The enemy doesn’t need to destroy you to keep you from being a spiritual force for good in the world. Far better for him if you are merely sleepy when it comes to the reality of conflict in what Paul calls “the heavenly places.” One person yawning induces those around her to yawn. After that comes the sedation of the daily round — eating, working, shopping, resting, sleeping. Soon your reflex is to think, “all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet 3:4). This is the opioid crisis of the suburban Church, including the immigrant churches that discover glorious American materialism. Finally you feel ease and contentment, while the demons assigned to your care exult in nearly effortless victory.
J.C. Ryle, an devout, tack-sharp, capable Anglican bishop the 19th century, after preaching on the reality of spiritual conflict, said this:
“You fancy that I’m going too far, and laying it on too thickly. You are secretly saying to yourself, that [we] may surely get to heaven without all this trouble and warfare and fighting. Listen to me for a few minutes and I will show you that I have something to say on God’s behalf. Remember the maxim of the wisest general that ever lived in England: ‘In time of war it is the worst mistake to underrate your enemy, and try to make a little war.’ This Christian warfare is no little war.
‘Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.’ ‘Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.’ ‘Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.’ … ‘Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword.’ ‘He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.’ ‘Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.’ ‘Fight the good fight; holding faith, and a good conscience’ (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 2:3; Eph. 6:11-13; Luke 13:24; John 6:27; Matt. 10:34; Luke 22:36; 1 Cor. 16:13; 1 Tim. 18;19).
“Words such as these appear to me clear and unmistakable. They all teach the same great lesson if we are willing to receive it: true Christianity is a struggle, a fight and a warfare. He that pretends to condemn ‘fighting’ and teaches that we ought to sit still and ‘yield ourselves to God’, appears to me to misunderstand his Bible.”
I’ve always wondered if Peter’s pleading with us to be “sober and vigilant” (1 Pet 5:8) isn’t an echo of his remorse over Mark 14:37: “And [Jesus] came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?’” All men are in a lifelong struggle to move from boyhood to manhood; to stand in the places and responsibilities that fall to us; to know which hills to die on, then how to persevere. How Peter must have regretted that he slept while his redeemer, the one who had and would love him so, fought on his knees against death and hell. He knew (all men know) it was a failure of manhood.
But with time he also came to know it wasn’t just that he was weak. He also learned that Satan is a predator and that the unwary become prey. So he learned how to fight: emotional and intellectual sobriety, spiritual vigilance, willful resistance, prayer. And perhaps even more importantly, after feeling the sharp edge of personal failure, he learned how to hope again: “…after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet 5.10-11).