Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
-- Ephesians 6.10-12
In such a situation, everyone has to think fast; everyone has to react on instinct. Battles of encounter tend to foster many moments of improvisation and acting “in the moment.” Such battles in many cases start unexpectedly and continue to present the unexpected.
Part of what turned the battle of Gettysburg into a Union victory (and turned the war in the Union’s favor in the East) was a series of people thinking well—and acting responsibly based on their training and what was needed—at the critical, unanticipated moments of encounter.
Here is but one critical example:
On July 2, the second day of the battle, the Army of the Potomac’s Chief Engineer, a man named Gouverneur Warren, noticed that the Rebel attack had found a lightly defended spot on the extreme left end of the Union line, at a place called Little Round Top. If the Rebel attack succeeded in taking Little Round Top, they would be in a position to “roll up” the Union line; in other words, battle over. It would be a resounding Confederate victory. Warren immediately sent one aide to Gen. Meade to let him know the situation and then sent another aide to find troops to reinforce Little Round Top (in a sense, he was acting without authorization…but was certainly in line with what Gen. Meade would want). Warren’s second messenger found a Corps commander who then sent out a courier to one his division commanders to see if he could help. That courier shortly ran into a brigade commanded by a Colonel named Strong Vincent. The courier told him who he was looking for and why. Immediately Vincent, realizing the gravity of the situation, told the courier, “I’ll take my brigade there,” bypassing the chain of command. “I will take the responsibility,” he emphatically said to the surprised courier. Vincent then led his brigade just in time to Little Round Top, into fierce and bloody and ultimately successful fighting. He led them into one of the many moments like that at Gettysburg that may well have saved the Union. (You never hear about Col. Vincent in the history books, do you? Actually, not much about Gen. Warren, either. And yet, without the initiative of these two men who acted responsible and instinctively in the moment…)
Blah, blah, blah with the obscure history lesson, Greg; is there a point to this?
As the reading from Ephesians at the top of this entry notes, we, too, are in a war. And, we will have many battles of encounter with the enemy. There will be moments when we will have to react based on our training and developed instincts.
How will we perform in our “battles of encounter” with the enemy, with sin? And those “battles of encounter” are not “ifs,” they are “whens.” They will come, both in the form of temptations to sin and in the form of opportunities to serve God’s purposes.
The writer of Hebrews speaks of “…the mature… those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5.14).
Are we well-trained?
Certainly this is about how we do morally – do we do what is right when faced with temptations to sin?
Do we get better at doing what is good because we practice doing good? Are the “habits of our heart,” the things we have learned to do almost instinctively, habits consistent with God’s character?
But being well-trained is also about how we do missionally – do we act when we are in a position to put in a good word about Jesus? Do we act responsibly when we are in a position to represent Jesus? Do we have to wait for someone to give us permission to talk about the difference Jesus Christ makes in our lives, or do we take on ourselves the responsibility to do that? Are we prepared to serve God’s purposes at a moment’s notice?
Seems like that is what Peter is getting at in 1 Peter 3.15b-16a: Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence…
“Always be ready.” Not sure I’m always ready. What’s my excuse for that? A lot of times it’s that I’m just not paying attention, just not expecting opportunity.
I’m pretty good at coming up with ways to “seize the moment”…after the fact. What I need to get better at is seeing and acting on the opportunity to do good in the moment.
This blog is primarily supposed to be place where Southeastern’s leaders have a chance to talk about spiritual growth. So, here’s my point for that purpose: Maybe our spiritual maturity, individually and as a community of believers, is measured by our ability to act well in the moment, whether to avoid sin or to seize an opportunity to serve God’s purposes.
By that measure, the measure of my “battles of encounter,” how mature am I really?