Dear Sam,

Thanks for going to dinner after church Sunday night. I’m proud of you and your friends for moving into Mechanicsville and giving your lives to the people of that beautiful but broken neighborhood.

Throughout our dinner, however, I felt a vague uneasiness. You work for a great organization. You have a solid support network. You just completed a bachelor’s degree preparing you to work with at-risk youth. By all accounts, you are a woman of prayer and zeal and integrity. So what troubled me about our dinner conversation? I think it is this. I don’t believe the church has prepared you for something that inevitably comes with urban ministry: intense spiritual warfare.

Paul reminded first-century urban Christians, “We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world” (Eph. 6:12). Bible scholars debate the meaning of Paul’s stark warning. At the very least he means this: There are dark spiritual powers in the world opposing God’s work. These dark powers seem especially active in troubled urban neighborhoods.

Paul offers seven ways to engage the powers in his letter to Christians living in the great ancient city of Ephesus:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the ...
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