Spiritual life is filled with us and downs. The trials and triumphs are a part of humanity. We all feel the weight of life and the effects of sin in the world to some extent or another. But one of the most visceral and universal of it's effects of this on any individual soul, is self defense. Human nature tells us we fight for what we have. Then we defend what we have and what we do. The idea that we are self made. It's what makes us fight and why countries start wars with each other.
A general review of the Old Testament reveals God trying to instill the fact that He is in control into the consciousness of his people. One of the best examples of this is the story in Exodus 17 when the Israelite's were fighting against the Amalekites and only when Moses kept his hands in the air did the Israelites did they even stand a chance. They may have been the people fighting, but God was defending them. If Moses set aside his prayerful posture the homeless wandering travelers he was leading, predictably, did not fare well against an army. But Moses lifting his hands held high to God (which he even needed help with) was enough for the Israel to overcome the Amalekite forces.
From this story I pull some applications. As a child of God, he is in control. While I am not personally fighting a war, I can still know God as my defender. At least, I can know that He will continue defend the me that He created, that is to say the me that is in right relationship with Him.
As a Christian I find myself constantly drifting a little bit here and there from my avenue of growth to becoming my-heavenly-self. While, I'm not fighting for my life or wandering through the desert, that sometimes does sound like a pretty good metaphor for my faith journey. While the Israelites grumbled because they didn't know where they were going and they didn't fit in anywhere, I grumble mostly because a deep-seeded desire to be understood. Frequently, when I feel misunderstood I get defensive.
One summer, I gifted a Catholic Miraculous medal at a inter-denominational church camp. A young Catholic man had just shared his testimony of God's faithfulness and he gave them out in handfuls to everyone who attended his seminar. This challenged me. Hearing truth about God from a from a theological point of view that differs from one's own is always challenging. Simply put the medal was almost too much. If you don't know a miraculous medal is a charm to be worn as a necklace. It has been, for lack of a better term, baptized by Catholic priests in different bodies of water and prayed over, so that the one who wears it would carry with them prayers of safety and well being. I wear it most days now not as a miraculous charm that will keep me safe and well, but as a symbol of the power of faith and prayer. and a reminder of my safety and security in Christ.
These days I wear this on the same string as an old cross necklace formed in the general shape of a sword. This specific charm was given to me by my aunt and, by her report, could date back to 16th Century England. It's really dense and heavy. I first started wearing a cross in the shape of sword years ago. The charm was store bought and cheep and look more like a sword. At that time it represented the sword of the spirit from Ephesians, where Paul uses the metaphor of the armor of God and in it the sword, the offensive weapon represents the spirit and Word of God. I saw the cross in the shop and thought of that passage and what it would mean to where a symbol of my savior, his identity and words around my neck and resting against my heart and it was really compelling.
It's somewhat funny that even though I know the symbolism of these charms around my neck and put them on almost daily that, recently, I have failed to live my life taking their sentiments to heart. I don't believe that a symbol can magically make me well or defend me, or compel me to think in any special way, but I'd forgotten the purpose of wearing the necklace. It's internal. It's the way I think. It's they way that I posture myself. It's my attitude.
Fear and anger are constants for everyone. They frequently, one way or another, go hand and hand. The Israelites were scared as lonely desert wanderers and because of that, they got mad at God. When I become afraid that I'm misunderstood, or for some reason un-understandable, I put up my defenses. I raise my sword and shield. When we as humans feel afraid, we react to attack, defend or isolate. In my own daily life, I battle the choice to grumble and revolt. I want to clench my fists and fight more than I'm proud to admit. I hate when people are in pain. I hate when I feel that passion is being misconstrued or that I am being misunderstood. I raise my shield and draw my sword. I close myself in isolation and I push people away. These attitudes are like poison to the idea of being a fruitful branch.
Like the Israelites in the wilderness, I am not my own defender. I am not meant to fight all of the battles in the world. I shouldn't fear misunderstanding, but simply do my work and live my life with integrity, as a follower of Jesus. God is my defender. He is my sword and shield.
Lord, help me to take my place as Your servant. Help me to see as You see. Help me to serve the people I meet. Lord, help me to forget defensiveness and aggressiveness as a reaction to fear or frustration. Instead, give me wisdom, Lord, to find the right words to speak and the right steps to take. You are my shield and defender. I lay down my emotional desire to fight and life my hands to You. Amen.