Sometimes scripture blows my mind.
Spending some time in prayer this morning, I closed my eyes. In this physical action of closing, the spiritual eyes of my heart were opened, and I experienced an insight into the safety, security and equipping we have in Christ Jesus.
Before plunging my surroundings into temporary darkness, I read Ephesians chapter 6v13-17
“Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”
As detailed, God not only protects our minds and bodies with armour (a breastplate, a helmet & shoes), he also gives us weapons to use in times of trouble (a shield and sword). I have read Ephesians 6 numerous times to remind myself of this truth, yet often I leave the house without it.
So how does the armour button up, and how does the belt stay fastened? How do I keep hold of that shield and wield my sword?
I guess, somewhat disappointingly, I do not know the full answer. But God does. So I look to Jesus, and his examples, to make sure the zip on that armour doesn’t get caught in the morning rush.
One thing I admire is how firmly Jesus stood. An example of his standing firm, I believe, is shown in how he prayed:
“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Matthew 26v36-46
In order to stand firm in his purposes, Jesus needed to pray. He needed to connect deeply with his father and replenish his spirit. As he says to Peter: “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”. Jesus had his priorities in order and sought strength from God to do his will on earth. Jesus was going to the cross, and in every way I’m sure he didn’t desire to feel the weight and pain of all our sin. In Luke’s account of this event, it says an Angel appeared to Jesus and strengthened him, after which Jesus in ‘anguish’ prayed more earnestly. How purposeful and firm would we stand if we sought God first in everything? And not just once, but again and again? This is how Jesus functioned, and his purposes were completely fulfilled.
However, it is clear in this passage that it’s not as easy as it sounds; the disciples fell asleep! A contrast to the purposeful Jesus, were his sleeping disciples! I’d argue that this not only highlights the need to stay awake physically, but also spiritually. Jesus rallies his troops: “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” with what I sense is a hint of desperation. He is not just calling them into action in body, but also in soul; the battle is not only a physical one (fighting those heavy eyes) but a spiritual one (praying against temptation).
With God’s armour firmly fastened through prayer, Jesus could use his shield of faith and wield the sword of the spirit. When the flaming darts threatened to penetrate his purpose, his reliance on the Spirit and eyes on the things of God, allowed him to clearly define what was of help or hindrance to him. A prime example was when he addressed the seemingly comforting words of a friend:
“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16v21-23
This type of confrontation seems harsh, his friend was trying to be nice! But Jesus knew it wasn’t what he needed to hear, so immediately stopped listening and was upfront with his friend. Jesus’ sword of the spirit here was wielded, his shield was up, and the word of God prevailed. Jesus rebuked his friend, and then explained why he had done it, his purpose didn’t change and he continued on his way.
I know I find it so easy to be led astray by others and listen to the wrong counsel, so each time I go back to my wardrobe and dig out my armour for the 100th odd time. With the examples Jesus has given me (and many more not detailed here) gradually getting dressed the right way is becoming a habit, and as I pray more I find it easier to wear the garments given freely by God.
Now where’s my helmet…