Before engaging in the spiritual fight, there are a few necessities the soldier must take to heart.
Fighting is hard work, but hard work without rest makes for bad fighting. Whatever one does for work, one must by necessity rest from his work in order to return to his work. We rest from, we rest for.
Getting proper rest, though, entails having a truthful view of reality. We must see life from God’s perspective. Yet we must also see God from God’s perspective. We each project our own (mis)understandings of God on God—who he is and what he is doing—influenced by culture, upbringing, and many other factors. But who knows God better than God himself? He is not shy in making himself known to us. He wants to be known. However, if we fail to see and know God as he is, our rest will be inhibited.
The thing that most prevents or disrupts the rhythm of our rest is worry or anxiety. The worried, anxious mind is focused on the things themselves, not the worry or anxiety itself. If we lack money, we will either be thinking about the money we are anxious about, or we will be thinking about the anxiety we have about money. It is in thinking on our worry that we can get down to the roots of our worry: why really am I worried? Jesus wants to give you rest from your worry, not always the things you are worried about. He wants you to trust and rest in him.
C.S. Lewis wrote that, “A soldier cannot always be defending the truth; there must be a time to feed on it.” Analyzing truth is not the same as feeding on it. With art, the best way to enjoy it is, first, to let it wash over you, not to approach it critically. As it washes over you, it will provoke, stir up, draw out thoughts and emotions of which you can then or later ask questions of: why did I think that? why do I feel this way?
Christians shouldn’t approach God, say in a time of worship, critically, that is, assessing or analyzing it. We should ask, seek, allow God to wash over us, as the Truth, in the beauty of his holiness. He will draw near to us and we will draw near to him and begin to think and to feel rightly in the light of his glory.
Practically, the basics of our spiritual nourishment are both bread and water. Our bread, God’s Word. God’s Word in Scripture is God’s way of making himself known to us (not our way of getting smarter about Him). It is our “daily bread”, given to us for keeping on that portion of the journey he’s leading us on. Our water, God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Prayer. He calls and moves us to pray. Our prayers to God are our way of making ourselves known to God.
Taking this basic nourishment requires a time and a place. It means taking time to be alone with God. But how can we be alone with God, if we are not alone with God? Our distractions not only keep us company but become our captors. In a form of “Stockholm Syndrome,” we come to trust and develop affection towards our captors, in particular, our technology. More often than we think, we habitually welcome our technological distractions/disruptions into our minds and hearts. We want them there, we keep them there. And if not put into their proper place, they starve us by cutting us off from the Bread and Fountain of Life. It’s not that Jesus says, “Don’t bring your iPhone to prayer,” but, “Bring yourself to prayer.”
There are no short cuts in the Christian life. Jesus will not make following him appear easier than it is. He doesn’t tempt us to follow him. He says plainly that to follow him is hard. How hard? Take up your cross daily and die to yourself.
Paul writes, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) “Work out”, not “work at”. He means for us to “continue in and carry out” our obedience to Christ. Salvation is something we do, not just receive.
“Your own salvation” means a part of others, not apart from others. Paul didn’t have in mind American Individualism. We are individually saved and brought into a body (1 Corinthians 12:27). We become part of a company, a community. Why? Because we grow most and grow best in the company of others. We will know ourselves little and be less of ourselves without others. It is in weakness that we know ourselves and out of weakness that we grow. And it is only in relationship that our weaknesses are exposed.
Paul continues by saying that our salvation and obedience must be worked out “with fear and trembling”. In the Old Testament whenever God “appeared” to someone, they would fall to the ground defenseless, exposed, weak, needy before God. Our obedience must be the kind of obedience that is defenseless, not self assured before God, not boastful, but weak and needy.
Why? “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to do for his good pleasure.” How ? Jesus Christ came in obedience of fear and trembling. He made himself defenseless, never once defending himself against his captors. He was exposed, stripped, beaten, never once accusing his attackers. He was weak, thirsty, hungry, never once resisting or pulling away from those beating him and finally nailing him to a cross. He didn’t fight against nor blame His Father, but said, “not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Jesus surrendered himself in your place. Do you see him? This is the great paradox: our victory is found in Christ’s surrender. But now, do you see this? The soldier’s greatest need is for surrender: our surrender to Christ. If all of you is in him in his death, then all of him is in you in his life: his eternal rest, strength, company, defense…every spiritual blessing.