Years ago a girl scored a top spot on the evening news. She wanted to sue the government. Seems she had joined the Army Reserves and ended up getting assigned to a hazardous area. “When I joined the military,” she said, “Nobody ever told me I might be sent into a war zone.”
The interviewer asked, “Why did you join the military to begin with?”
The girl answered without blinking, “So I could get college money.”
In her mind, “Army” equaled “Educational Assistance.”
What was she thinking? Even if the recruiter lied to her, it must have crossed her mind while she was learning to throw hand grenades and firing an M-60 machine gun, that there could be something more in her future than number two pencils.
Back then I shook my head and switched channels to Jeopardy. Since that time though, I’ve been caught flat-footed in a number of What-were-you-thinking moments. It always starts when I settle into the Christian life as if it were an old comfy couch. You know how the leather accommodates you in all the right places with a dip here and a curve there.
The contours of the Christian life start to feel that way to me—familiar and relaxed. Prayer becomes optional. Bible reading is light and recreational. The purpose of my calling is peace.
Then something happens. Trouble in the church. A health crisis. A major disappointment. Friction. Temptation. Depression. Another incredibly bad television news report. Indications that the moral fiber of society has hit a new low.
Whenever these things happen, it feels like a live electrical wire has brushed up against my hand. It reminds me there’s a struggle all around, and I signed up for it a long time ago. Now and then I forget this. I like my Latte life.
You might not find a lot of comfort in the thought, but when you believed in Jesus and entered His church, you also signed up for “the struggle of the ages.” All the warfare imagery in scripture ought to tell you this. If it doesn’t, you’ll get reminders. Some of them won’t be subtle.
Here’s where you find the real comfort: Jesus promised victory.
He said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
You can’t miss the struggled portended in these words. One thing is attempting to prevail against the other. It’s the gates of hell versus the church. The jurisdiction, authority, and influence of darkness, versus that rag-tag group of folks who for twenty centuries have confessed the name of Jesus.
I don’t deny that we are sometimes on the defensive. The devil is a master opportunist. It pays, though, to understand the military tactics of the first century and get a better grip on Jesus’ words.
The Roman Empire was famous for its use of siege warfare. It had specialized weapons for that purpose, like towers, catapults, wheeled galleys, and hand cranked cross-bows. Roman forces would typically approach a city that had locked itself down against invasion.
The main target was the city gates. The defenders knew it. Those gates had to hold or all would be lost. They were defensive in nature, and would prevail only by keeping the attacking army out.
Remember Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. That implies the forces of darkness are on the defensive, not the church. It also suggests that the church is not some passive entity that sits hunkered in the corner, just hoping to survive whatever beating the world gives it.
We’re supposed to be on the move.
An army is intended to win decisive victories and move forward. It never flourishes when it merely becomes an occupation force. Check history. Armies that win stunning victories and then settle down to become club bouncers always suffer attrition. Morale drains away. Mission creep sets in, while the army forgets why it started occupying a place to begin with.
We believers need to beware that we don’t slip into an exclusively defensive mindset. It’s an easy thing to do. I tell myself, I don’t want any trouble. I’m too busy for any further service. I’m not interested in being a preacher. Don’t want to be a leader of some type.
Let’s leave missions, foreign or domestic to those who are specially called. I just want a place to go, be encouraged once a week, and then return to my life with my spouse, my two well-behaved children, and a dog that doesn’t shed. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to keep marijuana and premarital sex out of my home.
Till Jesus comes, amen.
But we’re not cut out to be that way. We’re not supposed to simply occupy a piece of real estate until we leave this earth. We were called to advance with the good news of Jesus, freeing people from spiritual darkness. We also were promised victory in doing it.
The Apostle Paul wrote,
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
I’ll have what Paul’s having.