by A. David Armstrong III, Commander U.S. Navy (ret)
I offer the following thoughts learned through many years of military service, and through many years as a soldier in the army of my God. God in His infinite wisdom often uses that with which we are most familiar to instruct us. Since the principles of warfare are deeply ingrained in me after many years as a Navy officer, God has utilized that experience to give me insight into spiritual warfare. God also has made us social creatures, in His image, meaning that we are to share that which He is teaching us individually with each other, so that the body of Christ might stand and work together as a unit, whole and entire, in loving submission to His perfect will. And so I trust that as God wills, He will speak to you through the reflections in this article, so that your relationship with Him might be deepened and enriched, and that you might be a better prepared spiritual soldier ready to defend the faith and successfully do battle with our deadly foe, in the strength of Jesus.
Beginning in the Garden of Eden, the human race has been engaged in spiritual warfare with the enemy of our souls. Mankind has been deceived, enslaved, and engaged in rebellious spiritual warfare against Him in whose image we are created. The perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was God's answer. Since the time of Jesus’ atonement, when He paid the price which we could not pay, and which He did not owe, those who choose to receive His gift of life have now become soldiers engaged in spiritual warfare under the leadership of Jesus, into whose hands all power and authority has been given by our gracious Heavenly Father. It is important to understand that in this universal spiritual battle, all must serve someone. There are no bystanders.
IMPORTANCE OF PREPAREDNESS
It is important to us as good spiritual soldiers serving our Lord Jesus Christ that we understand the kind of warfare in which we are engaged. This means that we must not only understand something of our enemy, but also how to wage spiritual war. We must understand the tools and weapons we will use. Because we are to be “in the world,” though “not of the world” (John 17:11,14), this spiritual warfare oftentimes looks more like urban warfare than grand battles fought between major armies facing each other across the field of battle. The reality of Christian spiritual warfare is that we find ourselves daily engaged in skirmishes and battles that arise as we turn a corner, or sit down at our desks, or meet someone in the marketplace. We move along in our daily life and suddenly realize someone is shooting spiritual bullets at us, or a spiritual roadside bomb has exploded, or our family is under spiritual fire with wounded, or our job is spiritually invaded and under attack. We often have little to no advance warning of the impending attack. He who “roams the earth like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:18) often surprises us with spiritual ambushes, requiring us to be swift and sure in our actions. We must act quickly, in accordance with our Lord’s will, to defend ourselves and others. It is to this end that I wish to share with you today, that you may be a better prepared soldier in the army of Christ. Each of us, I’m confident, wishes at the end of the war, when Jesus reigns supreme over heaven and earth, to gaze into His beautiful face and hear His voice say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
THE NEED TO BE FULLY PREPARED
As spiritual soldiers we have responsibilities to our Commander-in-Chief, Jesus Christ, to ensure we know His will for us, so that we may do our part. This occurs only when we completely surrender ourselves to Jesus and His perfect will for our lives. We must be fully prepared for battle, which means three things:
- We must be ably led;
- We must be fully equipped; and
- We must be properly trained.
Clearly, we are most ably led by our Spiritual Commander-in-Chief, our Lord Jesus Christ. In terms of being fully equipped for spiritual warfare, the apostle Paul provides a succinct and accurate picture in Ephesians 6:11-17 of what it means to be fully equipped. Lastly, we are to be properly trained in all aspects of spiritual warfare. In this it is we – as spiritual soldiers – who have some clear responsibility, and it is to this end that I will address the remainder of my remarks.
As I stated earlier, God often uses that which is most familiar to us to instruct us. God granted me 27 years of active-duty military service in the United States Navy. This included nearly 11 years aboard four different warships traversing the globe in peace and war. In many cases, the military training learned through those years has had direct and clear application to the spiritual warfare that each of us, as spiritual soldiers for Christ, are engaged in.
Allow me to briefly describe an aspect of life related to warfare preparedness aboard a United States warship. Warships operate on a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day basis, whether they are cruising at sea, or tied to a pier at home or at some foreign port. At all times a warship must have a certain minimum number of officers and crew aboard with specific skills that will allow them to adequately manage emergency situations, whether they are combat or noncombat related. Noncombat emergencies may involve collision at sea, fires, flooding, emergency loss of electricity (this means no radar, radio, weapon control and other serious loss of combat capability), and emergency loss of engine power (the ship is “dead in the water”), among others. Such emergencies may involve casualties and serious equipment damage. Combat-related emergencies also include damage from bombs, missiles, torpedoes and more. These may also cause fire, flooding and other emergencies listed above, but with very different surrounding circumstances requiring a different set of responses. They are often accompanied by much larger numbers of casualties that require additional sailors to attend to the wounded, further degrading the ability to fight the emergency.
The gravity of the kinds of emergencies described should convey the sense that regardless of whether an emergency is combat or noncombat related, or whether the ship is at sea or in port, the officers and crew must be prepared at all times to quickly initiate the proper actions to address the emergency until a full response by the entire crew (and often support from other ships or shore support personnel) can be mounted. This can be likened to the application of proper first aid to an injured person by an emergency medical team, until that person can be transported to a hospital where a full medical team awaits him. The lack of emergency first aid, or first aid administered by improperly trained medical technicians, could result in further unnecessary injury, or even death before arrival at the hospital.
SIGNIFICANCE AND URGENCY OF STANDING ORDERS
Similarly, in the initial stages of an emergency on board a ship, seconds often count mightily in determining the outcome. When a crewman first discovers an emergency situation, he or she must be able to immediately take proper initial actions, without having to stop, contact the Captain, and await orders. Part of the training of every officer and sailor aboard each and every United States warship includes directions and training on initial responses for the types of emergencies encountered aboard those ships. These directions are developed and distributed in written form by the Captain. This written document is known as the Captain’s standing orders. Standing orders are a set of comprehensive, situation-based directives on how the Captain expects officers and sailors to act in given emergency situations, regardless of time or place. Whenever new officers or sailors report aboard a Navy warship, they are required to read and understand the Captain’s standing orders. Further, they are expected to regularly review these standing orders so that the Captain’s directions for action remain fresh in their memories, ready to be drawn upon at a moment’s notice when needed.
Any officer or crewman who does not read the Captain’s standing orders will not know what to do, who to contact, or how to proceed in an emergency, and will have to take unnecessary time to contact the Captain or someone senior who has read the standing orders and understands how to act. This delay could mean the difference in increased damage to the ship, additional injury or death for fellow shipmates, and in a worst case, loss of the ship itself. It should be obvious, then, that it is critical for officers and crew to understand the standing orders. This means that they read them, study them, and ensure that they understand them. This is not optional; rather, it is critical, and is directed by the Captain. Failure to comply is to disobey a direct order, and could have catastrophic consequences.
It seems intuitive that a Captain write down his or her standing orders so that they need not be repeated at length for each newly arriving officer or sailor, and need not be repeated orally at regular intervals. There is no time for this. And there is an additional benefit to codifying these directions. Rarely does an emergency response involve only a single sailor. While it may be a single sailor who identifies an emergency, the immediate action involved almost always requires two or more officers and sailors working as a team. If even one person on a team has not read or does not understand the standing orders, the entire team is at risk. Codifying in writing the Captain’s standing orders ensures that each and every officer and sailor aboard the ship has the same understanding and knowledge of what actions to take individually and as part of the team.
SPIRITUAL STANDING ORDERS
As spiritual warriors, we also have our set of Captain’s standing orders, carefully written out for us. It is called the Bible. As we read our Bible, study our Bible, and ensure we understand God’s message to us in His written word, we learn how our Spiritual Captain expects us to act and react in spiritual emergencies. At any time, he who “prowls the earth like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” may place before us a spiritual emergency in which we need to act quickly and with confidence, based on a knowledge of God’s will for us in that situation. As with a warship, these emergencies can occur at any time of day or night, at sea or in port, at home or overseas. And, like on a warship, the ability to act quickly, knowledgeably, and with confidence in our Lord’s will for the situation will often minimize damage, avert or reduce spiritual injury, and allow time for our Spiritual Captain to give us more specific orders. He can then with perfect knowledge and grace direct His spiritual soldiers to the successful rout of the enemy, and resolve the emergency in loving grace. Our preparedness for spiritual attack can make the difference in the outcome of the situation, and in averting spiritual catastrophe.
UNDERSTANDING OUR STANDING ORDERS
This is the question I must ask myself, and through this article encourage you to ask: Do I understand my Spiritual Captain’s standing orders? Have I followed His commandment to diligently study the Scriptures? Have I even read them? This means much more than simply setting and maintaining a daily Bible reading schedule, although that is a first and critical step. What it means is, do I prayerfully, carefully, and in submission to His will truly study the Holy Bible to understand the message God intends for me? As I come alongside a spiritual brother or sister in pain or in sin, do I understand God’s standing orders sufficiently well to be able to quickly render spiritual first aid, and/or engage the enemy with initial actions I know are in Jesus’ will, thus preventing further damage or loss, while the full and proper forces of God’s army can be brought to bear on the situation? If I fail to regularly, studiously and prayerfully read the Scriptures, and seek to understand God’s word and will for me as expressed in them, I am not fulfilling my responsibility as a spiritual soldier in the army of Jesus Christ. This has possible consequences far beyond myself. For, as in an emergency on board a Navy warship, my failure to understand my Spiritual Captain’s standing orders may not only result in harm to myself, but may well result in unnecessary and untimely harm to my brothers and sisters in Christ, damage to the Church in the eyes of the lost, or perhaps the loss of a precious soul that might otherwise have been saved.
It is a direct command from our Spiritual Captain, and of prime importance to all soldiers in the army of God, to study and learn of Him through His written word. We must not be deceived in this. Our vessel is not a spiritual luxury cruise liner. Once saved, we are not to simply relax and cruise the seas of life basking in the warm glow of the Son. While His Holy Spirit does imbue us with His peace and joy, He nevertheless designed us for work – we are laborers in His harvest – and He has a plan for us. We are to follow Him and continue, in His power, to batter down the “gates of hell,” that the deceived and lost may be set free. This is war, and only trained and prepared soldiers can fully and successfully serve our Spiritual Captain. The outcome is certain – Jesus has already won the victory. But there are prisoners on the other side yet suffering from the affliction of Sin that only Jesus can save them from. We meet them and see them every day. God's will for us is to serve Him as loyal and trained soldiers in fulfilling His perfect plan. Prayerfully, carefully, and studiously studying God’s word in Scripture is His command, and our responsibility as good soldiers. We must know and understand His standing orders!
UNDERSTANDING OUR ENEMY
Lastly, it is important to understand who our enemy is. In this too, God’s standing orders are clear. While in human war it is man fighting man, in our spiritual warfare the enemy is never a person. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). People are the prize to be won, the prisoners to be set free, the deceived with whom to share the truth; but they are never the enemy. Knowing and executing the Captain’s standing orders are the keys to victory over the enemy and liberating his captives.
May the Lord Jesus Christ richly bless you in your life and, when the war is finished and the new Heaven and new Earth come to pass, may you hear His loving voice pronounce those wonderful words in the presence of all the saints and the Father: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”