Finally, draw your strength from Christ and from the strength of that mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand firm against the tactics of the Devil. Our battle ultimately is not against human forces, but against the sovereignties and powers, the rulers of the world of darkness, and the evil spirits of the heavenly realms. You must put on the armor of God if you are to resist on the evil day and having done everything you can, to hold your ground. Stand fast then, with truth as the belt around your waist, justice as your breastplate, and zeal to spread the Good News of peace as your footgear. In all circumstances, hold faith up before you as your shield; it will help you extinguish the fiery darts of the Evil One. Put on the helmet of salvation, and carry the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Always pray in the Spirit, with all your prayers and petitions. Pray constantly and attentively for all God’s holy people. Pray also for me, that God will open my mouth and put words on my lips, that I may boldly make known the mystery of the Good News – that mystery for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may have courage to proclaim it as I ought.
There he stood, all 6 feet 6 inches of him. He walked in to the bar with a group of fellow war veterans. They all had recently returned from Iraq. He stood, literally, a head above the rest. He was a sturdy looking fellow.
They all retreated to a corner of the bar and began drinking. After the first and second rounds the table stated to get a bit rowdy. They looked around the room almost begging for someone to challenge them.
They started to get so loud their jokes, laughter, and conversations drowned out the music playing in the background. People in surrounding tables began to pick up and move away. There on an island they moved on to the third and fourth rounds in a matter of minutes. They seemed to be in a hurry for something.
It was my job to keep order in the bar. It was expected of me that a peace was to be maintained through out the night. This particular night did not seem like a peace was going to be easy.
In another corner a group of college aged men were gathered. They too were on a mission. They were drinking at a similar pace as the group of military men in the other corner. These guys were picking up the probing vibes and were set to not let “their bar” be taken over by another.
I come from a long line of soldiers. My father served in the Army, as did my grandfather. Both fought in wars. I have uncles and cousins that fought and died in a war. Before there was an America to defend, my ancestors fought wars. In my veins flows the blood of warriors. Fighting brings me peace.
There was a time in my life in which this passage evoked a passion for war and a desire to strap on my godly armor and go fight the enemy. I saw the world in a very distinct pattern of black and white. In those distinct patterns I generally was the bearer of truth and the way I saw the world was the norm. If you disagreed with me, well you were wrong and I pitied your soul.
I focused on standing firm against the evil tactics of the Devil. I took great concern with what I read, to be sure that my mind was not polluted with that liberal knowledge that is warned against in this passage. I was certain that “the sovereignties and powers, the rulers of the world of darkness, and the evil spirits of the heavenly realms” were out to get me and I was surely going to be prepared when they came.
This served my purpose well. The world to which I was accustomed, the world in which I lived was great. As long as I held firm and had on the full armor of God. Armed with truth as the belt around my waist, justice as my breastplate, and zeal to spread the Good News of peace as my shoes, I waited to attack the approaching enemy. You see, this was an effective lifestyle to maintain my small, narrow world-view but it left me on an island, alone. I was isolated from others. I had no diversity and I was eating at myself.
I love the idea of equipping oneself for what may come. I believe it to be prudent and wise to be prepared. I also think that when we focus on the war we miss out on the peace.
When you don the armor of God, particularly the helmet of salvation, clinching the sword of truth we may grow numb to the justice that is our breastplate and the zeal-laden sandals of Good News. When holding the power of truth, that is the Word of God, we risk claiming it as ours, over its true nature in belonging to God.
Paul is telling us to be ready for what is coming. This is a call to be physically and materially ready for what is coming. So this sets up your mind and body. Paul’s call to prayer sets up your soul.
This is why prayer is so important. The whole armor of God motif works if you are in prayer. We too often read this passage and stop at the equipping of the full armor of God and do not continue on with the equipping. We do always get to the prayer. That’s unfortunate, as the prayer part in the most crucial to being prepared.
Paul instructs us to “Always pray in the Spirit, with all your prayers and petitions. Pray constantly and attentively for all God’s holy people.” Prayer is important. Prayer is how we get ready for what’s coming. Prayer is how God tills the soil to which the seeds of faith are planted.
The tension in the room was thick. I sat on my stool watching these grizzlies sniff each other. I had to do something.
I prayed a quick prayer asking for God to be here. I went over to the college guys first and checked in with the group. They were on their way out to another bar. There was no concern there.
I looked over to the military table and they were moving on to the fifth or sixth round and the big fella with them was agitated. He got up to come to the bar to get another pitcher of beer. I meet him behind the bar and offered him a free pitcher.
I handed him the pitcher and told him, “if you will promise no trouble from your group you will eat and drink for free all night.” He shook his head and seemed to like the deal. We shook hands and he went on back to his table.
The college aged guys left. I sat back on my stool pleased that the situation had calmed. Peace was restored. I sat there surveying the bar for the next hour or so. My mind filled will assignments due the next week, different readings I had wrestled with this past week, and what I was going to do when I finished seminary. I prayed to God for a sign. I needed help discerning what was next.
I found myself sitting in peace on my stool repeating, “God give me a sign.” I did not notice the big fella from the military group had gone to the restroom, which was right behind me. He had light up a cigarette and was smoking next to me.
He said, “I hear you are a preacher.”
“Sort of”, I replied. “I am a seminary student. I will be a preacher one day.”
His voice sort of broke as he asked me, “Can we talk?”
“Sure”, I said and pulled out a cigarette and joined him in smoking.
He continued, “I need to talk to someone. I just got back from Iraq. I killed people. I know I killed people. I saw them die. I pulled the trigger and they died. It says in the Bible that killing is wrong. How can God forgive a person like me? God hates me.”
I was floored by his confession. I listened to him as he shared his story. He talked a lot about prayer in his story. Prayer was what got him through his hellacious experience. But now, back home, he could not find the peace to pray. When he prayed, words escaped him.
His story broke my heart. Tears formed in his eyes as he spoke. I prayed as I listened to his story, “God open my mouth and put words on my lips.” I assured him that God did not hate him. That God forgives him for all kinds of things, including the death that soiled his hands. I shared with him this passage from Ephesians. Paul’s plea that I had just moments before prayed, “Pray also for me, that God will open my mouth and put words on my lips, that I may boldly make known the mystery of the Good News”
Prayer matters. It transforms lives. It rescues people. Prayer finds us in the knick of time. Prayer never leaves us in the same condition in as we entered in to it. Prayer is a place of mysterious power that moves us closer to each other as we are moved in prayer closer to God.
We hung out for a little while longer and he went back to his table. Those guys closed down the bar and we had no trouble at all from them. On the way out the big fella just smiled and nodded to me on his way out. Both of our prayers seemed to have been answered.