I woke up with a verse of a song playing in my head.
Leave no unguarded place,
No weakness of the soul,
Take every virtue, every grace,
And fortify the whole.
From strength to strength go on,
Wrestle and fight and pray,
Tread all the powers of darkness down
And win the well-fought day.
It’s from the hymn, Soldiers of Christ Arise, written by Charles Wesley. His brother, John, is famous for leading a well-known spiritual awakening, but it’s Charles’ verses that come to memory for me.
I looked for a video performance of the song but none that I saw had the tone of gentle encouragement I felt when I heard this part of it in my spirit. Some of them used photos of modern military and others featured large choirs and brass fanfares.
None of them felt right because “wrestle and fight and pray” doesn’t take place in the middle of patriotic hoopla for me. The battle, for me, takes place mostly in my bed at night when I wrestle with doubt, fight fear, and pray from a position of being very aware of weakness. The only strutting involved is when I am trying to walk the cramps out of my legs, and technically, that looks more like lurching.
I don’t feel particularly virtuous when I am complaining about pain. I don’t feel particularly strong when worries attack without the defenses of daylight logic camouflage. My prayers contain no self-conscious public speech-making bravado. Mostly they are moans, for myself, for my family, for my friends, for my country, for this world where the powers of darkness, in a variety of costumes, seem to be clog dancing on the face of those suffering injustice.
And yet, I hear the voice of my Lord saying, “Get up. Put your armour on.”
In his kindness, Holy Spirit first points out places in my heart that need to be fortified with his love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Then he reminds me of his lavish, empowering grace.
He reminds me that when I fall, I don’t have to go all the way back to the beginning. My new starting point is where I left off last time. I am learning that I can fall, admit it, and get up to fight from strength to strength with his weapons — and aim them at the real enemy, not the hostages.
The process involves acknowledging the unguarded places in my soul where lies about who God is and who I am in Christ have slipped in unnoticed. One common unguarded place is unforgiveness. Another is complaining. Someone told me that complaining is the worship language of hell and not to be surprised by who shows up for a pity party.
Wrestling, puzzling, pondering draws us closer to God. Sometimes trust means moving in obedience without any more insight than knowing he is good and he’s asked me to get up and pray.
Sometimes one crumb leads to another on the path to closer relationship. As I was pondering this song another came up:
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!
Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heaven-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.
Today is Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came in power on a Pentecost day to enable the followers of Jesus to go from strength to strength. They couldn’t do it on their own.
Sometimes the next step is simply a practical one. While he fried up bacon and eggs, my husband patiently listened to me verbally process the significance of the music in my head and its metaphorical meaning.
“By the way,” he said, when I paused to take a sip of coffee, “You left the back door open last night.”
Note to self: check the doors before going to bed.