A friend recently asked me for my thoughts on what it means to be a happy warrior. His take was that I was one, and wanted my views on what goes into it. I thought the assessment was fair enough, but I had not really put the question to myself in those terms, and so I wanted to meditate on it for a bit. This is what I came up with—the creed of a happy warrior.
The phrase comes initially from Wordsworth, I think. I am not aware of earlier uses of it, but because my ignorance of such things is vast, this view could be as mistaken as any number of other things I don’t know about.
. . . And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws
His breath in confidence of Heaven’s applause:
This is the happy Warrior; this is he
That every man in arms should wish to be.
Character of the Happy Warrior
I am simply jotting down the principles that have conspired in my case, the things that motivate me. I am aware that there have been other happy warriors in other arenas who would not buy into all of these, and for some of them it may just have been a function of personality. Be that as it may, these are the principles that I would urge believing Christians to consider in our time of cultural upheaval and war. I am reminded of a phrase in Herbert’s poem, The Dawning. “Thy Saviour comes, and with him mirth.”
Some of these principle nest within others, like Russian dolls. Some of them do not—like dolls that aren’t Russian dolls. In any case, here are eleven thoughts that occurred to me.
God is Sovereign
Whatever happens, we must live our lives trusting in a sovereign God. When we are in the midst of conflict, we are in the middle of troubles. In such a circumstance, it is easy to get distracted by the troubles, particularly by the person who brought the trouble to you. But as Thomas Watson once pointed out, we have to remember the one who sent the trouble to us.
More often than not, the one who brought the trouble to you is an adversary, an enemy. It is easy to focus on that fact alone, forgetting that absolutely everything that happens to us does so in the palm of the Father’s hand.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
Gospel, Not Fatalism
The Father who sent all these troubles to you is the same Father who sent His Son to die mangled on a cross in order to liberate you and me from our sins. Our confidence is therefore in a sovereign Father, and not in a que sera sera fatalism. We may fight with abandon precisely because we are not abandoned. Fatalistic warriors can be grim and fell, but never merry.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Fight with Your Joy
Many Christians spend a lot of time fighting for their joy, when they ought to consider fighting with it. Joy is not the treasure behind us that we are fighting for, it is the sword in our hand that we are fighting with.
“Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).
Joy in Conflict Is Commanded
We are not a bunch of rag-tag volunteers, fighting for the Lord as it suits us. We were all drafted, and have been mustered into a regular army. We have uniforms, and standardized weapons. We are under orders, and are supposed to fight as required. One of those requirements is to rejoice when we are assaulted. We must not only not be astonished when the bullets of slander start to whistle by, we are commanded to rejoice when the fighting reaches this level. Congratulations—the devil thinks that you are worth shooting at.
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:11–12).
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” (Jas. 1:2, ESV)
“Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).
Sinners Should Confess Their Sins
It is not possible to fight well when you are encumbered. One of the best ways to keep you out of fruitful conflict with those you ought to be fighting is through getting you into conflicts with those you ought not to be fighting. And one of the best ways to do that is by getting you under a backlog of unconfessed sin. When you are not confessing your sins as you ought (1 John 1:9), you are likely to be coming into conflict with those closest to you—family, spouse, fellow elders, and so on.
“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).
Faith in the Coming Victory
No reformation worth having was ever accomplished to the sound of polite applause in the background. There will be smoke, and thunder, and yelling, and all the rest of it. But in the commotion of battle, we have an assurance from God that however our current battle is going, the outcome of the war is settled. However hot things are going for my platoon, I know that it is hotter for the devil’s armies. The Prince of Peace is bringing peace, but He is doing so through superior firepower.
“And he shall judge among the nations, And shall rebuke many people: And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruninghooks: Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4).
The Ragnarök Demeanor
In Norse mythology, their eschatological expectation was of a cosmic Alamo. The gods were going to go down in defeat before the monsters; there was a coming twilight of the gods. Now it is essential that we not believe in a final cataclysmic Ragnarök, where the good guys go down fighting the trolls, but it is equally essential that we admire it. Righteousness is more important than victory, and victory will only come to those who care about righteousness more than victory.
“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:17–18).
Rightly Ordered Loves and Hatreds
We only fight because we love, and we are only to hate because of our love. “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: Pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate” (Proverbs 8:13). The shepherd who will not fight the wolves does not love the sheep. The shepherd who loves to fight simply for the sake of fighting, and wolves will do for an adversary, is a shepherd with disordered affections. The shepherd must hate the wolves because he loves the sheep. If he hates the wolves because he loves to hate, then he is a wolf himself.
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep” (John 10:11–13).
Risk and Conflict are a Feature, Not a Bug
God did not create a safe world for us. Even before the sin of man ruined so much, the paradise of Eden had a serpent in it. Adam was in a momentous conflict before he sinned. God insists that we bet with real money. God requires us to risk things. This risk includes all that we hold dear, and to shrink back from it is to incur the displeasure of God. The wicked and lazy servant was the one who would not risk what had been entrusted to him. To play it safe is to play it dangerous.
“but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him”” (Heb. 10:38, ESV).
“He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed” (Matthew 25:24, ESV).
Biblical Proof v. Pagan Persuasiveness
What does it mean to prove something? It means to obligate belief. Now what happens when you obligate belief in the case of someone who did not want his belief obligated in that way, in that particular direction? That’s right, it makes him angry. We tend to think this is terrible because we think that all conflict is terrible. But I mean this as a positive thing. It is good to create tension and conflict as the result of obligating someone to believe a truth he would much rather not believe. He wants to cling to his falsehood, and if you have obligated belief in the truth, then you have brought him to the point of decision. It is a decision he would much rather not have to make, and so this often results in anger—directed at the person who made this happen.
Of course it is foolish to make people angry over truths that don’t matter that much (like whether or not it is raining right now, or whether San José is the capital of Costa Rica). But it is not foolish when the stakes are what they are in this case—the stakes being the salvation of immortal souls.
But because many Christians think that it is our duty to avoid negativity at all costs, we back away from the kind of faithful proclamation that necessarily creates such negativity. If someone desperately wants to retain his conviction that fornication is natural and healthy, and you obligate him to believe that it is not, then the response will either be anger or repentance. If someone profoundly needs to continue on with his conviction that we are the end product of so many millennia of blind evolution, and you obligate him to acknowledge a Creator God, the only two alternatives are anger or repentance. He does not want to stand at that crossroads, and so he lashes out at the person who brought him there.
Let me change the image, and I propose we consider one that is a bit outlandish. I mean, why not a little outlandish? The non-believer has lived his entire life in a black dungeon, where he cannot see anything. His one comfort in there is his furry teddy bear, which is a real source of encouragement to him. Now one day someone (let us call him Evangelist) walks into the dungeon and flips on a light. The prisoner looks down and sees that his teddy bear is actually a three-pound tarantula. What are the prisoner’s options now? He can either repent, going gaaa! at the tarantula, throwing it off his chest, or he can scream at Evangelist for turning on the light. There it is—either repentance or anger.
So this is the source of much of the conflict we experience, at least when we are being faithful to Scripture. The faithful say thus saith the Lord instead of it seems to me. The message of the Bible is proclaimed and declared by heralds. John the Baptist did not come out of the wilderness issuing invitations to seminars.
The pagan approach to persuasion pulls the punch at this point, and puts the listener in control of the situation. When you are in a discussion where the ground rules are that both sides share their opinions, and that both sides are then absolutely free to retain their opinions, or exchange them for others, no one need be threatened. This is why the listener is left in control of the situation. He is able to say, at the end of the day, “Well, I just don’t see it,” and the unspoken agreement is that the person who presented the argument must acknowledge that he has every right to “just not see it.”
Now suppose John the Baptist started out good, but was vulnerable to this kind of appeal.
John the Baptist: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:” (Matt. 3:7–8).
Pharisees and Sadducees: We believe you have simplified too many of these very complex issues, and need to pay greater attention to theological nuance.
John the Baptist: I can respect that. That’s why these dialogs are so helpful and constructive.
But he wasn’t that way at all. And because John the Baptist was the kind of preacher who could keep his head in that kind of situation, he was also the kind of preacher who lost his head in that kind of situation. And incidentally, this correlation between the two kinds of losing your head is one that more than a few preachers have noticed, and is one of the reasons we have to deal with so much feather-duster preaching.
So the source of much of our conflict with the world is because they are removed from that position of control, and this is also why so many Christians want to retreat from the methods of unvarnished declaration, the kind of declaration that obligates belief. But despite our misgivings, it is good when unbelievers are removed from that position of control, however much they don’t like being in that position.
No one gets happier and happier until one day they decide to get right with God. No, it goes the other direction, and going in that other direction is unpleasant. And those who declare the good news of forgiveness of sins must be willing to lead with the declaration of the existence of sins requiring forgiveness. The proclamation of good news has bad news embedded in it, and those who don’t understand this are frequently alarmed when non-believers react the way they do. But we shouldn’t be.
“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, And every mountain and hill shall be made low: And the crooked shall be made straight, And the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together: For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, And all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field” (Isaiah 40:3–6 ).
A Sense of Humor is Greatly to be Desired
Folly is foolish, and wisdom is not. Wisdom can look foolish initially, and folly can look wise initially. Things can be jumbled for a time. Only the Scriptures are sharp enough to make these distinctions, especially in the midst of conflict over them, and when the distinctions are aptly made, we can often tell that they have been from the laughter. We often miss the earthy peasant humor of Christ (that He could use to devastating effect) because we read our Bibles through seven or eight layers of high gloss sanctimony. But Jesus was not afraid to make fun of what might be called tarantara tithers.
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matt. 6:2).
“Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own conceit.” (Prov. 26:5).
So there you go. Initial thoughts.