A few days ago I wrote a blog post about “clouds”, those little nagging things that come into your mind and sometimes your heart which can block out the sunshine of His Love on your soul and spirit. Or at least they can try to.
I guess when you get right down to it, it’s like Paul the Apostle said about the devil, “we are not ignorant of his devices”. (II Corinthians 2:11) We’re all tempted to doubt, depression, confusion and “the sins which so easily beset us.” (Hebrews 12:1) And it seems like, if the devil can’t trip you up with one device or trick in his bag, then he tends to show up again down the road with some other method for tripping you up.
That happened this morning. This time the mechanism was an old enemy of mine: provocation. And that’s why the thirteenth chapter of Corinthians has always had a special meaning to me. One of the attributes of living in God’s love is that we are “not easily provoked.” (I Corinthians 13:5) But, boy, if you’re not deep in the Lord, it’s such a temptation sometimes to get provoked.
Some people just have a knack for saying and doing things that provoke others. Sometimes it’s unintentional, some little quirk or personal trait they have that rubs people the wrong way. At other times, a person can virtually know exactly what they’re doing and even intentionally provoke someone into saying or doing something that’s wrong.
Some of the worst things that have ever happened to me happened when I got provoked. So the whole lesson of not allowing myself to be provoked has been a very deep one for me. I guess it’s a temptation or weakness which God really doesn’t want me to fall prey to.
Perhaps the most famous incident in the Bible of someone being provoked to anger and then sinning was the story of Moses. Those folks he led out of Egypt and through the desert were a real case. They almost constantly were murmuring, doubting and complaining. Usually Moses just kept calm and stayed submerged within the peace of God.
But on one occasion the people were murmuring about not having water. So God told Moses to smite a nearby rock and that water would be given to them. But Moses didn’t really do it the right way. He was so incensed and provoked by the incessant grumbling and whining of God’s people that he said to them, “Hear now you rebels, shall I fetch water out of the rock!” (Numbers 20:10) And then he hit the rock twice, with violence and wrath.
As they say in Spanish, “No bueno.” You could think, “Well, I don’t blame him, it wasn’t his fault, he was provoked. It was the people’s fault.” It can certainly seem that way. But God seems to have a lot higher standard for His people, especially the leaders of His people. God told Moses, “Because you didn’t sanctify me in the eyes of Israel, you will not lead this people into the promised land.” (Numbers 20:12) Moses was provoked and it caused him to act completely contrary to how God wanted him to act.
And that’s the problem, often the big problem with being provoked. It can seem like it’s not your fault. “Look what they did!”, you can say. And maybe often you’re right: someone really did something that was wrong. But still, those who know and love the Lord are not justified in being provoked to retaliate and answer back in kind for some wrong and evil thing that they are hit with.
That’s a hard saying, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem fair, does it? But then we aren’t supposed to be like everyone else. Jesus wasn’t. Jesus was certainly provoked very many times, over and over; the Bible says so. (Luke 11:53)
Personally, I can tell you that I stay really “on guard” about being provoked, or yielding to a provocation so that I don’t respond in the way God wants me to. It’s a real device of the devil to get you into an argument or to get you out of the peace and Spirit of God.
It’s in those intense moments when we’re so stirred up and insulted, when our first reaction is to quickly blurt out some thoughtless word or unwisely do something we’ll later regret, it’s in those times when we most need to look to the Lord, to not let our “old man” (Ephesians 4:22) and worldly reactions get the best of us and cause us to sin.
Sometime it’s those kinds of sins, provoked by gross injustices or even Satanic diatribes from Godless people, those are the tests and temptations that can really come against us. But God’s grace is there to give us the power to not yield to provocations. Yes, that can be difficult. But the results of being provoked can be a lot worse that holding our peace in the moment of trail and temptation. May we all be aware of this dangerous ploy of the devil that too often many of us fall for. “When the enemy shall come in like a flood (through provocation), the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.” (Isaiah 59:19)