Running the race in the last days Bible Study
The Mind Games: The enemy, the battleground and believer's defense
by I Gordon
'Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind...'
I've been writing about running the race in the last days and I wanted to look at the mind this time. Specifically, I want to explore how the mind is the battleground for the believer in this age. In any sport, race or competition there are always mind games going on. To be successful in any competition, three things (keeping it really simple!) are required:
Natural ability. Some people, because of genetics, can run faster, leap higher or have better hand-eye coordination.
Hard work and practice.
The right head, especially under pressure. It's this last one that I want to emphasise.
Mind games at the tennis club...
As an illustration, a few years back I was playing in the local Tennis club champs. I got to the final and was up against someone of very similar ability. It looked like it was going to be close. I lost a pretty hard fought first set but managed to come back in the second and win that one. We battled through the final set until it was 6 games all... Onto the dreaded deciding set tie-break! It is the first to 7 points. I got to 6-5 up and had a match and club championship point. During the rally he hit a slightly lobby mid-court shot to my backhand - my favoured shot! Now normally I wouldn't even think about what comes next. I would go for a winner. It's my favourite shot... time to put it away!
But this was match point...
It was championship point...
Lots of people are watching...
And as this ball bounced up in the air I remember thinking 'do I go for it or play conservatively and let him make a mistake? I could win it here. Shall I be aggressive and try take it or just hit it back? I should go for it. But what if I stuff it up?' This was all going through my mind as the ball bounced high in the mid court and started to come down. I made my decision. I would take the bull by the horns (so to speak) and go for it. I can win it right here! So with all my might I swung through for a fast top spin backhand to take the glory, cup and crowd applause...
And yet with all the doubts and indecision going through my mind as I lined up that shot, I was hitting the ball late and it came off the edge of the racket and flew about two courts sideways. There was a great 'oooooooooh' from the crowd. I then meekly gave up the next two points and that was that. Game over. The trophy had slipped from my grasp. Why? Because I lacked ability? No. Because I hadn't practiced that shot? No. I had hit it thousands of times. Simply because of doubt. When the pressure came on, at match point, I tightened up and doubt entered in. At that moment I lacked a calm clear head under pressure.
This is a story in the natural but it has links to the spiritual. The battleground is the mind. It is every day. The enemy is always looking for fears and doubts to exploit. The worries of our fallen nature can be hard to stop at times. That's what we'll look at in this study... the battle for the mind. We will look at:
The context and meaning of our main verse - "Gird up the loins of your mind." (Whatever that means!)
What the saints of old 'knew' and how it helped in their battles
An Old Testament example of the enemies attack and believers defense.
Gird up the loins of your mind...
1Pe 1:10-13 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, (11) trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. (12) It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (13) Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self- controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
In this passage and the surrounding context Peter speaks of the wonderful grace and salvation that believers have been given. But he also mentions two groups that really wanted to know more about this.
1) The prophets. 2) The Angels.
After speaking about this wonderful salvation and grace, Peter says 'therefore'... Therefore prepare your minds for action. But what does that mean? What 'action'? Most Bible versions give a modern translation of this phrase but what it literally means, as translated in the King James, is 'gird up the loins of your mind'. There, that's much better right? That's something we know about and say all the time is it not? Gird up your loins Bob I often say. Well, maybe not. Let's look at some examples:
Elijah - natural sense, in the act of running
1Ki 18:46 Then the hand of the LORD was on Elijah, and he girded up his loins and outran Ahab to Jezreel. In Biblical times both men and women would often wear flowing tunics or robes. These were comfortable and great for normal wear but not so flash when you had to be active like running or fighting. In those cases, like we see with Elijah above, they would gather up the end and tie it off under their belt. This would give them unrestricted movement for the task at hand. Because this was so common, girding up your loins also took on a symbolic meaning. One example is when God spoke to Job:
Job - When trying to answer God
Job 38:1-3 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, (2) "Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge? (3) "Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!
So in the natural they would gird up their loins when they were about to run or walk fast or when active or going into battle. But symbolically/spiritually it means to 'Get ready'. 'Prepare yourself for a test, a battle or action'. The whole passage in 1 Peter could loosely paraphrase like this:
'We have received the most wonderful salvation, the most amazing grace. It is something that those who went before us have longed to understand and experience. Even angels long to look and know more about this salvation. But don't think things will be easy. It will be a battle and you need to be ready. Get ready to run, get ready for action. Get ready for battle. Now that you have received this wonderful salvation don't just think it is just going to be songs of Kumbaya round the camp fire. There is going to be a battle. And a large part of that will occur between your ears! Prepare your minds for action! Gird up the loins of your mind!'
Ok, that's a little loose in parts, but you get the story.
The Bible is clear that a large part of spiritual warfare is in the mind. That is why it says:
2Co 10:3-5 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. (4) The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (5) We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Here is a passage of spiritual warfare and what does it emphasise? The thoughts coming in, and going on, in your mind. To be honest I never used to like this verse very much. Taking every thought captive? That sounds so tiring!1 But we need to remember that the enemy works on lies and doubts. Go to the law of first mention - what are the first words of the enemy in the Bible? They are these - 'Did God really say...?' He comes subtly, planting thoughts contrary to God's truth in the mind. He comes casting doubt upon God Himself. That is where the battle comes in. He will cast doubts on your salvation. On whether God actually loves you; whether God cares for you. The enemy tries to get you to fear the future. He works by getting you to focus on that which is wrong instead of that which is right. It is at these points that we need to slow down and take the thought captive. Instead of pondering on all the negative thoughts that flood your mind and can overwhelm you....
Stop... slow down, be still, and simply ask yourself 'is this what God says in His word? Is this what God would say to me? Or is this coming from the enemy, the world or my own fleshly thoughts?' There is a reason we are told to put on the helmet of salvation. It is your understanding and experience of His wonderful salvation that guards your head and your mind.
Eph 6:17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
In this passage Paul is speaking about a Roman solider. How important is the helmet for a Roman solider?2 It was critical in the day of battle. Spiritually speaking how more important is the helmet of salvation that guards your thoughts? Going back to our passage in 1 Peter 1:13, the Amplified version says 'So brace up your minds'; A brace is 'a device fitted to something, in particular a weak or injured part of the body, to give support.' We are not strong. Our minds aren't that strong. We need a good brace, and that is faith in the salvation and faithfulness of God, to strengthen this weak part of our body. And that comes through experiencing God's goodness. The enemy gets us to doubt but when we really 'know' something then it's like having strong walls of salvation. So let's look at some examples of what the saints of old 'knew' and how it helped them.
What we come to know - Examples of 'I know'
I get different people write in to the website talking about different fears and doubts that they have. If we are honest we all have them in some shape or form. So I decided to do a quick Bible study on what different characters said they knew.
|Job||The sovereignty of God||Job 42:1-5 Then Job answered the Lord and said: (2) "I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You... "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.'||Job learnt that God is in control and can do all things. He may have thought it before but now he knew it! If we just have head knowledge then the enemy will cast doubt on that. If we have experienced Him working in our lives then our minds are braced, strengthened, from the fears and doubts.|
|Jethro||The power of God||Exo 18:9-11 Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians... Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly."||Jethro was Moses' father in law and a Priest of Midian. He had his own gods whom he worshipped to. But when he saw what the God of Israel did to the Egyptians he knew, once and for all, who the true high God was! Our faith is confirmed and strengthened as we experience the power of God in action.3|
|Job||The future hope in God||Job 19:25-26 For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; (26) And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God.'||Wow! What a statement in the midst of all else falling around him. The believer has a glorious future and hope even in the midst of great trials, if necessary, in this life. Job knew he had a Redeemer and he knew that even if he died, yet he would live!|
|Solomon||The perfection of God's work||Ecc 3:14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.||People write into the website unsure about whether God still loves them. Unsure if they are still saved. God's work is perfect and endures forever. Man's work is lousy and falls to pieces. Salvation is God's greatest work. His most amazing miracle. It endured forever. Whose work are you trusting in? Yours or His?|
|David||The care of God||Psa 56:8-9 You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book? (9) Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call; This I know, that God is for me.'||David wrote this at his very lowest point. He was on the run from King Saul, living in the wilderness, sleeping in caves, even dribbling down his beard to act like a madman when recognised by the Philistines at one point! It was at this time that he wrote this - 'This I know, that God is for me!' What a statement! Do you know that?|
|Martha||The limitless ability of God!||John 11:21-22 Martha then said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. "Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."||On the one hand it seemed like it was all over. Lazarus, Martha's brother, had died. Death is normally the end. But not necessarily! Not when Jesus is involved! When all seems lost we should know that it is the Lord who has the last word and can overrule in even the darkest night.|
|Paul||The sustaining of God||Php 4:12-13 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.||Paul had learned, through experience, the secret of being content and sustained in every circumstance. And that secret came through 'Him who strengthens me'. What knowledge this is!|
So can you say 'I know' to these things?
A reader's testimony
The following comes from a reader of the JesusPlusNothing website who has just gone through cancer. I wanted to share this because it was a great testimony of learning to experience the Lord in the midst of the uncertainty and doubts of the enemy.
'Today, one year later, after two small surgeries, eight chemo treatments, and 35 radiation treatments, I am healed physically and have been changed spiritually!' 'Have there been any fears since and throughout? Yes, different kinds of fear would creep up, and I have even panicked and run, but He was there to quell the fears and comfort me every single time - with His Word, with His presence, with family and friends' encouragement, with excellent online teaching, :) even with a couple of dreams, and with some 'key words' that He gave me from the beginning which people have said to me over and over again throughout this year.'
'The enemy would like the perplexing ground of our trial(s) to be full of fear, confusion, anxiety, and anguish, but our Father has His truth for us - His nearness, His goodness, His care, His lovingkindness and His tender mercies! 'Psalm 23:5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies... Just think about that! Jesus prepares a table - a banquet - for us to enjoy with Him right in the middle of our enemies! Right in the middle of any and every enemy! Right in the middle of this enemy! We can feast on His precious Word and His precious presence right in the middle of anything we are going through! Praise be to Jesus! What a great salvation He has given us!!!'
What a great testimony! You certainly don't go through 8 chemo's and 35 radiation treatments without the helmet of salvation. You can only imagine the fears and doubts that could creep in.
Let's look at an Old Testament example of the enemy's ways and the believer's defense.
An example of the enemy's ways (Or how I learn I was a spiritual feather weight4)
Neh 4:1-9 Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. (2) He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, "What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?" (3) Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, " Even what they are building--if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down! " (4) Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. (5) Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders. (6) So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. (7) Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. (8) All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. (9) But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.
Let's start with a little context. Babylon had smashed and destroyed Judah and Jerusalem in 586 BC. The Jews, including Daniel and Jeremiah, were led away into captivity. But after 70 years in exile the Persian King Cyrus passes a decree allowing the Jews to return home. Nehemiah himself returned later around 444 BC and was shocked to see the state of his homeland. The walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed. Their enemies had free reign to come and go as they pleased. Nehemiah knew that he had to start rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Now this has a clear spiritual application which is seen in the following verses:
"But you will call your walls salvation and your gates praise." (Isaiah 60:18)
"Like a city that is broken into and without walls, so is a man who has no control over his spirit." (Proverbs 25.28)
So with that in mind, let's look at how the enemy attacks, trying to keep the walls of salvation in ruble! And look also at the believers response.
|Neh 4:1-3 Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. (2) He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, "What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?" (3) Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, " Even what they are building--if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down! "||Firstly Sanballat ridiculed the Jews. This is the mode of the enemy. Sanballat means 'hatred in secret' and you can hear his hatred: 'Don't think you are going to get anywhere. You're never going to get anywhere. You're nothing. You'll always be nothing.' This is the language of the enemy. This is the battle. But you'll see that others soon join in. Voices soon come from the left and the right. You can hear them... 'How you are now, all smashed up and hopeless... this is how you will always be. You're kidding yourself if you think it will ever be any different!" Beware the lies of the enemy!|
|Neh 4:4 Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity.||What does Nehemiah do? How does he respond to the taunts of the enemy? Does he keep mediating on their words? Entertain them for a few days? No. Here is an example of taking every thought captive. And then what? Instead of trying to work it all out the very first thing he does is take it to God. It is interesting that nearly right through the book of Nehemiah when he faces adversity Nehemiah will pray and encourage the workers to remember the Lord. It is no different for us today.|
|Neh 4:5 Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders.||They had demoralized the builders. That is the point. The enemy desired to win the battle in the mind. The desired the walls of salvation to remain broken and feeble allowing the enemy to come and go as he wills.|
|Neh 4:6 So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work||They built the wall to half its height because the people had 'a mind to work'. that is the key. Clearly, through Nehemiah's prayer and encouragement, the mind attack is not working!|
|Neh 4:7-9 All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. (9) But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.||With the mind attack not working, the enemy changes tactic and starts a physical attack! But the believers prayed again and also took guard. Believer... be sober. Be alert. Gird up the loins of your mind! This attack also would fail because of the response of Nehemiah!|
The mind is critical. Guard it! Renew it! Fill it with truth! When I played in that tennis final, it really came down to one point. But I had become nervous, tight, and because of it, in-decisive. I was focusing on the wrong thoughts. The mind is critical in all competitions but it is also the battleground in the Christian life. That is why the book of Romans tells us to...
...be transformed by the renewing of your mind... (Rom 12:2)
Let me close with one last verse from the great book of Nehemiah. Listen to the advise of Nehemiah when he saw that the people were struggling under the mind attack of Sanballat and co. It contains a great piece of advice.
When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people:
" Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome ...' (Nehemiah 4:14)
It is so much easier for your computer. They are doing this all the time. You know that anti-virus software you installed? Well that sits in the background and checks all the files and webpages that are getting loaded into the computers memory. If it finds one that will do your computer harm it alerts you and immediately blocks the file before any damage can be done. Brilliant! It is taking every file captive and making sure it is safe. Unfortunately, with the computer that is the human mind, it doesn't always realise the harm that some thoughts can do. And sometimes it does realise it but still decides to run with them anyway! ↩
The only helmet that I know about is my Mountain biking helmet. It's the most important accessary, the most important piece of protection that a mtb'er wears. It's also one that you'd rather not find out how effective it is! One time I had come down the mountain, got through all the tough tracks and was riding along slowly on a flat track. I went to lift my wheel over a wet root and it just slid sideways. Before I knew it my wheel had gone over the edge and I had gone over the handle bars flying head first down a drop away bank. My helmet literally broke my fall. I got up feeling my arms, shoulders, neck, head... everything still working? I made my way up this step bank and popping my head over the edge my friend comes riding along saying 'what are you doing down there?' 'Hmmmm'... 'Um, just testing my helmet!' You soon learn how important the helmet is! In the spiritual it is no different! ↩
In Pilgrims Progress Christian came to the top of the hill of difficulty and saw two men running in fear towards him. It was Mistrust and Timorous. They were running in fear warning Christian to turn around because there are lions ahead and he'll get torn to pieces. Christian starting think all sorts of fearful thoughts. How could he go on? Would he not be torn to pieces? And yet go on he must so praying he went forward. It was then that he saw that the lions were chained. They could growl and frighten, but they were chained. They could go so far but no further. Always remember the power of God. He is the One who is in control, not the enemy. ↩
Nehemiah is, and always will be, a special book for me. When my friend Brett suggested that we start a website back in the late 1990's, I only had one study, and that was on the book of Nehemiah. And I always felt like it was a God-given study because it came out of a time when I saw that the enemy was playing havoc in my mind. In 1997 I was really unwell all year and, to use a boxing metaphor, I learnt that year that I was no spiritual heavy weight. I wasn't even competing in the cruiser weight or middle weight division. I learned that I was very much in featherweight or flyweight division! And even then I was getting smashed around the ring. I remember sitting on the couch one day, having been sick for several months and having just been told that I had the same disease as Michael Jackson, and just staring at the wall for the afternoon playing out every dreadful scenario in my mind that I could. I was listening to the enemy. I was not renewing my mind with the truth but was being transformed (for the worse) by renewing my mind with lies. My study on Nehemiah, which is on the website, came out of this time. ↩