Love and WarSometimes I wonder if Christians understand what the phrase 'spiritual warfare' really means. Some of us steer clear of the subject altogether, fearing discomfort because of the many diverse interpretations of what this is in the Christian worldview. Some cling to it with an almost obsessive determination, viewing everyone and everything around them as the product of a hidden 'spirit world,' where humans live in a huge battlefield, caught up in a fight we can't even comprehend with our tiny human brains. And some, of course, reject the phrase altogether, sticking to the more logical and, frankly, more comforting theology that there is no Enemy, that there is no war going on, and humans' sole responsibility is to defeat their own temptations, defying sin. I desperately wish I could belong to this third class of people. In fact, for a time I did - I had seen no real evidence that satan existed, and although I didn't like to talk about it one way or another, I thought that Jesus always used spiritual warfare as a kind of metaphor to help us understand that we have to fight our own temptations and sinful desires. Over the years, however, I have come to believe that spiritual warfare is not merely an illustration for how to live our lives, nor is it merely an idea dreamed up by the Church to bring people to a place of repentance, but a real and living threat against the children of light here on planet Earth, and that though we certainly should not obsess over it, we can not ignore it either. Let me explain what brought me to this conclusion. As many of you may know, I went on a mission trip to Ocean City, New Jersey, this last summer. The goal of the trip, in short, was to raise up leaders and missionaries to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone who would be willing to listen. And although I didn't realize it when I packed my bags and hopped on a plane last May, I was diving into a battle that would be so long and so bloody that it would change me forever. I wish I could say that I'm happy about the way I changed that summer, but to be honest, I don't even know how to compare the man I am now with who I was before that summer. I can only trust that God used my experiences to mold me into the man He wants me to be. While I was there, one of the major things I learned was how to share the gospel -- in a practical sense, how to take someone step by step through what the gospel is and what it means for us who believe. The primary mode of evangelism we focused on while we were there was ministry mode evangelism, which basically means we went up to random strangers, asked them if they'd like to take a survey on spiritual things, and then tried to lead the conversation towards spiritual things, in order to hear what they believe and, if they'll have it, to explain what we believe. At first this was all well and good. Tensions were high, since this form of evangelism always takes some amount of courage for the person sharing the gospel, and because doubts like "What if I don't know enough about the Bible?" and "What if I say something wrong, and they misunderstand the gospel?" tend to cloud your mind whenever you take the initiative to share the gospel with someone. I was starting to feel more comfortable with talking about faith, and the more I did it, the more I realized that I simply had to be myself and talk about the God I had always loved -- easy. Then, out of the blue, week 3 - Killing the Giants week - hit. Basically, it's a week where each person sets a number of people to have spiritual conversations with and trusts God that they'd reach that number. It was never intended to be 'all about the numbers,' as the staff insistently reminded us, but a few of us got carried away with the idea anyway. Some of us set a goal of talking to twenty people, some fifty, some seventy five. There were a hundred college students total at this mission trip, and we were all pushing ourselves to fight for God in a way we never had before. As a whole, our group of 100 mustered a hefty goal of 5185 people to talk to over the course of one week. I decided I would talk to a hundred people - a goal I honestly wasn't sure I would be able to accomplish while working 40 hours a week. As the week got started, my goal proved even more difficult than I had previously anticipated. The first night I only talked to six people, despite walking up and down the boardwalk at Ocean City three times and asking numerous people if they'd like to take my survey. I went back to my room and slept, worn out from a long night and afraid for the week to come. The next day, I woke up at 7:15, my usual wake up time before work at 8. But that day felt different. I was tired -- so tired that I could hardly believe it -- but I wasn't sleepy exactly. It was as if my bones were exhausted -- not just my body, my muscles, or my brain..but my bones, if you understand me. After ten full minutes lying in bed (which I never did) I forced myself to sit up in bed and asked myself what was wrong, why I would be so unimaginably weary. And though I couldn't explain it, I knew I had to keep going. I got up for good at 7:45 and walked over to work. Now, over that summer, I worked as a salesperson at a retail store called Sun 'N Fun. In case you ever go to Ocean City, here's some advice..Don't go. Marylynn, the manager, loved to yell. Not just at her employees, but at her husband, at her customers, and honestly, probably even the hermit crabs. It was never an easy job, and I always tried to prepare myself for whatever might come my way. Little did I know that that day in particular would be...special, so to speak. Every so often we would get shipping orders to restock our shelves, feed the hermit crabs we sold, and get everything ready. But that day we received the biggest order we'd gotten the entire summer (84 boxes) and we had to unpack them even though they were (get this) jumbled. The merchandise wasn't even sorted, and it was always sorted. I was starting to think something strange was going on. Endlessly shelving and packaging of all the inventory, while simultaneously tending to customers and their needs, wore me out even more than usual, and by the end of the day I was even more exhausted than I had been at the beginning. The last thing I wanted to do was go out and talk to more people about Jesus -- I had talked to enough people selling beach towels and chairs, hadn't I? But I had made a promise, and I intended to keep it. At least I would get a small break in the dinner supplied by staff - that might give me a chance to rejuvenate my spirits and talk to everyone else about my day before I went on my crusade. I went back to the 'Ambassador's Inn' for dinner and started talking to some of my friends. Before long I knew something was up. I talked to ten different people, and every single person said that they had had an especially difficult day at work. One friend who worked at a frozen yogurt shop on the Boardwalk told me she had had to stand outside giving samples in the 90 degree weather of Ocean City for hours -- something she had never had to do before. Another friend told me he had received a shipping order bigger than had been expected by the management. I forget the details for most everyone I talked to, but by the sixth person I talked to, I knew the answer before I even asked, 'How are you doing?' It was never good, or even okay -- it had just been a bad day for everyone.
And seriously -- these are usually some happy people. Now I know what at least half of you are thinking. This guy's crazy! The devil has bigger problems than making sure a hundred students at a mission trip in Ocean City have a bad day. And I would be inclined to agree with you. But honestly, that's because I can't really express the depth of the weariness that I felt when I woke up that morning. It was palpable, tangible, like a heavy weight placed on my chest that was holding me down. It was scary - and at the same time, it made me feel numb. That night I fought that weariness and shared the gospel anyway. And the longer I was out there sharing the gospel, the less tired I felt. Once I had taken that step of faith in believing my goal could still be achieved, God matched that with an easy night. I talked to thirteen people in total, but it took half the time that I had spent the first night looking for people to talk to. After everything, I realized that it had always really been about faith -- about whether I really believed that the Lord could accomplish the goal I had set for Him. I had fought through my tiredness and submitted to a Lord that knew my tiredness well...For He has surely experienced it Himself. Such experiences (for there are many, many more) are the reason for my belief that spiritual warfare is a real and serious threat, and that the only solution is the combination of man's faith and God's grace. We have to keep stepping out on that Boardwalk -- whatever uncomfortable situation, circumstance, or battle that means to you -- in order for God to fight. For He fights not as a detached, distant God wrapping the universe together, but in us, and through us, and around us. He cannot (or will not?) do it without us. There's a quote I've been contemplating recently, by a Chinese general named Sun Tzu. It goes: When I first read this, I thought it was incredibly selfish. Specifically, I thought it was an excuse to wreak havoc and tyranny on the world, for if 'all is fair' then who could prevent me from raping or pillaging however I like? But I have come to believe it has a much deeper, more hidden purpose. If we take the 'and' in that quote to signify a dichotomy in the meaning of the quote as a whole, rather than just in the latter half of the statement, it becomes 'All is fair in Love as all is fair in War'. Now this, I believe, carries some truly profound weight. For all is fair in Love -- that is, if one is fighting for Love, with a pure heart and a noble intent, there is nothing he/she would not do for the sake of Love. And therefore, all is fair -- for to do any act that was not loving would be the exception, not the rule, in someone who is fighting for love. In other words, someone who could love perfectly and without blemish can do no wrong, and anything they do is 'fair,' as Love defines the word fair. On the other hand, all is also fair in War. One who devotes his life to the sole cause of making War -- that is, the destruction of property, the killing of strangers, and all the hatred that goes along with such atrocities -- also plays 'fairly' because there are no rules by which to play. After all, War is not a game. It is a battle. And in a real War, there is no such thing as 'cheating'. My point is this. Whatever you fight for -- whether it may be Love, or War, or Money, or even Likes on your Facebook page, when you devote yourself to it, you play by its terms. If you play by Love's terms, there are no exceptions -- you must love your parents, and your friends, but you must also love your worst enemies. You must love the terrorists in Syria causing thousands to suffer every day, even while you despise their actions. If you commit yourself to War, by all means, hate them -- but you will soon receive the due penalty for making Destruction your master. I only ask that you would please, please, consider what you're doing, before it's too late. In conclusion, there is no love in war, and there is no war in love. But sometimes, in this world, we have to fight for peace. We have to seek joy out, we have to pray for humility, and most importantly, we really do have to fight for love -- because there is an Enemy, and if you do not seek Love out yourself, War will come to you in the dead of night with an attractive offer and an unimaginably horrible intention.