I remember that old children’s church song with the silly hand motions mostly for helping me remember the difference between “cavalry” and “Calvary.” (I had no idea at the time how integral both of those words would become to my vocabulary!) At the time, it was just a song we sang and then moved on to “Father Abraham,” so I never really understood the concept. No one spent much time explaining why we were in the Lord’s army, why there was an army anyway, and what that army was supposed to look like.
Now, after living the Army life for some years, I’m able to see the comparisons.
– Maintaining Readiness A soldier has to maintain battle readiness at all times. Daily physical training, regular weapons proficiency testing, and special skill development are a constant in military life. The Bible tells Christians to “always be prepared” (1 Pet. 3:15). Without the intentional effort to be part of a local Christian community, to train our minds with consistent personal Bible study, and to maintain fellowship with God through regular prayer and confession of sin, we will not maintain spiritual readiness to face the battles of life, or to minister to our unbelieving friends and neighbors.
– Surrendering Your Rights A soldier can request where his next duty assignment (base) is, but ultimately the decision is up to the Army. When a family arrives at a new base, they can request government housing, but it’s not always available or even available immediately. Ultimately, the course a soldier’s life takes is only marginally up to him or her. The soldier exists to serve the interests of the military and the nation. In the same way, Christians are to submit their desires to the will of God. Many parents have sent their children around the world, not knowing if or when they would see them again, for the sake of the Gospel. And history is full of saints who have given their lives in lands around the world so that others would hear and see the extent to which God loves them.
– Making War When soldiers are deployed, they carry their weapons on them at all times. They wear body armor. They are constantly on alert and aware of their surroundings. They are living in a war zone. When they are “in garrison” (stateside) they don’t practice the same habits on a daily basis. Unfortunately, Christians often default to the “garrison” mentality. Extreme pacifist Christians latch onto verses that instruct us to “be still,” “wait on the Lord,” and point to Ancient Israel’s submission in captivity as evidence that passive contentment is the only appropriate Christian response to trials and hardships. This, of course, ignores the multiple instructions contained in the New Testament towards Christians reminding us we live in a (spiritual) war zone. Ephesians 6 tells us to put on our spiritual body armor. 1 Thessalonians commands us to pray without ceasing. Jude instructs us to contend earnestly for the faith. Ephesians 5 tells us to expose evil works around us.
We are not living in garrison here on earth. In the same way that a soldier is always mindful of how to best serve the mission, let us always remember that our mission won’t end until we are in Heaven.