Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Eph. 6:16)
Saturday night tends to be my hardest night of the week. If something goes wrong, it doesn’t happen just any night. It usually happens Saturday night. If our computer crashes, it happens on Saturday evening. If our fire alarm system gets messed up and goes off, it happens Saturday night, waking the whole family and ruining our sleep. If our children are sick, Saturday night seems to be the favorite time for illness, keeping children and parents awake most of the night. If there’s a ferocious storm and we lose electricity, it happens Saturday night. If there’s a torrential downpour and our basement is in danger of flooding, it happens Saturday night, and I’m awake much of the night hoping to prevent trouble.
Why does Saturday night seem to be my worst night of the week? I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think it happens because I’m a preacher of the gospel, and Satan wants to weaken me. On Sunday mornings I must speak to people who need God’s Word. That’s harder to do if I’m short on sleep and have too many hassles on my mind. Sometimes I’ve had to preach on less than two hours of sleep the night before because of all the things that went wrong. Satan likes to fire volleys to weaken me and keep me from bringing God’s Word in its full, saving power.
Saturday nights are often hard, and so are Sunday mornings. It’s harder than usual for our family to get along on Sunday mornings, and that’s true of other churchgoing people as well. Friends tell me that their children seem to be at their worst on Sunday morning. The kids argue and pick on each other more than usual. At Sunday breakfast they spill more than usual. The parents are more short-tempered than usual. Family members sometimes yell at each other eating breakfast, getting dressed, and even in the car on the way to church. When they get to church, they might feel so upset or so guilty that they feel they shouldn’t even be there.
Are those miserable Sunday mornings a coincidence? I don’t think so. Sunday worship is vital for Christians, so Satan fires volley after volley after volley, trying to break us down and prevent us from getting built up and strengthened in church. I know that some problems arise from ordinary weariness and grumpiness, and I’m not the sort of person who blames every little problem on a demon. But I take the Bible seriously when it says that our struggle is not just against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil. I believe Scripture when it talks about “the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
Satan picks certain times to fire his volleys of arrows. He picks Saturday nights and Sunday mornings to wound worshipers before they gather in God’s name, and that’s far from his only time to shoot his volleys. Many of Satan’s worst attacks are timed to strike people when they are about to start a new chapter in their life.
If you have ignored God for years but then start to get interested in the Bible and in Jesus, a lot of Satan’s arrows are likely to fly your way. He will fire distractions and all sorts of things that make you feel too busy to get serious about God. If someone has been talking to you about the Lord, you may suddenly find yourself so busy with lots of stuff that you feel you don’t have time to talk with your Christian friend. If you start visiting a church, Satan will try to fill your Sunday mornings with other things to do, or he will help you to focus on things you don’t like about the church’s music or its members or even its paint or its carpet or a pothole in the parking lot. Even better, in Satan’s view, is a rude remark from a church member or a blunder by the pastor—anything that gets your focus away from Jesus and your need for him. The Bible says that the best defense against Satan’s flaming arrows is the shield of faith, and if Satan thinks you’re getting close to faith, he wants to strike before you get that shield.
But Satan’s not the only one at work. God is also active, and he can give you faith despite all Satan’s attacks. When that happens, Satan may try to destroy you before you learn to use your shield well. New Christians often face worse troubles and stronger temptations than ever before. Even if there’s a healthy, positive change in you, your friends and family may not like it. When you became a Christian, you may have expected your family life to improve, but sometimes it gets worse. You lose some friends, and there’s more conflict than ever with family members. If that happens, the problem may be more than just humans not getting along. It may be Satan’s fiery arrows. You may also have a harder time with your job and finances. A voice in your minds says, “Christianity is supposed to make life better, but it’s getting worse. Life was better before I became a Christian.” That little voice isn’t just your own thought; it’s Satan’s suggestion. “You’ll be happier if you just forget this religion stuff and go back to the way things were.”
Satan times his attacks for greatest effect. A student from a Christian family leaving home for the first time and going to a university is a prime target for arrows of doubt and temptation. You meet smart people who sneer at the Bible, and something in your mind says over and over, “Is the Bible really true? Does God really exist? Is Jesus really the only Savior? How do you know? The people at this university are a lot smarter than the people in your family and church. What did those folks back home really know?” The voice that whispers these doubts is not just your own mind at work; it is the voice of Satan.
When you go to the university, you might not come across any new fact or strong reasoning against the Bible, and yet you somehow feel that it’s not intellectually respectable to trust Scripture and take God at his word. If you really knew the truth about your unbelieving professors and fellow students, you might find that their wisdom isn’t so great, that their minds are muddled and their lives are a mess, but Satan doesn’t show you the mess. He makes unbelief seem smart and sophisticated.
As Satan fires darts of doubt at your mind, he also fires arrows of temptation at your will and conscience. Satan can fire his arrows of temptation at any time, but he often fires his strongest volleys at those who are entering a new phase of life, such as leaving home for college or the military. He makes drunkenness, drugs, and sex appear the height of happiness. Away from home for the first time, you’re free at last, free from rules and inhibitions, free to have fun, free to enjoy yourself! Satan’s arrows inflame your desires and put a cloud of smoke over your thinking. Diseases, addictions, broken hearts, and hellfire can spring from such behavior, but the smokescreen of Satan may keep you from seeing this.
Satan is clever in his timing. He is firing various darts all the time, but he reserves his major volleys either for times when we are most vulnerable and unprotected or else for times when we are about to get close to God or attempt something important for the Lord. When you’re about to open your Bible, a thousand different thoughts fly into your mind. Even if you’re usually very good at focusing your mind, even if you’re usually able to think through a complex business project or to concentrate on a difficult scientific theory, you suddenly find it hard to focus when you open a Bible. You may be able to carry on long conversations with people, but when you try to pray and have a conversation with God, your mind suddenly goes blank or is interrupted by all sorts of things. This gets discouraging. You may wonder, “Why is it so hard for me to read the Bible? Why is my mind on so many other things? Why are my prayers interrupted by all these distracting thoughts?” You might think it’s just lack of concentration, but it may be a round of missiles from Satan. The sooner you know you’re under attack, the sooner you can deal with it.
Another occasion when Satan is most likely to attack is when you are about to do something for God that threatens him. Missionaries are often targets of fierce persecution or of dreadful attacks of discouragement. A church experiencing spiritual revival often comes under demonic attack. In nations that were mostly non-Christian, any growth in the number of Christians is often met by ferocious resistance. Satan is quick to attack anyone who begins a new work for God.
Perhaps the hardest year of my life was my very first year as a pastor. My wife was in the hospital for seven weeks. Our child was in the hospital almost six months and then died. I struggled against doubt, against a sense of being overwhelmed. I think Satan wanted to crush my spirit before I could get started preaching the gospel. God is stronger than Satan, of course, and the Lord carried my wife and me through that awful time. I’m still preaching the gospel today. But Satan and his demons didn’t make it easy.
If you work to win people to Jesus, Satan will attack you. The more effective you are, the more arrows he will fire at you. Satan isn’t stupid—he doesn’t ignore those who are a threat to his cause. If you are spreading the gospel, helping other people, and working to make your community and your country better, don’t expect Satan to stand idly by. He will try to wipe you out, and if he can’t destroy you, he will try to cripple you and limit your effectiveness.
Satan gets especially upset when his own tactics are exposed and God’s armor is presented for people’s protection. When C.S. Lewis wrote about the methods of demons in The Screwtape Letters, he said, “It almost smothered me before I was done.” As for myself, writing about spiritual warfare has been hard. I have often felt burdened or distracted or severely tempted. When I get close to the front lines of battle, Satan comes after me. If you get close to the front lines, he will come after you. If you get serious about fighting sin and leading others to God, you might as well expect a lot of flaming arrows to fly your way.
A Strong Shield
We must be alert to Satan’s fiery arrows, and we must have a missile shield to protect us, a shield that makes the arrows bounce off, a shield that even puts out their fire. What shield can do this? The shield of faith. In Ephesians 6, the Bible talks about “the evil day” when Satan’s attacks are especially fierce, and urges us to put on God’s armor. “In addition to all this,” says Ephesians 6:16, “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
At the time these words were written, the shield was a vital part of a soldier’s equipment. The shield was usually quite large: about four feet high and about two and a half feet wide. If you held the shield in front of you during hand-to-hand combat, it provided much protection, and the shield was even more important when someone was firing at you from a distance.
Modern military forces often launch air attacks before ground attacks. Missiles and bombs prepare the way and destroy much of the opposing force before ground forces move in. The technology was different in earlier times, but the principle was much the same: shoot from a distance before closing in for hand-to-hand combat. Generals would order archers to shoot volleys of arrows at the enemy from a distance. If the arrows did enough damage, the attackers would close in and finish off their opponents. Attacking archers fired sharp arrows that could pierce the body, and some fired flaming arrows. They would put something flammable on the arrow, set it on fire, and shoot it at the enemy. If you faced a barrage of these flaming arrows and didn’t want to be pierced or burned, you needed a shield that was too strong for arrows to go through, and you needed a shield that was fireproof.
When Satan fires his flaming arrows, you need a strong shield, a shield that can’t be penetrated, that can’t be burned, that can even put out fires. Faith is the shield that can do this. God promises that the shield of faith “can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” God doesn’t say faith might be able to do this; he says it can. It’s not just a possibility; it’s a certainty. Faith doesn’t just repel Satan’s arrows and make them bounce off; it puts them out, it extinguishes their hellish fire. Faith can put out not just some of Satan’s arrows but all of them, every last one. Faith protects not just from little problems but from the very worst attacks. Faith has power to deal not only with human opposition or the attacks of lesser demons but also from the fiercest attacks of the evil one, Satan himself. Not the deadliest arrow in Satan’s arsenal, not the fiercest volley he can fire, is too much for faith to deal with. The shield can handle the worst attacks from the prince of darkness himself, so it can surely handle any lesser attacks as well.
Why is this shield so strong? Because God is so strong. When faith is your shield, God is your shield. God told Abraham, the father of believers, “I am your shield” (Genesis 15:1). Moses told God’s people, “Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield” (Deuteronomy 33:29). King David said, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped” (Psalm 28:7). The book of Proverbs declares, “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (Proverbs 30:5). There are so many Bible passages that speak of God as a shield that I can’t quote them all here, but I trust you get the point. The power of faith comes not from the one who believes but from the one we believe in. The shield of faith is not faith in yourself or faith in positive thinking or faith in faith; the only faith that can shield you from Satan’s attacks is faith in God as the ultimate protection. Faith is confidence in God, belief in his truth, assurance of his promises. Faith is God’s means of applying his power and protection to us personally.
Take Up the Shield
When Ephesians 6:16 says to “take up the shield of faith,” it calls on us to apply our trust in God to our particular situation and to any attack we are facing. A shield is not merely something to own but something to take up and use. When Jesus’ disciples were sometimes defeated by doubt or snared by sin, Jesus would ask them, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25) They were already believers, but sometimes they would forget their faith, almost as though they had mislaid it. Jesus wanted them to find their faith back and make use of it. What about your faith? If you don’t have any faith at all, you need to be born again and trust Jesus for eternal life. And even if you do have faith, remember that faith isn’t just something to have but something to use. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, writing about the shield of faith, says, “Faith here means the ability to apply quickly what we believe so as to repel everything the devil does or attempts to do to us.”
When Satan fires flaming arrows of doubt, take up the shield of faith and put out those arrows. Don’t try to defeat doubt by clever reasoning or by gathering evidence. Satan “has sharper reasoning than you,” says William Gurnall. “There is more difference between you and Satan than between the weakest idiot and the greatest theologian in the world.” Satan is far smarter than you are, and he is a master liar. He is an expert in twisting arguments, evidence, and statistics to support his lies. He can bring up one hard question after another, until your mind spins. Don’t try to out-think the devil. Don’t try to out-argue him. Don’t try to answer every question he brings to your mind. Take up the shield of faith! Extinguish those flaming arrows!
A friend of mine once asked his godly mother, “How do we know the Bible is true?” She responded, “That’s from the devil!” That made a deep impact on the young man. From then on he simply believed the Bible without questioning every passage. Questioning isn’t always bad. But doubt of God’s Word isn’t an innocent question; it’s a flaming arrow from the devil. If we try to block doubt with a shield of our own thinking skills, we are using a shield of paper against a flaming arrow. Only the shield of faith can stop the arrow of doubt and put out its deadly fire.
If you believe Scripture only when it fits your standards of evidence and reasoning, then you rate human thinking higher than God’s Word. The Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). This doesn’t mean that God wants you to shut off your brain or that reasoning is bad. Gurnall says, “Certainly God’s gift of reason can confirm His gift of truth. But faith must not depend on reason, but reason on faith. I am not to believe what the Word says merely because it agrees with my reason; but I must believe my reason because it aligns with the Word.”
When Satan fires flaming arrows of temptation, take up the shield of faith to extinguish those arrows. Don’t depend on the shield of your own willpower, or the temptations will overwhelm you. Faith in God’s goodness, in his rich blessings and his promise to satisfy your deepest desires, is the best protection against temptation. Faith, not willpower, is your shield.
When arrows of persecution come at you, when Satan turns people against you because you belong to Jesus, take up the shield of faith. You may face mockery and job discrimination. In some places you may even face torture and death for Jesus’ sake. But take up the shield of faith, and God will be there for you no matter what. Faith says to God, “Your love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glories that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed… With that same spirit of faith… we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:8-14).
That kind of faith puts out Satan’s flaming arrows, so that no amount of persecution can separate you from God or destroy the eternal life that is yours in Christ.
Satan may fire a volley of smaller arrows, irritations and problems that may not seem all that dangerous. When I’ve had a lousy Saturday night before I have to preach Sunday morning, I take up the shield of faith. I don’t depend on whether I’m well-rested or in a pleasant mood but on the power of God. Satan may have sapped my energy, but when I’m low on energy, God has as much energy as ever. When I get up to preach his Word, I put my faith in his Holy Spirit to get results, and then the weary state of my own spirit no longer matters. I can brush aside Satan’s arrows and extinguish them by the shield of faith.
Some of Satan’s worst attacks are his flaming arrows of accusation. In fact, the very name Satan means “adversary” or “accuser.” He likes to accuse and make you feel guilty for things you haven’t actually done. Of course, if you have done wrong, he piles on the guilt and tells you that you’re beyond hope.
Have you ever had a horrible thought come into your mind? Satan can send things into your mind so that you have a thought that doesn’t really originate with you. You might hate the thought the moment it comes to you and not give in to it at all. But Satan may still try to make you feel guilty about having had such a thought. He may send temptations your way and then make you feel rotten for being tempted, when in fact you should be rejoicing that despite the force of the temptation, God kept you from giving in. It’s no sin to be tempted; even Jesus was tempted. If you don’t yield, the sin is Satan’s, not yours. The tempter is wrong, not the one who resisted temptation.
But what about the times when you do sin? When you know you’re guilty, Satan tempts you either to make excuses without repenting, or else he tells you that your sin is too bad for God to forgive. When these arrows of accusation fly at you, take up the shield of faith. You can’t earn God’s forgiveness, but you don’t have to. Forgiveness comes through faith in Jesus’ blood. That is your only shield against the accuser. Tell Satan, “My sin is huge, but the value of Jesus’ blood is infinitely greater. Satan, if you say my guilt is too great for God, you are lying. Where sin increases, grace increases all the more (Romans 5:20). The Lord rebuke you, Satan. The Lord rebuke you (Zechariah 3:2). You say God can’t forgive me, but God says he will. You’re a liar, Satan, and God never lies, so I’m going to believe God, not you. God’s mercy swallows up my biggest sins as the ocean swallows a rock thrown into it (Micah 7:19). God says that when a search is made for guilt, there won’t be any to find, because God’s forgiveness will make it vanish completely (Jeremiah 50:20). I am justified by faith, Satan, so away with your accusations.”
Friend, beware of Satan’s flaming arrows, but be confident in God. When the fiery volleys come, be strong and courageous. “Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”