Luke 9:59 – 10:1 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” NIV Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.
I was watching recently a really interesting show called ‘Special Forces; Week of Hell.’ Man, it is the most awesome show, and not just because it is hosted by Freddie Flintoff. Basically, it is the 20 fittest people in all of Britain that have signed up for a reality T.V. show where for 7 days, they experience a day in the life of a soldier attempting an acceptance course for various special forces units around the world.
They had already done a day of U.S. Navy seal training, French frogmen, Israeli special forces and Filipino Navsogs. The remaining three days were Australian S.A.S. Russian Spetznaz and lastly; British S.A.S.
The particular episode I watched recently (with a chest full of pride I might add) was the one on the Aussie S.A.S. regiment. It was so cool, because they don’t simply put these fitness fanatics through torture but they also explain what the various exercises are and why they do them in that particular special forces unit.
I don’t think I have ever learned so much about the Aussie S.A.S. as I did in an hour of that show. Here’s a few things:
Of course each unit is renowned for a certain skill/method of fighting. The Aussie SAS are renowned most for endurance. Many a time on deployments these soldiers don’t outfight opponents as much as they outlast them. They are trained to maintain peak warfare amidst harrowing weather conditions, sleep deprivation and food shortage, often going for days on end grinding down enemies till they crack. This makes them well suited to desert fighting, extreme distance rescue/extraction and deployments deep behind enemy lines.
Therefore, the training reflects this. The selection course is deliberately designed to be ridiculously long as they want to see what happens to the psyche of a soldier when they cannot see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ so to speak. Will they keep going or give up?
This is also combined with the ‘walk away form.’ Every soldier who enters the course is given this form which they can at any point, any point take out, sign, hand to the instructor and they’ll get to go home.
S.A.S. recruits say that after three weeks of (essentially) starvation, sleep deprivation and doing everything with 20kg on your back, that ‘ticket home’ starts to really burn a hole in the pocket.
Here’s what they’re trying to find out: when you’re miles past your limit, what are you going do? Are you going to quit, or keep going especially when quitting is so relatively easy.
You know who has the ‘right stuff’ where at some point some soldiers take out their quitting form……and tear it up.
As I read the words of Jesus in Luke 9:52 “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” I’m reminded of this S.A.S. training.
Now when looking at this verse, someone invariably says; “isn’t our salvation safe with God so we can’t lose it?” Well, yes….and no. Everyone has the option to turn back. Everyone has the option to quit. But I believe that in his grace, God leads us in such a way till we get to the point where we take out that form, we may even struggle with the temptation to look back, but it becomes such a struggle that we eventually think, “screw this, I’m tired of the temptation, I’ll just get rid of the choice.”
In that moment, the disciple realizes that the ‘walk away form’ itself, the option itself is the problem and that one of the keys to endurance is to simply get rid of option to quit.
C.S. Lewis gets pretty close to this same idea from the perspective of the demonic powers in his classic ‘The Screwtape Letters’: “be in no doubt Wormwood, our cause is never more in danger then when a man looks around a universe from which all trace of God seems to have disappeared and then no longer desiring, but still intending, nonetheless obeys.”
Like it is under the greatest pressures that the strongest steel is forged, so it is in the toughest times in our faith journey that we somehow receive the resolve to get that ‘walk away’ form out of the pocket…..and rip it to shreds.
When the serpent said to Eve “did God really say?” he was essentially presenting her with a spiritual ‘walk away’ form. We’ve had this spiritual equivalent slipped into our ‘spiritual pocket’ since we were born. At some point, worship God by making the decision to get rid of it.
Let me encourage you, if you are in a faith crisis, get that little ‘walk away form’ out don’t sign it, rip it up, burn it and stomp on it. Pray in Jesus name; ‘Lord remove this option from my mind.’
And then tell someone about it.
This is the other thing I have noticed about the S.A.S. watching this show. There’s no room for ‘individuals’ in special forces. Especially on deployment. These civilians quickly begin to realize that the course they are being put through is impossible.
That’s the point.
Anyone who wants to go it alone will not get to the end.
I believe this is exactly the same case for any and every Christian faith journey. This is precisely why, 30 seconds after issuing a warning against any thought of turning back, what is the next thing Jesus does?
Ensures that his disciples are in pairs. (Luke 10:1) Notice that Jesus could have ‘reached’ 72 places with 72 ambassadors, but he’s rather halve the efficiency reaching 36 in order to maintain community among his ambassadors. Isn’t it good to know that Jesus never gives us a command or warning without providing the means for us to succeed in that area?
He knows that with all the risks involved traveling the ancient roads, that if he sends out these folks without them looking out for each other, they’re going to eaten for breakfast. I believe the exact same picture is applicable for today.
If you are a Christian, you are an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor 5:20) it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian or how sanctified you are;
If you think you are going to make it alone, you are going to get eaten for breakfast.
Coincidentally, this also represents the sum total of my thoughts on the idea of ‘church-less faith’. If you think you are going to make it alone, you are going to get eaten for breakfast.
Let’s just get real and be honest about it. I need you. you need me. The boss said so.
So to sum up; the S.A.S. are an effective fighting force because they have mentally already dealt with the question of quitting before they get into the ‘real fight’ and they have learnt to rely on each other, no matter what minor differences in culture, race or opinions they may otherwise have.
So how are we going as a fighting unit? Let’s take stock of our attitude to endurance and to church and realize how much they interconnect.
One thing I notice when I look at the history of the Church, is that when it’s members are committed to God and to each other, no matter how hostile the culture around it might become, it always seems to be able to outlast it.
For who dares, wins.