Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. Ephesians 6:11
At first glance, this passage in Ephesians seems far removed from our modern day experience. I don't know about you, but not a one of my neighbors regularly dresses for his job with sword and shield. But my husband and I had the rare experience of watching our oldest son, a Marine, get ready for war when he was deployed to Iraq. God spoke to me through those somber minutes and I’d like to share the images He brought to my mind.
The first thing that struck me was my son’s total concentration as he got ready. He realized he was going into a life and death struggle and leaving behind part of his equipment just wasn’t an option. So many times, we, as believers, forget that spiritual warfare is a life and death battle. It’s a daily battle, as we struggle to walk in step with God and it’s a battle for the souls of those who don’t yet know Christ.
Next, I noticed how comfortable he was with all his gear. These weren’t things he’d been issued that morning, but things he’d spent months learning how to use and use well. The Bible reminds us over and over again how we are supposed to grow and mature as believers and a big part of that is becoming intimate with God’s Word, as well as learning to recognize His voice.
He slipped into his camouflage pants and shirt and immediately fastened on his utility belt. It was huge, equipped with things he would need close at hand during battle. He worked intently to get it tight, settling his shirt and pants in place so his vest would fit correctly. Truth does that for us, it wraps things up and keeps them in place—after all, how can we even begin to know what is right or wrong without truth.
Then he turned to his dad with a smile. “Hey Dad, would you hand me that flak jacket on the bed over there?” He was pointing to a plain canvas vest the color of sand. His dad reached over with one hand to pick it up and nearly fell over.
Jimmy laughed and walked over to join him. From one of the huge pockets he extracted a piece of metal approximately 12” x 8” wide and 2” thick. There were a total of four of those, equally spaced, within pockets around the vest. “The Marine Corps wants to make sure I stay safe.”
That vest was his breastplate of righteousness and those metal plates were his shield of faith. Just as they worked to keep him safe, so the righteousness of Christ keeps us from being mortally wounded by sin. It can hurt us, but never again separate us from God.
They had thick soles, providing a firm foundation, allowing him to stand confident and sure in any battle. They laced up a little past his ankle leaving no likely hood of loosing one accidentally. “How long have you had your boots?” He looked up and grinned at me. “They look like they could last forever, don’t they? Actually, I’ve only had this pair a couple of months. They wear out every six to nine months with all the heavy walking we do.”
I knew, from what he had told me in the past, that “heavy walking” didn’t refer to the length or frequency of his hikes, but the 80 pounds of gear he carried as his equipment. We also have gear we carry—our memories and experiences—and we need God to make peace with those so we can stand firm in any circumstances.
He walked back to the other side of the room and finished packing his two seabags of equipment. He must have noticed how intent I was because he pulled something out of the top of one of the bags and handed it to me. “Here Mom, check out my helmet.”
I had to use two hands to take it from him because of the weight. “Why’s it so heavy?”
He grinned again. “It has the same armor plating as my vest. They really are doing everything they can to keep me safe.”
I handed him back the helmet wordlessly and gave him a hug. I knew God had also issued him a helmet, one that would keep his mind safe in the battles to come. I realized that just as the Marine Corps would do anything to keep their soldiers safe, God had paid an even higher price for our safety and freedom.
We left his barracks room then, it was time for him to join his unit and go to the armory and pick up his rifle. We would stay with him until he left on the bus in a little less than two hours.
The men were called in groups to go to the low, brick building that held their rifles. When Jimmy came back with his, he took great delight in explaining all about it to his brothers and his dad. I stood a little away, just watching and praying. As I watched I realized that he was so comfortable with his weapon it was like a part of his body. He knew every piece of it by touch and handled it with a casualness that bespoke many hours practice.
After everyone had their rifles they were called into formation one last time before boarding the buses. I was amazed at how easily the commanders got their attention—it was nothing but bedlam and confusion, with families and loved ones vying for one last moment before they left. But those soldiers were so tuned into their leaders their response was almost instantaneous when called. I was struck by how vital it was that they responded like that; after all, soldiers could hardly be effective apart from their commander. We’re like that too. As believers we must constantly keep an ear tuned to God, ready at a moments notice to hear and obey His commands.
Finally, I realized that no one, looking at them as a group or individually could mistake them for anything but what they were—soldiers at war. They held themselves proudly, not afraid of who they were or the job they had to do. Anyone, friend or enemy, would know their purpose.
We, too, are soldiers—instantly recognizable to the world and to the prince of this world. My prayer is that I would be able to stand firm, relying on God’s strength and never dishonoring His uniform.
This is an excerpt from my devotional book for military families: Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle, available in your local bookstore and online.