Preparing to walk

Scriptures: Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20

I’ve always had problems with sermon titles. Anyone who’s been my office manager can tell you that I frequently leave those blank. I know what a topic might be, but a catchy sermon title is really hard to get.

Some of you might be wondering, if you pay attention to these things, just where my brain was when I picked “Preparing to Walk” when I was preaching on Ephesians 6, which talks about battle. To most people there’s a big difference between going for a walk and a battle.

But there are preparations that are needed for both. And our walk is a battle, as we’ll speak of later on in the sermon. It is a battle each and every day. Yet it is a marathon as well, as Paul says.

We can prepare for our walk, our sports, in a couple of different ways. I mentioned a marathon. One way you prepare for a marathon is you start with one distance, and you slowly increase it, bit by bit by bit, until you’re running far too much (speaking as a non-runner). But when the time comes for that marathon, you can complete it and still be healthy afterward.

Sometimes with more interactive sports, we lift weights to do muscle training. Or we do flexibility training. Wrestlers and gymnasts need that. So we train our bodies. We prepare them for the actual events, so that we can succeed when we do them.

Sometimes I wish that we had the same kind of dedication to our Christian walk, that we do to our sports, whether as a person who participates in them as a child or an adult, or someone who is a spectator and follows it, with our children and our grandchildren.

I think sometimes we’re more disciplined about going to those sports events than to our faith. And we’re certainly better prepared. Everybody has their lawn chairs and umbrellas, their water bottles, sometimes snacks. So we prepare ourselves.

The second way we can prepare ourselves as we prepare for sports is by our gear. Some of you may know this, but this was a revelation to me this week. Did you know that football, baseball, soccer, and golf all use different kinds of cleats? Maybe it’s because some are running in the grass, some are running on the dirt … I’m not sure.

Maybe it’s because of the way they have to move. But they all use different kinds of cleats. In fact, one of the problems for football players is when they move from natural grass to Astroturf, they can’t use those cleats. If they used cleats it would tear up the Astroturf, and the owners really don’t want that. They have to use sneakers, and it’s a lot slicker.

Sometimes you wear pads for your gear, particularly for football. You wear headgear for baseball and wrestling and other sports. Why? Because you don’t want to get hit by the ball. And if you do, you want to be able to get up again.

You prepare yourself for battles in much the same way. You do your training. Maybe boot camp, but even after that, continuing your training. You wear the right gear that’s needed for your job, whether it be in the military or the police or other positions. I had to wear steel-toed shoes for a large part of my life, when I was either in the lab or the warehouse. So you want to have the right gear.

Paul talks about this gear. And he talks about battle. But it’s in a context that speaks about a walk. Prior to this, Paul describes the faithful life. Then in chapters 4 through the beginning of 6, he tells them that they can be sure they’ll be involved in spiritual warfare. In chapter 4 in particular, he tells us to walk worthy of the calling to which we’ve been called. I love to use that phrase. So this walk is set in the very context of battle.

So we need to do two kinds of training for our walk. We need to prepare our bodies and minds and hearts. And then we need to have the right gear. Fortunately for us, we can save money. We really only need one thing to provide all of those. That is this, right here [holds up the Bible].

We’re going to go through some of the ways in which we can do that, first with the gear, and then our preparations for our walk. That and the Holy Spirit, which God has already promised will be with us, and is guaranteed. Because it’s already been paid for, through Jesus Christ.

We are to put on the armor of God. That word for “put on” doesn’t mean you put it on, you take it off, you put it on, you take it off – it’s not like a football uniform or other sports uniform. It’s something that you put on and keep on, the whole time that you are walking. You don’t take it off to give yourself a break.

Paul tells us the reasons that we need to stand firm, and I’m going to go into that in a little bit, in a minute or two, as he tells us about the battle that we’re in, each day that we walk. But first I want to look at the rest of the gear here.

We take the whole armor of God, it says in verse 13, and it starts with the belt of truth around your waist. The belt of truth, not “your truth, my truth” like people seem to have these days, subjective truth, but the truth of the Word of God – God’s truth. It is a truth that stands on its own and stands the test of time. It is a truth that is sometimes very hard to hear.

And it’s our belt. Why is it our belt? It’s our belt for two reasons. Number one, belts were used to hang weapons off of. But also, belts in those days were used to tuck their robes into, so they didn’t trip as they walked. You need the truth so you don’t stumble and trip up. Instead, we gird ourselves with this truth.

We put on the breastplate of righteousness. This is not our righteousness. We have no cause to be self-righteous. We have no reason to be proud or arrogant. This is the righteousness of Christ, the same righteousness that Paul, in Romans, speaks of putting on, so that when God sees us, He sees Christ’s righteousness, not our sin-stained souls. This is the kind of righteousness that comes from being a faithful follower of Christ, and a disciple who emulates Him.

“As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” And the gospel is of peace. Again, we’re going to get a little more in depth into what that means, “the gospel of peace,” because it’s important for us to understand our position in this war and what it is we’re sharing.

Take up the shield of faith, which comes from the Holy Spirit. It’s not a buckler, not a shield that just fits on your arm. The word that’s used for shield there is the one used for the Roman soldier’s tower shield. They were big enough to hide a person behind. It stood about four and a half or five feet tall.

They usually had metal covered with leather that had been soaked in water before the battle, so soaked that sometimes it was dripping, because if the enemy shot fiery arrows, then they would be quenched against the shield. You could lift up the shield and intercept those darts. So Paul uses that as an image of how we handle the flaming arrows of the evil one. That’s the shield of faith.

We take up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. The helmet of salvation, that which protects our head, that which protects our mind, that which protects our soul. For us, that is the assurance of salvation. We know that in Jesus Christ we have been saved. We have the assurance of ultimate victory.

We cannot, cannot be overcome, if we place ourselves in His hands and depend on His power and His strength to sustain us. Nobody else has that kind of assurance. But we do, through our salvation in Jesus Christ, because we know just how much God loves us and just how much God has for us, through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

The sword of the Spirit is the word of God. I would note that not all swords, but most swords – not daggers but swords – are two-edged. That means they cut both ways. That’s important, because that means that this word of God is not just for the people around us, not just for fighting the devil.

It’s for ourselves as well. Sometimes we get a word we don’t want to hear, and it cuts us, because we recognize there’s some part of our life that is not prepared properly, and we need to change it and our gear.

We put on all this gear to stand firm. We are warriors of peace. That doesn’t mean we don’t fight. It means that we defend. In one of Peter’s letters, he says to always be prepared to defend the hope which you have and have been given in Jesus Christ. We are to defend ourselves. Stand firm.

The word that is used there is a military term that speaks of standing and holding a hill or a piece of land that you have been given, a piece of property. There are two things that you know about that when you are given those commands. Number one, somebody is going to come and attack it. Number two, reinforcements are coming, if you just stand firm. You don’t give in, in your walk.

I almost used Psalm 1 instead of Psalm 84, in spite of the fact that Psalm 84 was what was in the lectionary. Psalm 1 is one of my favorite psalms.

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

We don’t walk in the way of the wicked. We don’t want to stumble. We don’t want to get off track, which is what happens when we walk in the way of the wicked. When it talks about standing in the way of the sinners, it doesn’t mean you getting in their way. It means that you’re standing like the sinners, and yet you’re standing firm.

Don’t stand firm as the sinners do, because you’re invested in your sin. You don’t want to get rid of it, you don’t want to stop, you want to find a way around that. Addicts. Alcoholics. Gossipers. People who utilize anger for the sense of power that it gives them. Standing in the way of the sinners.

Then sitting in the seat of the scoffers. That means you teach other people. In those days, in Jesus’ day and earlier, the teachers got to sit. The students had to stand, until the teacher told them they could sit. Because the teacher had authority. The teacher was respected. It wasn’t a “show,” it was a “tell.”

We see signs of that, vestiges of that, today, in places like court. What happens when the judge comes in? The bailiff says, “All rise.” Why? Because we respect the authority that the judge represents. The judge gets to sit first, and then say all may be seated.

So we want to stand firm. We want to defend the peace that we have, this gospel of peace. This peace does not mean no conflict, obviously. Not just Paul, but Jesus himself used terms of conflict that would happen. Sons set against father, daughter against mother, brother against brother.

But this peace is an assurance. This peace is a serenity of our salvation, of our future, of our hope that cannot be taken away, so that we cannot be overcome by despair. That’s important, because we fight three battles.

One is against our own flesh. Even though we are new creatures in Christ and have new natures, the old life hasn’t gone yet, until the day of glorification. Paul says, and I love to quote it, “I do what I don’t want to do and I don’t do what I do want to do.” (It’s almost as good a tongue twister as “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”) Our nature fights us.

The world fights us, because the world is wrong. It’s fallen. We need to defend against it. Last week, for those of you who were here, I talked about the relationship between the Church and the culture, and I talked about apposition, being side by side. Standing firm in what we believe and setting up a witness and an example for the world to see what is better.

Not to force it on them, because then they’ll just resent it. But to lure them, to be winsome and show them so that they want to change, because they see it’s a better way. Better to have that assurance, better to have that joy, better to have that serenity. So we are warriors for the gospel of peace, and because we are for the gospel of peace, we put on these shoes and we need to walk.

The third battle we have, as we walk, is against the powers of darkness. Satan, the devil, those things that are unseen. It’s not popular these days to talk about the devil and demons (except in movies), but he is real, and they do attack us. Notice, they don’t defend – they attack. They are trying to take the ground we have been given to keep. Thus we need to stand firm, even as we walk. Walk in the way worthy of the calling to which we’ve been called.

So we have our gear, and our gear is primarily located though what we learn in here [holds up the Bible]. We prepare ourselves as well. We prepare ourselves as we study and learn the Word of God. We prepare ourselves as we pray in the Spirit at all times.

“Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.” Pray in prayer? Doesn’t that sound kind of strange? I’m praying, so I’m in prayer. But he says pray in the Spirit. Don’t pray for just what you want. Don’t pray for what you think. Pray in the Spirit. Ask the Spirit of God to lead you. Spend time just being in the presence of God, so you can hear what He has to say.

“Pray in the Spirit … in every prayer and supplication.” That means we can ask for stuff, that’s supplication. We can ask for stuff for other people. We can ask for stuff for God to intervene in our lives. But we have to do it according to the will of God, and we do that only in the Spirit.

The only way that we can know that, what that will is by being prepared to receive it. Being prepared as we put on our armor, so we’re not distracted by the devil. We’re not swamped by the world. We’re not led astray by our own desires. And being prepared in our body and our mind and spirit by our training, with the Word of God.

I hope that, even though we talked about battle today, that this word today is a word of hope for you. We have been given everything we need. We just need to take it up, and put it on, and then move forward. As we do, we will know that peace. We will know that assurance. And we will experience that joy that comes from being the happy warrior who rests in God.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

%d bloggers like this: