the bad days

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Ephesians 6:10-20

There are good days and pretty good days, not bad, and then there are the bad days, hopefully not too many. Actually the passage quoted above may well be referring to the time in which we live, simply because we face the onslaught of the enemy. I know there are plenty of believers in Christ nowadays who chalk up the notion of the devil and demons to simply evil in general. When you consider everything, there’s something going on which defies an easy dismissal or explanation. Which is why in a world which denies truth, the word evil is still used, pointing, I think to something more beyond the relativism so prevalent. And to our personal lives, some days there seems to be an uncanny sense of an ongoing struggle and darkness at work, which casts a shadow on all that is good, so that we have trouble seeing the good. The Apostle Paul (click the link above) had no difficulty describing precisely what he believed is going on.

Scripture is rich with many places in which the person of faith is struggling, and all but left for dead in their mind, even with a sense of being abandoned by God. See especially the psalms to find plenty of that, and elsewhere.

As we’ve said before, and it is worth repeating, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. To know the problem, and what one faces is half the battle. The rest of it is to take up what God gives us in Christ and the gospel, and learn to stand in the midst of it all. Interpreting the spiritual warfare passage linked above as something for this present evil time when evil is so prevalent and active in the world is probably the best explanation, or sense of the passage. The thought the NIV gets across, that there may especially be a day that is evil, is also appropriate. But even with the NIV rendering, we are told to always be ready, so that everyday we are learning to live in the mighty strength of God, taking up the armor of God in and through Christ and the gospel.

Every day has a certain struggle to it, but bad days do come. And they go. And in the midst of it all, we need to remember the resources provided for us. And approach it as those who not only can face evil, but resist it. Knowing in the end it will someday be done away with forever. In the meantime we can be prepared for the day of evil in and through Jesus.

against paralyzing fear

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

1 Peter 5

The most often repeated command in scripture is to not be afraid. I often carry with me nagging fears about this or that, but ordinarily relatively benign. Like the need to replace a non-functioning turn signal, or check to make sure the roof is not leaking. Even those can have a cumulative, wearing effect on us, so they do need to be addressed, even if the solution is simply to let it go as not worth the trouble. The big problem comes when fear wins over faith, when the fear we’re experiencing all but knocks out our faith.

In the passage above, a lion can gain advantage over its intended prey by paralyzing it with fear. Just a long enough hesitation can be all that the lion needs to pounce on it for the kill. Paralyzing fear is a sure sign that it’s not a legitimate fear, but one to be rejected. And that involves nothing less than spiritual warfare, even as we see from the text above (and see Ephesians 6:10-20). After working through that, we might be able to find some legitimate underlying fear, which we can take care of.

Faith in God certainly doesn’t preclude responsibility on our part. A good example of that is when the devil tempted Jesus with the words that he should simply throw himself off of the top of the temple, depending in faith on God’s promise that the angels would be there to protect the righteous when they fall. Jesus countered that text taken out of context by the devil with the scripture: “You shall not test the Lord your God” (Matthew 4). Which means expecting God to deliver what God has never promised. In faith we depend on God without reservation. While in prayer, we do what we’re supposed to do, or what might solve a problem, and settle a legitimate fear.

In all of this, no matter what we face we must have faith in God. That God will fulfill his promises, and ultimately take care of everything. And in that process, help us make decisions, and ultimately grow in wisdom and in the likeness of his Son. Individually, but also together, in and through Jesus.

standing firm

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

One of the most vital, necessary, demanding spiritual disciplines we will have to practice again and again is the attitude and act of standing firm in the midst of spiritual warfare. As those in Jesus, intent in living in God’s will in him, we can be sure that we will be under attack. And at times, it may seem like we will lose it, that the world, at least our world is caving in, or that we are caving in response to what is going on. That is when it is most crucial for us in the words of this classic spiritual warfare passage from the Apostle Paul, to “stand firm.”

We start out by being strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, not in ourselves, at all. And we put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes.

No matter what, we need to “stand firm.” Which means not giving in to panic, not giving up the fight. The posture of the Christian in spiritual warfare is certainly not flight, nor is it even fight, as if we can destroy the enemy ourselves. Instead it is by standing firm, not in our own strength, but in the strength of the Lord, and equipped with the full spiritual armory of God.

As we do that, and only as we do that, we will see the Lord’s mighty power begin to make the difference. We will likely see it first of all in the peace the Lord eventually gives us. And in the difference it can make in the lives of those around us for whom we are praying.

It is interesting that Paul near the end of this great letter caps it off with direction on spiritual warfare. We need to assimilate this well, not letting up, but this practice becoming a part of our heart and lives. As we seek to imitate God no less (Ephesians 5:1), and live as Christ’s body on earth, together in him.

enough is enough

Sometimes I find myself being victimized in a rather passive state. The enemy’s working is quite subtle and they hook you in and keep you on as long as possible. In ways which you don’t recognize. Although hopefully through such experiences, one can begin to recognize them more and more.

I find that at certain points, it’s almost like I awaken and when I do, I don’t care anymore what my experience is, as it begins to dawn on me that there is something greater, even a greater good than what has taken over and gotten the best of me.

That is when I finally find myself putting my foot down with the resolution that enough is enough. And in doing that, I’m assuming a posture of standing firm in resistance to the enemy, of course referring to the spiritual enemy and spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-20).

I remember Dr. Ted S. Rendall at Prairie Bible Institute telling us that the Christian life could be likened to the old three legged stool people used to commonly use to sit on while milking cows. One leg could stand for being a servant, another a soldier, and one can say the ultimate one would be a son or daughter of God in God’s family. But all three are necessary at all times in our life in Christ.

I am hoping that I will do better in avoiding such episodes in the future. Particularly falling into some long, drawn out malaise which takes much of the life and step, indeed the heart out of one. And that even during such difficult times, I would learn to draw better from the Lord in knowing from his all sufficient grace in my weakness, his strength.

discerning the voice of the enemy

I used to live in fear of falling into fear. After all, there’s much to fear in this life. Pretty much all of the fear I’m thinking of one can trace back to the fear of death as its root. Though as I’ve gotten older more and more the fear of not measuring up in God’s eyes can haunt me as well. The latter in terms of living in some way or doing something that deserves condemnation. I’m not so much thinking about obvious sins, but I’m thinking about those matters which are not easy for us to deal with.

One sure way I can contrast the voice of the enemy from the voice of God is that the enemy always bring fear along with guilt and something of despair. God’s voice may very well convict of sin, and often does, but it brings love, joy and peace, not to mention righteousness or a sense of goodness in well being which we realize is a gift to us, and not of ourselves.

I have to remember this when I’m plagued with this or that thought. It has been easy for me in this life to fall into that trap. With God there is not only always a way out of a mess, but a way into all goodness and love in and through the grace and kingdom of our Lord Jesus. It is easier to think of this, living in a more affluent society than most of the rest of the world. We often are brought down by worldly thinking, supposing that we are lost when we fall on relatively hard times (first world problems, usually). But such thinking can blind us to our true well being which is found in God through Christ.

I suppose I live too much in the depth of chaotic darkness though I know I don’t at all dwell there like I did in years past. No matter what we need to live in the light. We want to avoid the darkness. The only way I can do that is to get into God’s written word, into scripture, and to focus on the good news, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Somehow by faith I need to walk on water so that I don’t fall and end up either being drowned or more likely simply struggling for air. I need to live in God’s strange peace, strange to me and not dependent on the circumstances of life.

And so when I feel down and out that might be a good time to ask if I’m being taken under and for a ride by the enemy of our souls. Instead we need to look to God in and through Jesus and learn more and more to live in God’s victory in Jesus by the cross. As we look forward to the day when all the troubles of this life will be gone.

hanging in there

Sometimes if a fellow worker asks me how I’m doing, I might say (and mean), “Hanging in there,” and they may very well echo the same. Life is like that sometimes, some days, even some periods of time. Sometimes it seems the best one can do is hang in there and go with the ebbs and flows and ups and downs of life.

Simply hanging in there can be underrated. It means we aren’t bailing out, but remaining faithful to the calling we’ve received from God, what we believe we should do.

Hanging in there invariably means you’re not backing down from the attacks of the enemy. We in Jesus are called to be strong (or strengthened) in the Lord, in the power of his might, to put on the armor of God, and to stand firm in resisting the spiritual enemy. We often end up doing so in great weakness. But in that weakness we can find the Lord’s power, in fact such power is made perfect in weakness.

And so hanging in there is like hanging on. We’re hanging on for dear life in more ways than one. To survive, yes. But to thrive as well. Into nothing less than the Lord’s life, a life meant for the world. Maybe one form of death at work in us, but through that life at work in others in and through Jesus.

Dallas Willard on recognizing the voice of Satan

There are other “spiritual voices,” too. It is in contrast with the kind of voice I have just described [God’s voice] that the voice of our adversary, Satan, is made known to us, for he too will speak in our heart once he sees he no longer holds us in his hand. Only if we learn to recognize his voice as well can we avoid many silly attributions of events to Satan (“The devil made me do it!”). And only so can we correctly identify and firmly resist him and make him flee from us (1 Pet 5:9; Eph 6:11).

Satan will not come to us in the form of an oversized bat with bony wings, hissing like a snake. Very seldom will he assume any external manifestation at all. Instead he will usually, like God, come to us through our thoughts and our perceptions. We must be alert to any voice that is in contrast with the weight, spirit and content of God’s voice, for that may signify that we are under subtle attack.

The temptations of Jesus in Matthew 4 illustrate this well. It does not take much imagination to realize that if some bat-like creature suggested to Jesus that he turn the stones into bread, this would certainly have tended to curb his appetite. How then did the tempter come to him (v. 3)? Actually the Gospel passages give no indication as to how he came.

Perhaps—and this is just a suggestion—as Jesus suffered extreme hunger, the stones about him reminded him of—perhaps began to look like—the loaves from his mother’s oven. Perhaps he began to smell them and then to think how easily he could turn those stones into such loaves—with butter. But then he also realized the conflict between this vision and the great truth that the word of God is a substance, a meat (Jn 4:32). He refused to allow himself to be turned away from learning that God’s word is sufficient for his every need. Human beings live by every word that issues from God’s mouth (Deut 8:3). The voice of temptation was clearly opposed in spirit and content to God’s word, and Jesus recognized Satan and successfully resisted him in this and in the other temptations which followed.

Likewise, followers of Christ must be encouraged to believe that they can come to understand and distinguish the voice of God. They need only to look within their thoughts and perceptions for the same kinds of distinctions as they would find in spoken or written communications received from other human beings: a distinctive quality, spirit and content.

All of the words that we are going to receive from God, no matter what may accompany them externally or internally, will ultimately pass through the form of our own thoughts and perceptions. We must learn to find in them the voice of the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, 181, 182.