Ephesians 6:18 (NIV 2011)
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for the Lord’s people. Do all of this in prayer asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God’s people.
I feel that it is always important to mention the role of prayer in our lives. I’m not sure, however, that we always know what is appropriate to pray for and what is on the edge of self-serving or improper in that there is no praise for God, at times, only requests for help or pleas for mercy. In my book, Dressed for Victory: Putting on the Full Armor of God, I explore the concept of prayer at length, and so, here, I’d like to zero in on our reasons for prayer—particularly at a time of year when we are headed back to school, ending summer vacations, and hunkering down for whatever the winter season has in store for us.
In times of introspection, we find our minds wandering to many things—what we want, what we need, what we SHOULD focus on, what scares us, and more. As we move into fall and the season of retrospect analysis and personal introspection—the season that makes us think of things coming to an end or changing—we may allow ourselves to explore prayer a little more too.
When we do ask for God’s help, either for ourselves or others, we are engaging in a relationship with Him that shows trust and a need for guidance. This is a healthy practice. Normally, we don’t just pray for ourselves, and most of us realize that it is not really praying or conversing with God when we ask to win the lottery or when we wish ill will on another out of frustration. While most of our praise conversations or prayers are sincere—even when we are momentarily thankful for getting us out of a sticky situation, for example—God knows that not all of our lapses in judgment are sincere. We are all allowed to get frustrated and retreat or lash out. He is forgiving.
Wearing the Armor of God, however, we can always remember to stay focused on a fulfilling prayer life with God, knowing that we are protected, in our armor, by salvation, truth, fortitude, and more. As I said earlier, most of us do not just pray for ourselves. Instead, when we have a need or something that concerns us, we focus on our responsibilities to others, asking to get that raise to provide for the family or hoping to win the bid on a house to shelter our loved ones. Many times we ask for more respect in life or people to surround us with love. These, too, are wholesome, well-directed, and good-intentioned requests. When we feel that we are asking for ourselves, many times we are truly thinking of others or allowing God to get to know us and offering our wants and needs to Him. When we work hard and, with His good grace, obtain what we need or want, as long as we remember to praise Him and tell Him, in our prayerful conversation or introspection, that we are grateful, we are treating prayer as the essential element to fulfilled life with Him.
In my book, Dressed For Victory: Putting On the Full Armor of God, I discuss the Apostle Paul and how many of us—even Paul himself—might question how we could possibly be an encouraging example to anyone. He’s in prison, so why would any of us, or any of his peers during his time, want to follow his example? How would his revelations as he observes his captor, the Roman soldier, inspire any of us? And, further, why wouldn’t we question what he observes with the soldier? In reality, Paul went on to inspire many. He advocated for others, and, as I detailed in my last post, was an effective ambassador for his people and his faith—trusted, revered, and respected. His story, instead of becoming one that would upset people, became one that encouraged others.
In chapter 10 of my book, I talk deeply about how many would-be mentors would never see their inspiration through to fruition if they gave their mistakes too much thought. Many times, it is those very mistakes or mishaps that inspire people, yet most people will stop themselves from sharing these valuable stories simply because they feel shame or don’t want to relive a difficult time. When you rebound from challenges, however, you do inspire others. We can learn from Paul and see clearly that the pressures in life are abundant, and the situations that we find ourselves in might not always be desirable, but we can come back from adversity to incite others to greatness. At the very least, we can inspire others to move out of their less than desirable situation into a better one, knowing that, someday, they too could have a valuable experience to share with others.
God does work in mysterious ways. We hear that all the time, and we usually see it as a bit of a cliché or a trite statement when people don’t know quite what to say. However, I maintain that He does work through us in ways that we don’t always understand right away. If we can see the value in whatever situation we find ourselves in and understand that, with His guidance, we will emerge better for it, we can become His instruments of joy, hope, and, at a very human level, the very example of what to do in dire or difficult situations. This is how we can inspire and encourage others.
It is easy to forget that our experiences can be inspiring, especially when we are in recovery mode ourselves or have moved on to less challenging days. Also, when we are searching for a direction in our own lives, it does require some effort to reach out to others and share experiences. In these times, we must remember to live in Paul’s example—to put on the Armor of God—and to inspire and encourage when the opportunities present themselves. As I say in my book, “Remember, He tells us and shows us that it is not position, problems, pressure, or predicaments in life that provide guidance and good examples; it is the capacity, the space, and the faith you have given to God in your life so that God might show Himself through you and to reach others through you.”
19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (NIV)
In Chapter 9 of my book Dressed for Victory: Putting on the Full Armor of God, I quote Ephesians and explore, in detail, Paul speaking on behalf of his country and his people to a group who may or may not know anything about him or even want to know. In the biblical text he tells us that he is addressing them on behalf of another. He is speaking for God and for his people. Keep in mind, Paul has been imprisoned for quite some time, and his ability to speak strongly about his faith and his people is admirable, especially given his circumstances. In his mind, he sees himself as an ambassador, and, to him, that appears to be even more important than if he were speaking on behalf of himself. It is more important to him to represent God and his people effectively.
As a pastor, part of my job is to engage my congregation to action and to urge them to seek deeper faith and enlightenment. Many times, however, I don’t see what happens to the individuals when they leave, aside from other fellowship within the church. I wonder, on occasion, if the Word of God stays in the minds and on the lips of my congregants, and if, when everyone leaves, they too, like Paul, act as ambassadors of faith and represent their background, their church, and their individual approaches to worship and relationships with God in their daily lives.
While we feel our faith deeply and worship enthusiastically on a regular basis, it can be difficult to advocate for our individual perspectives in life situations at work, at school, in our neighborhoods, or other places. Just as we argue for political justice or just as we stand up when civil or personal rights have been taken away, so should we stand up for our faith. Not everyone feels the same way we do. Not everyone understands our perspective when it comes to faith, worship, and God, but our opinion and our perspective matters. We can never forget that what we say and how we feel about God is important. When the opportunity arises to praise His name and to defend our own beliefs, we should seize it!
I strongly feel that when we do this, we feel better about ourselves, and we also begin to better understand our own faith. When we defend our beliefs to others, and when we aim to detail the truth of the Word of God in a challenging situation, we find ourselves sharing with others, in our own heartfelt words, about our relationship with God and what that relationship means to our lives. We find ourselves understanding why we even have such deep faith to begin with. By imparting the Word of God to others or staying mindful of the fact that we need to be ambassadors of faith, we keep ourselves on track, and we keep ourselves in God’s favor.
Throughout my travels, I sometimes find myself in places that are more familiar than others, and sometimes I find myself in entirely new places. I enjoy staying physically active and aim to jog or walk daily, even when I find myself in places that are new to me. A daily walk can be a good time to reflect, clear your mind and even spend some quiet time with God. Even though I make my living sharing the Word with others, I strive to set aside time daily to spend with God, whether during a morning walk or at other quiet times throughout my day. I check my armor and faith for weak spots, all while enjoying the one on one conversation that I like to have with God.
In my book, Dressed For Victory: Putting on the Full Armor of God, I reference Paul and his revelations about God. Checking to make sure that our armor is fit and ready for battle with the enemy is always a good thing. In the Bible, when Paul is imprisoned—and, keep in mind, he was imprisoned for two years with Roman soldiers standing guard—he uses his time to reflect, examine and analyze the armor of his captor. He watches and learns from the very people who have him in jail. He surmises the use for all of the pieces of the Roman soldiers’ armor, and he applies the rules and uses for each to his own spiritual and physical life, preparing himself for what may await him and using the benefits of the armor for his own life.
In examining our own needs, we should be able to see where we can apply the Armor of God. Are we firm footed in our position as Christians? Do we have the helmet of salvation to show the world our allegiance to God? And, what can we do to strengthen our armor?
I talk a lot about having a dialogue with God as well as a strong prayer life. Maybe we need to check our armor and gain some reassurance in living strong with God. Maybe we want to recalibrate with God and check progress on what He has in store for us next. It makes sense now, especially since I am asking for so much reflection and introspection this summer, to find a way to pray that will allow us to achieve the one on one connection with God that He wants to have with us. It doesn’t always have to be in church or when we feel scared or worried. It also does not always have to be in a quiet room. It can be on a walk while visiting a new city or while enjoying a calm evening at home on the porch. Anytime that we can reflect and spend quality time with God and in introspection with ourselves will only serve to make us stronger and more prepared for the challenges that may await us in our daily lives.
"Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes" (Ephesians 6:11 NIV)
In his letter to the Romans, Paul talks about the Armor of God as “vigilant righteousness”. He says in Romans 13:12 (NIV): "The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light." In many ways, we can interpret this metaphorically and bring light to where we see it is needed.
During his captivity, Paul observes a Roman soldier in his grandiose yet utilitarian armor. It is grandiose in that it is a proud reminder of just who the man who wears it is – a defender of his country, his faith and his people. It is utilitarian in that, at first, all Paul sees is metal and leather, components used to keep swords and other weapons from harming the man who wears it. The armor for this soldier, then, serves a couple of purposes. Logistically, it is made to protect him and, as a secondary function, it is recognized as part of the precise uniform that only a Roman soldier would wear. It is recognizable, honorable, and subtle in its function. Metaphorically, Paul sees it as something we all wear to protect ourselves spiritually. Every component has a specific function, from the nail holes in the boots meant to keep the soldier at his post in battle to the helmet that protects and provides a layer of security. The components allow the wearer to be what they need to be at any given time in battle with the enemy or in showing their faith and strength.
I wear my Armor of God in the pulpit. I openly speak about God and encourage others to live their lives in His image. I wear the Armor of God as the pastor of a large urban church. Of course, I also wear the armor as a father, son, husband, and friend.
How do you wear your armor? Are you a teacher who brings a love of learning to children, providing them with strength for a lifetime? Are you a caretaker who stays at home and tends to children and possibly others, fostering a feeling of nurturing and fellowship that people will use to get them through their days? Are you a friend who listens even when the story has already been told and even when you know your friend is wrong, allowing trust and faith to grow in those who are close to you?
We wear our respective armors in many ways. Be brave and confident in your abilities. Take heart in your Armor of God. We all have our strengths, and we don’t often give ourselves enough credit for them. Walk and live strong knowing that the individual you are is very much appreciated by those around you and by God.