Those who are great athletes must contend against stronger enemies.
It is easy to see ease as a sign of superiority. We see a life of ease as our goal, a sign of having arrived in our culture. We long to be well-fed, well-rested, and unchallenged. But rather than a sign of success, this is probably a sign of failure, at least in spiritual terms.
Satan does not have unlimited resources. He has always been fighting an asymmetric rebellion against overwhelming odds. He is a creature fighting the creator. Constrained resources are what make strategy necessary. Therefore, it is reasonable that some targets will be a higher priority than others.
How do you choose targets in a conflict? You try to neutralize the biggest threats that you can. This applies even in sports. In a basketball game, the attention is primarily on the person who has the ball. Why? Because without the ball, you can’t score.
It’s no different than assaulting an enemy stronghold. You try to find the place that will most likely turn the battle in your favor. In medieval warfare, that usually meant trying to breach either the wall of the castle or its gates. Once the wall is pierced, the castle becomes a trap instead of a fortress.
How does this apply to us, sitting sipping our coffee and reading our Bibles? If we feel like we’ve got the world on a string, we may want to consider our effectiveness. Do our prayers and our actions target the enemy? Are we seeking to penetrate darkness with light, falsehood with truth, bondage with liberty?
This is not to say we should seek to be targets. We should seek to be faithful followers and expect to be targeted as a result. There is little value in merely trying to draw fire. A wise soldier tries to avoid drawing fire as much as possible. A good soldier also realizes there will be times when he has no choice but to expose himself to the enemy in order to try to defeat him.
We have become enamored by the idea of “precision strikes” in our country. Our weapons of war have become much more sophisticated in the last few generations. Though we can strike more accurately, drones and cruise missiles alone do not win wars. Eventually a soldier has to stand on the enemy’s ground and this will always be dangerous.
The same is true for the church. Too often we think of prayer as “drone warfare.” We pray, and angels go do our dirty work for us. This is not completely untrue, but as a sole strategy, it is lacking. We must be willing to enter the fight ourselves, to storm the gates of hell.
Jesus promises Peter that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18). Have you considered what that means? Gates do not move or advance. Gates merely control access into or out of a place. Jesus was not promising protection to Peter and the church; he was promising us victory.
But storming gates is dangerous work. Adversaries tend to concentrate their defenses at the gates because they understand that if the gates fall, they are in serious trouble. Are we willing to take the risk and follow Christ? Our Lord seems to have done so (1 Peter 3:18-19, Ephesians 4:9-10). May we have the faith to advance, knowing that if we encounter opposition, we are probably hitting the enemy where it matters.
What does it look like? I wish I knew better. Based on the Gospels, I have a hunch it has to do with interacting with the poor, widows, orphans, prisoners, and probably even immigrants. I don’t think I’m very good at it, but cover me because I’m going in, ready to try to do better.
¹ Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection. Cistercian Publications: Trappist, KY. 1975. p. 233