One of the most extraordinary trips my family ever took was also filled with valuable spiritual insight. I'm referring to the two-week period a few years ago in which we were "living among the lions."
Several years ago my family had the privilege of taking an extended vacation in Africa with Karen's parents. For two amazing weeks we visited game reserves in South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe and went on all-day photo safaris. It was truly the trip of a lifetime.
Now, unlike God, the devil is not omnipresent. Satan can only be at one place at one time. But he does have demons, principalities, and powers of darkness that do his bidding for him. And they are all over the world.
We knew we were in for a different sort of vacation when the very first thing we did upon arrival at the game reserve was sign a release form which said we wouldn't hold the tour company liable if any of us were killed by wild animals. That certainly got our attention.
I would say the most memorable part of the entire experience was the close proximity we had with lions. The first time I saw one up close I couldn't help but be reminded of the Bible's warning in First Peter, chapter five:
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world (v. 8-9).
Peter is giving us powerful insight into a spiritual reality—that we have a predator in our lives all the time. It is the devil. Now, unlike God, the devil is not omnipresent. Satan can only be at one place at one time. But he does have demons, principalities, and powers of darkness that do his bidding for him. And they are all over the world.
Peter is saying that you are being stalked by a predator—one that is all the more dangerous because he is unseen. Thus his instructions are, "You be sober and on the alert."
Now there is some good news in the wording of Peter's warning. He tells us the devil is "seeking whom he may devour."
The key word there is "may." The devil does not have automatic permission to devour you. He can't just victimize any person he chooses. In fact, Jesus defeated the devil on the cross. Jesus told us, "I give you authority over serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy and nothing shall by any means harm you" (Luke 10:19).
"Why then," you may be wondering, "are so many Christian people being harmed? Why are so many marriages being torn apart? Why are so many families being devastated? Why are so many bad things happening to God's people?"
I believe I gained some insights about those questions on that trip in Africa. They are insights I believe can help you avoid becoming an unnecessary victim of the predator that is stalking you and your family.
Our guides on the trip had the wonderful names of Blessed and Solomon. I must tell you, when you are venturing out into the African wild for the first time, it's comforting to be led by men with names like that. You want your guides to be as blessed and wise as possible!
Interestingly, the first set of instructions we received from our guides was basically, "Stay in control. And be alert." In other words, a near-perfect duplication of Peter's admonition to "Be sober and vigilant."
But that is not the only parallel I discovered on that trip. During that extraordinary two-week period that we were among the wild beasts of South Africa, I learned some things about lions that have really brought that warning in First Peter to life. I want to share two of the most important with you here.
The Predators Own the Night
One of the first things we learned is that lions are nocturnal. In other words, they are creatures of the night.
When we first got there, our guides said, "Inside the camp, you can walk anywhere you want during the day, but when evening comes, never leave your room without an armed guard with you. The night belongs to the predators." I got a vivid reminder of that truth on our first night there.
That first full day had been an exciting one of seeing wild animals in close proximity. After eight hours in the bush, we got to our room tired and quite hungry. But we had been instructed to wait for an armed guard to come to our hut and escort us to dinner.
The appointed time came and went without our escort appearing. I—being the model of patience and longsuffering—kept opening the door of the hut and stepping outside to see if I could see our escort coming. Each time, Karen would say, "Jimmy, close that door. They told you not to step outside in the dark." And I would say, "Karen, I am starving. I'm just looking to see where the guy is."
After about forty-five minutes, our escort finally knocked on our door. "I am sorry I'm late," he told us. "You had a leopard by your front door and I was waiting for it to leave."
I think I turned three paler shades of white. There I was like Gomer in Mayberry, standing in the dark on the front porch next to a leopard, and being clueless.
Those warnings are no less appropriate where demonic spiritual predators are concerned. The night belongs to the devil. He is a creature of dark places.
Spiritually speaking, when we are in the light—following God's will and ways—we are safe. It is when we step into the darkness that we are in danger. And the reason that many people today are falling is because we think we can sin and be safe. We think we can wander into the darkness and not experience the dangers of the darkness.
In the third chapter of John, Jesus says,
"And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light..." (v. 19-21).
Staying Connected = Staying Safe
The second truth I learned about lions on our trip involved something unusual about the way they see. They are "Peri-visual."
This means that they do not see groups of motionless objects as being separate things. They see the group as one big thing. That is why we were able to drive right into a group of lions in our open Range Rover vehicles and not be bothered by them. Our guides explained that as long as we remained seated in the vehicle and relatively still, the lions wouldn't see us as individuals. They would see us as a part of this big thing that smelled funny and was much too large to kill and eat.
There is a clear and important spiritual parallel here. In Matthew 18, Jesus says:
"Again, I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name I am there in the midst of them" (v. 19-20).
When just two people—a married couple for example—come together in unity and commitment to God's purpose for their lives, the enemy no longer sees them as individuals. He sees them as part of Jesus Christ and His entire body!
It was fascinating to watch lions hunt a herd of Cape Buffalo or Kudu antelope. Their strategy is to jump up and start running at the herd to create panic and confusion. Their objective is to try to get an individual separated from the group. Often it is the weak, the sick, or the foolish who find themselves disconnected and alone.
And with a predator on the prowl, alone equals vulnerable.
Often when we are counseling people who are experiencing complete failure in marriage, we find that one or both of the individuals is unteachable, independent and isolated. They are vulnerable because they are disconnected.
Often they have become panicked or confused because the devil has roared at them. He roars, "You're no good. You have sinned too much. God does not love you. You have no hope!"
That lion roars to produce fear and shame in our lives. He wants us to turn our backs on our marriages and our destinies and run.
He is successful far too often because in many cases we forget that we are living among an enemy. Yes, there are lions out there. There are spiritual predators lurking in dark places. They want you. They want your children. They want your destiny as a couple.
That's why Peter reminds us elsewhere in the same letter that we are a royal priesthood, a holy nation of people for God's own possession. He is telling us who God created us to be. But he is also reminding us that we have an enemy—not to make us afraid (we are more than conquerors through Him!), but to make us vigilant.
You see, I learned something very important on that trip to Africa. If you understand the nature of the predator, you can have fun and adventure and joy...
As you live among the lions.