“You are trying to put on my armor.” Back in September, God directed me to the story of young David and King Saul. Saul hears a report of a young man asking what the reward will be for killing the uncircumcised Philistine who actually dares to defy Israel's army which David calls “the army of the Living God." When Saul hears there has been a nibble on his reward bait, he immediately reels in, calling for the inquirer to be brought to him. David comes and tells King Saul very boldly, “Don’t anyone lose heart; I, your servant, will go fight the Philistine.” Saul is not comforted. He tells David, “You’re a young man. He’s a warrior. You can’t do it.” David replies, “I’ve done it before. Lion, bear, … Goliath! They’re all the same to me. Goliath is not challenging the army of a man or of a human kingdom. He is challenging the army of the living God. That same God is the one who gave me victory over the lion and the bear. How is this different?” King Saul blesses him, saying, “May the Lord go with you.” Then he dresses David in his own armor. “You’re going to need all the help you can get. Let me help you, too.” David finds Saul’s help, the heavy armor, too cumbersome. Later, his arms will be strong enough to bend a bow of bronze. Now, he needs his arms and shoulders free to twirl a sling shot. He needs his load to be light so he can run. Saul’s armor only handicaps him.
Last year, I joined our church’s prayer team. Several times since we returned to Kenya, God told me to pray for an individual at church, and I did it. Later, I would find out that what God told me to pray was right on target, even though these prayer needs were ones I didn’t know on my own. After I told a friend about one of the times, she said, “If God ever tells you to pray for me, don’t hesitate. Pray right away.” That is another story for another time. However, those times were not regular, and I wondered whether I was somehow hindering God. I decided that since God was clearly calling me to pray, I should join the prayer ministry. Yet as I joined the team, I was fearful. What if I didn’t hear anything from God on how to pray? I have seen how much more effective my prayers are when I pray according to God's leading rather than my own thoughts, so what would I do if I heard nothing? What if nothing happened when I prayed? People come to the prayer team with their struggles, and if I pray and nothing changes, what kind of witness would that be of God?
Years ago, I had wondered what the difference is between doubt and unbelief. When I studied the Greek word for doubt, I was struck by the fact that one of the meanings is to judge a dispute. I saw that a person who doubts continues to sit in the judge's seat listening to the evidence on both sides without ever making a judgment. At some point, the case has to be closed. In a criminal case, the decision is guilty or not guilty. In a doubt case, the decision is belief or unbelief. This past week, I went back to the Greek word for doubt. This time I was struck by the fact that the word can also mean to make a distinction. When Peter is reporting about why he baptized the uncircumcised household of Cornelius, he tells the council that God made no distinction between them and the circumcised believers. The greek word translated distinction there is the same word used for doubt in other verses, such as the passage about the mountain casting itself into the sea. I find it helpful to consider why another culture would consider two ideas to be related enough to use the same word where we would use different words. So, what would it mean to say that to doubt is to make a distinction? When I look at the story of David, he was clearly not making a distinction between battling the lion and the bear and battling Goliath. When I joined the prayer team, I made a distinction between praying for people when God directed me and volunteering for the church’s prayer team. Somehow, because I volunteered for the team at church I saw myself as responsible in a way I wasn’t at home when I simply prayed when God told me what to pray. David didn’t see any distinction, and that was faith. I saw distinction, and that was doubt.
Like Saul, I thought I would need more armor for this fight than I had for previous fights. I tried to put responsibility on my shoulders. That was when God told me, “You are trying to put on my armor.” I knew God was talking about this situation. I felt clearly that He was saying, “Responsibility is my hauberk, my shoulder armor. When you wear it, I can’t, and neither of us can function as effectively.” It sounds odd to say that God couldn’t function as effectively because of me, but it echoes what the gospels said at times about Jesus -- he could not do many miracles there because of their unbelief. I knew that God was right about me trying to wear responsibility on my shoulders. What surprised me was Him telling me I wasn’t supposed to carry it. For as long as I can remember I have carried a heavy weight of responsibility, so I asked God, “Then what is my shoulder armor?” He replied, “Submission.” I had to think about it for a couple of days before that made sense. I looked up the Ephesians passage about our armor and studied it. I knew it didn’t mention a hauberk, but I wanted to consider how this new revelation related to the rest of the armor.
I studied the breastplate of righteousness, and I thought about how in the Old Testament, the high priest’s breastplate would be attached at the shoulders, so the two pieces of armor would be connected. As I thought about how the breastplate and the shoulder armor related to each other, it occurred to me that our righteousness comes from submission to God. I thought also about the protection that being able to “pass the buck” provides. Jesus lived a life of complete submission, only doing and saying what God did and said. We are to put on his righteousness. God carries the responsibility, and as long as we are in submission to his will, we are protected by his authority. That means that when God tells me to pray for someone, my task is to pray, not to make anything happen. I don’t even have to do anything to make God speak and direct me in how to pray. I am available, and I give what I have, what God gives me. Paul said, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” 1 Corinthians 3:6 (KJV). I listen, and I pray based on what I hear, but God gives the answer. For the first few months on the prayer team, I had to keep telling myself, “God cares about this person more than I. I pray; the answer is up to God.”
I also try to wear responsibility when God speaks to me. I feel as though I have to make myself fulfill what He is saying, and I get tangled up trying to make God’s message come true. Yet David refused to make God’s word come true in his own way. He didn’t feel that he had to make it happen at all. He would consult God about what he was to do at the moment and then do it. His eye wasn’t on fulfilling God's promise to Him but on following God’s direction in each moment. That brings me back to the campfire image. As long as my focus is exclusively on arriving at my destination, I am missing out on this moment with God. Years ago, I remember reading in the Psalms and having a sudden sense that God was telling me, “You’ve left where you were, and you haven’t arrived where you’re going, so you think you are nowhere. You’re not nowhere. You are exactly where I have you, on the journey.” I learned from that message that the journey is important, but I still thought that I was supposed to accomplish the journey at sprinters’ speeds. God wants to do it at journeyers’ speeds. It is not enough for me to submit to God’s plan for my life, I also need to submit to his pace.
Like David, heavy armor is too cumbersome for me. I am on a journey, and journeyers know that weight matters. The burden of responsibility is too heavy for me. For God it is an essential piece of His armor, protecting the shoulders and neck. The Bible says government is upon His shoulders, or as the NET states, "He shoulders responsibility." (Isaiah 9:6) If I am wearing God's hauberk, God can’t. I am stealing from Him, to my own detriment. Make us aware, Father, of when we are putting on your armor and work in us to be satisfied with our own armor.
As I reflect on an accusation that our children will grow up to be resentful of all the deprivation, we, their parents, have put them through, I recognize that accusation as a fear which has haunted my own heart for many years. I don't think that this issue is exclusive to missionaries, however. It is an issue many parents dread. When a new baby comes, we fear our older children's reactions. When a new job requires us to move, we worry how the children will respond. If we find ourselves parenting in unhealthy ways we never intended, we despair. We remember the wounds we still carry from our own childhood, and so we worry about the wounds our children will suffer.
Lately, however, this fear has been fading from my heart. The more I grow in knowledge and relationship with God, the more experiences I have of His presence and provision and healing, the more this issue fades. 1 John talks about our hearts condemning us, but says that it is in God's presence that we are able to assure our hearts of the truth and bring our hearts into a place of confidence before God. I am amazed as I see this passage coming true in my own life. The voice of accusation in my own heart grows fainter and fainter as I gain confidence through my relationship with God. So, as I reflect on these stories, I want to share them with others, in hopes that they will awaken hope and inspire reflection upon their own stories.
One of these stories is about God meeting my oldest daughter in an area of inequality. One gift I have given to each of my children is a name song, with words of blessing and affirmation unique to them. Sometime after our family had grown to three daughters, I noticed that our oldest daughter's song was much shorter and less rich than that of her two sisters. I began to pray for God to give me more words for her song, but I couldn't seem to match any words to her tune.
I prayed for over a year regarding this. During that time, our son was born, and his song was also richer and fuller than his oldest sister's song. About three months after our son was born, I remember sitting on my daughters' bed singing their songs. I started with the youngest girl and ended with the oldest. As I was singing, I was praying. "Oh God, please give me more words to the song. I want her to have a richer song before she notices that her song is so short. I don't want her to feel hurt and unloved. Oh Father, she is six. She is going to notice soon. Please hurry."
Suddenly, I heard, "Maybe I want her to ask me for it." At that very moment, I finished my oldest daughter's song, and she started to cry, "My song is so short." I felt like I was dreaming. "Did she really notice tonight?" Then I thought, maybe I didn't actually sing her whole song; after all, I was praying at the same time. I sang her song again. She continued to cry and say it was short.
Still feeling as though I were dreaming, I told her what I had been praying and what I had just heard. I told her God wanted her to come to him for her song. We prayed together for the right words of blessing. Over the next few nights, my daughter would tell me, "These words came to mind, but I don't know whether they are from God." We would pray about them and work with them, shaping them to the tune. In two or three nights, we had two more verses.
With two more verses, I was satisfied with the song; however, my daughter wasn't done. She kept praying. Over the next year, she kept telling me she was still praying for more. She prayed until she had one more verse. Now her song is four verses long, and three of them came through her own experiences with God. I had thought her noticing the inequity in the songs would bring hurt and resentment. Instead, it built up her relationship with me and with God, and my relationship with God was strengthened at the same time.