Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. (NIV)
When we pray during this upcoming holiday season of hope and celebration, we focus a lot on giving thanks and asking God to bless us and those we love. We do this a lot communally during this season. This may be the only time of the year that we use the words “blessings,” “thanks,” “prosperity,” and “hope” so often, or repeat phrases like “the year ahead” and “the year behind us.” We are reflecting, and we are hopeful. We pray that the year before us is a good one, and we give thanks for good things and the lessons learned in the year behind us. Wearing our Armor of God, we march forth into what awaits us in the future. Polishing off the dents and affronts to that armor, we think over the past and what it meant for our lives and our futures.
As individuals, I’m not sure we are always able to confront what transpired in the year behind us. Maybe we are hesitant to think about the future as well. As a worshipful group, however, we can confront these impending futures and reflect on troubled and happy pasts. As a group, we are strong, and we are ready for the future. We can confront what we learned or should have learned from the past and make sure that our armor is ready for the year ahead. Some of our plans for success in life are pretty lofty. Some of our fears for achievement or repeating problems of past years are also pretty prevalent and even daunting. If we pay attention to the verse referenced here, if we commit our prayers entirely to the Lord, our plans will come to fruition in some way.
Sometimes, deep inside we don’t realize that when we ask for financial stability, for example, we are really asking for a comfortable life and a way to take care of our families. We don’t always see the connection between voicing our need, making it real, and taking steps in our professional and Christian lives to make it happen. We don’t see that we are the instruments of our own success, and we don’t see that the Lord is helping us because we are prepared and ready. When we ask for a relative to be healed from an illness, we don’t always see that what we are really asking is for Jesus to be with that person in his or her need and that, with the comfort of the Lord, we all handle the situation better, no matter the outcome.
Being stewards to our church and to our God is actually easy in many ways. We want to provide monetary means for the church to continue its work in our lives and in the lives of others, and we want to be physically and spiritually present so that we can reap the benefits of a Christian life lived in service to God, to our church, and to others. Only then can we find true happiness and success, as the Lord will reward those who seek to better themselves and to serve Him in every way.
As we are entering the season of celebration, many of us will be giving thanks with family over large meals, or spending time in the cooler, crisper air watching kids play football and soccer, or enjoying time with neighbors and friends outside before the real winter weather finally sets in. Others, however, will not be as lucky and will worry about finances and food, as well as lack of fellowship or support, and may begin to despair or allow sadness and desperation to creep into their consciousness. Those of us clothed in the Armor of God, however, will emerge triumphant from these thoughts or challenges and will stand ready to assist others.
Through the church and our involvement with different ministries, we do make a difference in the lives of many. We don’t always realize it, especially when we are caught up in the day-to-day delivering meals to people who need them, working to make our youth in the church involved and happy, and making sure the music, message, and fellowship is in place for the weekly worship, among many other tasks. However, if we do stop to think about it—maybe when we are checking to see if our own armor and protection is in place or when we think about our own families and their challenges or specific needs—we are responsive and giving. If we continue to move along at a pace that doesn’t allow for introspection, prayer, fellowship, or stewardship, we forget that it is the church that allows our giving ministries, and it is the church that provides our support so that we might do more good in the community.
In the Bible, 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms” (NIV). To me, this is a direct command to take what we have and give to those who need it. Stewardship can take many forms or appear as gifts to share from one individual to another. Do you have a skill to offer to another? Do you have a talent for cooking that might well serve the family dealing with a serious illness? Do you have financial freedom that can be shared with individuals or the church? Do you have time on your hands that could be used to support others? Our armor and our talents come to us and are used and worn by us in many ways. In this season of giving and support, we need to remember our role as stewards to help spread the Word of God and to help the church complete the work that needs to be done.
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (NIV)
I talk a lot lately in my posts about the enemy and the attacks that we must offset and prepare for in the future. Some of my scenarios are easy to understand—strife in families, terrible tragedies that come out of nowhere, and feelings that leave us ostracized or confused. Other scenarios are more difficult, like the idea of temptations, indiscretions, or the guilt born of bad decisions and behaviors that do not make us proud. These are hard concepts to rectify or justify. They are uncomfortable and, many times, not able to help us remain good Christians or devoted to our families. Still, we have these minor infractions against what we feel is our good character.
Let me point out now that if we allow the enemy to tempt us into bad business deals and questionable personal decisions, we let the enemy win. Once we extract ourselves from these situations and make amends, but then again allow him to torture us with guilt, memories, and feelings of inadequacy, then we are allowing him to win yet again. Part of staying vigilant when the enemy is close is making sure that he cannot get to us again and send us off track or make us less effective. We need to extract ourselves from bad situations, note them for future reference, learn from the experience, make amends with God and our loved ones, and move on. Above all, we need to forgive ourselves and use our experiences to become better than we were previously.
I firmly believe that the flaming arrows sent our way by the enemy are not the visible, terrible things that can happen in life. Instead, they are the attacks from behind, in the night, or when we are not looking. They are the jabs at us when we are down or vulnerable and just waiting for someone to nudge us into self-loathing or turning away from God in shame. It is in these moments that we must be ready with our shields, born of experience, strife, and even guilt and shame, to offset what the enemy throws at us. Remember, I have posted before on the value of these past bad experiences, and I firmly believe that we need to use them for positive growth as opposed to negative retrospection.
An old adage says, “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Sometimes, while it sounds feasible, I think a lot of us don’t always believe this. Of course, adversity comes in all types of scenarios. It can be terrible, as in the case of a terminal illness or drug addiction, or it can be more benign, like in the case of temporary job setbacks or tight financial times. Either way, it always feels bad, and it always feels permanent. Oftentimes, people in the throes of difficulties feel that there is no end in sight, so how can they ever feel stronger if life has taken a terrible, permanent turn?
Wearing our Armor of God, we can offset much of our strife. This means that we can offset adversity. When life has us down, we can use our armor to offset and even attack the enemy. Even terminal illness comes with good days and a renewed sense of love for those close to us, addiction or depression comes with learning processes that we can take into the future with us, and even financial distress can help us to find our own strengths and strategies to cope and come out of it. Once we get through that—and we will—we are stronger whether we realize it or not. We need to take those moments to relish our victories and store what we have learned. We will take these new attitudes, strategies, and methods into a better, happier, and more successful life.
Simply being a Christian and standing up for our beliefs on a daily basis makes us strong. Knowing we have the Armor of God to help us enforces that. Understanding that we can rise above adversity and become even stronger is the key to our ongoing happiness and success in life and with God.
I talk a lot about the Apostle Paul and how he introduces and guides us through the full Armor of God. I also talk a bit about his philosophies in life, including how he intercepts the attacks on his life and how he offsets what the enemy can send his way or our way. A lot of what will protect us lies in our anticipation of what may come our way in life.
I don’t want people to focus entirely on what might happen to them or to live in fear of the enemy in any respect, but I do think that as Christians we need to be primed and ready for attacks of any kind on our faith and in how we live with God daily. Paul, in his life and his writings, was diligent in teaching us how to protect ourselves from what the enemy may fire our way. In real life, we know that can be anything from hostility in the workplace or school, to problems with family at home, to less specific feelings like self-doubt or depression, and more. The enemy is all around us. While I do not want people to obsess over what may happen in life so much that it throws us off course, I do want everyone to be vigilant and prepared.
Paul reminds us that we have a lot in our daily armor that allows us to protect ourselves. The helmet we wear protects our heads where reason and logic prevail, the breastplate protects our most vulnerable hearts, the shield provides further protection and gives us ample opportunity to protect ourselves, the girded loins protect our mobility so that we can continue to learn and improve, and the shoes keep us nailed in place where our faith is strong and true. Paul also reminds us that, as disciples of Jesus Christ, our strength in offsetting the attacks should actually damage the enemy. Wearing our faith so boldly should scare the devil from approaching and should keep the bad feelings, the bad people, and the bad decisions at bay.
Being a Christian is not only about learning to spiritually respond to life, but also being intentional and aggressive about how you advocate for Jesus Christ and how you offset the evil and the trouble that is in the world. While we all know we should give to the hungry, attend church, and treat others as we would want to be treated, we should also strike back at violence in society by advocating for the underdog in situations involving racism, sexism, or exclusion of any kind, constantly standing up for what we believe is right, and helping others along the way. This is how we use the Armor of God to protect us from and attack the enemy.