The Shield of Faith
A coyote once found himself in the unenviable position of hanging from a cliff at the top of a desert mesa. "Help!" he cried. "Is anybody up there?"
A voice came from Heaven. "I am here." said the Lord.
"Can you please pull me up?" begged the coyote. "I can't hold on much longer!"
"Do you trust me?"
"Then let go."
Unaware that there was a ledge two feet below him, the coyote called back "Is anyone else up there?"
Faith. It is a powerful and often misunderstood concept. I'd like to begin with a few misconceptions about faith.
-If you're sick for any reason, you're lacking in faith.
-If you're poor, you lack faith.
-A sufficient supply of faith will give you super-powers.
-If you have faith, you can claim anything and god has to give it to you.
-Faith gives God his powers.
-If you have suffered tragedy of any kind, it is because your faith was not sufficient.
There are even weirder beliefs about faith, but I think those are sufficient for the moment.
What is faith? As simply as it can be put, what is it? Faith is taking God at His word. It involves two things: believing and trusting. It allows wonderful things to happen. It does not MAKE wonderful things happen. It LETS them happen. It is not a battery. It does not give God any more power. It doesn't give the believer any more power. It is not a magic credit card that lets you get blessings on demand. It does not protect you against suffering. The most faithful people in history had to endure a lot of suffering. What it does do is make room for God to do that which He wants to do.
Faith is also our first line of defense against Satan's attacks. To understand how, let's first look at a physical shield. (reaches behind the piano and pulls out a shield which is 2 feet wide and 4 feet tall. It is made of wood and overlaid with leather.) This *ungh* is a Roman *huff* shield. This is what Paul means when he talks about a shield. Not the little boogie-boards that we're used to thinking of as shields. Using these, a troop of soldiers could form a solid wall from which to hide behind. The fact that it is made of wood instead of metal allows it to better absorb shock instead of transferring it to the soldier's arm. The leather further absorbs shock and helps to make the shield fire resistant. This shield really could protect you from a rain of flaming arrows.
We already talked about helmets last week. what do helmets do? They protect your brain. What does a shield protect? Everything else. Mostly however, it protects your heart. The helmet of salvation protects your spirit. It makes your soul unassailable and guards your mind. The shield of faith protects your heart. How? I'm glad you asked.
Suppose Satan came up to you and said "Hey, you. You're not worthy of salvation. You're going to Hell." You'd blow him off pretty easily, wouldn't you? But Satan is cleverer than that. He's not smart, he's not wise, but he does understand a thing or two about human psychology. He's cunning, and he'll appeal to your emotions. What he'd say is probably more along the lines of "Wow. God is amazing. He's so holy. Incredible that He could love someone like you, isn't it? I mean, you're so average. It's not like you could ever do anything for Him. I wonder what he sees in you. Come to think of it, you're pretty pathetic. Why would he bother to save you? I mean, I know He's love and all, but YOU? Especially after what you did in the third grade?" And what's worse, he'll make you think that it's YOUR thought, so that when someone asks "who told you this?" you'll say "No one told me. I figured it out for myself." Appeals to your emotions are Satan's firey darts, and if you let them, they'll go right to your heart. They won't kill you, but they can make you as good as dead.
A person with no faith is paralyzed. Let me give you an example. A woman is on the third story of a burning apartment building. The door is blocked by the fire, and the fire escape is damaged. The firemen below have spread a net for her. If she jumps, she will live. If she does not, she will die. In order to live, she must have faith that the net below will catch her. If she does not have faith, she will be burned to death.
And that's the thing about a shield. Unlike a helmet, a shield must be raised. Helmets are automatic. You put them on and then you need not do anything more with them. A shield requires action to be effective. Just having one on your arm is not enough. You have to move it into position in front of you for it to be effective at all. Likewise, even though salvation protects you automatically, faith does nothing if you do not act on it. For the woman in the burning building, it is not enough to believe that the net can catch her. Belief is not faith. Faith requires action. She must actively trust the net by jumping into it.
This shield (knocks on shield) looks a lot like a door, doesn't it? And it is a lot like a door. A door has two purposes, doesn't it? Closed, it keeps things out. Open, it lets things in. Faith is like that. On one hand, it is defensive. When Satan assaults us with doubts, our knowledge of the goodness of God keeps his attacks from doing damage. But it can also be opened. Faith also allows us to get out of God's way when he wants to work. Here's an example. A boat was at sea with no wind, and it was drifting toward an island of canibals. The captain went to a missionary who was on board and asked him to pray for wind. "I'll pray." said the missionary. "But first you must unfurl the sails." The Captain refused at first. There was no wind, and the crew would think him mad. However, he obeyed. Soon, he had to ask the missionary to stop praying because the wind had become much stronger than they could handle. The Captain's doubt did not take any power away from God. It did, however, create a situation in which God did not have enough leeway to do as He saw fit. As soon as the Captain obeyed, he took himself out of God's way and permitted Him to work. Faith does not generate power. It creates an opening through which the power that already exists can flow.
That's how it works with most good things. They cannot do their job if we don't have faith. If you don't have faith in a chair, you won't sit in it. If you don't have faith in your car, you won't drive it. If you don't have faith in the turkey sandwich that's been in the fridge since June, you won't eat it. Maybe that last one is a good thing. Conversely, evil things cannot do their jobs if you DO have faith. Standing up to a bully is the only way to defeat him. If you don't have faith that you can overcome him, you've already lost. If you don't have faith in God to love you and keep you and help you in your work, the devil has won.
So again... the shield of faith is like a door. It lets good in, it keeps evil out, but only if you actively use it.
What faith does not do is keep you from all hardship. This is part and parcel with your armor and your armor was meant to see battle. It won't insure you money. It won't insure you health. It won't keep you from tragedy because there is a war going on and tragedy is all around us. Shields do not keep you from suffering. They keep you alive.
This weeks challenge to you is to examine your shields of faith. Make sure that they are in prime condition. Examine yourself to find any hidden doubts. Question everything. Address those doubts and make sure your shield is strong. Then practice using it. Invite God to work in Your life as He sees fit, and allow your faith to make room for Him to work. When Satan plants doubt in your mind, Exercise your faith to block him out and concentrate on God's love instead.
To the unsaved, I have no challenge regarding the shield, because everything must go in order. Put on the helmet of salvation, then come back and worry about the shield afterward.
Today's reading: Ephesians 6:10-17
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: