Prepared for Battle

I heard from a beloved friend the other day, “I came unarmed, not practicing swordsmanship by reading the word daily.” How wise to recognize the spiritual reality and the antidote to being unprepared! This individual knows the truth of Ephesians 6:10-18, especially the command to “take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Reading Nehemiah 4, the bullies are flesh and blood, but the training for their vicious onslaught is the same. On God’s mission, Nehemiah endured anger, great rage, jeering (4:1), public demeaning, criticism, mocking (4:2), belittling (4:3), more anger, plots, fighting to confuse him (4:7-8), discouragement from his own people and his enemies (4:10-12). How did he respond to these attacks meant to harm him and bring him down and stop his work? Prayer (4:4), perseverance (4:6), more prayer (4:9), focus on the Lord, strategizing and staying alert (4:15-23). He knew God’s character, truth, and promises, and turned to his Lord in times of attack. He was a practiced swordsman.

“Each labored on the work with one hand and held a weapon with the other. We labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. I said, ‘Let every man…be a guard by night and labor by day.’ So none of us took our clothes off; each kept his weapon at his right hand.” Nehemiah 4:17, 21-23

How am I practicing swordsmanship? How snugly does my armor fit? How vigilantly do I work and watch? Oh God, I dare not go alone against the foe! May I dress in Your word each day, “taking up the whole armor of God, that I may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:13)

Victory’s Result: A Test

Abram, in Genesis 14, faced a dilemma. His nephew Lot, who had settled near Sodom (13:12) was now dwelling in Sodom (14:12), and had been taken captive when four mighty kings, who had already swallowed many peoples, defeated an alliance of five kings in the Valley of Sidim. When he was alerted, Abram rallied his army of 318 (!), strategically divided his forces, and rescued Lot, his people and possessions. His response? To sacrifice.

“After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him,” Abram was greeted by two kings. Melchizedek, King of Salem and priest of God Most High, brought bread and wine and gave him a blessing. “Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” The King of Sodom offered him the goods he’d retrieved, but Abram refused, intimating that all glory for this victory was God’s, and he wanted no tie to this leader of a wicked city. His natural, immediate response, in receiving impossible blessing and bounty from “the Possessor of heaven and earth,” was to give, to offer a sacrifice of gratitude and praise.

“Worship is giving God the best He has given you. Be careful what you do with the best you have. Whenever you get a blessing from God, give it back to Him as a love gift…in a deliberate act of worship.” – Oswald Chambers

The world tells us we deserve accolades, privilege, credit, reward, ease—we have a ‘right’ because ‘we did it.’ But “whenever right is made the guidance of life, it will blunt spiritual insight.” (Oswald Chambers) Most High God is the only One Who deserves all riches, honor and praise in the victories He works for us.

“What do you have that you did not receive?” 1 Corinthians 4:7

May my first impulses stream with gratitude, my first response to any victory be ‘all for Jesus.’

Cornwall, England, Charles Wesley's church sign

And Then He Made the Stars

Driving home from the airport last night with the top down, tufts of cloud hovered near, revealing the vast, inky sky beyond. Directly overhead, in a square break of the clouds, stood the hunter warrior Orion, a constellation set in place at creation. “And then he made the stars.” (Genesis 1:16)

Job wrote earlier than 2000 B.C., “[God] alone stretched out the heavens; made the Bear and Orion, the Pleides and the chambers of the south.” (Job 9:8, 9) “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? When the morning stars sang together? Can you bind the chains of the Pleides or loose the cords of Orion? Do you know the ordinances of heaven?” (Job 38:4, 7, 31-33)

And Amos, a shepherd-farmer and prophet in the 8th century B.C., said, “He who made the Pleides and Orion, and turns deep darkness into morning and darkens the day into night, the LORD is his name.” (Amos 5:8)

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth—all things were created through him and for him. And in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:16-17

“[Jesus], through whom [God] made all things…upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Hebrews 1:2, 3

Orion was set in place millennia ago! It was identified over 4000 years ago, recorded 2800 years ago, and still stands sentry today! I catch my breath. I am known and cared for by this God! “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have set in place, what is man, that you are mindful of him, the son of man, that you care for him? Yet, you made him a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned him with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:3-5

Kenya 10-16 rain and light near sunset

This, this is the God Who sustains me! He spreads His majesty before me, daily displays His power, and underneath are His everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27). Where is room for concern or fear? For fretting over lesser things?

Daily may I gaze in wonder at the high and holy God, and rest (and rejoice like the morning stars) in His order and purpose.

The Dangers of Cold

It had been extremely cold here in St. Louis—in single digits, for consecutive days, when days are short and dark is long. This prolonged freeze has caused pipes to burst, leaving neighborhoods without water. Mechanical systems fail, some plants die. The bitter air keeps people inside, hindering interaction with others. Heavy clouds block the sun. It is easy to slide into winter doldrums.

Aren’t these like the effects of a hard heart? When we are cold toward the Lord, there is no free-flow of His living water to nourish and refresh us. We tend toward dissension and isolation in relationships, and slip into unwillingness to venture out into vulnerability and generous compassion. Our resistance to sin, to despair, complaining, discontent, is low, and we can settle into a weighty cloud of negativity, narrow thinking, limited vision.

When Abram arrived at his new, unknown land in Genesis 12:1-9, every place the LORD his God led him, he built an altar and worshiped. When Nehemiah heard of his people’s trouble, he fasted and prayed to the God of heaven, confessing sin and pleading for mercy and favor (Nehemiah 1:1-14). Both men, chilled by circumstances, stayed warm persisting on their knees and looking upward, their soft hearts burning with passion.

Sunset over Christ Church, Oxford 9-17

Lord, keep me near Your altar’s fire!

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:11-12

“O, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be;                                                     Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.                                       Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to eave the God I love!                                              Here’s my heart, O take and seal it; seal it for Thy courts above.”                                        Robert Robinson (1735-1790)


Proper Fear

Some shrink from the thought of fearing God, but it is beautifully and rightly displayed in the Scriptures as an essential response to the King of all that is.

In Genesis 10, Ham, one of Noah’s sons, made light of his father’s shameful nakedness, while the other two, Shem and Japheth, respectfully covered it. In Ezra 9, Ezra was appalled at the gross and blatant sin of the people, and sat ashamed and pleading for mercy with those who “trembled at the words of God because of the faithlessness of the returning exiles.” In Matthew 9:8, some who witnessed Jesus’s healing of a paralytic “were afraid and glorified God.” In Acts 9:31, “The church… walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, multiplied.”

Patmos, arched church dome with Jesus at top

I must fear God over sin; He is holy and righteous, and all wickedness is an affront to Him. Thanks be to God He opens my eyes and heart to recognize and acknowledge this—as He struck Saul in the storm of his rebellion on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9:3-5) I must also fear God for His wonders, His power, and His majesty. Is there any other proper response?

“The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.” Job 28:28

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:2-5

May I fear without being afraid, boldly approaching You because of Your grace at the cross, and revere You as the only One worthy to receive glory. Lord of Lords, may I ever tremble at Your holiness, Your wide mercies, Your measureless love.

Faith Applied

In Ezra 8, the godly scribe Ezra, preparing to embark on a journey fraught with danger, tells the king that their God’s favor is with them, “[his] hand is for good on all who seek him.”

At a pivotal point in his journey, he leads his fellow exiles to stop and pray (Nehemiah 8:21-23). He knows what he has stated to the king is true, and realizes that fear, or dependence on their sponsors to provide security detail, would be proof of empty words and weak faith. He applies the truth by gathering his people to beseech their mighty God, their Shield and Guide and Protector, then applies faith’s practical wisdom by dividing the treasures among his priests as a precaution through bandit-ridden territory.

Cross in Jerusalem, Pamela Bunn

How thoroughly do I pray and act on what I know is true? Do I boldly step in the water to see it part? (Joshua 3:9-17) We do what we do because we believe what we believe. Nehemiah’s brave faith influenced all who traveled with him—imagine how their hearts anticipated God’s care, and eyes were enlightened to behold His sufficiency!

Oh God, give me understanding to know You and Your supply, the faith to seek You, a mouth to declare Your truth, and the courage to act on it.

The Blessing of Service

Daily duties left undone, more needs than were being met. Widows in the early church were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. Some of the apostles were appointed to “preaching…prayer and the ministry of the word,” (Acts 6:2,4) while others to serve. Their assignment was blessed with prayer.

In verse 8, Stephen, one of the waiters, “full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. [They] could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” His subsequent speech (Acts 7:2-53) was one of the most articulate and bold recorded in the Bible.

Menial tasks never diminish our capacity to be used by God. Jesus Himself, “the Son of Man, came not to be served but to serve.” Matthew 20:28

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Taking a towel, [he] tied it around his waist, and began to wash the disciples’ feet.” John 13:1,4,5

“Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly, give yourself to humble tasks. Never be conceited.” Romans 12:16

“How beautiful the hands that serve                                                                                               the wine and the bread, and the sons of the earth;                                                                     How beautiful the feet that bring                                                                                                   The sound of good news, and the love of the King;                                                                    How beautiful is the the body of Christ.”  – Twila Paris

Whatever You assign me today, Lord, may I be “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3) and “work heartily, as for the Lord, not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)