Teresa Davies meditates on the meaning of Ephesians 6 and what it means for our every day life as Christians.
St Paul tells us that our enemies are not flesh and blood but the "powers and principalities" and he stresses the importance of spiritual warfare in the Christian life, but what does this mean in practice?
In Ephesians chapter 6 he advises us to 'Be strong in the Lord with His energy and strength. Put on the whole armour of God to be able to resist the cunning of the devil. Take truth as your belt, justice as your breastplate, and zeal as your shoes to propagate the Gospel of peace. Always hold in your hand the shield of faith, to repel the flaming arrows of the devil. Finally, use the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, that is, the Word of God. Pray at all times, as the Spirit inspires you".
Some people take these words very seriously and every morning visualise putting on these various attributes to protect them from the evil one. This can be helpful for some, but the real protection doesn't come so much from saying a special formula, as developing and incarnating the attitudes and behaviour that the words describe in our lives.
1 - Take truth as your belt: Speaking the truth in love can be very hard, particularly if we dislike confrontation and try always to say something placating. We may recognise that we need to change in this area and we can do this by daily asking the Holy Spirit to give us the courage and wisdom (and the words), so that we may speak the truth in love, avoid the lie or the half-truth, and also become willing to hear someone else's truth about ourselves without taking offence. As this begins to happen, we will soon be wearing the belt of truth all the time, and, as it grows in size, so our spirits will quickly recognise lies and half-truths and we will grow in the gift of discernment.
2 - Justice (righteousness/integrity) as your breastplate: If we try to keep a short account with the Lord, by having a daily time of taking stock and repenting when necessary, making right what needs to be put right, and using the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly, we will lose any guilt and shame that we carry and will soon be wearing the breastplate of justice all the time. This means that, as it grows in size, we will be able to approach the throne of the Father with our heads up, and our prayer will be full of confidence and faith.
3 - Zeal as your shoes to propagate the Gospel of peace: If we are to become always prepared to give an account of the 'hope that is in us'; if we are convinced that Jesus is the answer to most questions; if we are ready to share the Good News of all that Jesus has done in our lives, and bring peace to the spirit of anyone hungry enough to ask, we will soon be wearing the shoes of the gospel of peace all the time.
4 - Always hold in your hand the shield of faith to repel the flaming arrows of the devil: How do we grow in faith, and faith in what? The devil tries to undermine our faith and our joy in so many sneaky little ways. Something that has helped me has been the practice of writing out relevant promises of God that are found in scripture. Growing in faith, I believe, means growing in the confidence that God has me in the palm of His hand and that, whenever possible, His answer to my requests will be 'Yes'. These scriptures feed my spirit in the same way that a good sandwich feeds my body. Just four of these promises, out of the hundreds in the Bible, are: Deut. 28:1-8, Jeremiah 29: 11-12, Timothy 1:7, Philippians 4: 6-8. I have found that writing these out and saying them aloud each day has simply changed my outlook and my expectation. I recommend 'aloud' because, as well as using my mind and my vocal chords, the words can also touch my ears and heart at the same time. We will soon enter each day with greater confidence and an increase in faith in God's love and purpose for us and so we will wear a growing shield of faith at all times.
5 - Finally, use the helmet of salvation. The helmet covers the head and therefore the brain. What we choose to believe and how we think about ourselves is very important in our life of faith. Knowing that we are 'saved', i.e., believing God's truth that I am His adopted child and that He chose me before the world was made (Ephesians 1: 3-5), brings a great sense of peace, belonging and safety. This is particularly needed when we feel or have been told that our birth was an 'accident' or a mistake, or on days when we feel that everything is conspiring against us. Here again, the scriptures teach us the truth and give us something to cling on to. If we attempt to live in this truth, we will soon always be wearing an ever-stronger helmet of salvation and doubt will flee.
5 - ...and the sword of the Spirit, that is the Word of God. It is not a wise move to put on a sword unless you know how to use it and are prepared to do so. Knowing and speaking out the promises of God gives you the 'fencing practice' you need in order to wield this sword effectively, whenever necessary. The Word of God addressed to a situation is of great power, for we are told that it never returns idle, but accomplishes all that God intends, Isaiah 55:11. When Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, we are told that His defence against Satan was to speak out the Word of God.
A further interpretation of wielding the sword of the Spirit is our preparedness to go into battle when necessary against the wiles and plans of the enemy, whether by praying for healing for a sick friend - instead of simply offering sympathy, praying the Rosary to invite Our Lady's intercession in a time of need, or by prayerfully standing your ground in full confidence that the Lord is with you when under attack. Soon, you won't even notice that you are wearing this ever more-sharpened sword and you will use it effectively.
Pray at all times, as the Spirit inspires you. The one thing that encourages the growth and strength of each of these items of spiritual Armour is prayer, particularly prayer under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Holding our ground against the devil's tactics is spiritual warfare, and we often get dragged into this, whether we want to or not, if we are involved in charismatic prayer groups. Perhaps the daily practice of 'putting on the Armour of God' is more reminding ourselves of the spiritual weapons that have grown to be part of us - and which can grow stronger as we grow in faith. Knowing who we are in Christ, knowing that God is on our side (or, more importantly, that we are on God's side and that the battle is already won!), knowing what scripture leads us to claim both for ourselves and for others, are mighty weapons and their growth means that we can engage the enemy with confidence.
Source: Good News
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