the spiritual battle in which we’re in is down to earth

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

In case we haven’t received notice, we’re in a spiritual battle whether we realize it or not. This battle, while spiritual definitely has ramifications on the ground. It addresses principalities and powers which not only engage persons, but systems. At the heart of it is Christ and the gospel of Christ, which actually is what the whole armor of God is tied to. God gives strength to that end. And that good news is about freeing all who are in bondage, the bondage of sin, and also giving the freedom to follow Christ in this world.

Any system which is not of this good news in Christ, not tied to or a part of God’s kingdom and rule in Christ is suspect. In fact systems which seek to impose standards of virtue and goodness and mark characteristics that are not supposedly good, short of working at stopping violence, are worse than suspect. They are indeed part of the problem, oftentimes with religion backing them, in our own context: church and state.

We have nothing to fear in Christ, in the good news in him. It will prevail after all else has failed or has been judged in the end for what it actually is. We are together in this, it’s not only an individual, daily matter, not even primarily, though it does include that. This directive is addressed to the church, very much for today, yes on the ground, down to earth where we live. God’s victory in Christ ultimately the winner.

pray simply; simply pray

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2; NRSVue

This command or I prefer directive is given to a church, by extension to us as church today, as well as to individuals of the church. And it surely refers to public and private prayers.

Prayer simply put is talking to God. To pray well requires listening, being in Scripture and in life over time. But really beyond all else, prayer is a matter of the heart, a matter of being, and then from that, doing, so that in fact, anyone can offer prayer to God.

Frankly in my case my default is often feeling empty, unready, or even worse. At times it can seem uphill at best to pray at all. Most of the time for me, it can seem mechanical, just something I do. But then there are those moments when it seems like I’m taking up into a space of God’s making in which I feel the love and peace, yes presence of God.

Whatever may be the case in our experience of prayer, we’re told that we’re to devote ourselves to it. Praying for ourselves and loved ones, for neighbors and community, for the church, for the world, for concerns on our heart, whatever is on our hearts and minds. But also people and things we consistently pray for, regardless of how we feel (thoughts from morning and evening prayers in the hymnal, Voices Together).

Nothing fancy, in fact perhaps the most eloquent prayer might be the most simple. Just pray. Speak your heart and mind. For me that often involves not knowing what to think or how to look at a situation so that I just lift the person or situation up to God. We pray and keep praying.

devotion to prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2

“Thoughts and prayers” especially over gun violence with no change in sight, or desired change even from those who offer that, comes across as mere sentimentality, though I don’t doubt the sincerity of most of them. But is that enough? Of course not. For prayer to make any difference or be real prayer one’s entire being must be involved in it, and for it to have its intended effect, it must be in accord with God’s kingdom present in Jesus. I think of what is most often called “the Lord’s Prayer,” the prayer Jesus taught, and am reminded of just how down to earth that prayer is. It seems to me that the right heavenly perspective is an earthly perspective, and the right earthly perspective will be influenced by a heavenly perspective. I’m borrowing a bit from the discussion our church fellowship had yesterday.

We cannot be too devoted to prayer, individual prayers and prayers together. Prayer is too often treated like an add-on or even mere formality if it’s remembered at all. But it’s really at the heart, and we could say the heart of what we Christ-followers do, even our very existence. Our dependence on God is most evident in prayer, asking- even crying out for God’s help and all that we and others need from God. And God does listen to sincere prayer through Christ, even if Christ is not understood as part of the equation.

Praying is a matter of faith. If our faith is small or nonexistent, we won’t even think of praying, much less do it. But if we’re struggling to grow in faith, if we have faith at all, then it will become evident through our desire to pray, or willingness to do so, to at least be led in prayer. Our prayer habits and life are an important indicator of the health and strength of our faith. Other factors are involved such as spiritual warfare, which can make it difficult to pray, and still other factors, which together can result in prayer being more like wrestling or quiet groaning when we don’t have adequate enough words to speak.

In it all, we need to be devoted to prayer, not letting up on it. God will help us far more than we might think or can imagine as we do so.


what we have seen and heard we also declare to you so that you also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

1 John 1:3

Central to and part of the core of the Christian faith is fellowship, or what some might prefer to call communion. Just as God in God’s triunity is in communion with God’s self, of course something we can’t parse out and understand, so we humans are created to live in such a relationship in harmony with God and each other. Fellowship or communion is at the heart of who God is, the nature of God. And so if God is a reality, or in Christian or Jewish terms maybe we could say the overriding reality, then any fellowship with God automatically takes us into this space with God and with each other.

Of course as the biblical story tells us, and as we see all too clearly in life, such harmony is rarely present, and indeed our fellowship and communion is indeed broken, or at least strained and cracked. This is not where we live or at least not what characterizes our existence. We are off on another quest, far removed from that so that we’re actually removed from life itself.

But Christ, what is called the cosmic Christ, but not divorced from the Jesus of the gospels, in fact united with that, is really the reality that gives humanity the hope which brings humanity together toward a harmonious whole. In this time and present existence there will always be the principalities and powers, both human and spiritual, which are ever resistant and downright opposed to this, infiltrating everywhere. We need to know that the answer is present in Christ, but that the struggle in the present will continue. Not that there can’t be progress, but it seems that this side of the end will always include opposition and struggle.

The fellowship here is not only a sense of blissful intercourse, but also a love which is concerned for all in the love for our neighbor as ourselves. It is a fellowship not at rest until what is true in Christ becomes something true of the world itself, of all things, certainly to be finished when Christ returns, but something we are to be committed to here and now. As we more and more live and experience with each other the reality in God and in Christ by the Spirit.

putting on the whole armor of God: the sword of the Spirit, the word of God

Takethe sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:17b

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7b

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we tremble not, for God has willed
that truth will triumph through us.
Though Satan rant and rage
and fiercest war engage,
such wrath we can endure,
for evil’s doom is sure.
One little word shall end it.

Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (traditional, Voices Together Hymnal)

One thing for sure: We are in a spiritual battle. I’m always glad for the respite and relief that comes after that. But I don’t think evil rests. God keeps us and is indeed a mighty fortress for our protection. But as this passage from Ephesians reminds us as followers of Christ and as the church, we face opposition that at its heart is as crafty as it is pure evil.

We are no match for this. So our strength is only in God and our hope to stand in the spiritual battle only in the armor God gives us to put on. And there is one offensive weapon in that armor: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

That seems to suggest a word that the Spirit gives. We could say it’s the word of the gospel in the Word who is Christ. It is perhaps more likely a needed and fitting word given and spoken at the needed time. Some say you have to say it out loud, even as the story is told, Luther used to do, throwing inkwell at the evil presence. I remain skeptical about that, thinking that these spirit beings might well be able to penetrate our thoughts. They certainly send thoughts our way. Not sure any of this matters one way or the other, though I stand to be corrected. It seems to me more than enough to accept the needed word from God, the rest taking care of itself, God taking care of it.

What we can be sure of is that while we’re to stand our ground firmly against the onslaught of evil, we also have a powerful, penetrating spiritual weapon at hand. God will help us by the Spirit to know what that needed word is in that instance, individually and especially together as church. In and through Jesus.

putting on the whole armor of God: the helmet of salvation

Take the helmet of salvation

Ephesians 6:17a

We wait for justice, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far from us.
For our transgressions before you are many,
and our sins testify against us.
Our transgressions indeed are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
transgressing and denying the LORD
and turning away from following our God,
talking oppression and revolt,
conceiving lying words and uttering them from the heart.
Justice is turned back,
and deliverance stands at a distance,
for truth stumbles in the public square,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
and whoever turns from evil is despoiled.

The LORD saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one
and was appalled that there was no one to intervene,
so his own arm brought him victory,
and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness like a breastplate
and a helmet of salvation on his head…

Isaiah 59:11b-17a

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober and put on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

1 Thessalonians 5:8

The helmet of salvation in what’s considered the classic spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6 is usually considered something like the assurance of the believer’s salvation, at least the “hope” of it, as we see in 1 Thessalonians 5. It is part of the armor of God. And mostly the idea for at least many in the annals of Christianity that we’re told to put it on, but supposedly for many the thought of what lies after death being entirely in God’s hands, and that no one can presume to know. Maybe something we can take out of that is that we’re not to be so caught up in this so that it becomes our main concern while this “helmet” is still vital for us to wear. As we have an active faith in God, so we believe that God will take care of our salvation. That this is personal, yes for the church, but also for each individual of the church is certainly the case. Yes, important. But it surely doesn’t stop there.

The prophet Isaiah point to the sins of God’s people being the reason that there was no justice in their midst, for themselves and especially for others. When you read Isaiah and the rest of the prophets you find that among God’s prime concerns are justice especially for the poor and for aliens, widows and orphans. And when Israel was sinning, such justice was lacking. Interestingly it’s God who puts on the helmet of salvation and other armor to bring correction and justice. Couldn’t that possibly suggest something as to the meaning of the helmet of salvation in Ephesians 6:10-20 beyond just our own personal salvation? I think so.

We’re to work on our salvation together (Philippians 2:12-13) so that hopefully no one will be left behind (Hebrews 12:15). We as the church are in this together. But salvation doesn’t stop there.

We also hope for the salvation of the world (John 3:16-17). Yes, in terms that all would have faith. And also bringing God’s deliverance and healing to all. And through that breaking down systems of evil. Light exposing darkness and bringing with that God’s judgment and salvation, yes bringing true justice along with mercy. The power of the gospel.

So the helmet of salvation we’re to put on surely includes all that salvation means, yes even in the present as we wait for the final salvation to come with righteousness, justice and peace in the new heavens and earth when Christ returns (2 Peter 3:13).

putting on the whole armor of God: the shield of faith

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.

Ephesians 6:16

There’s no escape from the reality that we’re in a spiritual conflict. Some Mennonites and Anabaptists are reticent to use any terminology that acknowledges warfare given the peace tradition which is both nonresistant to evil in that it rejects any violent act of retaliation, and resistant to evil in the sense of showing love through prayers and good deeds to any enemies. That’s all well and good, but I accept as reality that we are in an actual conflict spiritually with forces and beings which are not human. There may be other viable ways to see that, but that there are spirit “demonic” entities active in the world seems evident enough to me. At any rate we do face an evil that is active and makes it way into the fabric of human culture and activity.

The shield of faith is part of the whole armor of God that we’re to take up to put out all the flaming arrows of the evil one which are directed against us. Believe you me when I say that I’ve experienced a lot of this which has got past my shield because in all likelihood I really did not have it up to stop those arrows. They then get through to the mind and heart and tend to immobilize, so that one is at a loss until the Spirit of God helps one to do what needs to be done, or at least helps in whatever way one can receive. I know about this in experience all too well.

My wife told me that it’s not our job to worry, but to trust in the Lord. I’m sure for others the darts cause other problems, whatever they may be. For me over the years, anxiety has been my number one issue, not to say I haven’t had other problems. But that has been the dominant one.

The shield of faith refers to a faith in God’s word in Christ, in the gospel. It’s a good news which covers us in this life, and takes care of whatever might plague us, so that we can carry on in God’s will in Jesus, as followers of Jesus. So that we can simply follow on.

But this is something we have to do. This requires effort. Putting on the whole armor of God along with taking up the shield of faith. The ideal would be to do that as the arrows come our way, to block them. Having a sense of discernment to know. The reality is that the arrows often seem to get through before we put up that shield. I would like to learn how to catch the arrows ahead of time. God in God’s grace more than understands, but still God wants to teach us to do better. Again this requires action, and one would suspect a vigilance on our part. And a willingness and corresponding commitment to carry on, regardless, battle hardened so to speak, of course in the spiritual battle we’re in.

Something else I’m working on even today. In and through Jesus.

putting on the whole armor of God: lacing sandals in preparation for good news of peace

and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace.

Ephesians 6:15

Whether this means being ready to spread the word of the good news of peace (Common English Bible) or being established by that peace to have a firm footing in life (New Living Translation), the peace promised as good news is included as part of the spiritual armor which the believer along with the church is to put on. Surely both are important for us. We share with others what is helpful for ourselves.

Peace in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament is the word transliterated shalom which means not only the absence of conflict, but all that life is intended to be, which is a mouthful. It speaks of flourishing and all being well. Where that is most to be found today will be among and in the community of Jesus’s disciples. Jesus told his disciples that he gives them his peace, and pronounced the blessing of peace on them, telling them not to let their hearts be troubled, nor afraid.

God has made peace in and through Christ who by his life and death brings the final reconciliation of all things, enemies becoming friends, beginning now. This happens through the good news of peace, good news also named with the technical term, gospel, the gospel of peace. As the New Oxford Annotated Bible points out, it’s good to see what this letter, Ephesians says about peace.

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both* into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us, abolishing the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Ephesians 2:14-18

We share this good news of peace, a goodness that ultimately even if only in part now, is meant to bring reconciliation and healing into relationships, a peace to move us toward wellness in relationship with others. In which we can be confident through Christ that since all will end well, we can be rest assured in the midst of that being incomplete now.

This often seems like a pipe dream now, and there are after all limitations in this life. Those abused should not expect to see full reconciliation with their abusers. Often that’s not possible, and to try to force that, or expect more than possible is unhealthy and not wise. But insofar as it depends on us, we live at peace with everyone (Romans 12).

And we trust through prayer and thanksgiving that God’s peace which passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4). As we seek to stand firm in this spiritual battle on the footing of this peace, proclaimed and present in and through Jesus.

*Jews and gentiles.

putting on the whole armor of God: the breastplate of righteousness

…and put on the breastplate of righteousness

Ephesians 6:14b

Once upon a time, way back when I remember a pastor and teacher, Dr. Ted Rendall, comparing our calling in Christ to a three legged stool people used to sit on to milk cows. The first leg being children of God, then servants of God and others, and last but not least, soldiers in spiritual warfare. I think that’s apt from an individual standpoint.

We all have to live this out as individuals, but we’re to do so as those who are part of community in Jesus, the church. Yes, these words in what’s considered the classical spiritual warfare passage are to be applied by us in our individual lives, but first and foremost, I believe they’re addressed to the entire church. The fact of the matter is that the bulwark against the spiritual enemy is found not just in our own life in Christ, but primarily within the church itself. We are a part of that so that we find our strength and take our stand in the community of faith, the church, gathered regularly in which Christ is actively present in a certain special unique sense.

Having said that, we now go to the second piece of armor which we’re to put on: the breastplate of righteousness. Isaiah 11:5 and 59:17 tell how God’s servant and God God’s self wear such armory. And we’re to collectively do the same, from which we individually do so. We live not only in Christ, but in community in Christ. There’s an inherent protection there if the community is alive in Christ, seeking to be faithful.

The breastplate of righteousness, rightness, or justice (Common English Bible, link above) is one of the basics we’re to live in, actually given to us. Remember, this armor is not something we come up with ourselves, or a part of who we are. It is external to us, given to us, something we’re to receive and put on. So any justice, rightness, righteousness is not something we figure out ourselves, but given to us by God one could say as a revelation, and above all as something which is to become a part of who we are, or at least how we carry on in this life. It is a matter of God’s guiding, really from God entirely. We can’t come up with it on our own. Our sense of righteousness, rightness and justice will always be flawed and lacking.

Having said that, it’s not as if we simply toss our brains in the trash and become automatons. No. This “righteousness” is given to us as something we’re to seek to understand and apply and that will most certainly involve an ongoing endeavor on our part especially together as community and as individuals. But once again, always provided for us by God. In and through Jesus.

putting on the whole armor of God: belting your waist with truth

Stand, therefore, and belt your waist with truth…

Ephesians 6:14a

There’s no escape from the spiritual battle all around us, which if we’re not disengaged, we’ll find ourselves in. What this passage from scripture tells us is that if we’re not strong in the strength of the Lord’s power and don’t put on the whole armor of God, we will no longer stand, but fall. I wonder what not standing looks like. It may not seem like a fall, but for those who have experienced any degree of standing in this way at all, one can tell the difference.

After being told to be strong in the Lord’s power and put on God’s whole armor, we’re then told to stand and put on the first piece, belted around our waste so to speak in this metaphor: truth. Christians have often made truth above and beyond anything else to refer to scripture itself. I prefer to see truth as what we can draw out of scripture as truth, given to us by God. Truth is above all else found in Jesus who called himself “the truth” along with “the way…and the life” (John 14:6). Truth is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:21). All else has to be measured by Jesus and considered in that context. “All truth is God’s truth” (Augustine) and Jesus as creator and sustainer (John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2-3) of all things, I think affirms that.

Truth is often viewed as concepts that are considered absolutes which we’re simply to believe and accept with absolute certainty. Whereas truth as it really is comes only with experience and cannot be totally understood by us. Some might suggest that opens the door to the saying: “What’s true for you may not be true for me.”  Yes, everyone has to work out what this uniquely means for them. But truth is truth, God’s truth in and through Jesus in every way. But subject to revision since our understanding of it will always be incomplete, certainly so in this life (1 Corinthians 13:9a).

Just a few thoughts about truth. The first piece of the armor we’re to put on. In and through Jesus.