Monday, 20 October 2014

Fight the good fight

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Psalm 20:7

Have you seen the Steven Spielberg film Warhorse, all about the 1914-18 war? The central character is Joey, the beautiful thoroughbred horse which gets drawn into the war. The film is about the adventures of his young owner Albert as he first loses him and then gets re-united with him. Quite a tear-jerker, really.

If nothing else the film brings home the sheer vileness of war. The weaponry of those days was far less sophisticated than what we are used to today, but even then the damage, misery, pain and death it inflicted were truly horrific. Oh for a world free of war!

In the world of Old Testament Israel, war was also a regular occurrence. In 2 Samuel 11:1 we read about “the spring, the time when kings go off to war”, as if it was just part of the normal cycle of life, like the hop-picking season or the summer holidays. It seems that for God's people to become established in a dog-eat-dog world they found themselves having to wage war like every other nation, which meant that they too had to develop weapons of destruction. 

But in their best days they never forgot what the Psalmist says here: ultimately success depends on trust in God. Oh yes, they still had their horses and chariots, but they knew that in the last resort that wasn’t what really mattered. When they forgot this, they found themselves in deep trouble. 

Read, for example, about the battle of Ai in Joshua 7, when they assumed that their superior manpower was bound to see them through - only to be given a rude awakening. Or the folly of King Ahab in 1 Kings 22, who thought that he could make himself safe on the battle-field by resorting to a very human trick - and came seriously unstuck.

The lesson is simple, and still applicable all these centuries later: you can't fight God's battles with the world's weapons. You can try, of course; but you are bound to fail. “Put your sword away!” Jesus told the loyal but misguided Simon Peter at the moment of his arrest. (How sad that so often throughout its two thousand year history the church has failed to heed those words.)

Well, no-one these days urges us Christians to go literally to war in Christ’s name. So what might this teaching mean for us in 2014? There are two great passages from Paul which can help us if we put them together.

First: "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to destroy strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4). Second: "Put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground..." (Ephesians 6:11). And if we ask what this "armour of God" consists of, Paul goes on to itemise it: truth... righteousness... the gospel... faith... salvation... the Holy Spirit... the word of God... above all, prayer.

The church is easily tempted into aping the ways of the world. It may adopt plans, schemes and strategies which have brought success in the world of business, politics or sport. And, yes, sometimes we Christians can derive insights from these areas - we have to be practical, down to earth, "savvy". 

But to imagine that they are bound to "deliver success" in the spiritual realm is sheer folly. Beware books which promise you, for example, “six steps to victory in the spiritual warfare”! - as if all you have to do is learn certain techniques and put them into practice. It just isn’t like that. No, spiritual warfare requires spiritual weapons. I once heard an anonymous little rhyme which sums this up: "Satan trembles when he sees/ Christian saints upon their knees".

Are you aware of being involved in spiritual warfare? I hope you are - because every Christian is, whether he or she realises it or not. But if that is so, the key question becomes: what are the weapons you are fighting it with? Are you aping the world? Or following the leading of the Spirit?

Oh God, the forces of unbelief, falsehood and evil sometimes seem so powerful, and I feel overwhelmed. Help me to do battle in Jesus' name - and to do it only with his holy methods. Amen.

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