I can say with certainty that I have watched more wrestling in the past two months than I had in my entire life. Neither of the schools I have served in before coming to SBA had wrestling programs, and the only time I had ever been to a wrestling match was when I was in high school and the pep band was playing (I was in the pep band). I can say with confidence, though, that I spent more time talking to my friends while we were not playing than I did watching the wrestling. I have nothing against wrestling–it’s just not my thing.
However, as I have watched wrestling in recent weeks I cannot help but think of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he discusses the spiritual wrestling match that believers are engaged in every day:
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV).
I have learned a few things about human vs human wrestling: there are definite rules about what the wrestlers can and cannot do, and the wrestlers are usually completely exhausted by the time their match is over, regardless of whether they won or lost. The wrestlers are also required to be properly attired, including their headgear.
Spiritual wrestling isn’t quite like that. Satan doesn’t have many rules he has to follow. In fact, short of any limits God may place on what he can do–such as when He told Satan not to touch Job but to do whatever else he pleased, and then told him he could do whatever so long as Job was not killed–Satan pretty much has free reign. He doesn’t have a mat he has to stay on, he doesn’t have guidelines about the kind of holds that he can use, the methods or approaches of attack, and the only clock he has to concern himself with is the one that expires when our lives are over. Until then, he can keep coming at us as often, as long and as hard as he wants.
Another clear difference between human and spiritual wrestling: we cannot see our opponent in spiritual wrestling! The wrestlers I have watched keep their eyes fixed on their opponent as long as they are both on their feet, watching for when the opponent may make a move. While I suppose there could be one, I have never seen a blind wrestler, and I cannot imagine trying to wrestle an opponent I could not see. And yet Paul makes it clear that that is exactly what we must do, because we cannot see Satan. We cannot see the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers; we cannot see the spiritual forces of evil. We can see their influence around us, and we can feel it when we get taken down, though.
Thankfully, we do not wrestle alone! Immediately before and immediately after verse 12 Paul reminds the church at Ephesus–and believers today–that we must “put on the whole armor of God” in order to be able to “stand against the schemes of the devil” (v 11) and “to stand firm” (v 13). When I was in the classroom regularly I would tell my students early in each school year, “If I repeat something, that is a pretty good indication that it is something you need to know!” The same is true for Paul; that he repeated the instruction to clothe ourselves in the “whole armor of God” in order that we may not be taken down in the spiritual wrestling match is an excellent indicator of the importance of what he is saying!
Just like the wrestling matches I have watched on the mat, spiritual wrestling can be exhausting–especially if we are not adequately prepared, attired and focused on the issue at hand. I must be prepared for the daily wrestling match by equipping myself through prayer and Bible reading. I must dress myself in the armor of God, every day. The wrestlers at SBA don’t put on their wrestling suits once; they put them on every time they are going to step onto the mat. We must do the same thing spiritually. Satan doesn’t care if I am properly attired or not; he will come after me regardless.
I must also focus–I must be on the lookout for the attacks of Satan. Even when I do all of this, though, I may get exhausted by the fight. Thankfully, the same God who provides us with our armor for battle also provides us with nourishment and refreshment and strength when we need it–and ask Him for it.
Tomorrow when I wake up I’m going to think about the alarm clock not as just a buzzer to wake me up; rather, it is the whistle indicating the start of another wrestling match. And as soon as my feet hit the floor, I’m on the mat.