There is a scene from a television show where two rivals exchange thinly veiled insults. One of them is wearing armor and the other says to him: “Very handsome armor. Not a scratch on it.” The armored-man says, “I know. People have been swinging at me for years and they always seem to miss.” The first man replies, “You’ve chosen your opponents wisely then.”
In Ephesians, Paul calls on Christians to put on God’s metaphorical armor and weaponry, which includes pieces like the “belt of truth” and the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:13-16.) These verses teach that pursuing truth and studying Scripture are important parts of our walk with the Lord, but merely putting on God’s armor isn’t the end goal.
The point of the armor is to protect you when you “take your stand.” (Ephesians 6:11.) So even if you’re wearing some of God’s armor right now, ask yourself: what are you standing for? Armor proves its worth when you’re under fire. That’s (partly) why sitting in a safe, 21st century living room in an actual suit of armor would be ridiculous. But that visual, unfortunately, is a pretty good metaphor for where I have been at times in my walk with the Lord, and perhaps you have too.
Have you inner thoughts ever sounded anything like this:
“There’s nothing wrong with trying to be ‘happy’ in your marriage, pursuing a ‘fulfilling’ career, building up your 401(k), and raising 2.5 kids that say things like ‘Good afternoon, DeFrank residence’ and ‘more vegetables, please.’ I’ll just make sure to pursue all that in a Christian way. I’ll pray and read my Bible. Besides, it’s great how prayer helps relieve the stress of pursuing so many things at once. And those Bible verses about suffering really help when I’m feeling run down after another week of work, Netflix and ‘enrichment activities’ for the kids.”
Pursuing truth and studying Scripture are important parts of our walk with the Lord, but merely putting on God’s armor isn’t the end goal.
Sometimes, if we’re honest, we are just using godly methods to pursue worldly goals. This point was driven home when I started a Bible-based marriage study with my life group. Right off the bat, the author says:
“There are plenty of marriage books that will teach you how to get along and be happy. This is not one of those books…The problem with those books is that they can make you feel like having a happy family is the goal of Christianity. They can make primary things like God’s glory and His mission sound secondary.”
Uh-oh. Guilty. I have done several Bible-based marriage studies solely to further my own goal of deeper intimacy with my wife, even though focusing on pleasing my spouse is a distraction from God’s goals. (1 Corinthians 7:32-35.)
Or consider prayer. Look back on when you have prayed for things like peace or courage. Why have you asked for those things? Courage should enable us to do God’s work. (1 Chronicles 28:20). We should want courage because it helps us boldly share the gospel (Acts 4:8-13, 4:29; Philippians 1:14) and pursue holiness (Joshua 1:7-9). Is that why you ask for courage? We are usually good about praying for peace ahead of a stressful work meeting or courage before a piano recital. And that’s great, we should pray to God about everything in our lives, including work and recreation. (Philippians 4:6.) But it is not ok when all of our prayers for courage never look like those in Scripture. (Acts 4:29; Philippians 1:14.) It is also not ok if we never need courage to share the gospel boldly or obey God in a difficult way.
This is why it’s important for us to honestly and soberly evaluate our spiritual lives with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:5). Often our human “wisdom” is an enabler. We might evaluate our prayer life by thinking: “My prayers are usually filled with requests for peace, courage, and wisdom. Yep, I’m relying on God like I’m supposed to. Next.” But all we are doing is looking at our daily disciplines and seeing a “form of godliness” (2 Timothy 3:5), and then we stop. No digging deeper. No looking at the deepest desires of our hearts.
We should pray to God about everything in our lives, including work and recreation. But it is not ok when all of our prayers for courage never look like those in Scripture.
And it’s in that blind spot we find the audacity to walk around thinking we are fully submitted to God even though we haven’t served anyone outside our family in months or shared the gospel in years. It’s how we become satisfied with only praying or reading Scripture to get that warm fuzzy Christian feeling before we resume our pursuit of the world. It’s how we find ourselves using the right materials to build the wrong kingdom.
If you think you might struggle with this issue as I have, know that God has a way out. Scripture tells us how to diagnose this problem and what to do when we identify it. “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord. Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” (Proverbs 16:2-3) Don’t trust your own understanding to detect self-centered motives, (Prov. 16:2) but instead, spend some time with the Holy Spirit and let Him tease out the deepest desires of your heart. Then compare your desires to God’s desires and commit to the Lord everything you do (Proverbs 16:3). He will take it from there.
Here are some questions you might want to pray through with the Spirit:
God wants your heart and He’s entitled to it. (Proverbs 23:26, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.) God doesn’t just want you to do the things He does, He also wants you to want the things He wants. Do you? What do you spend the most time wanting? Are those things God wants, too?
Do you pray for things like courage? Why? Be honest. Do all of your prayers for courage seem to come before things like work presentations, athletic competitions, or awkward social situations? When was the last time you prayed for courage to share the gospel or serve God in a difficult or uncomfortable way?
Are you seeking God’s help to improve your marriage? Why? To be happy? To keep up with the Joneses?
Spend some time with the Holy Spirit and let Him tease out the deepest desires of your heart. Then compare your desires to God’s desires and commit to the Lord everything you do. He will take it from there.
When was the last time you declined an opportunity to serve God and/or others because it wasn’t the “right season” or you didn’t feel “called” to do it? Were you being honest with yourself or were you dressing up your disobedience in church lingo?
5. Sharing The Gospel
When was the last time you shared the gospel? Have you ever started to “confess” a failure to share the gospel but ended up spending most of the time talking about excuses that you felt were valid?
Why are you looking to cut back on your spending? Is it to free up resources to help others (Acts 2:45)? Or are you just trying to avoid the stress of looking at a low bank account balance at the end of the month?
Are you trying to “be more social” so that you can edify believers and reach the lost? Or are you only seeking friendships with people who make you laugh and feel good? Have you ever stopped spending time with someone because they’re not “your kind” of person or because you “want to get rid of drama in your life”? Is it possible God was placing those people in your life for their benefit rather than yours?
Scripture is not a list of life hacks to make things a little easier as you live like the rest of the world. And while healthy marriages, prayer, and reading your Bible are all great things, they should only be the means to the end. Don’t waste them by seeking them for their own sake (or, even worse, for your own sake).
A wise man once said “our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” Putting on the right armor is only the first step. Make sure you’re fighting the right battles, too.
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Image Credit: Cliff Hellis, Creative Commons