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.
August 14, 2015
Consider this: occasionally, when you help yourself, you open the door to helping others and contributing more deeply to your church, your family, your community, and the world. Does that sound like a selfish statement, a bold assumption, or permission to indulge yourself? Honestly, it might be all of the above, but it is also advice to heed. When you make yourself the best that you can be, taking time for prayer or making time to relax with your family, you can also offer advice and support to others in the same way.
When we take care of ourselves, we are better at a lot of things. Well-rested parents are more patient, children who are allowed to pursue their interests do better in life in the long run, and professionals who eat right, take walks during the day, and have some fun now and then are more effective in their jobs. We know these are facts, but we often have a hard time believing them. Why? Because we want to believe that the executive who only goes to church and never has fun is the one who is going to do well. After all, haven’t we always heard that hard work, and only hard work, pays off? We want to believe that the parents who stay up all night with new babies and keep going all day long with no rest and no help are the ones who are doing everything right. Why? We want to believe that denying ourselves is going to help us achieve our life goals. In my book, Dressed For Victory: Putting On the Full Armor of God, I directly address what we need to do to prepare and enforce our armor against the enemy and against anyone or anything that challenges our fortitude. We need to do some self-exploration and find out where our strengths and weaknesses lie.
Depriving ourselves of detrimental activities is obviously beneficial and remaining disciplined in the way that God wants us to be disciplined is key. We need to pray or have some sort of introspection and conversation with God in our day, and we need to be the best that we can be in every situation. What does that entail? As Christians, it means that we need to honor and obey God and live a life that will be pleasing to Him. This includes the use of the strengths that God has given us and enjoying the unique interests He has gifted us with. It should also include fellowship with others, keeping in mind that we continue to provide an example to those who may need to know what it is like to be closer to God. This is a tall order sometimes, but I think we are all up to the task of giving of ourselves, even when we might need to be gracious to those who are not as gracious to us.
By enjoying ourselves, I simply mean that at the end of a long day or week, if we allow ourselves to read a book that we want to read, take a trip that we want to take, or even watch a favorite show while eating some ice cream, we might be more focused in our jobs, happier in our relationships, and generally more rested and well-rounded in life.
Resting and rejuvenating ourselves leads to better productivity. Allowing others to enjoy themselves without judging is also a more open and productive way to live. We can still go to church, but we might want to stop at the local barbeque place on the way home. We can still work hard, but it’s okay to meet friends for dinner and conversation at the end of the day. And when we see others eating lunch at a nice place on a day that we’re working or watch people take off for the beach while we stay in the city, we should wish them well and understand that taking care of ourselves and understanding our own needs and interests is one way we can become more focused, well-rounded, and better at what we do everyday, from worship to work and from family time to personal development. Take that time for yourself and learn to relish the introspection and preparation for the challenges that life will, inevitably, send your way. It’s like polishing the “Armor of God.”
August 7th 2015
As we strive to improve our lifestyles, we must remember to take stock of what we already have. Often, when we set personal goals like weight loss, greater community involvement, or advancement in our careers, we already have the attributes we need to make these things happen.
Anyone who has ever played a sport knows that, many times, coaches will remind us that athletes are very disciplined and competitive people who work day in and day out towards achieving their final goal. Regardless of what sport or activity you participated in, someone at some point told you to do what you needed to do to get ahead. After all, all competitive sports or activities require some amount of discipline. You have to commit to a team, long practices, grueling workouts, and more. Perhaps you are involved in an academic endeavor like an advanced degree or a job-related challenge. Any activity in which you find yourself deeply involved requires you to think outside the box, devote large amounts of time and force some discipline into your life. For the moms and dads out there, taking on parenthood and all the sacrifices it entails is enough to instill the highest level of daily discipline into your lives.
In my book Dressed for Victory: Putting on the Full Armor of God, I talk about how wearing the Armor of God prepares us to walk through our daily lives. When we pray, we create a dialogue with God. When we go to church, we honor God and hope to obtain the spiritual nourishment that will help us continue to live disciplined lives. Add to that all that we do and sacrifice daily as parents, as students and athletes who work hard to achieve greatness or in any other role we may be committed to and we have a pretty good formula for keeping distractions and negative influences at a minimum in our lives.
So, as we examine our goals and chart our progress this summer, I urge you to tap into your strengths and recognize the work that you have already done to shape the person that you have become and the stronger person that you know you have inside. Remind yourselves daily to use discipline and the pride of knowing that you have already come so far to push even further. Above all, remember that with God, you can achieve even greater things.