For the past five years or so God has been leading me to make a move across country, from my home for the past 40 years in Southern California to the Catskill Mountains of New York. I had always loved New York, from the first moment I stepped foot in the City, but I never dreamed of living there. Little by little His plan for me became clear and each step He wanted me to take was put in front of me. What at one point seemed like an impossibility has now become a reality and the path to getting here far easier than I would have ever imagined.
Although I had always looked forward to it, over the past 5 years there have been plenty of moments of trepidation and downright fear in making this move. It was not just fear in leaving my comfort zone and the people I love, but also just trying to fathom what my new life might be like. I wanted to know what I couldn’t know, see what I couldn’t see. In the midst of those fearful moments I would just have to remind myself that God was not only in this move, He was the One leading it. If that was true then there was nothing to fear. Once I could bring my thoughts to that truth I could take the next step. The fear might have lingered a bit, but I was moving forward in spite of it.
Just before I left California, my Pastor and his wife paid me a visit. We talked about my plans, they prayed over me, and then my Pastor gave me something very meaningful. It was a bookmark that he and his wife had made for the core team of church-planters that came alongside them when they planted our church in Eastvale. The bookmark is a step-by-step checklist of praying through the “Armor of God” that Paul talks about in Ephesians 6. Knowing that I was venturing out to a new place in obedience to God’s calling on my life, my Pastor encouraged me to pray through each step every morning, purposefully putting on each piece of armor, just as he does. He reminded me of how following the Lord’s direction in our lives can make us a target of the enemy, that he will look for any opportunity to attack us in our obedience.
I have been using the bookmark daily and going through the checklist each morning. In doing so, I’ve gotten a picture in my mind of each piece of armor. The picture in my mind is a bit different than the traditional view of perhaps a Roman soldier’s suit of armor that Paul may have had in mind as he wrote to the church in Ephesus. I was able to depict my suit of armor in a sculpture and I want to share my interpretation with you. First, here is the description of the armor from Ephesians, chapter 6.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 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 all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)
The Belt of Truth – If you read my previous blog post, you already know Who I believe Truth to be. It’s Jesus Himself! So when I think about putting on the “Belt of Truth” each morning, I think about Jesus wrapping His arm around me. I want Him to be at the center of who I am and what I believe. I want my “gut reaction” to be His truth. I don’t want to be swayed by the opinions of the people in this world or by the darkness that is all around us. I want to be held by Him, trusting in Him for His wisdom, His truth.
The Breastplate of Righteousness – The prophet Isaiah said, ” all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) Our own righteousness, the “good deeds” we think we are doing, cannot be compared to the righteousness of Jesus. But here’s the best part… we get to wear Jesus’ righteousness as if it is our own. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross, because He took on our sin, we get to wear His righteousness. It is that beautiful, grace-filled, divine exchange.
When I picture myself putting on the Breastplate of Righteousness I imagine the mantle of righteousness that drapes over Jesus’ shoulders spilling over onto mine. I am covered by Him, by His righteousness. And because it is His righteousness that is covering my heart, I want my heart to beat for what His heart beats for. I want my heart to be broken by what His heart is broken for. I want my heart protected by His righteous deeds, not my own. (NOTE: Do a deep dive to find out what Isaiah meant by filthy rags to get an even clearer picture of how unrighteous our acts really are.)
Readiness to Spread the Gospel of Peace (shoes) – Paul doesn’t neglect the feet when he gives us this description of armor. Our shoes are to be tools that make us ready to share the good news of peace – peace with our Creator because of the sacrifice of His Son our Savior.
When I was a kid, I loved getting a new pair of tennis shoes. It was so exciting! I would say to my parents, “Wanna see how fast I can run?” And then I’d tear off down to the corner and back. I truly believed that my new shoes made me run faster. That’s what I think of when I pray on this piece of armor. I want to show Jesus how fast I can run in my new shoes! I want to do what He has called me to do – tell others that they too can have peace with their Creator. They can have a relationship with God through Jesus. In the sculpture, my right foot is using Jesus’ right foot as a starter’s block. I’m leaning on Him, getting my leverage from Him, being empowered by Him to run the race He is setting before me.
The Shield of Faith – When I picture taking up the Shield of Faith I think about being a superhero. As believers in Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit living, residing inside each one of us. That Spirit that lives inside of us endows us with gifts that allow us to do supernaturally empowered things we could not do on our own. In my opinion, that makes us superheroes! But, we also have an enemy, an enemy who does not want us operating under the power of the Holy Spirit, fulfilling our calling, or engaging in any spiritual battles. He is real, and we need to be aware of the flaming arrows he is throwing at us so that we can extinguish them.
This is the only piece of armor that I chose to depict literally and its because I believe too often as believers we minimize the fact that the Spirit of God lives within us. We do Satan’s job for him by taking ourselves out of the battle, believing we have nothing to contribute or just preferring to sit on the sidelines. We need to claim our “spiritual superhero” identity, live in it, and leave our secret identities behind. I also depicted the shield in my right hand, my dominant hand, the hand in which I would normally carry my weapon. I did this because it is not my strength I am relying on, it’s God’s. I’m held in His right hand. There is no greater strength than that.
The Helmet of Salvation – Our head, our thoughts, our mind needs protection. When I think of putting on a helmet, I think of football. The helmet not only protects the player’s head from the barrage of hits from other players and contacts with the turf, it also identifies the team of the player who wears it. It can also be used as means of communication. For the quarterback, it is through his helmet that he receives direction from the coach on the sideline as to what play to call next.
When I think about putting on the Helmet of Salvation I think about being on God’s team. The gift of salvation that I have been given through Jesus’ death and resurrection has given me a new identity. I’m His child, His daughter. I belong to God. Paul tells us in the opening chapter of Ephesians, “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 1:13) What better way to depict that sense of belonging, that sense of being “sealed” than to be the recipient of a kiss from Jesus. In the sculpture, He is kissing my head, near my ear where He can whisper His direction, His encouragement, and His reminder to me of His love.
Knowing to Whom we belong changes everything! Paul tells us we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16) I want that mind! I want His wisdom, His discernment.
The Sword of the Spirit – We are not entering battle defenseless. We are given a weapon, the Sword of the Spirit. Paul tells us exactly what the Sword of the Spirit is. It’s God’s Word. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness the only weapon He used was the Word. (Matthew 4:1-11)
In the sculpture I’ve depicted a Bible in my left hand, with Jesus’ hand gripping mine. The Word of God is my weapon, and I don’t want to wield that weapon without the guidance, direction, and wisdom of Jesus. Paul says that we are not waging war against flesh and blood. Our battles are in the spiritual realm. I cannot see the spiritual realm so I need to trust the One who can. I need to put my hand in His and allow Him to wield the Sword of the Spirit through me.
Those are the pieces of armor that I put on everyday. That is how I picture them. They are an extension of Jesus and my relationship with Him.
Our world is changing. There is a lot of unrest and sweeping cultural shifts in the world around us. We’re being moved out of our comfort zones. Our future is unclear. We want to know what we cannot know. See what we cannot see. With these unknowns can come a sense of fear. But as believers we know that nothing that is happening is a surprise to God. He is still in control and He has a plan and purpose for each of us to fulfill. If He is in control and we belong to Him we have no reason to fear. We can continue to move forward with whatever He has called us to do, one step at a time, regardless of the chaos that may surround us. But we must move forward wisely, protected, and with the knowledge that we have an enemy that is real.
God has equipped us with a full set of armor. Armor that will protect our very core with Truth. One that will protect our hearts with the perfection of Jesus and at the same time make our hearts soft for what His heart is soft for. Shoes that make us ready to share the peace of restored relationship with the God of the universe to others who have not yet had that relationship restored. A shield to remind us of the superhero He has made us to be and to quench every arrow thrown by our enemy. A helmet that reminds us of our true identity as children of God with the wisdom and mind of Christ at our disposal. And a weapon that is His Word. The apostle John said that Jesus was the Word made flesh. It is not just His printed Word that is our weapon, but it is Jesus Himself.
Finally, we must remember that we have an enemy that is real, but it is not an enemy that appears to us in flesh and blood. We are battling the unseen, not each other. We cannot fall into the traps that Satan is setting and get wrapped up in the skirmishes that we are seeing in our physical world. Our focus must be on what God has called us to do and in taking the next step He puts in front of us.
Heavenly Father, thank you for being in control. We cannot fathom your perspective on this world or where we are in history, but you know. Thank you for calling each of us to fulfill a specific purpose while we are here. Help us to know what that purpose is, seeking you constantly to reveal it to us. Thank you for equipping us to fulfill that purpose and for giving us armor to protect us and keep us safe. Teach us. Guide us. Lead us into battle. Help us to trust you and respond obediently to whatever and wherever you call us to be. Remind us of who we are and Whose team we are on. Help us always to remember that we are not battling flesh and blood. Use us instead to share your love with the flesh and blood around us. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.