A Spiritual War
What encouragement is there for those struggling against disappointment and despair?
She waited hours before giving up. The results of the required Covid test to fly to Chile were due the night before. She stood patiently in line hoping the late test results would arrive on her phone so she could check in for her flight. Hours later, there were still no test results. The three-week hiking trip to Patagonia, Chile would have to be postponed. She needed perseverance.
After making the three hour train ride to Manhattan, she returned to Ronald Reagan Airport with the necessary negative test result ready to depart the following day. Or at least she thought. A snow storm canceled the rescheduled flight. The third attempt to leave the following day was met with success, only after hours of delays waiting for the plane to take off. Once in Chile, the hiker found that the eight-day trek more than met her expectations. But she would need to remain quarantined in Chile’s capital for seven days after contracting Covid on the trail. All together, it’s fair to say little of the desired getaway went according to plan. Sometimes life can be an endless series of disappointments, delays, and struggles.
Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus are instructions for them and how to view and respond to life’s tensions and struggles,
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. (Ephesians 6:10-12)
There are countless ways in which life hands out challenges. Perhaps work is not going well, or relationships with family members or friends are upsetting. At times we find our health to be worrisome as we navigate a pandemic and the flood of views regarding masks and vaccines. Finances. Church life. Dating. Life can be an endless stream of anxiety. In what ways are we tempted as Christians to respond to such evidence with despair and hopelessness?
Admittedly, we often pursue our own means of solving the problem. “Just do it,” we tell ourselves, which is just another way of saying, work harder, longer, and with more discipline. Let time resolve the present negative issues and you will find them to fade away. If self-discipline and the passage of time fails, you can always reach for the thousands of self-help books, blogs, and YouTube videos that lead the world to the latest TED talk. Any of these options may do the trick. Well, for a time.
As one who had surrendered to Jesus, the apostle Paul some two thousand years ago provided the following encouragement. What he wrote then is true for us today.
Paul does not ignore the reality of our own sin. He addressed our need and reception of the gospel in the first three chapters of his letter to the Ephesians. Yet, he wants us to understand our need for the gospel is in the context of a spiritual war. “Our struggle is … against the rulers,… authorities,… the powers or this dark world,…spiritual forces of evil…” It is a reality that we often do not acknowledge. We cannot see Satan. Yet, Paul speaks of him as real and we must own such a reality. Life’s tensions and struggles are a consequence of the intentional, scheming work of Satan.
According to the passage, Satan exerts a great deal of energy looking for ways to distort our position in Christ. It is important to acknowledge as much.
It is equally important to understand how our relationship with Christ is to be our focus. But what does that mean?
Paul wrote that we are to be strong. We are to own the tension and actively work to deal with it. We have a responsibility not to be passive or fatalistic, but to engage and apply ourselves. Dealing with Satan schemes will take hard work on our part. Yet, our work is in the context of the gospel, knowing Christ as Lord and Savior. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mightily power.” The means of addressing spiritual warfare is not from us. Our focus is on the Lord and making use of the means he provides as outlined in the remaining passage.
The armor is defensive in nature and, as stated later in the chapter, includes both Scripture and prayer. At first it all sounds easy, but think about it. Both require real effort on our part. Ask yourself, “How consistent am I when it comes to reading, studying and meditating on the Word?” “Just how much time do I spend in prayer?” For many, it is a great act of discipline to keep up with it all. Yet, it is the means given to enter the struggle.
Still, we are not on our own. The Lord not only gives us the means to address the spiritual warfare, but also the grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ, too
Chuck Garriott is the founder and Executive Director of Ministry to State.