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
This verse is from the best-known passage on spiritual warfare, but Paul’s instructions are more than a “how-to” manual for battle against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Entailed in the armor God are the qualities we need to push through the spiritual fog to be present to Christ, to be at ease in Him, to be safe with Him. Those are qualities we all need.
I have many sins, and one of those is procrastination. For this week’s blog, I’d intended to write on the sovereignty of God because I think we need to think about and remember forgotten attributes of God we seldom discuss. Such knowledge bolsters our faith and changes how we look at events around us. However, I procrastinated on doing my taxes – as I do every year, and I filed an extension – as I do every year. Then, I waited until the last few days before the deadline to get my tax information to my accountant – as I do every year, and I promised myself I would not do this to myself and to my accountant next year – as I do every year. There’s a pattern of sin here that’s hard to miss.
So, in lieu of a blog on God’s sovereignty over all of creation, which I will write for next week, I want to share a quick story with an important truth embedded within it.
Recently, I dreamed about a man I knew for some years, a friend and colleague in ministry who is now deceased. (For those of you who know me well, let me clarify that it was not Billy Abraham, of whom I was granted a brief vision worshiping in the Uncreated light of the Trinity a few days after his death.) In my dream, this friend came by for dinner – burgers on the grill, which does seem like the sort of thing I’d serve a friend putting in an appearance in the material world. In the course of his visit, I asked him about heaven. “How is it? Is it wonderful?” to which he replied that it ‘is nothing like that, nothing like what we expect.’ But ‘surely he enjoys being reunited with loved ones!’ Again, his response was in the negative, that he wasn’t with anyone and was just alone in nothingness. Even as I was thinking in the dream that he must be in some sort of purgatory, I was waking and knew the origin of such an idea was evil.
There is something eerily vulnerable about being influenced by Satan in a dream, and that is exactly how I felt. When I awakened the next morning, the first thing I did was look up Ephesians 6 to remind myself how to “extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one.” St. Paul’s instructions are to “take up the shield of faith.” Faith… ah, yes, faith… The difference between belief and faith is trust. We can believe all sorts of things about Jesus Christ, and goodness knows, I think we need to know what we believe! But believing, even believing what is true, is not the same thing as trusting. So often we are guilty of trusting what we hear in the world, and we forget only our Lord is fully worthy of our trust. Instead, we believe in God, trust the knowledge of authorities, and expect Jesus to explain everything when we die. This is completely wrong-headed of us. Above all, before all, and beyond all, we are to trust our Lord more than any person or group of people, no matter how educated or authoritative, and certainly more than we trust ourselves.
When we trust in Christ, we are safe. The fiery darts of evil may – will – be aimed at us, but if we have faith, if we believe the Gospel and trust that God is willing and able to do all that He has promised, then we have no cause for fear. Our safety arises from Who Christ is, not from how strong or weak we are. Faith in Christ extinguishes the flames meant to pierce our confidence and undermine our belief.
If all of this sounds a bit odd or farfetched, consider how people decide what is true today. We live in a generation that is tragically convinced that emotion is truth, feelings are truth. That is a caricature of human personhood, as well as a witness to the yearning of the soul for something beyond the cold barrenness of rationality. However, our feelings are not generally trustworthy and can lead us to dark and destructive places. In contrast, when the soul reaches for Christ, we are lifted up and become more, freed from the tyranny of feeling and the drama of emotional extremes. In such an environment, trusting Christ to keep His promises is not a great leap of faith. His track record is far better than our own.
A couple of thoughts: first, many people interpret dreams in all sorts of ways, one of which is the belief that the brain is sorting through the events of the day and worries of life so that answers surface the next morning. I’m more inclined to think that the Spirit directs us in our dreams, and our ability to hear and to understand depends upon the devotion and purity of our heart and mind. Others see symbols in dreams, and there is no reason not to think there is some accuracy in that, though I suspect a great deal depends upon who is assigning what meaning to which symbols. As Christians, we should recognize that dreams are one of the ways in which God communicates with us. Think of how often the Scriptures refer to God speaking in a dream, for example, to St. Joseph the husband of Mary, one example among dozens. When the Holy Spirit is guiding, correcting, or warning through a dream, we can recognize the goodness, the purity, the unexpectedness of what is conveyed as coming from God.
The second thought to consider is this: the spiritual world is all around us all the time. Our minds are not conditioned to recognize spiritual realities, but not seeing spiritual beings does not make them less real. To the extent that we believe in spiritual experiences, we tend to expect them during prayer, worship, or in song, and we often confuse emotion with spiritual encounters, thus greatly limiting the work of God in the world. (Our feelings are never the measure of what God is doing and are often an account of Satan is doing.) As Jesus taught us to pray for the Kingdom to come, implying here, and as Paul taught us to pray unceasingly, which necessarily entails the constant presence of the Spirit, then we should know that there is far more to reality than we can see – here, right now, all around.
When we fail to take seriously the movements and work of evil in the world, then we give Satan free rein to do whatever he wishes, and Satan thrives in chaos, in destruction, and in death, something we see a lot of these days. Moreover, when we relegate Satan to the realm of fantasy or myth, inevitably we end up treating our God in much the same way, which is a travesty.
Be safe today! Trust Jesus, for He is more than able…
In Him –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau