When you watch a film or read about ancient battles, people usually had two things with them, a sword and a shield. Hand to hand combat was the norm. With one hand they attacked in order to advance, with the other they defended from the bows of their enemy. Shields came in all sizes too. One of the things I think is important to note is that when a shield got struck, the person carrying it felt the weight of the blow. They save your life and protect you from most or all of the damage, but not the pressure. As you hold that shield, you have to exert pressure back toward your opponent so that you’re not overcome.
In the book of Nehemiah, a small group of Jews were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem to create a shield from their enemies. While building the wall, their enemies tried to persuade them to quit building it. When that failed, they tried intimidation. In chapter 4, the Bible says that Nehemiah had half of the people continue their work on the wall and the other half stand ready for battle protecting the work. They carried swords and shields. The situation was tense. Everyone felt the pressure, but they continued to work. Their enemies saw the swords and shields and chose not to attack. They knew their plans would be thwarted.
Psalm 84:11 says, “The Lord God is a sword and shield” (AMP). Later, Psalm 119:114 says, “You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope” (NLT). You and I are constantly entrenched in battles because our enemy wants to stop our progress. He tries to intimidate us into stopping, but the Lord is our shield. You’re going to feel pressure in the battle. You’re going to grow tired as well, but stay in God’s Word during those times. As this verse says, the Bible is a source of hope for us when all seems lost. God is fighting for you and protecting you as you continue to do what He called you to. Don’t let the pressure get to you. Find someone who will stand on the wall with you in prayer holding their sword and shield. It won’t be easy to complete, but with God as your shield you can continue.
I’ve watched the movie “Greater” a couple of times this year. It’s the faith based story of Brandon Burlsworth who is considered the greatest walk-on in college football history. He had everything working against him, but he persisted. One coach told him since he didn’t have talent, he was going to have to work harder than anyone else. He was first to show up and last to leave. At one point, he got a new coach and the coach found him practicing his footwork when the practice field was closed. The coach asked him if his previous coaches let him do that. Brandon replied that they never knew he did it. The coach said, “Well, they say character is what you do when no one’s looking.” Brandon quickly replied, “Someone’s always looking.”
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, he was reminding them that they were going to go through hard times. In chapter 6, let them know that how they respond matters. Verse 4 says, “Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly… in hard times, tough times, bad times” (MSG). That phrase, “gets validated – or not – in the details” jumped off the page at me. In hard times, it’s more important than ever to focus on the details of our spiritual growth. We must continue to read and study God’s Word, spend time in prayer and fasting, share our faith and put into practice what we know. It’s those daily disciplines that help us to stay our post when times get tough.
Brandon Burlsworth was only able to achieve what he did because he continued with his daily disciplines no matter what. It’s easy to make excuses right now and to slack off on our relationship with Christ, but now is the time we need to go deeper in that relationship. People are watching how you and I respond to the crisis the world is in. Are we rising to the challenge or are we succumbing to “the new normal”? We must stay at our post, stronger than ever, giving people hope and pointing them to the One who gives peace in troubled times. Our work – our faith – gets validated in the daily details and exposed under pressure. Today’s climate is the time for us to step up, not back, and to stand firm in the power of His might. I believe God is calling us into a deeper relationship with Him than ever before. The way to that relationship and spiritual maturity is in the details of your daily spiritual disciplines.
I Googled, “How do you become a Navy Seal”. One of the first returns was funny to me. Wikihow said, “Visit your local Navy recruiter, rock the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, get your Navy contract, pass the Seal Physical Screening Test, get your Navy Seal contract.” Seems easy enough except passing the Navy Seal Physical Screening Test is one of the most physically and mentally tough tests on the planet. It’s five and a half days of hell week where You get less than four hours sleep, run more than 200 miles, do calisthenics in the freezing rain, fight ocean currents and physical training more than 20 hours a day. Over 75% of people ring the bell and quit.
I bring that up because there are people who go into that test without preparing or training themselves mentally or physically. I think the same could be said of many of us when it comes to preparing for pressure in life. No one is exempt from it, but so many of us are shocked when it hits and then keeps coming. We must have a firm foundation in God’s Word, a solid relationship with Him through prayer and be surrounded by His people if we’re going to survive the high pressure times of life.
Proverbs 24:10 says, “If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small” (NLT). The good news is that we don’t have to fight these pressures in our own strength. Ephesians 6:10 says, “A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” He then encourages us to put on the Armor of God to prepare for battle and pressure. He knew that you and I were going to go through some tough battles where we would want to give up. If we’re properly prepared with our helmet of salvation, shield of faith, breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth of God’s Word, our shoes of peace and the sword of the Spirit, we can withstand whatever comes against us.
Michael W. Smith wrote a simple, but powerful song. It’s lyrics only contain two sentences, but they speak volumes. The song says, “This is how I fight my battles. It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you.” To me, it’s a great reminder in those moments when I’m overwhelmed, feel alone in the battle and it looks like I’m about to get crushed. When you’re staring down odds that are stacked against you and it feels easier to give up rather than to keep fighting, this song reminds me who I’m really surrounded by. It reminds me that if God is for me, who can be against me.
After the Israelites left Egypt, God decided to set a trap for Pharaoh. He had them turn back and camp at a place that had them appear lost. When Pharaoh took the bait and pursued them, they were trapped against the Red Sea with no where to go. Pharaoh’s army surrounded them and they were afraid. They forgot who they were really surrounded by. In Exodus 14:15, Moses said, “Don’t be afraid! Stand your ground, and you will see what the Lord will do to save you today” (GNT). The Lord split the Red Sea In two and destroyed Pharaoh’s army.
You may feel all alone and trapped by your situation today, but I believe the Lord is telling us to stand our ground. The Amplified Bible describes standing your ground as, “Be Firm, confident and undismayed.” Take your eyes off of the things you feel surrounded by and look at God. He’s greater than anything you’re facing and is surrounding you now. Rest in His presence and stand your ground. Your victory isn’t dependent on you. It’s God who fights our battles, but we must stand firm with the Armor of God found in Ephesians 6. Don’t forget it may feel like you’re surrounded, but you’re surrounded by God.
On a trip to California, I went to Napa Valley because I had been told that it was beautiful. As I drove through it, I was mesmerized by the straight rows of vines going for miles. I decided to pull into a winery and take a tour to learn of their process. One of the things they shared was how good seasons don’t produce good wine. The good wine comes from the years when the vines struggle. There’s something about the fight for water, the digging into the soil and the struggle to stay alive that produces a complex flavor in the grapes, which in turn, makes for a “good year”.
As they spoke, I couldn’t help but correlate that to life. There are good seasons we go through and there are bad seasons. When we look back on our life, it’s the “bad seasons” that produce the most growth in us. That’s when we learn what we’re made of and how strong our faith is. It reminds me of Romans 8:28 that says how God works together all things for our good. The good that He works is often in our life for the long term even though that season is very painful.
In Genesis 37- 41, we read of a 17 year stretch where Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, thrown into prison and was forgotten. After he was restored, he married and had kids. Genesis 42:52 says, “Joseph named his second son Ephraim, for he said, ‘God has made me fruitful in this land of my grief’”. God is able to make you fruitful in the most painful times and places of your life. You must hold onto to His promises, stand strong in your faith and keep believing that He’s working things out for your good.