Spiritual Warfare


O God, save me by your name, 

   and vindicate me by your might.

O God, hear my prayer, 

   give ear to the words of my mouth.

Psalm 54: 1, 2

One of the first things that we are taught in life is self reliance. We learn to take care of ourselves and to solve our own problems. An attitude of “I got it, no problem, no help needed” is praised and encouraged by parents, teachers, mentors, and by our culture. This isn’t all bad; for, there is a lot of a best life practice quality to these skills and the attitudes that produce them. But there are times and there are situations when we need help and partnership. There have been far too many times in my life when I really needed help and didn’t seek it. I think that, in fact, we all need help and guidance and counsel every day.

These verses were written by David at a time when he was trying to solve his own problems and when he had run out of resources. He was in fear for his life due to King Saul’s anger, and he had been hiding out among the Ziphites; then, they turned on him and sold him out to Saul. David’s plan was in ruins around him, and he was feeling very exposed and totally vulnerable. He knew where he needed to turn for support, guidance, and deliverance. David had experienced God’s love, care, and strength as these characteristics of the Lord had been significant in other situations during his life. Although not in as dramatic a setting as David, I too have experienced the Lord’s favor in my own life.

The issues that we are facing may not be this big; as, there may not be a spear pointed at our hearts, but they often feel like that is the situation at hand; however, some of our issues are every bit as urgent and dangerous as David’s. When he came to his senses, when he went deep inside his heart and focused on the truth that life experience had taught him to rely upon, he started to focus on his real source of protection and on the only absolutely reliable place to go for direction. We, too, can see that it is through the might of God that we will make it through this world; it is through the sacrifice of Jesus that we are saved from evil. Like David, we can turn our hearts to Christ and speak our fears, concerns, and needs to Him. Then we can hear the blessing of His voice as He leads us to safety for our hearts and minds and into His strength.

Advertisements

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you today, and you have only to stay silent.”

Exodus 14: 13, 14

The word host has many different definitions in the English language, and it comes from several linguistic sources. Many of them refer to large groups, gatherings, or even to armies. So, the idea of being a host is formed out of opening one’s doors to a large number of people, which should be a joyous and a pleasurable activity. The concept behind an army being called a host is that its personnel are numerous to the point of overwhelming an opponent. This is the sort of host that Moses and the Israelite people were facing. Pharaoh’s chariots with their trained warriors on board were being pulled toward them by their war stallions, and the ground between them was diminishing rapidly. Fear of a horrible, painful death was natural; yet, here was their leader standing in front of them and telling them to, “Fear not!” This makes no human sense, for it defies the evidence before them as it also seems to eliminate any prospect of surrender and survival. 

In my experience, no chariots driven by angry spear tossing and arrow shooting Egyptians have come flashing toward me. Still, the experience that the Israelites were having has been mine. There are enemies, challenges, fears, and hurdles to be faced in life today that seem to be as formidable and as relentlessly unstoppable as did that Egyptian army. Although Moses was faced with a choice between the sharp end of a sword and drowning in the sea that stretched out on the other side of them, he knew that he had followed God’s will in doing what he had done and in going to this place. Still, his real confidence came from something other than his execution of God’s marching orders, and it also was found in a place outside of his own skill, strength, and wisdom. Moses knew His God well, and he was aware His faithful heart that would care for them and provide answers for them in any and in all circumstances and situations.

When we are standing in that between place where the opponent, whether human or otherwise, is on one side and the precipice is before us on the other, this is a perfect time to turn to the Lord in prayer and in submission to His wisdom and will. The answer that comes may not be the same as it was for the Israelites wherein their adversary was destroyed as they were granted a miraculous safe passage through the sea. We may suffer pain, disgrace or shame, and be severely buffeted by the forces of this world; yet, the Lord will preserve the soul, and He does bring us out of the situation with our relationship with Him whole and often with it made stronger by the process. Trials and troubles of various kinds are certain to come our way in this life. The Lord’s words that Moses repeated apply to each of us in that we can truly, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord!”  

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

2 Timothy 4: 1, 2

This is Paul’s direction for Timothy as a pastor and a teacher of God’s Word. It is also a set of directions that anyone who serves the church in a similar capacity today should take to heart. Yet, those are not the only people who Paul is speaking to across all of this time. The Apostle’s words ring out clearly and with great authority to all of us who know Christ and for all of the Lord’s church today. We may not stand before a large audience in a formal setting and speak words of truth and life that come directly out of God’s Word, but we will have many opportunities to share that holy word’s love, grace, and truth with others. The life that we live may be oriented around earning a living by doing work that seems far afield from that of the church; however, the Lord is certainly present in the places where we do go. This day of the week, part of the calendar, or season of life could be one wherein spiritual things seem remote and secondary to the rest of life; yet, today might just be the one wherein a soul in need of a Savior is standing before us awaiting those life-saving words and the touch of Christ’s love.

None of us are Timothy, and no one that we will meet is Paul. They were great men that lived long ago and who gave us a model and a pattern to follow as we walk through life with Christ. Paul, under the guidance and the direction of the Holy Spirit, also wrote out explanations and instructions that are useful to us in understanding our relationship with God and the way that this relationship is lived out in the world. Paul was faced daily with a world that was more hostile to the gospel of Christ than it was open and receptive. He knew that his life on this earth was nearing its end. He was also aware of the glory that was to be his in the presence of Christ when those last few days here were completed. Still, Paul remained focused upon the task at hand. Hostility did not stop him. Human failures and frailty were troubling but even the abandonment of friends could not cause him to experience defeat. Paul’s example is one for us to follow. In fact, we should be prepared for the eventuality of a loss of friends and associates as we stand for the truth of God’s Word in the face of a world that discounts its validity.

That does not mean that we should be angry or harsh in the way that we engage with others. Even in his very trying circumstances, Paul was more inclined to pour out grace, forgiveness, and encouragement than he was to cast blame and reproach. We too can be voices of reconciliation and restoration in our corner of the universe. As we recognize the fact that Christ is the only true and authorized judge of the human soul, we can extend the hand of friendship to people who have been hostile toward us and about Christ. Reaching out in friendship can be done as we also share the truth of the gospel that is the source of the grace, love, and confidence that we require in order to enter into such counter-intuitive acts as these. A life that is lived as a follower of Christ is one that is carried out as a preacher of God’s Word. This is done through the way that we conduct ourselves in private and in public, and the word is demonstrated by the attitudes that we hold toward others and about the issues of life. Christ is with us in all places, over the entire course of life, in all situations and circumstances, and He is Lord of each and every season that we experience in our journey.   

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3: 14, 15

Paul begins this section of his letter with this statement, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (3:1)  The author is making it quite clear to Timothy and to anyone else who would read this letter that the various struggles that they would encounter both in the community at large and especially in and around that of faith were the result of the tension that exists between a dying worldly set of values and its way of living life and the redeemed order that comes as a result of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross and His work in setting right all that has been corrupted by sin. The reality of this conflict is a primary reason for followers of Christ to be well grounded in the truths of Scripture and to hold onto them with a tenacity that comes from the deepest parts of our beings.

We can speculate regarding who it is that Paul is referencing when he talks about the teacher that has so well equipped Timothy for living out his faith in Christ, but the real and the best answer to that query is to say that God, through the work of the Spirit, is that teacher. This is true for each of us who know Christ, too. The Spirit instructs and empowers people to grasp and to communicate the gospel, and He also illuminates the deeper meanings and the living application found within God’s Word. Timothy’s mother was a person whose faith was well known; so, he was raised in a home where Christ was taught and was also lived out by way of example. His childhood was the literal beginning of his relationship with God, but even if that is not the situation in my life or in yours, the same raising up from childhood can occur for us. As we come to know Christ, we are new born into life from death, and so, we are launched forth into living as newly birthed infants in the sense of our spiritual lives and in all of living that is connected to this redeemed reality.

Yet, we cannot and should not remain in this infant state for long. Life is complex and there will be many challenges to our faith that will come along during the journey that we are on. These are times that demand maturity in thinking and soundness in judgement. These times of difficulty will place many situations before Christ’s followers wherein we will be called upon to weigh in on what is right, just, and loving. There will be people watching us to see what we say and how we act when we are confronted by the current issues that are being hotly contested in our world. These are times when the positions that we hold may often be unpopular; so, they need to be ones that are founded in the eternal truths of God’s Word. Still, of even greater importance than the truth that we cling to will be the manner in which we hold our beliefs and express them to those who do not agree with us. Jesus loves people, and He especially loves those who disagree with the reality of His gospel of grace. As His people, we too are called upon by Christ to love the people that we encounter, and so, the Spirit will guide us into encountering them with the love of Christ and the truth of His redeeming word as our calling card and the seal of our relationship with God.  

We have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to God.

2 Corinthians 5: 9

Some people are known for their drive to please others. This can be positional, for, as an example, it is generally thought to be the role of middle children to fly beneath the radar of life and make no waves in the world. It can also be an adopted strategy that allows someone to remain relatively unobserved. There is nothing essentially wrong with being this sort of person; however, when being pleasing is a way of acting that is forced, it tends to cause the person who is trying to pull off being the pleasera lot of stress and strain. The truth is that, as fallen humans, we just aren’t all that pleasing that much of the time.

Yet, Paul is a very practical person. He says the sorts of things that are possible, and he tells us to do things that he has seen accomplished. When Paul says that it is his ambition to be pleasing to God, he means anything but flying beneath the radar of life, for Paul did quite the opposite of that. We are to be engaged in the messiest aspects of the worlds where people live, we are to live in the harshest climates that earth can provide, and we are to get squarely in the face of evil as it tries to control the lives of the people that God dearly loves. The Lord has a concept of what is pleasing to Him that would not make a conflict adverse person very comfortable. However, God does not promise us comfort in this world, and He doesn’t even suggest that by following His will our lives will be made easier.

The Lord, my God, who cares greatly about every second of my life, is pleased with me because I have chosen Him as my Lord and Savior. Additionally, He has a plan for my days that involves doing the sorts of things, embracing the types of thoughts, and allowing His love to infuse my heart so that I will appear to this world as a person who is truly set apart from its sin and decay in order to reach out with Christ’s grace and love to people who need to know that they can have eternal hope and complete joy. When we seek to live as humble vessels who pour out Christ into our world, God smiles upon us as He says, “You are pleasing to me, my beloved child.”

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

   The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 36: 7

Our world is filled with children who need to find shelter. Some are displaced from their homes due to the strife and the violence that is running wildly through the streets of their places of birth. Others have been made orphans by various kinds of human caused or natural disasters, and many of us are left out and exposed to the elements of life’s turbulent storms simply because of the persistent nature of the brokenness of this world during the age of man. When the full scope and extent of this vulnerable population is considered, not many of the earth’s inhabitants are left out of the group of people who would benefit from the form of shelter that the Lord provides for anyone who comes to Him. For all who are weary and all who are weak are granted a place of comfort, rest, and safety under God’s great wings of protection.

Yet, many people do not seek out this place of refuge. Instead, they seek to take control of their lives in a manner that leads them away from God’s presence and into the arms of the worldly figures that are causing the strife and the destruction that has formed up their state of homeless wandering. Others hold onto the idea that they possess all that they will ever need to solve any issues and concerns that are causing trouble or that are bringing about distress in their lives. So, reliance is placed upon personal strength or skill rather than looking toward God and yielding to His far superior capacity to provide for the real needs that they have in life. Many people in our world have turned to false gods of various types and descriptions in order to seek out their systems of worldly truth, and thus they rely upon the capability of those distorted images of the eternal for protection and comfort during the various seasons of trial and struggle that come their way.

None of these earth-bound and worldly sources of refuge and provision can truly shelter the heart and the mind from the forces of evil that run rampant in our world, and they are completely powerless to save any souls from the pain of an eternity apart from the love of God. Among all of the religions, gods, belief systems, and moral concepts that people look to and rely upon in this world, none other than Christ provides everything that He grants to His followers out of a love that is so deep and lasting that God, Himself, suffered, bled, and was sacrificed so that each of us would be made free from the necessity of doing the same thing in our flesh. It is this great love that provides anyone who chooses to accept the gift of salvation with the means for that gift of grace to be granted to us. God has given each and every person on the earth the opportunity to find the sheltering refuge that we need under the covering of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us. Thus, we can find a home in this life and an eternal dwelling place in the unceasing love that surrounds us in the Christ’s arms.   

If anyone serves me, he must follow me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

John 12: 26

In many respects the easiest part of following Jesus is found in saying yes to Him. Yes, I will follow You, and yes, I will serve Your kingdom. The hardest aspect of all of this comes about when Christ shows us where it is that He actually wants for us to go in fulfillment of that promise to follow Him anywhere. Jesus made the same sort of commitment to the Father and to all of creation, and the following that ensued for Him took our blameless Lord to a cross that would normally have been reserved for people whose lives were ruled by the darkness of sin. Yet, in obedience and out of necessity for the sakes of all of us, Jesus suffered and died at the hands of people who were unwittingly tasked with service to God as priests as they offered up and executed that ultimate sacrifice for all sins for the entire scope and span of time.

Now, we do not need to die in spirit, and even these wounded bodies are granted a form of reprieve that leads us to living out our days as instruments of God’s redemptive work in our world. However, we do not escape that cross that Jesus suffered and bled upon. We are called by Him to follow, and the path that He takes us along does inevitably require each of us to go to that place of surrender of will and submission of self to the holy and righteous One, Jesus Christ. This experience is usually not easy or pleasant to consider, and it can be torturous to endure. Yet, the result of such complete and absolute surrender to Christ is a form of freedom that cannot be found in any other way or from a different source. The cross of Christ is the initial point for a life that is lived out in the fullest expression of the wonder and the glory of God’s creative touch upon each and every person that walks upon the earth.

On the other side of the cross was resurrection and life. Jesus departed the tomb of His momentary burial and walked among His people, and He continues to dwell among and within us in the form of His Spirit to this hour. Christ continues to lead us into a type of surrender that sets us free from the earthly forms of servitude that continue to enslave our hearts, minds, and bodies, and in that process of divestiture of those remaining aspects of our old selves, the Lord guides us into the blessings of service to the Father’s kingdom come upon this earth. Christ does this as He grants to us our particular place and purpose in God’s plan for redemption of that which is lost. That cross of obedient surrender to which Christ leads each of us was intended by the world to be an implement of defeat and shame, but God’s redemptive will has transformed it into a place where victory over death is proclaimed and whereby we each gain that place of honor that God bestows upon His faithful servants. 

Next Page »