When my son was in middle school, we read The Art of War together. If I’d had a daughter, we probably would have read something more girly, like Anne of the Green Gables. But I didn’t. So Ian and I read Sun Tzu’s 2,000-year-old Chinese classic instead.
I’ve never been a fan of books or movies about war. I rarely visit war museums. I’m not fond of the term “Prayer Warrior,” and if it were possible, I’d avoid spiritual warfare praying, too. (But it’s not—so stay with me, I’m getting there.)
Anyhow, we read The Art of War. And I was surprised to learn just how much an “art” war really could be. My naïve view had been that war was kind of a barroom brawl on steroids. I imagined it to be a fists-swinging, swords-flailing contest of strength and endurance. I hadn’t seen much strategy involved.
I was wrong. From Sun Tzu, I learned that war is not won by brute strength. It is won by wisdom, insight, and understanding. It’s not about muscle, it’s about wits.
Fast forward about 13 years to this week. I’ve been reading in Joshua. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I suppose, to find a pretty similar message there. Joshua was a brilliant army general. He did not rush into the enemy camp with his fists swinging. He went to the LORD of Armies for a battle plan. And it’s a good thing he did because every battle was different. Every battle required a different strategy.
At Jericho, the entire city was won with trumpets, marching, and shouting. Without even breaking a sweat, the walls of the city fell down and Jericho was taken for the Lord (Joshua 6).
Ai, however, was another matter. Although it appeared at first to be an easy win (“You don’t need to send all the troops … don’t tire the troops out by sending all of them”) it ended up in turn-tailing and death. So what did Israel do after this stunning defeat? They did what they should have done in the first place: They sought the Lord. The Lord revealed the problem and how to deal with it. Once that was taken care of, Israel returned to Ai and easily won the battle (Joshua 7-8).
At Gilgal, the Lord told Joshua exactly what to do—which wasn’t very much! The Lord threw the enemy into disorder. He sent huge hailstones on them. He even caused the sun and moon to stand still. Joshua simply had to trust God and let Him fight for them (Joshua 10).
At the Springs of Merom, the Lord gave Joshua a strategy he hadn’t used before. He was to sneak in and disable the horses and chariots. When Joshua followed the Lord’s instructions, the battle was easily won (Joshua 11).
What do Sun Tzu and Joshua have to do with me? With you? Just this: Too often we enter spiritual battles with gusto and energy, but not so much with wisdom or insight. We may shout at the enemy, call him names, and order him around. We might swing our Scripture-promise swords at him. We might shout and threaten. We sometimes shoot first and ask questions later. And often, we end up defeated.
That’s because we don’t always do the most important thing of all—consult the LORD of Armies. Sure, we’re fighting in His name. But God is a Mastermind. He knows every one of the enemy’s vulnerable spots. He knows how to catch him by surprise. He knows the right spiritual weapons to use at precisely the perfect time. But we need to go to the war room with Him. We need to seek His strategy, in prayer, so that we enter the battle at the right time, in the right way, with the best weapons—so that He can lead the charge and bring the victory.