Posts Tagged 'spiritual warfare'

God’s Best Gifts, Part 3

God gives His people numerous gifts for a variety of reasons. God sent Jesus – His gift of love to sinful man – to catch their attention. In a world filled with condemnation, Jesus came in love to save. God also gave His people that kind exact same kind of love – a divine, unconditional love – so that they could love the Body of Christ as God does.

Another gift God gives His people is peace. God is able to make His people completely sound in mind and spirit. Instead of anxiety, frustration, and anger, God’s people can be at complete peace.

Perhaps the most under appreciated gift from God to man is the gift of His Word. The Bible is a gift from God. Through the pages the Bible, God’s heart and mind are revealed to man in such a way as make plain His thoughts, His feelings, and His will. Even the unredeemed man is able to, with the help of the Holy Spirit, grasp the elemental spiritual truths contained in the Word of God. Of the Bible, the book of Hebrews declares:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 | TNIV)

There is nothing ordinary about the Bible. Some people think that it’s a boring old book that’s largely irrelevant today. Other people consider the Bible to be a masterpiece of literature. Some very influential people have said some very profound, and sometimes some very stupid things about the Bible. For example, no less an influential person as Mahatma Gandhi once remarked:

You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.

Mark Twain was utterly confused about the Bible. On the one hand, he said this:

It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.

But then said this:

The Bible has noble poetry in it… and some good morals and a wealth of obscenity, and upwards of a thousand lies.

Richard Dawkins, who some people think is very smart, wrote something very dumb about the Bible:

To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries.

Søren Kierkegaard once wrote:

The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.

And President Ronald Reagan said this about the Scriptures:

Within the covers of the Bible are all the answers for all the problems man faces.

With so many opinions about the Bible, we should go right to the source itself. As far as the Bible is concerned, it is indispensable, and here’s why you, if you are a Christian, can’t do without it:

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17 | TNIV)

The Word of God is the “sword of the Spirit.” Let’s take a look what that means within the context of Ephesians 6.

It’s war

Verse 16 of Ephesians 6 occurs in the midst of Paul’s discussion of the spiritual warfare every Christian faces. This whole section seems oddly out of place in a letter largely devoted to peace, and yet it isn’t really. One of the great blessings of the Gospel is that it produces peace between members of the Body of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:14 – 17 | TNIV)

One of the great themes of Ephesians is the peace of Christ that resulted from His work on the Cross. And Paul spent considerable time writing about peaceful relationships between each other in the context of the family, at work, and out in the community. Being a Christian should result in a person treating others, especially other Christians, with respect, honor, and dignity.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2, 3 | TNIV)

And then suddenly, along comes these famous verses in chapter 6:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:10, 11 | TNIV)

Peace is important, but peace between members of the Body of Christ is absolutely essential indispensable; it’s a powerful witness to the world of what the presence of Christ can do between people. And there are some immensely practical steps Christians can take to encourage the growth of that peace. But at the same time we know that of all the struggles we face on earth, the greatest threat to our survival as believers takes place in the spiritual world. No matter how diligent we may be in trying to live righteous lives that result in peace in all our earthly relationships, if we ignore the spiritual battles raging all around us, we risk losing it all.

In that sense, this section may not be “oddly out of place,” after all!

The need for armor

Of all things a believer can do to live at peace with the world around him, the key is to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” The phrase “be strong” really means be to be “continually empowered” by the power of God. You need that. Just think about how hard it is to live at peace with your spouse. All kidding aside, sometimes it seems like what’s needed is supernatural power to keep you from losing your temper or whatever. That’s a simple (or funny) illustration of what Paul is getting at here. Part of what he calls “the devil’s schemes” is sowing seeds of strife and contention between spouses or between siblings or between friends. We all need God’s power so as not to let those things get out of control. You see, even though the struggle takes place in the spirit world, there are real-world consequences to what’s happening there. No human being has it within himself to face the devil alone; we all need God’s presence and God’s resources – the armor He gives us.

Just how great is God’s power? Paul touched on that subject at the beginning of this letter.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:18 – 21 | TNIV)

That’s the power Paul is writing about – the power that is available for you to do this:

you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13b | TNIV)

The struggle is real, but then so is the power of God. It is up to whatever struggle you as a believer may be facing. Shakespeare’s Hamlet felt something of that struggle. He felt that life was so bad it might better to just end it all and miss all that suffering. That was why he said this:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing, end them?

“Slings and arrows” are a good way to describe the devil’s weapons. Those “slings and arrows of outrageous (or cruel) fortune (fate)” may be able to harm you, but they can’t kill you. They’re a “scheme” of the devil’s to mess with your mind. You need the power of God to rise above those “slings and arrows.”

Parts of the armor

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14 – 17 | TNIV)

The concept of “standing firm” is so imperative for the believer that Paul wrote it in the imperative! A Christian MUST always stand firm, and in order to do that, he must wear the armor God provides him with.

Belt of truth.

The belt is important because it keeps your pants up and shirt tucked in. Truth is important, of course, but not just any truth: It must be God’s truth, or the truth of His Word. Of primary importance is for the believer to be armed with the truth of the Scriptures at all times. It’s easy to get so discouraged in our daily lives that we forget the Word and be tempted to buy into the devil’s lies. When the devil tempted our Lord in the wilderness, what did He do? He quoted the Word of God!

Breastplate of righteousness

Sharp-eyed Bible readers will recognize this piece of armor because it’s been mentioned before – long before in the book of Isaiah!

He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. (Isaiah 59:17 | TNIV)

That’s the Lord putting on His armor as He is seen preparing to fight the enemy. The Christian is to emulate their Lord by doing the same thing. When the devil beats down the believer, the temptation will be to fight him using his weapons. That won’t work with the devil; the believer needs to maintain his integrity and to remember that he is wearing the righteousness that comes from Christ. So no matter who’s hassling you or coming against you, because you are a Christian, you can’t retaliate in kind. Guard your heart with the breastplate of righteousness. One Bible scholar remarked:

Cowardice and hesitancy are by-products of the unrighteous heart, while bravery and courage flow from right thinking and acting.

“Right thinking and acting” flow from a pure heart, guarded by the breastplate of righteousness.

Gospel of peace

Believers are to literally walk in peace, that is, the peace of their salvation. Metaphorically speaking, then, it makes sense to wear shoes made out of the good news (Gospel) of peace. Again, Paul may have had in mind something the prophet Isaiah wrote long before:

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7 | TNIV)

Believers possess what everybody wants: Peace. That peace is the Gospel – the good news of the Gospel, which is the good news of Jesus Christ. Wherever the believer goes, he is a walking testimony of that good news. That’s why when everything at work is upside down or life throws you a curve ball, you remain calm, cool, and collected. You’ll feel better because you’ll be enjoying God’s peace through Jesus Christ, but you’ll also be noticed by those who are losing their minds to stress and anxiety. What a marvelous tool of evangelism: God’s peace!

Shield of faith

Christians are to “take up” this shield. This is the only time this Greek word for shield is used in the New Testament. It refers to the kind of shield a Roman soldier would carry into battle. It was large and oblong and would extinguish fiery arrows that got stuck in it. When Paul says to “take up” their shield of faith, he’s not referring to getting more faith. As a Christian, you already possess buckets full of faith. Paul is talking about using that faith – accessing it’s power to defend yourself against whatever the devil may throw at you. Your trust in God and in His Word will go a long way in keeping you alive during a spiritual battle!

Helmet of salvation

This isn’t the first church Paul wrote to about this. He wrote a similar thing to the Thessalonians:

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (1 Thessalonians 5:8 | TNIV)

“The hope of salvation as a helmet.” Is that also what Paul was referring to here? In Ephesians, Paul is not suggesting that believers obtain salvation since they obviously already possess it. But rather, the idea is for the believer to remember that he is saved; he is already seated with Christ in Heaven; he has already won the battle. In other words, we might say something like this: When the devil is attacking, keep your head! Remember whose you are!

Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God

Lastly, Christians are to wield the “sword of the Spirit.” Paul tells us what this weapon is: The Word of God. Exactly what Paul meant here is unknown. We wish he had expanded on it slightly. It may be that Paul is suggesting that at a crucial moment during a crisis, God will being back to your mind – and possibly to your mouth – an appropriate Scripture. Jesus said this would happen:

But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:19, 20 | TNIV)

The Spirit is able to do just that. When Jesus was explaining this to his disciples, He was referring to persecution because of their faith; definitely a crisis! But there are other crises in life that may arise where a believer needs counsel from the Word. The mind is an amazing thing. It remembers everything yet recalls nothing sometimes. With the help of the Spirit, Bible verses and stories can be brought back to remembrance, thereby comforting or empowering the believer or even somebody else.

This amazing Word of God is truly a gift. It’s literally the gift that keeps on giving, making it possible for every child of God to live victoriously over the the devil and all the circumstances of life.

 

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Ephesians, Part 6

 

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Some people have the wrong idea of Christians. To some, we’re all hippy-like pacifists, who’d rather sit around a campfire singing “Michael Rode the Boat Ashore” than engage in ambitious, meaning activities. But people who think that way are completely out of step with Biblical teachings about God’s people. For starters, Jesus was no supine hippy. Here was the Man who got so angry with some folks in the Temple that He actually kicked over their tables and chairs and made a shambles of money-changing business. He is known to have said things like this –

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ” ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…’” (Matthew 10:34, 35 TNIV)

Paul could hardly be called a Mr Milquetoast. He had more in common with Indiana Jones than with Mother Theresa. Here was an adventurer who was shipwrecked three times, traveled all over the known world, founding and establishing churches, challenging the political leaders and established religions of his day.

There is no teaching in the New Testament that Jesus’ disciples are to sit around and be walked all over by other people or that they should just let things happen without any regard for shaping their own destinies. One of the key teachings of the New Testament runs completely contrary to the notion of the stoner hippy Christian stereotype –

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10 TNIV)

Take a stand

Another mistake some Christians make is to assume that salvation in Christ brings an end to all strife and problems in life. Experience teaches us that certainly isn’t the truth, but even Jesus remarked that being His disciple would never be an easy life. Quite the contrary, Jesus taught that following Him would bring difficulty and suffering into one’s life. One time, Jesus likened the Christian life to a king preparing for battle!

And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:27, 31 – 33 TNIV)

It’s important for Christians to understand that all around them a battle is raging – a spiritual battle. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, Satan considers you to be an enemy, armed and dangerous. Satan will treat you as the enemy – HIS enemy. And Satan doesn’t fight fairly. He is a spiritual terrorist. He will always hit you when you are down and attack you when you least expect it. In order to win this spiritual battle, Christians need to be powerful; we need to make ourselves powerful and let God make us powerful.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:10 – 11 TNIV)

Because Christians are both physical and spiritual in nature, the nature of our conflicts as we live our lives is both physical and spiritual. Human ingenuity and strength will get us only so far but prove wholly inadequate against the dark spiritual forces that constantly bombard us. As God’s people, we need His divine resources operating in our lives if we are to gain the upper hand in this spiritual struggle.

The Greek word for “strong,” endunamousthe, is in what we call the present passive, which suggests two things. First, that believers are to continue to be strengthened by the Lord, and second, that the source of this strength is not in themselves but rests outside – it comes from Christ as we are in union with Him. In other words, as we live in union with Jesus Christ, His resources are our resources; His strength is our strength; His wisdom is our wisdom; His courage is ours. We need these things all the time because Satan doesn’t rest in his attacks against us, hence the notion that we are to “continue” to be strengthened by the Lord.

In verse eleven, Paul sounds more like a commanding officer than a preacher! The verb for “put on” is an aorist imperative, so it should receive the strongest emphasis possible: Put it on! God’s armor is equated with mighty power; once we are have it on, we are powerful.

Paul wrote this letter from a Roman prison and he had seen his share of Roman soldiers. The images of their dress, their weaponry, and their dress formation had been seared into his mind, so in this admonition he takes for his illustration the Roman soldier, decked out and ready to do battle. Our “whole armor” is really one word in Greek: panoply, or a complete suit of armor. Because our spiritual warfare is so serious and dangerous, nothing less than the “panoply of God” will be enough. No Christian has the inherent defense needed to stand against Satan’s power apart from the strength he gains in Christ.

When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me. (Psalm 138:3 TNIV)

That’s David writing about his experiences and God was his chief weapon. Our Lord, during His earthly ministry, faced difficult time and Satanic attacks, and what did He do?

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him… (Hebrews 5:7 – 9 TNIV)

Christ’s strength wasn’t in His human nature, but in His relationship with His heavenly Father. Never overlook these things. Victory over the wily attacks of the devil is guaranteed but only if we do what Paul advised in the spirit of David and Jesus: humble submission through prayer and obedience.

The enemy of every believer

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:12, 13 TNIV)

The enemy to be defeated in the Devil and his entire demonic army. We can never trust our own unaided strength – we need what the Lord offers. As only Paul could, he parades the army of Satan past our eyes. Christian warfare is never against human forces, but against spiritual ones. Regardless of appearances, our fight is always a spiritual one. And we can’t loose that battle; equipped with God’s armor, we will always win.

As we read what Paul wrote here and elsewhere, it becomes clear that he not only believed in a personal Satan, but also that Satan has an organized power structure at his disposal.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4 TNIV)

Satan is the “god of this age.” This present world-order as it exists today is in open rebellion against God and only in Christ can believers win the victory of them and be released from their hold. This was something other followers of Jesus understood –

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (1 John 5:19 TNIV)

The “day of evil” is today; it’s this present age –

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15, 16 TNIV)

The age is an evil one because of evil forces that have been vanquished by Christ, yet are still able to exercise control and influence over parts of the world that have not laid hole of the fruits of Christ’s victory.

for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:4, 5 TNIV)

Christ has won the victory and all those who put their complete faith and confidence in Him may win the victory too. Still, so determined is Satan, the god of this age, to oppose the believer that the believer has no choice but to don the complete armor of God in order to participate in our Lord’s victory.

Victory is assured

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14 – 17 TNIV)

The various pieces of defensive armor are described in Galatians as “the fruit of the Spirit.”

But here in Ephesians, these graces look like this:

The belt of truth. The Roman soldier’s belt tied his free flowing tunic close to his body so that he could move quickly and smoothly. The belt also allowed him to carry his sword, easily accessible and ready to use. “Truth” as it is used here is not objective as we might think, but rather subjective. It refers to the believer’s knowledge of and belief in the revealed Word of God. The Christian soldier appropriates the Word through faith. The Word of God gives the believer wisdom and understanding, but it also becomes his motivation for living. Here’s Paul’s point: Our reason, traditions, education, and philosophical bent may not hold up in the heat of battle, but God’s Word, believed in and lived by faith, will.

The breastplate of righteousness. Paul may have had in mind the words of the prophet Isaiah when he wrote to the Ephesians –

He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. (Isaiah 59:17. TNIV)

Our “breastplate of righteousness” refers to an upright life; a life of holiness and purity that a relationship with God creates. William Barclay’s thoughts are important:

When a man is clothed in righteousness, he is impregnable. Words are no defense against accusations, but a good life is.

Who would have thought that a “good life” could be a weapon against evil? Paul did!

Shoes of the Gospel. In ancient times, soldiers wore specially designed and fitted sandals which protectEd the feet and gave him a sure step regardless of the terrain. The soldier of Christ be similarly protected. Hodge thought Paul meant something like this:

As the Gospel secures our peace with God, and gives the assurance of His favor, it produces the joyful alacrity of mind which is essential in the spiritual conflict.

Peace with God goes a long way in giving the believer confidence in appropriating the power of God within him as he does battle.

The shield of faith. The shield Paul had in mind was not the small round one you see in the all sword and sandals movies, but the large oblong or oval-looking one which the Roman soldier would carry when the severity of the battle warranted it. It was carved out of wood and was covered with leather so that if the fiery arrows of the enemy should strike it, the fire would be snuffed out. This “shield of faith” carried by the believer has been thought of as his “saving faith” – the faith which procures God’s forgiveness and provides the power to live a new life. But another view sees the “shield of faith” as a complete dependence on the Lord – the faith that trusts in the Lord’s help and deliverance.

The helmet of salvation. This helmet was fitted to the soldier’s head to protect that vital part of his body. The Christian need never fear losing his salvation when he’s wearing the “helmet of salvation.” In fact, going a little further, this salvation is the guarantee of victory in battle. Our salvation carries with it a past, present, and future aspects. We were saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. No doubt.

The sword of the Spirit. This refers to the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, an association that is clear in Scripture. The other pieces of armor are largely defensive, but this one is offensive. John Wesley:

We are to attack Satan, as well as secure ourselves; the shield in one hand, and the sword in the other. Whoever fights with the powers of Hell will need both.

The writer to the Hebrews spells out the effectiveness of the Word of God in combat –

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12. TNIV)

If we Christians would take the time to clothe themselves completely in God’s armor, we’d never lose. The problem is, most Christians want to do battle by go off half cocked. And they wonder why they stumble and fumble in battle. If we do it right, we’ll always come out on top.

Fear Not, 9

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Daniel 10:12

Daniel was a man blessed by God. He was statesman, saint, and prophet. And in some ways he was a strange man. At least by some standards. By the time chapter 10 of the book that bears his name rolls around, Daniel is pushing 90. Fifty may be the new 30, but 90 is old by anybody’s reckoning. In all, over seven decades has passed since his deportation from the land of Judah. Two years had gone by since Cyrus had decreed freedom for the Jews who had been living in Babylon, now Persia. Many of them had left the Empire to return to the ruins of Jerusalem to begin the arduous work of rebuilding the city of David. Many chose to remain in Persia, and among those who stayed behind was Daniel.

Four years before chapter 10, Daniel had his now-famous vision of “the Seventy Weeks.” Here, he has another vision during a prayer vigil. We’re not sure what prompted Daniel’s season of prayer or what he was praying for. It may well be, as some scholars have speculated, Daniel was praying for the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem. It was a struggle for them to rebuild the city. Dangerous, too. It makes sense that Daniel would take the time to intercede on their behalf.

Let’s take a look at what happened when Daniel prayed.

Daniel’s prayer vigil, 10:1-3

At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over. (Daniel 10:2-3 NIV84)

Whatever it was that weighed down the prophet’s heart, it was serious enough that he not only prayed but fasted too. Not only that, he didn’t bathe for three weeks, either. At that point, his neighbors probably went to prayer, too.

Stop and think about Daniel’s situation. He’s an old man and it’s almost certain he had retired from his career as a statesman/diplomat/politician. Most people, when they retire, want to lead a life of ease. They want to travel and do all the things they couldn’t do when they were raising a family and working all the time. Daniel may have retired from public service, but he hadn’t retired from his faith.

And neither should we. Just because you get old and retire, if you’re lucky enough to be able to do that in today’s economy, that doesn’t mean you stop being active for the kingdom of God! It’s admittedly hard to spend time in prayer when you’re working all day and raising a family. So how fortunate is a person who isn’t punching a time clock and who’s kids are grown and out of the house? All that free time to devote to spiritual pursuits! At least, that’s how it should be.

We old timers tend to accuse the younger generation of being selfish and self-centered, but maybe we should stop and look at ourselves and the time we have left. Have we become so preoccupied with living what we *think* is the good life that we’ve factored God out of it? How many weekends, for example, do you plan on some activity or other that causes you to miss church?  Good question.

No, church doesn’t save a soul, but it is the visible Body of Christ and you, whether you like it or not, are accountable to it. What many Christians lack is not a confession of Christ, but a commitment to His Body.

Fortunately for Daniel, he was committed and disciplined.

Appearance of the Glorious Man, 10:4-11

When we read these verses, we are reminded of what John saw in his vision while in exile on Patmos (Revelation 1:10-20). The descriptions of the Person both men saw are so similar, who can doubt they saw the same Man? He didn’t identify himself to Daniel, but He did to John:

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18 NIV84)

On April 24, 534 BC by our calendar, Daniel was privileged enough to have been given a vision of the pre-incarnate, transfigured Christ before either Moses or Elijah saw him. Daniel needed to see the glorified Christ to encourage him.

I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. (Daniel 10:5-6 NIV84)

In the past, Daniel had seen wild, crazy animals, spirit beings, huge statues, and long weeks in his dreams and visions. Now he sees a man. But not just any man. Daniel sees THE Man: the glorious Son of God.

Christians are so blessed – blessed beyond Daniel, in fact. Daniel had a once-in-a-lifetime vision of Christ. For us, we have His constant presence in our lives through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet we take Him for granted to the point where we don’t even notice that He is right there with us, all the time. We’ve become so lackadaisical when it comes to the Divine Presence in us. How sad for us.

Here’s how Daniel reacted to the vision:

So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. (Daniel 10:8 NIV84)

His servants didn’t see a thing but were terrified, nonetheless. The presence of God can do that sometimes. There are limits to what a human being can bear when it comes to a spiritual encounter, and apparently Daniel hit that threshold. He was completely overwhelmed.

That’s when our Lord spoke these reassuring words to the prophet:

Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.” (Daniel 10:12 NIV84)

This “do not be afraid” is for anybody who has ever prayed for the needs of others. We’ve all done that. And we’ve all had the excruciating experience of waiting for that need to be met. The need could have been anything: healing, deliverance, or financial. We pray. And we wait. And wait. And we wonder. What the Glorious Man told Daniel should serve as a great encouragement to we who wait.

Your prayer is heard immediately

Yes, in spite of what it feels like, the very moment you pray, that prayer is heard in Heaven. There is absolutely no lag time, even if the answer to your prayer seems delayed.

Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding…your words were heard… (Daniel 10:12 NIV84)

“The first day.” That’s important to note. According to the Daniel’s own words, he had been praying and fasting for three weeks. Three weeks is a long to for a person to keep on praying for something and, as in Daniel’s case, fasting. Obviously Daniel had no idea his prayer had been heard on “the first day,” for if he had he would surely have stopped praying and eaten a sandwich.

Does that mean our prayers are heard on “the first day” we pray them? Verse 12 gives what may be considered a condition:

…humble yourself before your God… (Daniel 10:12b NIV84)

It’s safe to say that a prayer offered in a humble spirit is heard when it is prayed. There’s not a lot of humility in the Church of Jesus Christ today! Listen to how some Christians pray. It sounds like they’re ordering God around sometimes!

Humility isn’t just a suggestion, it’s a requirement!

He has showed you, O man, what is good.And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NIV84)

Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (James 4:10 NIV84)

Daniel must have been a humble man, therefore his prayer was heard immediately. You should be too, if you want your prayers heard the moment you pray them.

Something else about Daniel’s character overflowed into his prayer. Notice:

…you set your mind to gain understanding… (Daniel 10:12b NIV84)

Daniel’s mind was fully engaged while he was praying

He wasn’t daydreaming. He wasn’t vainly repeating some time-worn liturgical prayer somebody else prayed generations ago. He didn’t babble before The Lord. Daniel used his reasoning mind as he prayed. Whatever it was he was praying for, he was thinking about the need; he was trying to understand the need even as he was praying about it.

Delays in answered prayer are not always God’s fault

Depending on your denominational persuasion, that statement may have caused your head to explode, so hang on while it’s explained.

Sometimes, answers to your prayers are delayed because you’re not ready for the answer. You may have an earnest desire as you ask God for such-and-such a thing, but God knows you aren’t ready or fit for the answer. God may require you to wait for some reason; perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned. Maybe your faith needs to be stretched a little so it will grow and be stronger. This is not a denial of your prayer, just a delay.

In Daniel’s vision, the delay was a bit more nefarious:

But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. (Daniel 10:13 (NIV84)

The answer to Daniel’s prayer was sent immediately, but it was delayed – it was blocked. The angel of the Lord was prevented from delivering the message Daniel had been praying for. Now, this is an amazing verse, and we learn a little about what “spiritual warfare” is all about. It also throws some light on what Paul wrote to his Ephesian friends:

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:11-12 NIV84)

That word Paul used, “struggle,” is a key element in Paul’s theology of “spiritual warfare.” He wrote a similar thing to the Romans:

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. (Romans 15:30 NIV84)

Here Paul used the word “struggle” again to describe how he was praying. The KJV uses the phrase “strive together,” and that gives a slightly different flavor, but essentially puts across the same idea of the Greek word sunagonizom, from which we our English word, “agonize.” This idea of “agonizing in prayer” leads to the obvious question: Do you? When was the last time you “agonized in prayer?” This shouldn’t be confused with the notion of begging God for something. That’s not agonizing, it’s humiliating. No believer needs to beg his Heavenly Father for anything, any time. But to “agonize in prayer” is to take your prayer to the next level. Today, prayer is such light thing. Most of us are exhausted after just three or four minutes of praying. Or we pray like we hear our preachers praying: in the KJV language or following some liturgy. Real prayer is not prayed according to rote or memorization. It’s not trying to impress God by taking on a holy tone, using unusual words and phrases. Prayers shouldn’t be profound, they should be from the heart. To “agonize in prayer” means that you humbly realize He is your only hope. You have no one else to turn to. It means to be persistent; to keep on praying until the answer arrives. Maybe the answer will be, “Stop praying.” But maybe the answer will be like what Daniel was told. He was given the reason for the delay and then the answer to his prayer.

Daniel persevered for three weeks. We have a hard time persevering for a few minutes. We modern Christians would do well to take a lesson from old Daniel. Let’s learn how to “agonize in prayer.” Let’s persist in our prayers three days, or three weeks, or thirty weeks if need be. We should never give up on a prayer request until we see the answer or, as happened to Moses and Joshua, we are told to stop praying. Spiritual conflict in prayer is far more common than you may think, so persevering is virtal. One preacher from bygone era wrote:

Many a lost battle would have been won if perseverance had been practiced a little longer on the part of the combatants.

Daniel was fearful that his prayer had gone unheard. You don’t have to be. Fear not. No matter how it seems to you, your prayers are heard and will be answered. But you need to be aware that there is a spiritual world swirling all around you, and you need to keep that in mind as you pray.

 


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