I have a confession to make: although I am an absolute pacifist, I have always longed to be a bit of a rebel and write something militaristic. For the past few years, my Bible College and seminary buddies have taken great pride in teasing me about my peaceful views. Today, I decided to kick it up a notch and admit that even a good Mennonite kid, likes a little warfare now and then!
I am an absolute pacifist in all areas of my life except three. I cannot be an absolute pacifist when it comes to matters of sin and salvation. I cannot be a pacifist when it comes to fighting against the Enemy’s lies, and I cannot be a pacifist when it comes to wrestling with my old nature.
All of us have been there at one time or another. Just when we thought we had it right, when we thought our old nature was dead and buried, we find ourselves up against our past faults and failures. Even the great leader of the Christian faith, the Apostle Paul himself felt this way at times. In Romans 7:23-25 Paul writes, “22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+7%3A22-25&version=ESV) and in 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul pens these words, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,[a] a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Corinthians+12%3A7&version=ESV) In other words, Paul knew exactly what it was like to wage battle between his former fleshly desires and his new heartfelt desire to serve Christ. He knew what it was like to be torn in two because his spirit was willing but his flesh was weak. Christians constantly live in this world of tension. The Bible teaches us one thing, but media and cultural influences teach us quite another. Sometimes these lies even creep into the church itself and false teachers may tell us what we want to hear, suggesting that it is okay to make compromises or to reinvent certain Scriptural truths in order to make the Bible more accessible and pleasing to ourselves. When a convenient Christian faith is offered to us, it sometimes seems rather pointless to continue living the actual faith which is one that is full of hardships, trials, and persecution. However, if our hearts are truly aligned to the Word of God, we know that it is to the latter we are called, regardless of how difficult that might be.
So we know that wrestling with our old selfish and sinful nature is inevitable, but what do we do to win this war when the battle exhausts us and stresses us out? The truth is so plainly obvious from the Scriptures. In fact, the complete answer is found in just a few verses. Ephesians 6:10-20 reads:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+6&version=ESV)
Let’s break this down a bit:
V 10 – Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might
Waging war is never easy, it definitely can tire us out! When your thoughts and emotions are constantly playing tricks on you, it can make you feel quite weary and helpless. Satan knows what your weak points are. If you are prone to depression or anxiety he is going to make you dwell on that. If your weak point is feeling insignificant, he is going to remind you of your past failures or make you believe that no one likes you. If your weak point is a former addiction, he’s going to tempt you in every possible way to go back to it. Listen, don’t give in to these lies. You will never win this battle if you are fighting it on your own strength, but with Christ, you can gain victory over in the most troublesome areas of your life.
V 12 – For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Know that these trials are way deeper than just your own nagging thoughts or other people’s opinions. Internal and external pressures may definitely be part of the package, but they are not the only issues at stake. Oftentimes there is a lot more happening in the heavenly realms that we could ever imagine. This idea may sound foreign to you as it is one that is not often conveyed in a number of churches, but here are just a few verses that give you a better picture:
Job 2: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job+2&version=ESV – Satan given permission by God to torture Job (spiritual warfare)
1 Thessalonians 2:18 – “because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Thessalonians+2&version=ESV)
Daniel 10: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel+10&version=ESV (An angel was prevented from giving Daniel a message. If spiritual warfare can even inflict the lives of angels, imagine how much more mere mortals would be susceptible to it!)
While there is no easy answer for fighting a deeply spiritual battle, the most important thing is to simply recognize that it is there. Recognize that warfare is real and is happening constantly to Christians. Don’t pass it off because of pop-cultural psychology which will tell you that the problem lies with you and your inability to think positively about yourself. Secondly, remember that facing spiritual warfare is a great privilege. I have faced warfare on a number of occasions and I remember feeling down and discouraged about it, but my pastor told me that I should be encouraged because the reason Satan was inflicting me was because he saw me as a threat! In particular, missionaries often face such pressures before heading off to the mission field (I most certainly did). The reason is because Satan wants to do anything to stop the Gospel message from being proclaimed. He will put you in ill health, he will cause financial difficulties, he will cause relational strain, and he will cause you to doubt your calling. When this happens, pull yourself together and make an even greater resolve to do exactly that which annoys him!
V 13 – Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
I never realized this until just now, but the command to put on the WHOLE ARMOUR of God is written twice in this passage. Why? Did Paul think we would forget or did he have a nasty habit of repeating himself (as I do)? No. The reason is because in Biblical times, when something was important, it was repeated more than once to show the urgency of such a statement. Here Paul is telling us that we need to pay attention. Having just a helmet will do a great job protecting your head, but will do nothing to protect your heart. Having a breastplate will protect the heart but not the head. And having a helmet and a breastplate will protect your most vital organs, but will not allow you to wage war because you will have no weapon with which to be defensive or even offensive.
Paul then goes on to list what type of armour ever Christian soldier needs. Here’s what makes up the complete kit:
The Belt of Truth: When I was in my third year of university, I coordinated and led a small group ministry for first year students by mentoring 16 other leaders. On the first day of our training, I got each leader to take out an index card. On the front I wrote “the lie” and on the back “the truth.” Now, this was not some sort of get-to-know you ice-breaker despite the fact that most initially thought it was. This was my first instance of helping these leaders face spiritual warfare head-on.
Like I said, Satan will infiltrate our hearts with many lies. Why? Because our hearts are so easily swayed. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that our hearts are wicked beyond imagination and completely led astray and deceived (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+17%3A9&version=KJV). The worst part is, we are so prone to believe that whatever our heart (the seat of our emotions) tells us must be accurate. Our culture is constantly telling us to “follow our hearts” and our well-meaning friends ask us, “well, what is your heart telling you?” whenever we are trying to make important life decisions. So you can see how even the most Godly people can become convinced of attitudes which are not helpful or Scriptural.
However, the only way we can break free from these lies is to lean in to Christ. I have learned that for every lie Satan pours into my heart, there is a truth from Scripture which counters it and shows me how God truly feels about me or about the situation. Of course, you won’t know these truths unless you first spend time in the Word itself learning what it says. It can be especially helpful to memorize Scripture verses so that when temptation strikes, you have an arsenal right there at your disposal. Since I started memorizing Scripture a few years ago, I have often been surprised at how frequently I use these verses in prayer whenever I am going through difficulty. If you find memorization difficult, another trick I have learned is to write out helpful Scriptures on a white board close to your mirror so that when you are brushing your teeth or getting ready for the day, you will be forced to look upon them and be reminded to take God at His Word.
The Breastplate of Righteousness: Righteousness is almost one of these $1 million words only used in Christian circles. I mean, I have never once used the word “righteous” amongst my non-Christian colleagues and peers. So what exactly does it mean? According to theologian N.T. Wright, righteousness is a legal term displaying being in right relation to the court of law (http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_NDCT_Righteousness.htm). Likewise we must always be striving to be in right relationship with Christ Himself. We must be resonant rather than dissonant with His will for our lives. Here is where we need to exercise great caution. If we are experiencing hardship, we can’t always necessarily write it off as spiritual warfare (though it might certainly be that). Hardship can also be “God’s megaphone to rouse a sleeping world” (to quote the late C.S. Lewis). If we are not in right relationship with God, He might be trying to draw us closer to Him or to warn us that the path we are going down is not in His will for us at all. Of course, we will only know this if, once again, we are spending time frequently with Him through reading His Word and prayer.
Shoes (Readiness to Share the Gospel of Peace): Most of us love having a good pair of shoes (in fact, if you’re a woman, you probably like having thousands of shoes to choose from!) But what type of shoes do you wear when you’re out on a mission? You probably wear ones that will enable you to run and not trip – in other words, combat boots or trainers. You aren’t going to go for the high heels this time around!
When we think about engaging in battle, we need the right shoes as well. Shoes that will enable us to spread the Gospel quickly and efficiently. I find it so interesting that Paul describes one of the central characteristics of Christianity as being “the Gospel of peace.” It is true that Christ is the Prince of Peace, but have you noticed how peace is brought in to this section even though it is otherwise quite violent and full of warfare references? This is something to think about, but I believe it might have to do with the fact that at the core of what we are talking about: we are not waging war with others. This section isn’t justifying tanks or bomber jets – it is simply talking about the need to abolish the one who is causing the wars (Satan himself). Just like a line from one of my favourite songs states, “Our call to war, to love the captive soul, but to rage against the captor.” (O Church Arise, Keith and Kathy Getty). That pretty much sums it up.
Shield of Faith: Christianity is absolutely nothing if not for our trust and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We all use the word “faith” it is not a million dollar theological word like “righteousness” is. Even non-Christians will occasionally tell someone “I have faith in you” or “let’s just have faith that it will all work out.” But if we were to dig deeper, what exactly is faith? At the core of what it is, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Hebrews%2011%3A1). Furthermore, we are told that “without faith it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to Him must:
- First believe that He exists
- Rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+11%3A6)
Logically this makes sense. We cannot have faith in someone or something we ourselves do not believe in. Have you ever worked in sales? The first thing professionals will tell you during sales training is that in order to have customers buy the product, you must believe that the product works yourself. This then becomes evident by your enthusiasm of sharing the product. You must be convinced that your product is far superior to any other brand or company. Well, it’s the same way with God. We cannot evangelize and share our faith with others if we ourselves do not believe there is anything special about Him. If we ourselves do not believe that Christianity sets us apart or makes us unique from the rest of the world. I think most of us would agree this is common knowledge and leave it at that, but we can’t because there is the second part of the verse: a promise that God will reward those who are fighting battles for Him. In other words, He isn’t going to leave us out on the battlefield alone, He is our strong commander who has put Himself on the front lines and commands our every action. He wants to see us come out victorious, not to be mercilessly slaughtered.
Helmet of Salvation: The helmet is the most vital part of the armour. Shoot the head and you’ll die instantly, so it’s no surprise that the helmet is salvation itself. We are saved through the atoning blood of Christ alone, not through any of our own deeds. In fact, we are told that our deeds are rubbish before the righteousness (there’s that word again!) of God (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Isaiah%2064%3A6). We must rest secure in this promise especially when Satan wants us to think that we have made it on our own or that we can do this battle without Christ (big mistake!)
Sword of the Spirit (The Word of God): While the majority of the armour being used in spiritual warfare is DEFENSIVE, it is curious to note that one piece of chainmail is mentioned which is OFFENSIVE: this is the Sword of the Spirit. Throughout Scripture, the Gospel has been referred to as a sword. Take for example Hebrews 4:12 which states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+4%3A12) It is important to be able to defend ourselves against Satan’s wiles, but it is also important to have the resources with which to fight him (not just withstand attacks and battering). There is no better way to do this, then with God’s Words because then we are not just fighting him with our own opinions, but with deep spiritual truths which he cannot deny.
Note: It’s important to be careful here. Satan also knows the Bible quite well. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he knew exactly which verses to twist around. But also note that Jesus knew the Bible inside-out. Even though Satan gave him half-truths by messing around with the Gospel, Jesus knew the full truth of the passages and wasn’t afraid to use them!
In addition, we are told that our training techniques must include:
Constant Prayer (including: Praying for the Saints and Praying for our Leaders and the Persecuted Church): Reading this passage, I was immediately struck by the importance of prayer. On three occasions, Paul mentions the need for prayer including two cases of very specific prayers. The fact is that we are to always be in a state of prayer. This doesn’t mean we always have our eyes closed (imagine driving on the motorway with only one eye open!) nor does it mean we should be pious and inwardly focussed to the point of not helping anyone else we come across. On the contrary, each action should be done in a prayerful way and every opportunity to serve should remind us of the One who motivates us to serve.
Moreover, Paul requests us to pray for the saints, for our leaders, and for the persecuted church. When Paul uses the word “saints” he isn’t asking us to pray for those who have gone before us in the way that some Catholics and Orthodox Christians use this word. Rather he is asking us to pray for our brothers and sisters in the faith who are still alive! He is reminding us that while it is important to pray for ourselves when we are in spiritual struggles, we are also to pray for others experiencing spiritual difficulties as well. The battle becomes much tighter when we have other soldiers praying for each other and there is no better way than to regain our composure than focussing outward. When we remember that other people are also experiencing problems and spiritual warfare, it really puts things into perspective and helps us to not be so depressed about our own issues.
We are also to pray for our leaders (pastors, elders, teachers, etc) because as a preacher myself, I know that pastors and other church leaders oftentimes face spiritual warfare more frequently than anyone else. Pastors have a huge responsibility – they have to look after a flock (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+13%3A17&version=ESV). So pray for your pastor! Encourage him or her when they are about to give up!
Alertness: Spiritual attacks can come at any time and in many different ways. In fact, you might finally think that you are making some progress in one area of your life, when all of a sudden, you find yourself reverting back to your old patterns of living. We know that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/1%20Peter%205%3A8). The only way we can avoid being swallowed up is to recognize when he is on the move and to run as far away from him as possible.
Perseverance: With spiritual warfare, it is so important to keep going and not to give up even when you feel like leaving the battlefield. It can be difficult continuing this fight on your own, but thankfully God has given us community and by enlisting a brother or sister to pray for you in your struggles, you can already begin to see a massive difference! When you are part of the church – you are never alone. You are just one email, Facebook message, tweet, or text away from help – so why not take advantage?
Being Bold in Our Witness and Testimony: At various times in my life, God has called me to share my testimony with others. I usually dread it because although I give God the glory for everything He has accomplished in my life, I don’t like being so open and vulnerable (sometimes with people I barely know). However, God has given you your story and your experiences for a reason. You never know how the most painful moments of your life could impact and change the life of someone else who is going through the same thing. If God is calling you to share something, you can’t be timid about it. Preach it openly and with confidence and He will surely reward you for your faithfulness and obedience.
Conclusion: Although definitely not a comprehensive list, I hope that these points may be an encouragement to you when you are facing spiritual hardships. In all things, remember that Christ is the compassionate leader and healer. He is a brilliant war commander, but also a peaceful shepherd. Seek His face, get to know Him through His word, find your identity in Him and pray constantly. When you do this, you will surely see the fruits of your labour.