First published 2 February 2010
One of my favourite films is the Ridley Scott classic, Black Hawk Down. I don’t need to describe the storyline in much detail here. The point is that it’s a war film. Now, many film buffs may say that there are better war films around, perhaps like Saving Private Ryan or Platoon. But I haven’t seen those. War films have never really been my thing! I only saw Black Hawk Down on TV by accident, and was gripped from the moment I started watching! I’ve since watched it again on DVD.
What was so striking to me, and what caught my attention, was that there was nothing really macho about it. It seemed to be straightforward and real, with characters who were all different. The soldiers were not all macho killing machines with super strength and stamina, like many of the characters played by Shwarzenegger, Stalone, Van Damme, and the like. And the story did not gloss over emotional weakness. Some of the soldiers were scared, some made mistakes in the heat of battle. Bravery did not always prevail. Some brave men were killed early. Some weak men were saved. It was portrayed the way I imagine war to be: Messy, awful, triumphant, depressing, anxious, terrifying, and just sometimes a bit random.
Readers who are real soldiers, or men of the forces, will probably smile at my naivity. From their point of view, probably even Black Hawk Down is too Hollywood and unreal. But for me it was real enough!
But the thing that really got to me was the ferocity of the fighting. Once the operation was underway the American soldiers were under attack constantly on almost all fronts. In part, that is what made the film so gripping. There was no rest, no time when the soldiers could put their weapons down and relax. Even when a group of soldiers found a building in which to hide to wait for help, they still had to post guards and rest nervously in shifts.
The Bible talks about life as a Christian as either a battle or a race. Consider the following passages:
“Put on the full armour of God,” says Paul, “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:11) He speaks in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 of the way that we ‘wage war,’ and the ‘weapons we fight with.’
Peter writes, urging his readers to, “abstain from sinful desires, which war against our souls.” (1 Peter 2:11)
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” is the way Paul described his life as he neared the end of it (see also 1 Timothy 1:18-19 and 6:12).
The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to, “run with perseverance the race set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
If there is one thing you should take away from these passages, if not from any other, it’s that Christianity does not just consist of conversion. We often talk about evangelism and becoming a Christian as if it’s everything, but it’s not. There is lots more to being a Christian than starting to believe and starting to come to church! It is a continuous battle, or a race, with an objective. The objective is to become more like the Lord Jesus Christ and to glorify Him. It’s about the whole of your life, not just a moment in your life followed by 90 minutes every Sunday!
What Black Hawk Down made me think was that if the spiritual battle is really analogous to a real battle, such as the one depicted in the film, then I must be fighting it wrong. Real soldiers take care to choose the right weapons, and the right armour, they choose routes carefully, plan their missions purposefully, hide from danger, avoid unnecessary risks, and fight the enemy when they have to.
And the enemy in a physical war never gives you any space, never lets up in its pursuit unless it is beaten or in retreat, will fire a shower of bullets if you show so much as a toe around the corner of a building, and will never give up hunting you down and inflicting you with pain and damage until you are defeated.
That is how Black Hawk Down depicts the physical battle in Mogodishu. Gritty, relentless, well-planned, but with plans that go wrong, under attack all the time, relying on each other, using heavy weaponry and armoury, shouting at each other to warn, protect and encourage, never giving up, being alert, thinking quickly, keeping watch, calling for backup, tending the wounded… all those kind of things.
The competitors in a physical race don’t give you a head start, or slow down to let you go ahead. They pump their arms and legs relentlessly as fast as they can, with no break, with the aim of leaving you far behind.
Being honest, this is not the way I live my life. And that’s why the enemy catches me so often with his temptations. That’s why my sin trips me up, and I get brought down by unbelief and sinful desire. And I do, let me assure you.
I live focused on the external, the journey to work, the pressure of work and family, managing the finances, what plans I have for the future, the way the children are behaving, how to fit in more service for the church, what to make for dinner tonight. And for a few minutes every day I may say an abstract prayer asking for spiritual growth, relief from temptation and the protection or conversion of friends and family.
My life, being honest, is not one that is lived with spiritual warfare constantly in mind, as the Bible urges so often. I live like the Christian life is a picnic or a fairground, not a war!
“Be self-controlled and alert.” Says Peter, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Paul says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3)
There is a saying of some people that they are, “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use.” I hate that saying. I don’t think I’d be ready to admit it has even a grain of truth in it. Read again Paul’s words from Colossians – where are our minds to be set? “On things above”! The interesting thing to notice, too, is that not only does Paul say that, but he continues the letter with outlining ways in which this heavenly-mindedness will affect their earthly lives, how they will fight the spiritual battle:
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming… But now you must rid yourself of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10)
Being heavenly-minded gives rise to practical, down-to-earth, holiness! Oh how we need more Christians to be more heavenly minded! It’s only the sight of Christ on His throne, conquering for us with His death and resurrection, assuring our own victory over death, that will give us the hope that we need to overcome the spiritual warfare. Satan longs to tear us down from the road to Christ’s throne by planting our feet firmly back on earth, where we get bogged down in lust, lies and evil desires.
Here’s the other thing about being heavenly-minded – our trials, sufferings and hardships will not pull us off course, but will help us in our spiritual battle. One more passage:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
In summary, let’s hear the challenge of God’s Word and fight for holiness with the tenacity of a real battle in the spiritual realm. But let’s fight by being more heavenly-minded, setting our minds on things above. Let’s remember the spiritual battle is fought with spiritual weapons and spiritual armour, so that we may fight the good fight of faith in this life, and attain a “crown of life” in the next. We can’t, if we are to persevere to the end, be lazy and comfortable with the way we are. We can’t live as if the holiness and sanctification that God wants to see in us is not worth fighting for, not worth sacrificing for.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:12-18)