“It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze” (Psalm 18:32-34).

Billy Graham describes a pathway to what he calls “mushy theological thinking.” He says it starts in childhood when we hear about goodness, badness, rewards and punishments. “If you are good, you get ice cream; if you are bad, you go to bed early.” As we grow older, this cause-and-effect perspective seeps into our spiritual understanding. If we help others and faithfully attend church, we figure we will be blessed and not experience suffering. But then we get blindsided when tough times come. Graham acknowledges that inevitable life includes some tough times, and he refers to Marine Corps boot camp to illustrate spiritual realism. Marine Corp drill instructors impose harsh discipline. Recruits are driven to their limits and trained to know exactly how to use and care for their weapons. They know why they must crawl and run till their bodies shake, and why they must repeatedly shoot and train till they are exhausted: they are headed for deadly combat.

As Christians, we must be ready for deadly spiritual combat. A Marine in war is not surprised when he sees someone shooting at him, and we should not be surprised when we face powerful temptations and severe setbacks. The New Testament epistles present a graphic picture of what we are up against, yet they also provide the training and equipment we need to survive and thrive. For instance, we read in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, “We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons…to knock down the strongholds.” We are given drill-instructor-type instructions in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14: “Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous…And do everything with love.” Those orders fit Graham’s lifelong passion to follow Christ, including his prime goal of doing everything with love. After describing a battalion commander’s orders to his troops, Graham puts it this way: “That officer was preparing his men for combat—just as our Lord prepares us for life’s combat.”

Adapted from The One Year Book of Encouragement