When we started to think about planting a church, a friend told us, “You’re going to go through more spiritual warfare in one year of church planting than in ten years of pastoral ministry.”
I didn’t have categories for what he said, but it seemed like the kind of thing that could be true. I made a mental note but didn’t think much about it.
We began the process of planting a church. Sure enough, we encountered more hardship in the first year than ever before in our lives. I don’t know for sure how much of it was spiritual attack, but it sure felt like it.
I could relate to what Paul wrote: “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8).
The Normal Christian Life
One day that year I came across a quote from C.H. Spurgeon: “When you sleep, think that you are resting on the battlefield; when you walk, suspect an ambush in every hedge.”
We’re at war. Spiritual warfare sounds like a strange concept to many of us, believed only by some camps within Christianity, when it should be believed by all of us. It’s the normal Christian life.
“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” writes Paul (2 Timothy 2:3). “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil,” he says to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 6:11).
I know things can get crazy as we start to think about spiritual warfare. We can soon find ourselves fighting over different views of territorial spirits and power encounters. The debates shouldn’t keep us from a simple biblical truth: we’re at war. We should live our lives, as Spurgeon says, realizing we’re on a battlefield, expecting ambushes in every hedge. We shouldn’t be surprised when it seems we’re in wartime conditions.
As Tertullian put it: “No soldier comes to the war surrounded by luxuries, nor goes into action from a comfortable bedroom, but from the makeshift and narrow tent, where every kind of hardness and severity and unpleasantness is to be found.”
No Civilian Pursuits
The reality of war changes what we care about. “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him,” says Paul (2 Timothy 2:4).
The end of the first season of Downton Abbey features intrigue about stolen wine. The second season opens with one of the characters fighting in World War I’s Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles of history in which over three million fought and a million were wounded or killed. A stolen bottle of wine matters little in that context.
Our wartime footing changes our priorities. We can’t withdraw from ordinary life, but we also can’t afford to be distracted from our duties as soldiers. Our solitary goal is to please our commander. Little else matters.
We’re at war. We shouldn’t be surprised by wartime conditions, nor should we expect to maintain peacetime priorities. One day we’ll be at rest. In the meantime, let’s soldier on.