The longest wars in history are also the weirdest and hardest to understand. The Reconquista lasted 770 years. It pitted Crusaders against Jihadists. Historians differ as to the exact nature of the conflict and whether it can even be classed as a war. Same goes for the 335 year war between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly, a conflict, some say, which existed “in theory.”
The longest though—the “struggle of the ages”—is even more a mystery. Secular historians know some of its external details. Few understand the conflict’s inner workings—the weapons used, the battleground, the stakes involved.
Yet the church has sought to prevail against the gates of hell for 2,000 years. It has sometimes failed miserably by resorting to tactics unworthy of its Leader. In outrageous and disappointing moments, some in its ranks have deserted the cause of Christ, switched uniforms, and declared their loyalties to the enemy.
Even we who try to faithfully serve Jesus poorly understand what we’re involved in or how to win it.
You’d think the church would have folded by now. But Jesus outfitted us for victory. At the outset of this longest war the world has ever seen, He told Peter and that little band of blue-collar nobody disciples, “I will give you the keys” (Matt. 16:19).
“The keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:19).
The gates of hell are two hundred feet thick. They laugh at you. But before you concede defeat, you should be aware there’s no lock made that can resist the opening power of those keys.
We’re supposed to use them. That means binding things by locking them up tight. For instance, the torrential lawlessness currently sweeping our nation. The miserable addictions of loved ones. The hot lusts that tear apart families. Our own self-destructive determinations. Such evils shouldn’t be allowed to run around loose.
We’re also supposed to unlock things, loose them, like the human souls around us that are trapped in dark corners. We want blessings to spring out upon loved ones and yes, even our enemies. Of course, our own personal advances in the faith need to be loosed.
The answer is in the keys.
More than a few people have tried to determine exactly what those keys are. Maybe the keys don’t signify anything other than the unmerited favor the Lord has bestowed on his church. Maybe it means both the Jewish and Gentile doors the Lord opened for the sake of His gospel.
I can’t say I’m certain, but maybe it would help to notice two things that stand out both in the Bible and in church history. Whenever the church prevailed against the gates of hell, the Word of God and prayer were involved.
We say “Duh,” because mentioning the critical nature of prayer and the word are as painfully obvious as saying water is wet or fire is hot. Sorry, but prayer and word really are the most enduring features of the church’s long history, wherever and whenever it authentically advanced.
Think about Peter, who, following the resurrection of Jesus prayed in a room with 120 other disciples for 10 days. In short order he found himself out on a balcony in front of a Jewish mob. It was time to do something.
I’m so glad Peter didn’t do what my sad contemporary self might have done.
First, have three more cups of coffee to clear brain of mid-morning fog. Check hair in mirror. Make sure clothes match. Get headcount of how many are in attendance. Become nervous. Go to bathroom. Clear throat.
Say, “We have great respect for the Jewish religion! We all want to get along! (Just like the ‘coexist’ sticker that hasn’t been invented yet). On behalf of the church, let me apologize for anything we may have done to offend you. Although we believe Jesus was perfect, even He was a bit strong with folks and sometimes called them out. We want to assure you that God is love and we want to love you, too. Let me tell you a funny story I heard that illustrates this fact…
That might have been me. Thank God it wasn’t Peter.
As he was standing there, he didn’t see a threatening crowd that needed to be placated. He saw a throng of pathetic souls locked up behind the gates of hell. So he placed the scriptures concerning Jesus front and center. People responded for having killed Christ. They believed in Him as resurrected Lord.
Peter hadn’t relied on some sparkling ability to build bridges. In the most practical sense, he had utilized prayer and the Word of God.
That day the gates of hell hemorrhaged three thousand souls.
On another occasions, Peter was praying on a housetop and received directions from God to visit the home of a gentile named Cornelius. When he got there, he laid out the Word concerning Christ, and they believed. The immediate effect was that a packed house came to salvation. The long-term effect on the gentile world: billions.
Peter hadn’t tried to get creative in the situation. He had only two things in his pocket—prayer and word.
If this two-step pathway has been recommended to you so much it feels threadbare, there’s a reason. Prayer and the Word actually work. They don’t sound glamorous, but neither do your car keys.
In fact, one of the most sought after items in your house are common keys of some sort. Without them you’re immobilized, locked out, or occasionally even locked in. No matter how much bling you wear, none of it will work in your Toyota ignition.
And when it comes to the longest war in history, (in which we’re all involved), you need keys as well. Peter’s experience is a template for all the rest of us. We’re supposed to either be opening or shutting.
So what about your prayer? What are you doing with the Word of God?
I have to ask, because that’s how you win.
Photo credit: Timothy A.V.