By Jeff and Heather Williams
I can’t help it. I have to know the context of the scripture on which I am working. And so, I went digging. All these verses that show God’s purpose for us, followed by this section with so many instructions for things to do, how to act, ways to relate to people. And then, tacked on the end of the letter, this section about the armor of God.
I suspect my life isn’t really all that different from yours. OK, so I live in a rather exotic place, I admit. The Malaysian Fantails are flitting around outside my window, the sounds of my neighbor pounding curry paste with her stone mortar and pestle is echoing on my walls. As I write this, you are cleaning up from a blizzard and I have not one, but two fans turned on! But the basics are the same.
My day, like yours, most likely, is filled with those things to do: Talking to people who are broken, in pain, so needing God’s presence in their lives, doing the dishes, finding ways of bringing God’s Word to people in a way they can understand, making dinner, writing curriculum for the Rural/Urban Ministry Training Centers, explaining math homework to a girl living with us, writing a project proposal and answering emails, figuring out how to get to the market to get soy sauce before the guest arrives, (OK, for you it might be butter??). I find myself with such a mess of things to do. And honestly, I am quickly overwhelmed. This Kingdom work, whether here or there, is more than we can possibly do!
Add to that the fact that we need to act a specific way, like Jesus. No pressure! And we need to relate to people as we do it all. Again, like Jesus. Sigh…. (When I was a child I was convinced I wanted to be a missionary to the animals. Cows seemed so much easier to relate to!) It just all seems a bit much. I feel vulnerable. By ten o’clock in the morning I am losing my opinion that it is going to be a good day. The “addict” who has become my sister in Christ at the Addiction Recovery Center isn’t always the easiest person with whom to relate. (You know, you have some impossible person in your life too!). The curriculum just doesn’t get done, because now the girl with the math homework needs me to go in and talk to her teacher.
My head is full of untruths, spewed at me from all around, as well as created inside my own head. “I just CAN’T do what God wants me to do!” or “Don’t take this religious thing too far!” or “You deserve to do what YOU want to do!” Unrighteousness confronts me at every turn. “What is wrong with the people in this world? How can they DO that” I find myself asking when I listen to the neighborhood stories. The baby next door is screaming, The parents are yelling at each other too. In fact, a piece of broken concrete came hurtling over our wall, I assume meant for one or the other of them. Oh, how we all need to be rescued from this world! The other night the words of the latest pop song was pounding my ears from the Chinese New Year’s party, making it hard to sleep.
But then I get to the end of Ephesians, and I discover the most amazing thing! Armor! Not magic armor, the type that we used to think about wearing when we were kids, so we could walk through elementary school unscathed by our classmates’ hurtful words, and the ferocious dog next door, but REAL armor! The kind that protects! Impenetrable, better than bullet-proof armor, REALLY! I am so relieved to realize that these things are not things I have to do or make happen. They are things God simply hands me. I have only to step into them.
Truth, not only keeping me from falling apart, but also bringing hope into the life of that girl with the math homework who has been raped, and wrongly told that it is her fault! Righteousness, Christ’s righteousness, covering up my sin! But not only me, counted now as righteous, but those neighbors for whom I had no hope! They too, putting on their breastplates! There is nothing dirtier than feet in Cambodia, mine being among the worst looking! (I have to take a stone to them once in a while when they get too bad!) But shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, I can go ANYWHERE! I am safe amongst the chaos and screaming, and marriage issues flung at me, because I have my shoes on… That peace that the world cannot understand, it is always between me and the dirt I need to walk through. Faith, that shield that I can turn in any direction from whence the arrows come, goes on next. Tonight, it was that girl with the math homework again, confessing that she had made an agreement with Satan in exchange for a boyfriend, and drawing his wrath when she wants out. Put your shield on before helping those under your care with theirs. Don’t they say something like that about the oxygen masks on the airplane? Only because I have mine can I help her learn how to wield hers. Salvation, firmly jammed on my head. How else would I dare come to this place? How could you dare live in your place without it, for that matter? And the Word of God, not the latest lyrics to fool the emotions and dull the mind, not the latest theory, but God’s Word, by which all creation came to be, and which gives me direction, the only thing that can make sense of what God is asking me to do.
There it is, at the end of Ephesians. The only possible way to do what is expected of us, and the reason we are able to make it through life. I wonder, as I read back over this, is this too rough? Too harsh? But then I realize, armor is only used in times of war. No one wears it on a pleasant outing, unless they happen to live in a war zone. And if that happens to be our situation, well, we put it on or become a casualty. Sometimes I forget, but I am quickly reminded by the sting of a strike unprotected. My struggle against rulers, powers, world forces of darkness, and spiritual forces of wickedness demands armor. And it is your struggle too. Keep the armor on! May I add verse 19 to this selection. Do please pray on my behalf. I am praying on yours. We are in this battle together!