A Phoney War?

… I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway…

Hitler warning

… I have discovered this principle of life – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

Romans 7:19-25 NLT

In September 1939 Britain found itself at war with Germany, yet neither side had committed to launching a significant attack, and there was relatively little fighting on the ground. We were really at war, but the reality of war in all its horror hadn’t hit home yet. This was the situation right up until the Battle of France in May 1940, and was called ‘the phoney war’.

Yet this is not my situation, and it is not the situation the world finds itself in today. I am often challenged by how little the wars that are taking place in the world impact on me. If I think about the wars we as a nation are currently engaged in (Iraq, Afghanistan) they have very little impact on my day-to-day existence because I don’t have any close relationships with any of its participants. Gaza is an equally shocking world situation at the moment – I watch the news and am moved with compassion by what is taking place there – yet this ‘compassion’ seems only to move me to weak and feeble prayers. It doesn’t seem to intersect with my life in any concrete way. The reality is that there are significant attacks taking place, but if you looked at my life you’d be forgiven for thinking that the wars being waged by my countrymen are ‘phoney’.

Within me, I am aware that there is a war being waged between my flesh and my true, Christ-like self. Yet very often I continue my life as if it doesn’t really impact on me at all. I am spiritually numb – to the extent that I can continue with my life relatively unaffected by this battle that rages within me.

The war that rages within my soul is not a phoney war. The devastation it causes in my life though, when I allow the enemy to get the upper hand, is often that of apathy and a spiritual bluntness. If I allow this to continue for any period of time, it can deaden me to the things of God and decrease my capacity for God. When I fast from food as a sign to God that I want my physical hunger to become for me a spiritual hunger, I find that I get headaches. Often this is the side of fasting that I find most difficult to cope with. They get in the way of my ability to pray with any coherence, or read with any clarity of thought. They rob me of my ability to focus on the task in hand. Yet these headaches serve as a physical reminder of the war being waged within me. What my true self wants, my flesh is determined to frustrate. I usually don’t need headaches to distract me from God – other things do the job with far less strain – the internet, computer games, reading…. The list could go on and on. I don’t usually suffer from headaches. Yet when I am fasting, these headaches bring to the forefront a war that I am often only aware of at the very edges of my consciousness. The headaches help me to see my life for what it truly is, to see myself for what I truly am.


If I am living day-to-day in blissful ignorance of this war then my discipleship to Jesus needs realignment. I need to get closer to Him, close enough to get covered in the dust of my rabbi. I want my heart to be broken for what breaks His heart – for that is the true fast that He requires (Isaiah 58:6-8).

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