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Self-sufficiency weakens us, deprives us from support which we might have benefitted from, and widens the gap between our public persona and our private struggles.
How did 6,000 English troops beat a French army of 36,000 men at Agincourt in October 1415? Historians tell us that it was about superior weaponry, the lie of the terrain, superior tactics and superior leadership. How did the Scots, 101 years earlier at Bannockburn, beat the largest English army which had ever invaded Scotland? Historians say it was to do with their more inspiring leadership, with English exhaustion, with good Scots’ preparation of the terrain.
Take any significant battle of history – and there are plenty to choose from – and you will find a plethora of analysis as to why one side was victorious and the other was defeated, or maybe neither could impose itself on the other and they both lived to fight another day.
All of these analyses look at elements which are visible and draw deductions from them. Yet the apostle Paul tells us that, as Christians, “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
So was there also something going on in these battles at the level of the unseen? Something under the surface, something at the level of the spirit, something far more significant than the factors that were visible? Do all the analyses do little more than describe what took place, rather than actually uncover the real root causes behind victory and defeat?
If the answer to some of those questions is Yes, then it is no surprise to read about a battle that took place in the Middle East over three millennia ago. The Israelites were on the way from Egypt to the land of Canaan which God had promised them, and the Amalakites attacked them. The superior, vastly more experienced Amalekite forces were hot favourites to easily beat these people who until recently had only known slavery.
Like Agincourt and Bannockburn, the favourites did not win. Joshua, the Israelite commander, overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. What was his secret? Superior tactics? Good choice of terrain? Better leadership? No. The Bible tells us, rather surprisingly, that it was because his friend Moses held up the staff of God in his hands towards heaven.
Hang on! How can a man holding up a staff away from the field of battle influence that battle? There was something going on at the level of the Spirit. In a way that is not explained to us, Moses holding up that staff released spiritual power from heaven, which gave the Israelites the power to fight and win.
Every time Moses’ hands grew tired and the staff dropped down, it was the Amalekites who started winning. Then when he lifted his hands up again, the battle turned in favour of the Israelites. How could he keep his arms up in the air constantly for 12 hours? Not possible on his own. But with the help of his friends Aaron and Hur he could. They made him sit on a stone and they held his hands up, one on each side of him, so that he did not flag until the Israelites had won.
We too have battles to fight, but the weapons that we fight with are not the weapons of the world (2 Corinthians 10:4). The battlefields where we engage are arguments, pretensions that set themselves up against the knowledge of God, thoughts which are not obedient to Christ, acts of disobedience (2 Corinthians 10:5-6) – both in ourselves and in others. Often the battle is long and hard. Overcoming a besetting sin in our life can take many years of struggle. It is easy to give up and let our arms droop.
That is where we need the help of others, just as Moses needed the help of his friends, Aaron and Hur. We are unlikely to move through to ultimate victory without the help of other people. The apostle Paul, shut away in a Roman prison at the end of his life, asked for Mark and Timothy to come and support him and encourage him (2 Timothy 4:11,21). If that great man of God needed support and encouragement, how much more do we!
As we become older and grow in competency in certain areas of life, it is easy to drift into self-sufficiency, especially if we are in a position of leadership, where we may feel obliged to maintain an impression of stability and competence in the face of those whom we are leading.
Leaders of churches and Christian organisations seem particularly prone to this isolation. Yet that self-sufficiency actually weakens us, deprives us from support which we might have benefitted from, and widens the gap between our public persona and our private struggles. Ultimately the gap may become untenable, which is why some church leaders fall.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work (Ecclesiastes 4:9). So presumably, four are better than two, eight are better than four, and so on. Many advisers make victory sure (Proverbs 11:14).
We may feel proud with ourselves that we are fighting alone, pressing on. Ultimately we will exhaust ourselves, because we are working outside the pattern that Jesus showed us. Even he, the Son of God, at a point of major struggle at the end of his earthly life, took Peter, James and John with him for support (Matthew 26:36-46). They were not a lot of use, as they repeatedly fell asleep. But their physical presence nearby was a comfort to him.
So it is worthwhile to ask ourselves, What battlegrounds are we fighting on? Are our arms flagging? Who is supporting us? Who are our Aaron and Hur? Ours may be nearby us like they were alongside Moses; or they may be at a distance, as they were from Joshua in the heat of the battle.