EDITOR’S NOTE: What follows is an edited version of J. Blair Blackburn’s email to the East Texas Baptist University community sent Sat., Mar. 28.
In my quiet time today, I turned to a familiar passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus. His letter was sent with Tychicus to strengthen and encourage the church in this major city in the Roman Empire in A.D. 60. Paul’s intent was to teach believers how to nurture and maintain the unity of the church.
Paul exclaims that in our Christian walk, we must recognize the constant battle we face against the powerful and evil forces of the devil. To withstand his attacks, we must depend on God’s strength and use every piece of his spiritual armor and weaponry to protect us in the battle of light over darkness, good over evil (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Putting on the full armor of God
Paul proclaims the whole body of the Christian believer must be armed and uniformed for the attacks to ensue. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit are what Christ Jesus empowers in us to stand firm in the wake of war with evil.
We must be aware and prepared, for the devil seeks to destroy the body of believers and the work of Christ through his followers. Although we are assured of victory, we must be fitted with God’s armor for engagement in the struggle, because Satan is battling constantly against those who are on the Lord’s side.
God’s armor protects us from the darkness waged and the fiery darts flung by Satan. We can be confident and trust in God with the provisions for battle we have been given by the Holy Spirit within us.
Praying on all occasions
Paul concludes by stating the war against darkness and evil cannot be waged without “praying in the Spirit on all occasions.” We are to lift our requests and petitions to the Lord. Paul warns us to be alert and to be vigilant as we pray for protection and victory for ourselves and as we intercede for fellow believers.
Today, we are in a battle against a dark force we cannot easily identify, see or fight. I am convinced if we do not confront and combat the pestilence plaguing our world through the coronavirus crisis with the armor God has given us, and if we do not call on the power and blood of Jesus to eradicate this disease, then we have missed the reality of the clash between God’s beautiful and magnificent creation and darkness, disease and death Satan deploys to destroy our hope and derail us from following God’s plan for our righteousness.
Mystery on offer
As I listen to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Dr. Tony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, among others leading our government in the war against COVID-19, I return to President Trump’s early call for the nation to pray and his most recent plea of “how great it would be if we could all be in church on Easter Sunday,” which was met with much criticism and rebuke from the media, medical pundits and opposing politicians.
In President Trump’s offer of a glimmer of hope for our nation and the world, I saw the mystery in his notion that we would celebrate Easter and what that Sunday morning 2000 years ago brought us in spiritual healing and eternal life through the Risen Savior.
This morning, I reflected on earlier times in our world when leaders called on people, not only to pray, but truly to acknowledge the one true God, to humble themselves, to seek his forgiveness and to praise and worship our Heavenly Father. From him, we know the mystery of the gospel as God sent his Son to the world to save his children from all the evil and darkness Satan can muster in his hopeless fight against the King of kings and Lord of lords.
When kings called people to pray
Think and reflect with me on when non-Hebrew kings of other nations called their people and the Israelites to worship God, and consider what happened. Cyrus, king of Persia, built a temple for God in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). When God saved Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, praised God and decreed that no one should speak against God (Daniel 3:19-29). The king of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s prophecy of God’s judgment by calling the people of Nineveh to repentance and prayer to God (Jonah 3:1-10).
Call to prayer
President Trump called the nation to prayer on March 15 and expressed his hope that Christians would fellowship in person again on April 12, Easter Sunday.
In a similar vein, I ask us as believers in the God of mercy and miracles to follow Paul’s call in Ephesians 6 to “stand firm” in our faith and to “keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
God made the following covenant with Solomon and his people: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).
With hope and trust in the Lord’s promise, will you and your family humbly and faithfully join me every day at 7:14 a.m. and every night at 7:14 p.m. in intercessory prayer as we seek the face of God?
Will you join me in asking the Lord for his forgiveness of our sins and his miraculous healing across our nation? Will you twice daily commit to prayer for spiritual and physical healing?
“Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of His praise be heard” (Psalms 66:8). Jesus declared: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). May Jesus, the name above all names, be proclaimed.
Keep praying, carry on, and stay healthy.
J. Blair Blackburn is the president of East Texas Baptist University. The views expressed are those solely of the author.