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“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-46).

On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus knew each detail of the unprecedented suffering awaiting Him. Jeering pagans would scourge him until near death. The priests who claimed His Father as God would insist they strip and kill Him. He would drag a beam through the dusty streets, as those He suffered to rescue spat upon His battered body. His raw flesh nailed to rough wood, He would hang to suffocate in the blistering sun. And that wasn’t the worst of it. He would also bear the immeasurable weight of every sin from the advent of time until the distant end of all days. Incomparable physical, emotional, and spiritual agony.

Jesus foresaw all this as He poured the Passover wine. Three years of cherished moments with these men culminated in this final message.He ripped the bread and explained its secret meaning to blank stares. In conclusion, He handed the elements to the dear friends who would soon abandon Him.

The scent of roast lamb floated through the streets. Jesus led them beyond the hard-packed roads until the murmurings faded and lush grasses eased their steps. With the steep incline, His legs strained under the added weight of His coming journey. They settled under a favorite cluster of trees in the garden. Gentle breezes lulled His full-bellied companions into repose. Jesus offered a vital exhortation to his too-comfortable students.

“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

He surrendered Himself in a crucial prayer. Angels responded to strengthen Him. Christ continued His fervent interaction with the Father. Until—

Every nerve and hair prickled as He recognized this moment. The time had come.

Jesus returned to wake his dozing supporters. Yes, He realized their frailty. But He must impress the concept of crucial prayer. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Christ’s insistence upon prayer at this moment renders it a crucial matter. The word ‘crucial’ derives its significance from its parent term, crucifixion. Though comprehension eluded the disciples until after the resurrection, we now benefit from Christ’s magnificent teaching delivered on Maundy Thursday. He

  • Forgiveness. He fulfilled the secret meaning of Passover as the Messiah Lamb Who redeems us from the consequences of sin. Despite impending betrayals and our continued undeserving nature, He demonstrated ultimate grace.
  • Service. He modeled the nature of a servant, explaining an additional impact of His coming sacrifice as providing inspiration for selfless living.
  • Submission. He surrendered Himself in prayer to the Father, Who strengthened Him to face unimaginable agony. During His crucial prayer, the Lord sent angelic support.
  • Crucial Prayer. He exhorted His followers to pray against temptation. He knew the trials awaiting them in the coming season. He knows prayer is our essential resource to fortify and equip us foll all that lies ahead.

This Maundy Thursday, as you reflect upon Jesus’ message to the disciples at the Last Supper and Gethsemane, will you join me in committing to a discipline of crucial prayer?

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And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18).

A dust cloud thundering with hooves approaches from the horizon. Screams erupt as the grey shadow roars through the towns just ahead of us. The war razes our land. And we stand in its path.

Helmets glimmer with our Kingdom crest, announcing our identity and preserving our minds. Shoulder to shoulder, our formation aligns reliable breastplates to guard our line against infiltration. We dig our heels into the position set for us. Magnificent swords ring out as soldiers draw and flash them into the sun’s brilliance. Shields high, we hold onto hope as the first legion arrives.

One shield quivers–mine. I feel the oncoming stampede rattling through my boots and into my knees. The beastly snorts fall within earshot, and I imagine the heat of their breath on my neck. There must be something more I can do than watch them pillage the countryside. Something more than waiting in fear like this.

I have a weapon to fend off the evils near enough to grab my throat. I tighten my sweaty grip on the hilt. The Word gleams, ready for hand-to-hand combat. Yet, like any other moment on this battlefront, this is no time to worry. I must engage my long range weapon. My armor-piercing javelin of prayer whooshes through impossible miles of darkness. In the village alley, a howl ends with a whimper as prayer strikes the enemy’s heart.

Ephesians lists all other elements of Roman armor by name, but leaves the obvious last piece of the analogy to assumption. Readers could easily follow the list and draw the final correlation. Soldiers wore one set of protective gear, carried one shield, and brought one sword to the battle. The final element stood out in memory as their exclusive long range weapon. Most soldiers carried at least two javelins. The armor-piercing spearhead broke through enemy formations and set up a victorious momentum before the onset of battle.

Like the ancient warrior, repeated use of long range artillery grants me an advantage. My arsenal carries as many javelins as I choose to throw. The limitations of prayer’s impact lie within my field of awareness. Focus, Tina, and remember to keep hurling those spears. I must identify areas of potential attack and pray for other victims of war.

I also need to resist distractions which hijack my focus. Lifting up  concerns that enter my mind while praying can add to my conversation with God. The risky mental detours occur when I’m not praying and serve to prevent or shorten my intimate moments with the Lord. These can include things like hurry, anxiety, or selfish attitudes. Complacency ranks high among focus-derailers, as do those less obvious forms of idolatry we modern folks fail to recognize.

As Paul warned the early Christians, we share the same need to “be alert.” A self-check habit can help identify distractions curtailing prayer. Once a week, reflect on prayer habits and note any trends. Keep track of attitudes or priorities encroaching upon quiet time with Jesus.

War rages, both in our personal space and beyond us. The world stands in desperate need of armor-piercing prayers. I need yours, you need mine, and the shrill cries of victims roil in the dark clouds across the earth. Let’s not neglect our greatest advantage. We can take up these final weapons together, encouraging one another to remain focused and engaged.

 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel . . . came to me in swift flight” (Daniel 19:21).

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22).

“Jesus . . .  rebuked the impure spirit . . . He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer’” (Mark 9:25-29).

“The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God'” (Acts 10:4).

“prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:15-16).

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12).

“The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand” (Revelation 8:4).

“Therefore put on the full armor of God,so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. . . . Take the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:13,17).

I enjoy a solitary day at the mall, unless I’m searching for one item. Without friends, the fun-potential drains out of hat shopping. A sophisticated cloche or a wide-brimmed style might elevate my image, while a fez or wizard’s hat double us over in giggles. Regardless of sun protection or insulation features, the simple accessory I choose to top my cranium will speak volumes about my identity.

First century helmets offered double benefits to the wearers. With a bronze alloy to withstand crushing blows, armor craftsmen extended the forehead piece to block downward weapon strokes. The headgear extended to cover the neck and cheeks. With such thorough armor, distinguishing one soldier from another could present a challenge. Plumage served tactical and individuation purposes. While the crest added height to intimidate the enemy, it also expressed the soldier’s individuality. The style identified him as a Roman and as an individual.

As soon as we become Christians, the Lord crowns us with salvation. Our spiritual helmet distinguishes us as members of a glorious Kingdom while optimizing our individuality to its full potential. Marching alongside those with equal but unique headgear makes the journey more fun. Unless we take the protective features for granted and tuck that head-topper under one arm for a while.

Whoosh. Incoming doubt arrow. Jab of envy. Then, ooph, comes the axe hammer of fear. Resentment and selfishness poison the wounds. Before you know it, you’ve lost your head.

The helmet offers vital protection to one of the enemy’s favorite targets–our minds. We expose ourselves to unnecessary and serious risk if we fail to guard our thoughts with Christ’s gifts of redemption and abundant grace. Bible study, prayer, and guidance from seasoned soldiers can help us realign our focus. If we take time to meditate on the King suffering an excruciating death penalty in our place, we can no longer imagine a limit to His devotion. Since Jesus would take our place on death row, what do we think He won’t do for us? Mindfulness of our position in Jesus thwarts temptations to doubt, envy, or resent. Selfishness and fear cannot cut through the impenetrable alloy of Christ’s loving sacrifice on our behalf. Salvation secures who and Whose we are.

You have a unique purpose in our Kingdom. Your crest holds a special pattern, and I love how it becomes you. So, hold onto your hat, my friend. Others will need you. Your reminder might keep them from losing their heads.

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:14-15).

Ever find a pair of kicks you couldn’t live without? If you love to indulge your tootsies, you’re not alone. Americans spend more than twenty billion dollars on footwear each year.  More astounding are worldwide athletic sales surpassing fourteen billion. And that’s just Nike products.

We buy specific shoes to enhance health, express personality, or elevate our stature. Shoes fit themselves into our psyche soon after we’re born. No recent obsession, since childhood tales of glass slippers, elvish cobblers, and ruby slippers resonate across the centuries. It’s no wonder we cherish our soles. Shoes inhabit our youthful dreams and grown-up wishes. We search for those ideal shoes, convinced their magic will take us places.

Instead of aspiring to take men places, ancient Roman military boots were designed to stay put. First century soldiers wore sandal-boots, with little attention to the visible parts of the feet and calves. Leather laced over the top of the foot and strapped around the lower leg. Reinforcements focused on the soles. Several layers protected the warrior from the earth. Cobblers drove hobnails into the outer soles to hold the boots together and offer traction.

Centurions knew the battle priorities didn’t lie in decorating ankles or comforting piddies. Modern combat trainers echo their philosophy. Digging in and holding the battle stance makes all the difference during a fight. A warrior must not be knocked off balance, or worse, to the ground. A downed opponent gives advantage to the enemy.

Scripture advises us to fit our feet with warrior boots. Divine soles ignore appearances, status, and comfort. We won’t acquire these powerful kicks from elvish tales or Famous Footwear. Boots that ready us for spiritual triumph come from the gospel of peace. Christ’s perfect footwear has nails driven through it. Jesus has already won the war, you see.  That’s the greatest story of all time. We don’t have to defeat the enemy all over again. We just have to stand firm on Jesus’ victory. What a relief! No need to go on the offensive and rout the devil. It’s done. And we can rest secure in the peace of Christ’s triumph. We win.

Trade in your footwear wishes. Trade up from glass and rubies. A slipper doesn’t prepare soldiers for war. Strap on the peace of Christ. Secure the laces, ensuring against a slipping heel or twisting ankle. Don’t let the snarls and temptations throw you off balance, no matter how close the circumstances seem to your face. Don’t slip on lies meant to grip us with fear.  No need to let the enemy knock you off that stance of peace. Dig those cleats into your triumphant position. Stand. Firm. And you’ll rock those readiness boots!

 

Trillions of subatomic energy particles streak across space and dive into the atmosphere. Their scintillating wake revitalizes the air, illuminates my window, and massages vital warmth into cell tissues as they pass through my body. I cannot sense this process any more than I can discern which gases comprise my breath-concoction or count the microorganisms between my fingertips and keyboard. Invisible dimensions surround, fill, and impact my life at all times.

The symbiotic and causal effects of unseen physical things upon human life remains a matter of confidence among scientists and common folk alike. No one disputes the wind’s power or a mold spore’s destructive potential. The most plausible explanation for doubts regarding unseen spiritual occurrences is their existence. The evidence of supernatural activity stacks stretches far beyond records held in Tornado Alley.

The spiritual dimension surrounds, permeates, and exceeds the physical realm. Our interaction with unseen forces will affect us before, during, and long after mortal life. The symbiotic relationship between humans and the unseen remains true, whether we accept or deny its existence. Like the wind or an ion, the unseen forces of God and His enemies impact us at all levels. God can comfort a lonely widow or work a miraculous healing that goes viral on YouTube. Demons annoy some folks with mechanical failures while inspiring murder among others. The battle rages within our minutiae and throughout world events at every moment. God wields sovereign authority with ultimate power, but Satan fights on despite a guaranteed defeat. The enemy purports to devour or wound the highest possible number of people, causing grief to the Lord.

Though supernatural beings work outside the limitations of tangibility, our spiritual activities affect the battle’s tide. Ephesians 6:10-18 lists tactical measures which protect us and further the cause of God’s Kingdom. Join me in the coming weeks to explore each of these in greater depth. Let’s stand firm together as we face this new year and the future glory of God’s Kingdom far beyond it.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13).

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“Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.  You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. . . Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,  but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” – Matthew 24:4-6,12-13

In less than twenty minutes of evening news, we see evil circling our community. Spouses lie crushed physically–and worse, emotionally. Parents harm infants. Children shoot classmates by the dozen.  The dark-clad terrorists victimizing lands across the sea are not as far away as they seem. Evil plots against those created in God’s image, conscripting pawns to carry out its destruction.

Fields, once green with potential, stand browned and dry. Clouds gather over love’s light, and the earth shudders. Christians murmur about end times. Some huddle in fear as persecution mounts across the world. Ripened wheat fields look rather dead, even hopeless, to the untrained eye. Farm folks know the signs of harvest, as should Christians.

The advancing darkness casts an ominous hue over the world’s landscape. It comes, as Jesus said it would. When things appear beyond all hope of rescue, expect the Savior to show up for harvest. Not just at the end of times, but whenever dry circumstances creep in and threaten to steal our faith. Bleak days occur far ahead of the end days, for the world and for each individual’s personal experience. Instead of growing fearful, we should prepare to offer our fruit.

When things feel uncertain and situations drain your vigor, it’s time to raise your head. Declare and demonstrate your purpose. Show the tasseling Spirit’s power to reap unbelievable benefit when all the worth seems lost. Congratulations on your coming victory over evil’s doom. Thank the Lord for looming challenges, because it’s a certain sign of a magnificent harvest on its way.

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