Engage God’s presence…
…both as our caring Father in the Family of God,
…and also as our conquering King in the Kingdom of God.
If you have settled by limiting your identity to a “beloved child” of God, a spiritual “warrior” may rock your boat. It’s true. We will always be our Father’s “beloved child.” It’s just not enough. God has “more” for you, partnering with Him in His Kingdom army.
I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one (1 John 2:14b).
“Jim, the text states ‘young men.’ How did you come up with ‘ spiritual warrior” as your chapter title?”
In common usage of that day, this word translated “young men” described a man from about eighteen up to forty years old, at peak strength. After 40-ish, he entered a new phase of life. I use “warrior” because John may have had Israel’s history in the back of his mind when he wrote. The young men in Israel were the strong warriors who go to battle, using their strength for others, like Isaiah 40:30-31. “Young men” are compared to those who renew their strength for battle.
I also use spiritual warrior because Jesus calls us to join the battle launched at His baptism to free the captives. Jesus calls us to yield our own personal little kingdoms to unite with Him. His conquering Kingdom prepares us to fulfill His unique God-Assignments.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work
(1 John 3:8b).
The instant we were born again, we were ushered into the Family of God as a “beloved child” to know for certain we are forgiven and cared for by the Father. And also into the Kingdom of God as His “servant-warriors.” Both/And. Our Commander-in-Chief gives us our lifelong marching orders to do what He did, and to pass this along to others.
“I will build my church [Family of God], and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” [the conquering Kingdom of God] (Jesus in Matthew 16:18).
The Kingdom of God expresses God’s regal presence and authority to make what is not right, right according to His view of rightness. The Kingdom of God disrupts, breaking in to challenge any harmful status quo. God’s Kingdom takes the offensive. It counterattacks evil to free people and societies from the strongholds of bondage to lead them back into freedom.
No lesser or greater exists in the Kingdom, just our specific God-Assignments. These assignments cover the whole depth and breadth, whether hospitality or home making, whether at work or in school or at recreation. God calls us to be a spiritual warrior right where we are, battling with His weapons of warfare, love and compassion, authority and boldness, sensitivity and perseverance. Notice, John gives us three clear marks of a true spiritual “servant-warrior.”
1. Strongly Reliant on Jesus Christ (“because you are strong,” cmp. Eph. 6:10)
This 2nd cycle builds upon the great variety of adventurettes begun in the 1st cycle as our confidence to be builders and battlers grows stronger (Luke 14:28-32). We are the Family of God, trained as a spiritual warrior and sent into war against an invader who has taken over our homeland. This demands universal military service for all. Our strength for battle comes from Jesus Christ as we rest in Him, not as we trust in ourselves.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power (Ephesians 6:10).
We acknowledge that our true strength as a spiritual warrior is only found in Christ and perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Yet this strength is also developed from within, just like soldiers train hard over time to develop strength and skills for battle. Many heroes were very normal people who quietly developed “grit” over time (passion with perseverance). When a crisis arrived, they stepped into the gap, as farmers or shepherds, as teachers or plumbers, from the business or religious world.
Doing always flows out of being.
This season possesses enough energy to vigorously engage any highly involved life projects. These are the years of our strength when we have a measure of maturity. And yet we still sufficient energy to work hard at what is truly important. Typically, young adults begin with boundless energy, all the answers, confident in their strength, trusting their ability, and flush with a vision to change the world. Even when this can-do energy is misplaced or expressed in unhealthy ways, God actually uses this for positive gain. It seems to be part-&-parcel with how God develops young people. It’s also why young people benefit themselves when they invite spiritual moms & pops to come alongside.
Spiritual mentors, please be careful to keep in mind that young adults often come with a different vision than you had…or still have. Don’t squelch their passion, especially by squeezing them into your mold. Failure can be a great teacher so give space. To be a risk-taker means we need to be OK when they are a mistake-maker. Cultivate a culture of high-risk, no-shame. “Everyone gets to play.”
Look at Jesus’ 1st century ragamuffin band of Apostles and David’s misfit “mighty men” (see 1 Samuel 22:2 for a description of who gathered to David, those later called his “mighty men”). God wired, trains up and transforms to place us into that unique, strategic God-Assignment that best fits us to further His Kingdom.
A healthy spiritual “servant-warrior”
…is anyone who has a God-given passion towards their unique God-Assignments. She/he pushes into Jesus with sweet surrender and with grit to see it done regardless of cost. The God-Assignment can be anything flowing from His presence. Parents raising children. Spouses supporting one another. Office workers bringing Jesus’ presence naturally into the workplace as salt and light. Cement workers and accountants, students and teachers, and those who serve in our armed forces or on the playground. After all, He is King and strategically places us where He needs us to serve Him in our unique “garden plot.”
God designed us for significant purpose. Our Team-of-Three patiently trains us to give away our strength incrementally in small ways at first, gradually growing our otherly-focused spiritual muscles. Confess now to the Lord: “My strength is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). And believe it! As a “warrior,” we now work hard partnering with the Lord to develop our spiritual strength to serve others.
Like anything spiritual, however, we can also degrade…
…our freedom to fulfill our fleshly desires (Galatians 5:13-14). Our healthy confidence to be builders and battlers takes over and becomes our identity. We then pervert His great gifts, abilities and opportunities to our own ends. With this twisted end, we now build our own “containers” and neglect the otherly “servant” aspect of this 2nd cycle call. In the eyes of society, we may even become successful as we attempt to fill our own desires. Yet please ask, “Am I responding like my Master who came to ‘serve and give His life’” to others (Matthew 20:28)?
Such a choice to divert our strength from His purposes brings spiritual lethargy. A fleshly excitement often masks this spiritual dullness as we build our containers of what this world considers valuable. When a Christian “warrior” recognizes this detour, the pathway back is repentance. This is our “change of mind” about the source from which we seek satisfaction, value and meaning in life.
The greatest danger, however,…
…comes on “warrior-kings” who are highly gifted and successful. Over time, what they do may subtly take over who they are. “Warrior-kings” tend to arrest their own spiritual development once they have gained skills and experience. This plateauing spiritual may go side by side with a thriving ministry from an outside look.
It’s tempting to interpret ripening skills and abilities driven by measurable objectives as an indication that a “warrior” is producing lasting fruit based on a skill set or unique ministry approach. Wioth such an approach, we are in danger of loosing ourselves. And to take the next step of believing these are measurements of deepening spiritual maturity. In Reality, the opposite is true according to Jesus.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…I chose you…to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:5+16).
Success in the Christian life only flows from a deep and deepening union with the true Vine, Jesus. As “servant/warriors,” build from our desperate longing to be His “presence people,” drawing on strength from Him. This is the time to reflect and ask fundamental questions of ourselves about how we can select the best from other good options.
This choice now is about your future.
2. Choose Scripture as our Authority for Life (“the word of God lives in you”)
The word “abide” or “lives in” describes how familiar and homey our relationship with Scripture becomes. The word means to settle into a place of rest. A traveling salesman visits one hotel after another on his sales trips. By contrast, this person “abides” as he comes home, unpacks his bags, kicks off his shoes, gets comfortable and enjoys family. We are in that place of rest and refreshment, comfort and rejuvenation. This is the welcoming familiarity a spiritual “servant-warrior” develops with God’s Love-letter to become spiritually vibrant (1 Thessalonians 1:6b, 2:13).
Without this approach to life, we will either slide back or settle spiritually, losing our bearings without Scripture to guide our choices. We may have great passion, yet an inward spiritual compass calibrated to Scripture is equally crucial. On a journey, we need both acceleration (passion) and correct direction (an accurate inner spiritual compass).
In order to develop strength and abide in God’s Word with a bias towards doing it, it’s crucial to develop a regular practice. Star athletes develop their inborn talent through a regular exercise regimen fit for their unique sport and aptitude. It’s not easy for an athlete to rise early, work hard, and say no to distracting outside influences that undermine effectiveness. Yet they have a fading prize in mind; we are destined for an unfading prize (Philippians 3:14).
The difference between…
…those who influence and those who plateau or dropout is “deliberate practice,” according to studies by Anders Ericsson. Even without any special aptitude or training, “deliberate practice” under the watchful eye of a coach aims at continuous improvement to avoid getting trapped on learning plateaus.
Many admire the level that others operate on, yet fewer are willing to invest the time, energy and grit to grow ourselves. Persevere with patience to get to the edge of our abilities through whole-person responses as we get one key book of the Bible after another under our belts, like in the design of my DiscipleMaking Companions. Develop the kind of passion that Psalm 119 models. This abiding life in Christ is “the expulsive power of a new affection.” As we internalize this higher passion of Jesus Christ, our lower passions begin to melt away.
We don’t read or listen to God’s Word or sermons or books explaining the Bible to gather knowledge. We desire to do it so that we grow in our friendship with the God of the Word (Ephesians 1:17). Knowing our Family-of-Three better is our primary aim, not any mechanics of Bible study.
Scripture forms and informs our entire spiritual life,…
…whether worship or mission, community or character development, whether follow-up of young Christians or mentoring, whether social justice issues or compassion to the poor. We will be hard-pressed to find godly men and women throughout history who have not been people with a passion to know the Bible with a bias to respond in order to better know the God of the Bible.
God’s plan is to release such a strong passion for LifeChange that each of His followers will do whatever is necessary to pursue Him. We must have a relentless commitment to relate the truth of Scripture to our lives. Do you desire to know God’s will so you can vote on whether to do it, or simply to do it, regardless? The first leads to spiritual sterility, even if you spend hours each day studying the Bible. The second is a mark of spirituality.
3. Overcome Evil as a Pattern of Life (“you have overcome the evil one”)
For what end are we “thoroughly equipped” through Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? God calls us into a victorious struggle that fuels our personal growth. We are overcomers. Oh, not always immediately and often not without struggle, but ultimately. And often it will not look like our dream of overcoming since God’s thoughts are higher than ours.
…Jesus Himself is the Overcomer. In the world we will have troubles and trials. Jesus overcame the world, the devil and our flesh through His life and death, His resurrection and ascension (John 16:33). Jesus is the Servant-Warrior, the Strong One, who now battles through us. As Commander-in-Chief of His warrior-army, He delegates His authority and brings His “with you” presence as He calls His servants into the fray with Him (Matthew 28:18-20).
…spiritual “servant-warriors” are learning to depend on Jesus’ strong provision to overcome the evil one in their own lives, without becoming demon-centered. We have a growing confidence in the power of the blood of Christ to cleanse. We openly testify to others in everyday connections how Jesus impacts our life. And we are learning to live with an all-in, wholehearted allegiance so we give our lives freely to our specific God-Assignments, come what may. This threefold response is crucial for every “servant-warrior.”
They overcame the [accuser of the brothers]
by the blood of the Lamb and
by the word of their testimony:
they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death
To overcome evil in us demands awareness of and acknowledging previously unwelcomed parts of ourselves. The problem is that many of these parts are blind spots, unknown to us, but known to others. I like the “Johari Window” and its 2nd Room as an illustration (see Wikipedia if this is unfamiliar). We therefore desperately need people who accept us as we are and love us toward maturity in community to acquaint us with what we are blind to. “Jim, meet Jim.”
Satan has lots of names in Scripture, one being Beelzebub, which probably means “Lord of the Flies” (Mark 3:20-35). Think on this. Flies breed and flourish in garbage and in corpses. Events from our past may lie buried in Room 4 of the Johari Window (where we hide from others). These carcasses and garbage of undealt with addictions, relationships or brokenness open the door wide for the “Lord of the Flies” to attack. As a “warrior” in God’s Kingdom army, I long to become the change I want to see in others.
…spiritual “servant-warriors” also partner with the Spirit in the ministry of helping others to overcome the evil one in their lives. We do this when they come to faith in Christ through evangelism and as they grow towards Christ-like maturity through DiscipleMaking. As we deal fiercely with our own garbage, we are in a place to gently help others with theirs as healthy models partnering with Jesus (Philippians 3:17).
Wrapping It Together
In my imagination, I picture a “Warrior Wall” as a nearly transparent, indestructible barrier as the entryway into the 3rd cycle. It blocks our way into entering the 3rd cycle. This “wall” has one, specific doorway designed uniquely for each of us individually. Each doorway is low and very narrow. To go through, we must temporarily lay aside all the packages from our past. If we don’t, we cannot pass through the narrow door into the 3rd cycle.
One Christian leader says that each of us must experience a threefold conversion, to (1) Christ, to (2) His church and to (3) His cause of worldwide expansion. How deep is your passion for Jesus in sweet surrender to His will? Have you fully embraced God as caring, compassionate Father? Does your time and energy reflect the importance of God’s people as the Family of God as expressed through your local church (first cycle)? How deeply are the marks of a “spiritual-warrior” ingrained in your life?
Have you been converted to all three?
Both/And/And. If not, the “Warrior Wall” may be impossible for you to enter through at this time. And you have also identified your next God-Assignment for this season.
Some who teach on leadership postulate that the best a “warrior” can aim towards is confluence. In confluence, all our skills and abilities intersect at the object of our ministry. A “warrior-king” then feels satisfied. This could be one reason why one writer estimates that 85% of Christians never enter into the 3rd cycle. Settling in confluence locks us out of the 3rd cycle.
John woos God’s people toward “more” than a satisfied “warrior” with the following haunting words that coax us into becoming a spiritual “dad.” Know “Him who is from the beginning.” Not “more” that we receive or achieve. God did not hold out on us when we first came to Him by faith in Christ. Yet “more” that we experience of what He already gifted us with when we first connected through faith in Christ so we know Him more deeply.
I write to you fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning
(1 John 2:13-14, emphasis).
- For a PDF printout of this second blog, click here.
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- To return to the first of this four series blog, click here.
- For those who want more, I have written an unpublished manuscript, expanding on all these subjects with my musings. For the free downloadable PDF, click here.