Part 11 of 12
The Enlightened Intruder
After living twenty-four years in three different countries in Asia, I have collected quite a number of stories about break-ins; many of them being my own. You see, poverty breeds desperation and Asia is full of poverty-stricken people. The desperation to feed a family or pay for a hospital bill in a country with no insurance leads to illegal actions in order to meet those desperate needs. A grey pall hangs over Asia: burgeoning cities filled to overcrowding, too few jobs for the millions who stream in from the country to find work, unhealthy living conditions, a general lack of knowledge about health and hygiene, the rich getting richer at the expense of the masses, so much bone-deep corruption and over it all, a gouging crevasse of spiritual darkness leaking from the deep void of the Gospel.
I love Asia, but my heart breaks for her so often. That is why I tell the following story with a great deal of compassion.
My dad is very good with engines and though he was a church planter in three different stations in Irian Jaya, a lot of his extra energy went to trying to fix all of the mechanical problems that came up for different missionaries. He would often fly to another station to get their damaged machinery up and running, or to build a hydro-electric system, or even to fix a broken hovercraft. (I was along on that trip. Riding in a hovercraft is a blast!)
When I was five years old, my dad took a short trip to another station to fix their broken generator and I was given the unusual opportunity of sleeping with my mom. On that occasion, I am so grateful for the blessing of solidarity, for without my mom’s courage and quick thinking, I would be incredibly traumatized to this day. (Maybe a picture of a person wielding a flashlight or an intruder in a house?)
Sometime in the middle of the night, my mom and I awoke to a horrible screeching noise. It sounded like a megaphone recording a thousand nails being dragged across a chalkboard. We both sat upright in bed hovering under our mosquito net, wondering what had just happened. Within a couple of minutes, we heard scraping sounds and then footsteps tromp-tromping across the floorboards of our attic. We followed the heavy tread of the steps with our mind’s-eyes as the intruder descended our staircase.
At that moment, under cover of the stair noises, my mom slipped out of bed and made sure all the locks on our bedroom door were indeed closed tight. While she crawled back under the mosquito net, we listened to the intruder rummage all through our house. Eventually, the footsteps stopped right outside of our door. We waited with baited breath and then my mom took a very brave step.
She slipped out from under the mosquito net once again along with her hefty flashlight. Tiptoeing up to the door, she just waited. We could see intermittent flashes of light as the intruder checked out the door and turned the knob. Finding it locked, the intruder paused for just a few seconds.
My heart was pounding out of my chest and I think my mom knew that I was ready to start screaming. She motioned her finger across her lips as a gentle warning and then she unexpectedly bent down and flicked her flashlight on, shining the bright light under the door. The sudden burst of light from a dark, locked and otherwise silent room, scared the intruder. With a yelp and a scramble, we heard the intruder thunking across the floor, up the attic stairs and out through the screeching noise again. (The screeching noise was the intruder prying up our corrugated tin roof with a crowbar. Not very subtle, but highly effective.)
At that point I began to cry from the release of tension, but my mom said, “Heather, I’ve got to check the house to make sure he’s gone.” I did not want to be left alone in the dark, but I also did not want to move an inch from the safety of my parents’ bed. My mom courageously checked the whole house for the intruder, even venturing into our dark attic. Miraculously, nothing had even been taken by the intruder; the Lord had kept us perfectly safe in a very tough spot.
The unexpected brightness of a flashlight coupled with my mom’s courage, drove the then-enlightened intruder away.
By Way of Review
It is hard to believe, but we are nearing the end of this series on unwavering trust. As I look back over these last three months, I am reminded again of the “now-ness” of the Word of God. Try to tell an unbeliever that Scripture written thousands of years ago is pertinent today and it will make no sense to her. But you and I both know that the “word of God is living and active.” It pertains to the yesterdays, todays and tomorrows of our lives. It is also “sharper than any double-edged sword; it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
Hezekiah’s life has been a living, breathing testament of God’s presence to me. Not only has this king been an example of how to trust fully, but he has mirrored the shaking moments of my own faith. God’s words to him have penetrated my heart. They have helped me to ascertain where my faith wavers between soul and spirit, joints and marrow. I have seen that my faith is different in my flesh than in my spirit because the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mt. 26:41). God’s words and Hezekiah’s reactions have also been an authentic judge of my own attitudes and motives.
How about you? Have you sensed a camaraderie between Hezekiah’s faith and your own? Has his vulnerability given voice to your own insecurities? I pray that this has been true for you as it has been for me. To sum up briefly what lessons have risen from these pages of Scripture, look at what we have learned so far:
- A life of trust is built on intimacy, identity, and integrity in the calm before the storm. The calm before the storm is the place in which we must build our foundation of trust.
- Trust is the security that comes from resting one’s identity on the Word and the Person of God. Hezekiah stood tall when Israel collapsed because his foundation was built on truth.
- A person who trusts will respond to suffering with worship. Trust in the middle of shattered dreams becomes a healing balm when a person learns to worship despite baffling amounts of suffering.
- Trust always humbly steers toward the focal point of God. When a person loses sight of God as her focus, she will get off track. Pride always steers us awry, but pursuing humility always leads us back into God’s will for our lives.
- A trusting person fears the Lord rather than giving way to fleshly fear. A When Assyria attacked nearby Lachish, fear undermined Hezekiah’s choices. As the storm clouds gathered above his head, distrust began to ignite fear. Hezekiah learned the hard way that God, rather than man, must be his pure object of trust.
- Trust engages in the art of preparing the mind and heart for action. There is an art to preparing for war. Engaging in that hard work before the spiritual battles come, will outfit you to stand victoriously in the midst of the storm.
- Trust draws its resources from the heavenly places when war is imminent. Assyria stands at Jerusalem’s doors, but trust in God enabled Hezekiah to see the reality of his situation. We studied Elisha’s similar stance in 2 Kings 6 to reveal the true enemy and the nine heavenly resources that are available to us in the heavenly places.
- Trust employs the truths of Scripture to unveil the tactics of the enemy. Satan has an agenda and uses many tactics to harass you. Unveiling the enemy’s tactics helps you to be forewarned to how Satan may choose to approach you.
- In the eye of the storm, trust stands firm in truth, righteousness and peace. Standing firm requires us to h – hold our tongues by standing in the shoes of peace, o – obey our King’s commands fitted with the breastplate of righteousness, and w – wait on God wearing the belt of truth
- In the eye of the storm, trust stands firm in faith. Unfortunately, King Ahaz did not stand firm, but based on Isaiah 7 and 8 and the encouragement and rebuke of the Lord, we learned nine practical principles that flesh out the first three pieces of armor. These helped Hezekiah make a different choice many years later.
In our lesson two weeks ago, we discovered how the people of Jerusalem reacted to the enemy’s verbal assault. By way of a reminder, here is the verse that breathed out three action steps to help you and me stand firm, “But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, ‘Do not answer him’” (Isa. 36:21). If you will remember, we connected these three actions to the first three pieces of armor in Ephesians 6:14-15. We are to hold our peace (stand firm in our shoes of peace), obey our King’s commands (stand firm with out breastplate of righteousness intact), and wait on God (standing firm in our belt of truth). If you consistently do these things, you will maintain a godly stance that is firmly entrenched upon the will of God.
Today, we see how Hezekiah responds to the Assyrian attack. In this look into a faith that did more than stand firm, we will see how Hezekiah employed the next three pieces of armor from Ephesians 6:16-17: the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. In order to prepare your heart for what God may say to you today, would you take a moment to read Isaiah 36:22-37:7 and Ephesians 6:10-17? Pray for God to enlighten you through His Word and drive His truths straight into your belief system.
Ephesians 6 commands us to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power (v 10). We are strong in God when we put on His full armor (v 11a); not leaving any choices to chance or fate. We are to be proactive in the spiritual fights that come our way; not passive, like the wall-sitters of Jerusalem. Why? It is not because we are strong in and of ourselves. It is not because we can handle Satan’s attacks on our own. No, it is because we are called to stand against the devil’s schemes (vv 11b) in God’s power, in God’s way.
The forces we fight against are not of this world. That argument you had with your child this morning was not only a struggle with flesh. That person who cut you off on the freeway or who sued you for negligence is not just another physical assault. The boss who keeps threatening to lay you off is not your main concern. My precious warrior, your fight “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (v 12).
In other words, your child’s rebellion is a product of a spiritual ruler. Your almost-accident is a result of a spiritual authority. That lawsuit stems from a power in this dark world and that threatening boss is merely a spiritual dripping-down from a force of evil in the heavenly realms.
I am not calling the people around you “evil,” but you need to know that anywhere “bitter envy and selfish ambition” reign in this world, Satan and his forces are behind it. This ugly “wisdom does not come from heaven, but is earthly, unspiritual, and of the devil” (Jms. 3:14-15). Wherever envy and selfish ambition have their way, you can know there will always be disorder and every evil practice (Jms. 3:16). Behind every type of greed and lust and selfish movement, there lies a spiritual force of evil, who is bent on destroying you and maligning the glory of God.
You can see and know where God is moving in this world, for His wisdom is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (Jms. 3:17). A couple of days ago, I asked Timmy to do something to help me out. Usually, he retorts in a negative manner which has to be addressed: either complaining, manipulating, passing the buck or outright rebelling. His answer this time stopped me in my tracks; it was so unexpected, a literal breath of spiritual air. “Sure, mom,” he said. When I initially asked him to help, I was already steeling myself to deal with his usual attitude, so his response was almost bewildering in its quiet surrender. Even now, I have to stop and thank God for that “wise” moment; a moment where heavenly wisdom and the work of the Spirit triumphed over earthly wisdom and the work of the devil.
If you are a believer, every day for you is a battle between flesh and spirit. Every day you will undergo spiritual skirmishes in the heavenly places. For that reason, God tells you to put on the full armor of God (v 13a). When those attacks come, if you are fully covered by truth, righteousness and peace (vv 14), you will be able to stand firm under enemy fire (v 13c).
The Evil Day
Verse 13 has a very sobering phrase in it, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…” The phrase that makes me sit up and take notice is this: when the day of evil comes. That word ‘when’ is timely and certain. You will not get through this life, my friend, without an evil day. It may have already slipped up on you. It may accost you today when you arise. Or it may sneak up on you tomorrow. The only guarantee is its certainty.
So if all people experience these kinds of spiritual attacks, what does the phrase ‘evil day’ encompass?
Well, the word ‘evil’ has two polar meanings. It can mean “full of labors, annoyances, hardships, being pressed and harassed by labors, bringing toils, annoyances, perils, of a time full of perils to Christian faith and steadfastness; causing pain and trouble” (ESV Strong’s). If you think on these defining phrases, you can tell that they encompass all of the troubles of this world. We all will have trouble, but it is true that people react differently to their troubles.
One morning this past week, the pollution AQI index was in the green. As I looked at the temperature, it read a balmy 75 degrees at 6:00 in the morning. The weather just begged me to open my doors and enjoy the cool, fresh air. So I gave in and flung all four of my outside doors wide open. We enjoyed that fresh air all day long; it was such a treat for me, since for months I have been holed up in my house due to the horrible pollution and the need to run air purifiers to keep from getting sick.
Fast forward to that evening as we were winding down for the day. I was sitting in the living room talking to my teenager while my husband and preschooler hung out in the office. Suddenly, I heard my husband yell loudly, “Timmy, go to your mother right now.” Although full of questions, Timmy obeyed. I could sense the urgency in my husband’s voice so we all ran to see what was the matter.
What we found was terrifying to me. In the corner where we keep all of our shoes was a snake writhing and squiggling. After a bit of fuss, Tony was able to trap the snake under a shoe and proceeded to cut off its head, rendering it impotent. Robert and I had already fled the scene of the battle since we both hate snakes with a passion. However, my four-year old was fascinated with the process and sat on the counter while my husband dispensed with “that cool snake.” (His words, not mine).
The short conclusion is that we are now all holed up in the house again. No doors will stand open, however green the AQI and however cool the air, since the screen doors obviously do not seal well from the outdoors. I will not have a repeat snake performance, if I can help it.
My point in all of this is that there are two reactions to every trial. Some people react to the “snakes” that cross their path with fear and trembling. They, like my teenager and me, are reduced to a puddle on the floor in the midst of certain attacks. Others, like my husband and youngest child, are strong in the midst of the very same “snake” trial. The “evil day” to some may only be an annoyance, but to others, may be catastrophic.
The other meaning of “evil” is “bad, of a bad nature or condition, in a physical sense, diseased or blind, in an ethical sense: evil, wicked, bad…probably referring to Satan” (ESV Strong’s). As seen above, evil can refer to all the straws that pile up on us in a day or it can mean an all-out wicked attack from Satan. You may experience an evil day in the loss of a job, in the midst of an emotional breakdown or through the hopelessness of a broken marriage. The evil day may descend upon you in the form of deteriorating health, a bleak future or a friend’s betrayal. Evil can, then mean, both mean petty struggles or debilitating assaults.
By way of example, one evil day that I have already shared with you was the snowy day that I broke my back on Suicide Hill outside of Messiah College. That trial may have felled one person in her faith, but the Lord enabled me to handle that spiritual assault fairly well. However, the day I picked up that pregnancy stick and realized that I was pregant again…at the age of 43…just when I was longing to begin life anew…now, that was an evil day that threw me into a faith crisis for almost five years.
We do not know how we will react on any given evil day; mostly, because we have no idea what ammunition the enemy will use against us. That is why it is imperative for you and me to prepare for an attack. Here! Now! Always! We must learn to stand firm with our belt-truth buckled around our waist, with our breastplate of righteousness tightly affixed and our feet shod with the peace-shoes of the Gospel.
Are you experiencing the assault of an evil day? How are you standing firm through it all? Are your roots deeply grounded in truth so that only your leaves are shaking; you are not uprooted in the melee? Or are you running and hiding or even, God forbid, attempting to handle your evil day on your own. You were never meant to do this alone, you know. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!… Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecc. 4:9, 10, 12).
Pray to God for a wall-stander to face your evil day with you. If you have no one, call or write me. I will stand with you: praying, encouraging, hoping, uplifting, and undergirding. We need each other in this Body…desperately. You plus a prayer-warrior plus God is a cord that will not easily be broken.
I’ve entitled this week’s devotional When the Going Gets Tough because I wanted you to finish that idiom in your mind, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” In our society today, it is the tough that are lauded, the independent that are praised, the self-reliant that come out on top.
Even from very young ages, our little ones are told not to cry, to just suck up the hurts they experience. So little non-crying, independent children grow into tough, independent adults. Our little ones are encouraged to learn responsibility, to be able to handle tasks and chores on their own. This is good and part of growing up, but those little responsible, self-governing children can grow up to be tough, autonomous, free-thinking-despite-others adults.
Are we as parents demonstrating for our children the other side of that independent coin? They need to know how to show need. They need to learn how to lean on people and trust them. They need to be able to communicate hurts vulnerably with others. Today’s freedom-loving, self-interested society divides people from each other in its efforts to create “liberty and justice for all,” but what is being sacrificed in the long run? I believe that sacrifice involves community, fellowship, and honest vulnerability.
We are losing the invaluable lessons taught to us by the dependent ones who refuse to “get going” for culture’s sake.
Society tells us, “When things get tough, just become tougher so you can keep moving. Don’t feel. Don’t think. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. If you can harden yourself to whatever trial comes along the pike, you will make it through on your own. Just pull yourself together. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and things will get better.” (You will notice here that I have stated two more of society’s idioms that mark how we, as individuals, face our stressful circumstances.)
‘Getting going’ is the world’s way of coping. It is what society does when it does not know what else to do. So what does ‘getting going’ look like? What are common ways to cope in the middle of a storm?
Cover the mess up: In a tough situation, one way to cope is to try and make the situation disappear…as quickly as possible. People will steal something in order to make their first situation go away. They may buy things on credit to take care of their desperate ‘now’ circumstance. They may begin selling belongings off to cover the cost of something else.
Do you remember the situation with our son last week, where he had to work, but his car broke down? He was hit by a pretty big storm and was floundering in the middle of it with his parents halfway across the world. It was a messy situation, but what interested me was the advice he was given by some other Christian adults. He was told to go get a loan from a bank to buy another car on credit. They told him that would solve all of his problems, while we were advising him of the very opposite: do not start your life in the credit hole. He was frustrated by the impasse, but thankfully, he eventually listened to us. Robbing Peter to pay Paul (an idiom meaning to borrow or take money from one source to repay the debt of another) would solve the immediate problem – maybe – but would create other problems in the end.
(See Adam and Eve’s story in Genesis 3 or David’s cover-up in 2 Samuel 11.)
Numb the heart: This is a very typical approach for those who are trying to appear tough, but really do not know how to get going at all. When a bad situation strikes, most people have a vice that helps them escape their reality. Addictions soar in the middle of many storms. People will turn to alcohol, drugs or pornography. Maybe they will cope by creating larger thrills: jumping out of airplanes, extreme sports, or bungee jumping. The stimulation of panic enables them to numb the pain of the impending storm’s effects. Others numb by turning to small pleasures like nightclubs, dating services, or even food. I think it is safe to say that the laughing, giddy faces of people flocking to karaoke bars and nightclubs mask a lot of numbness in people attempting to cope with their painful realities. Or the most scary way of ‘getting going’ is to bottom out entirely, to allow the mind to shut down or split up into multiple disorders. A complete emotional or mental breakdown is a way tough people try to numb their existence.
(Leah numbed her painful situation with the addition of children. Read her story in Gen. 29 and 30).
Do something practical: If there is a sudden fire, it is very normal to run for the fire extinguisher to douse the flames. Those who are tough are really good at managing tough situations. They do this by jumping into a flurry of motion: running here, helping there, directing this that or the other thing. Busyness is a very common way for the tough to control their situation. Feeling useful in a crisis situation is enough to cause many stormed-out people to get going. These are great people to have in a tough situation, but they are not very good at ministering to the people experiencing the aftershocks of their storms, and they almost always have no idea how to minister to their own soul in the midst of crisis.
(See how Sarah and Tamar got really busy fixing their situations in Gen. 16 and 38).
Call a friend: Some people, like me, are absolutely useless in the middle of a storm. All practical applications go out of my head; I just want to sit down and cry. What I can muster up in the end is to phone a friend. In the middle of a storm, getting going might mean throwing yourself on the mercy of other people, to seek help from those around you, who are better at getting going than you, or so it would seem. People run to family, friends, pastors, and other church leaders. Those who do not have those good connections may turn to a shrink or their horoscope or a fortune teller. Tough people often call on other tough people to help them handle their problems.
(Look in 1 Kings 22 to see a situation where Jezebel helped her husband out in a time where he felt he was in crisis).
Take revenge: A number of years ago, litigation rose to an all-time high in Pennsylvania. The best doctor I have ever had moved to Ohio because he could not handle the mal-practice insurance in the Keystone state anymore. In fact, many doctors moved out of state or left their practices. Why? Because in times of crisis, many tough people get going by suing others, trying to take them to the cleaners, so to speak. Taking revenge for someone that has been hurt seems like a great way to cope with loss or pain, but there is no closure for the pained in revenge. The tough only get tougher by this means of ‘getting going.’
(Check out Samson’s revenge story in Judges 14 and 15 or Absalom’s attempt to right a wrong in 2 Samuel 13).
Look to a higher power: On a football field, a person with no options often throws what is called a Hail Mary pass. This is a last resort to try to keep their heads above water, usually with not very promising results. After the 911 disaster, churches were filled to overflowing. Why? Because all of a sudden, people were calling on a higher power; they were throwing a Hail Mary pass. The ‘getting going’ that marked their typical way of coping was obviously not working, so they tried religion. All kinds of prayers are pitched heavenward when the tough try to get going. Promises are spouted. Vows are cast willy-nilly. Hail Marys fill the mouths of the desperate tough ones trying to make sense of their realities. Here in Thailand, false gods are everywhere: little god houses are on most properties, spirit bracelets are worn by many people, rules are created to appease whichever god lives in the trees or the river or the sky. Calling on false gods becomes a way that the tough get going when they do not know what else to do.
(See the story of Jephthah in Judges 11 and the Baal worshipers and Elijah in 1 Kings 18).
Though I have touched on some ways that the tough tend to get going, I am sure you could enumerate quite a few more. Think about how you respond in a crisis. Do any of these coping mechanisms mirror what is in your heart? Remember that in the world, the tough cope with their panic in these, and other equally disastrous, ways, but as a believer, you are not to toughen yourself in order to get going. You are not of this world, even as Christ was not of it (Jn. 17:14, 16). You are not to handle your tough situations like the people of this world. Instead, you are to emulate Jesus and train yourself to respond to crises moments in godly ways.
So to summarize so far, we see that disciples of Christ are first, not to toughen their hearts in moments of crisis. It is not the tough that please their Savior and secondly, they are not to just ‘get going’ to handle their storms. We have elaborated on the various ways people of this earth get going and these methods are to be eschewed by trusting followers of Christ. But wait! There is yet another wrong move in responding to crises: to allow fear to overwhelm your trust.
The Fearful Get Going
We turn now to Hezekiah’s story, picking up where we left off in Isaiah 36:22. By way of reminder, the Assyrian field commander has just spent twenty-two verses engaging in psychological warfare against the people of Jerusalem. He has used seven powerful tactics to cause the Judeans to tremble and shake before him. But, if you will recall, the people remained silent before his onslaught because the king had commanded it. They stood firm with their belt of truth buckled around their waists, with the breastplate of righteousness firmly in place and with their shoes of peace solidly gripping their spiritual ground.
But standing firm did not undo the fear; I need you to recognize this point. A person can stand firm in the truths of their faith and still feel as shaky as blowing trees in a thunderstorm. Feeling fear is a normal human reaction; it is what we tend to do with that fear that makes all of the difference in our level of trust. In times of storms, we are to stand firm in our faith, the faith that we have been living in all along. But in the evil day, we are to act clearly by taking up three more pieces of armor.
Many fear-filled, storm-tossed believers forget this vital action, which we will be studying more thoroughly in just a few minutes. Instead of standing firm in faith and taking up three more pieces of armor, many who fear just ‘get going.’ Look next at some actions taken when the fearful start taking steps outside of standing and taking up.
The verse that has piqued all of these thoughts is Isaiah 36:22, “Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said.” Now before I flesh out my thoughts here, I want you to realize that these three guys were responsible to Hezekiah; they were his ears and eyes, so to speak. Therefore it is understandable that they would report back to the king all that had happened.
But the thought struck me, when I was thinking through the ramifications of this verse, that their actions mirror mine when I am scared. Fight or flight, remember? They did not choose to fight, but observe with me how their choices adhere to the flight-reactions often seen in the fear-filled. They still manage, as terrified as they are, to ‘get going’ themselves.
Taking our problems to others: The first step they took was to go to Hezekiah with all that had happened. Again, keeping in mind that they were probably required to give an accounting of what had happened, think about how typical fear-filled people act. If they do not fight back as an initial response, they run. Where do they run? Usually to other people.
I experienced numerous occasions during my ten years in Manila where my car broke down, was struck by a jeepney, got caught in a flood, or got stuck in a deep gully. My initial reaction was to panic, because there is no Triple A in third-world countries. I also did not speak the language well enough to clearly understand all the Tagalog flying around my head. On top of that, I knew I was a sitting duck due to my isolated female status.
After the initial panic receded, my second reaction was to begin calling for help. I started with a phone call to my husband, but learned early on that he might not hear my call, since the computer office where he worked was a dead space due to all the inside concrete walls. So I learned to have a bunch of friends on speed dial.
I am not saying that calling friends is a bad move, dear one. I am just noticing that it is often my first move. Why is that? Why do I fall back on others to help me out? One simple word, my friend: fear. I want someone physically real to take care of my very real physical problem.
Falling into despair: You will notice in verse 22 that these three palace reporters went to Hezekiah with their clothes torn. In our modern-day time, we do not usually go around ripping our clothes when we are upset, but it was quite common in Hezekiah’s day. It was an outward sign of an inward turmoil. Even Hezekiah himself, later tears his clothes in response to what he hears.
But as I looked at the descriptions of these two events, I noticed a huge disparity in the descriptive words following the reporters’ torn clothes and Hezekiah’s. This led me to believe that the men’s reactions were different; not outside, but inside. Look at some of these descriptions of the tearing actions in verse 22: “they tore their clothes in despair” (NLT); “they tore their clothes to show how upset they were” (NCV), “tearing their clothes in defeat and despair” (MSG), “their clothes torn as a sign of despair” (Passion translation). Usually, people tore their clothes as a sign of distress or mourning like Reuben who found out that Joseph had vanished (Gen. 37:29) or Joshua when they lost the battle to Ai (Josh. 7:6). (And I could go on and on.)
But this occasion seems different to me. My Bible Knowledge Commentary seems to agree with me since it connects the terror of the people with the reporters’ tearing of their clothes. These three wise guys were not just a little sad or discouraged. They were not even just grieving or mourning. No, they were in despair and complete defeat. Four translations view this situation similarly, which corroborates my thoughts exactly.
Precious child of God, fear is debilitating if left unchecked. The mind easily goes to places of severe defeat, shocking discouragement, and serious despair. Wherever there is an outside loss of emotional control, you can know that fear is wending its insidious path deeper and deeper into the mind. Despair is closer to the end of the line, not the beginning, so you can know if you are feeling despair, you are probably living out of a great overflow of fear.
Talk that thing to death. Again, keep in mind that these three men were probably just reporting the news of what was said to Hezekiah. They were subordinate to the king and responsible to relay the enemy’s messages to the only one who could make the ultimate decisions. But along with that caveat, also bear in mind that fear is not just felt; it is also spoken.
After we turn to flesh and blood and after we react out of abject despair, we often talk the situation to death. “He said this” and “she said that” we often reiterate, and all the while our fear meter keeps rising. Scripture tells us that “when words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Pr. 10:19). Solomon expounds on this wisdom in another book, “As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words” (Ecc. 5:3).
Why is it that we feel the need to talk about the situation to ourselves or to any willing ears, but we conveniently forget that sin is not far back from the wreckage of a runaway tongue? Why do we forget to turn to God with all of our burdens, casting them onto Him because we know that He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). One word, my friend: fear.
When fear is driving our actions, these three responses will flow easily from out of our flesh. We will turn to people before we turn to God. We will spiral quickly down into despair. And we will talk and talk about the problem, fueling its destructive flames with the fire of fear.
So, if we are not to toughen our hearts, or to just ‘get going’ as a means of fighting, or to allow fear to drive our actions, what are we to do in serious moments of crisis? The answer is not a simple one, I can assure you, because it cuts across our cultural and fleshly grain. But the short answer is that we are to trust God. We do not get going, but we do ‘get coping’…in a Biblical way.
When Jesus came into the world, His teaching cut straight across society’s norms. His was a message, a Gospel, that ran contrary to culture. “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (Jn. 12:24). What was Jesus saying? Death to self leads to life in Christ. In a spiritual economy, the tough need to die to live anew.
How about this one? “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). Paul picked up this same message in Romans, “Do not repay evil for evil…do not take revenge…but leave room for God’s wrath…If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17, 19, 20). What does this mean? In essence, the tough do not get going; it is the weak acting in surrendered ways that change the world.
Here’s another cross-cultural statement. “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Lk. 14:8, 11). Again, the world would encourage the honored one to take his rightful place at the seats of distinction, but Christ is adamant: the tough, exalted ones will lose their honor for more honorable people (v9), but the humble people will be esteemed in Christ’s kingdom.
When the going gets tough and storms are beating on the doors, the self-reliant really are not to be self-reliant. When someone is out to get you, the tough really are not supposed to ‘get going.’ In Christ’s spiritual economy, those who are undergoing hardships are to refrain from running away from their struggle and refrain from toughing it out on their own. Instead, they are to “humble (themselves) under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift (them) up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6).
Self-strength, self-reliance, and self-rule are the antithesis of standing strong in God’s power (Eph. 6:10). Even Solomon in all his wisdom foresaw the future of such independence from God, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned, but time and chance happen to them all” (Ecc. 9:11). Though Solomon’s take on life was extremely fatalistic, he had a point. That “time and chance” that bears down on the self-starters and self-made entrepreneurs of this world is the powerful, perfectly timed, benevolent yet sin-hating sovereignty of God.
Instead of ‘getting going’ when times are tough, God exhorts us to stand strong; not in our own self-made abilities, but in His completely-sustaining power. Instead of concentrating on ‘getting going,’ attempting to plow through the oppression of our storms on our own merits, God encourages us to become like little children before all of society’s rhetoric has damaged a little one’s humble dependence. If you don’t believe me, listen to some of these verses:
- “…we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35).
- “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables” (Rom. 14:1-2).
- “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Rom. 15:1-2).
- “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’” (1 Cor. 1:27-31).
- “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
- “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable”(1 Cor. 12:22).
- “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you” (2 Cor. 13:4).
- “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14).
- “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees” (Heb. 12:12).
One word ties all of these verses together; the word ‘weak.’ In Christ’s economy, two principles override our idiom, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The first principle is that when the going gets tough, we believers are not to ‘get going.’ We are, instead, to stand firm. Take our stand against the devil’s schemes (Eph. 6:11). Stand our ground (v 13c). And after we have found our strength in the Lord, put on His armor, and done everything according to His will and plan, we are to stand (v 13d). We are to stand firm in the belt of truth, in the breastplate of righteousness and in the shoes of the gospel of peace.
We do not get going in our own strength, in our own prowess, in our own abilities. We do not get going by moving, scheming, plotting, or planning. No, my friend, ‘getting going’ moves you into a stance of independence from God and it will prove your undoing. What was the phrase that undergirded our whole lesson last week? If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all. (Isa. 7:9b). No, precious believer, we are not to get going; instead, we are to be strong in Him, stand in His mighty power, and clothe ourselves with His protective armor.
The second Kingdom principle that overrides our cultural idiom – the tough get going – is that God overlooks the tough. Instead of catering to the independent and self-determined, He saves the humble (Ps. 18:27), sustains them (Ps. 147:6), crowns them with salvation (Ps. 149:4), and gives grace to them as needed (Pr. 3:34, Lk. 1:52, Jms. 4:10, 1 Pet. 5:5-6). His eyes alight, instead, on the meek: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Mt. 5:5). Over and over in Scripture, as you saw above, the weak are elevated above the tough (1 Cor. 1:27ff for example).
In God’s dichotomous, cross-cultural and flesh-refining kingdom, the humble, weak and meek are considered victorious and secure, while the tough are the ones that fail. Paul knew this irony personally. You see, God gave him very great revelations, things that others had never seen. But God also knew what was in Paul’s heart, that he was a tough, ‘getting-going’ type of person and normally, these kind of people respond to great things with a lot of pride.
Sure enough, in his flesh, Paul did. So to deal with the possibility of growing conceit, God gave him another unwelcome ‘gift.’ God allowed a thorn in his flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment him. Paul did not act tough. He did not get going. He did not even react out of fear. Instead, he coped in a biblical way and responded in great humility.
What did that look like? Well, he went to God first. Then he pleaded with God to remove that thorn from him. Based on his identity as God’s child, he went to his heavenly Father. Based on his intimacy with Abba, he asked God for an answer. And based on his integrity before God, he knew that he would be heard (Ps. 34;17, Pr. 15:29). Simply put, he acted in trust.
Notice that even though Paul handled his storm biblically, humbling and meekly, God did not remove that thorn. Instead, He chose to leave it in Paul’s life. But He did empower His man, Paul, with these incredible words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Paul came to understand God’s weak-made-powerful principle and he stopped asking for the thorn’s removal. He then began to welcome that thorn into his life, even boasting about his weaknesses so that Christ’s power would rest more fully on him (v 9). “That is why,” he declared, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v 10).
A storm led to crisis, which led to humility, which led to trust, even when the prayer was not answered or the crisis removed.
Jars of Clay
I don’t know about you, but I struggle with trust. Especially when the rains keep pounding and the storms refuse to abate. Especially when God promises to hear and the heavens seem closed. Especially when I do not receive the answers for which I am begging. Is this true of you or do I stand alone in this faith dilemma?
How can you trust God when, to all outward appearances, life is going down the drain and you seem to be going with it? We’ve talked about this a lot already, but I want to remind you of the reality of these questions in the middle of the storm. You and I are clay jars: mortal and fragile. We are easily broken, easily swayed, easily downcast. We are hard pressed on every side, crushed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down (2 Cor. 4:8-9). And honestly, it often feels like death is at work in us (v 12).
How do you attain strength in the midst of all this visible reality? Practically-speaking, how can you, as a weak person, become strong by acquiescing to the storms in your life? Through the power of four words: the gospel of Christ. Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (v 4), but I think he has blinded believers as well. He has blinded our eyes of faith.
Verse 13 and 14 give us the key to opening this treasure of the gospel, “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” Believe, speak, faith, know – these words reverberate in the heavenly places.
Yes, you are a jar of clay, mortal and fragile. But when you first believed in Jesus’ death and resurrection and you accepted His power into your life, you became a conduit of the gospel of Christ. His power resides in you. His life energizes you. His strength stabilizes you. The question is: do you believe it, speak it, have faith in it and know it in the core of your being?
These are the core truths of the gospel. The question is: What do you believe?
- Do you feel that you are stuck in a rut, living by the law? The gospel is grace (Acts 20:24).
- Do you feel blinded by pain or hurt? The gospel opens eyes (Acts 26:18).
- Do you feel weak in your battle? The gospel is the power of God (Rom. 1:16).
- Do you feel that life is against you? The gospel brings blessings (1 Cor. 9:23).
- Do you feel like you are living in darkness? The gospel is light (2 Cor. 4:4) Just like God said “let there be light in Genesis 1:3, that same light shines within us to dispel every evil shadow.
- Do you feel weak? The gospel is power perfected in your weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
- Do you feel like you cannot obey God? The gospel leads to obedience (2 Cor. 9:13).
- Do you feel unwanted? The gospel has included you (Eph. 1:13).
- Do you still feel dead in your trespasses? The gospel made you alive with Christ (Eph. 2:4-5).
- Do you feel you have nothing to contribute to the kingdom? The gospel gives you good works to do (Eph. 2:10).
- Are you experiencing division in your relationships? The gospel unifies (Eph. 2:11).
- Do you lack vision? The gospel can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).
- Is your heart in turmoil, your emotions in shambles? The gospel is peace (Eph. 6:15).
- Do you struggle with lying and deception? The gospel is truth (Col. 1:5-6).
- Do you feel that you are a lost cause? The gospel bears fruit and grows (Col. 1:6).
- Are you in despair today? The gospel is hope (Col. 1:23).
- Do you feel dirty, unholy, full of shame and guilt? The gospel is holiness and righteousness by faith (2 Tim. 1:8 and Rom. 1:17).
- Do you feel unwanted, unloved, unimportant? The gospel chose you to be holy and blameless. It adopted you, redeemed you, forgave you, included you and marked you with the Holy Spirit’s seal (Eph. 2:-4-5). The gospel raised you up and seated you with God in the heavenly realms in Christ (Eph. 2:6).
To reiterate my original question, how do you trust God in the middle of your storm? For sure, you do not act out of unbelief. You are not to act tough. You are not to just ‘get going.’ And you are not to act out of fear-filled running. What do you do? You stand firm. You put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shoes of the gospel of peace. But you go one step further on an evil day: you speak out truth.
Not only do you stand in the power of the Gospel, but you take up three more pieces of armor. You take up the shield of faith while you speak about the One who instigates faith. You take up the helmet of salvation while you speak out the truths of the Gospel message and you take up the sword of the Spirit while you speak out these words: “It is written” (Eph. 6:16-17 and Mt. 4:4ff).
When you activate the armor of God by speaking out the truths of the gospel (vv 13-14), you participate in the power of God. When the storms arise, you may feel beaten down and broken, but you are not crushed, you are not in despair, you are not abandoned, you are not destroyed (vv 8-9). No, my friend, the life of Jesus, the resurrection power of a divine God lent to you from the heavenly places, is revealed in your body when you stand firm in the gospel (v 10). Those same storms, those tempestuous winds may break down your body, but they will also ignite your spirit. Life is at work in you, my friend (v 12). Believe it, speak it and know it (vv 13-14) and you will show to all of the watching world that the all-surpassing power of God is on the inside of you (v 7). You will become the living proof of the gospel of Christ.
How does this happen? Because the very cracks in your clay pot allow the shining Light of Christ to pierce the darkness of the storm around you. It is your inability that becomes the very vehicle for the power of the gospel to shine out of you. Broken and surrendered pots contain a great treasure, which is stored in your earthen jar of clay (v 7). And when the winds blow and the thunder crashes, when the lightning strikes the rolling ground around you, when the storms threaten to break you in two, that, my friend, is when God’s power comes shining through. The breaking of your life, the seed, becomes the Light-filled journey that illuminates many more seeds.
A storm leads to crisis. In that crisis, you humbly turn to God. He reminds you to stand in your faith, which you do through the power of the Gospel. This whole process, from top to bottom, is the working out of your faith; it is you standing strong and taking up your armor in your storm with unwavering trust.
The Shield of Faith
Halfway through our missionary career in the Philippines, the Lord directed me to take a TESOL course. This learning-how-to-teach-English course was offered at the time by one of our own missionaries and I thought to myself What an incredible opportunity. What I found out is that is was a grueling course: quite a bit of money, intense course work, five weeks of very little sleep, daily tests and quizzes, and through it all, many teaching sessions where – Get this! – I was hardly allowed to teach.
This is the part that really irked me, since I am a teacher by profession. Two TESOL leaders would sit at the back of the room during your entire lesson. They would time your student-talk to teacher-talk ratio and if you spoke more than the recommended time, your grade was docked. The stress, for me, actually caused me to begin thinking I was a really bad teacher; it affected my faith in myself and my teaching ability…
…until I started into my practicum.
The last two weeks of the five-week course, I was placed in a squatter village on the backside of some hill near to Antipolo. I would park my car down near the main road, grab my bags full of teaching materials, and head down over a ravine on some tiny cut-into-the-hill stairs. Once I reached the bottom, I would walk across a dry, sandy bed of what used to be a river then begin a long climb up the other side of the gorge. That walk took me fifteen minutes up the steep slope of a long hill and into a tiny village of bamboo houses and lean-tos. And there my sixteen students awaited me in a small little school room.
Unfortunately for me, this TESOL course occurred in the hottest season of the year. So by the time I had maneuvered all the ins and outs of this trip into the village, I was a wet, sticky mess. This really got to me, as you can imagine. Not only that, but it took me forever to get all the kids collected together. Some were at work in their homes. Some were watching TV. Some were helping to watch their siblings, but most of them were AWOL. I knew I needed a way to gather them together in time that my whole afternoon was not wasted.
On top of this frustration, I am a by-the-book kind of person so I started in my practicum using all of the skills I had learned, which included, as you will remember, my very little allowance to actually teach. I had a partner in this practicum, who did not follow any of the rules. When the students did not understand his instructions, he would quickly flip into fluent Tagalog – which is cheating, by the way, in an English-only teaching course – and the students would understand perfectly. Not only that, but he would never keep to his required student-teacher talking ration.
Oh, it used to drive me crazy!
I began to take up these simple matters to God as well as my feelings of insecurity about my ability to teach these young, eager Filipino students anything at all, shackled by the cultural issues of time, expectations, and a basic inability to communicate properly. Thank the Lord! He worked out some of these frustrations for me as I went along.
A couple of the students, after seeing how hot I was the first couple of days, introduced me to an umbrella; not for drippy weather, but for hot sun. I had never used an umbrella for anything but rain, but let me tell you, it was a miracle-worker. The shade of my umbrella cut almost half of the heat beating down on me from the boiling sun. And ever after, the kids would wait on the ridge of the mountain until they saw the top of my opened umbrella working its way over the stones to the base of their hill. That was their cue to let everyone know that the “teacher” was coming. When I arrived at the village, they were all amassed in the tiny schoolroom ready to go. My little umbrella became the beacon that alerted the students to the classroom lessons; it was the bell that rang silently over the hills.
And that other matter – my playing by the rules and my partner not so much – began to work its way out of my system, because as time went on, I was the one who won those kids’ hearts. I put much more time into my lesson plans than my partner and it showed. The kids quickly began to pick up English words and would speak to me in their broken phrases, just melting my insecurities right away.
While my partner hurried on to his next ministry after the lessons were completed for the day, the kids would sit after class with me and we would talk in Taglish (Tagalog and English) together, getting to know one another and hearing each other’s hearts. My faith in my ability to teach, even under the confining restrictions, began to grow by leaps and bounds. Even after my TESOL course ended and yes, I did pass the course, I had as many kids to my house as could fit in my Mitsubishi Adventure (18 kids by my last count). Afterwards, they kept in touch and would often text me about how they were doing. This confirmed to me my calling to teach, despite the hardships I had endured throughout that course; it literally built up my faith in God and what He was asking me to do long-term in the Philippines.
In Ephesians 6, we are exhorted to take up the shield of faith on the evil day. This shield is supposed to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one (v 16). In the days of the Romans, plumbata (darts or javelins) were thrown at the enemy to disable and break up an advancing soldier formation. These darts were thrown from a distance to incapacitate; they were the obstacles that harried from further away before soldiers engaged in close combat. They were meant to distract and instigate fear and they were effective.
What are the plumbata in your life? Any circumstances that make you anxious and uncertain are flaming arrows. Are you struggling with worry or stress or fear? Are you experiencing trouble or persecution? Are you shaking in the middle of your storm? If you can answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you are under the attack of the evil one.
What do you do at this time? You could tough it out. Get going. Phone a friend. Or you could stand firm in the eye of your storm and take up this shield of faith. Like the umbrella that shielded me from the sun’s plumbata on those hot Manila afternoons, you can raise your umbrella of faith against the arrows of the enemy. Dear one, God is your shield; He is your very great reward (Gen. 15:1). The Most High God will shield you and save you as His upright in heart (Ps. 7:10). You don’t need to try and stimulate more faith; all you have to do is speak out the greatness of your God and then stand under His shielding umbrella. That umbrella is a beacon to those watching and to the enemy that you have taken up God as shield of faith.
You might be thinking to yourself I don’t have any faith. I am so very weak right now. That may feel like the truth, but if you know God at all, you have enough faith. If you are struggling to conjure up a stronger belief system, like I did about my ability to teach that TESOL course, you are focused in the wrong direction. You do not need more faith; you need more truth.
The truth during that five-week TESOL course was that I could teach despite those impossible expectations. I did have a heart for kids, even ones I struggled to understand. I did love those squatters and desired to connect with them…and they knew it. The truth in your battle is that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). He is good (Ps. 119:68). He loves you desperately (Jer. 31:3) and you are His precious child (1 Jn. 5:1). And, in Christ, you have already won the victory (1 Jn. 5:4-5; you just need to stand firm on that blood-stained ground and claim the victory out loud. Speak it into the heavenly places (2 Cor. 4:13-14) and lean back trustingly upon Faith’s dear chest.
Taking up your shield of faith on the evil day is the only way to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. That shield is the faithfulness of God. Wield it daily, but especially on days where you are worried and shaking in your shoes of peace.
The Helmet of Salvation
A friend of mine (we’ll call him Brad) told me the most incredible story about his cousin, John. John was a young twenty-something with his whole life ahead of him. Dreams. Goals. Aspirations. But all of these hopes came to a heart-stopping end one midnight.
There was no rain in the air. No cars on the road. And yet, somehow, John had a terrible motorbike accident; partly due, I think, to the speed he was driving in the dead of night. There should not have been a problem, or so he thought. But in a second of time, he lost control of his bike and crashed into a guardrail at over 100 mph. The impact severed both of his legs and crushed many of his bones and internal organs. Completely unable to help himself, John lay there bleeding out, waiting to die.
A few minutes later a miracle occurred. A woman came along in a car, saw the mangled bike and the still form on the side of the road. She rushed from her car and began taking off her belt. With that belt she tourniqueted one leg and after rummaging through her car, found something else to tourniquet the other. Those actions plus a call to 911 saved John’s life. John was then lifelined to Hershey Medical Hospital, where he began a hard, long fight for his life.
John was in the hospital for months, beginning a painful journey of reconstructive surgery after reconstructive surgery. He had to learn to walk with two leg prosthesis, which were raised higher and higher as he learned to negotiate their unfamiliarity. The doctors were amazed that he survived such a terrible accident, but three things had kept him alive: the quick thinking of a gracious pedestrian, the miracle of God’s mercy, and the helmet which covered the only part of John’s body that was not damaged AT ALL.
Another piece of armor that we are to take up in the evil day is our helmet of salvation. (Eph. 6:17a). Like the motorbike helmet which protected John’s head in his evil day, God protects our minds with His salvation guarantees. The mind is the primary arena of battle. That is why renewing that same mind is so essential to experiencing victory (Rom. 12:2).
The core of most of our problems is our lack of understanding of what we have in Christ (salvation). When we begin to see ourselves the way God sees us, we will begin to walk differently through our storms. “When we put on the helmet of salvation, we block the rule of sin’s consequences. When we live in the power of a life that’s responsive to God and to His sanctifying work, accessing grace through faith, sin no longer has a foothold in our thoughts, emotions, and decisions” (Tony Evans, Victory in Spiritual Warfare, p. 118).
What is meant by salvation? Only our eternal security, full inheritance, heavenly blessings, believer status, and our identity. The entirety of who you are in Christ is wrapped up in salvation. Satan will work his very hardest to introduce doubt and deception into this glorious work of renewing that God is doing in your life. None of what the enemy suggests has to be sin; he just has to introduce doubt. When you fall for that tactic and begin to ruminate on doubts about God’s love or ability to help you, you will live unprotected.
Instead of giving in to the doubts, hold them up to the light. Allow the truth of God’s Word to penetrate those insecurities. Find promises in Scripture that negate the insidious doubts introduced by Satan. Then meditate on and speak out those truths in the heavenly places. When you rebuke the lies (Eph. 4:22) and search out the truth in Scripture (Eph. 4:23), you are actively putting on your helmet of salvation. All that is needed then is to keep standing firm in those truths until you believe them (Eph. 4:24).
Do you recognize Satan’s voice in your head? Try analyzing some of your own thoughts: I am so unworthy, unloved or incapable. I am undesirable and insignificant. I am a mistake and the thoughts go on and on. I don’t know what negative tapes play in your head, but most of them, I’m sure, are untrue. Satan has introduced a tactic that works to immobilize you. It is high time you took up the helmet of salvation to protect your mind against this deception. It is high time you stood firm in the truths of the Gospel.
Dwell on these thoughts instead from Ephesians 1. You are blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (v 3). You were chosen in Him before the creation of the world (v 4a). You were predestined to be adopted as His daughter (v 5). He gives you His glorious grace…freely (v 6). You are redeemed through Christ’s blood and forgiven of your sins (vv 7-8). He makes His will known to you (v 9). He has a plan for your life, which He is working out in conformity to His will (v 11). All of His plans are to be for the praise of His glory (v 12). You were included in Christ since the moment you first accepted Him (v 13). You were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (v 13) and He guarantees your inheritance (v 14).
Do these treasures in Christ sound anything like the tapes running through your mind? Of course not! And they are not too good to be true. You are not unworthy; you have been adopted by a King. You are not unloved, but desperately loved. You are not incapable. God has a plan that you can capably participate in. You are not undesirable, but chosen; not insignificant, but adopted. You are not a mistake; you were in God’s mind while He formed the earth.
These truths, my friend, need to be the anthem that plays over and over in your mind. Dwell on these truths. Allow them to become the fabric of your life. Meditate on them until you cannot live without them. Then, you will stand firm in the evil day, with your mind completely covered by your helmet of salvation.
The Sword of the Spirit
At one point in his pastoral career, Chip Ingram was led by the Lord to leave his rural church in Texas and take up a position in Santa Cruz, California. Many people cautioned him in the process, letting him know that he was heading into Satan’s territory and needed to be on guard. A close mentor took him to lunch and spoke these words, “Chip, you are entering a new era in your ministry…you need to prepare yourself for a whole new level of spiritual warfare…” (Chip Ingram, The Invisible War, p. 14).
Little did Chip know that those words would be prophetic. One time a demon-possessed man crashed his Sunday service, spewing blasphemies against God and Chip’s message. It took four ushers to restrain him. Over the year, Chip’s entire family was attacked: children screamed out at night from satanic nightmares, discouragement debilitated Chip many times as he prepared his sermons, and often he was paralyzed in his bed sensing an evil presence in the room. What did he do? He taught his family how to stand firm and to take up their weapons of spiritual armor. The whole family needed to learn how to fight the enemy by quoting Scriptures outlining their identity in Christ and authority in Him as a result of their salvation.
When does a frontal assault usually occur? When does the storm rage most out of control? Chip gives five times in the spiritual realm when you may find yourself engaging in a frontal attack from Satan: when there is significant spiritual growth, when you are invading enemy territory, when you are exposing the lies of the enemy, when you are attempting to break with the world, and when God has some blessings around the corner for you (Ingram, pp 131-135).
Spiritual warfare occurs on a daily basis if you are a child of God walking closely with your Father. But there are times when Satan’s attacks are more ugly and close. The five times listed in the above paragraph are times when you need to not only stand firm in your faith, but you will need to take up three more pieces of armor, one being an offensive weapon. That weapon is the Word of God, your sword of the Spirit.
Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, but Luke has a slightly different take on the same story told by Matthew. Actually, it is more in line with Mark’s rendition. He says that Jesus was led by the Spirit in the desert, “where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Lk. 4:2). Matthew just states that He was led into the desert to be tempted and that after forty days of fasting, Jesus was hungry. That is when the tempter came to Him. Mark and Luke clarify that he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan (Mk. 1:13). Yet only three temptations are in the gospels as examples for you and me? Why the lack of clarity about those “temptation-filled” forty days and why are only three temptations fleshed out for us?
I believe the Lord was tempted in His mind during his whole wilderness isolation. Satan whispered deceptions in His ears and tried to influence His thoughts all those days. Maybe He struggled with how He should handle His power or what the Kingdom of God was supposed to look like. Maybe He replayed the baptism event, trying to figure out why God had led Him to identify in a sinner baptism. Perhaps He struggled through His calling and purpose, that He had literally come to die. All of these questions and thoughts swirling through His mind were tempting because they were anti-calling, anti-serving, and anti-God’s purposes. Jesus dealt with them by standing firm.
But then came three frontal assaults. Satan got in His face on three separate occasions, the occasions marked out in great detail for you and me. These occasions were the evil day for Jesus and He did not just stand firm. He took up His shield of faith, negating the audacious temptations of Satan. He took up His helmet of salvation, nullifying the deceptive “if you are the Son of God” words that Satan hurled at Him. And He took up the Sword of the Spirit: “it is written,” He spoke out loud in the heavenly realms to neutralize Satan’s threats.
You and I can learn a world of good lessons from Jesus’ example. “I believed; therefore I have spoken. With that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak” (2 Cor. 4:13). This phrase is actually borrowed from Psalm 116, where the author writes honestly about the anguish he felt in the middle of his storm (v 3). What he did in response, however, was to stand firm by calling on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, save me!” (v 4). Then the psalmist began to shield himself with the faithful goodness of God (vv 5-6). He remembered all the ways God had saved him (vv 8-9). Out of his belief in God, his faith in his Savior, he spoke about his affliction and feelings about the lying people around him (vv 10-11). However, in speaking out his fears, he also spoke out truths from the Word of God and ended the psalm with a praise hymn to God for His deliverance.
Friend, if you do not know the Word of God, if it is not on your mind, in your heart, and on your lips, you are a sitting duck spiritually. When Satan attacks you, you will not fully comprehend your coverage and the middle of the storm is no time to go shopping for armor. When you are encountering an evil day, if you are not already standing firm in your armor, you may fold instead of living confidently in unwavering trust.
Get into the Word and get it into your mind. Know who you are in Christ. Memorize many Scriptures that detail your identity in Christ and when Satan comes against you, speak out of the God-given authority you have as His child. Quote those verses back to Satan and if your tongue is paralyzed with fear, speak the words of the psalmist, “Oh, Lord, save me (116:4) or ‘I am greatly afflicted” (116:10).
Then when your tongue is loosed, say “It is written, ‘Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world’ (1 Jn. 4:4). Say, ‘everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God’ (1 Jn. 5:4-5). You may need to speak out truths for quite a while, but Satan cannot undermine the authority you have as God’s child. He will eventually flee from you (Jms. 4:7 and 1 Pet. 5:9).
The Word is your Sword and it is incredibly effectual. Take it up on the evil day and you will be able to stand firm.
The How of ‘Taking Up’
Ephesians 6:14-15 clearly explains the battle plans in the day-to-day struggle against the powers of this dark: you are to stand firm. The exhortation is to put on the belt of truth and to buckle it firmly around your waist. The breastplate of righteousness is to be firmly fitted in place and your feet are to be fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Every day, every month, every year, day-in and day-out, these three pieces of armor must become your daily protocol.
But sometimes the struggle is not so distant. Sometimes the devil attacks you full-on. What will you do then? Standing firm will carry you only so far. God knows this so He has given three more pieces of armor that you are to ‘take up’ on the evil day. These are not pieces that you wear daily, but are ones that you add to your equipment when undergoing specifically-targeted attacks by Satan. We have fleshed those out briefly for you already. Take up the shield of faith in order to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (vv 16-17).
But if you are like me, sometimes it is hard to translate theories into practical actions. That is why I love God’s Word. Not only does God give the doctrine needed to live victoriously in this world, but He also equips us with pictures and life stories that make that doctrine real. I have a love affair with the Old Testament for this very reason. All the theology in the New Testament can be seen in the true-life stories of Old Testament characters just like me: weak, doubting, sometimes-valiant, but always very human.
Hezekiah’s story is no different. These first seven verses of Isaiah 37 clearly demonstrate for me the truths of Ephesians 6:16-17. They show me in real-time what it means to take up these three additional pieces of armor. They flesh out what I am calling Principle 11: On the evil day, trust takes up faith, salvation and the Word of God in order to stand firm. If you struggle sometimes with over-your-head theology, let Hezekiah’s trusting responses in a very evil day shine a beacon of light upon your pathway of trust.
So without further ado, let’s turn to this brief passage to draw out practical steps we can take to fulfill the exhortations laid out for us in Ephesians. We want to stand firm; let’s purpose to stand firm the Hezekiah way.
Shield of Faith
T – Turn Toward God in Faith
If you will recall from earlier today, Hezekiah’s three palace administrators came to him with their clothes torn and told him what the field commander had said (Isa. 36:22). I painted their responses in a more negative light because I have seen first-hand how these same kinds of actions reveal my own motives and attitudes. However, I also had read the next verse and Hezekiah’s responses – though outwardly somewhat similar to his representatives- reveal a very different attitude: the attitude of trust.
He turned toward God. There are quite a number of actions Hezekiah took – five to be exact – that show an attitude of trust, but the most obvious one to me is the choice to turn and face his God. Isaiah 37:1clearly states that when Hezekiah heard the news from his palace representatives, he went into the temple of the Lord. Ahaz, if you will recall, turned to himself, to outside help, even to an eventual enemy, to save himself and his nation. Hezekiah learned from his father’s devastating choice the ramifications of the fall-out from a heart full of distrust. He did not want to repeat that horrible decision or make his nation pay for his own lack of belief.
I mentioned earlier that the ‘tough’ who ‘get going’ will often call on a friend to help them in their struggles. I believe we are to stand together, united in belief for one another, so I am not negating the power of solidarity. However, if our friends or family or pastors are our first choice for advice, are we really living out of a deep well of trust in God? I am just asking…
Speaking from personal experience, if I am so quick to call on others for advice, wisdom or even practical help, it is probably because the intimacy between me and God feels a bit anemic. If I have maintained my strong connection with God, if He and I are on Lover-terms, not just speaking-terms, then my first reaction is always to turn to my Lover. Of course, at that time, I feel like He will love me and hear me and care for me.
But if I have allowed doubts to creep into any of my intimate conversations with God without defraying them with truth, then my initial response to an unjust attack is not to access my heavenly places. It is instead, to turn frantically around in circles, begging for others to see me and hear me and do something about my panic-inducing situation.
Where I turn first in my struggle reveals to me my heart; it reveals the depth of my belief system. I will naturally turn to my Best Friend if my spiritual love tank is full of His goodness, grace and mercy. The enemy knows this truth, my friend, and works overtime to introduce doubt about God and His love for you. Entertaining those doubts at any time can be the undoing of your faith in the most important moments of your life.
David was a man after God’s own heart. He had a deep love-relationship with his God and it showed in his spiritual instincts: “O Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me’ (Ps. 7:1); “Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge” (Ps. 16:1); “In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge…Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Ps. 31:1a, 5a); “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Ps. 62:2). Dear one, I could go on and on, for David’s journals flow from a deep heart of unwavering trust.
In the middle of the storm, when lightning strikes terror into your heart, to whom do you go for refuge? A person who takes up their shield of faith will turn to their strong and loving God first. Their knowledge of God’s sovereignty will shield them from the flaming arrows of the evil one. Do not run to others first, no matter how wise they are. Run into the arms of your ever-waiting, every-confident, ever-passionate God, for surely, He is your refuge and shield, rock and fortress.
Be a David. Be a Hezekiah and turn your face toward your God.
He turned toward the wisdom that comes from God. Hezekiah’s second move of faith was to send Eliakim, Shebna, and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah (v 2). This action may seem in direct contradiction to what I have just outlined: don’t go to your friends first. However, the situation here is very different from yours and mine.
First, notice that Hezekiah went to God first; I just want to make that clear. But then he sent a delegation of political and spiritual leaders to the prophet. This was an incredibly trusting act on Hezekiah’s part. His father, Ahaz, had completely disregarded the wisdom of Isaiah years before, so this action of Hezekiah’s stood in direct contradiction to the unbelieving actions of his father. So what does this act of faith mean?
Isaiah was a prophet of God commissioned by God. In Isaiah 6, this young man “saw the Lord” in the heavenly places (v 1). He was refined and sanctified by his holy vision (vv 5-7) and then called into service. God asked him, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah responded, “Here am I. Send me” (v 8). And the Lord released him into service as a mouthpiece of the holy God he had just seen, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing…ever seeing…make the heart of this people calloused..until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken…so the holy seed will be the stump in the land” (vv 9, 10, 12, 13).
God plucked Isaiah out of both Judah and Israel to be His very mouthpiece. Isaiah knew from the beginning that his ministry would often fall on deaf ears, yet he was to be faithful all the way until Israel and Judah fell into captivity…and even beyond. Any king that would listen to Isaiah’s prophecies would be noted as faithful. Any king that disregarded the Word of the Lord as spoken through this prophet, would be considered unfaithful; they would be branded as trying the patience of the Lord (see Isa. 7:13 for example).
Hezekiah knew God. He also was very familiar with the past mistakes of his ancestors, having watched the actual implosion of Israel and her eventual captivity. Not only that, but he had seen first-hand the damage that occurred in Judah when his own father had acted in rebellion to the prophet’s words from God.
When he turned to the prophet Isaiah for godly wisdom and discernment, he was, in fact, acknowledging the powerful presence of the Shekinah glory of God that resided in Isaiah’s ministry. He did not try to “tough” his situation out; instead, he yielded his human, faulty discernment to a man who was obviously filled with the Holy Spirit. By turning to Isaiah, he turned to truth, to the Word of God. By turning to Isaiah, he, in fact, turned wholly toward God.
In this day and age, we do not usually walk a faith-journey that requires a prophet to tell us God’s words. Because we have a high priest who has sacrificed on our behalf, we can approach the throne of grace ourselves with confidence, finding mercy and grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:14, 16). The Holy Spirit Himself, sent from God, teaches us all things and reminds us of everything Jesus has said to us (Jn. 14:26). We have no need of a human advocate; we rely on the Advocates we have in the Trinity.
But we are still in great need of godly wisdom. Where do we find discernment if we do not have a temple or a prophet to teach us God’s exact truths? We are the temple, my friends, and we have the Holy Spirit as a guide to the Scriptures spoken by the very mouth of God.
Hezekiah turned to God and so must we…first. As we look full on the face of God, we will also need to look into the Word, asking the Holy Spirit to direct our requests and our reception of His answers. As we feed upon the Bread of Life, we will never go hungry or thirsty (Jn. 6:35). God promises it! So in great faith, trust God to take care of you and your situation. Turn toward Him first and experience the miraculous hand of Mercy upon your storm-tossed soul.
Shield of Faith
A – Admit Your Helplessness to God
The first three verses of Isaiah 37 give us a lot of practical advice about how to take up the shield of faith in our evil day. We have already seen that we need to 1) turn to God and 2) turn to His Word, but there are actually three more ways faith can be used as a shield in our life. These three principles all fall under a general category: admission of need.
He exhibited grief. We saw that the Jerusalem representatives all tore their clothes in response to the psychological warfare initiated by the Assyrian general. Those torn clothes represented a deep despair, according to four different translations. But no Bible versions translate Hezekiah’s torn clothes as a result of despair – not even one. Anomalies are interesting to me so this disparity stands out pretty clearly. Obviously, there was a difference between Eliakim’s choice to tear his clothes and Hezekiah’s choice. Translators much smarter than me have drawn the line at the heart attitude; Eliakim and company were in despair, but Hezekiah was merely exhibiting grief.
This small discrepancy yielded quite a long study for me last September as I worked my way through this story. I began to look into all the instances where people tore their clothes. What I discovered was that over and over, people tore their clothes when they were in mourning. Jacob tore his clothes when he mourned for Joseph’s apparent death (Gen. 37:34). David tore his clothes while he mourned Abner’s early demise (2 Sam. 3:31). Ahab tore his clothes after he heard God’s prophecy about his forthcoming destruction (1 Kings 21:27). Tamar tore her robe after she was raped, for the dignity that had been stolen from her (2 Sam. 13:19). And there are many more examples.
Hezekiah’s grief at the trouble that has befallen him is mirrored in twp of three descriptive words in verse 3, “This day is a day of distress…and disgrace,” Hezekiah said. That word ‘distress’ means “tightness, adversary, adversity, affliction, anguish, distress, tribulation, and trouble” (ESV Strong’s). This is a word that is used when people fall on hard times and are trying to process their emotions, whether it is anger or fear or defeat. ‘Disgrace’ conjures up feelings of scorn or blasphemy or contempt. Both words are strong grief-describers.
According to the Kubler-Ross Model, there are seven stages of grief:
- Shock (initial paralysis on hearing bad news),
- Denial (trying to avoid the inevitable),
- Anger (frustrated outpouring of bottled up emotion),
- Bargaining (seeking in vain for a way out),
- Depression (final realization of the inevitable),
- Testing (seeking realistic solutions), and
- Acceptance (finally finding the way forward (Kubler-Ross Model)
When bad things happen, and you can bet that being attacked by an enemy is a pretty disturbing circumstance, you and I respond with one of the above reactions. And you may process through them all helter-skelter. You might feel shocked and then begin bargaining or first deny what is happening. Even after acceptance, there may be depression and testing.
I believe that Hezekiah is grieving what has been done and its ramifications. He grieves his nation’s fear, his ancestors’ sin, and his inability to manage the crisis. He grieves the insignificance of his power, his poor choices in the past and the horrifying words of the general. He grieves his impotence, his lack of ability to change his situation, and the fear that overrides his trust.
Many in the church would criticize Hezekiah for his seeming lack of faith, but I do not. I see a great man of faith in this falling-down, clothes-tearing, weeping king. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable in the face of impossible odds. It takes a rock-solid belief system to bare the emotions in what appears to be an unsafe place. This was the crux of the matter for Hezekiah, for all this grief was taken before the God of the impossible, before the Safest of Places; this grief was laid to rest when he went into the temple of the Lord (v 1).
Dear weeping one, the most courageous Person in the whole world was called the Man of Sorrows (Isa 52:3). The Son with the most amount of faith was acquainted with grief (Isa 52:3 – NKJV). The Child with the most surrendered belief system, the One who trusted His Father even when He was forsaken, was no stranger to suffering and grief (Isa. 52:3 – The Passion Translation).
Let this truth rest upon you, hesitant believer: faith admits when it is deeply sorrowful. It comes near to God when it grieves, mourns and wails (Jms. 4:8-9). It does not have to pretend because it knows the One who knows its heart. Make no mistake, Hezekiah raised his faith shield against the flaming arrows of the enemy when he ran to the Lord with tears streaming down his face. And you can too, my friend; you can too.
He demonstrated humility. After Hezekiah tore his clothes in mournful appeal, he put on sackcloth (v 1). Again, this is not an action you and I do every day, but in biblical times, sackcloth was paired with a number of other actions, and it was enacted often. First, we already saw that when people mourned they put on sackcloth (Gen. 37:34, 2 Sam. 3:31, 2 Sam. 21:10), but sackcloth was also a symbol of repentance (1 Kings 21:27, 1 Chron. 21:16ff, Neh. 9:1, Isa. 32:11, Dan. 9:3, Mt. 11:21). Additionally, sackcloth was paired with fasting and prayer (Dan. 9:3, Ps. 35;13, Job 16:15) and even worship (Neh. 9:3).
Sackcloth was used in a variety of situations all throughout the Bible, but over and over, it is used as a symbol of humility. When Ahab was told that his kingdom would come to an end because of his wicked reign, he heard those words, tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went about meekly (1 Kings 21:27). The Lord notices his inward change exhibited in the other actions and said to Elijah, “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son” (1 Kings 21:29). The rough burlap outer covering demonstrated a soft inward heart. Humility paved the way for God to do an even greater work.
In Hezekiah’s case, sackcloth demonstrated his inward humility as well. Hezekiah humbled himself and sought the Lord’s face (Wiersbe, p. 44). The king reacted with penitence and turned to the Lord (Tyndale commentary). We are not privy to the conversation between God and Hezekiah in the temple, but much care is taken to show how Hezekiah went before the Lord, with torn clothes and “penitential burlap gunny sacks” (v 1 in MSG).
James is pretty clear that those in trouble are to submit themselves to God (Jms. 4:7). They are to humble themselves before God so that he can lift them up (v 10). Peter echoes this humility theme: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6). God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (v 5).
Clearly, a sackcloth-mentality is needed in the demonstration of faith. But what does that mean to you and me? How do you and I clothe ourselves with humility; how do we put on sackcloth in this modern era? A few random thoughts occurred to me as I studied many passages involving ashes and humility. Here are some practical ways you can tell if your heart is clothed in sackcloth or not.
|1 – Sees what others have done to me, the injustice of it all.
2 – Tries to be strong on own – erects walls of protection around vulnerability and self-disclosure
3 – Blames others.
4 – Knows I cannot fix it so runs away in fear
5 – Justifies behavior.
6 – Is defensive and self-protective
7 – Lifts head before God.
8 – Blasphemes and curses God – blames Him
|1 – Sees who I am – a sinner – and what I deserve: death (1 Chron. 21:8, 16-17). Also sees what God has done for me – mercy (1 Chron. 21:13)
2 – Understands weakness – tears down walls between God, others and me, is vulnerable, able to disclose (1 Chron. 21:13).
3 – Is sorry for one’s part in the matter, accepts responsibility (1 Chron. 21:8, Heh. 9:33).
4 – Knows I cannot fix it so runs to God in awe (Dan. 9:3).
5 – Repents of behavior (1 Chron. 21:8, Mt. 11:21)
6 – Admits wrong attitude before God (1 Chron. 21:24. 27-29)
7 – Bows head before God (1 Chron. 21:16ff)
8 – Worships God and honors Him (Neh. 9:3)
There are many Scriptures that deal with humility in the Word of God. A sackcloth heart is of great importance to God. So how do you humble yourself like Hezekiah did? You follow the example of Christ. Do not entertain selfish ambition or vain conceit. Consider others better than yourself. Look to the interests of others. Make yourself nothing. Take on the very nature of a servant and become obedient to death; not death on a cross per se, but death of self and vain-glory (Phil. 2:3-4).
Hezekiah shielded his life with faith when he got down on his knees before his God. Casting your cares on God, like 1 Peter 5:7 exhorts, is the pathway to humility. That humility paves the way for God to act: to lift you up, to deliver you, to bring salvation or whatever other miracle God would like to do. So tear your heart, my friend, and clothe it in sackcloth. Humility is the road to the Father’s faithful heart.
He acknowledged his failures. After his outward display of inward grief and after he humbled himself before God, Hezekiah acknowledged his wrongs. We have no written record of the words spoken before God in the temple, but the delegation of palace officials and leading priests spoke these words to Isaiah, “This is what Hezekiah says: This is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them” (v 3). The implication in their words to Isaiah is that Hezekiah had laid out these words first in the temple. They were just passing on to the prophet what Hezekiah had already prayed to God.
We talked already about the words ‘distress’ and ‘disgrace,’ but I want to draw your attention to that word ‘rebuke.’ The NCV translates this word as ‘punishment,’ which is a really accurate picture of what is going on. Rebuke means “chastisement, correction, reproof, punishment or chiding” (ESV Strong’s). Distress shows the truth of the adversity, but rebuke somehow acknowledges that the adversity was merited. Here we have a clear confession from Hezekiah. He knows that he has taken steps all along the way that has brought the enemy to his doorstep: making alliances, allowing pride into his faith, trying to finagle a bribed ‘get free ticket;’ in many ways, he tried everything but humble dependance upon God for His deliverance.
Hezekiah confesses his sinful distrust. He acknowledges that he is unable to “deliver” his people from all that has been planned; he is helpless to accomplish salvation. In fact, if a woman does not have the strength to deliver her baby, that child will die. Similarly, death seemed to be the only prospect for Judah at this point (Ryrie Study Bible Notes). Like a woman giving birth, Hezekiah is unable to deliver himself and his people from the travail. There is no strength left to bring about any form of emancipation.
This end-of-the-road mentality is actually the starting block for God’s earth-ward miracles. As a godly king, Hezekiah had to have known the truths of 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” I believe he was following God’s divine plan for liberation, as seen in that great prayer of Solomon at the opening of the original temple.
King Hezekiah chose to humble himself, to pray, and seek God’s face. This word ‘rebuke’ shows that he confessed his sins and turned from his wicked, distrusting ways. What follows then, is God hearing, forgiving sin, and healing their land. Next week we will see that God did, in fact, fulfill His end of the 2 Chronicles 7:14 conditional covenant.
Friend, there will be no deliverance without repentant surrender. I was just reading about the leper who was healed by Jesus in Luke 5:12ff. He asked the Lord to heal him “if he was willing.” Jesus said, “I am willing…Be clean” (v 13). As I was talking with the Lord about a certain “leprous” attitude I have, the Lord clearly asked me, “Heather, are you willing to be made clean on this issue?” I actually had to wrestle that one through with the Lord for a bit, but as the Lord gently pushed, I realized that there would be no deliverance without my willing surrender.
You and I will always have crises points like this, where we will have to confess our distrust and unwillingness to be made clean. It is true – we cannot heal ourselves. We cannot deliver into this world the works of God; we are simply laboring women who have no strength to enact change and new life. Only He is able to accomplish the impossible and we had better begin our approach to him like the leper did, falling with our faces to the ground and begging for His healing touch (Lk. 5:12). Confession opens the door for God’s healing work.
Whether the healing involves a removal of shame or fear, a washing clean of impurity or self-sufficiency, or a deliverance from a blighted relationship, God is willing to do it. Not only is He willing, but He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). The question is: are you willing to acknowledge your own helplessness in the process? Acknowledge it, precious one. Lay out your grief, your pride, and your failures before God. Then allow the Healing Balm of heaven to deliver that impossible “baby” into the dawn of a new day.
Helmet of Salvation
K – Keep God’s Glory as Your Highest Priority
Verse 4 in this intriguing interplay between God and man adds a level of depth to the grief Hezekiah displayed. Yes, I believe he was grieved for the desperate situation he was in. I think he saw the rebuke of God in the field commander’s decimating words, and I am pretty sure this rebuke enabled him to confess his shortcomings. But there was a deeper sense of sorrow going on here, a grief that you and I must understand if we are to combat the enemy and stand firm in our storms.
Listen to these words and see if you can discern the deeper spiritual battle at play, “It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the Lord your God has heard…” Do you see it – the deeper distress? Do you grasp the significance of these words?
Hezekiah understands what matters most, the mocking of God. More than his personal safety, more than the deliverance of his city, and even more than the salvation of the remnant, Hezekiah is concerned with God’s reputation. The survival of the kingdom is important, yet Hezekiah verbalizes that the triumph of what the kingdom stands for – the glory of God – is far more important than anything else (paraphrase – ESV Study Bible notes). Hezekiah’s hope was not based on Judah’s goodness, his own trust-relationship with God, or even the presence of the temple; instead, it was based on God responding to Assyrian blasphemy.
The Assyrian general had disparaged the gods of the nations, including the God of Israel. Let me remind you of his words, “Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from them? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand” (36:18-20).
The words of the general struck fear into the heart of Hezekiah, I’m sure, but notice what theme he picks up and carries to God: life. The Rabshakeh lumped the God of Israel into the same pot as all the false, contrived, humanly-constructed gods of the nations, which to an Israelite, would have been blasphemous. This outraged king tattled on Assyria to whom? What kind of God was the God of Israel?
Folks, get this: God is a living God. He is not a dead idol fashioned by desperate human hands. Notice the article ‘the’ in front of the Lord’s description: “the living God.” Hezekiah knew a God who was in a totally different category from the gods of all the surrounding nations. He was a living, breathing, active, personal, and sovereign God. To this living God Hezekiah prayerfully appealed.
Living God, will you not hear what is being said about you? Living God, will you not act on behalf of your own dignity, glory and honor? Living God, will you not rebuke the field commander for his ignorant, haughty and defaming words? Living God, will you not be my living God?
So many times in the middle of the storm, we are most concerned about ourselves. Our reputation, position and rank. Our appearance of authority and collectedness. Our character and justice. But what I see in this simple verse is sincere humility and an other-centered focus. Though Hezekiah could have prayed for God to answer on his behalf, he didn’t. Though he could have listed God’s promises given to the city of Jerusalem and the lineage of David, he didn’t. What he did instead is dumbfounding to me: he prayed for God to hear on God’s behalf.
Precious God-seeker, is there any more powerful impetus for prayer than the integrity and glory of God? I ask you, what purer motive for God’s answer could there be? Isaiah’s heart sought God wholeheartedly and centered in the middle of a prayer are listed these incredible words, “The path of the righteous is level; O Upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts” (Isa. 26:7-8).
Can you echo Isaiah’s words honestly and with sincere integrity. Do you desire to walk in God’s laws? Do you really wait on Him to move? Is God’s name and His renown the absolute highest desire of your heart?
Whoa! I struggle to answer these questions myself. For it is in the midst of the storms that I tend to hunker down in a self-defensive posture. I struggle to think of the other guy more than myself, let alone of One I do not even see. It seems to me that this mindset – God’s preeminent glory – comes at the end of a very long struggle for surrender. I want to pray like Hezekiah. I want to be able to say, after I have tenaciously wrestled it through, that the Living God and His reputation are my highest pride and joy. Oh, let it be said of me, dear God; let it be said of me.
You might be asking what this theme has to do with the helmet of salvation. If you will remember, the helmet of salvation protects the mind, which is the very area the enemy seeks to destroy. What we have in Christ, our inheritance, is just a small tip of the iceberg of our salvation. When you put on the helmet of salvation, learning to see yourself the way God sees you, you will begin to walk differently. The flesh is very self-centered, but salvation is completely other-centered. The more you walk in the truths of your salvation in Christ, the more you will be able to echo John’s words as he came to understand the Savior of the world, “He must become greater; I must become less” (Jn. 3:30).
Dear one, as you wallpaper the inside of your mind with the blessings of salvation, God’s glory will become more and more your priority. You will not continue to live in the mire of self-absorption; you will soon fly on the humble wings of salvation’s deliverance. God’s helmet of salvation will become your protection and that protection will lead to glory-filled praise.
Helmet of Salvation
E – Entreat God as His child
One of the most incredible treasures of your inheritance in Christ is your “sonship.” When you received Christ into your life, when you believed in His name, He gave you the right to become a child of God (Jn. 1:12). “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are” (1 Jn. 3:1)! Not only are we children of God, but we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).
Let these three verses just sit upon you for a while. Do you understand what God is saying? More than that, do you actually believe all of these promises to be true…for you? I can tell you that your prayer life will reflect whether your “daughter-ship” has truly impacted your heart or not. If you struggle to believe this part of your inheritance, you will not approach God with confidence and you will not pray with a bonded-with-heaven kind of boldness. But if your heart is knit together with your Abba’s, you will speak to God, knowing that He hears you and loves you as His own.
Hezekiah prayed a child-like, faith-filled prayer. Outraged on his Father’s behalf, he asked God to rebuke the field commander for his ridicule of the living God. But on the heels of that glory-centered request, he adds a tiny phrase, “Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives” (v 4b).That word ‘remnant’ means a “remainder or residual portion,” but it also has the connotation of “posterity and descendants” (ESV Strong’s).
Israel had already been taken into captivity. Honestly, Judah had come close a number of times, but God relented for the sake of His promise to David that his throne would be established forever (2 Sam. 7:13,16). David was a man after God’s own heart, a “weaned child” before his God (Ps. 131:2). As part of David’s line and partaker of David’s promise, Hezekiah asked God to spare Judah, though they were small (Amos 7:2), like any loved child would.
As a daughter of the King, you have a high priest who sympathizes with you in your weakness. As a child of God, you can approach the throne of grace with confidence. As a remnant of His favor, you can receive mercy and find grace to help you in your time of need (Heb. 4:15, 16).
Put on your helmet, my friend, and ask your heavenly Father to preserve a remnant:
As a precious child of God, these are just a few of the incredible treasures of your inheritance.
Sword of the Spirit
U – Undermine Fear with God’s Sovereignty
Hezekiah’s officials took the king’s message to Isaiah (vv 3-4), but when they came to the prophet, he had a word from God all ready to give to them. “Tell your master,” he said, “Do not be afraid of what you have heard – those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me” (v 6).
Notice the first words of Isaiah to the palace representatives: Do not be afraid. How many times have we studied these words together, and yet how many times do we still struggle with fear? Of late, I battle this fear-filled position on a daily basis, it seems, for I am in a spiritual battle that I cannot win, except for the power of my sovereign God.
God’s often-used answer to the presence of fear is His own presence: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa 41:10, for example). God’s presence scatters fear, like light dispelling the darkness, if we but put on the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation and if we take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
But God’s answer to Hezekiah is not the answer of His presence, but His sovereignty. Just as Hezekiah prayed that God would rebuke the Assyrian general on the basis of His own reputation, God answered in similar fashion. He is the Living God, after all. So how did He demonstrate His sovereignty?
The LORD says: First, notice the name that He called Himself: LORD. This is the name Yahweh, meaning “the self-Existent or Eternal One, the existing One” (ESV Strong’s). This is the name to which Hezekiah referred when he sent his message to Isaiah (see v 4a). This is also the name given to Moses when that poor shepherd wrestled with the calling he was given. He spoke these words over Moses to alleviate his fears, “I Am That I Am.” Moses’ whole issue was that the people of Israel would not know the name of the One who sent him. He asked God what His name was and God answered, “I Am Who I Am…say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you” (Ex. 3:14).
In Isaiah’s response, the representatives should have heard overtones of sovereignty. I AM was sovereign over Moses’ inability, for He turned a cane into a snake and a hand into leprous snow. I AM stood sovereign in the court of Pharaoh, unhanding false god after false god in the plagues He created. I AM was sovereign over death, since the blood of the lamb staved off the hand of the avenging angel. I AM sovereignly walked by day and night in the midst of a forty-year span of sinning, contemptuous people, for He brought water out of a rock, quail out of the air, and victory out of defeat. I AM enabled a bumbling, rebellious people to take the promised land. I AM equipped leaders and overthrew kingdoms. Fear-filled one, in all of the history of the Israelites – and I do mean ALL – they knew I AM to be their sovereign Lord and King.
Do you have a growing sense of your own inability? I AM is the God of the impossible (Mk. 10:27). Are there some gods residing in your belief system? I AM is already exalted far above all gods (Ps. 97:9). Are you fighting to cheat death? I AM already did that (Mt. 28:5-6). Do you struggle with addiction, sin and self-contempt? I AM walks in your midst to lead you into your promised land (Heb. 12:28). Do you feel ill-equipped and oppressed? I AM is all you need for He has good plans for you (Jer. 29:11) and has already given you the victory (1 Jn. 5:4-5).
Loved one, know this: your I AM is all you will ever need. He is sovereign
What you have heard: This may be an obscure mention, but I believe this phrase is in response to the portion of Hezekiah’s message to Isaiah, which said, “It may be that the LORD…will hear.” I believe that, by re-stating part of Hezekiah’s words back to him, God was trying to remind him that He was sovereign. He can hear what is spoken; in fact, He even knows the thoughts and intents of the heart. Whatever is spoken out in the heavenly places is completely known by our sovereign God.
The underlings of the king of Assyria: There is some discrepancy in how different Bible versions interpret this phrase. The ESV calls them “young men;” the NKJV “servants.” Many commentators believe this phrase to be a disparaging one, that God was belittling the Assyrian delegation. I do not believe this to be true. When has God ever called people names in order to build Himself up? Never, I tell you, so what is really going on here?
In Hezekiah’s original message to Isaiah, he referenced the “words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God” (v 4). Notice the words of title: field commander, king of Assyria and living God. There is a sense of fear covering all of Hezekiah’s descriptive words for, to him, these are really important people. God answered that sense of personal insignificance with His own great significance. In effect, I think God was saying, That field commander is merely a young boy, an underling, a servant. And that king of Assyria is not all that powerful either; he is under my control. Against all appearances, the whole nation of Assyria is under my sovereign thumb and that king will not move one inch against you unless I will it. I am the living God, remember?
God does not need to disparage people to make His point. He merely has to compare their power with His supreme omnipotence, their control of nations with His omnipresence, and their potential for tactical advantages with His potentiality for all-knowing omniscience.
Folks, God is sovereign. There is just no way around this truth.
Have blasphemed me. In the NIV, there are two different words used for the mocking tone of the general: reviled and blasphemed (vv 4, 6). However, in the original language they are the same word gadap. This word means “to hack with words, revile (men), blaspheme (God), reproach” (ESV Strong’s). Hezekiah prayed that God would hear the reviling words spoken about Him and in His answer through Isaiah, God let Hezekiah know that He did – and He used the same word to prove it.
It is almost as if God was echoing the truths of Psalm 55, “But I call to God and the LORD saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me. God, who is enthroned forever, will hear them and afflict them – men who never change their ways and have no fear of God” (vv 16-19).
When you call out to God, the sovereign Lord saves. When you scream out your distress toward the heavens, the sovereign Lord hears your voice. Though many oppose you, the sovereign Lord works to ransom you unharmed from the storm around you. Your sovereign God is enthroned forever. He will especially hear and afflict those who do not change their ways and have no fear of God, especially act when people who shake their fists at the heavens and “hack” at others and God with their words.
When Hezekiah’s entourage approached Isaiah, he already had a word of the Lord to give them. That word was to be their sword of the Spirit. When they felt fear, they were to say, “It is written: The sovereign LORD says that He hears how mere men revile Him.” Not only that but speak these words, “It is written: the Lord will hear people who speak blasphemous words and will afflict them.”
Friend, God’s words are your sword. They are not spoken idly or casually. They are power and truth and life…for you. Gather His words together like pearls of great price. Then pick up your sword and speak the truth of His sovereignty out over your storm-tossed heart and mind.
Sword of the Spirit
P – Place Your Trust in God’s Rhema Words
My mom used to sing a little children’s song to me when I was quite little, “God said it and I believe it / And that settles it for me / God said it and I believe it / And that settles it for me / Though some may doubt that His Word is true / I’ve chosen to believe it, now how about you? / God said it and I believe it / And that settles it for me. (Songwriters: Braun/Adam Stephens Robert)
It’s amazing that I still remember this chorus after all these years, although the truths internalized as a child often run the gamut of an entire life. To be concise, the truth of this little ditty is really the essence of our faith. We may say that we believe the Word of God, but only storms will tell. When life is pitching all of its violence against you, when the flaming arrows of the evil one are launched in your direction, then, and only then, will you know the status of your belief system. Friend, you must bone up on the truth. You must know God’s words for your situation. You must wield the sword of the Spirit.
The last statement made by God from the lips of Isaiah are very clear, “Listen! I am going to put a spirit in him so that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword” (v 7). There are four promises spoken here, four rhema words for Hezekiah’s shaking heart:
- I will put in him a certain mindset (The Passion Translation)
- The king will receive a message that he is needed at home (NLT)
- He will rush home to take care of it (MSG)
- I will cause him to die by the sword there (NCV)
Now, I don’t know about you, but these are some pretty clear promises. If God spoke these kinds of words to me, I would sit up and pay attention…or would I? It is easy to look at another person’s life – like Hezekiah’s – and see everything so clearly. My own perspective is often shrouded by the unrelenting reality of concerns, busyness, and woundedness.
How do I look beyond my veiled perspective? How do I clearly see circumstances that are darkened by the evil one? I must sit often in the truth of God’s Word. As I put on the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation, and take up the sword of the Spirit, these elements of my spiritual inheritance become more real than my perceived reality. Then I am more able to “rightly divide the word of truth” and my circumstances as a result (2 Tim. 2:15 – NKJV).
How Hezekiah Took Up His Armor
In case I have lost you along the way, I want to take a minute or two to summarize my main thoughts. Hezekiah experienced the enemy’s attack when his men returned with the blasphemous threats of the Assyrian commander. In that moment, he had two clear choices: stand firm in his faith or not at all (Isa. 7:9b). With his father’s poor choice pounding in the back of his mind, he knew the consequences of unbelief. And clearly, he had made his own mistakes along the way.
What would he do in his evil day? He stood firm, I am glad to say, but he also took up three more important pieces of armor: the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. So that you and I have an idea of the practical implications of his choice, here is a bullet list of what taking up armor really looks like.
The Shield of Faith
Just like the umbrella that kept the Filipino sun from burning me up, Hezekiah’s faith shielded him from the flaming darts of fear, insecurity, doubt, and independence. So what does faith look like according to Hezekiah’s play book:
- Faith is humble and penitent (v 1)
- Faith turns to God (v 1)
- Faith seeks godly counsel (v 2)
- Faith is repentant of its pride (v 3)
- Faith is honest with God and others (v 3)
- Faith is dependent upon God only (v 3)
- Faith has God’s reputation at heart (v 4)
- Faith prays to God…first (v 4)
- Faith believes God’s words (vv 6-7)
How is your faith-quotient, dear one? Where do you first turn when you do not know what to do? Turn to the Faithful One; He will never fail you.
The Helmet of Salvation
You will remember the story of John, who had that terrible motorcycle accident, yet managed to stay alive due to a passerby’s quick thinking as well as the helmet he had remembered to put on his head. Like John, Hezekiah covered his mind, his thinking, with the truths of his inheritance in Christ. These truths are your inheritance as well:
- Hezekiah went to the temple when he was in desperate need. You, however, are the temple of the Living God (v 1 – 1 Cor. 3:16).
- Hezekiah entered the temple to find God’s presence. You can enter God’s presence at any time; His throne room is your anxiety’s resting place (v 1 – Heb. 4:16)
- Hezekiah worked through God’s intermediary: Isaiah. By way of your inheritance, you have your own Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (v 2 – 1 Jn. 2:1 -NKJV)
- Hezekiah likened himself to a child who could not be delivered in travail. You, also are a child of God with the promise that you are a conqueror through Him who loves you (v 3 – Rom. 8:16, 37).
- Hezekiah appealed to God’s compassion on him as a remnant. You are also considered a remnant by the election of grace (v 4 – Rom. 11:5 – NKJV)
There are hundreds more verses that detail who you are in Christ; these are just a tiny sampling of the protective covering of your helmet of salvation. Look them up and begin to meditate on and memorize them. These truths may be the only protection you have in the evil day.
The Sword of the Spirit
We do not have a record in these eight verses of Hezekiah speaking out the rhema words of God. However, we do have the example of Jesus in the wilderness. He is the one who taught us to say, “It is written” and wield the truths of Scripture on the evil day. Hezekiah’s story does show us the importance of the Word of God. Notice what the sword reminds us of:
- God’s words show that He is sovereign over people’s thinking (“I will put in him a certain mindset” – The Passion Translation).
- God’s words show that He is sovereign over the events of our lives (“The king will receive a message that he is needed at home” – NLT)
- God’s words show us that He knows the future (“He will rush home to take care of it – MSG)
- God’s words show us that He will right all wrongs (“I will cause him to die by the sword there” – NCV)
Perhaps your storm involves one of these four anxiety-ridden thoughts: someone may be thinking horrible things about you; your circumstances may seem out of control; your future looks pretty grim; or your justice is way overdue. Today, dear beleaguered warrior, take heart! Listen to I AM’s words; they are powerful:
“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks in pieces he cedars of Lebanon…The voice of the LORD strikes with flashes of lightning. The voice of the LORD shakes the desert; the LORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry “Glory!…Nations are in an uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, and the earth melts” (Ps. 29:3-9, 46:6).
In the middle of the storm, I pray that you will hear I AM’s voice. I pray that you will listen to Him carefully. But most of all, I pray that you will speak I AM’s rhema words out over your situation.
The Enlightened Warrior
Backtrack thirty-four pages to my scary experience in the dead of night on a deserted mission station. I told that story for a particular reason: it mirrors the stance of a spiritual warrior in the middle of a storm. Remember that the intruder broke into our house and while he was rummaging all through it, my mom slipped out of bed and locked the door. That locked door, in the spiritual realm, is a great symbol of a person who has put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shoes of peace. Standing firm in these three pieces of armor will be enough to give the enemy pause.
However, if the enemy continues to pick at the locks of your life or work to break down the firm barriers you have erected, you will have to engage the enemy at your soul’s door. Slip out of the comforts of your firm bed with great faith, knowing Whose you are and how you are equipped. Then take the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God that shines brilliantly in the darkness. Like my mother’s quick thinking in shining the flashlight under our bedroom door, the sword will enlighten your darkness and the enemy at the same time. He will know you are not easy bait. He will be rebuked by the authority of Christ in you and he will turn and flee. Turn that light on and the devil will flee from you (Jms. 4:7, 1 Pet. 5:9).
Stand firm with the belt of truth buckled in place, with the breastplate of righteousness securely fastened and with your shoes fixed in the gospel of peace. Wield that sword of the Spirit with one hand, the shield of faith with the other, and above all, cover your shaky thinking with the truth of your salvation. Then fight on, enlightened warrior; fight on.