What a weird thing for Jesus to say to Peter. Perhaps you don’t even recall the story in the Gospels. In more or less words, Jesus tells his disciples that he is heading to Jerusalem where he must die. Peter refuses to go along with the plan. Jesus’ response was pretty blunt: “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23).
I confess, I identify with Peter more than Jesus. “Be easy on the guy,” I think. “Calling him ‘Satan’ is a bit much, don’t ya think?”
Perhaps not. It’s an odd story, but it holds a truth every person grapples with eventually.
We all have a “satan” in our minds. Not a person or a slimy spiritual lizard, but a lower-cased satan. An “it.” A natural part of our human psyche. It’s an adversary who advises us to go in the exact opposite direction we should.
Because deep down you know what you should do. The right direction, though often difficult, is what you ought to choose. Instead, you listen to your adversary. Your little satan gets the best of you.
Here’s a most common example: public speaking. The #1 fearful task of the human race.
Our satans have done a good job convincing us that public speaking is something to avoid. At our Training Minds Camp in Estes Park earlier this month, students gave the very first speeches of their lives. There isn’t a knee not shaking before speech time. Over the years we’ve had plenty of tears.
One boy, 12 years old, attempted to tell me he didn’t feel well, a subtle insistence that he couldn’t follow through with the speech.
“Are you afraid of speaking?” I asked.
He chuckled a little, “Ah, yeah!” The satan in his head didn’t quite convince him to flat out lie about his illness. That was good, because people have grown to give their satan total control of their psyche, to the point of fabricating excuses to prolong irrational fears.
“Hold that thought,” I said. “We’ve got to kill it.”
“Kill it?” he asked.
“Yes, kill the thought. Your thought is fear, and it should be wiped away from your mind. A trained mind is one that casts Satan behind him, refusing to entertain the outlandish idea that you should avoid the glory God has in store for you. You’re going to give a decent speech in a few minutes, and it will be your first ever. Satan would love it if you didn’t, but God wants you to overcome your fear and give it your best shot.”
Perhaps a little too religiously intense for a 12-year-old, but it worked. He abandoned the idea that he was “sick” and he gave his first extemporaneous speech of his life. It wasn’t the greatest speech, sure, but it was a victory over a darkness that he almost justified, very nearly provided a comfortable seat in his head.
That’s just like Satan. He convinces you to avoid the difficult path, sink into normality, create an alternate reality that — no matter how crazy — keeps you from the path God desires for you. As long as you walk away from God, your satan will coddle you, take good care of you, even entertain you.
“Satan, get behind me!” Perhaps it’s not such a weird thing to say in the face of adversity.