As I was reading tonight, the title ‘Lord of Heavenly Armies’ struck me afresh. The idea that God is the commander of the hosts is unique in that it brings a military element in. Armies are regimented, disciplined, and vast. Their commanders move them with precision and purpose, to accomplish a determined result. I know this title also refers to angel armies and that thought alone is intriguing. But what about us as part of an army?.“I’m in the Lord’s Army” - as the old Sunday school song goes. And of course, back in the day, we all got to make shields and helmets of salvation and swords. Ah, swords. Yes! I like swords. But here-in lies the problem. We’re not using our swords. We’re not disciplined. We’re not aware of the warfare we are in!
The tools of the enemy
In our New Zealand context, I would have to say the most effective strategy of the enemy is distraction. A young mum shared her dismay with me recently:; “Sue, I got up, I could find my cell phone, I could find my gym shoes, I could find the kid’s uniforms, but I couldn’t find my Bible. What does that say? I’m too busy!” Her insight and accountability to the small group of friends gathered for their regular prayer and catch-up were enough to inspire her to change.
Yes, it takes discipline to be in the Lord’s Army and it is such hard work to keep our priorities right. For myself as a mother and a leader, my first and constant battle is always to plan those ‘pray, work and rest’ rhythms so I can model a lifestyle of joy and liberty to my non-Christian friends and church community. We don’t want to be saying, “Come to Jesus and be a stressed out unit with no capacity for fun,” do we? No, we don’t! We want to be a ‘led’ and not a ‘driven’ people.
People are clear in their minds they want to be about building up God’s household and creating spaces for God to turn up but they get overwhelmed and then very quickly discouraged, consumed with negative thoughts and guilt about the kind of Christian they should, ought, could, or must be. And it’s downhill from there. They fall into condemnation and then it all gets a bit much and they we just give up.
This nasty condemnation manages to keep itself entrenched because we have this tendency to compare ourselves to others, always unfavourably. A good example is a very bright and reasonably successful man who was depressed and told his counsellor he thought it was because he hadn’t done as well as his room-mate at university. It turned out his room-mate was Elon Musk, who would later be ranked 21st on the Forbes list of The World's Most Powerful People and listed as the 53rd richest person in the world. His counsellor has a great adage, “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.” My adage is “‘What does God say about you?”
How we can fight back
We need constant encouragements to remind us about the reality of the story we belong to. Those of us who are mothers and fathers in the faith need to be much more intentional about speaking out words of affirmation and praise as we notice hearts wrestling to do what is right. We live in a culture that is so full of put-downs and ‘she’ll be rights’. The challenge is to keep telling the whole story, so people really understand that every step of faith is priceless and worth fighting for.
“…(You) are birthed into an inheritance that will never perish, kept in heaven for you who through faith are shielded by God’s power. Although you face all kinds of trials these have come so your faith, of greater worth than gold, may result in glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
– (1 Peter 1:4-8).
We need to keep telling the whole story well, so that people understand whose and who they are. We need to help people understand the inheritance they have so they perceive God’s ultimate vision.
What we can learn from the stoncutters
I like the old story of the stonecutters who were asked by a traveler what they were doing. The first man continued his work and grumbled, “I am cutting stones.”
Realising that the stonecutter did not wish to engage in a conversation, the traveler moved toward the second man and repeated the question. To the traveler's delight, this time the man stopped his work, ever so briefly, and bluntly stated that as soon as he had earned ten quid he was going to return home.
The traveller headed to the third man and asked again about his work.
This time the worker paused, glanced at the traveler until they made eye contact and then looked skyward, drawing the traveler's eyes upward.
He replied, “I am a stonecutter and I am building a cathedral. I have journeyed many miles to be part of the team that is constructing this magnificent building. I have spent many months away from my family and I miss them dearly. However, I know how important this cathedral will be and I know many people will find sanctuary and solace here. I know this because the Bishop told me his vision for people to come from all parts to worship God. He also told me that the cathedral would not be completed in our days but that the future depends on our hard work. I know this is the right thing to do even though it is costly.”
Our choices, day to day
Our simple daily choosing to do the right thing has an eternal impact. Soldiers have courage, make sacrifices, and stand firm if they understand the objectives and if they understand the greater purpose they are fighting for. If we’re going to have any effect as Christians in this battle for souls, we need to believe God does indeed do what he promised and has in fact already determined the result.
Most importantly, resolve to stay the course and to listen moment by moment for the commands from the Captain of the Lord of Hosts. We must listen so we may live.
“Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” – (Isaiah 55:3).
Sue is a Vicar at Sounds Anglican Parish.
This article is part of NZCMS' quarterly magazine Intermission. Each article will be uploaded periodically and can be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission. Alternatively, to receive the physical copy, feel free to email us at email@example.com or call us on 03 377 2222.