Spiritual Warfare for Christians

Christ Carrying the Cross
Christ carrying the Cross: attributed to Marco d’Oggiono, c. 1467–1524

There is a spiritual warfare that requires not a drop of blood to be shed, not a single angry word to be said, not one unkind thought to be thought. To put it in contemporary terms, you could say Lent is the Christian Jihad, when we oppose everything in our own lives that is hostile to God. The qualification is important. For the next few weeks we are principally concerned with following Jesus into the desert, allowing the searing light of truth into the hidden parts of our being, making us face up to the reality of who and what we are. We know it will be uncomfortable, but we were never promised a life of comfort when we became his disciples.

St Benedict tells his readers that the life of a monk should always have a Lenten quality, and there are many places in the Rule where he refers to fighting for the true King, Christ our Lord, the fraterna acies or battleline of the community and the spiritual combat of the desert in which solitaries engage. But he never presents this spiritual warfare as something dour or grim. On the contrary, it is immensely joyful — because it brings us closer to Christ. His chapter on Lent, RB 49, is one of the most lyrical in the Rule and reminds us that we are looking forward to Easter ‘with joy and spiritual longing’, that everything we do, even the restrictions we place on ourselves, the things we ‘give up’ for Lent, is done ‘freely, with the joy of the Holy Spirit’. In this, I think he is echoing the joy Jesus found in the desert, when he spent those precious forty days exploring the depth of his relationship with the Father. Yes, he was tested; yes, the temptation was real and urgent; but he was driven out into the desert by the Spirit — the Greek verb used is very strong, almost catapulted — and he was accompanied by angels, messengers of God. In other words, he was alone with the Alone.

For us, as disciples, our moments of being alone with the Alone can be very few and far between. In Lent we try to make more time for prayer, reduce the number of distractions (fasting) and seek to serve God in others (almsgiving). We know that we can sometimes be very self-regarding in all three, whereas what we intend is to forget ourselves. That really is the secret both of spiritual warfare such as I have described, and the joy that accompanies it. We need to stand aside, as it were, and let Christ be all in all — and that is so hard for us difficult, argumentative beings, who like to be in control all the time and find it virtually impossible to let go! The illustration at the top of this blog post may help change our perspective a little. It shows Christ carrying the Cross: the logical conclusion, if you like, of his forty days in the desert. The battle with Satan that began there reaches its climax on Good Friday, when Christ wins the victory for all time.

Christ has shed his blood for us, once and for all; so no more need be shed. He has borne every insult and angry word that has ever been uttered; so no more need be said. He has experienced all the contradictions of being human and transformed them so that now we can live the life of grace. Yes, Christ has triumphed and we live now with a vast opportunity before us. This Sunday is a good day for asking ourselves what we truly desire: God or something less, joy or endless sorrow?


8 thoughts on “Spiritual Warfare for Christians”

  1. I’m always excited about Lent and the anticipatory wait is something to value and to look forward too.

    This particular Lent I’m working on an assignment for my Lay Ministry training, which it to take a hymn and to deconstruct the theology and reflect on the lessons here for us today.

    Our small group chose John Wesley’s hymn “Lo he comes from Clouds descending” which is full of imagery of the second coming of Jesus, which we wait in eager anticipation for. This seems particularly appropriate for the season of Lent, where were waiting in a slightly different way for the incarnation to be fulfilled, and our group is looking for that outcome of the incarnation the Kingdom of God with Jesus as “King Alone” as the words of verse 4 say.

    I’ve been exploring bits of scripture, the creeds and even the 39 Articles in this journey – truly a privilege to have directed study, which reveals so much that I hadn’t anticipated about Jesus’ first coming, let alone the second.

  2. A timely reminder to look at ourselves not judge others. Despite a couple of famous examples about judging not/splinters and planks, it is all to easy to judge others and compare our spiritual efforts with those of others (as if we were qualified to comment!) and find them wanting.

    I find it very hard to keep my mind on my battle and not peek at others around me in the hope I am doing just a bit more than them. Lent is the perfect time for me to look again at my own relationship with God and other people and the obstacles I create. Hopefully with the intention of removing some of them…

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