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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Preached At:Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church
 London, Ontario
 www.londoncanrc.org
 
Title:A Soldier's Prayer for Strength in Battle
Text:LD 52 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world
 
Preached:2011
Added:2013-08-23
Updated:2013-08-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 144:1,2                                                                                    

Reading – Psalm 35; Ephesians 6:10-20

Psalm 35:2,7,9

Sermon – Lord’s Day 52, Q&A 127

Psalm 35:1,4,11

Hymn 1

Hymn 35:1,2,3,4
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation, Canada has long been a nation at war. For example, Canadian troops were in Afghanistan for several years to bring peace and stability to that part of the world. Many of our soldiers went over to fight, and sadly, more than a hundred gave their lives for the cause. While these efforts are important, they’re also nothing new. Afghanistan isn’t the first armed conflict that our soldiers have been involved in, and it probably won’t be the last. A quick look at Canadian history will tell us there have long been troops in this or that warzone. And when we consider the many who’ve taken up arms over the years, we might also notice that a good number of Christians have enlisted, and fought, and even perished for their country.

            War is a deadly thing, but these Christians surely stepped forward in the awareness of God’s protection. They knew that the LORD was with them, come what may. And so these soldiers went out, calling on God’s great Name. An example of such prayer comes from a little book, dated to 1941, and distributed widely among the troops during World War 2. It’s called “A Prayer Book for Soldiers and Sailors,” and when we open it, we find this striking petition, entitled “A Morning Prayer:” 

“Into thy hands, O God, I commend myself this day. Let thy presence be with me even to its close, that at night I may again give thanks unto thee… Grant, O Lord, that I may not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue [as] Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto my life’s end. Defend, O Lord, this thy Child with thy heavenly grace; that I may continue [as] thine for ever; and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until I come unto thy everlasting kingdom. Amen.

It’s a powerful prayer, full of the confession of reliance on the Lord. One can easily imagine a Christian soldier quietly offering up such a prayer, perhaps on the eve of a major battle.

            Today, we might not wear the uniform of our nation, nor fight overseas against foreign armies. But all the same beloved, we are soldiers, fighting under the banner of Christ. We hear it in the Catechism that “in this spiritual war”… “our sworn enemies do not cease to attack us” (Q&A 127). Which means that we too, need a “a prayer book for soldiers”—we need to ask for God’s help and his care, morning and evening, every day. This is what we do in the Lord’s Prayer, and in Psalm 35:  

            We offer a prayer for strength and courage in the battle, considering:

1)     the hatred of our enemy

2)     the strength of our Ally

3)     the assurance of our victory 

1)     the hatred of our enemy: One of the things that soldiers in Afghanistan talked about was the intense hatred that is shown by their enemies when they fight. It went beyond the level of having a reasonable purpose, and became fanatical. They were so blinded by their hatred, that sometimes they’d even kill their own citizens and countrymen—the very people whose cause they’re claiming to uphold.

            It was this kind of opposition that David faced when he was writing Psalm 35. This is a Psalm we don’t know the precise circumstances behind, but clearly his life is in great danger from an enemy who is both hateful and deceptive. We know that David had to contend with Saul’s persecution already before he became king; even once he’d taken the throne, there was a host of enemies to deal with. In the background of Psalm 35 are probably the attacks of some foreign king on David as ruler of God’s people.

Right from the opening verses, he pleads “Stop those who pursue me” (v 3)—and his pleas continue from there, at length. David say they’re seeking his life, trying to trap him, and persecuting him fiercely. They’re unwearied in their attacks on him as the Lord’s servant, even though he’s always treated them with kindness.

            For as soon as David takes a misstep, or comes into a hard time, these opponents are there to assault him. “In my adversity they rejoiced and gathered together; attackers gathered against me, and I did not know it; they tore at me and did not cease” (v 15). In short, they are fanatical in their opposition to David. He’s facing a determined and dangerous enemy, and they will not rest until he’s dead.

            Beloved, already we find ourselves echoing David’s complaint. For the reality is, we’re daily under attack by a hateful adversary! No, they aren’t angry people banging down the church doors, trying to get at us. We don’t face accusations in court because of our Christian faith. Our goods and property aren’t being confiscated.

That day may come, but there is yet an enemy moving against us who is active and determined. As Paul tells us, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). And like the Catechism puts it, this is our situation: “Our sworn enemies—the devil, the world, and our own flesh—do not cease to attack us” (Q&A 127). That’s a very important line, and we need to take it apart for a moment.

As Christians, as God’s children, as the LORD’s people—standing in the same camp as David and the Old Testament saints—we have our adversaries. And what kind of enemies are they? Are they a bit of friendly competition? Do they attack us, engage in battle for a little while, then lose interest and move on? No, the Catechism says we have “sworn” enemies. Note that word well. This is hatred of a different intensity altogether. This goes beyond a coincidental meeting on the battlefield. Theirs is a total dedication to our destruction. They will not rest, but have sworn to destroy us completely. They’re fanatical!

            “The devil, the world, and our own flesh”—that’s a three-part “axis of evil,” a most considerable opposition. The devil, of course, is the mastermind, the general in charge of all the forces of darkness. Daily he plots and schemes and invents new ways of sinning.

And the world—the very world among which we so happily live and move and work and have our leisure—the world goes right along with the devil. This world so often serves as the vehicle for Satan to deliver his spiritual explosives: planting them along the roads we daily travel, or bringing them right into our homes, even right up to the doorstep of the church.

And our own flesh—this is the ultimate traitor. Once created in God’s image, devoted to holiness and righteousness, our own flesh now works on the side of the enemy. “Just try it,” the flesh will whisper. “No one will know. You’re entitled to this, now and again.” Like the most crazed suicide bomber, our own sinful flesh is bent on self-destruction—wanting to do the very things that will lead to our death.

Let’s reflect on what we’re asking for protection from, when we pray, “Do not lead us into temptation.” Because it’s easy to categorize “temptations” as those dreadful sins that we’d all agree are dead-wrong: being tempted to bow down before a golden idol; tempted to take God’s Name in vain; to look at dirty videos, or to beat your children.

These temptations are very real and must be resisted, but let’s realize that our daily temptations can be far more subtle, far less outwardly “offensive.” Our temptations are as simple as that urge to pass on some juicy gossip. As “harmless” as the habit of spitting out harsh words without a moment’s thought. As “natural” as the inclination to let other pursuits take the place of Scripture-reading, even for just a day or two. As “quick” as a stolen glance, an angry look, a proud thought or a hateful word.

How often are we tempted? It’s not just here and there, it’s constant. This is the nature of our war: “Our sworn enemies… do not cease to attack us,” the Catechism says. When can we let down our guard? When can we pretend that the devil won’t notice? When can we trust our sinful flesh to make the right decision? We cannot. We’re always “outside the wire,” standing on the battlefield—and all the more so, if we say we’re on the side of Christ.

Now, there might be those Christians who claim, “I’m just going to stay in the background of all this—not sinning too much, nor sinning too little—laying low, because then I won’t attract much attention from the devil. I’ll be a neutral Christian, and just coast on through to safety.” Well, maybe a soldier can avoid going to the front-line for a while, but he can’t hide in the barracks forever! There comes a time to fight, and there’s no neutrality. Our sworn enemies won’t leave us alone, even if we cover up our Christian badge, and try to blend in.

Because in that grand battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light, we’re more than just spectators, beloved. We’re the territory being fought for. We’re the soldiers being actively enlisted by both sides! And the complicating problem in this battle is that we are so weak, so fearful, so prone to fatal attack.

David knew it—that’s why pours out his heart to God in this Psalm. He was bowed down; he was almost broken; he was worried that his enemies would get the better of him. What could he ever do against them on his own? So he humbled himself, and he prayed to the LORD. We join him, and we pray, “In ourselves we are so weak that we cannot stand even for a moment.” Facing the hatred of the enemy, we all need to admit that we’ll give in to the devil at the slightest attack, the smallest opposition, the gentlest provocation. In an instant, we’re tempted and we’ve fallen. In ourselves, we’re helpless—but with our Ally, we have unfailing strength. 

2)     the strength of our Ally: If there’s ever a nation looking to start an invasion, or fend off an attack, that nation will look for allies. You need people who can join you and support you, because fighting a war takes abundant resources and lots of able help.

            And thank the Lord, because this is what we have! In our spiritual war, we have an Ally who is Almighty. We have someone fighting on our side, making possible not just survival, but full and final victory. This is how David begins his prayer: “Plead my cause, O LORD, with those who strive with me; fight against those who fight against me” (v 1). It’s a petition that God would fight his battles, a prayer that God would take up David’s cause against all those deceptive and hateful enemies—and destroy them completely!

            As a first question, we should ask if this is even a proper way to speak to God. We know we have to pray according to God’s will, for all those things He has commanded us in his Word. Is this one of them, that the holy God would be a warrior on our behalf? But here we see how a right knowledge of God can give proper shape to our prayers. David knows God, and how often God has revealed Himself as a warrior; like at the Red Sea, when He destroyed the Egyptian hosts. Listen to the words Moses sang at that time, “The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his Name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea” (Ex 15:3-4).

And that’s what God so often did: He took up the defense of his people. Against the Amalekites, against the Syrians, against the Moabites, against the Philistines, against the Midianites, against countless enemies, God has waged war and won. David’s in good company—we’re in good company—when we pray, “Fight against those who fight against me.”

            That’s the essence of the fifth petition. This is a prayer that God would take to the battlefield, that He would save and protect us, his weak and waffling troops. We pray that He would hold Satan’s power at bay, that He would keep the sinful world in check, and that He would continue to transform our corrupted hearts. And He will, because of his great power and love. At the outset of each day, before those bullets and bombs really start flying, we can pray to the Father, using the words of the Catechism, “Will you, therefore, uphold and strengthen us…”

Like David asks the LORD, “Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for my help. Also draw out the spear, and stop those who pursue me” (vv 2-3). Yes, more than just calling on God to fight, he is picturing God as that “man of war,” one fully decked out with armour.

This kind of image is found elsewhere in Scripture, too. It depicts the greatness and might of the God who fights on our side! Like Isaiah 59, speaking of the Redeemer of Zion: “He puts on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his hand; He puts on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and is clad with zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds… He will repay fury to his adversaries” (v 17). And Habakkuk 3:11, where it speaks of the light of God’s arrows, and the shining of his glittering spear against all his foes. No one can deny it: our God is a warrior, ready to fight on behalf of his people.

What does that mean? That means God will give the courage to stand up against evil,

even when it feels like you’re standing all alone. God will give you the wisdom to see through Satan’s deception, even when his lies are so convincing. God will give strength in that moment of temptation, even when everything inside you wants to give in. God will show the way out of sin, and teach us the way of righteousness instead. On every front, He’ll fight for us! He’ll take hold of shield and buckler, He’ll draw out the spear, and He’ll stop those who pursue us.

            We’re reminded here of the spiritual armour that’s described in Ephesians 6. For after Paul has told us about the high stakes of our battle, that we daily face off against the powers of darkness, he urges, “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (v 13).

That’s a great comfort, but in that is also our responsibility. Because if we’ll stand in this fight, we must be ready. The good soldier for Christ will walk closely in step with his Commander. And the good solider of Christ won’t leave home without his armour. We must be fastening tight the belt of truth, and strapping on the breastplate of righteousness, and tying up the sandals of the gospel, and taking in hand the shield of faith, donning the helmet of salvation, and lifting high the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. If we’ll stand in this fight, we must be ready.

This then is our prayer, a plea to our great Ally and Helper: “By the power of your Holy Spirit… in this spiritual war [may we] may not go down to defeat but always firmly resist our enemies.” In ourselves we are so weak, that we cannot stand for even a moment—but each one of us can “be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might” (Eph 6:10). 

3)     the assurance of our victory: When a nation goes to war, the question often gets asked, “Will we win? Do we stand a good chance of victory? Or are we doomed? Well, David in Psalm 35 knew he’d win. This is his prayer, already in verse 3; he beseeches God in confidence, “Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation.’” Salvation—in this Psalm, that’s just another way of saying, “I am your victory. I am your triumph.” That’s what David wanted to hear from God, and that’s what he knew he’d hear.

            Likewise the Christian soldier today prays—and we live—in good confidence. For beloved, there’s no question about the outcome: We will win! That’s the lesson in this petition. We pray for God to keep us from temptation, to give us strength to resist the devil, and to fight for us in this spiritual war, “Until we finally obtain the complete victory.” Not if, but when! We will obtain the complete victory.

            Isn’t this over-confidence? Are we perhaps overestimating ourselves, or perhaps underestimating our fearsome opponent? We should do neither. But what we should do is recognize again the perfect power of the God who fight on our side. We win, not because of ourselves, but because of the LORD. This is how God encouraged Joshua, that great warrior for God’s people, even as he stood facing that long conquest of the Promised Land. The land was filled with enemies, great and numerous; Israel was but a nation of shepherds and farmers, up against the giants. But this is what God said, “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh 1:9).

            That’s another call to stand firm in the Lord and Him alone. It’s even a commandment: “Be strong and of good courage.” We need that, as we daily face the heat of war, on whatever battlefield God has called to fight.

What will we do, when we need to stick up for what’s right? What will we do, when we’re tempted to conform to the pattern of the world? What will we do, when we face that instant choice between doing God’s will, and doing our own? Will we fall down, helpless and afraid? Will we make a truce with our enemies, or hope they leave us alone? No, we will step forward bravely, outfitted in the armour of God, and we shall fight in the sureness of our victory. As one author once wrote, “No soldiers of Christ are ever lost, missing, or left dead on the battlefield.”

            For we know and we trust the sure promises of God. His own He will not abandon! This is the blessed implication of the cross that’s worked out by Paul in Romans 8. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Even those fearsome principalities and powers—even all the forces of the evil one—shall not separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

            And when there finally comes a great triumph in war, people fill the streets with jubilation. It’s no different for us, the Christian soldiers. Though the complete victory hasn’t arrived, today we rejoice in what God will most certainly do. Consider David again—through all his hardships, he knew that God would again put a song of praise on his lips; as he says in verse 9, “My soul shall be joyful in the LORD; it shall rejoice in His salvation.” That’s still our joy already today, our gladness in knowing the Lord and his total triumph.

            So it is beloved, that this week we face the heat of battle once again. It’s going to get dangerous. It’s going to be tough. We need help. We need strength. We need courage. We need wisdom. And we need to keep praying. If we’ll take part in that final victory celebration, we need to pray diligently, pray fervently, pray constantly.

Notice how it’s prayer that receives the most attention in Paul’s words about our battles against the evil one. After listing all those different pieces of armour, this is what he ends with; this is the one final piece that keeps it all together. Because without prayer, all that armour is useless; it’ll only weaken and slowly rust. So Paul exhorts us, that in this spiritual war we may “[pray] always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end, with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (v 18).

Pray for yourself, certainly, as you endure the violence of every day. But pray also “for all the saints,” for your brothers and sisters in Christ, for those who are going through the same fearful trials and temptations. Pray, “that [all of us] may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

            And let’s then join in prayer with that Christian soldier of years past, as he quietly prays on the eve of some major battle: 

“Into thy hands, O God, I commend myself this day. Let thy presence be with me even to its close, that at night I may again give thanks unto thee… Grant, O Lord, that I may not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and bravely to fight under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue as Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto my life’s end. Defend, O Lord, this thy Child with thy heavenly grace; that I may continue as thine for ever; and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until I come unto thy everlasting kingdom. Amen. 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2011, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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