We once went to a church where the pastor reported Sunday attendance during the following week. He often added something like, “If the Smith family had been here, we would have had 84 on Sunday.” He was good-natured when we teased him about this. One day, I was at the church and he asked me about some redecorating ideas for the sanctuary. With tongue in cheek, I suggested we put a mirror all along one wall and quipped, “Then on Sundays, we would have double the attendance.” We both laughed for several minutes.
“The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, ‘Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company.’” (Numbers 1:1–3)
At that time, God had the leadership count the congregation. This was not so they could boast in their numbers, but so they knew who was fit for battle. I wonder what that census might look like today? How would church leaders know who was able to go to war, not to a physical battle, but to engage in spiritual warfare that is often mentioned in the New Testament? The criteria in the wilderness was age and probably physical fitness, but neither are required for spiritual battle. I’m thinking a well-worn Bible and calloused knees? Perhaps.
Certainly today’s list of what makes a good soldier would include a deep awareness of what is happening. Jesus hinted at that when a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany. This was the village of Mary and her sister Martha lived.
“It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’” (John 11:1–4)
Sometimes when a group of people are praying for someone who is sick, one of them will pray that somehow God will be glorified in the sickness. This does not happen very often, but that person understands that sickness can have a deeper purpose, and so can our prayers. Spiritual warriors will pray for healing, but often perceive a need for much more.
When Jesus did go to the home of Lazarus, Martha said to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:21–27)
This passage describes faith. Yes, Noah built an ark that took years and it had never yet rained, and Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, and others trusted God in various ways. However, Martha was one of the few that said, “Even now, I know whatever You ask for, God will give it you.” I was like saying “Whatever . . . .” to God because she knew He could be trusted to do the right thing.
Such prayers are not easy. I’ve often gone to God and told Him what to do and how to do it rather than putting the problem completely in His hands. However, faith is knowing that my will is nothing compared to the perfect will of God. If I believe this, then I can pray that He will take care of it as He sees fit. If I really trust Him, saying “whatever” is easier, and marks me as ready for spiritual warfare.
That first psalm is a favorite because it also describes faith and how to be a spiritual soldier: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1–3)
If my church ever wants me to stand up and be counted, I hope the count is about finding who is ready for war. But more than that, I hope I will be among those so numbered.