when all hell breaks loose: stand firm

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day and, having prevailed against everything, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6:13

There’s the normal day to day struggles and difficulties we all must face. And sometimes depending, we can get well sidetracked in that, hopefully learning from such experiences how to do better. The ordinary day to day worries Jesus mentioned. Sometimes that can morph into “the evil day,” or for whatever reason we get slammed into or we descend into such. Those can be times when we feel that our bearings are all but lost. When we feel more or less completely at a loss. When we can’t make much heads or tails about anything, because all is dark, or at least dim or harder to see like at dusk.

What we need is God’s word to us in Christ here: Stand firm. We do so not in our own strength or in our own resources, but in the power and resources God provides for us in Christ and in the gospel. We take up, in the words of the passage above (click above for entire passage), “the whole armor of God,” every part. And we refuse to back down even when feel like turning tail and running. We face it, believing God is with us in Christ, and that God’s word in Christ along with all that comes with and because of that will prevail. So, we stand firm.

Something I have to be reminded of from time to time. And all of us need to rely on when the going gets tough not just in our individual lives, but as community, too.

In and through Jesus.

resisting the devil

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7b

We’re told in James to resist the devil, with the promise that he’ll flee from us. That simple. We do need to consider the context (hit above link). Having done that, this evidently is something ongoing, just as much as our necessary submission to God, what we’re told to do just before this.

Someday we won’t have to face this any longer. We’ll be in eternal rest and peace. But now it’s ongoing, and we do well, in fact it’s a necessity to accept this, and do what we’re told to do. Resist.

This resistance takes different forms. God will help us understand what we should do depending. But we need to have the commitment to and attitude of resistance. Yes, in all of our weakness, in the midst of our doubts and wonderings, even in despair. Much of that can come from the enemy, yes the devil’s attack on us. When we feel overwhelmed and pushed under, that’s a sure sign that we’re being attacked. We’re told only to resist. We’re not given any more directions than that. Just resist.

Again, God will show us how each time if we have the commitment to resist along with the attitude of resistance. It won’t be any cakewalk to do that, but we have the promise that when we do, the devil will inevitably flee. 

Something we’ll have to continue to do in this life. In and through Jesus.

expect a fight

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day and, having prevailed against everything, to stand firm. Stand, therefore, and belt your waist with truth and put on the breastplate of righteousness and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench 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. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Ephesians 6:10-20

There’s no question about it, followers of Christ will be in a fight to the finish. Paul or whoever wrote Ephesians as a Pauline book tells us that we’re in a struggle: “…our struggle…” And that it’s not against humans. In other words, we’d better see it on an entirely other level. Yes, humans are involved, no doubt, although not always. Any way the spiritual enemy can trip us up, it will.

It is not fun being in conflict. We would like to simply bask in God’s love and peace. And the Lord wants us to know that special rest to which he invites us, into his yoke to learn from him. But part of that learning when we look at his life and what follows in Acts and the letters, not to mention what preceded it in the Hebrew Bible, often in physical terms, but even then, with spiritual entities as the primary movers, the fact is that we need to become battle hardened and battle ready, remembering that God’s people have always lived in a story which involved a spiritual conflict.

Again, I personally get tired of it. And a lot of it relates to my propensity toward anxiety and regret. “If only,” etc., etc., etc. The enemy assigned to me knows just what buttons to push. What it does with you might be entirely different, and of course each of us is unique in our experience and makeup.

We’re told in this passage, considered the classic spiritual warfare passage that we’re to be strong in the Lord, to put on and take up what God provides for the battle, and to stand firm in that. And to pray, pray, and pray some more for all God’s people. In all of this there can be no let up. Though thankfully as we’re told in Psalm 23, there are times when our Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures, leads us beside still waters, and restores our soul. But we can be sure that the battle is not over. And it’s during those times in my experience that I feel somehow that the worst is past.

For myself, and maybe this is going beyond what Scripture is telling us, but I think not: Whenever attacked, I want to progress. I want to get some good out of even my own mistakes, as well as whatever latest trick and deceit the enemy is pulling on me. To somehow go deeper and deeper into Christ, Christ’s sufferings, rather than try to manage it on my own. I have so much to learn in all of this. But I’m trying to be open and learn all I can in the midst and maelstrom of life. In and through Jesus.

strongholds

I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you but bold toward you when I am away!— I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards. Indeed, we live as humans but do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:1-5; NRSVue

The strongholds here refer to everything that is set up in opposition to the knowledge of God, all that is contrary to God. I think now of systems of evil benefiting some, often a relatively small number of the rich and powerful at the expense of many. Oftentimes such an arrangement is seen as necessary for this or that reason, with arguments like that’s the way things are, and that’s the way life works. Those on the bottom rung can be thankful they have work and an existence, even if it’s dismal. But the dismal aspect is ignored if not denied on the basis that somehow this is all these people deserve or are able to achieve. And that those over them even somehow are being generous. That is so antithetical to the good news of God in Christ which is not only about the individual soul, but about all things, all of life. Unless the entire Bible doesn’t matter. Only through reading it all can we fully understand and appreciate the good news in Christ.

What Paul is directly talking about here is everything set up against the knowledge of God as given in the good news of Christ. This is especially critical to those who do not have faith, who have not yet received it. But Paul is writing here to a church that indeed has received it yet are thinking and acting in ways contrary to it. The good news in Christ is meant to crush all strongholds. And what is especially critical in Paul’s mind which we see time and again in his letters, not the least in this letter is the relationships believers have with each other and how believers relate to the world. It’s meant to be all in love in accordance with the gospel.

When I think of strongholds, I typically think of that which hinders us from the fullness of experience of the gospel, by God’s grace the righteousness and peace and joy that accompanies it. It is noteworthy that just two chapters later in our Bibles, Paul talks about the thorn in the flesh, the tormenting messenger of Satan that Paul pleaded three times for the Lord to remove. But the Lord wanted Paul to live in that. It’s hard to parse this out, because I don’t believe such weaknesses would include bents toward sin which would leave us susceptible. But such experience can help us draw near to God in ways we otherwise would not.

I believe we need to seek to claim and live in God’s promises which are “yes and amen” through the good news of Christ. We need to plead and insist that God answer. Such prayer is probably entirely necessary for us, because we’re so given to being not that serious about whatever it is. So it’s good that we keep praying for ourselves and others and not let up. And even wrestle with God in the process.

It is the gospel, the good news in Jesus which tears down all kinds of strongholds, whether systemic evil in the world, the sin which binds people, or the struggles we experience as believers in the spiritual battle we’re in. Something to think and pray about. God will help us as we persevere. What once was a stronghold can be like Paul says above, destroyed. With the new thoughts Christ gives us as we commit ourselves to full obedience together. In and through Jesus.

prayer as spiritual warfare

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Ephesians 6:18-20; NRSVue

I like the way the updated edition of the NRSV (to come out in hard copy in August) does not separate the part on prayer from the spiritual warfare part preceding it, which I think is an improvement. Prayer is most certainly a part of spiritual warfare, and ongoing prayer as the text tells us, at that.

We can easily and actually I think are quite prone to underestimate the importance of prayer. But the spiritual enemy does not. They do all they can to stop us from praying. I think Martin Luther pointed out that it’s not a matter of us not having enough time to pray, but that one’s “too busy not to pray.”

I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.

Martin Luther

Always persevering in supplication for all the saints is simply a matter of staying at it no matter what. We keep praying for others even when we feel such praying seems to be in vain. This is part of the spiritual warfare passage, what we’re to do to stand in that spiritual battle ourselves, as well as how we’re to help each other.

And somehow, we can easily slip into the falsehood of seeing Paul as some kind of semi-divine being. He was every bit as human as the rest of us, and every bit as much in need of prayers. Especially given his assignment and what he was up against. It would require an effort of the church to hold him up through prayers. And we must do the same for all the women and men servants who are as it were on the frontline. In need of our support just as much as Paul was.

No. We can’t let up. When we do we’ll soon find out that we can’t. For our own sake even, as well as for the sake of each other. In and through Jesus.

being awake and alert to the tricks of Satan

And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs.

2 Corinthians 2:11; NRSVue

The context of this passage is almost beside the point here, though it is quite important since it’s a part of scripture. We need to take it into account to receive all that we need to take in. But the point of this post is that we need to be awake and alert to any and all ways that our spiritual enemy might try to trip us up.

To understand this so that we have discernment is half the battle. We then need to by faith take action accordingly. Always in line with scripture, with God’s promises, seeking the help of the Spirit. And as we’re told in the classical spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6 (verses 10-20), taking the stand we need to.

All of this is easier said than done, but it’s necessary that we do it. And God will give us the strength along with the resources, all that we need. Although each instance is probably not going to be that complicated. We’ll know or become aware of what we need to do when we get there. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

 

getting rid of “if only’s”

I like to put up a scriptural text since I find grounding in that, leading me to Christ and the good news in him along with specific directions for life. For this one I couldn’t come up with anything, except to think of Judas Iscariot hanging himself over his betrayal of Jesus, and Peter weeping bitterly when he denied the Lord three times. They both handled it drastically differently, but although Peter came out in the clear, it certainly wasn’t easy for him.

We probably have some pile of regrets, things we wished we would have done differently, or not done at all. When you think about it, there’s probably some small regrets each day, maybe a few bigger ones along the way, but we get caught up in this or that, and wish we would have done better, that something of the edge might be taken off of us. We can immediately repent, and count such times as learning opportunities, so that we might be aware of our deficiencies and work in God’s grace to do better and keep growing in goodness in Christ.

But to the topic. “If only’s” easily plague us. Yes, most certainly we can learn from them, and we should count that as a plus. After all, at the time we somehow thought or felt what we were doing was alright or good enough. We can at least take away from having failed, all the way from a miscue to a sin, that we can learn from that, and do better. Hopefully not just because of the pain experienced, though that’s entirely legitimate. But most importantly along with that, over concern out of the love of God to love God and others.

“What if’s?” or “If only’s!” are simply a waste not only of time, but even worse, a waste of our minds and hearts. We’re led down a track and put into a pit in which it isn’t easy to escape or get out of. Much easier to fall into it, then get out of it.

None of this will help us in the least. We certainly can’t time travel and reverse this or that, though I’m sure most all of us would be happy to do that if we could. It is not only wasted thinking, but harmful. It can lead us to a dark space devoid of grace. With God’s help and commitment to do better, we can find God’s grace and light to bring a peace that surpasses all our own understanding, lack of understanding, along with misunderstanding, but add to that, even what we think we understand all too well. And giving us even a cheer and joy that seems inexplicable, but right from the heart of God to our hearts.

We have to look at this as part of the spiritual warfare we’re engaged in. We have to commit ourselves to not going there, but with the realization that we can do this only by God’s help. Yet at the same time knowing too that it is we that have to do it. God isn’t going to do it for us. Although there are those strange occasions, and rare, when it does seem like God is doing it for us, so that what we do is nearly effortless.

God will help us to get past this, but let’s not expect it in a flash, or think we can just leave all of this behind in a day. It will be a part of our spiritual growing process, and ongoing spiritual warfare along the way. God will help us and see us through, as we trust and keep going in the right direction, sometimes confessing our failure to do so along the way, then getting up to move in the direction that God will give us. In and through Jesus.

act beforehand (as well as necessarily react)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day and, having prevailed against everything, to stand firm. Stand, therefore, and belt your waist with truth and put on the breastplate of righteousness and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench 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. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Ephesians 6:10-20; NRSVue

It is important to react in an appropriate way when need be, but just as important and in some ways more so, we also need to act ahead of time in a way which might lessen the need to react later and will at least get us in the proper frame of mind and heart so that any necessary reaction later will be better. I am thinking here about the spiritual warfare we’re told about in this passage, written as it were from Paul or from someone else as if Paul had written it, which doesn’t matter for our purposes since either way it’s holy scripture.

It’s important for us to do all we can on the sunny days in preparation for when the cloudy, overcast, stormy days hit us. It’s easy to do otherwise, to just rest, relax and enjoy when all seems good and at peace. But this passage explicitly tells us to do otherwise. Even when it seems unnecessary, we’re to do this, so that when the inevitable comes, we’ll be ready for it.

I think some interpreters see the evil day as ever present, so that it’s just something we have to do all the time since we’re ever engaged in this spiritual battle. And that could be. It does seem like in experience that there are especially some difficult days, and for some of us if we have to do certain things, like maybe teach or give a message or lead a discussion from scripture, we can almost mark it down that we’ll be in a tussle before that time to trip us up and make us ineffective in what we have to do. That has happened over and over again for me, right up to the present day. “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” If we know that ahead of time, then we can prepare ahead of time, and indeed we are clearly told to do just that in this passage for the spiritual warfare which is part of our existence now. Let me add to that that the difficulty and darkness can hit us at the most unexpected times as well, any time really.

If Paul asked for prayer to help him in what he had to do, proclaiming the message of the gospel, we might say all the more so for us, but really, we’re all in the same boat together on that one. A difference with Paul was that he was probably fully exercised this way all the time, whereas we are not. But we’re all in the same need, and we all have the same resources. This is something we’re to realize and grow more and more into in our application and practice of this. Something we’re to take seriously in this life, because there’s no escape. And yet we have all we need in Christ and through the gospel, spelled out to us in detail here so that we won’t miss anything within that, all of it needed for life here and now. So that individually and together we might live in the light and be a light in and through Jesus.

how are we “more than victorious” (or “more than conquerors”) in this life?

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39; NRSVue

ὑπερνικάω is a heightened form of being victorious, meaning “we are winning a most glorious victory” (BAGD). Although the old translation: “we are more than conquerors” might suggest more strenuous activity on our part, the more accurate rendering still indicates that we’re very much active. We are participants of God’s victory in Christ. But just how?

Romans 8 from where our passage is taken is one of the greatest chapters of the Bible. We read at its very beginning that there’s now no condemnation in Christ Jesus because of the new law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which has set us free from the law of sin and death. And what the law given on Mt. Sinai could not do since it was weakened by the flesh, Christ did by coming the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin by his death. And that because of this spiritual reality in which we “in Christ” live, we no longer have to give into the flesh, since after all, we’re no longer “in the flesh” but “in the Spirit” if Christ dwells in us. That we’re to set our minds not on the flesh, what it wants, but on the Spirit, what the Spirit wants. And that actually becomes what we want, even while in this life we sometimes think and live contrary to that.

And what precedes the above passage would be good to note here:

If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Romans 8:31b-34; NRSVue

The gospel is essentially given to us in the first four books of the New Testament: the gospel according to Matthew, the gospel according to Mark, the gospel according to Luke and the gospel according to John. Gospel is the English translation of εὐαγγέλιον which means “good news.” In Jesus and his coming is the good news for the world. Of course, it’s through Jesus’s incarnation in God becoming flesh, completely human. In his life, miracles, teaching: all about and within God’s kingdom present in him, then in his death for sins and his resurrection to give us new and eternal life. With the promise of his return when what has begun now, making all things new, will at long last be completed.

And with that said, it’s up to us whether or not we’re going to answer the call of Christ. I believe that call is on every human’s life: past, present and future, but that’s another topic, and really quite above my head. Though really when you’re considering anything spiritual and specifically pertaining to Christ and the gospel, it is all above us, but God wants to help us begin to understand and live in it. But first we must answer God’s call in Christ. And it’s simply, as we see in the gospel accounts, a call to follow Christ. That means following Christ as our rabbi whom we not only learn truth from in his teaching, but whom we seek to imitate and become more and more like over time, a lifetime endeavor to be sure. And of course, that’s based on his coming, not only his death and resurrection, but the whole works. He became one of us, living in the same dirt and grind and mess in which we live, and then taking the worst of humanity on himself, both the acts and the results of such acts, all the rapes and murders and everything in violation of love to God and neighbor that has ever been done, every single act of ours and all humanity past, present and future. Yes, Christ took all that on himself at the cross, but did so for the joy set before him, enduring the cross, scorning its shame. For the love of the Father, for the love of the world, all in God’s love for the world, for all of us sinners.

Now to get to the main point: How are we overwhelmingly victorious in this life? It’s simply through following Christ through thick and thin, preferably all together as church, the one body, his body. We follow him in all of life, doing what Christ has told us to do: loving our enemies, blessing those who curse us, praying for and doing good to those who despise us, even turning the other cheek after we’ve been struck, never physically resisting evil, although fleeing and avoiding that is usually a good thing, and I would do what I could to prevent someone from harming another, never killing them. But we’re to seek to overcome evil with good, hate with love. Never taking up the sword, since we’re not in a struggle against humans, but against spiritual entities which do affect human rulers, and also do what they can to hinder us and our desire and endeavor to live in the reality of the good news in Jesus.

When Jesus told his disciples to get a sword if they didn’t have any, they told him, Lord look, here are two swords. And Jesus replied that two was enough. Remember when he sent the disciples out two by two previously, he told them specifically what to take, and the sword was not included. Very soon afterwards Peter takes one of those swords and slashes off one of the ears of a servant of the high priest. Jesus immediately rebukes Peter and tells him to put down the sword, that all who take the sword will perish by the sword, and that after all, he must do God’s will. Soon after that Jesus told Pilate that if his kingdom as King of the Jews were of or from this world, then his servants would fight, but no, his kingdom is from another place. So how we’re victorious has nothing to do with the world’s way of being victorious. It’s never physical, but always spiritual. Yet carried on in physical bodies in down to earth ways. Like feeding your enemies, giving them something to drink, and in so doing, heaping burning coals on their head, which I take to figuratively meaning they are ashamed.

Through the worst life and those opposed to us has to offer, as we continue on faithfully following our Lord as his faithful and called, following the Lamb wherever he goes, “we are more than victorious,” overwhelming so. That is the victory in which we live, the victory of our Lord which at the heart of it is taking the way of the cross. Becoming like Jesus in his death. But at the heart of that, coming to really know Jesus. That is after all what following Jesus is all about. It’s not merely knowing something in our heads, or thinking we know something. It is hearing the call and responding. It is heart to heart, involving a full commitment of ourselves to Christ. And that with others; we’re not to be on this journey alone. We want to help others come along, and we want to learn from each other, especially from others who have been on this journey longer. In doing so, we’re all being blessed by Christ, who has gone through it entirely, but is now ever present in our midst as well as in us individually and collectively by the Spirit.

And the last promise: nothing, nothing, nothing at all, including when we feel unloved and rejected and are tempted to despair, maybe even fall into that. Nothing at all can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That is a love personal to us, but which is also meant for each other, and out of that for the world, including all of our enemies. God’s love in Jesus meant to do the same for all as for us: Making enemies friends through Christ as we respond to Christ’s call to us with repentance and faith.

Yes, we are more than victorious, more than that, through him who loved us.

two basics on spiritual warfare

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,

Ephesians 6:10-11; NRSVue

Whether we like it or not, we’re in a spiritual battle in this life; there’s no two ways about it. We might want to or automatically chalk up our struggles to this or that psychological issue, or a host of other things. And it’s not like those things can’t play in, nor that we should ignore them. We may get some significant help for example from some psychiatrist or professional counselor. Probably most of us would benefit from something of that.

But mark it down: we in Christ are in an all out battle spiritually. Not physically, but spiritually. This is personal but it does go beyond the personal into realms held down by the spiritual enemy in human entities and spaces, systemic issues where the powers hold sway. There’s no escape from this, so that we might as well face it. And we actually have to have the willingness to be in the struggle, engage in it. But how do we do that?

Ephesians 6:10-18 (you can include 19, 20 as well), click link above, is considered the classic spiritual warfare passage. And the recent updated edition of the NRSV (hard copies due around May) has a slight change here which maybe helps, closely coupling the two points in the quote from scripture, above.

First, we’re to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. When we’re aware of the spiritual battle we’re in, we often feel quite weak, having no strength at all. I’m thinking now of something Daniel went through during which he felt like strength had left him, totally weak. This is not a comfortable place to be, to say the least. But it’s necessary and the precursor to taking on the Lord’s strength. It’s the Lord’s strength, not our own, and yet somehow, we’re to take it on. We’re told to be strong in the Lord, in the strength of his power. As this power takes over, we’ll know it’s not our strength, not our power, but the Lord’s.

Then we’re told to put on the whole armor of God, so that we might be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. That means we’ll need to go through the rest of this passage, considering carefully the parts named there: belted with truth, breastplate of righteousness, sandals laced up in preparation for the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit- the word (rhēma, ῥῆμα) of God. And with that, ongoing prayer in the Spirit.

We need to be aware of this, and we soon will be if we’re serious about following the Lord fully and being a help to others through the help we’ve received and are receiving from God. In and through Jesus.