When I was a child my family owned a cottage—a beautiful cottage where I spent every summer of my childhood. On those long, warm, summer evenings, we would sometimes have friends and neighbors from up and down the road converge on our property for giant games of capture the flag. Those were grand nights—the kind of nights that form indelible memories.
One of the things I loved to do when we played capture the flag was to set trip lines. I would string a rope between two trees and wait in the dusk for some unsuspecting person to stumble across it and go down. Looking at it through adult eyes it sounds like a recipe for a cracked skull or broken ankle, but it seemed like good, clean fun back then.
The memory of stringing trip lines flashed into my mind recently, because something I read in a book took me out at the knees, so to speak. And down I went.
Vaughan Robert’s little book True Friendship has a lot to commend it, but there is one thing that stood out more than any other. Before I get to it, though, allow me a brief aside. I’ve thought often about this old blog post from Bob Kauflin:
But even if I don’t read as many books as others, I read. If I’m not reading, I’m relying on my memory. Which seems to be decreasing daily. So I read. I once heard someone say that books don’t change people – sentences do. If I glean two or three sentences from a book that affect the way I think and the way I live, that’s time well invested. So I read. Books give me the opportunity to learn from and about godly, bright, insightful people I’ll never meet. So I read. What I know will always be dwarfed by what I don’t know. So I read. Books help me become more effective at what I do. So I read.
I read for the same reasons. Like Bob, I forget almost everything I read. But I don’t mind, because I don’t want or need to remember everything, so long as I find those two or three sentences that will be resounding in my heart and mind a week or month or year from now.
In Roberts’ book I came across one of those lines, one of those sentences, that has stuck with me and, I think, will continue to do so. It was a question, a simple question aimed at doing what every Christian wants to do: Destroy sin and pursue holiness. Roberts was talking about the kind of friendship men ought to have with one another and the kinds of questions they should be asking each another as they go through life together. Here is what he wants his friends to ask him: If you were the devil, where would you attack yourself?
Yes, that simple question was the trip line. And it leveled me. It’s an obvious question, I suppose. I feel like the guy who discovers that great television show when it’s in its final season and everyone else has been talking about it for years. Yet I don’t think I have ever asked the question of myself and I’m certain I have never asked it of a friend. I’m equally certain a friend has never asked it of me (and I’ve got some pretty good friends who ask me some pretty good questions).
Here’s the thing: We know that Satan and his demons have made a long and scrutinizing study of humanity. They have had millennia to study us, to get to know us, to learn how to tempt us. They have had thirty-seven years to study me, to get to know me, to learn how to tempt me. They have studied us as humanity since the Garden of Eden and I presume they have studied me as an individual since the day I was born. And they must always be asking themselves, “Where can we attack him? Where is he weak? Where is he prone to sin? Where is he lax? Where is he undisciplined? Where is he giving up?”
What I find so helpful about Roberts’ question is that it anticipates an attack in my areas of weakness and calls me not only to identify those vulnerabilities, but to involve a brother in strengthening me right there.
Why don’t you consider asking the question next time you’re with a friend. If you were the devil, where would you attack yourself? The answer will show you exactly where you can help, strengthen, and pray for your friend.