and the more it expands to reclaim our world of wolves, serpents, and scorpions.
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