Seven Life-Changing Habits
Seven Life-Changing Habits
For many years, Bruce Streather, a successful lawyer, was an atheist. He never went to church, even though his family did. Most weekends he played golf. Eventually, as a result of considerable persuasion from his wife and three teenage daughters, he came on Alpha. He was extremely argumentative and hostile. None of the sessions had any impact on him until, towards the end of the course, he heard the talk ‘How Can I Resist Evil?’ Afterwards he came up to me and said, ‘In my work as a lawyer, I have seen so much evil. I have always believed in the power of evil. Tonight, it struck me that if there is a power of evil, it makes sense to believe that there is also a power of good.’
That night Bruce became a Christian. Ever since, he has been a committed member of the church with a very powerful and effective ministry affecting the lives of hundreds of people.
We struggle with the global evils of terrorism, the rise of Isis, the tragic plight of refugees, events in Syria, the Zika virus, starvation, poverty, the destruction of the environment, corrupt governments and countless other domestic, local and international issues. We also face struggles against evil in our own lives – temptation, sin and addiction.
The Bible is realistic about this struggle. In the Old Testament, we read about physical battles against the forces of evil. In the New Testament, the struggle is more often described as a spiritual battle. As St Paul puts it, ‘Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:12).
Today’s passages show us that the battle is won through the victorious power of the Lord.
Victory over bondage and slaveryPsalm 114:1-8
The psalmist recalls how Israel was set free from its bondage and slavery in Egypt. The victorious power of God led them out of Egypt and across the sea, which ‘looked and fled’ (v.3).
The ‘presence of the Lord’ with his people gave the Israelites the victory (v.7). It was his presence that ‘turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water’ (v.8).
The character of God was revealed to his people in the Exodus, when God liberated his people from oppression through his victorious power and presence, making it clear that slavery is an evil from which God longs to set people free.
This helps us address one of the big questions from today’s New Testament reading in which Paul gives instructions to slaves and masters (Ephesians 6:5–9). Why did Paul never attempt to abolish slavery altogether?
We need to remember that in those days, Christians were a tiny persecuted minority and they were in no position to end what was a universal institution in the ancient world. In the Roman Empire alone, about 60 million people (a high percentage of the population) were slaves.
As Professor F.F. Bruce writes, ‘It was better to state the principles of the gospel clearly (“in Christ there is neither slave nor free”, Galatians 3:28) and leave them to have their own effect in due course on this iniquitous institution.’
God wants to set people free, both from the literal bondage and oppression experienced by modern day slaves, and from our slavery to sin and addictions (such as a reliance on alcohol, drugs, violence or pornography). And in the future, when Jesus returns in victorious power, God will free everyone from every kind of slavery.
Lord, thank you that you set me free through your presence with me, and that you turn the rock into a pool and the hard rock into springs of water through your Holy Spirit dwelling within me.
Victory over the devil’s schemesEphesians 6:1-24
Our battle is against ‘the triple alliance’, writes Raniero Cantalamessa. ‘The world, the flesh and the devil; the enemy around us, the enemy within us and the enemy above us.’
Relying on God’s victorious power does not mean that we are passive or inactive. Paul insists that, in order to win the battle, you need to take responsibility for your life and ‘be strong in the Lord’ (v.10).
We need to take action. Paul uses phrases like ‘put on’ (v.13a), ‘stand your ground’ (v.13b) and ‘stand firm’ (v.14). Be active, replacing bad habits with good habits. Paul outlines seven life-changing habits you should adopt:
Focus on the truth of Jesus
‘With a belt of truth buckled around your waist’ (v.14a).
Focus on truth of heart. Transparency and authenticity are the opposite of hypocrisy. We also need to focus on the truth of doctrine as revealed in Scripture. Both are personified in Jesus who said, ‘I am the truth’ (John 14:6).
Keep short accounts
‘With the breastplate of righteousness in place’ (Ephesians 6:14b).
Jesus died so that you might have the righteousness of God. When you fall, get up quickly. Keep in a right relationship with God and with others.
Get actively involved
‘With your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace’ (v.15).
Here Paul may have had a verse from our Old Testament reading for today in mind: ‘Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace!’ (Nahum 1:15). The devil hates the gospel – because it is God’s power to change lives.
Paul asked the Ephesian Christians to pray for him: ‘that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel’ (Ephesians 6:19).
Trust God in difficult times
‘In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one’ (v.16).
The arrows are such things as: false guilt, shame, doubt, disobedience, malice and fear.
Win the battle of the mind
‘Take the helmet of salvation’ (v.17a).
The battle is won or lost in our minds, so it is essential that we ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Soak yourself in the word of God
‘The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Ephesians 6:17b).
Use the Bible when you are under attack, just as Jesus did when he was tempted in the desert (Matthew 4:1–11).
‘Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests’ (Ephesians 6:18)
Prayer is a powerful weapon. Mary Queen of Scots said, ‘I fear John Knox’s prayers more than an army of ten thousand men.’
Lord, thank you that although on my own I am powerless, with the armour of God, the strength of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, I can experience your victory.
Victory over the forces of evilNahum 1:1-3:19
We all go through tough times. Jesus told us not to be surprised by trouble (John 16:33). But you are promised that you will be more than a conqueror through Christ who loves you (Romans 8:37).
Take comfort from the promises that God made to his people then, which are still applicable to us now: ‘God is good, a hiding place in tough times. He recognises and welcomes anyone looking for help, no matter how desperate the trouble’ (Nahum 1:7, MSG).
Empires come and go. The British Empire once dominated the world. No longer. Likewise, the Roman Empire and every other Empire has come and gone.
At the time Nahum was writing, the Assyrian Empire dominated the world and seemed invincible. Yet shortly after the book of Nahum was written, in 612 BC, Ninevah, the proud capital of the Assyrian Empire, fell to the Babylonians and Medes.
Nahum assures the people of God, surrounded by powerful forces, that God is in command and no power on earth can stand against him (2:1–13). The message is: ‘Don’t admire or be intimidated by this enemy. They are going to be judged by the very same standards applied to us’ (Eugene Peterson).
The evil of Ninevah is described in chapter three: ‘Doom to murder city – full of lies, bursting with loot, addicted to violence… luring nations to their ruin with your evil spells’ (3:1,4, MSG).
If the end of this earthly kingdom was ‘good news’ (1:15) bringing such relief and jubilation, how much more should the victory of Jesus over the spiritual forces of evil bring us relief and jubilation? You are still surrounded by enemies in the form of the world, the flesh and the devil, but with God on your side, you will ultimately see his victorious power.
Lord, thank you that you are more powerful than any spiritual force of evil. Thank you that you are a refuge in times of trouble and that you care for those who trust in you (v.7). Help me today to trust in you and your victorious power.
‘God... turned... the hard rock into springs of water.’
God can change any difficult situation into a place of fruitfulness.
Verse of the Day
‘God is good,
a hiding place in tough times.
He recognises and welcomes
anyone looking for help,
No matter how desperate the trouble’ (Nahum 1:7, MSG).
F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary) (William B Eerdmans Publishing Co; Reprint edition, 2014) p.190.
Raniero Cantalamessa, Come Creator Spirit, (Liturgical Press, 2002) p.187
Eugene Peterson, The Message, 'Introduction to Nahum', (Navpress, 2004) p.1271.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.