Why was this Windows 8 machine not functioning properly?  After all, it was practically a brand new computer.  The capabilities of this high-end, workhorse touchscreen system had been reduced to that of a Dell dinosaur running Windows 95 (or worse).  At some point, just about everyone with experience using computers knows what it’s like to have their machine slow to a proverbial crawl due to the sneaky existence of viruses, malware, spyware, scareware, etc.  What exactly was it this time?  I didn’t know…but what I did know is that this computer was no different from any that I have ever worked on.

In some cases, the problem is subtle, hidden, slowly crippling the machine by running excessive processes that occupy precious system resources like your processor and memory.  In other cases, the culprit is obvious.  The giant flashing pop-up demanding that you call “support” because your machine has 80,345 viruses is hard to miss.  Either way, from my perspective, the process of removing an infection and getting the machine back to it’s maximum level of optimization really doesn’t change.  It starts and ends with troubleshooting.  In my line of work, it is literally what I do every day.

My basic process for troubleshooting starts by establishing a clear understanding of how a particular system is actually supposed to function. I establish this baseline. I ask myself, “What is the expected or desired behavior?  Is the machine clearly operating at the level it was designed to?” Secondly, I will usually ask the owner to take me back to the last time it was working correctly, and what happened right before they noticed problems. I observe: When does the problem occur?  I attempt to identify a problem by observing the response of the machine.  Through this process, I also aim to eliminate what it could NOT be. By a deliberate process of elimination, I begin to isolate and establish a root cause. Finally, I address this root by utilizing certain tools I have accumulated over the years, while leaning on my past experience (and other times…Google).

What is my point in all this? I believe the troubleshooting process can be applied to our spiritual lives as well.

Satan is a savvy black hat hacker. He is looking for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our lives  that he might be able to exploit. He will attempt to brute force attack, trying to obtain internal access by relentlessly utilizing different passwords over and over again.  All the while he is simultaneously preparing to send Trojan horse packages to attack us from the inside.  He tries sowing things into our lives that looks like an enticing gift, but is actually delivered with the intent to wreak havoc once unwrapped.

Once the enemy gets into our systems we begin to degrade and fail to operate as we were designed.  Successful attacks sometimes happen overnight, but what I most often find is that this usually occurs over an extended period of neglectfulness.  It’s clear that unaddressed indifference and neglect ultimately result in unintended complications.  There must be a well thought out strategy and plan in place for not just maintaining, but also continually improving.  Thankfully God has the tech specs laid out before us, white pages full of detailed instructions.

So what is our “troubleshooting strategy” when something lands on my hard drive that shouldn’t be there?  Yes!  We as Christians have the Ultimate Firewall…Jesus!  We are covered, protected, and redeemed by the blood of our Savior.  No weapon formed against us will prosper.  But what if we neglect our relationship with Him? What if we never take the time to patch or upgrade our operating systems via prayer and studying His Word?  If we maintain the same old operating system, the enemy will eventually begin finding new back doors and vulnerabilities.

In the world of IT, from the perspective of the firewall Administrator, there is a fine balance between allowing users enough freedom and flexibility to do what needs to be done and completely locking down the network to the point that too much freedom is taken away and the environment is 100% controlled.  God is not going to lock down the network and control every decision in our lives.  He is going to allow us the freedom to make our own choices.  In IT, we can have the greatest firewall in the world, but if users are intentionally (or unintentionally) opening their systems up to attack, it’s only a matter of time before some “troubleshooting” is going to need to take place.

Make no mistake, the status of our salvation will never have to be maintained by our works.  The slowed computer is still a computer.  However, neglecting our relationship with Him and ignoring the little foxes in our lives will directly affect the quality of our walk and the lives of those closest to us. We will be like that high-end machine, operating at 30% capacity.  We as children of God, were not meant to operate below or even at a basic baseline level.  We were made to operate above capacity with unlimited upgradability. A piece of malware may find it’s way onto our hard drive from time to time, but when discovered it will be violently attacked by our anti-malware agents.

God, thank you that you are our anti-malware Agent…our Firewall.  You give us free will to make choices.  Thank you, that as we follow you and lean in to hear your voice more clearly, you show us how to avoid the little foxes and how to not open ourselves up to attacks. You lead us directly to root cause. You are the ultimate Administrator.  There is no virus that you cannot remove.  You make us into more than we could have ever imagined by expanding our capacities and capabilities.  Thank you that you made us infinitely re-writeable.  Thank you that even when we fall down or infect ourselves with bad coding, as we turn to you for help, by Your grace You delete the malicious and replace it truth and forgiveness!  You fortify us against the schemes of the enemy.  We lean into you, and we open up our lives to Your wisdom. We give you free reign to optimize our coding.  In Jesus’ name, amen.