A wise man once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Oh wait, that came from Mike Tyson, didn’t it? So, maybe not a wise man, but at least a man who knows about fighting.
Last week, we officially reached the one year mark of partner development. And, for the first eight or nine months, things were going so smoothly, all according to the plan we drew up. Then, we got punched in the mouth.
We knew that this was going to be difficult; we didn’t know that we were going to end up in a dog fight. Maybe I subconsciously envisioned this stage of ministry as something like climbing a mountain–it takes a lot of work, but at least it’s a stationary object. If you’re in good shape and exert enough effort, you should be able to conquer, right? We’ve come to find that we’re not up against a stationary object. The mountain fights back. Lately, it’s been more like a boxing match, and it’s definitely not a clean one. It’s one of those matches where someone gets an ear bit off. And, we probably shouldn’t be as surprised as we are.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6:10-13.
I don’t want to give the Evil One and his servants more credit than they deserve. They’ve already lost the war, and it’s only a matter of time before the battles cease altogether. Today, however, they still fight. And, their inevitable destruction enrages them, as they oppose the already victorious Savior. They hate the Lord Jesus, oppose his work and would seek to bring down any who belong to him. Yet, I am still surprised every time we face opposition, when our climb turns into a fight.
The Apostle Paul’s famous passage in Ephesians 6 fittingly begins with the command to “stand.” This command is a change in posture from the rest of the letter. It’s a switch from offensive to defensive. Previously, we’re told numerous times to “walk.” Before we were rescued by God’s grace in Christ, we walked along, following the course of the world and following the one we now know as our enemy (2:2). Our course and gait changed when God brought us from death to life, and we’re no longer to walk in futility of mind (4:17); instead, we are to walk in good works (2:10), a manner worthy of our calling (4:1), Christ-like love (5:2) and as children of light (5:8). We are to pay careful attention to our walk, not as unwise but as wise (5:15).
The Christian life is spent pursuing a certain manner of walking, of living in light of the great salvation ordained by God the Father, purchased by God the Son and guaranteed by God the Holy Spirit. Paul warns us that this manner of life faces active opposition. It is a military march, not a stroll around Lake of the Isles. You must stay soldiered up, so you can stand firm when flaming arrows fly your way.
The arrows caught us a bit by surprise. In recent months, we’ve faced unusual health problems (consistently getting sick every time we have a meeting to share about Japan, in addition to a bit of cancer), uncharacteristically slow progress and strong temptations to discouragement. For the first time, it feels as though something or someone is actively setting itself against us going to Japan. Strangely enough, I find that incredibly encouraging. I take it as a sign that we’re headed in the right direction.
Our God is strong; therefore, we do not fear. He has promised that his Church would prevail over the gates of hell, that the gospel would go forward to gather people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. He will be exalted among the nations and in all the earth. He does not leave us to fight alone. We’re learning to fight by depending on him to fight for us, to protect us, to strengthen us and to send us. Would you pray that God would do these things for us and more?
“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, praying at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words would be given to me in opening in my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,” Ephesians 6:14-19.