Nicolo Paganina the great Italian violinist, willed his fine instrument to his home city of Genoa. His bequest carried one condition. The violin was never to be played; it would simply be placed on display. The question must be asked, of what benefit is a finely crafted instrument that is never used? The instrument was created to make music and to be played so that all who hear the beautiful music it is capable of making can enjoy and admire its beauty and value. As a result of Paganina’s request, his marvelous violin has been relegated to being a museum piece that is wasting away.
When we consider that like Paganina’s violin, God has given His people very specific instruments that they are to use in spiritual warfare; the question must also be asked, are we using what God has given us? If we were to take a moment and reflect on some of the battles we have fought throughout the course of our lives and have lost, I wonder in how many of those instances would we discover that if we would have only used what God has given us the outcomes might have been different.
The Apostle Paul has made it abundantly clear that the believer’s strategy when engaging in spiritual warfare is to wage a counter-offensive attack. Paul thus far, has pointed out that as believer’s we are not to be passive but we must counter the enemy’s attacks by being proactive and taking an offensive posture rather than fighting a defensive battle. To do this we must use the weaponry that God has given us.
And so, we are called to take up the shield of faith. The text tells us that the shield of faith can (not could, but can) extinguish (put out) all the flaming arrows of the evil one. The Apostle metaphorically likens faith to a shield. As a child growing up my mother and older brothers used to like to watch Star Trek. I remember in numerous episodes when the starship was under attack one of the things it would employ was its shields to keep their enemies weapons from damaging their ship and everyone inside. Similarly we are instructed to use our faith especially in situations when we are being besieged or under attack. According to the text, it is our faith, what we believe God in Christ Jesus can and will do for us. It is our faith, that will not only protect us, but also will block and deflect the bombs and missiles that are aimed at us.
One of the problems within Christendom is that faith has become a moniker, something that people wear like a title or a name. Many are taken aback when they are told that faith is something that we are to use and put to work. Faith is one of the many tools that God gives us. Think of a handyman or a person in the trades, we see them wearing a tool belt but if they never take out their tools they cannot accomplish their work or do their job. The parallel for believers is that life will throw any number of things at us on any given day and at any given time. In fact, there will be periods in our lives when it will seem like we are constantly being besieged by problems, sickness will invade our bodies, we may lose our jobs, our relationships will become rocky and seemingly unstable, we may experience cash flow problems or be unable to meet all of our responsibilities and a whole host of other things. All of these things are arrows that the evil one aims and fires at us. Our response to these things is to use the shield of faith to block and deflect the arrows as they are coming our way. Like the starship enterprise, as long as our shield is in place none of what the enemy throws at us can touch us or harm us.
One of the movements that has been around for a long time is the positive thinking movement. It really gained a lot of traction in the mid to late 70s. Actually, it has been around much longer than that, but in so far as the church is concerned I think this is when it really began to start taking hold. One of the problems with this movement is that is relies on the individual being able to see the positive in every situation and cling to it with the belief that things are going to get better. Well, what happens when there is no positive? I mean, what do you have to hold on to when the doctor tells you, you only have x number of days to live or you have been looking for a job for so long you have forgotten when you stopped working. Your creditors have stopped being patient with you and now have referred your account to collections. Where is the positive? Positive thinking works as long as we can see the positive, but faith works even when we cannot see anything positive because faith is not dependent upon what we see, but rather faith is about believing, trusting and being certain in what God can and will do for God’s people. Unlike positive thinking, faith has a track record that has proven it is reliable and dependable. God has demonstrated that he can work with firm faith like that of Abraham, who did not know where he was going but went anyhow. God can work with fickle faith like that of Gideon, who asked God repeatedly to prove Himself and God did it. God can work with zero faith like that of Sarah and Zechariah both of whom God promised would have children in their old age. Sarah laughed and Zechariah simply asked how? Yet, God did it. Positive thinking needs to see the positive. Faith only needs God because when we have God we do not need anything else.
As we discussed in the last message, there are only two places that Satan can conquer us. The heart is one and the mind is the other. 1 Peter 1:13-16 says, Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy.” The Apostle Peter cautions and instructs us to prepare our minds for action. The emphasis on the mind here is based on the fact that the human mind is the devil’s playground. Chuck Swindoll points out that the reason for this is because Satan got there first. There is a saying that says, “what the mind can conceive, the body can achieve.” The reality is that temptation begins in the mind. Long before we actually carryout or take action we have thought about, pondered, and contemplated what we want to do. The longer we nurture and feed sinful thoughts the more they permeate our being until what started out as a passing thought becomes an overwhelming desire firmly rooted in our heart.
To combat this the Apostle Paul tells us to take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. Like all of the other articles Paul highlights, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit are very interesting. We are told to use both, not one or the other, but both. We understand from the very nature of each article that a helmet is for covering and a sword is for thrusting and blocking. The helmet of salvation covers our head and protects our mind while simultaneously the sword of the Spirit or the Word of God counters heresies, lies, clever arguments and worldly wisdom, which the Bible calls foolishness.
Here again, it is comforting to know that when we are engaged in battle if we put on the helmet of salvation our minds are covered. We are covered in the knowledge that we are saved through and by our faith in Jesus Christ. It is this knowledge that frees our minds from worry and fear about how things are going to work out. It is comforting to know that the knowledge of my salvation can rescue me from the past. It is unfortunate that many people today are still bound by what happened to them yesterday. It is unfortunate that today, some are unable to experience the fullness and abundance of life today because whenever they begin to move forward something emerges to pull them back. One of the traps that the enemy uses effectively is the past. By locking us in the past and fueling our desire for the glory days or years gone by, the enemy obscures our vision from ever seeing the potential the lies in front of us.
It is comforting to know that the knowledge of my salvation can rescue me from the present. I think of the Titanic, reports indicate that for all of the thousands of people onboard there were only 20 lifeboats. This was obviously very shortsighted. The thinking at the time was that the ship was big enough to withstand whatever it encountered and that if it did get in trouble the advent of radio would allow it to contact rescue ships in the area. God’s salvation makes provisions for us. As a child of God we can be comforted in the knowledge that God has made provisions for any and every eventuality that we face. We do not have to worry about whether we have enough, because of our salvation we know God has already made a way and/or provided for our rescue.
It is comforting to know that the knowledge of my salvation will rescue me in the future. How? I have the assurance of God that He will be an ever-present help in the time of trouble. When we realize that by taking up and putting on the helmet of salvation we are covered in the past, present and future it should make us all the more eager to pick up and use the Word of God as well.
As we take up the Word of God and use it, we are able to fight against those thoughts that seek to attack our mind and rob us of our joy. We are empowered to take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God and cut every thought that tries to take us captive. Paul says, as the enemy tries to advance into our thought life, we must go on the offensive by cutting down the foolishness and the lies he attempts to advance.
The Apostle closes out this passage by introducing to some and reminding others that believers have a secret weapon. Prayer is the secret weapon for all believers. There are three points that Paul makes about our secret weapon:
1. We are to pray situationally
2. We are to pray differently
3. We are to pray intentionally
The Apostle Paul says, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions… and always keep on praying for all the saints.” One of the things that I try to practice is praying in the moment. There are times when we will encounter people or receive a phone call from someone who is going through a difficult time. Believers must be ready to intercede on behalf of others’ as we would hope that they would intercede on our behalf. We must also be able to communicate with God for ourselves when the going gets tough. Personally, I cannot wait if something happens to me on Tuesday until Sunday to try and get a pray through. A lot of things can happen between now and then and when the situation is dire I need a response and an intervention immediately. The idea of praying in the Spirit refers to allowing the Holy Spirit to put the words in our mouth. It also refers to communicating with God on a deeper and personal level. For the Bible teaches us that God is Spirit. Therefore, when we pray in the Spirit, we are connecting with God personally. Our Spirit becomes one with God. One of the fears that many people express is that they do not know what to say when they pray. This is legitimate. I myself am not always comfortable praying in a corporate setting. However, one of the ways to overcome this is simply to start doing it. The more we do it, the more comfortable we will become praying. Prayer is like any other discipline it must be practiced in order for a person to become proficient. The bottom line here is that we need a do it now mentality when it comes to prayer. If it needs to be done, do it when the situation arises and do not wait. Truly, waiting can be too late. DO IT NOW!
While we are advised to pray situationally, we are also advised to pray differently. The text says, “With all kinds of prayers and requests.” Different situations call for different types of prayers. If I am sick that is probably not the time to thank God for sickness, but rather I need God to do something for me like send healing. If I just got a raise or some other blessing it would be a good idea to offer thanks and gratitude to God for what He has done. Different situations call for different types of prayers. I think about a woman who is dating a guy she likes. The guy tells her how much he loves and adores her daily. After awhile, hearing this daily it will cease to lose its meaning and not have the same impact it once did. Imagine praying the same prayer everyday. After awhile it becomes ritual and rote. What started out perhaps as genuine now has lost its meaning and value. For people who struggle with prayer, I would encourage you to read the Psalms or to read the prayers that others have prayed in and throughout the Scriptures. There are also many good books that teach about prayer and offer guidelines and models to help people develop their prayer life. The one thing we should not do is rely on the words of others all the time. Prayer is the expression of an individuals’ heart to God. I cannot believe that people who love God have nothing to say to God. Search your heart and ask the Holy Spirit to help you communicate what is in your heart to God in different ways at different times.
Finally, we need to be intentional about prayer. The Apostle says, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” As we are on the battlefield of life we must keep before almighty God all of the men, women, and young people who labor for the Lord and are used by God to preach and teach the Word of God. These are the individuals that God has selected, chosen, and appointed to be the vessels through which the Word of God comes to us. Therefore, we must make sure to keep these individuals along with every member of the Body of Christ before God. We must ask God to keep His Word pure and that it not become corrupted by personal agendas, prejudice, pride, or anything else. We must petition God to help them not to succumb to the opinions or influence of those who may find it difficult to stomach and digest the pure unadulterated Word of God. We must request that God make His Word plain and that they proclaim it clearly so that everyone who hears it will understand it and be able to apply it.
Spiritual warfare is a serious matter. The battles that are waged in the spirit and spiritual realm are for the most part unseen, which is one of the reasons people are inclined to be oblivious to them. We started this series with a challenge to get ready for battle and we close this series with a challenge to pray for those whom God has ordained to feed and prepare us for battle. In between we examined the tools that God provides for us to take into battle. The only thing left for us to do, is to USE THEM!