“In all circumstances, take up the shield of faith, with which you can
extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;” Ephesians 6:16 (ESV)
Week 5 already. How are you doing? I’m finding that I really enjoy moving along at my own pace. I can slow down, dig a little deeper, and wait to hear what God is really wanting me to know. I began about a week behind and I’m 2 weeks behind now! But it’s good – so, so good, that I’m taking my time to savor it all!
When Melisa asked me to be a part of the study by contributing to the intro videos, and writing a blog post I thought, “Video? Wow, I don’t know but I’ll try. And the blog part – no problem. I love to write!” And here I am setting out to write a blog post thinking that this wasn’t nearly as easy as I thought it would be. Do you know why? I have too much to say!!
Let’s talk about the shield of faith. Where do I start? No, literally how do I start? I have a dilemma. I have doubts. There are too many options, approaches to take, there are too many trains in the station. See my problem? I don’t know what to do. I could be questioning whether or not I’m taking the right approach. I might be doubting whether you will connect with what I’m saying. I’ve decided to exercise FAITH. One thing I’ve learned from biblical examples and my own life is that sometimes our faith plays a part in someone else’s story. I’m going to share one of the areas of my life that Satan has used to hold me back from active obedience. I am hopeful that you, dear sister, will gain a glimpse of what God can do when we exercise faith.
I’ve known several women who have expressed their desire to be women of faith. They want to live their lives in a way that exemplifies faith in God just as they’ve seen others live. Their stories are similar to the one Priscilla Shirer shared at the beginning of this week. But to them a deep, authentic faith seems to be elusive – out of reach. What does it take to live as a woman of faith? And then there is frustration with the answer. It seems too simple. It really does boil down to what the wise, godly woman in Priscilla’s example said: “be a woman of faith – not just a woman who talks faith.” Wow. Simple truth. Hard to understand truth.
In the video intro for this lesson I emphasized that using the shield of faith requires action. Did you see that throughout this lesson? Faith is not passive. Do you pay attention to the side notes in the lessons? They are some of my favorite spaces in any Bible study – they provide the opportunity to dig a little deeper, and flesh out the meanings of words and phrases, to impart a tidbit of information that can really clarify the main text. There’s a note on page 126 explaining that the word pestes (faith) is used over 200 times in the New Testament. Almost every single time it relates to a person’s action. This is HUGE! Faith isn’t something that we sit and wait to happen to us. It isn’t something we sit and wait to happen in us. Faith is active. Faith is moving forward, in obedience to Who God is and what He says. And the confidence for living in faith? That comes from God Himself. And it grows with every practice of faith – each time we flex our faith muscles and lift that shield! And therein lies the rub. How do you begin to lift that wonderful protective shield?
How? You give stuff up. Mostly you give up self-sufficiency, control. Ever heard someone say they don’t have enough faith to do _______, (fill in the blank)? I say rubbish! Faith is not what is lacking. It takes tremendous faith to say I cannot, will not, am not able to do x, y, or z. It’s a matter of where faith is found. When you claim to lack faith you are truly lying to yourself. (See what I did there.) You have faith – in you. You trust what you know about yourself, or what you think you know about another person or situation. You trust YOU more than you trust what God says He wants you to do. It’s a hard thing to come to grips with and sometimes people don’t even recognize that their faith is displaced. If you want to have faith in God you have to let go of the faith you have in yourself.
Acting in obedience to God (faith) is achieved in the same way you’ve come to act in obedience (faith) to yourself. You have to know Him. You know yourself, how you think, feel, and respond. And it makes sense to you or at least it’s comfortable. As you begin to know God, really know Him, your seed of faith will begin to take root, and grow because of Him. Faith isn’t about you having something. It’s about knowing Someone. Priscilla says, “Your level of faith will always be tied to your perception of God.”
Dear sister, have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross? Do you believe that because you have accepted His gift that allows you to stand clean before God Almighty that you will spend eternity in Heaven with Him? It’s easy for most of us to respond, “Yes!” Why then can’t we trust Him when we’re bombarded by the enemy’s arrows? We find it easy to trust God with our eternity but not with our today.
You’ll no doubt find these verses familiar. I’m sharing them with you because the Holy Spirit used them to show me truth about who I am in relation with God and what he purposes for my life.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:28-29 (ESV – emphasis mine)
These verses teach me that everything that touches my life is for good – everything. It might not seem good. It might not feel good. But it is good because I am called for a purpose. God has a purpose for my life. He chose (predestined) me to be conformed to the image of his Son. God’s primary purpose for my life is to make me like his Son, Jesus Christ. This means that in every situation, including those where I doubt, or have fear, there’s an opportunity for me to become like Jesus. All things work together to make me like Christ – this is good. But this is only true if I’m willing to change. It requires active, intentional effort on my part.
Priscilla used the account of Jesus telling Simon to go back out onto the lake and cast his fishing nets one more time. It’s found in Luke 5:1-11. This really resonated with me. As a child, I had heard this account many times. I’m sure I’ve read it many more times as an adult. But this time – wow! Simon had been up all night fishing. He had worked hard and been unsuccessful. Simon had already cleaned up the mess of his work – he was done. In the morning as Simon finished up these chores, Jesus came to him and originally wanted to set out in the boat just a little off shore so that He could teach the crowds. It was already a bit of a sacrifice for tired Simon to accompany Jesus and move his boat off shore. Then Jesus asked him to go further from shore (i.e. away from breakfast, comfort, etc.) and put himself through what seemed to be an exercise in futility. We get the sense that he was discouraged because when Jesus got in the boat and told him to go out and try again, Simon protested. He basically told Jesus, “Been there, done that. BUT because you say so, I will do it, again.” Do you see it? Simon didn’t determine to act on faith because he believed that this time there would actually be fish. He acted in obedient faith because Jesus instructed him to do so. Simon was an experienced fisherman he knew when to call it a day! Instead of trusting his experience, skill, and feelings he trusted Jesus.
It’s easy isn’t it? When faced with doubt or fear we fall back on what we know instead of the truth of God’s Word. The sad truth is that when we rely on ourselves we just get more of what we already had – doubt, fear, disappointment, and maybe the added feelings of frustration or guilt because what we tried didn’t work, again. But the cycle can be broken because as we learn to know Who God is, and who He says we are in relation to Him, we learn to trust His Word just as Simon did. Even as we’re learning about Him we can begin to exercise our faith muscle and lift that shield that protects us by not only deflecting the arrows but extinguishing them.
I consider myself to be a friendly person. I’m happy to chat with you, pray with you, encourage you with God’s Word, and help you in tangible ways. It’s fairly easy for me to be someone’s friend. It’s not so easy to be mine. Over the years I’ve planted some hedges around my heart. They’re not usually thorny, perhaps even decorative, but you don’t generally make it past the garden gate. I’ve been happy to stand at the gate and tell you about what’s been happening inside that’s lovely, and maybe a little about disappointment over small things – just to keep it real. But I’d certainly not invite you inside to see the weeds, or abandoned flower beds. There was a time when I had lived just inside a cute little picket fence where people could see what was happening in my life and I freely invited people to visit me there. But there were visitors that trampled through, plucked the weeds and then took them to show others. I was hurt. These visitors could have helped me sort through my garden and teach me to identify the weeds so they could be removed. They could have also shown me the good plants and given me encouragement to help them grow. I was hurt. So I built a hedge. My relationships consisted of pleasantries, and civilities, but not much depth. I didn’t care to do the work of confessing my sins to another sister in Christ so that I could be prayed for and find healing in God. (James 5:16) I had tried that and it hadn’t worked out so well for me.
Jesus asked me to put my boat offshore. He placed me in a small group of women that met together weekly and sought to know Him through His Word. And my heart began to soften but there was still fear. James 5:16 kept resurfacing and each time it did I knew God was telling me to cut down my hedges and open my gate. So I hesitantly, and cautiously began to lower the hedge so others could peek in but I wasn’t ready to open the gate. Even that small guarded step of taking God at His Word began to strengthen my faith. I was learning that I could do what God asked of me and leave the result to Him. I was learning that if my obedience didn’t provide the result I had anticipated it was because God had a different and better result planned for me. But I was still fearful about letting others inside and letting them know me. I was not fully enjoying the blessing of fellowship that God intended for me and for others.
Just like Simon, Jesus told me to take my boat out into the deep and let down my nets. God moved us from the only church home I had ever known to a place that was unknown. Talk about deep waters. And not only was I now in deep waters He told me to cast out my nets! I was in a whole new garden! My hedges had to come down – back to picket fences for me. And that gate? When you’re new, people want to know your story. And the arrows flew! I wasn’t sure how letting strange people in to see the weeds and abandoned flower beds was going to help but I knew that God was telling me to let them in. Would I open the gate? I did – hesitantly, at first. I knew that I needed to be obedient and trust God for the results. If people didn’t respond the way I had hoped, I knew that God had a purpose and He would take care of it. And I found God to be faith-full. My new garden visitors loved me and encouraged me. Praise God for His faith-fullness! And then God placed our family in very uncertain waters. The really fiery arrows flew. I had fear and felt failure but I took hold of my shield and moved forward in faith. I trusted God’s truth that I needed other people to help me shoulder my burden. I ran to my friends, threw open my gate, poured out my doubts, misgivings, and fears. And do you know what they did? They threw their shields up next to mine and fed me the truth of God’s Word! They shared the stories of God’s faithfulness in their lives. They threw their shields up next to mine and prayed with me and over me. And during one of the most difficult times of my life I had peace. The arrows continued to fly and the difficulty didn’t disappear but I could move forward living, loving, and serving, because I knew God and He had promised that I could do what was right even in a difficult season. I knew God had a purpose in the trial. I knew that God’s purpose to make me like Christ could be accomplished as I responded in faith.
But there’s more! Have you ever noticed the biblical examples of friends who stepped into the lives of others to correct them? In the Old and New Testaments we find accounts of people who reminded their friends of God’s truth, and God’s character. Others taught friends what was lacking in their understanding of Who God is and what He has accomplished. The next step for me was inviting my friends inside the gate to inspect for weeds, point them out, and encourage me to pull them up! Kinda’ scary asking someone to watch you for weaknesses and then tell you what they find. But I’ve learned to exercise my faith muscle in this area because God has proven Himself faith-full.
That’s the beauty of exercising faith – obedient action. It grows stronger as you come to know the One who fills your faith. Knowing Him helps you know what He intends to do for you. The following paragraph from our lesson is highlighted in multiple colors in my book: “As you proactively remind yourself of how faithful and reliable your God truly is, you’ll become more willing – even excited – about actually relying on Him. Your shield of faith works because it is directly connected to the faithfulness of your God.” YES, YES, and YES!
So, how about you? I would ask if there is an area of your life that you’ve identified as weak and vulnerable to Satan’s attacks but I’m fairly confident that I know the answer. We all have an area or five that Satan targets keeping us distracted from the victorious life that has already been won for us.
Each piece of our armor works with the other pieces. The belt of God’s truth, the protection of practical righteousness, and the assurance (peace) of my relationship with God because of the gospel, all establish a foundation for absolute certainty in the source of my strength. They provide the confidence I find in God to act in faithful obedience no matter what I face!
“Hearing God and knowing His truth matters.” ~P. Shirer
Blessed to walk beside you,
“May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” Jude 2
Since you can’t see my marked up study book I thought I’d give you a peek at some of the scribbles in my margins. May God use them to encourage you as they’ve encouraged me. (All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.” Psalm 91:14
“as it is written, ‘I have made you [Abraham] the father of many nations’ – in the presence of God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told. ‘So shall your offspring be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” Romans 4:17-22
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,
for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23
“Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” C. S. Lewis
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
“For as the body apart from the spirit is dead,
so also faith apart from works is dead.” James 2:26
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the LORD and turn away from evil. Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones.” Proverbs 3:5-8 (New Living Translation)
“I do not come into each day protected [from sin] by the gospel… I am vulnerable to defeat and injury unless I seize upon the gospel and arm myself with it from head to toe.” Milton Vincent
“Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” Psalm 143:8
“Remind yourself that He [God] has carried the weight of a covenant with His people across generations. His loyalty, integrity, and faithfulness are unmatched.” Priscilla Shirer
“O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name,
for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” Isaiah 25:1