Living strong is not always easy; in fact, it is really hard at times. Because I just posted on prayer, I want to also touch on how concerned I get when people only focus prayers to God on their fears or even mention the enemy or the devil. As I said in my previous post, God is good, and any conversation with Him will be fulfilling. Knowing our own strengths and having those regular prayerful conversations with God should offset any fears of the enemy or the devil.
Life can truly throw us some challenges, and, for many of us, having gone through difficult times can scare us enough to create a lifetime fear of the enemy in any form—addiction, illness, financial trouble, depression… the list goes on. If we dress ourselves in the Armor of God, giving attention to where our weaknesses might be present and taking note, too, of our many strengths or honing and working on the strength we know we do have, we can ignore the enemy, knowing that when he comes for us, we are always ready. The enemy, the devil, or whatever challenges and fears we have, do not have any power over us. We should not be intimidated, especially when we have given attention to working on our faith, our prayer life, and our own strengths (and I can’t emphasize the latter enough).
In my book, I strongly suggest NOT talking to the devil at all—NOT giving in to those fears or becoming intimidated by the enemy in any form. When we give any credence to the devil and his antics or to the enemy in our own minds and the fears that ensue, we are acknowledging that we are concerned about the presence of the enemy. On the other hand, when we pray and tap into our own faith and our strengths, we do not fear the devil, and we do not acknowledge the enemy in any aspect of our lives.
Certainly, when the enemy is around—when we feel tempted or intimidated—or when we watch others fall victim to the devil, we need to stay focused and realize that, when the enemy is busy and visible, we have to redirect and look to the positive things in our lives and continue our deep prayerful conversations with God. Staying disciplined in all aspects of our lives is imperative to maintaining the Armor of God, and realizing that we are not always infallible and need God’s input are components to offsetting the enemy in our lives. Always remember to focus on living stronger in the Lord.
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.