Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
Ephesians‬ ‭6:11-12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Well, Paul was quite explicit when he defined what we, as Christian pilgrims, are up against. As human beings, we automatically think in human terms, so anything defined as an “enemy” is something or someone situated in our physical and natural zone. The war in Ukraine is raging on as I write this blog today, and the combatants are obvious in human terms. But what Paul was saying was that there is a spiritual realm as well as our natural realm, and our real enemies are located there. An unseen world full of evil and powerful forces, which are a far greater threat to us than a military force equipped with tanks and guns.

In a recent Alpha video, there was a point when some young people were asked the question, “Do you believe in the devil?”  And the answers were revealing – one young person’s response was, “Not really”. And that is something Paul was writing about when he warned us about the “strategies of the devil”. Our enemy, the devil, is delighted if people don’t believe he exists, because then he can undertake his attacks unseen and unknown, fulfilling his aims of destroying God’s creation. 

So how does the devil manage to attack us, God’s people? One way is that he finds out our weaknesses and uses them to undermine and destroy our faith. As an example, if a Christian tends to be a worrier, the devil will bring up issues that cause more and more worry and anxiety, disrupting and weakening his or her faith in the process.

So why does the devil want to attack humans? Because he wants to be God and be in control of everything that belongs to God. That’s why he was originally kicked out of Heaven. And the problem that Christians give him is that they don’t want to be controlled by him. They want to follow God, not the devil. So the devil attacks them by distracting them, undermining them, leading them into sin through temptation, picking away at any weaknesses that he can find. And he has an army of demons, the evil spirits that Paul warned his Ephesians friends about, to help him. But the good news is that Jesus defeated the devil at Calvary. And because of that, we have all the resources and power we need to resist the attacks of the enemy. With the resources we have access to we can stand firm, resisting the devil’s attacks. James 4:7 says, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you“. We can resist him; we don’t have to fold and submit to the devil at the first attack by sinning. But sometimes we can fall into a trap and end up doing things we didn’t want to do. The old Apostle John wrote, “But if we confess our sins to [God], He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness”. (1 John 1:9) So cleansed and forgiven, we pick ourselves up and move on, the wiser from the experience, more able to avoid the trap the next time the devil comes along with another ploy to trip us up.

Paul was desperate to deliver his message in person but there he was, trapped in a prison cell. But if he hadn’t been incarcerated, we would have missed out on the helpful and instructive verses in his Epistle. We thank God for him, and, now forewarned, we pray for protection from our true enemies, the devil and his hordes, safe in the knowledge that the protection we need is there for the asking.

Difficult Questions

The Lord says to my Lord: 
‘Sit at my right hand 
until I make your enemies 
a footstool for your feet.’”
Psalms‬ ‭110:1‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Psalm 110 is another Davidic Psalm, full of prophetic and apocryphal language. The verse I’ve chosen today was quoted by Jesus during one of His conversations with the Pharisees; He used it to ask a difficult question of the religious leaders of His day, one that they couldn’t answer. The details of the conversation were recorded in Matthew 22. 

I read this Psalm, and find myself at a loss to understand at first how it will help the modern day pilgrim, in his or her journey through this life. There is obviously a time coming, prophetically laid out, of when Jesus, the Son of God, will rule and reign one day in the future. It will be a time of judgement, of battle, of triumph, of defeat of the forces that will be arraigned against Him. It’s encouraging to know the contents of a future chapter in the book of this world’s history. As I scan the verses in this Psalm, some nuggets of truth emerge. About God’s unchanging promise that His enemies will one day be defeated, by His Son Jesus ruling at the head of an army of His troops. About His priestly role, leading the spiritual future of His people. About judgement bringing about the justice God’s people can only dream of today. It is these thoughts that will sustain us when our lives are difficult and challenging. 

The Bible contains difficult questions, like the one Jesus asked of the Pharisees when He quoted this Psalm. And in some places the Biblical records and accounts can be interpreted in different ways. So how do we handle challenging Biblical and theological questions when asked by those around us? I’m sure some people lay awake at night trying to dream up traps to undermine us. A genuine seeker after truth should be answered and carefully helped to understand the answer to their difficulties; if necessary we must go away and research the answer with the help of the Holy Spirit; if we don’t know the answer we should say so. And we thank God for the apologists who interface the Bible truths to everyday life, and provide light in dark corners; such people we can refer our questioners to if necessary. 

In our everyday lives, we too can have questions about difficult-to-understand passages in the Bible. At such times, we keep close to our Heavenly Father, trusting Him to provide all the answers we need for our journeys. And we need to take our life-steps, with the faith that God knows what is best for us. Perhaps Proverbs 3:6 is a good go-to place today: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Sometimes we don’t need answers to difficult questions – we just need God.


Troublesome Thoughts

Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
because of what my enemy is saying, because of the threats of the wicked; for they bring down suffering on me and assail me in their anger.

Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.
But You, God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of decay; the bloodthirsty and deceitful will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in You.

Psalm 55:1-3, 22-23 NIV

Oh dear! David is troubled by his thoughts once again. Sound familiar? Those times when we wake up in the wee small hours, “troubled by our thoughts”. Those times when a small problem adopts larger than life proportions and threatens to derail our sleep for a few hours. Well, this seems to be David’s predicament. Except his problem seems to be what people think of him. He seems to have an enemy who is set on spreading lies about him and adding in angry threats for good measure. And the result is that he becomes distraught and suffers greatly.

As we read through this Psalm, it follows the pattern of our nocturnal sleeplessness as we toss and turn, tormented by our thoughts. David went through a familiar process. 

A pounding heart and shaking with fear.
Wanting to run away, the quicker and further the better.
An attempt at blaming something, in this case the wickedness within the city
Sadness about a friend letting him down.
Concocting in his mind what he would like to happen to his enemies.

You can just feel the distress and discomfort building up to a crescendo. But then reality kicks in. He remembers the Lord and what he has done for him in the past and will do for him again in the future. He looks as his problem more rationally, receiving revelation and objectivity about the battle he is engaged in, the facts about his enemies, and even receives a dose of reality over his friend’s behaviour. And he finishes his rant with a statement of the dependability of God. How He will take care of him, carrying his burdens. Knowing that God will not let His people come to grief. And finally declaring that God can be trusted to save him. Wow! What a journey! 

But what an inspiration to us. It boils down to the simplest of conclusions. No matter what is keeping us awake at night, it will never be too big a problem for God to help us through it. Amen?