I was a teenage Satanist. No, I’ve never stood in a pentagram of blood and I’ve never joined a coven. The signs of my Satanism are yellow highlights in an old King James Bible my grandmother gave me when I was twelve. I looked through that Bible not long ago, and I could almost immediately identify by every highlighted text what was going on in my life at the time.
The highlight over “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13) was there because I worried that I’d never pass geometry. I passed, barely, but, despite the presence of Christ, I still can’t tell you the difference between a trapezoid and a polygon. Plus, I misunderstood that verse, which speaks of contentment in all circumstances (including a Mississippi public school math classroom) rather than a “you can do it” encouragement.
When I see the highlight over the verse “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that I will do” (Jn. 14:13), I know that then I was praying for God to cause that girl in my homeroom class to pay attention to me. I would ask for this and then I would repeat the clause “in Jesus’ name…in Jesus’ name…in Jesus’ name” as though this would bind God to his promise. He didn’t grant me this, and, man, am I glad.
The highlight over 1 Samuel 16:7 (”Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature…for the Lord seeth not as man seeth, but the Lord looketh on the heart”) was because I was then, and am now, a little cricket of a man, and I was hoping to grow tall enough if not to be considered for the basketball team then at least to be taller than that girl in homeroom. That didn’t happen either.
Now there is nothing wrong with praying through the Bible, of course. And there’s nothing wrong with asking for God to resolve those things that worry you. That’s what Jesus commands us to do. But those highlights remind me how dominated my life was at that time by worry and anxiety.
I was not at all what anyone would consider proud or arrogant (at least I don’t think so, but that may just be my pride and arrogance keeping me from seeing it). But at the root of all my worry was a form of hubris and lust for power. Yes, I was praying, but my prayers were simply a cap on all my worrying. And my worrying was about keeping my little kingdoms secure and within my grasp. When they weren’t I was agitated, if not outraged.
I write all that as though it were past tense.
If I could see the highlights in my own spinning mind, my own worried psyche, I’d find that I haven’t really grown (spiritually as well as physically) as much since then as I’d like to think.
Sometimes Satan’s pull to pride in our lives isn’t so much what we’re basking in as what we’re worrying about. Our anxiety often reveals a refusal to trust God’s fatherly providence. And, whenever we start ignoring that, there’s always a devil along to adopt us, to promise us bread instead of stones, fish instead of snakes. We don’t recognize the reptilian voice, but we look into our future, or into our Bibles, and wonder nonetheless, “Has God really said?”
Jesus though was free from the devil worship of worry and anxiety. He understood his Father’s care for him, and that exaltation would come along at “the proper time” (1 Pet. 5:6), a time not of his choosing.
Jesus tells us that even by looking at the natural world, the ecosystem of birds and plants and fields, we can see an icon of God’s inheritance for us. “Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these,” he says (Matt. 6:29).
We don’t need to grasp for power or glory or security. God is freely preparing us for all this. Because of this, we are free to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
I’m pulled to worry right now. You probably are, too. Stop and pray; fall back in your Father’s power and wisdom, and recognize that behind that anxiety there’s something with a forked tongue.
Dr. Russell D. Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.