“Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called,…”
I once spoke with a war veteran who had been involved in the most intense combat. Memories of hand to hand fighting, the unleashed fury of heavy bombardment, the carnage of the battlefield were vivid even after many years. He recalled a day when the fighting was so fierce and the bombardment so unrelenting that he was tempted to preserve himself and desert the battlefield. It was only the discipline of his training and loyalty to his fellow soldiers that made it possible for him to hold his position.
There is a kind of metaphor for living in this episode. Life is full of temptations to ‘abandon the battlefield’. This has always been so but I cannot help but wonder if this is not a particular feature of our time. The twenty-four hour bad news cycle (which one person has called it) keeps us mired in the latest skirmishes and conflicts – of every variety – all around the world. We are bombarded with an unbroken deluge of problems, great and small, day after day, most of which we can do nothing about.
In such an atmosphere, when many sense that life has become chaotic and unmanageable, the temptation can be to abandon the fray for the short-term goals of self-interest and self-preservation, by pursuing money, pleasure, power or simply retreating in Hobbit-like fashion to a place removed from conflict and turmoil, plugging their ears while others take up the fight.
The Christian is also faced with this great temptation. And there have been times in the history of God’s people when abandoning the battlefield’ has seemed the better way. One only has to think of the ancient desert fathers who retreated to caves and animal dens in an effort to flee the corruption of the world.
But the Christian dare not abandon life in these ways for to do so is tantamount to proclaiming that God has abandoned the world. Some simple disciplines can help.
First, along with exposure to the news, control your input by reading your Bible daily. Beginning and ending your day with the Scriptures serves as a continuing reminder that God is always around. You can start and end the day by being reminded of the latest outrage or God’s great promises. The choice is yours.
Second, say your prayers. Even if your prayers are complaints, throw them to heaven. God hears even when no one else does. You are not in this fight alone.
Third, join others in worship. Worship is the gathering of your comrades in arms, where through the Word and sacraments we are equipped for spiritual warfare, given strength and assurance for the horizontal dimension of hope as we live in and engage the world for the kingdom. Worship is also a living metaphor that tips hope on its vertical axis, reminding us that we are a forever people, captured and held by the grace of our crucified and Risen Lord, destined for eternity. Worship lifts our eyes toward the larger vision.
Regular Bible reading, prayer and worship give the life of faith coherence, vision, joy, and that courage in Christ which resists the temptation to ‘abandon the battlefield’ of living.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”