“Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)
Greetings from Kent! November has wasted no time in asserting itself: dark, gray clouds camped out over northeast Ohio, steady rains soaking everything. Still, we are starting to look forward to the end-of-the-year holidays. I remember a friend in Amsterdam who often smiled and fondly referred to these cold, wet conditions as “Sinterklaas Weather,” and I liked the way that helped to put a better spin on things. So, to adapt the phrase to our cultural context: let’s just say we’re thankful for the “Thanksgiving Weather” these days!
On Thursday mornings, I study Greek. The study group has fluctuated slightly over the past couple of years, but most often the group consists of me, my co-pastor Jason, and my father / our professor: Dr. Dave Asp. For the past couple of months, we’ve been picking our way through 1 Peter, chapter five (chosen because I will be giving a sermon on this passage at the very end of the semester). We try to observe the parts of speech… the inflections of the verbs… the case, number, and gender of each noun… Like all foreign language experiences, I find it kind of fun, kind of frustrating. We take turns providing a clunky literal translation on our first pass: “the enemy of us… devil as lion… horu-omenos? Hmm… I don’t know that word. Some kind of a participle?” And then, we work out the nuances and smooth things out in group discussion. I value these times of equipping myself to more meaningfully understand and teach the Bible… but it can often feel pretty esoteric. Pretty disconnected from day-to-day ministry.
On a recent Wednesday morning, however, I got to put my Greek into action with a Kent State University sophomore. She was telling me about some of her recent struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, which had become overwhelming to the point of regularly-attempted self-medication through sex, disordered eating, and cutting herself. She felt trapped in a vicious cycle that was further complicated by the way she’d been trying to keep up appearances with her friends and family. By the time we talked, however, she was deeply fearful about the increasing occurrence of panic attacks, and she knew she needed to tell someone. So, as I listened to this young woman tell her story, I was reminded of 1 Peter 5:7 and its classic reminder to “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”
But instead of just slapping that verse on her problem like some kind of bumper-sticker band-aid, I started by briefly alluding to verse seven and then actually digging in with 1 Peter 5:8 (the verse immediately following its more famous predecessor), explaining how anxiety is actually a rational response to the sin and darkness around us and within us. The first two words after verse seven are Greek verbs in the imperative sense with a meaning something like: “Keep your head clear! Watch out!” I told the panic-stricken young woman that no one can afford to be trite about these things. “Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” Peter makes it clear that all kinds of believers are dealing with all kinds of sufering, all around the world. But instead of turning to despair, or idolatry, or addiction, we’re exhorted to “Stand firm against [our enemy], and be strong in your faith.” I reminded the young woman of the truths of the Gospel. “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.” Even as we talked about this passage together, in a Starbucks on campus, I watched the young woman’s countenance brighten and her shoulders lighten.
We eventually transitioned to talking about the first chapter of 1 John, trying to help the young woman figure out other ways to “live in the light” by sharing her recent struggles with trusted friends and family members, in addition to potentially seeking professional psychiatric help. She seemed ready to start by opening up to one of her closest friends and one of her sisters — but it was scary for her. I encouraged her from 1 John 1 that this is the best way to have fellowship with other believers and with God Himself, and we finished by praying together for God’s goodness and grace to abound through the process.
Would you please pray with me for this young woman (who represents many others on campus who struggle with similar issues)? Would you also pray with me for the message I’ll be preaching from 1 Peter 5, on December 2nd? We’re finishing the Fall Semester with a four week series on Worry and Anxiety — and it seems like a topic that really needs to be addressed among students on campus.
Thank you for partnering with us in prayer and in financial support for the work that we’re doing here among Kent State University students! It means so much to have a family, a team, for us and with us in ministry. We’re very thankful for you — especially in this month of Thanksgiving — and we wish you a wonderful holiday season. We’ll be in touch…