Temptations of an apostolic heart

The enemy has no need to tempt those who float around in an apathetic slumber; he already owns them.

The devil is occupied with those who work with fervor for the Kingdom of God.

His first tactic is to find our greatest point of personal weakness and attack. It can be our health, our family, our prayer life (or lack of one). It can be relationships in our lives, it can be our root sin, or it can be our children. If he doesn’t find enough weak points in these areas, he is not discouraged. He is well acquainted with how to divert the hearts of people of good-will.

His second point of attack is to attempt to make our efforts diffuse by pointing out to us all the things we can do for the Kingdom and then constantly prompting us to do all or too many of those good things. He knows that he can use our own good desires and commitment against us. He can take our work ethic, our passion for Christ, our positively competitive nature, and bend it in a way that has us working to accomplish far more than is possible without significant compromise. Then, when we get frustrated when progress is far less than we desire, or as all the spinning plates crash to the ground, he exacerbates our frustration. He chides us and tempts our pride or vanity by pointing out our failure. Then, he crushes us with fatigue and then turns again with an even more deadly attack to the other areas of our lives where he made his first attempts. His goal? To unravel our worlds through a disordered pursuit of the good.

How can we avoid this trap?

We must be prayerfully and practically sure that every week we are crystal clear about the few important things that must be done. It is universally true with all people that there are only a few things each week or each day that absolutely must be done. It is never true that God requires us to accomplish more than we have the time and capacity to accomplish. Yes, he can and will often add supernatural grace to our efforts. Yes, he will also sometimes ask us to accomplish the impossible. However, if we are regularly guilty of taking on more tasks or projects than any day, week, month, or year will allow, we are probably tasking ourselves well into the devil’s path of distraction and destruction.

Once our priorities are very clear, we are well on our way to avoiding this temptation. We can then effectively battle the enemy by setting our sites, almost unwaveringly, on those few important things and getting them done. In so doing, we will regularly allow many other things that are good, but less important, to fall by the wayside. We must allow even good opportunities, good ideas and good activities to fall by the wayside. This is particularly true if these good things distract us from what is most important to our state in life or the other priorities we have already identified with our spiritual director, our spouses, our superiors, or our bosses etc.

The “opportunities” that draw us from what we know to be most important are not from God, nor are they the will of God for us, if we are only able to do them with significant compromise in the most important areas of our lives. By the way, this compromise is not just neglecting those whom we are called to serve. This compromise can also be in our ability to maintain peace and thereby a prayerful spirit as we strive to get stuff done.

Extraordinary leaders, parents, teachers, professionals, priests, and religious are those who choose the few things that are most important, and they rarely take their eyes off them. Mediocre leaders or non-leaders are those who are always fervently busy with too many good things that distract them from the most important things. They sometimes get a lot done but rarely accomplish the most important things. They sometimes check many tasks off of their lists but rarely without paying a significant price in other areas of their lives (mostly in relationship to God and others). With these, the devil smiles and watches as they spin out, burn out, and destroy their own interior lives, destroy themselves, their apostolic work, or their families.

Beware of the temptations of the apostolic heart. Beware of a adding too many good things to your list while the most important things slowly fade into the background into the happy grasp of the enemy of our souls.

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