Spiritual victory–we long for it, but these days many are struggling to find it.
A few days ago, I met with a couple weighed down with anxiety—not just over one thing but the combined weight of fear about COVID, politics, Afghanistan, the economy and the downward spiral that seems to be affecting almost everything in life right now. They came to me for counsel, encouragement and prayer. Ministry today in large part takes place against this backdrop of ambient anxiety.
Spiritual health helps us weather any storm
Afterwards, I thought back through our conversation as well as the many other conversations like it I’ve had these last eighteen months. I realized that what many people are dealing with today isn’t just the stress itself but the way it’s corroded their spiritual lives. It’s one thing to go through challenging times if your spirit is at a good place with the Lord. If your prayers are meaningful, your time in the Word is rich, your relationships with others are healthy, your church is fulfilling, and your heart is at peace—then you can weather most any storm. We can find spiritual victory during COVID’s anxiety and fear by trusting in God’s strength.
Even secular authorities recognize the importance of spiritual health in a time like this. The American Psychological Association identifies three general ways it’s especially critical during challenging times:
Spiritual health encourages people to reframe events through a hopeful lens. Positive religious reframing can help people transcend stressful times by enabling them to see a tragedy as an opportunity to grow closer to a higher power or to improve their lives.
Spiritual health fosters a sense of connectedness. Some people see religion as making them part of something larger than themselves.
Spiritual health connects us to deeper meaning through rituals. Religious rituals and rites of passage can help people acknowledge that something momentous is taking place. They help guide and sustain people through life’s most difficult transitions.
But today the opposite is often the case. For many, the very things they once counted on for spiritual support and comfort have been compromised or even taken away. Friendships, schools, jobs, churches, social functions—none are quite the same as they used to be. Even our personal prayer life—if we haven’t been especially mindful of it—may not be what it once was (Here’s an earlier post giving some practical tips on prayer during times like this).
That’s why at the very moment many of us are most in need of a strong faith, we discover that its foundations have been weakened.
Today, we’re all facing spiritual warfare
As I was thinking through all this, my devotional reading took me to Ephesians 6, and I realized how well the teaching of this chapter meets the present need. What it tells us is that the enemies we face today are real (but not always who we think they are), the battle is upon us (whether we recognize it or not), and victory depends on our willingness to wear spiritual armor (not on scientific expertise, political power or personal strength).
That’s what the passage begins with as it points to the spiritual warfare beneath whatever physical conflict we’re going through. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” Ephesians 6:12 says, “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.”
Because of the spiritual nature of the battle, the passage goes on to say, we must “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day.” (Ephesians 6:13)
“Take up the whole armor of God.” I remember that phrase from Sunday School lessons as a child. The simple pictures of Roman soldiers with their various pieces of armor, and the explanation for how each piece plays a critical role in the life of the believer. It was a simple metaphor and something even a child could visualize and appreciate.
But as I read the passage again in light of the spiritual warfare going on right now in the life of almost every believer, that childish image of a Roman soldier takes on a deeper significance. It reminds me of the seriousness of life and the eternal consequences of victory or defeat. It calls me to the basic New Testament values of faithfulness, endurance and courage. Most of all, it summons me to place my trust in the One who commands my destiny, through easy times and hard.
Put on your spiritual armor
The first piece of armor is “the belt of truth.” (Ephesians 6:14) The belt for a Roman soldier was the foundation of every other piece of armor and held everything else in its place. For us, a commitment to the truth of the gospel is the foundation for everything else—that’s why Paul later on the passage says his main task on earth is “boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:19)
The second piece of armor is “the breastplate of righteousness.” (Ephesians 6:14) The breastplate protected the vital organs of the Roman soldier, and without it he was exposed to the enemy’s weapons. For us, “righteousness” really carries two layers of meaning. In an ultimate sense, it’s the righteousness of Jesus that is imputed to us through placing our faith in his atoning death on the cross. But in another sense, “righteousness” means our own commitment and passion for holy living. If we’re weighed down with a guilty or shameful conscience, we’re setting ourselves up for defeat.
The third piece of armor is “shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” (Ephesians 6:15) For the Roman soldier, “shoes” would have been heavy-duty sandals. For modern soldiers, “boots” would be more appropriate. But whatever the particular style of footwear, the underlying principle is our readiness to go wherever the gospel takes us. In other words, are we prepared to go where God directs us to go in order to take his gospel?
The fourth piece of armor is “the shield of faith.” (Ephesians 6:16) When my mind is worried and anxious about what’s happening around me, or fearful of what may happen in the future, then the Enemy is able to gain control. But when I steadfastly hold on to God’s promises no matter what—the basic definition of biblical faith—then I’m protected against the worst the Enemy can throw at me.
The fifth piece of armor is “helmet of salvation.” (Ephesians 6:17). Just as a helmet protects the soldier’s mind, so our assurance of salvation through Christ keeps us sane and purposeful even in the most chaotic times of life.
And the sixth piece of armor is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17) To read the Bible according to the Holy Spirit’s leadership is to not only be protected in times of anxiety but also to be able go on the offensive against whatever the Enemy throws at us. Many commentators have pointed out that of all six pieces of armor, the only offensive piece mentioned is the sword.
We long for spiritual victory during these challenging times, but we’ll find it only when we put on the armor of God. In his strength, we can live with confidence and hope.