Note: I got very pressed for time this morning, so I’m posting here a transcript of my podcast on Running Toward the Goal that deals with the rules of warfare and spiritual community.
2Now as you approach battle, the priest should step forward and speak to the people. 3He should say to them, “Hear, Israel! You are approaching battle today against your enemies. Don’t let your spirits faint from fear. Don’t be afraid, don’t panic and flee, and don’t be terrified of them. 4Because YHWH your God is the one walking among you to fight against your enemies for you and to save you. — Deuteronomy 20:2-4
I want to remind you as I continue this series that I’m taking a passage that is written to deal with literal warfare, and I’m applying it metaphorically to spiritual warfare.
In our first of this series we discussed spiritual warfare and how physical warfare is used to teach lessons about the struggle of our Christian lives. In the second, I discussed the value and the danger of fear. We’re still talking about fear in our passage for today, but I want to talk specifically about the remedy, because it’s one that I encounter frequently.
Numerous times in my ministry I’ve been asked to talk with someone or pray with them about spiritual problems. Sometimes these are people who believe they are oppressed by demons. At other times they simply don’t know what is wrong. They will often tell me about having gone to church after church, and how they have found no help, or even have been rejected.
What they hope is that I can find the prayer or the formula that will solve all of their problems in one easy session. Now note that I am not a pastor. I do not head a church. I lead an educational ministry that tries to serve a number of churches. But one of our principles is that we minister through local churches to the maximum extent possible. Why is that? It’s simply because the local church provides a family and support for Christian believers in their warfare.
You see, I’ve found one thing in common with these people who approach me for help. It is likely that one reason I find this is because I am not a pastor, and so the people who approach me are generally those who don’t have a church home. But the fact is that not one of them is in a good, healthy relationship with a local church family, and they do not have a pastor that they trust and can approach for prayer.
I know that I cannot provide them with an answer unless they will find that connection. I can pray for them. I can make suggestions, I can hope. But the key, not a key, the key to their gaining spiritual health is to find that community and live together as part of it, accountable to their brothers and sisters.
Notice how in our passage as the Israelites approach battle they call for the priest. It is not the king, the general, or their own captain who gives this speech, but the priest. They are being reminded of something more important than the words when that one man gets up to speak to them. They already know the words. But when the priest gets up and says it, he ties it with the community, and he speaks it with a spiritual authority.
If you are involved in spiritual struggles, ask yourself this: Who is my priest? Who is standing to my left and my right as I go into battle? If you can’t answer those questions readily, then you may well not be ready for battle.
I can answer those questions. I can go to my pastor, Rev. Riley Richardson of Gonzalez United Methodist Church. I’m not listing his name here to lift him up above other pastors, but rather to make the point that I know who to call on. Now don’t even think of telling me that I’m really supposed to call on Jesus. Yes, I’m supposed to do that, but my pastor is also going to call on Jesus and he’s going to support me.
As for those standing to my left and right I can name several in my own familyâ€”wife, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sister, mother. In my church there are too many to name. There’s a man named Russell in Kentucky whose support in prayer is beyond price and who connects with a prayer network that he has gathered.
If you’re about to go to war, ask yourself those questions. If you don’t know the answer, find out. It can mean the difference between victory and defeat.