For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. (2 Corinthians 9: 3-6)
Although many American Christians find irresistible the allurement of the 2nd Amendment and gun ownership to fight the Armageddon they are anticipating, St Paul is clear that our warfare is spiritual and won’t be fought with guns and ammo but rather consists of bringing hearts and minds into obedience to Christ, the Prince of Peace. It is a war of ideas and thoughts. There is to be a struggle, but it is a spiritual warfare for our hearts and minds. St Maria of Paris poetically describes the difficulty of the spiritual warfare.
“’How burdensome each step becomes.
Steeper and lonelier the way.
They do not prophesy eternal bliss,
These sounds of every day.’
(PEARL OF GREAT PRICE, p 50)
St Maria’s realism notes that the struggle of the spiritual warfare most often doesn’t seem very promising and certainly isn’t a life of trouble-free bliss. The burdens of the spiritual person are great, for they clearly see what the world is like and feel the pain of sin and death in this world. Mother Maria’s short verse reminded me of one of my all time favorite poems, “Weary In Well-Doing“, a lament written by Christina Rossetti:
I would have gone; God bade me stay:
I would have worked; God bade me rest.
He broke my will from day to day,
He read my yearnings unexpressed
And said them nay.
Now I would stay; God bids me go:
Now I would rest; God bids me work.
He breaks my heart tossed to and fro,
My soul is wrung with doubts that lurk
And vex it so.
I go, Lord, where Thou sendest me;
Day after day I plod and moil:
But, Christ my God, when will it be
That I may let alone my toil
And rest with Thee?
The spiritual struggle is wearisome because it takes a lot of energy on our part to continually seek God’s will and then do it. St Maria said the demands of spiritual warfare are inescapable for those choosing to take up the cross and to follow Christ.
… ‘Unless we engage in intense spiritual endeavors, traverse untrodden paths and sternly dismiss spiritually facile or practically tempting ways, we shall not be able to achieve anything at all.’” (PEARL OF GREAT PRICE, p 50)
Her testimony reflects what had been discovered centuries ago by those who took the spiritual warfare to the desert to work out their salvation.
“Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed to God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this: ‘I find myself in peace, without an enemy,’ he said. The old man said to him, ‘Go, beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.’ So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said,’ Lord, give me strength for the fight.’” (THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS, pp 87-88)
Any who have endeavored to follow Christ may have experienced that weariness which comes upon us as we trod the narrow way to the Kingdom. Like Abba John the Dwarf, we all have probably wanted God to relieve us from our spiritual struggles, to free us from struggles and temptations. A life of bliss seems to many of us to be the road to the Kingdom, but that hasn’t been the experience of the saints who recognized that carrying the cross is a struggle that wearies us at times. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).
We do have to prepare ourselves for the struggle to follow our Lord Jesus Christ. We also are given other words of encouragement about this struggle:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
And God both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. (St John Chrysostom’s Paschal Sermon)