Lord, I'm thinking about co-incidences.
How they seem to happen more when I pray. Is that just a co-incidence, God? Ha ha.
Now, I want to run something past you.
It strikes me that there are two kinds of co-incidence.
One. This is the co-incidence that happens when I pray; when I read my Bible, when I talk to you, when I talk to other people about you, when I read books about you. When you're on my mind more, when I feel as if I'm taking steps towards you, when I think that I can tell that you're smiling; when I feel your Holy Spirit in my life. That's when things happen. Co-incidences! Answered prayers, amazing things, good things. It's as if more You brings about More You.
And then there's:
Two. This also happens when I pray, when I read my Bible, read about you, learn about you and the place that I have in your family - all those things above, only this co-incidence is when things crash down around me and I find myself struggling with bad things, new anxieties, things going wrong. It's been happening this week. How come?
Now, I'm wary about mentioning The Devil. I reckon people start to turn off when you mention the devil, even if you sneak him into the conversation by using a different name - I don't mean Beelzebub or Wormwood or Lucifer or something from CS Lewis' book, 'The Screwtape Letters' - people refer to him as The Enemy, The Evil One, The Deceiver; and those names always sounds sort of dramatic. Feels like there should be spooky music in the background when you're having a conversation like that. To be honest I'm never that comfortable when I find myself in a conversation about the devil. I don't really know why.
It's not as if I don't believe he exists; you've told me that he does and I believe you. I can read about him in many many places in the Bible. It's clear that you know him and although he might prevail in the odd battle, you have won the war. I just need to clear up one or two things, I suppose. I don't want to be one of those Christian folks who puts every bad thing down to the work of the devil. I don't believe that every loose paving stone I trip over is down to him, or every sore throat that I get just before I want to go to the church acapella group is an attempt by the evil one to scupper my worship.
Or is it?
Or is it?
On the other hand I don't want to be someone who falls into the trap of discounting him entirely. You've warned us not to. In 'The Screwtape Letters' (I know it was written for children but it's about my level) the devil gloats that one of his best plans is to make people believe that he doesn't exist; that's when he has lots of power. You say we need to fight him, to be on our guard. So I'd best be, because Co-incidence Type 2 seems to be happening a lot at the moment.
It took a friend to point it out to me, actually. I'd had a terrible day on Sunday with this and that going wrong, and as I walked to church I knew that I was feeling emotional. I arrived five minutes late (nothing new there) and so I really took my seat just as people were standing up for the worship bit. Imagine my horror (if not surprise) when the tears just came and wouldn't stop even before the introduction to the first song was done. I did one of those dramatic and, dare I say it, feminine, dashes out of church while fumbling for a handkerchief, and went for a sob in the ladies'. I missed the whole worship section and I know it included some of my very favourite songs. Grr. Several people have been very kind and thoughtful and it's wonderful to feel so cared about.
But to get back to the point, it took someone else to say to me, 'Read Ephesians 6, because it sounds as if you need to put on the armour of God'. So I did.
Ephesians 6: 10-18
Ephesians 6: 10-18
'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. 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. 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. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.'
So there it is. St Paul wasn't backwards in coming forwards on the subject of the devil, so maybe I should be a bit more switched on. He's pretty dramatic; 'the authorities...the powers of this dark world...the spiritual forces of evil'. Whoa. It also seems as though the 'armour' he's talking about is pretty heavyweight too. Truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, the Spirit. Are they really for me?
I'm looking at this passage and thinking that there must be many a sermon there. There's enough material for books and books I imagine. All I want to know is, how do I go about putting that lot on, so that I'm not completely knocked over and sent flying next time it happens to me? (note slightly squeamish about mentioning the devil just then).
Here's my take on it, and I'm more than game if you want to put me right, Lord.
1. The belt of Truth. I know the Truth. You are the Truth. You are the way, the truth and the life, and when I confess my faith, I am speaking the Truth. You died in my place so that I could be forgiven and have eternal life. Blows my mind every time I write it. I love writing it. Thankyou Lord. Why a belt? Well, lots of metaphors available, but I reckon simply put, a belt holds my trousers up and without one, if my trousers fall down I'm not going anywhere, let alone being ready to fight an enemy. Anyway, moving on.
2. The breastplate of Righteousness. Bit more difficult. I struggle to see myself as righteous in any way because I mess everything up on a regular basis. From what I understand, however it's the same as above; you bought my righteousness for me - I didn't deserve it but because I am in you, I am righteous. And also I think it's an ongoing thing - as I try to be more like you, I learn to be righteous. So it's two fold. Must be important if this is the bit that protects my heart.
3. The Readiness that comes from the Gospel of Peace. Hmm. Readiness? being in tune with you? Ready to spread the word of God? Ready to follow where I'm led? I'm going to google this in a minute and see what I can find out. I know it refers to the feet, and I can understand an analogy about needing decent footwear to go anywhere but I'm not getting to grips with this bit.
4. The shield of Faith. Easier. I have faith. I believe in you more every day. As you show me new things, as you challenge me to go deeper and wider and higher and look for you in different places, I find you. You've given me faith as a gift and I have planted it and I want to see it grow and grow. I need to learn how to use it as a shield, maybe... I need to hold it high and let everyone see it. I need to hold it firmly, so that I don't drop it. It will stop things from hitting me.
5. The helmet of Salvation. Wey hey! I am saved. Simple as that. It's a single, completed action; I am your child. When it's all done, and the dust is settling I'm going to get to come and see you face to face, and the only thing left undecided is how much use I am to you in the meantime. The helmet protects my head. My brain. My mind. My thoughts. This is a prime area for attack. If I think I can't do it, I probably won't. If my mind is not on the job, then the job isn't getting done. And I need to protect that knowledge that I have of my salvation because the other guy is going to try and convince me that I'm mistaken.
6. The sword of the Spirit. Now here's a discussion for another time. Is there anyone who really gets to grip with the Spirit? I mean, Jesus, who came to earth as a man, is a concept we can easily get our heads round. God, even, is an idea that we're familiar with from an early age. The Spirit is more difficult to get a handle on. I know how often I say that I want to be filled with the Spirit, or I ask that you send your Spirit...when I stand up for what I believe; stand up for you, or write this, or pray or worship, is it the Spirit that enables me? The power behind the button, so to speak?
Well. Here's me thinking I'd have ten minutes waffling with you and then get an early night. So much for that. I'd better stop now or I'll be Snappy Mummy when the little ones pounce on me at silly o'clock tomorrow.
Let me draw it all together. Lord, give me all those things. I want them all, so that not one bit of me is left unprotected. Show me where to find them, the right way to put them on, how to use them. And help me to see when to leap into action, too.
You've told me that the closer I walk with you, the more likely it is that stuff will happen. I'm not prepared to back away from you, my Lord, because I've come too far and it's taken me too long and I've had one too many glimpses of your glory. So you'd better show me how to be ready to defend myself. I really don't want to spend too many more worship sessions sniffling in the toilets if that's ok with you.