Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:2)
St Paul would not have heard about neurological linguistic programming (NLP) but he certainly knew how easily our thoughts run along particular lines. The fact that our regular thoughts shape and form neural channels in our brains that condition our thinking and define our actions is a powerful reminder of just how much our minds need renewing in the power of the Holy Spirit in order to adopt new thoughts and practices in those areas where we have got stuck in unhelpful ways of thinking and reacting.
Lord, You know where the pathways of our brain are up to, just as You know how our arteries are faring in terms of their cholesterol levels. Thank You that You understand when they are clogged or stunned, and when our ability to think clearly is impaired for whatever reason. We commit them to You, as we do the whole our being, and ask that we may think clearly, remember well and pray and act in the power and freedom of Your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Let the word of God dwell in you richly (Col. 3:16)
It is a comfort to think that our brain contains far more channels than we actually get round to using – and what a joy to receive a word from the Lord that gives us more of His perspective concerning some issue.On one occasion recently the Lord spoke very clearly to give me a message for someone who had invested years of diligent care into a particular project, and who had been wondering if it had really been of any effect or lasting worth, or whether they had been wasted years. And here was the Lord saying with great clarity and tenderness that he had cared and stewarded this project extremely well, and that the Lord was pleased with him.
For lack of such clarity it is no wonder he had been pray to many doubts and questions. Peter was speaking from considerable first-hand experience when he wrote that ‘our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ (1 Pet. 5:8) Like it or not, we are all caught up in a great theatre of war in which our adversary, diabolos – to unpick the Greek – literally hurls repeated suggestions and accusations at us in a bid to penetrate our defences and overwhelm our mind and spirit, knowing the effect that this will have in undermining our confidence in the calling that God has given.
Wiles, Roads, methods and counterattacks: winning the battle of the mind field
Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes (strategies or wiles). (Eph. 6:11)
The phrase that has often been translated the ‘wiles’ of the devil in Ephesians 6:11 is methodos. The word is a combination of meta, with and odos, road – rather an apt word in the light of the literal road the Iran ians are currently building through northern Iraq to be able to swiftly supply quantities of rockets and other weapons to Lebanon, which potentially threaten the very existence of Israel.
Again and again we need to remind ourselves of what satan’s methods are if we are to resist them successfully. How important it is to put on the full armour God provides us with so that we are able to take our stand against the devil. (Eph. 6:11)
I had never thought much about the simple phrase ‘are able’ until I discovered that the word derives from dunamis – dynamic – or even explosive – strength, power and ability.* Isn’t it a wonderful thought that our ability to do worthwhile things stems from this explosive dynamic power of God as we take whatever stand it is that He has called us to take.
The picture Paul paints is of a soldier standing strong and unbowed in the face of his adversaries, rather like a boxer eyeing up his opponent, but with complete confidence of victory over an enemy who is bent only on destroying. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)
If we have received a calling from God, it is inevitable Satan will sooner or later come calling with a view to opposing, minimising, undermining and even destroying it. The battle extends to every part of life. Whatever we are setting out to achieve he sets out to thwart and intimidate. If we enjoy good and fruitful relationships, sooner or later he sets out to snag and snare them.
Whilst some situations come as sudden ‘surprise’ attacks, many others stem from persistent and repeated strategies, rather as Goliath repeatedly taunted Israel morning and evening for forty days. (1 Sam. 17:16, 23-24).
The more the attack is relentless, the more resolute must be our defence.
Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and He hears my voice.
He rescues me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me. (Ps. 55:17-18)
Many of us have been pierced repeatedly by strong and repeated attacks from diabolos, who hurls with an intent to pierce and penetrate – but in the Lord we can take our stand and fight back with the word of God and the many kinds of prayer’ that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6:18.
Is there some area of your life where satan is taunting and undermining you, effectively encouraging you to expect the least and to believe the worst? Rather as Hezekiah and Isaiah worked in tandem to defeat the repeated taunts of Sennacherib, we will often need the assistance of praying and prophetic friends and mentors who will help us by taking matters to the Lord and laying them out before Him. It is so often after doing this that we gain the specific words and wisdom we need to take our stand.
One important key armament the Roman soldier carried with him which Paul does not mention in his list in Ephesians 6 is the lance or javelin. He certainly speaks of defensive weapons such as the shield of faith to use against the fiery darts (or burning arrows as they are sometimes translated) but the shield and the lance go hand in hand: the shield to protect and the lance to thrust forward and to help us win battles at a greater distance, as opposed to the shorter stabbing sword. We need both in our spiritual armament!
The Dart of Love
Throwing the javelin may or may not have rated as one of your favourite events on school sports day, but in ancient times, of course, it was a deadly weapon of war. If we find ourselves somewhat pinned down on the back foot as a result of enemy suggestions and activity, let’s remember that the Lord has many ‘javelins’ for us to throw, too, as we apply the word of God to specific situations?
We overcome by harnessing and ‘unleashing’ the word of God, which is the most powerful weapon of all – directing it into situations yes both external situations and into our own hurts too. Is this not what it means to overcome by means of the word? (cf Rev. 12:11)
Well-chosen Scriptures are like love darts that rob the enemy of power and defeat his purposes, greatly strengthening any ‘arrow’ prayers we may also be praying with regard to them. May the Lord grant us both the determination and the discernment to know how to apply the word God wisely. The more we immerse ourselves in it, more readily this will happen. Listen again to Anne Laure Jackson’s lovely song with this in mind: Hide Your Word in my heart.
The idea of a dart of love being a deadly weapon of war sounds a complete paradox, but it is because our intentions are born of love that we must be quick to use them fierce in the cause of truth and goodness. Jesus declared that ‘the forceful are advancing the kingdom of God’, (Matt. 11:12) – albeit that many times we will see people operating with a fair mixture of presumption and impetuousness.
Nevertheless if the underlying intention is to do everything in the name of Jesus and for His glory He will still own it – and all the more so if this is done in the spirit of Jesus, who was constantly moved with compassion and tenderness when it came to ministering to those who were hurting.
As a life-long table tennis player, well used to spirited rallies, I often myself caught up in the equivalent of a sort of spiritual ping-pong rally. “I’m useless!” the rally begins. “Jesus!” I respond, “It can’t be done!” the enemy suggests. “You’ll never make it!” “Praise You, Lord, You can do it!”
So when the temptation to despair seeks to wrap its tentacles around us – and that particular temptation really can be the most insidious of them all – and we feel as though we are ‘labouring in vain and spending our strength for nothing,’ (Isaiah 49:4) this is precisely the time when we must counter these gloomy thoughts – for example by taking the second part of that verse: ‘Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.’
Scripture has a power of its own, but we can also use our own phrases if they are in line with biblical thought. So if we feel a great desire to cry out to go to our eternal home in order to avoid life’s hassles, but are not actually being called home by the Lord, we can counter this by praying something along these lines: ‘Fulfil all You still have to do in and through my life Lord Jesus!’
You and the Lord can work out the wording together; the important thing is to remember to do so. Otherwise, believing wrong things about ourselves or situations can only be a staging post to deception: euphoria, if we believe we are aiming at greater things than in truth we have been, or to unbelief concerning the challenges that we face.
The danger is always that we permit fear to induce us to believe the whole package, leaving the door wide open for a panicky rather than a faith-filled response to develop.
Imagine a soldier on the battlefield on with the latest weapon standing stock-still, in the grip of fear that the enemy was too strong for him. Such soldiers would be liabilities to themselves and their unit. May we not be hesitant but courageous and clear-minded in standing for what the truth says about itself.
So when the devil attacks your Achilles heel, affirm and appropriate the victory Jesus has won for us, and cry out to the Lord for Him to break through.
Sometimes even in the midst of a false suggestion of the enemy there may be element that we can extract and turn them round and put them to good use. As I wrote in Ravens and the Prophet**
When I am aware of the first stirrings of shock and anxiety rising in my heart, I try to convert their strongly negative power into a fervent prayer that affirms the opposite of whatever it is that is being suggested. The secret is to catch the thoughts, rather like a surfer, who needs to ride just ahead of the crest of the wave. If the surfer gets the timing wrong, the waves will roll over and submerge him, just as these emotions threaten to swamp us. But if we ride the waves, we can harness their power in prayer to accomplish more than if they had never come our way.
So when the thought comes ‘You’ll never finish this!” call to mind times when you have completed projects successfully and turn the whole matter over to the Lord for Him to to bring it – whatever ‘it’ is – to a good conclusion.
The “mind field” really is at the heart of his spiritual warfare. Given that the enemy understands the power of prayer so much better than we do and does all he can to oppose it, Alex Buchanan once told me that one of his favourite weapons is a magnifying glass. He goes to great lengths to blow issues up out of all proportion, so much so that it is hard for all concerned to think of anything else.
It is vital that we recognise what is happening. By saying No to the enemy’s distortion of things, we are thrusting a metaphorical brick through this magnifying glass that would otherwise set fire to the tinder dry grass. The sun’s rays, which were designed by God to bless and sustain us, would thus be harnessed for utterly dangerous purposes – a picture of how Satan tries to turn good things against us.
May our heart and mind be rather a furnace of love for the Lord and a place of inspiration – like a garden where Jesus Himself will feel comfortable walking.
* See Dressed to Kill pp. 181-224, Harrison House, a very worthwhile book on spiritual warfare by Rick Renner, the remarkable American Bible scholar and missionary pastor to Russia.
** Ravens and the Prophet – Shock and Shame