‘Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you’ (1 Pet. 4:12)
Soldiers aren’t surprised when they have to engage in warfare. But I sense that sometimes we’re shocked when we hit difficult times. We think we’ve found the secret of happiness but we’ve also found a life in which we need to wear the armour every day! It’s rather like climbing into the boxing ring with Mike Tyson and complaining, ‘He hit me!’ You’re lucky he didn’t bite your ear off!
Sometimes it’s the sense of shock that throws us out of military motivation and into stagnation. The commentator Ben Witherington III tells us that Peter’s words, ‘Don’t be surprised’ are in the present continuous tense and could be expressed, ‘Stop being regularly surprised’.
We’re in a battle – in fact we’re in a historic battle – the battle of all battles, the coming in of the rule and kingdom of God. We’re invading nations and cultures with another culture. We’re saying that there’s another king called Jesus. It’s that mixture of warfare and peace that makes things strange. Dead soldiers come back from Afghanistan in coffins. The hearses that carry them drive down Wooten Bassett high street, past the supermarkets and cafes, and the surreal scene somehow doesn’t fit with normal life. In Afghanistan life and death is familiar territory. Here, it’s shocking.
The fiery arrows will come into all kinds of settings. They’ll fly into our domestic scene. Suddenly you’ll find them in your marriage. Wife, you’ll be saying, ‘When we fell in love I thought, “Wow, he’s so bright and unorthodox and such a great guy, there’s something about him, he’s so exciting.” But now I’m married to him, I’ve noticed how impulsive he is in dealing with our money.’ The bright and unorthodox has become irresponsible. Husband, maybe you’re thinking, ‘She was so together, so sharp, but now she’s swamping me with detail and everything has to be written down. We thought we loved one another, what’s happening?’ Suddenly you realise you’re being hit, your very marriage is under attack.
Maybe we’ve moved home to be involved in a church plant. Initially, it’s a small group and then someone gets sick and the group struggles. Don’t be shocked. It’s part of the battle.
It can also invade our place of work. Suddenly you get a new boss or the expectations of the firm alter. The change is unpleasant. Then we find that we’ve lost our job and after months of unemployment you think, ‘What’s going on here? Where’s God in all this?’
On the one hand, we mustn’t be shocked by the warfare, on the other hand, we mustn’t be frightened by it. Fear is one of Satan’s greatest weapons. Initially, it prevented Israel from getting into the Promised Land. The Israelites were afraid of their strong-looking enemies and decided that they couldn’t possibly defeat them.
People today hit this sort of thing. ‘I’ve been asked to take on this strategic role, but I’m not sure that I can fulfil it,’ they say. Fear grips them and then they hear a cunning Satanic voice which suggests that God is actually accusing them. It’s a deceitful wile of Satan’s to put you down and let fear dominate your heart. You end up feeling, ‘I can’t produce what God wants of me. I haven’t got what it takes.’ Fear cripples you and terrifies you into a sense of appalling inadequacy.
These days newly married couples are signing pre-nuptial agreements which state, ‘If this doesn’t work out, we’ll back out.’ What’s your exit strategy if this doesn’t work? When Field Marshall Montgomery went to North Africa he said, ‘Here we stay. There is no more retreat. We either win or we die. We’re not withdrawing from here.’
Soldier of Christ, don’t be shocked or frightened by thoughts of defeat. The Scriptures declare, ‘Come on, be strong in the Lord. Stand your ground.’ God expects us to be strong. That’s how it starts – with that morale. Have your head lifted. Get ready. Then he says, ‘Put on weaponry.’ We must put on armour from a positive perspective. First of all, let’s be strong.
This post was adapted from the 1st of three sermons on the Armour of God preached at Together on a Mission 2010