I once heard a Christian psychologist on the radio say that to tell hurting people to “trust God” is useless advice. Giving him the benefit of a doubt, perhaps he meant that just to repeat that phrase without explaining how to trust God, is useless advice. But that’s obvious.
I rather think that he meant that trusting God wouldn’t help the hurting person work through the deeper struggles in his life. For that, he needs a psychotherapist!
If he was right, I wonder how the many generations of saints through the centuries before the advent of modern psychotherapy managed to deal with life’s overwhelming problems? They faced the sudden death of loved ones. They had disappointments and discouraging setbacks.
They struggled with friends and family who betrayed them. They had to cope with failing health, the loss of income, and the fears of armies that threatened to invade their homelands. Life wasn’t any different then than it is now. How did they cope without psychotherapy?
Answer: they trusted in the living God. Listen to how David described his grim situation (Ps. 31:13): “For I have heard the slander of many, terror is on every side; while they took counsel together against me, they schemed to take away my life.” Then he added (31:14-15a), “But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord, I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand.”
Trusting in the living God is not useless advice! It is the secure stronghold of saints in dire circumstances down through the centuries. And it is Paul’s counsel to us here: To stand firm against the enemy’s attacks, take up the shield of faith.
Paul pictures the believer in the heat of battle. The air is thick with flaming arrows that had been dipped in pitch and set on fire. It’s a life and death situation. How will he survive? Paul’s answer is (Eph. 6:16), “In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
When the enemy attacks, believers are to trust in God and His sure promises to block and quench the flaming arrows.
The Bible is full of stories of believers who were in overwhelming circumstances, where they despaired of life itself. What did they do? They couldn’t get an appointment with their psychotherapist. He didn’t do battlefront calls. So they cried out to God and trusted in Him.
In many cases, He delivered them from death. In other cases, He sustained them as they died in faith. You can read a summary of these stories in Hebrews 11.
1. There is an evil enemy that is seeking to destroy you.
Satan is the evil one, a hideously malevolent power who is relentlessly opposed to God and to God’s people. As we saw, this is not just an impersonal force for evil in the world, but rather an intelligent, cunning personal evil spirit who commands an army of evil spirits at war against God, His holy angels, and His saints.
What are these flaming arrows of the evil one? They include all forms of temptation that are common to us all:
· It may be the temptation to pride and selfishness that we all battle every day.
· It can be the slanderous things that others say about us.
· It may be the temptation to fear world events or to fear our own difficult circumstances, including health problems or death itself.
· There are the flaming arrows of discouragement, despair, and doubting God.
· Many of our brethren around the world face the arrows of persecution.
· They have lost loved ones and all of their personal possessions because of their faith in Christ. They are under intense pressure to renounce their faith in order to escape with their lives.
The enemy will follow up the arrows with the accusation, “Ha! You call yourself a Christian, but look at how you’re thinking! You’re just fooling yourself! You aren’t following Christ or you wouldn’t have thoughts like that!” How do you deal with this attack? You take up the shield of faith! But, what does that mean?
2. To take up the shield of faith means actively trusting in the living God and His Word.
Paul to use the shield of faith to refer to actively trusting in God. It is applying what God is and what He says to the particular problem or temptation that the enemy has shot at us. Note three things:
A. The shield protects us as we take refuge behind it.
Roman soldiers had two kinds of shields. They had a smaller shield that fit on one arm. It could be easily maneuvered to ward off the enemy’s sword in close combat. But they also had larger shields (referred to here), about four feet high by two and a half feet wide, that they hid behind while advancing against the enemy.
They were made of wood, covered with leather, and bound with iron. The soldiers would stand shield to shield, forming a wall of protection against the enemy’s flaming arrows. As long as they were behind their shields, they were protected.
If they moved out from behind the shield, they could suffer painful or fatal wounds. One soldier reported having over 200 enemy arrows in his shield after an intense battle! So the shield was essential for survival!
Martyn Lloyd-Jones (The Christian Soldier [Baker], p. 305) says, “Faith here means the ability to apply quickly what we believe so as to repel everything the devil does or attempts to do to us.”
B. The shield is our faith in the living God and His Word.
The Bible often refers to God Himself as our shield. The Lord appeared to Abraham in a vision and said (Gen. 15:1), “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.”
David knew God in the same way. Ps. 18:2-3: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”
There is a difference between knowing intellectually that God is a shield to all that take refuge in Him and actually taking refuge in Him by faith.
C. To take up this shield, we must actively trust in God.
Looking at your circumstances and at God’s promises and deciding to rely on God.
Carl Brecheen gave me the idea many years ago to read the Psalms often. The Psalms are experiential examples of men in desperate circumstances that trusted in the Lord for deliverance. Often, the psalmist’s life is in danger. He rehearses his circumstances and then cries out to God for help. By the end of the psalm, even though his circumstances have not yet changed at all, he rejoices in God’s promised salvation.
That’s how you actively trust God. You analyze your situation:
· “God, I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer.”
· “God, my teenager is rebelling against you and being sucked into this evil world.”
· “God, I need a job to provide for my family.”
You tell the Lord your desperate situation. Then, you rehearse who God is and what He has promised and you make a decision to rely on Him. You may have to say with Job (13:15), “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him,” because you know that beyond the grave you have eternal life with Him.
Implicit in this process is the next step: Actively trusting in God requires knowing your weakness and God’s strength and His promises.
We all tend to trust in ourselves and in our own ability to get ourselves out of the difficulties we face. So the Lord has to bring us to see our weakness.
Faith by definition looks away from oneself and to God alone for help.
But to trust in God we must also know God’s strength and His promises. We learn of these qualities and promises in God’s Word.
Sometimes Christians complain that they don’t have enough faith. They see a Christian with strong faith and they say, “I wish I could have faith like you have!” But that puts the focus on faith itself, rather than on God.
Faith is only as good as its object. Your faith will grow stronger as you read God’s Word and see how He has sustained believers in every imaginable kind of difficulty.
3. Taking up the shield of faith implies that we are not in the fight alone.
As I said, the Roman army moved ahead by the soldiers putting their shields side by side, forming a wall of defense. While each soldier had to hold his own shield, the strength came by doing it with all the others.
So while each believer must take up the shield of faith individually, we do it together with others who are trusting God in the battle. You’ll be stronger in the battle if you know that your brothers and sisters down the line are fending off the enemy’s arrows by their shields. We must stand together and pray for one another, so that we can encourage one another in the fight of faith. Finally,
4. When we take up the shield of faith in our trials and temptations, we learn in a deeper way to savor the sweetness and all-sufficiency of Christ for our souls.
A main reason God allows the enemy to shoot his fiery arrows at us is that it drives us to a deeper experience with Christ. We all tend to trust Him only to the degree that we are forced to trust Him.
When the arrows are flying and we take refuge behind our shield, we come to know aspects of His glory and beauty that we did not know before the battle. As He delivers us, we know by experience, as David did, that He is “my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps. 18:2).
Maybe you’re thinking, “But I struggle with having faith in God in my trials. How do I get the faith that I need to make Christ the shield for my soul in times of trouble?”
First, recognize that your lack of faith in God constitutes a relational problem with God. If someone is completely trustworthy and you tell him, “I don’t trust you,” you’re calling him a liar and creating distance in your relationship with him. Not to trust God is to say, “Your promises are not true. You’re a liar.” That’s a terrible sin!
Second, confess your unbelief as sin and ask God’s forgiveness. He will forgive if we acknowledge our sin and return to Him (1 John 1:9).
Third, ask God to give you faith to trust Him fully.
Fourth, don’t try to work up faith; rather, look to the Lord Himself. He is trustworthy. He has never failed anyone, including the martyrs. Read your Bible to see who He is.
Fifth, do not trust in how you feel, but trust in the sure Word of God. Faith must often stand against feelings. God’s Word is the compass to guide you when you’re lost in the fog of trials.
The world’s counsel may seem right, but the counsel of God’s Word is always faithful and true. Follow Him, not your feelings!