Monday, August 13, 2012

“Your Songs and Prayers Against the Darkness Hurling…”

(Newsletter article)
The vivid words and images leapt off the pages and captured my imagination as the triumphant rhythms of the hymn pulsed with joy. Christ Jesus battling against the forces of darkness and evil. We see a rejected man hanging on the cross, lingering near death, arms pinned down in apparent defeat. But saints and angels saw Jesus delivering a deathblow to “send the pow’rs of evil reeling.” Satan and the forces of evil knocked completely off-balance; reeling, tumbling back in shock and surprise as Jesus’ death on the cross sealed victory for Him, and defeat for sin, death, and the power of the devil. We’re invited to see and believe this victory.

Jesus delivers to us the fruits of this awesome victory, bringing us “freedom, light and life and healing. All men and women who by guilt are driven, now are forgiven.” You have been driven by guilt. Driven to fear, driven to the vain attempt to please God by your good works, driven to hide, excuse, or explain away your guilt, in an effort to be relieved of it. Yet here stands Jesus Christ, forgiving your guilt. Declaring that it is no longer your burden to bear. Casting aside your vain attempts to please God by your works, and announcing to you that He has fully pleased and satisfied God with His perfect life, death, and resurrection. Announcing that His perfect life counts in your stead, so that you are forgiven of all wrong, and still more God counts all the good He has done to your credit! Guilt-driven to the cross, Christ scoops up your guilt and bears it on His strong shoulders—yours no longer. Freedom, light, and life and healing are now yours.

You have been drafted into His service. The spiritual battle continues. “Come, celebrate your banners high unfurling…” Marching in step with our conquering Lord Jesus, His love stretched above us as a glorious banner. “…Your songs and prayers against the darkness hurling…” We march forward with our Lord Jesus, against the encroaching darkness, casting songs and prayers out like bolts of lightning and joy that shatter the darkness. Light and freedom has entered our darkness through Jesus Christ, and we cast His light into the darkness, scattering the gloom, awakening hope in the lives of others who are surrounded by the darkness. “…To all the world go out and tell the story, of Jesus’ glory.” Songs and prayers and the Word of God—spiritual weapons dreaded by the evil one—tormenting to him who wants to spread despair and hopelessness. He’s fearful that we would call on the name of the Mighty God who delivers us from the evil one, and guards us from temptation. Satan is fearful when you sing and pray to Jesus, because he knows he cannot stand against the Lord Christ. Satan trembles when the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is proclaimed. Arm yourself with weapons of the Spirit to stand against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6). Take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and pray at all times in the Spirit.

As I finished singing the words of the hymn, joy and gladness washed over me for what Jesus has done for us. And I recalled the words of C.S. Lewis, closely paralleling the words of the hymn. In his book The Screwtape Letters, a fiction about how demons might practice their art of temptation, he describes how the tempters can make use of the fact that their subject has become a Christian and joined a church. They must exploit the fact that the human cannot see what they can. To the man worshipping in the church, the tempter must direct his attention to the outward appearances—the man from the local grocery store with his “oily expression” handing him the old hymnal with things in it they don’t understand, and in very small print. The neighbors around him he’s managed to avoid through the week. Their squeaky or monotone voices as they sing, their strange clothes or appearance. The dilapidated condition of the church. The tempter wants his “patient” to see all these things so that he will gradually begin to think that “their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous.”

All the while, what the tempters see in the spiritual realm, is quite terrifying to them. They see the Church “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.” We see a motley group of people singing half out of tune; an inexperienced preacher relating ancient Bible texts, some distracted, some sleepy; we see the empty chairs and wonder why we’re here. But the true nature of the Christian church is quite invisible to our physical eyes. We don’t see what the devil and all his powers tremble at.

But we confess this article of faith, “I believe in the one Holy Christian and apostolic Church.” We confess that despite our senses, despite the distractions that the evil one would turn our attention to, that Christ’s Church is the greatly feared enemy of the forces of evil. The Christian Church stretches through all time, and every “soldier in the Lord’s army” that dies in battle, is not one more victim eliminated from the army, but now stands on the other side of eternity—alive and well in the victory of the Lord! That no Christian who dies in the Lord departs from His church, but rather stands in triumph in heaven. That Christian songs and prayers ripple through the darkness, causing damage to the cause of evil in ways that we cannot see. That the word of Christ proclaimed causes all the forces of evil to quake and tremble. Keep this awareness before you as you sing and pray, and always remember the power of Jesus to whom we sing and pray, and who sent those “pow’rs of evil reeling!”
The hymn that prompted these reflections is “Rise, Shine, You People”, especially verses 2-3. It can be found in the Lutheran Service Book, 825. Read the hymn and Ephesians 6 together and consider anew the power of God’s Word, prayer, and the weapons of the Spirit, as you are encouraged to join in worship and stand under Christ’s banner of victory. 

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