Praying At All Times

We’ve spent the last nine weeks looking at the famous Armor of God passage in Ephesians. There are six pieces of armor named there: the Girdle of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Footwear of the Gospel, the Shield of Faith, the Helmet of Salvation, and the Sword of the Spirit. Those six character traits and spiritual items are where most lists stop, since they’re the ones compared to physical pieces of armor. But there’s a seventh item on the list.

with all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the Spirit, and to this end being alert with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Eph. 6:18, LEB)

All the armor must be put on and used with prayer. In this context, we can see prayer either as the connective tissue buckling the other armor on us or as a necessity before and when using the armor (or both). Whether you count prayer as a piece of armor or not, it’s clear that praying is essential when going into a battle we want God to fight for and with us.

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Prayer Before Battle

As with the six pieces of armor listed earlier, we have examples of prayer being used in physical battles as well as spiritual ones. People of God have always recognized that even when facing physical enemies there’s a more important spiritual side to the battle. And it’s the Lord of Hosts who determines the outcome.

Three righteous kings left us records of their prayers before battle. Asa prayed when facing “an army of a thousand thousands” (2 Chr. 14:9-12), Jehoshaphat when facing “a great multitude” of Moabites and Ammonites (2 Chr. 20:1-29), and Hezekiah when threatened by a powerful Assyrian army (Is. 37:8-38).

In all three cases, God answered with a powerful victory. “Yahweh defeated the Cushites before Asa” and his army (2 Chr. 14:12, LEB). The Lord sent Jehoshaphat and his men armored into battle, but did all the fighting Himself (2 Chr. 20:16-29). And Hezekiah woke up one morning to find his enemy struck dead outside (Is. 37:36-37). Clearly, prayer is an effective battle strategy for those following God and fighting against His enemies. Read more

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Sword Of The Spirit

Thus far, the armor of God we’ve been studying has all been defensive. The girdle, breastplate, footwear, shield, and helmet all protect us. They’re essential in battle, but they’re not something we can use to attack and (with the exception of the shield) they’re not actively defensive either. This next piece of armor, though, is a weapon.

receive … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17, LEB)

Paul tells us exactly what we’re given as the only weapon included in this Armor of God. It’s called the Sword of the Spirit and it is the Word of God. Now it’s up to us to learn how to use the word as a sword.

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Avoiding Word Confusion

There are two words in Greek for “word,” and we have to start by defining them if we want to avoid confusion. Just looking at the English, we would connect Eph. 6:17 with Heb. 4:12, which says, “the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit” (WEB). But these versus aren’t talking about the same thing.

In Hebrews, it’s talking about the logos (G3056). This word refers to a spoken word of intelligence, and it’s what’s used as a name for Jesus in John 1:1, 14. Reading on in Hebrews makes it clear that He’s being talked about in this passage as well (Heb. 4:13-16).

In Ephesians, on the other hand, the word is rhema (G4487). It refers to the spoken or written sayings of God, but isn’t used as a title for the speaker. So in Hebrews, the Word as a sword refers to Jesus cutting into people’s spirits and knowing them deeply. Ephesians is talking about wielding the word, or scriptures, of God as a weapon. Read more

In The Secret Place: The Promises of Psalm 91

Last week we talked about claiming promises from God. But we didn’t talk about the verses that got me started on that study. Psalm 91 is packed full of promises that are clearly meant to include the reader. There isn’t even a writer credited, so there’s no clear historical context, and the psalm is addressed to all who make the Lord their God. There’s nothing to distract from the fact that this psalm was written for everyone who’s in a relationship with God, including you as a Christian today.In The Secret Place: The Promises of Psalm 91 | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Claiming Relationship With God

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Ps. 91:1-2, WEB)

The psalm begins with a promise to those who remain, inhabit, and abide (H3427, yashab) in the hiding place or shelter (H5643 sether) of the Most High God. They will “stay permanently” (Strong’s H3885 lun) in the shadowing protection (H6738 tsel) of El Shaddai.

Because of that promise, we get the only “I” statement from this psalm’s writer. They claim the Lord as “my God” and say they will have confidence in Him (H982 baach). And they demonstrate that trust by making Him their refuge, shelter (H4268 machaseh) and defensive stronghold (H4684 matsud). That’s something we can do as well.

Stripping Fear of Power

This psalm contains truly incredible promises of protection in the midst of trials. We’d probably prefer it if God’s protection meant we didn’t have to go through trials. But to be delivered “from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence,” there must be someone trying to trap you or a pestilence threatening your life (Ps. 91:3, WEB). And if “A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand,” then you must be in a location where people are perishing right and left (Ps. 91:7, KJV). Read more

Claiming God’s Promises

Not every single word in the Bible applies directly to each person reading it. It’s all inspired by God and we can learn from it, of course, but not everything applies to everyone directly. For example, some cleanliness laws in the Old Testament were gender specific and some prophecies were delivered to a specific person or group (like the dream warning Nebuchadnezzar he would become like an animal for 7 years).

But we can take this observation too far. We might make the mistake of thinking that because warnings to follow God alone were delivered to ancient Israel they don’t apply to us today. Yet the New Testament confirms we still need to make a choice between darkness and light (Deut. 30:15-20; 1 John 1:5-2:6). This type of thinking can also block us from accepting encouraging promises as well.

Have you ever read one of God’s promises and thought, “That sounds wonderful, but it can’t really apply to me?” I’m sure many of us have. For me personally, I struggle with believing God will answer my prayers the way He promises too (mostly I feel like my prayers for other people aren’t effective). But does that mean God’s promise to hear when we call doesn’t apply to me? Of course not. And I’ve even seen some examples of His direct responses to my prayers. My doubts and anxieties don’t cancel His promises. But they can block me from recognizing or accepting His work with, in, and for me.Claiming God's Promises | marissabaker.wordpress.com

God’s Presence In You

The Holy Spirit is one thing God promises to new believers. Jesus told His disciples the Father would give them the Holy Spirit after He left and we see that promise fulfilled quite spectacularly in Acts 2. As the narrative continues, a pattern emerges where believers receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when they covenant with God at baptism. And it’s made clear that this promise isn’t just for the people of that time. Read more

Firstfruits From the Rejects

All the holy days point to Jesus Christ, often in multiple ways. For the soon-approaching Pentecost — the Feast of Firstfruits — Jesus is Himself “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” because He was the first of God’s people to raise from the dead to eternal life (1 Cor. 15:20-23). He’s also the one who redeemed us, making it possible for us to be firstfruits, and He’s the reason we receive the Holy Spirit, which was first given to the New Testament church on Pentecost (John 14:26; 16:7).

On the surface, the term “firstfruits” simply refers to the first agricultural produce of the harvest season. In the Hebrew scriptures, firstfruits were offered to God before you harvested anything for yourself. This offering occurred after Passover on a Sunday morning and kicked-off the 50-day count to Pentecost (Lev. 23:1-21).

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photo credit: “Barley” by Susanne Nilsson , CC BY-SA

Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks or Feast of Harvest, pays a key role in God’s plan. Even churches that no longer keep the other holy days often mark Pentecost because that’s when the Holy Spirit was given to the New Testament church (Acts 2:1-4). In Leviticus 23, instructions about the wave-sheaf, 50-day count, and Pentecost occupy more than 1/3 of the entire chapter. Clearly, there’s something here we’re supposed to take careful note of.

Gleanings and Ruth

Embedded in the holy days discussion of Leviticus 23 is a peculiar verse. It doesn’t seem related to the chapter’s subject, yet it follows immediately after the instructions about Pentecost.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 23:22)

Why would God put this law in place while discussing the holy days? It doesn’t seem to make sense. It does, however, connect Pentecost with the story of Ruth. In Jewish tradition, Ruth is read every Pentecost, and perhaps that’s a clue as to why the law of gleanings is discussed here.

When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem they’re both poor and Ruth was a “stranger,” a Moabitess instead of an Israelite. She more than qualified for gleaning under the law given in Leviticus, as well as the repetition in Deuteronomy 24:19 which added the “fatherless” and the “widow” to the list of those who could glean.

Instead of just letting Ruth glean, Boaz offered her protection (Ruth 2:9), provided food for her (2:14), and told his reapers to drop grain on purpose so she could glean as much as she wanted (2:15-16). When she first meets Boaz, Ruth’s relation to him is strikingly similar to us when first encountering Christ. He is good, and wealthy, and powerful while we have nothing. We don’t deserve anything from Him, and yet He offers us blessings beyond expectation.

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photo credit: “Wheat” by Susanne Nilsson , CC BY-SA

Opening Salvation

When Jesus died, He opened up the covenants to non-Israelites. Prior to accepting His sacrifice, we were all “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). We were the sort of people who couldn’t expect more than the gleanings.

But He answered [the Gentile woman] and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” (Matt. 15:26-27)

Jesus did honor this woman’s faith and heal her daughter (Matt. 15:21-28), but by-and-large people outside Israel didn’t have access to God before the cross. Strangers who converted, like Ruth (Ruth 1:16; 2:12), were the exception rather than the rule. That didn’t really happen until after Christ’s Passover sacrifice, His ascension to the Father on wave-sheaf Sunday (click here for a timeline), and the Pentecost recorded in Acts 2.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

Peter didn’t realize this included Gentiles until latter (Acts 10:34-35, 44-48; 11:18), but speaking by inspiration of the Spirit He still proclaimed salvation for all whom God calls. This was a huge step in God’s plan to save the world through Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 12:47), and it’s connected with Pentecost.

Redeemed Firstfruits

In the epistle of James, we’re told the Father “brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). The church is composed of the first people God will “harvest” from the world. We’re a rather unusual sort of firstfruits, though.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

God picks us up from the things devalued and discarded by the world. In other words, He finds His firstfruits among the gleanings. He’s taking people who are underwhelming and overlooked and transforming us into something glorious. Like Ruth, we were strangers who are brought into fellowship with God’s people by a Redeemer (Ruth 2:20; Tit. 2:13-14).

Firstfruits From the Rejects | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credit: “Wheat” by Susanne Nilsson , CC BY-SA

The Foundation: Laying on of Hands

This next foundation is one of the main reasons I started this study. I didn’t feel like I had a good understanding of the “laying on of hands” as a doctrinal principle, and if you’re going to study that doctrine might as well learn more about them all, right?

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Heb. 6:1-3)

The Foundation: Laying on of Hands| marissabaker.wordpress.com

The first three principles built on each other, so I would expect laying on of hands to be closely connected with baptism. And indeed, we do see it following baptism several times. Read more