There is a story in the July/August 2018 edition of Reader’s Digest by Mark Divine, Commander, U.S. Navy SEALS (Retired) that relates well to how we are to really live the Christian life. Some Christians believe the Christian life is all about living morally and ethically, following the rules of behavior set down by some authority. They think how you look and sound before others matters before God. Others believe being a Christian is about right doctrine and beliefs, any deviation of which keeps you out of heaven or at least out of God’s good favor. They think how one acts doesn’t matter as long as one thinks right about the right things.
It’s not that these ideas are unimportant. But they are extremely limiting. The Christian life is about being transformed into the image of Christ in union with the Trinity. There is so much more to this kind of life than our behavior and our beliefs.
Here’s the story that illustrates the necessity of real transformation:
In the pitch black, the sound of the helicopter’s roter blades was deafening. The jumpmaster gave us the thumbs-up as the light turned green. I leaped out into the dark. The static line did its job and pulled my main chute from its rig. I counted one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, and looked up to check the canopy. Whew. Everything looks A-OK.
Ahead in the darkness, I could see the vague outline of my teammate Chris’s canopy. Something was wrong. I took a closer look—yep, he was coming toward me. Standard operating procedure for potential midair collisions is for both jumpers to pull their right toggles, thereby moving them away from each other. I turned right. Chris turned left and collided with me.
My canopy collapsed into a wobbly sheet. I began plummeting to the earth, picking up speed. I had about eight seconds remaining in my 26-year-old life.
My mind slowed. My breathing slowed. Time even slowed. Each second seemed like a minute as I moved through the malfunction checklist: Pull on riser to try to reinflate canopy (nothing). Pull on reserve chute cord, punch the bag and rip the reserve out, and throw it as hard as possible into the wind (no good—the reserve shot up and waffled a bit around the main). I’m screwed. I took a deep breath and shook the risers of the canopy again. Ticktock. Six seconds to impact. My mind was clear and silent, watching, waiting for results. I felt no fear, no panic. I was not aware of the past or the future, just the “now.”
Suddenly the chute caught some air and then I hit the ground like a ton of bricks. The canopy had only partially inflated, but it was enough to slow me down for a survivable landing. I waited a moment and took a deep breath to confirm I was still alive. Amazingly unscathed, I got up, dusted myself off, and marched off to find Chris so I could deck him.
What struck me most from this experience was how my Navy SEAL training kicked in, allowing me to perform under extremely stressful conditions. Things felt almost mystical as my mind slowed down and allowed a larger intelligence and calmness to flow through me. I know I would’ve died if I’d tried to think my way out.
The last sentence is powerful in its implications for living as a Christian. In an immediate life or death situation, thinking may get you killed. When directly threatened or dealing with impending trouble, actually knowing how to deal with the situation and calmly but deliberately acting on what is known saves you.
Every moment is life or death. We are either living in the life of God or dying in our sins, defeated by our passions. Only as our inner person is reconstructed do we have any hope of surviving a threat or thriving in holiness.
This is probably contrary to how you are being told to handle the struggles and conflicts that come in being a Christian. You’re told to think like a Christian. Remember your identity. Imagine something different. Quote a scripture verse. Reflect before you react. Recall how God has acted in the past. Remember God’s promises.
But when you intentionally train yourself in godliness, the “thinking” has already been done. In training, you’ve learned to act out spiritually, physically, emotionally, and reasonably what needs to be done. You don’t need to pause, reflect, and decide a course of action. Instead, you’ve taken that course so often already that it’s second nature to you.
The other day I heard a popular radio preacher admonish men how to deal with sexual temptations. From Colossians 3.5-10, he exegeted the passage beautifully describing in appropriate detail how the passage should apply to men today. He then concluded by saying, “So men, when you face these kinds of sexual situations think about what I’m saying. Remember what Paul says here about living life in Christ. You don’t have to sin. Think about these things.” I about drove my car off the road. No wonder men, Christian or not, succumb to temptation.
An enemy would scarcely flinch if facing a Red Ryder BB gun (maybe I’m giving our thoughts too much credit here). But they’d quickly high-tail it if facing a black eagle tank. I’m afraid we’ve got a bunch of BB-gun Christians walking around popping off their little cliches and Bible verses when what we need are spiritual warriors diligently and purposely trained in heart, mind, and body to know God and know how to battle all that seeks to defeat them.
It’s too much to expect our thoughts alone to control our emotions and behavior – even good Bible thoughts. In do or die situations, when emotions are high, the body is stimulated, the mind is racing, and the soul is ignored (or so shriveled it can’t function), thinking has little chance of carrying the day.
Perhaps that is why St. Paul exhorts Timothy (and us) to: “Reject anything irreverent (coarse, indecent, obscene, vulgar) and silly myths; instead, discipline (train, exercise) yourself to be like God. Though physical exercise has limited value, godliness is valuable for the present life and the one to come.”
Here’s how this might read today: “Reject Maury, Springer, TV sitcoms and soaps, most politicians and entertainers (including modern sports figures); instead discipline yourself in an ascetic struggle for spiritual perfection necessary for an unhindered, intimate union with the Trinity so your life reflects the character of God.” This is how godliness develops in a person. Godliness comes through grace-infused and rigorous struggle, discipline. and training of the whole person not just our thinking.
What is your reaction when temptation hits you full force? A co-worker insults you and you want to retaliate. Already stuffed, there’s the last slice of pizza calling your name. Your spouse, for the fourth time today, pushes your hot button and you’re ready to explode. You’re blindsided by bad news and you want to wallow in despair.
What can you do to actually begin to defeat a personal known sin like anger, self-righteousness, apathy, or greed? How can you train yourself in grace and practice to withstand the control of sinful passions and act in ways reflective of Christ’s life in you?
How can a humble, steadfastness accompanied by a quiet, calm spirit be characteristic of your life?
What if we can we really become more like our God and Savior, Jesus Christ? How can this be done?
The answers to these questions and many like them are what I am exploring these days. I’ve got some companions who are exploring with me. Will you follow along with us, too?
I believe the answers lie in a wholistic, integrative approach to training ourselves in godliness. Brought about by grace-intoxicated effort in key practices that transform our heart and character, we can experientially learn to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and body and with our relationships.
I’m thinking this strategy for Christian living could be called the Way of the Warrior – WOW for short.
There is so much here to explore. Walk this journey with me and let’s see what we discover.