A few weeks ago, a friend of mine and I got on the topic of war. We had both recently seen the movie “American Sniper,” and my friend asked me what I thought about it, since I had deployed to Iraq in my time with the Navy. My initial response was that I thought the movie was well done, because it accurately showed how many veterans struggle to get adjusted to normal life after deploying.
War can be addicting. After fighting overseas, surviving months in a strange place with constant threats on your life, guys get home to their families and actually want to go back to war. Why? Part of it, I believe, has to do with a sense of purpose: When you are overseas, you are well aware that there is a war going on, that there is a real enemy who wants to kill you and your friends. The stakes are high when lives are on the line everyday. Camaraderie peaks when the bullets fly and you realize that the guy next to you has your best interests in mind and can be trusted with your life. You live for a cause greater than yourself. Your story merges with a greater story.
When I was overseas, our mission was to clear the roadways in Iraq of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) placed by terrorists to kill American soldiers and innocent civilians. To carry out this mission, we protected ourselves with Mine Resistant Armor Protected Vehicles that make HUMMVs look like matchbox cars. We wore Kevlar body armor, helmets, eye protection, primary and secondary weapons… You get the picture. Our job was to protect and render safe devices designed to kill us. This is what I had been trained for. My sense of purpose was at an all-time high. The battle was real and in your face. It took no effort to enter this reality. It was reality.
In the States, life feels mundane. The nine-to-five grind wears on our sense of purpose and we begin to ask ourselves if this is really all life is meant to be. We long for something more. We want to be a part of something bigger. Because of this longing, we are easily seduced by virtual worlds that hold out hope for love and war. Wartime video games make the best-sellers list without fail and pornography addictions fill the church and culture. These worlds are derived from reality but they are not reality. They fail to deliver on the promises they make.
The physical world is real in every sense but it is not ultimate. There is something more than what we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. There is a spiritual world that we cannot see, but make no mistake, it is there, just as real, and more fundamental than everything we see with our eyes. In this world, there is a battle going on that is more serious than anything you see on CNN, and the stakes are higher.
The Christian battle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). We have an enemy; the evil one has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel (2 Cor 4:4) and holds them captive to do his will (2 Tim 2:26). Steel and Kevlar do nothing for us in this battle. Our protection is truth, the gospel, faith, and salvation. Our weapons are the Word of God and Prayer. These weapons "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 10:4–5).
God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). Moments of apparent defeat can turn out to be our greatest victories. We are not alone; the Church stands together—brothers and sisters in arms—united to Christ. Our enemy has been decisively defeated by our Great King by his cross and resurrection. The kingdom of God is now advancing and the consummation of his victory is on the horizon. It is time to plunder the house of our enemy and set the captives free (Matt 12:29). The gospel opens eyes and breaks chains.
When we trust in Christ, we sign our enlistment contract. As Christians, we belong to a kingdom, and our Commander-in-chief is deployed to make disciples. We are called to join him. This is the purpose we long for; there is nothing better than being deployed with Jesus. What we do here and now makes a difference forever! Physical life is massively important but it is not ultimate. We preserve physical life ultimately for the purpose of offering the gift of eternal life to those who don’t know Jesus. No matter where we are or what our vocation is, Jesus wants us to deploy with him—in our home, in our work places, in our neighborhoods. He is there and working.
There is not only a battle to fight, there is a battle to see. It is difficult to live with awareness of this greater reality on a regular basis. We often miss it because the physical world is so immediate. We need eyes to see and ears to hear. So let’s pray:
Father, I confess, we confess that we don’t regularly live our lives in this greater reality. We buy the lie that there is “Peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jer 6:24). Forgive us Lord. Give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand what we know in our heads to be true. Give us courage to live without fear, knowing that you are with us. Our hearts long to be with you and engaged in your mission. By your Spirit, please lead us now in a time of silent confession.