The Importance of Spiritual Vigilance

Last week, we started a series of posts on spiritual warfare. Following the outline Paul gives us in Ephesians, we began with “be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might” (Eph. 6:10, WEB). Knowing where we get the strength to fight a spiritual war lays the groundwork. The next point is realizing what we’re up against.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:11-12, WEB)

No wonder we need to be strong in the Lord! Those are adversaries we can’t even see, much less fight on our own. Thankfully, God doesn’t expect us to.

The Importance of Spiritual Vigilance | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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The Battle Is Won

When Jesus came to this earth as a human, lived a sinless life, then died for our sins, He assured Satan’s defeat. It’s such a sure thing that scripture talks of Satan (whose name means “adversary”) as having already been defeated even though he still has a little while to keep influencing people here on earth (Rev. 12:12).

having stripped the principalities and the powers, [Jesus] made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Col. 2:15, WEB)

Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus told His followers that the “Prince of this world” was about to be cast out (John 12:31). Other verses speak of Christ having “led captivity captive” (Eph. 4:8; Ps. 68:18) and of binding Satan to destroy his kingdom (Luke 11:17-23). Those all point to the truth that Jesus has already sealed our Adversary’s fate.

Since then the children have shared in flesh and blood, [Jesus] also himself in the same way partook of the same, that through death he might bring to nothing him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver all of them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Heb. 2:14-15, WEB)

Jesus has brought the devil to nothing. The Adversary can seem pretty scary at times, but ultimately, he can’t win. Jesus made certain that God wins this fight. So really all we need to do if we want personal victory is to stay on the winning side.

But The Threat Is Out There

All this isn’t to say we shouldn’t have a healthy level of caution. Just because Satan’s defeat is assured doesn’t mean he can’t still affect us. He’s a very real threat and underestimating him can leave us in a vulnerable position. The Adversary is a roaring lion, not a declawed house cat. Read more

What Does It Mean To Be Strong In The Lord?

Ephesians 6 is the most famous passage talking about spiritual warfare. And because I’ve been rolling the idea of doing a study series on the armor of God/spiritual warfare around in my mind for some time now, it makes sense to start there. So let’s jump right in.

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. (Eph 6:10, KJV)

Before we can start getting ready to fight a spiritual battle, we must recognize where the strength to do such a thing comes from. On our own, we couldn’t fight spiritual adversaries. We need to “be strong in the Lord” to do that. But what does being strong in Him really mean?

Becoming Empowered

The word translated “be strong” is endunamoo (G1743). It comes from a combination of the word en (G1722), which is a preposition meaning in, by, or with, and dunamoo, which is a form of dunamis (1411). Dunamis means “inherent power,” such as Jesus used to perform miracles (Luke 8:46). So this word in Ephesians means to be filled with inherent, active, achieving power. And because we’re strong “in the Lord,” it’s the same kind of power He has.

I can do all things through Christ, Who empowers me. (Phil. 4:13, HBOO)

We, who have no hope of standing up against a spiritual onslaught on our own, can do “all things,” including spiritual warfare, when Jesus empowers us. That means the One who can cast out devils with a word and who saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:17) isn’t just fighting on our behalf. He’s sharing His power with us so we can fight alongside Him.

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Finding Your Gifts

Do you know what your gifts are?

Sometimes when I ask people this, their first response is to ask “What gifts?” or to stall and say something flippant like “I can fry an egg.” I think that’s one of the most heart-wrenching things I hear on a fairly regular basis. So many of us believe that there really isn’t anything unique about us, that there’s nothing special we can offer the world, that we don’t have an aptitude for something useful or interesting. We think we’re boring, normal, or mundane, and even if we do recognize some good qualities in ourselves, we think they are too small to do any good. Gifts? me? I don’t think so.

But everyone really does have gifts. Some of this is part of our personalities, and if you’re a Christian you probably believe in Spiritual gifts as well. I guarantee that there’s at least one thing (and probably several) gifts that you have. Even if you can’t see it yet there really is something that you are ridiculously good at, or a core part of yourself that offers something good to you and the world, or a talent just waiting to be used.

Hidden Gifts

Finding Your Gifts | marissabaker.wordpress.comI recently read an article titled How Your Greatest Insecurities Reveal Your Deepest Gifts by Ken Page (a psychotherapist, lecturer, and author who studies intimacy). He argues that the core parts of ourselves that we try to hide because we think we’re “too much” or “too little” are where our gifts dwell.

Over the years, I realized that the characteristics of my clients which I found most inspiring, most essentially them, were the ones which frequently caused them the most suffering.

Some clients would complain of feeling like they were “too much”; too intense, too angry, or too demanding. From my therapist’s chair, I would see a passion so powerful that it frightened people away.

Other clients said they felt that they felt like they were “not enough”; too weak, too quiet, too ineffective. I would find a quality of humility and grace in them which would not let them assert themselves as others did.

In his definition, your gifts are essential qualities that make you who you are. Most of us distance ourselves from our gifts and create “safe” versions of ourselves that don’t show the world who we really are. Ken Page’s focus is on expression our core gifts in intimate relationships, but if we discover who we are and what we have to offer it will impact other aspects of our lives as well.

His tips for discovering your core gifts are to look at the things that cause you the most joy, as well as the things that cause you the most pain. You will be most moved and inspired by positive experiences related to your core gift, and most hurt by negative experiences that touch on those sensitivities. For example, if one of your core gifts is honesty you will be drawn to other people who are honest and hurt deeply when someone you’re close to violates your trust. Here’s a link to one of Page’s more in-depth articles exploring this topic.

Personal Strengths

We spend quite a bit of time on this blog talking about personality types. Since I’m an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs scale, I’ll use my personality type as an example yet again. We can’t all be equally good at everything, and different personality types have different strengths. Some gifts that would be consistent with an INFJ personality type are a talent for reading other people, easily practicing empathy, and generating an inspiring vision for the future. On the other hand, most INFJs will not have a strong gift for impersonal evaluation of pros and cons in a situation, or for interacting with huge groups of people. For those tasks, you’ll need to track down a thinking type with a gift of logic or an extrovert with a gift for interacting with people.

Learning the strengths and weaknesses of your individual type is a good way to start tracking down your own unique gifts. The profiles on 16 Personality Types have a list of typical strengths and weaknesses associated with each type, and there’s also a free test you can take if you don’t know your type yet.

Often, the strengths of our personality types come to us so easily that we don’t think of them as a gift. It’s so easy for INFJs to pick up on other peoples emotions that it can seem like a slightly annoying thing we do automatically, rather than a unique gift we can use to relate to other people. ETSJs take charge of situations almost without thinking about it, and might not list leadership as a gift because it seems so normal to them.

Spiritual Gifts

God doesn’t make useless people. You are a child of God, and no matter how weak and helpless and even useless you feel God can work with you and make you strong (2 Cor. 12:10). If God is calling you and working with you through His Holy Spirit, then you’ve also been given one or more spiritual gifts. Paul tells us that “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Cor. 12:7) and trust me, you’re not the exception to that rule.Finding Your Gifts | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Finding out what your particular spiritual gift is can be quite a challenge. Live Your Calling: A Practical Guide to Finding and Fulfilling Your Mission in Life by Kevin Brennfleck and Kay Marie Brennfleck has a chapter devoted to a spiritual gifts questionnaire. It’s more of a guideline than a definitive answer, though. When I took the evaluation, it told me I had and potentially used somewhere between 2 and 8 spiritual gifts. Didn’t really narrow it down much.

Other tests, like Spiritual Gifts Test, can also give you an idea of what your spiritual gift might be. It ranks your top three gifts, and gives a description of each. Ultimately, though, I think to discover what your spiritual gift really is requires prayer and action. Thinking about your spiritual gifts only gets you so far — you have to start using them and serving and seeing if you have a gift for that particular way of serving.

Learning about your particular gifts can give you more confidence in yourself, improve your relationships, and give you an idea of how you can serve others more effectively. I’m still discovering my gifts, but they’re already bearing fruit, including this blog. I wish you a similarly exciting journey!

Redefining Meekness

Redefining Meekness marissabaker.wordpress.comThere are several words the Bible uses to describe Godly character that have a bad reputation in today’s society. Take “meekness” for example. If you ask Google for a definition, the first result says “quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on; submissive.” An even shorter way to put this would be “doormat.” If asked, the typical person today would probably agree with Mordred (from the musical Camelot) that “it’s not the earth the meek inherit, it’s the dirt.”

When Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” was He really talking about the same trait we just defined? Though we do see from scripture that gentleness and submission are admirable qualities, what we do not see is the “easily imposed upon” weakness that our modern definitions for meekness carry.

Greek for Meek

The Greek word translated “meek” in the Beatitudes is from a word family that includes praos (G4235), praotes (G4236), praus (G4239), prautes (G4240). In the discussion of G4240, Zodhiates says the words refer to “an inwrought grace of the soul, and the expressions of it are primarily toward God.” Furthermore, he writes,

Prautes, according to Aristotle, is the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason (orgilotes), and not getting angry at all (aorgesia). Therefore, prautes is getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reasons. Prautes is not readily expressed in Eng. (since the term “meekness” suggests weakness), but it is a condition of the mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness, not in weakness, but in power.

Wow. That’s not at all like the English-language idea of meekness. This is strength of character that balances our emotions and helps establish our relationship with God. In the discussion of number 4236, Zodhiates adds,

It is the acceptance of God’s dealings with us considering them as good in that they enhance the closeness of our relationship to Him. … It is not the result of weakness, and in the third Beatitude it expresses not the passivity of the second Beatitude, but the activity of the blessedness that exists in one’s heart from being actively angry at evil.

Active Meekness

"Redefining Meekness" marissabaker.wordpress.comPrior to reading these definitions, my idea of meekness did not include gentleness demonstrated in power or activity against evil. No wonder these words are used to describe Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:29Matt. 21:5; 2 Cor. 10:1). With such an example to follow, Paul instructs Timothy to pursue meekness (1 Tim. 6:11), women are told a “meek and quiet spirit” is valued in the eyes of God (1 Pet. 3:4), and the church is expected to relate to other people with a spirit of meekness (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:25; Tit. 3:2; 1 Pet. 3:15).

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1-3, KJV)

Meekness is a necessary attribute for God’s people, but not quite in the way the world views it. Godly meekness is a strong character attribute that we must cultivate if we are going to become like Jesus Christ (Col. 3:12). It is anger at the right time for the right reason, but expressed in a gentle way that helps others instead of tearing them down. It is aceptence of God’s work in our lives that humbly says, “Not my will, but your’s be done.”

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. (James 3:13)

Spiritual Persecution

In the sermon I referenced in last week’s post, the speaker briefly touched on a point that I wanted to make the subject of further study. Since I also needed a topic for today’s post, I decided to “kill two birds with one stone,” as the saying goes. This first section is going to summarize relevant parts of that sermon, then I’ll move on to my own thoughts on the subject.

In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul writes that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” There are no exceptions. However, as this speaker pointed out, we can all name Christians we know of who went through life without having to face the kind of persecutions mention at the end of Hebrews 11. His conclusion, from bringing in Ephesians 6:12, is that this verse includes persecutions from a spiritual source.

Not Against Flesh and Blood

The Armor of God passage in Ephesians talks about arming ourselves for our struggle against sin as if for war. It also gives us important information about who our enemies are and what must be done to overcome them.

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Eph. 6:10-13)

In his commentary on this passage, Matthew Henry describes the kind of assault we can expect from this type of enemy, who he describes as “subtle,”an enemy who uses wiles and stratagems.”

They are spiritual enemies: Spiritual wickedness in high places, or wicked spirits, as some translate it. The devil is a spirit, a wicked spirit; and our danger is the greater from our enemies because they are unseen, and assault us ere we are aware of them. The devils are wicked spirits, and they chiefly annoy the saints with, and provoke them to, spiritual wickednesses, pride, envy, malice, etc. … They assault us in the things that belong to our souls, and labour to deface the heavenly image in our hearts; and therefore we have need to be upon our guard against them. We have need of faith in our Christian warfare, because we have spiritual enemies to grapple with, as well as of faith in our Christian work, because we have spiritual strength to fetch in. Thus you see your danger.  (Eph. 6:10-18, 1. [3])

Overcoming Through Christ

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Seeing our danger is one step toward overcoming the adversary. We can’t fight something if we don’t recognize that is is putting us in peril. As in other areas of our lives, our focus should be on spiritual, not physical things. It is hard to be on guard spiritually if we are too focused on physical safety. Are we more worried about keeping our hearts, minds, and spirits safe than we are about protecting our lives? Perhaps this is one reason we are told, “do not worry about your life” (Matt. 6:25). To much focus on the physical distracts us from the importance of our spiritual future, the condition of our spiritual lives, and the danger from our spiritual enemy.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (1 Pet. 5:8-9)

We must be on constant guard, steadfast in faith, and strong in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. The line right before this warning about our adversary reminds us where our true strength come from: “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7). To win a fight against a spiritual enemy and endure spiritual persecutions, we need the aid of our Spiritual Savior. When we fully submit to God, we can say along with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).