This second message in a series called “Pick Your Battles” is an introduction to the war that’s going on all around us and what we need to do to be effective in our battles. It covers a rather short but powerful example of the principle of “Standing” in the specific battlegrounds of life.
(There is no audio for this sermon this week)
We are a world at war.
The most visible fighting is taking place in Syria. And it’s awful there.
Since 2011, the government of Syria, Arab rebels and even other nations, including our own, have been on the ground there fighting. Turkish invasion has been the latest conflict and our own government’s part has been controversial.
But that war, like all wars, has catastrophic results. There were about 22 million Syrians in pre-war Syria. Right now, after all this conflict, about 13 million Syrians are refugees, displaced from their homes, about half of those are children.
War is ugly, astonishingly so. But thankfully, we can’t see that from our house except on television. And even if we do care, it’s hard to find a practical way to help, other than prayer. And we can turn the TV off when it’s too hard to watch anymore.
But wait. There is a war going on here.
From 1999 to 2017, 702,000 people died from drug overdoses in the opioid crisis.
Between the ages of 10-14, suicide is the second leading cause of death. Overall, the number of suicide deaths is more than twice the murder rate.
Time would fail me to mention the statistics about depression and anxiety, and troubles of every mental sort. The breakup of so many families. Or the number of mass shootings this year alone, 21 mass shootings since January 1st.
War is ugly. And it visits us personally. In every extended or close family, circle of friends and acquaintances we’ve seen it.
Don’t feel helpless!
Understand this: There are forces that are unseen, within man and outside of man, that are powerfully working against us.
Here’s what the Apostle Paul wrote to the early and fledgling church in Ephesus.
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.
NIV Readers Version:
Finally, let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor. Then you can remain strong against the devil’s evil plans. Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world. So put on all of God’s armor. Evil days will come. But you will be able to stand up to anything. And after you have done everything you can, you will still be standing.
This clearly expresses what we need to know about the battles you face, the ones you pick or the ones that pick you.
It’s God’s power you need to seek and to depend on.
That means a relationship with God and a current, faith filled prayer life with a growing understanding of the Bible. You don’t have to be an expert to know how to pray. You turn your heart and mind to God and you just talk honestly. He sends you the power to fight and endure
Our adversaries are not really people.
There are dark forces at work in this world. We refer to them, as Jesus did, as demons, but here, principalities and powers, working in the heavens around us. Ever see something that you can’t believe is happening because it doesn’t make any logical sense that the seemingly reasonable persons involved should stop what they’re doing? Yes, there are physical addictions, mental illnesses that are physical in their nature but have you noticed that they get fanned into flame by some unseen wind? A “perfect storm” isn’t just coincidence.
The collective nature of the unsaved and ungodly population of the world has an undertow current that pulls you away from what is good, helpful and godly.Just turn on the television or surf the internet and ignore God. Just listen to the gossip or the flirting in the office. Just pay attention to the anti-God teacher or professor. You will be neutralized and wounded if you get carried away with the current of the world. And so can those you love.
So what do we do? Hide out in a closet somewhere? Especially when we’ve been dragged into a battle that we didn’t ask for?
“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.”
That sounds pretty active, not passive.
Get with God. Put on everything He has made available to you. And withstand and stand.
There’s a story from the Bible that we just have to glean from.
In this story, a man named Shammah is the central character. He is one of the inner circle of warriors that King David used as bodyguards and front line fighters. It’s a brief but important story.
2 Samuel 23.11-12
And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines had gathered together into a troop where there was a piece of ground full of lentils. So the people fled from the Philistines. But he stationed himself in the middle of the field, defended it, and killed the Philistines. So the Lord brought about a great victory.
Shammah means “astonished.” As in, I am looking at this ruin and devastation and I’m astonished at how bad this is.
Fourteen years ago Hurricane Katrina made a direct hit on the coast of Louisiana as a powerful hurricane. It brought a huge storm surge of water on top of powerful winds and torrential rains. In the aftermath I took a man from church here and joined with a coalition of churches and pastors to go and help with the cleanup. In the process we visited some of the worst hit areas of coastal Louisiana and Mississippi. Devastation. Piles of house debris. Whole neighborhoods, towns, erased. The streets were piled high with everything, houses, trees, cars, boats. We stepped out of the car we were driving and just stood there. It was a mess of such proportions that we were astonished, speechless.
That’s what Shammah was in. The Philistines, the enemies of Israel, were regrouping in this open space and it was a mess. Bodies already on the ground, soldiers and people running for their lives, hiding where they could.
The scene happened to be a farm field that had been growing lentils, small beans if you’re not familiar. It was territory, but not vital territory. That wasn’t the point. Shammah, astonished, stopped for a moment. Then something rose up in him. I have had enough of fighting, running and losing ground. So he made this determination. In God’s strength and power, not my own waning strength, I am going to fight and stand right here. So he drew out his sword and after a short meaningful prayer I imagine, he stood his ground and fought. Enemy fighter after enemy fighter fell. It drew up the courage of others who saw this and they fought alongside him. And the credit, even though it was a herculean human effort, was given where it was due. “So the Lord brought about a great victory.”
Where have you seen battles and situations that have astonished you?
What are you doing with that right now? Are you running from a situation in your past or present? Has the enemy stolen from you and from those you love?
To “Stand” is a determination to trust God and give all you have to the fight. It’s pulling out your sword and saying “no more.” I’m sick and tired of having to knuckle under the battles that have found me. Pray! Pick up the Bible and believe the words you find there. Persist! Don’t give up! Delay is not denial!