Read: Ephesians 5:1 – 6:24
And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:15 – 20
I don’t mean to sound sacrilegious when I write this, but sometimes when I go through tough times, it’s hard to feel thankful to God in the moment. I can get so caught up in what’s going on that it’s tough to see God’s hand in a situation; during those times, I know I’m being tempted to feel like God isn’t there with me in what I’m going through. Right now, as I’m typing this, I’m going through one of those times. Someone who I love dearly is facing something I wish he weren’t. I feel sad; not just “down and out sad”, but so sad that I can feel my heart hurting. My whole family is sad; many of the people I love most in the world are sad because of what’s happening. Everyone involved is a follower of Jesus, and we all love Him, but it’s hard to feel thankful right now. It’s much harder to feel thankful today than it was in church a week ago before any of us knew what we’d be facing. I remember feeling elated, joyful, happy at that service worshipping the Lord. And that gets to the heart of today’s devotional – feelings.
Feelings are fickle; they are unreliable. They can and do change like the wind. In a letter to Mrs. Sonia Graham, C.S. Lewis, wrote this about feelings:
“Don’t bother much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them: when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly, ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters is your intentions and your behaviour.”
Scripture warns us about the heart (or what we feel) in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Instead of following our feelings and being led by our deceitful hearts, we can instead choose to follow the source of wisdom that is 100% reliable – the Word of God. We are told throughout scripture to not follow the whims of our hearts or of the world, but instead to set our minds on God. For example, Colossians 3:2 tells us: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” In Philippians 4:8, the Apostle Paul tells us: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” There are so many more scriptures I could quote along the same line (Ephesians 4:23, Romans 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Peter 1:13, etc).
So we know that feelings are fickle, and instead of relying on them to guide us, we are to set our minds on God and the things that are of Him, but how do we do that? Today’s reading in Ephesians 6: 10 – 18 tells us how to look past our feelings and fully rely on God, who is unchangeable and steadfast, instead of being led by feelings that can change hourly.
What does Ephesians 6:10 – 18 mean from a practical standpoint? First of all, we are to acknowledge that there is an enemy at work against us who wants more than anything for us to forget about God, be angry with God, and perhaps even lose a little of our faith in God when we face trials. We’re not fighting against our trials or against people, but rather against that enemy. We can’t win that fight on our own, but take heart – God has already won the war when Jesus died on the cross for us and God brought Him back from the grave. During the Alpha Course in the How Can I resist Evil Session, Nicky Gumble puts it like this:
The battle is not over yet. On the Cross Satan, the Devil, was defeated, demoralised. The Cross and the Resurrection are the decisive moment in history. But the Devil was not destroyed. There will come a moment when he is destroyed, when Jesus returns. If you like, it’s a bit like the difference between D Day and VE Day. D Day was the decisive moment of the Second World War, 6 June 1944. That determined the outcome of the war. There was no real doubt about the future of it, but it wasn’t over—the mopping-up operations continued until VE Day on 8 May 1945, when the war in Europe was over. And in a sense we live between D Day and VE Day.
We live at a time when Satan is a conquered foe, but he’s still around. And if your experience is anything like mine, I found that when I came to Christ there were some things I was set free from almost immediately. There are other things that I still struggle with. And it’s a process, and it won’t be complete until Jesus returns.
But one day He will return and there will be no more evil. And actually, this is the amazing grace and love of God—do you know, we’ll be better off then than they were in the Garden of Eden?
In Ephesians 6:13 – 18, Paul instructs us to prepare for this battle by putting on the armor of God, and then he details what each piece of that armor is so we know how to equip ourselves with it. In these verses, Paul provides us with practical tips for relying on God and not being led astray by the whims of our feelings and the attacks (temptations) of the enemy.
Paul’s first practical tip for defending ourselves is “Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth”. As Jesus tells us in John 14:6, He is the Truth. Paul is telling us here to stand our ground by focusing on Jesus and His teachings as our truth instead of on our circumstances, feelings, etc. Jesus tells us that we will face trials, so even in trying circumstances, we are to live as Jesus lived and instructed us to live.
Paul’s second tip is “the body armor (or breastplate) of God’s righteousness.” A definition of “righteousness” is right relationships with God and other people. So we need to get right in our relationship with God – we do this by confessing and repenting from our sins quickly. Getting right with others is also important. We must forgive others as God has forgiven us (Matthew 6:14 – 15). We must also seek forgiveness from people we’ve wronged. The Bible is pretty clear that we are meant to be walking this journey of following Christ both in our individual lives as well as with others, so we need to be in right relationships with those with whom we are sharing our journey as disciples.
Thirdly, Paul tells us “For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.” Be willing to stand up and declare ourselves as Christians; don’t just tell people but show them we follow Christ. We can best accomplish this through serving others. The Vineyard regularly has a bunch of service opportunities, so there are plenty of paces to get plugged in and serve.
Paul’s fourth tip speaks directly to the situation I find myself in right now that I alluded to earlier in this devotional – “hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.” The devil WILL attack; there are times we will feel as if nothing is going right, and the attacks are coming fast and furious. We will be tempted. And there will be times when it seems as if our prayers aren’t being answered. We need to keep our faith in God, keep trusting God, even (especially) when times seem impossible – because with God, nothing is impossible (Matthew 19:26).
The fifth tip is “Put on salvation as your helmet.” In other word’s, win the battle of the mind. That is why there are so many Bible verses that tell us to focus our mind on God and on what is right, holy, good, pure, etc. Winning the battle of the mind is critical. Synonyms for salvation including redemption and freedom – salvation is given to us through faith in Jesus. We need to keep our mind centered on Him and what is of Him as a defense.
Paul’s sixth tip is “take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” This means we need to know Scripture. Jesus gives us an excellent example of this when He was tempted by the devil in Matthew 4:11. Jesus didn’t argue with or debate Satan. Jesus didn’t focus on His hunger or thirst. He simply replied with Scripture. We too need to regularly read God’s Word, study it, and memorize passages to help us get through our own desert moments.
Finally Paul closes with “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” This is active. We are told to stay alert and be persistent in praying regularly about everything.
Prayer: Lord, thank You that You care so much for me personally that You voluntarily spilled Your blood and gave Your life on the cross to save me. Thank You that You have a place for me in heaven. Please help me to look past my feelings and my circumstances and stay focused on You. Help me to serve others in a way that allows them to see You and not me. Please bolster my faith when I’m down and help me to be encouraging to others that You put in my life when they are down. In Jesus’ name… Amen.