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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

The Happy Warrior

Living the hope for tomorrow in the here and now

[Today's devotional is a "classic Deep"  reposted here in memory of John Nunnikhoven: a true "Happy Warrior," who spent his life joyfully serving Christ in prison ministry, and has finally escaped the bonds of this life to be embraced by the arms of his loving Savior.]

I Peter 1:3-9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.


They say everything’s bigger in Texas. Texas is a big state, with big open spaces, big ranches and even home to the biggest steak you can buy at a restaurant. This is found at the “Big Texan Steak Ranch” in Amarillo offers a whopping 72 oz steak that is free–if you can eat it all in under an hour.

Texas is home to big attitudes and big hearts and at the start of World War II, Texan Bill Ash was so eager to enlist in the war against Nazi Germany that he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and became a fighter pilot. At 22 years old, Bill was shot down over France and become a prisoner of war. His short-lived time in combat may have been over but Bill Ash’s war against the Axis was only beginning.

Over the next three years Bill would spend his time in various POW camps making it his mission in life to escape from his Nazi captors. Bill became so proficient that he spent more time in solitary than with his fellow prisoners, earning the nickname “The Cooler King.” The NY Post quotes him as saying that “Escaping is quite addictive.”

In 1945 with the Soviet army approaching his camp, Bill escaped one final time and when he approached the Russian infantry, Ash shouted, “Don’t shoot! I’m British. Actually, I’m American. And Canadian. It’s a long story.” 

Bill Ash was the inspiration for the character Virgil Hilts in the hit 1963 movie The Great Escape. Hilts, played by movie legend Steve McQueen, seems also to be “addicted to escape” as he continually plots breakouts and spends his time in solitary or “The Cooler.” 

One famous exchange in the movie between Hilts and his Nazi captors goes like this:

I haven't seen Berlin yet, from the ground or from the air, and I plan on doing both before the war is over.–Captain Hiltz, “The Great Escape”

Needless to say, Hilts soon finds himself in solitary confinement where he spends his time thoughtfully bouncing a baseball off the concrete, windowless walls.

Hilts’ focus on escape was a reflection of his hope in the future, that the war would end and the horrors of life as a prisoner would be over. His hope took the form of a game–or at least showed that no matter what his enemies did to him, he knew that they would not have the final victory.

Are you “addicted to escape?” Let me put it this way, do you ever think about or focus on what comes after your time on this earth is done? Even more importantly, how does the wonderful knowledge of your sure salvation through the completed work of Christ affect you as you go about your day?

You live in a world filled with people who are experiencing a crisis of hope. A recent Harvard Youth Poll reveals that at least 51% of young Americans are “depressed.” The Boston University school of public health estimates that at least 32.8% of Americans depressed–that is one in every three adults.

Even with the challenges of a pandemic, an election and the never-ending negative news cycle, that is a lot of people who are hopeless in the face of the greatest Hope the world has ever known.

For the believer, the knowledge that life in the “sweet ever after” and the blessing of union with Christ here in this life on earth should fill the heart and mind with hope–a hope that can endure even in the darkest of times. This is captured in the song by Ellie Holcombe:

Got a lot of bad days still coming our way
But it's sweet ever after
Wind and waves breaking over our walls
But the ship it don't shatter

Recently, my Christian brothers and I were discussing the nature of “hope” as it is found in scripture. This passage from I Peter came quickly to mind.    

15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you,–I Peter 3:15a

Peter’s letter is a reminder to believers that the only hope in this world is found in Christ Jesus–and that this hope is to be with you always.

How often do you see hope as a circumstance or a future goal–and not as a condition of your faith? This is the essence of Peter’s thought as he greets his fellow Christians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,–I Peter 1:3

Hope is not meant to be something that we look to one day attain after you get through whatever daily challenge you are facing, when the news finally improves or when you can spiritually “figure things out” with God and make life work out.

Peter knows, as do the Christians to whom he is writing, that life is about suffering.

At the time of this letter it is about thirty years have passed since Peter’s time with Jesus on earth. The ancient world was waking up to this troublesome group of believers who followed the crucified King and persecution was beginning to happen. This was the persecution of social pressure and not yet the horrific tortures under the mad Emperor Nero–that would eventuality take the lives of Peter and possibly his wife.

The believers under Peter’s care are experiencing life in a world that welcomes the new religion of Christianity–so long as Christians do not insist that there is only one God and that Christ Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. This sounds similar to our own modern age.

Peter reminds these Christians that their joy is not a future event but exists alongside their current troubles:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,–I Peter 1:6

Just like the early Christians, you too feel the social pressure of the call to conform to the absurd morality of this world.  As a result, do you struggle to have hope in this world? Does the darkness of this broken and sinful place steal your joy?

It is one thing for suffering to rob you of the joy of the simple and wonderful things in this life and another to sap your spiritual strength when you feel you must simply “endure” until Jesus returns.

Hope in Christ is far more than a goal or circumstance we can enjoy once troubles have passed–hope is to be enjoyed in the midst of suffering!

This should be a revolutionary thought and one that, as Timothy Keller points out, impacts all of life:

How we handle our future determines our here and now.–Tim Keller

Peter is telling you that once you realize this hope that is within you–a hope driven by the knowledge and surety of the Resurrection–that action must follow. This is what the author of Hebrews means when he says:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the [evidence of things not seen.–Hebrews 11:1

A more accurate translation of “substance” is “realization.” When you realize the wonderful sweetness of Christ’s presence–even in the midst of daily frustrations and suffering–you see the world in a whole new way. With hope in Christ you become, as Wordsworth described, the Happy Warrior:”

And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws
His breath in confidence of Heaven's applause:
This is the happy Warrior; this is he
That every man in arms should wish to be.–William Wordsworth

The trials and troubles of this world fade when you realize that the battle has already been won. Each day of suffering is not a setback from hope but a part of it, making you more fit for battle against the darkness. 

Like the final chapter of the book “The Return of the King,” the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, you are as the hobbits who have returned home, battle-tested and wise from the now-won War of the Ring.

The hobbits discover the forces of evil have desolated their once-beautiful land, and the people are enslaved to its lies. Instead of shrinking in despair, Frodo, Pippin, Merry and Sam almost joyfully set about making things right and rescuing their friends (many drafted as armed “Shirriffs” to confront the returning hobbits) from the influences of evil:

Merry, Pippin, and Sam sat at their ease laughing and talking and singing, while the Shirriffs stumped along trying to look stern and important.–The Lord of the Rings

They were joyful in the face of evil but they confronted it with their new found confidence: 

‘We shall break a good many things yet, and not ask you to answer,’ said Pippin. ‘Good luck to you!’–The Lord of the Rings

This is how your believers heart finds hope in the darkness of this world: by remembering that the victory has already been won. That your soul has been purchased at the cross and nothing can take this away. As the old hymn proclaims:

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art. 

Are you a “Happy Warrior?” In the midst of the troubles of this life, does your soul sing within you of the hopefulness of a salvation freely given and a victory surely won? Once you realize this, then no solitary confinement, no threat of earthly loss and no lie of the devil can take that hope away.


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