Prayer warriors. What exactly is a prayer warrior? I hear it all the time and often think it is one of those catch phrases people use without thinking much about what they mean. Years ago, some well-meaning person donated a very large mural to the primary meeting room in our cathedral. The smiling prayer warriors, all dressed in medieval crusader armor (the Errol Flynn Robin Hood version) are on the hilltop just outside Jerusalem ready for the charge that will free it from the infidels who most surely are the agents of the very devil himself.
Having taken a quick look at a few of the prayer warrior entries on the Internet, I find my self more confused than ever. I’m relieved, on the one hand, to discover that most introductions about how to become a prayer warrior emphasize that it’s not about trying to change God’s mind or instruct God on what to do. It’s more about being at one with God’s will and interceding on behalf of another in the context of that oneness. On the other hand, there seems to be plenty of blessed assurance about what God’s will is that is more connected to the cultural values of particular warrior groups together with their sure and certain understanding of what it means to have a biblical world view. Moreover, there appears to be an underlying current that in these desperate times of the last days we are at battle with the wiles of the devil and the cosmic powers of this present darkness along with the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, the outcome of which is by no means certain. Finally, there is a sense that we are battling for the souls of those who have not yet accepted Jesus as their personal lord and savior. Without prayer warriors God might lose.
These are precisely the issues that many of us will address on Sunday, August 23 in the reading of Ephesians 6:10-20. But we will also be coming to the conclusion of the bread of life passages in John, and in that light I wonder if Ephesians might be read differently. Fed with the bread of life one no longer need fear death, and that means that evil itself, whatever else it may do, cannot conquer. Consider that the armor we are to put on is truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith and the word (Word?) of God. To me these are words that conjure up an irenic, humble and supremely self-confident image of one who is prepared to follow where Christ has already led, not as a warrior but as a bearer of light. Whatever the present darkness may be, it is made less dark by the light of Christ brought into it by those who follow him. Earlier this week a colleague pointed out that Paul does not request that prayers be offered up for his freedom from chains, nor does he desire the defeat of his enemies, but only that he be given power to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ in the place where he is and among the people with whom he is in contact. That is the prayer of one who would rather “light a candle than curse the darkness.”
We cannot adopt warrior language without having enemies we are willing to kill, and we cannot be willing to kill until we have dehumanized and demonized them. I confess that, in a lifetime of learning how to follow where Christ has led, I remain largely ignorant of God’s will and mostly have to just “let it be” as I experience the wholly unexpected along this most amazing journey of adventure. But this I know, I am not called by God to dehumanize, demonize and kill, spiritually or otherwise. If I had my way I’d get rid of the warrior language altogether. We are not wise enough for it, and I doubt that there is enough wisdom for it. And I’d get rid of that mural in our cathedral.