Monday, August 4, 2008

The Great War

People become Christians for different reasons. Some are raised in the church and simply "grow into" personal faith. Some are attracted by the peace and joy they see in Christian acquaintances. Some people come to Christ out of desperation, having found everything else empty.

And some, sadly, convert in the hope that life will become all prosperity and ease. True, there is plenty "in it for us": forgiveness of sins; eternal salvation; increased strength to do right and to meet life's challenges. But the new believer whose primary motive is to see an end to those challenges is a likely candidate to fall away when God fails to "deliver." Often, well-meaning but not particularly well-informed believers are responsible for spreading the idea that "if you have faith, God will heal every illness, solve every financial problem, and remove every frustration." Some Christians are such zealots for this way of thinking that one wonders if they've ever really read the New Testament. How can they overlook the references to discipline, the hardships suffered by the apostles, and such verses as "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12)?

Not all such persecution comes from the unbelieving world. Some comes from the devil (who often trains his guns especially hard on new Christians and others with imminent spiritual-growth potential) and takes the form of illness, professional or financial difficulties, or just one day after another when everything seems to go wrong. Some persecution, sadly, comes from fellow believers: there are Christians who become envious and spiteful when God does great things through others; there are Christians who love church tradition more than God and who consider every new approach heretical; and there are Christians who add to others' suffering with platitudes of "you must have done something to deserve it" and "you obviously don't have enough faith to be healed."

And some of us take the role of our own persecutors. We lampoon ourselves for not growing faster or doing better. We focus on the size of our problems rather than on the size of our God. We add to our miseries by convincing ourselves that nothing ever goes right and God doesn't really care. We refuse to grow in Christ because it seems like too much work.

It is work. God doesn't call us to sign up for the extended vacations of our choice, but to enlist in His army. And it's not a peacetime army where the greatest hardships are running through obstacle courses and cleaning mess halls; good and evil are at active war in this world, and all of us are combat soldiers on hostile foreign territory.

Our Commanding Officer never loses a fight. But that won't do us much good if we go AWOL, refuse to follow orders, or question His battle plan. Strangely enough, the greatest "peace in Christ" goes to His hardest-fighting soldiers.

Fiercer far than any mortal battle ever fought on earth,
Longer far than any war that ever came to humankind,
Is the war fought by each Christian from the moment of rebirth,
The great battle that is centered in the selfish, sinful mind.

More relentless than the fighting waged in any human war,
Most incessant of all battles, never stopping for a rest,
Is the fight of every Christian to subdue all thoughts impure,
On the battlefield of life--the constant ground for Satan's test.

We, mere mortals, are too weak to fight the war without support;
We have nothing we can draw on in the human world alone.
It is God Who works within us; it is He Who builds the fort
And Who forges through His Spirit weapons of a mightier tone.

Through our faith in Christ we find the Strength in which we overcome;
Through our trust in Him we know the Power that brings us sure release.
And one day, all fighting over, we will rest in Heaven's home;
But within the battle, even now, we feel God's perfect peace.

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